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The Spartans despised anyone weak or fat, drank blood soup and kicked their own buttocks

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the spartans despised anyone weak or fat drank blood soup and kicked their own buttocks

BOOK OF THE WEEK

THE SPARTANS   

by Andrew J Bayliss (OUP £10.99, 184 pp)

The 2006 big box-office hit 300 memorably portrays the Spartans as muscular beardies in short red cloaks and skimpy black Speedos, with Gerard Butler kicking foreign ambassadors down a well while shouting: ‘This is Sparta!’

Now here’s a new history of these extraordinary and often terrifying people, which is both scholarly and highly entertaining. It’s no surprise to learn that much of that movie is pure Hollywood, but fascinating to learn how much of it is true. And some things about the Spartans are truly jaw-dropping.

Two-and-a-half thousand years on, they still symbolise the ultimate in martial courage and implacable savagery. From childhood, boys were raised to become warriors — and girls to become the mothers of warriors.

Andrew J Bayliss examines the Spartans in an highly entertaining and scholarly book. Pictured: Gerard Butler in 300

Andrew J Bayliss examines the Spartans in an highly entertaining and scholarly book. Pictured: Gerard Butler in 300

Andrew J Bayliss examines the Spartans in an highly entertaining and scholarly book. Pictured: Gerard Butler in 300

Once boys had attained manhood, they lived in communal messes, spending their days in gymnastics, running, boxing, wrestling, throwing the javelin and a team sport whose nature can be surmised from its name: battle ball.

They also exercised by . . . dancing. Except they danced wearing full bronze armour, weighing about 30kg, or 66 lb.

And, since this was Sparta, it was a war dance, ‘simulating dodging blows and missiles by swerving and ducking, leaping and crouching’.

Diet was simple and nourishing: barley cakes, figs, cheese, olive oil and the dreaded ‘black broth,’ a sort of blood soup. They also ate wild game, lamb or goat. Doughnuts were not on the menu: they despised anyone overweight — one was actually fined for getting fat.

Boys were kept hungry and encouraged to steal, but not get caught: useful practice for stealth operations when older. They slept on beds of reeds cut from the river, though in very cold weather they were allowed some thistle-down for extra warmth. What luxury!

Did they practise pederasty, like other Greeks? Certainly older men mentored younger boys, but at least one ancient writer says firmly that they regarded sexual relations between men and boys with as much disgust as they did incest.

Like many sexual practices from the past, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the truth from scurrilous gossip. Boys were expected to take jokes against themselves — the Spartans didn’t tolerate snowflakes — and they were renowned throughout Greece for their curt and cutting sense of humour.

The Spartans regarded excess weight and wobble as signs of weakness, with the girls dancing naked in front of the young men so that they would be ashamed to be fat. Pictured: Spartans battle illustration

The Spartans regarded excess weight and wobble as signs of weakness, with the girls dancing naked in front of the young men so that they would be ashamed to be fat. Pictured: Spartans battle illustration

The Spartans regarded excess weight and wobble as signs of weakness, with the girls dancing naked in front of the young men so that they would be ashamed to be fat. Pictured: Spartans battle illustration 

They even gave us the word ‘laconic’, from Laconia, the Spartan region of the Peloponnese. When Philip II of Macedon sent a threatening message to them, saying: ‘If I conquer Laconia, I will raze your city to the ground’ they replied with a single word: ‘If.’ Philip II of Macedon decided not to invade Sparta after all.

This may all sound ‘distinctly masculine’, says Bayliss, but Spartan women were also highly celebrated for their athletic, sunkissed, outdoor-type beauty. They would probably have made great cover girls for glossy fitness magazines. Classical poets praised their ‘lovely ankles’ and ‘hair that blooms like pure gold’.

Shocked (but no doubt rather delighted) foreign visitors recorded that the women wore white mini-dresses that exposed their thighs, toned from a particular exercise ‘whereby girls would jump up and kick their own buttocks, first with one foot, then the other, followed by both at the same time’.

One ancient Spartan epigram records a girl boasting that she managed 1,000 such jumps, ‘more than any other girl’.

Like the men, they had no truck with fat acceptance, and regarded excess weight and wobble as signs of weakness.

Indeed, Spartan girls would actually dance naked in front of the young men, so that, as Plutarch puts it, they would be ‘ashamed to be fat or weak’.

