It might seem that Plato and Xenophon have little in common with heavy metal bands; however, they do share an admiration for those warlords of Laconia: the Spartans. In a word, each expressed a degree of laconophilia. What drew ancient philosophers and heavy metal bands alike to Sparta may be a feeling of disenchantment with their respective mainstreams. Socrates’ pupils were no doubt disillusioned with Athenian democracy following his execution in 399 BCE, and the Spartan alternative arguably inspired in Plato’s Republic and Xenophon’s Constitution of the Spartans was a type of escapist fantasy.
"This university does not promote fascism! We support democracy here!" I was in a Dean's office, trying to talk my way out of being fired on the spot. It started innocently enough. After the wild success of the film 300, I had thought that a large (500 student) lecture course on Sparta might be popular and help recruit majors, plus high enrollment keeps administrators off our backs and justifies our existence in the face of potential budget cuts. Still, I wanted to bring in this popular culture element without sacrificing educational quality, as well as try and make the large, lecture course simulate my preferred small, discussion-based ones. To do this, I created an experiential classroom in which course structure and daily interaction paralleled Spartan society. Students thus were to learn via an approximation of the agoge in the hope that the Spartan system might become a little more personal.