Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Warrior Ethos

At 5:23 p.m. on September 29, 2013, I sent an email to author Steven Pressfield about his book The Virtues of War.  First of all, I love the story of Alexander the Great.  I have read novels by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Judith Tarr, Mary Renault, and David Gemmell.  I am one of the few people who seem to like both Alexander movies (1956 and 2004) and once had it in my head to translate the Alexandreis by Walter of Chatillon.  Oh, and I bought an Alexander action figure for our son when he was younger.

I am also in the habit of emailing authors when there is something I like about their books.  To me this is one of the true advantages of modern communication.  I can find the email address of almost any author, and I have never been disappointed in my correspondence.  Authors usually like to talk about their works.

And so it was on that September evening that I emailed Steven Pressfield.  I had read Pressfield's Gates of Fire about the battle at Thermopylae and loved how he wrote battle scenes.  A few hours after emailing him, I received a very nice response.  I emailed him again on November 17 (hey, I'm a teacher with lots to do, so it takes me a while to read things), and this led to an email discussion of other works of his, particularly The Warrior Ethos.  I had not been aware of this book, but when I checked it out, I knew it had to become part of our Latin classroom

I obtained a class set of the book and devised an activity to accompany it.  When we read  Julius Caesar's account of his war in Gaul during Latin II, we talk about leadership principles that we can apply in other aspects of life.  All of my students will lead something someday, whether it is a company, a Little League team, or a family.  This book by Pressfield fit perfectly into that study.  It explores the code of warriors from across the ages and around the world, citing sources from Herodotus to Patton.  In keeping with the overarching unit on Caesar and our commitment to applying lessons from different contexts in our own lives, the students had to read and reflect on the book.  Their task was to take three principles, one from each of the three major sections of the book, and re-write them in their own words.  They then had to write how one of those principles was evident in the life of Caesar, how one is currently evident in their own lives, and how they would imagine themselves applying the third principle at some point in the future.  Here are some of the highlights.  The students' words are in italics.

Part 1, #3:  At a deeper level, the Warrior Ethos recognizes that each of us, as well, has enemies inside himself.

It is very easy to focus on the wrongs that others commit against you.  I have found this year, however, that the only person who can really mess me up is myself.  In order to do anything to my best ability I must overcome my inner demons.

Part 1, #4:  The Warrior Ethos evolved as a counterpoise to fear.

In [this chapter], Pressfield describes a tenet that everyone must face their fears and have courage in doing so.  As I find myself nearing graduation and finally leaving the comfort that I have come to know in the crowded North Central hallways, I've become increasingly terrified.  I know I must face my fears head on and have courage.

Part 2, #13:  The greatest counterpoise to fear, the ancients believed, is love -- the love of the individual warrior for his brothers in arms.

About two years ago I got a job busing tables at a restaurant.  I didn't do this so I could ave up for that nice car or new video game.  I did it to help out with my family, so that my parents don't have to provide everything for me.  I made that sacrifice because I love my family and I know that they'll always have my back so I will always have theirs.

Part 2, #14:  The group comes before the individual.

I work for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, which hires youth to take care of trees in the city.  Usually the tasks are physically demanding.  Every member must do what is best for the team, so that the team can be strong enough to finish the task.

Part 2, #15:  The feat that inspires witnesses to honor it is almost invariably one of selflessness.

[When] I'm making a salary I'd like to donate at 10% to local charities and to help out at least once a year because I believe that care for one's self.

Part 3, #24:  When an action is unjust, a warrior must not take it.

The Internet is a flood of information whose validity is easily questioned. I have adapted to my times to be flexible about controversy, but I still have strong beliefs.  I hope that in the future I will follow this tenet and stick to what is moral.

Part 3, #29:  The virtues we acquire in the warrior archetype we can use when we mature....  We get to keep them -- and profit from them -- our whole lives.

This relates to me because I choose not to waste what I have been taught throughout my 15 years of life.  I have been through more than any child my age should go through.  I use my knowledge and expand on it for the better and not for the worst.

So what did we gain from all this?

Modeling for students how to engage with authors:  check
Discovering a great new resource:  check
Expanding our knowledge of ancient cultures:  check
Applying the wisdom of other ages and places to our own lives:  check
More educational fun than this teacher could shake a stick at:  check, check, check, check, check!

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