One mother killed her son by bludgeoning him with a roof tile after he returned home from a battle where all his comrades had fought to the death. Pictured: Spartan battle illustration

One mother killed her son by bludgeoning him with a roof tile after he returned home from a battle where all his comrades had fought to the death. Pictured: Spartan battle illustration

One mother killed her son by bludgeoning him with a roof tile after he returned home from a battle where all his comrades had fought to the death. Pictured: Spartan battle illustration 

But the shaming culture worked both ways, notes Bayliss. Boys would have to prove themselves exceptionally strong and heroic to win such magnificent specimens of womanhood, and the girls would mock them if they failed.

Spartan women wanted warriors. One mother killed her son by bludgeoning him with a roof tile after he returned home from a battle where all his comrades had fought to the death.

Darker traits in Spartan society show how toughness can slide into mere brutality. They practised a ruthless eugenics, whereby sickly babies were simply killed and thrown down a crevasse. And they treated their slave class abominably.

The helots, who worked on the land growing all the food, had to endure the annual slave hunt, whereby young warriors were sent out to hunt down and kill any slaves they could find, as a kind of practice for war and to remind the underlings of their place.

The Spartans’ finest hour — in which all of Spartan history, tradition and training seem to find their fulfilment — was during three unforgettable days at Thermopylae, in late August, 480 BC.

THE SPARTANS by Andrew J Bayliss (OUP £10.99, 184 pp)

THE SPARTANS by Andrew J Bayliss (OUP £10.99, 184 pp)

THE SPARTANS by Andrew J Bayliss (OUP £10.99, 184 pp)

King Leonidas of Sparta led his 300 warriors out to face a Persian army of at least 100,000, perhaps twice that, with never a moment’s hesitation. His opponent, Xerxes, overlord of an Asian empire that stretched ‘from sunrise to sunset’, warned that he had so many archers, their arrows would darken the sky. ‘Good,’ said one Spartan warrior. ‘Then we’ll fight in the shade.’

Another message from Xerxes demanded that they lay down their arms. Leonidas himself replied to that one with the magnificent, ‘Molon labe’, meaning ‘Come and get them’.

The key to Leonidas’s feat of heroic resistance, apart from sheer bravery and fighting prowess, was geography. The Pass of Thermopylae, on the east coast of Greece, was no more than 100 metres wide.

‘Seemingly impenetrable cliffs rose to the landward side,’ says Bayliss, while on the other, ‘the sea crashed against the rocks’.

The 300 Spartans held out in the murderous bottleneck for an incredible three days and nights.

Finally betrayed and attacked from the rear, they died to the last man, but many thousands of Persians died with them in a bitter humiliation for Xerxes. All of Greece was inspired by their example, and all of Western civilisation since: its central assumptions about individual liberty and democracy flow from that sacrifice. It was bound to become mythologised.

But while the peerless warriors and their staggering bravery and contempt for death continue to inspire awe in us today, their cruelty and ruthlessness also inspire a certain repulsion.

The Spartans were no democrats: the Nazis admired their martial prowess and their eugenics, and in today’s Greece the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party see themselves as modern-day Spartans defending their land against Asiatic invasion in the form of illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq and beyond.

It seems that, whether we admire them or not, we are unable to forget them.

Which is just what the Spartans would have wanted.

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This second wave of coronavirus is simply not as deadly, says PROFESSOR KAROL SIKORA

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this second wave of coronavirus is simply not as deadly says professor karol sikora

Britain is now in grave danger of sleepwalking into a second national lockdown. The consequences of doing so would be disastrous.

We find ourselves in this wretched position partly because the Government’s main achievement since the pandemic first emerged in China has not been suppressing the virus or saving lives or the economy, but in spreading irrational fear.

I understand people’s anxieties, especially those who are elderly or suffering other chronic ailments. 

The disruption to family life caused by the summer lockdown, and the new restrictions imposed since then, have demoralised and isolated many.

Their fear has been compounded by the actions of a Government that is not in charge of events, buffeted by the conflicting advice of scientists. 

The disruption to family life caused by the summer lockdown, and the new restrictions imposed since then, have demoralised and isolated many. Pictured: Loved-ones kept apart by glass at a care home during lockdown

The disruption to family life caused by the summer lockdown, and the new restrictions imposed since then, have demoralised and isolated many. Pictured: Loved-ones kept apart by glass at a care home during lockdown

Britain’s much-expanded – but still imperfect – testing regime has detected an increased infection rate in many regions. 

