Defined Traps and Gold Earrings
Art and Proxy Virtues
A lot of people think that the Archaic Greek hoplites went into battle naked because of images like these:
A lot of people think the Persian Immortals went into battle wearing jewelry including big hoop gold earrings because of images like these:
Neither of those things are true.
The Greeks did train naked (viz: gymnasium). But to fight naked would be totally unpragmatic and increase the likelihood of the most terrible of injury.1
The Immortals of the Achaemenid Empire did wear a lot of jewelry, including big gold hoop earrings, in ceremony. But to fight like that would be totally unpragmatic and increase the likelihood of a (slightly less) terrible injury.
The artistic depictions of these two kinds of warriors don’t show us how they fought, nor were they meant to.
Art, of this kind, isn’t meant to show how certain persons look. It’s is meant to show how people want to look, the ideal.
Art, in any medium, abstractly represents of a piece of reality. Even modern photography can’t capture all details of a given subject.
Instead, art filters and highlights parts of reality that the artist deems relevant.
Art represents how the culture viewed the ideal warrior, the ideal man, and more specifically, what traits mattered in evaluating such.
Art displays Proxy Virtues
Proxy virtues are traits that easily observable traits used to assess how “good” a man is.
Proxy virtues tell members of a given culture what traits to focus on when evaluating men.
Through their art, we can see the differences in proxy virtues of the Greeks and Persians:
The Greeks valued men who had the physical and mental fortitude to stand their ground. Their “senseless” infantry-based fighting style required more strength, size, and stamina than the “hit and run” horse-archer-based style of Western Asian armies.
A strong and durable man was more useful to Greek society. Therefore a powerful-looking physique was a primary proxy virtue for Greek men.
Greek statues don’t suggest that all Archaic Greek men were built like sculptures. They simply tell us that the look they valued. More likely, the Greek statues represented the Pareto Elite of their societies— The type of man all other men wanted to be.
Similarly, the Achaemenid Persians valued wealth. King Darius I was the first emperor to coin globally-accepted currency. His conquests were largely fueled by superior economics. Persian wealth led to the safest and most abundant society the the world had ever seen.
A rich man was seen as more useful to Persian society. Therefore displays of wealth was a primary proxy virtue for Persian men.
But the relationship of proxy virtues and masculine behavior goes both ways.
While art tend to show what the culture values, it also tells the next generation how to measure their worth.
The Art we consume shapes our perceptions.
I use the term ‘Art’ in the broadest sense— Any abstract representation of life that highlights a certain meaning.
Whether we like it or not, our subconscious perceptions of “good” vs. “bad” are largely driven by the media we consume.
Art is the scaffolding of culture.
Culture narrows our range of perceptions so that we can see things more similarly to our neighbors and therefore communicate.
This is an absolutely necessary part of forming societies and nations.
And it’s also important to recognize what filters are being imposed on us, especially when we’re in the impressionable state of receiving entertainment.
The transformation of James Bond from womanizing Sean Connery to “blunt instrument of the government” Daniel Craig is a very different role model for young men. Maybe you think it’s a good change. Maybe you don’t.
Marvel recently accepted funding from Pfizer to make a comic series promoting vaccine compliance.2 Maybe you think that's a good thing. Maybe you don't.
In our current era, cultures are no longer confined geographically. And more than every before, it’s possible for small groups to modify the perceptions of large groups.
So be careful what you eat.
History of Man Episode III: With Your Shield or On It goes more in depth on how the cultural differences of the Greeks and Persians determines the results of their wars.
(Use term “History of Man Ruwan” to find it by search.)
In hoplite vs. hoplite phalanx battles groin injuries were very common due to the heavy bronze corselet worn that could deflect penetration into the torso. Many ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon make mention of warriors having their groins impaled.