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Literature / Spartan

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"The kid will walk and he will be stronger and more skilled than the other boys"
— Kritolaos

Spartan (Lo Scudo di Talos) is a 1988 historical book written by Italian Historian Valerio Massimo Manfredi (the one who wrote the book source for The Last Legion). Set during the years of Greco-Persian Wars.

The novel starts with a tragedy taking place in the noble Spartan House of Kleomenides. The second son is born a cripple and the Spartan city laws want deformed infants to be thrown into a chasm on Mount Taygetos.


Aristarkhos, the father, actually leaves him to Mount Taygetus to die from exposure, but thankfully, an old Helot (the Slave Race of Spartans) named Kritolaos and his dog Krios find him and raise him to become a shepherd.

The years pass and the boy, who is given the name Talos like the giant with a similar disability, grows into a brave young man. During his boyhood, his adoptive grandfather secretly trains him as a warrior and shares with him secrets of the Helot people, who are still dreaming the day they will be free from slavery. Among these secrets, he gives him the sacred now of Aristodemos, the last King of Messenia, their original land.

Meanwhile, he meets his older brother Brithos, now a young hoplite of Sparta, and become rivals as Talos fights back Brithos and his friends who were assaulting Antinea, the young Helot girl he loved.


Their lives change forever as the Greco-Persian Wars breaks and the best hoplites are sent to the Thermopylae along with King Leonidas. Like everyone knows, no one is spared.. save for Brithos and Talos as his steward. They were entrusted with a message of Leonidas the the Ephors, but said message is mysteriously stolen and replaced with an empty one. Brithos is accuses of cowardice and dies in battle in a desperate attempt to gain his honour back. Talos is revealed to be Kleidemos, a noble Spartan and accepted back to his real people.

Earn Your Happy Ending?

Nope. Now he must choose between a life with the city who actually condemned him to die or with the people who rescued him and loved him. At the same time, there's a mystery behind that fateful night King Leonidas' message was lost, and some intrigues that ties Talos to the sordid power games of Spartans.


NB: Some notes about the spoilers. The protagonist's Secret Legacy is revealed to the reader in the first pages, so tropes concerning it are seldom under the spoiler alert. Also since it's historical fiction, most of the Real Life events are almost "Common Knowledge" unless you never opened an history book or thanks to the Pop-Cultural Osmosis of 300.

Needs Wiki Magic Love.

Spartan contains examples of:

