Stupid Question: Spartan Edition

26 Mar

Stupid QuestionsNope, we’re not talking about Michigan State basketball today, although my facebook feed tells me that’s apparently a hot topic.  Instead we’re going to tackle a stupid question for which I already found the answer.  Here’s my original query:

What did Crane mean when he wrote about Henry’s reaction to his mother’s farewell, “Still, she had disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about returning with his shield or on it?”

My original confusion was brought on because although my knowledge of civil war history is bleak, I was pretty sure carrying shields wasn’t in vogue at the time. The general, “alive or honorably dead” concept made sense, but why would she mention a piece of equipment unlikely to be in Henry’s possession?

Here’s where reading the earlier materials on the WEM list might have been helpful.  Apparently, this is a reference to a Latin phrase “e tan, e epi tan,” a phrase first recorded in Pultarch’s Moralia.  According to legend Spartan mothers would utter this as they handed their sons their shields.  With this, or on this.  Heartwarming.

Nicely done, Stephen Crane.  Not only can you write your own clever sentences, but you’ve learned to borrow the best ones from history.  I’m taking notes.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 26, 2013 in The Red Badge of Courage


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One response to “Stupid Question: Spartan Edition

  1. Ruth @ Experiment with The Well-Educated Mind

    March 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Oh, cool. I had no idea mother’s said this to their sons going off to war (in Roman times, of course). I mean, it’s NOT cool, but it’s a “cool” piece of historical info. I understand why he was disappointed b/c in the beginning he thought he was Achilles going off to war since Achilles believed it was more honorable to die young in battle than live to a ripe old age w/o any glory.


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