Hollinshead, Mary [faculty advisor, Department of Art]




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Leonidas; Spartans; art history


His tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children, and his children’s children, and afterward all the race that is his. His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered, and he becomes an immortal, though he lies under the ground... (excerpt from Tyrtaeus 12) The Spartan national war-poet Tyrtaeus wrote the above hymn in the seventh century BC as a dedication to the brave hoplites who gave their lives for Sparta. Its words are startlingly relevant to a modern American society currently at war; a society full of families who take great pride in their fallen soldiers. Yet its message comes across as superficial for many men and women dying today in a war they no longer believe in; a war which will forever change who they are as individuals, how they interact with their families and friends, how they cope with loss, guilt, and failure, and how they make minute everyday decisions about what to eat or what movies to watch. Today our main sources of information for Sparta come in the form of popular movies or literature and occasional History Channel programs. As a student studying Classical texts, history, and material culture I knew there was more to the Greek polis than the muscular half-clothed men and mythical creatures of the 300. I knew that there must be some underlying universal connection between men fighting twenty-five centuries ago and men and women fighting today. I set out to trace the history of the ‘spartan ideal’ and its reception in early America, how its moral and civic values were adapted to the new nation, how the legendary king Leonidas and his 300 are still memorialized, and how directly and indirectly ancient texts and the values and practices they promote have shaped modern tenets of institutions such as the US Military Academy and US Marine Corps. I also sought to examine the unwavering principle of solidarity and equality for the sake of the public’s physical and ideological safety as the building block for both cultures, how it positively and negatively impacts the combat soldier, and how limited ancient texts show some similarities in the psychological strife rampant in our combat veterans today. Interviews with two Iraq War veterans and my own father, a Vietnam veteran, also offered eye-opening and unique perceptions of the military of now and that of the Spartans. One of the main goals of my project is to give antiquity a well-deserved immediacy. To compliment my research paper, I created an interactive art installation which explores the impact of conformity on individualism in the military and how the soldier is taught to create a new military family for survival. This commentary examines the role of the ancient Spartan agoge and modern American military training in the lives of young service men and women and the incorporation of ancient texts elucidates the common bond we share with the ancient Western culture of the fifth century BC.

Honors Project Source list.wps.rtf (18 kB)
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Fisheye installation 2

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