SPARTANS ON THE STAGE
WHEN turn from political theory to the arts we are reminded again how specialized was the interest that Sparta aroused. Hardly more than in antiquity do scenes from Spartan history make their way into the Renaissance or Baroque repertoire of the visual arts. And it is a commentary on Sparta's generally disappointing role in imaginative literature that the only poetic references at all generally familiar, in this country at least, are those of Shakespeare's Theseus, who describes his hounds
bred out of the Spartan kind,
and hunting exploits
in Crete, in Sparta and in Thessaly,1
or else the apostrophe to Iago:
O Spartan Dog
More fell than anguish, hunger or the sea!
(where the implications of the adjective seem curiously ambiguous, or even sinister, for an age that was only occasionally less than enthusiastic in its response to the idea of Sparta).2
To Shakespeare then, drawing no doubt on Ovid, Sparta seems to mean nothing but hounds and hunting. But more common in sixteenth and seventeenth-century verse than Spartan dogs are Spartan women, not the dancing girls of the classical or Roman poets so much as the Spartan heroines, especially the Spartan mothers, of the Greek epigrammatists. As soon as the Planudean anthology became known in Italy in the later fifteenth____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Spartan Tradition in European Thought. Contributors: Elizabeth Rawson - Author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1991. Page number: 202.