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Ashbrook Scholars Learn about Sparta from an Expert


Ashbrook Scholars attend six colloquia a year as part of the Ashbrook Scholar Program.  Colloquia are informal discussions with academics who discuss a recent book or article that they have published.  The subject matter for these colloquia cover a wide range of topics such as history, politics, economics, religion, philosophy, and literature. These colloquia provide Ashbrook Scholars with a wide variety of perspectives on a host of different subjects.

Ashbrook Scholars attended their first colloquium of the year on September 13 with University of Notre Dame professor Susan Collins. Her talk, entitled “War and the Good Life: The Spartan Regime” laid out Spartan life, emphasizing how its regimentation passed beyond military matters and into law and everyday life, instilling courage in its people. By holding obedience to the laws over all else, the Spartans were able to achieve what Xenophon claims was “modesty,” which he held as one of the highest virtues. Xenophon also claims that Lycurgus laid down Spartan law so that his people would be “outstanding in happiness.” Spartan adherence to law provided both for their safety against enemies but also for political stability amongst themselves; they were happy because they were strong against enemies and secure against domestic threats.

Ashbrook Scholar Participation

Collins fielded questions from students such as, “How are the Spartans considered free if their government so strictly controlled their behavior?” and, “Were there any checks in place to make sure the Spartans didn’t surpass courage and move into the dangerous territory of pure spiritedness?” She even stayed for an hour after the event formally closed to continue conversing with students who elected to stay longer. James Metzger, a junior Ashbrook Scholar, said “I may not have agreed with everything Dr. Collins stated, but her ideas definitely allowed me to explore ideas about the Spartan regime I had never contemplated before.”

New Private Saturday Session

A self-selected group of Ashbrook Scholars had the opportunity to attend a private seminar with Collins the following day to more deeply examine the Spartan regime through Xenophon and Thucydides’ eyes. This seminar was conducted conversationally, like all Ashbrook classes, and Collins opened it by asking the Scholars what questions they had. The group launched into a discussion of obedience, reason, moderation, and true virtue. Sabrina Maristela, a senior in the Ashbrook Scholar Program expressed that she’s always appreciated that Ashbrook provides the opportunity to interact with visiting experts and professors, and added that “these seminars have made the experience so much more fulfilling and beneficial. I’ve definitely had long discussions about the ancients with other Ashbrook Scholars, but it’s not very often that you get a whole day to sit and talk about Sparta with an expert.”

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