In some parts of the UK, the famous ‘R figure’ is nudging 1.4. 

This is not disastrous, but it’s certainly far from ideal.

However, a return to a blanket lockdown is the last thing we should be contemplating if we are serious about the nation’s mental and physical well-being. 

We simply cannot afford to panic.

Yes, the rate of infection is rising. It has risen sharply in recent weeks in Spain too, leading to much talk about a ‘second wave’ there.

Crucially, though, Spanish hospital admissions have lagged far behind the infection rate.

On Tuesday, 154 people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the UK, about double the week before. 

The question is: will these cases be containable, as they seem to be in Spain, or will we soon be suffering the exponential increase in hospital admissions we all remember from April?

This second wave or, in Boris Johnson’s typically memorable phrase, the second ‘hump on the camel’s back’, will not trigger the explosion in deaths we saw in the spring. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter much if healthy young people get Covid, so long as they do not pass it on to elderly or vulnerable relatives. Pictured: A Covid-19 patient is treated by staff in an ICU

This second wave or, in Boris Johnson’s typically memorable phrase, the second ‘hump on the camel’s back’, will not trigger the explosion in deaths we saw in the spring. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter much if healthy young people get Covid, so long as they do not pass it on to elderly or vulnerable relatives. Pictured: A Covid-19 patient is treated by staff in an ICU

On the basis of all the current evidence, I believe it will be the former.

For one thing, the vast majority of those currently testing positive for Covid are experiencing mild symptoms and remain in good overall health.

The other point to remember is that the terrible death toll Britain suffered in the spring was due largely to the grotesque error of clearing hospitals of elderly patients and sending them, untested, into care homes.

This second wave or, in Boris Johnson’s typically memorable phrase, the second ‘hump on the camel’s back’, will not trigger the explosion in deaths we saw in the spring.

To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter much if healthy young people get Covid, so long as they do not pass it on to elderly or vulnerable relatives. 

Not a single young child has died in the UK from Covid without some other serious pre-existing condition. 

According to Cambridge statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, anyone under 50 is more likely to die in a car crash than from the virus.

Yet Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been on the airwaves this week floating the idea of a two-week national lockdown to serve as a ‘circuit-breaker’ for the virus.

If only. A circuit breaker instantly shuts down a dangerous current of electricity.

A time-limited lockdown, however, takes weeks to work, if at all – and there is every chance the virus would rebound as soon as it was lifted.

Most depressingly of all, word has gone out from Whitehall to NHS trusts to start preparing wards for an influx of new cases.

Just as NHS diagnostic services are revving back up again, they risk being forced into a screeching U-turn. 

NHS hospitals need to get on with their routine business of keeping the nation healthy.

For one thing, the vast majority of those currently testing positive for Covid are experiencing mild symptoms and remain in good overall health. Pictured: People use a relatively quiet Covid-19 testing centre in Bolton

For one thing, the vast majority of those currently testing positive for Covid are experiencing mild symptoms and remain in good overall health. Pictured: People use a relatively quiet Covid-19 testing centre in Bolton

My field is cancer. I make no apology for highlighting that 30,000 extra cancer deaths will soon emerge thanks to delays in doctors picking up symptoms and in patients being referred for scans and tests.

Tragically, these people are doomed to die, though many of them do not know it yet. Many will be thirty or forty years younger than the vast majority of those dying of Covid.

And it’s not just cancer: Roughly 100,000 people suffer a stroke every year. 

This year, almost one third of sufferers have put off seeking treatment during the pandemic, delaying the use of vital blood-thinning drugs that limit the long-term damage caused by a stroke.

We live in an age when ministers who lack basic confidence in their abilities come up with ever sillier gimmicks about ‘circuit-breaking’ lockdowns and testing ‘moonshots’.

We need basic common sense from the top, not confusion and retreat.

Covid-19 is a very dangerous virus for the elderly, the medically vulnerable and the obese.

Those groups need to take personal responsibility for keeping themselves safe, but that does not mean cowering at home.

They should still take a walk along a river or in a park, keep away from crowds and remain in an environment where they, not others, can be responsible for keeping their distance. 

All of us should be washing our hands regularly, and yes, wearing a mask – but the young and healthy must also get on with their lives.

In the short term, this is a virus we are going to have to live with. Let us start doing so.

