Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Leuctra when the Theban general Epaminondas led the Boeotian League to victory over the Spartans under King Cleombrotus I and smashed forever the hegemony of the Lacedaemonians in Greece. That’s a lot of complicated words and history in one sentence. I covered the importance of this battle in my post entitled “The death of Sparta” and spoke about the innovative use of echelon formation, so if you click on the title of this post the tags will link you to that post at the end of this one, if that’s your thing.
The reason I refer to Leuctra today is because of the Sacred Band of Thebes. This was an elite regiment of 150 pairs of male lovers. They were the best and bravest, the shock troops of the Theban army.
Plato said of them: if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?
Which brings me to Harold Norse, a poet of the Beat movement, a homosexual who found himself entirely adrift in an age when he was seen as “queer”. In his poem “Island of Giglio” he dreams of the Greek tolerance of one man’s love for another. He dreamed of a world where a man could be a man outside of the very narrow confines of 1950’s Western “Manliness”, the image of man determined by the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and Senator McCarthy’s committee on un-American Activities.
In his way Harold Norse was far more of a man than most of his male contemporaries. He fought the fight that gave permission for men to be sensitive, loving and emotional individuals. We all benefit from that.
In the poem below Norse lays out the ways in which the culture of America of the 1950’s steals his sex and his personality. I wonder what Harold would think about Donald Trump’s desire to “Make America Great Again”?
I am not a man; by Harold Norse
I am not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family. I have acne and a small peter.
I am not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars. I like to express my feelings. I even like to put my arm around my friend’s shoulder.
I am not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me – the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell. Television does not dictate my behavior.
I am not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.
I am not a man. I went to prison for resisting the draft. I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence
I am not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks. I don’t get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.
I am not a man. I have never had the clap.
I am not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.
I am not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.
I am not a man. I do not feel superior to women.
I am not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.
I am not a man. I write poetry.
I am not a man. I meditate on Peace and Love.
I am not a man. I don’t want to destroy you.