Image Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/54165622@N00/146360654
by Harmony Heffron
What does it really mean to be called a Spartan? Greek warriors, minimalists, and extreme athletes have all used this title. In the Oxford Dictionary, Spartan is given three different definitions:
Spartan: adjective: relating to Sparta in ancient Greece. noun: a citizen of Sparta.
Spartan: noun: a Canadian dessert apple of a variety with crisp white flesh and maroon-flushed skin.
Spartan: adjective: showing or characterized by austerity or a lack of comfort or luxury
To start with I think we can be sure that when we athletes are called Spartans we are not being referred to as Canadian dessert apples, although I apologize to any of our readers that are sweet Canadians with crisp wits and maroon-flushed skin, you all are certainly Spartans too.
Now some of the Spartans out there reading this may be from Greece, but not ancient Greece, so that definition doesn’t exactly fit us either. Although, when we look at the behaviors of the Spartans in ancient Greece, they certainly share some attributes with modern Spartan athletes.
They were unrelenting in battle, as we are in our races and athletic events. They trained hard and with great determination and focus, as we train our minds and bodies in the gym and on the field. The ancient Spartans were also brave, choosing to die in battle rather than come home in defeat. Now, we modern Spartans don’t die in a race rather than lose it, but it does take a lot of bravery to choose to compete, to choose to put ourselves out there and race against others.
If we take a look at the history of the word Spartan we start to see how it came to relate to us now. It started to be used first around 15 CE. to describe the ancient Greeks hailing from the area of Sparta, also known as Laconia. From Laconia, we also get the word laconic, meaning concise or abrupt. The use of the word laconic came from the ancient Spartans’ habit of replying to questions in a short, witty and sometimes abrupt way. For example, a Spartan mother replied to her son when he complained that his sword was too short, “Add a step forward to it.”
The ancient Spartans were also known for showing great austerity and the discipline to go without comforts and luxuries. So, in the early 1640′s, the word Spartan started to be used as well for people who shared these traits with the ancient Spartans, regardless of where they came from.
Today, Spartan is frequently used in a broader context, not just to compare people with the austerity of the ancient Spartans, but to compare them to the ancient Spartans bravery, physical determination and unwillingness to back down. Perhaps it’s time for the dictionary to add a new definition:
Spartan: adjective: athletically minded, extremely determined, unwilling to give up
Words reflect the meanings we attribute to them, they evolve through time to fit modern context and needs. So, when someone calls you a Spartan, make sure you act like one.