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Is suspended nurse and anti-vaxxer Kate Shemirani the most dangerous woman in Britain?

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is suspended nurse and anti vaxxer kate shemirani the most dangerous woman in britain

Kate Shemirani strides into the hotel where we meet with such confidence that, despite the signs insisting masks must be worn, nobody challenges her lack of face covering.

By the time the receptionist has emerged from behind the desk, the 54-year-old suspended nurse has already swept off down a corridor in her strappy white stilettos.

Had she been stopped, goodness only knows what kind of kerfuffle would have ensued. For anti-vaxxer Shemirani is pretty forthright when it comes to imparting her views on the global Covid-19 pandemic — or ‘scamdemic’ as she calls it.

Over the past few weeks, this glossy mother-of-four from East Sussex has emerged as the new face of the UK’s anti-vaccination movement. At the end of last month, she joined conspiracy theorists David Icke and Piers Corbyn, older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, at a protest against coronavirus restrictions and plans for a Covid-19 vaccine.

A couple of weeks ago, she popped up again outside Downing Street where she gave a speech to the assembled masses about the ‘Covid-19 myth’ before being briefly arrested. This weekend, she will appear centre-stage at another rally in Trafalgar Square.

Over the past few weeks, Kate Shemirani, a glossy mother-of-four from East Sussex, has emerged as the new face of the UK's anti-vaccination movement

Over the past few weeks, Kate Shemirani, a glossy mother-of-four from East Sussex, has emerged as the new face of the UK’s anti-vaccination movement

Covid-19, says Shemirani, doesn’t exist. Its symptoms are linked to the roll-out of new 5G wireless technology. There is no pandemic — it’s a conspiracy to control the masses.

The upcoming Covid-19 vaccination is, in reality, a political tool to gain access to and to change people’s DNA. She likens the ongoing lockdown restrictions to the Holocaust, asking whether the public will wake up ‘on the cattle truck? Or in the showers?’

These outlandish claims have landed her in hot water with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), who suspended her registration in July, and seen her kicked off Facebook and Instagram for spreading misinformation. But they’ve also seen her Twitter following treble in the past three weeks. 

And despite 35 years as a registered nurse, Shemirani couldn’t give two hoots about the NMC suspension because the organisation is a ‘criminal governing body’ with a ‘terrorist agenda to commit genocide’.

‘These are not views. This is the truth,’ she snaps, adding — not for the last time — ‘I’ve done my research and if you slander me, I’ll sue you.’

Within minutes of sitting down, the conversation gets really weird. The new Covid-19 vaccine, she says, contains particles powered by military-style ‘Darpa’ technology. ‘They will be able to look at every aspect of what is going on in our brains,’ she says, ‘Not only can they pick it up, they can download into us.’

The big question, of course, is who on earth would want to do this? Her reply is to talk about a global ‘narrative’ — a powerful elite using the pandemic to create a new world order.

Next comes her most astonishing claim of all: ‘No vaccine has ever been proven safe or effective,’ she says.

This is preposterous. Take polio, for example, where cases dropped following a mass vaccination programme in the 1950s, with no UK cases since the mid 1980s. ‘What is polio?’ she says, before launching into a conspiracy theory about it being caused by the insecticide DDT.

Conversing with Shemirani is an unsettling experience. On one level, she’s the epitome of conventional middle-classdom — a former NHS nurse and stay-at-home mother with an ex-husband who worked in the City and four children, now between 17 and 21, who were privately educated.

At the end of last month, she joined conspiracy theorists David Icke and Piers Corbyn, older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, at a protest against coronavirus restrictions and plans for a Covid-19 vaccine

At the end of last month, she joined conspiracy theorists David Icke and Piers Corbyn, older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, at a protest against coronavirus restrictions and plans for a Covid-19 vaccine

When she is addressing the crowds at a rally, she can also call upon her working-class roots.

The postman’s daughter from Nottingham, who left school before completing her A-levels, worked variously in a factory, a bar in Spain and in Argos and, after qualifying at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1984, supplemented her salary as a theatre nurse with modelling assignments. From 1990 to 1998 she worked as a long-haul BA air stewardess.

After her children were born, she briefly set up her own business administering Botox, fillers and peels, and it was only a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2012 that saw her perform a complete volte-face in terms of her attitude to conventional medicine.

After undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstruction, she refused chemotherapy on the advice of her then husband, himself a conspiracy theorist who believed 9/11 was an inside job.

