Greek civilization has been a topic of fascination for many people for a number of decades, and it has provided a grandiose amount of influence in the world, both historic and modern. The territory of the Greek society was comprised of many poleis, which encompassed not only the land that the society had, but also the people, the tools, and everything that was contributed to it. Two of the most well-known poleis were Athens and Sparta, despite them varying greatly in social customs and values. Athens was the birthplace and hub of democracy and Sparta valued militaristic honor and duty. If I had to live in either Athens or Sparta, I would choose to live in Athens because of the focus the polis has, and also because Sparta’s values don’t run parallel to mine.
In Athens, there were constant improvements and celebrations going on. Athenians were very proud and very devout people, and this was blatantly expressed throughout their society. “…the Athenians diverted some of the money they received for policing the seas to celebrate religious festivals and to erect magnificent public buildings such as the temple to Athena called the Parthenon” (Pomeroy, 152). The Athenians used money they received to improve quality of life and to build upon their culture. It was in Athens where Thucydides also lived and studied. “Thucydides has often been described as the world’s first scientific historian, and his work has been cited for its objectivity” (Pomeroy, 200). Due to the focus of Athenian culture, scholars like Thucydides were able to thrive, and their work, as stated above, is still looked upon today for its accuracy and description/analysis. As someone who is fascinated by the way the Athenian society ran, I would find this environment very suiting.
The polis of Sparta, alternatively, is a polis that I would be legitimately petrified to live in. Assuming I was deemed a worthy warrior at birth by the Spartan officials (and not killed), the rest of my life would be difficult afterwards, with no silver lining for me. Rather than value education, Spartans valued power and being seemingly invincible in their military. “To toughen their feet, they went barefoot, and the often went naked as well… were each allocated only one cloak yearly to wear in all kinds of weather.” (Pomeroy, 104). Many of the Spartan practices were to toughen their soldiers for the constant wars they were fighting with helots. Plutarch also goes on to discuss how many Spartan men later had to visit their wives in secret. “While spending the days with his contemporaries … he would cautiously visit his bride in secret, embarrassed and fearful in case someone in the house might notice him” (Plutarch, 15.3-5). I, personally, would not feel as if I am living a fulfilling life if I am forced to be tortured in order to be a soldier and see my wife in secret.
Overall, the polis of Athens was more directly centered on culture, life, and their people. The polis of Sparta was a militaristic society centered on vigor and brawn. Athens has its faults, and did participate in wars, but much good came from the Athenians, such as the foundations for democracy, many historic records, and the famous scholars such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Thucydides. I find the polis of Athens much more appealing than the polis of Sparta, and would much prefer to live there. I believe that I am more oriented towards the Athenian way of life than the Spartan way of life.