She embarked on a fat-free, salt-free, sugar-free vegan regime including high doses of vitamins as well as 13 juices a day, five coffee enemas and mistletoe injected into her stomach. Nine years on and still largely following that regime, she has had no recurrence of disease. Now describing herself as a nutritionist after taking an online diploma, she recommends the same treatment to other cancer patients.

She is unperturbed by the fact that there are no clinical trials to support her recommendations and rebuts any attempt to provide evidence, with the counter-claim: ‘There are no studies in oncology that tell you that you are going to die if you don’t do the (chemotherapy) treatment.’

There is, however, an abundance of evidence showing cancer patients’ survival rates improve when they do have it.

During our interview, I notice how she often takes isolated pieces of information and puts them together to present a new ‘truth’ of her own. Vaccines, for example, do indeed contain aluminium. But the amounts are too small to be harmful — aluminium is one of the most common metals found in nature and is present in air, food and water.

In Shemirani’s world, anyone who disagrees with her is lying, misinformed or jealous. Overweight, envious nurses come in for particular criticism.

‘The fact that I was always graced with decent looks and I’m always very slim has generated jealousy throughout my career,’ she said in another interview.

This weekend, the campaigner, pictured, will appear centre-stage at another rally in Trafalgar Square

This weekend, the campaigner, pictured, will appear centre-stage at another rally in Trafalgar Square

And she certainly has no time for official health organisations or their peer-reviewed studies. Public Health England is ‘just a bunch of criminals’. Cancer Research UK ‘crooks’ and the NHS is ‘the new Auschwitz’.

It was in March this year that her claims finally landed her in hot water. As the resident ‘health and wellness’ expert on her local Sussex radio station Uckfield FM, she spent 20 minutes telling listeners ‘the truth’ about Covid-19.

Her summary of this broadcast is baffling: ‘I talked about Covid-19 — how there was an inversion in the genome sequence, indicative of vector technology.

‘That Wuhan, according to the telecommunications network in China, had been the test city for 5G from autumn of 2019, that mandatory vaccinations came into force in December of 2019 in China.’ After complaints from listeners, Uckfield FM was reprimanded by Ofcom and ordered to broadcast an apology.

Anti-vaxxers, of course, have been coming out with this kind of stuff for years. Britain has been a hub of bogus claims about vaccine safety ever since Andrew Wakefield falsely claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in the late 1990s. He was later struck off for serious misconduct and research fraud.

And yet Shemirani describes 61-year-old Wakefield, who continues to promote his views in the U.S., as an ‘amazing’ man. This weekend, he will join her at the Trafalgar Square rally.

But while she and other conspiracy theorists continue to dismiss the current health crisis as a ‘scamdemic’ designed to engender fear among the populace, surely the most terrifying prospect of all is the outlandish world she believes in.

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Don’t tell teacher: pupils set school bus on fire

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dont tell teacher pupils set school bus on fire

A group of pupils reportedly set a bus on fire after allegedly turning their hair spray cans into ‘flamethrowers.’

The single-decker vehicle was pictured with huge flames and smoke pouring from the roof at around 3:45pm in Shepherdswell, near Dover, Kent, yesterday.

It was reported the blaze was started by schoolchildren who set hair spray or hand sanitiser on fire.

The single-deck vehicle is pictured with huge flames smoke pouring from the roof at around 3:45pm in Shepherdswell, near Dover, Kent, today

The single-deck vehicle is pictured with huge flames smoke pouring from the roof at around 3:45pm in Shepherdswell, near Dover, Kent, today

Firefighters could be seen attending to the blaze and putting the fire out

Firefighters could be seen attending to the blaze and putting the fire out

The driver was understood to be alert to the incident and managed to evacuated everyone from the bus before it went up in flames.

Pictures from the scene show the bus at a standstill while flames douse the turquoise vehicle along a quiet residential street.  

Firefighters could be seen attending to the blaze and putting the fire out.

The images show the bus has been completely burnt out with only the steering wheel and driver’s chair still visible.  

Despite the severity of the fire there were not thought to be any injuries from the incident. 

Social media users reacted with dismay at the blaze, but praised the driver for his quick-thinking to get the schoolchildren off the bus. 

One person described the bus driver as a ‘legend’, while another described him as the ‘hero of the day.’ 

It is not clear which school the pupils are from, or if police are investigating the incident.

Kent Police has been contacted for comment. 

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