  • Action Dad: Aristarkhos is Brithos and Talos' father and he is a skilled warrior.
  • Adult Fear: Plenty of for Talos' biological parents:
    • The city laws obligates you to abandon your child to die if he is born deformed;
    • You find out your abandoned child survived but your other son takes a strong dislike to him and almost killed him;
    • You and your children being sent away to war despite the city laws of sending just one man for family because the city council wants you and your offspring dead because you're a threat to their power.
    • One example with Kritolaos. In the first chapter, he found that his adopted grandson was watching the Spartans from a location. He rushed towards him, embraced him protectively and made him promise that he will never come so close to them again. It's ambiguous whether he was worried about Talos' being targeted by Crypteia or because he feared he might find out about his secret heritage.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Kleidemos shows signs of PTSD, for example, the scene where he sees snow reminds him of the blood that it was pouring during one of his battles.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • Wolves for Talos, nicknamed the Young Wolf and associated with them for being silent and perceptive. When he mysteriously disappears in the finale, all Kara's could find was a lone wolf leading him to his empty armor.
    • Dragon for Brithos, his father Aristarkhos and again Talos himself. A dragon is crafted on the Kleomenides ancestral shield.
  • Archer Archetype: Talos is gifted with the Ancestral Weapon of the last king of the Helots, an extremely powerful wooden bow. He becomes a damn good archer.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "What's in there, behind the armor?" said by Talos to Brithos, when calling him out of his lack of identity and depth aside from being a Spartan hoplite.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • They were actually two soldiers who came alive from the Hot Gates. Only that their names were not Brithos and Agias, but Aristodemus and Pantites. Despite that, the book follows exactly the events of the ancient history.
    • The warriors who fought at the Hot Gates were all fathers. Brithos and Agis were not. They participated because the Ephors were planning to get rid of both Brithos and his father Aristarkhos.
    • The Helots are implied to be the enslaved Messenians who lost the First Messenian War in the VIII century BC . While this was plausible, modern historians tend to agree that they were this but mostly the descendants of the original inhabitants of Lakonia before the Dorian invasion in X century BC...aka the Mycenaean remnants.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Spartan Way of life in spades (and Truth in Television too, as history would prove). The only free citizens of Sparta live as professional soldiers. This means that they're the best army of all Greece, but also that they are dependant on Helots labour for virtually everything, their custom of men marrying late in life and live most of their routine separated by families means that their population rates are usually low. This and the war (along with the earthquake) acting as Depopulation Bomb puts Sparta in a really vulnerable position with the possibility of a slave revolt from the Helots who outnumber the Spartans.
  • Awful Truth:
    • Talos learning his real origin with the knowledge he's been abandoned for his limping and that his deadly rival was his blood brother all along;
    • Again, learning that there has been a Conspiracy among the Ephors of wiping out the Kleomenides family for the crime of being loyal to the wrong king. The knowlegde that his father and brother have honored and died for a city that wanted them dead all along is what makes Talos forsake Sparta for good and join the Helots in fighting it.
  • Ax-Crazy: King Pausanias after his Sanity Slippage.
  • Babies Ever After: Talos reunites for a while with Antinea and she gives birth to a son.
  • Badass Army: The Spartans! Duh! The Persians also count to a lesser extent...
  • Badass Boast: When a Spartan is making fun of Kleidimos' weak leg, he replies "I am here to fight, not to run away".
  • Badass Grandpa: Kritolaos. How many grandpas do you know who teach their grandsons martial skills?
  • Battle Butler: Talos becomes Brithos' steward in battle, who purposefully chose him because he knows he's skilled in combat.
  • Battlecry: HELLLLELEY!!!
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: Antinea, played realistically as it brings her to serious sexual harassment.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Talos seems a good kid at first sight (and indeed, he is), but if you try to harm those who love, he will kick your ass.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Helots gain their freedom, but they have to leave their newly refounded ancestral home because it is impractical to keep and too much near to Sparta. Talos has found out his real origin and marries Antinea but at that point his father and brother are dead and his real mother dies in his arms 5 minutes after being reunited. He then mysteriously disappears after fighting the last battle for the Helot's freedom.
  • Blue Blood: Talos is revealed to have this, as the House of Kleomenides are cousins to King Leonidas.
  • Character Development:
    • Talos used to be a shy boy with low self-esteem due to his disability, but with the training of Kritolaos and his experiences in battle, he becomes a deadly warrior and a leader
    • Brithos was never a bad guy, but started as arrogant, almost a rapist and saw the Helots as slaves whom he can dispose of as he wished. With a Humiliation Conga after the Thermopylae and the times shared with Talos, he changes his attitude and treats him as a friend.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Talos', rather obviously. He was born a Spartan but rejected by the city laws for his malformed foot. He's found and brought up by the Helots, the slave people of Sparta, and The Reveal of being one of the Master Race is source of internal conflict;
    • Aristodemos, Talos and Antinea's son, was born from a Spartan father and an Helot mother.
  • The Chosen One: According to a prophecy by Perialla, the Pythia of Delphi, the one who will free the Helots will renounce to his blood origin and lead his adoptive folk to freedom. Try guess who he is.
  • Condescending Compassion: After being sent away from Thermopylae, Brithos laments his lost honor and tells Talos how he envies his servant condition since he doesn't have to worry about honor and death in battle. Talos rightly calls him out of it, saying that slaves are seldom content with their condition.
  • Conspiracy Thriller: What the novel is aside from epic fiction. There's a number of mysteries that have to be solved; like who changed the King Leonidas' message brought by Brithos and Talos with an empty one, and why more than one King meets a suspicious demise.
  • Cool Old Guy: Kritolaos, who is a Mentor Archetype for Talos' soldier training along with being snarky AF and a total Badass Grandpa.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Aristarkhos abandons his son to the mountain because of Sparta's strict rule that every deformed and physically weak baby is not suited for soldier. He's left a scarred man after that.
  • Damsel in Distress: Antinea when she is sexually harassed by the Spartan boys. Luckily, Talos comes in time to rescue her.
  • David vs. Goliath: Some literal and metaphorical examples.
    • The historical war between Persia and Greece. An Hegemonic Empire of immense wealth vs. a confederation of relatively modest (in comparison at least) city state most of the times at each other's throats;
    • Talos vs. Brithos, the Handicapped Badass against the Blood Knight. Double-played straight as the first is a slave and a survivor, the latter a professionally-trained warrior;
    • Brithos' large feral molosser vs. Talos' shepherd dog serve as a Foil to their master. The former brutally ravages the latter but Talos quite correctly points out that his dog was the brave one because he died defending his herd, while the giant black dog is a bloodthirsty beast who killed an unequal adversary.
    • The Helots vs the Spartans. The formers are just a Slave Race who fight to win back their freedom, while the latters are Proud Warrior Race who want them back as servants.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Karas.
    Karas: So, what do you want me to do next? Let me guess! Bring the kings and the ephors inside a poke?
  • Department of Redundancy Department: For some reason, Talos has the urge to remind us that he sees Kritolaos as the wisest man on Earth.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The war leaves Sparta a decimated force, with most of the youths dead and a terrible population crisis. King Pausanias and King Leonidas' solution was make the Helots free citizens and integrate them in Sparta, but the Ephors got rid of them before they could accomplish anything.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Helots successfully rebel against the Spartans.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Talos' biological mother dies of a stroke for her grief.
    • Brithos also dies of his injuries in Talos' arms.
  • Do You Think I Can't Feel: Brithos believes Helots to be cowardly subhumans who care just of saving their skin. Talos, a leader and a warrior among his people, his fed up with his Condescending Compassion and shuts him up saying that his people are essentially braver than Spartans, who all they know is fighting and oppressing those who can't fight back.
  • Emotional Bruiser: A trait that Talos has even after he becomes a Spartan hoplite,as he's now scarred by PTSD and the knowledge his real family is dead.
  • Eye Scream: Karas is tortured almost to Death by the Crypteia to know any possible link between King Pausanias treasonous plot and they let him live not before having driven a burning iron stake to his eye.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Pausanias. He cared about the well-being of his city-state, but he was so impressed by the Persian culture, that he started to get sick of Sparta' s austere life.
  • Family Eye Resemblance: Pausanias states that Talos has his mother's big and black eyes. This is, along with his malformed foot, what clues Aristarkhos that the boy is his son.
  • Famous Last Words: Brithos "What's in there, behind the armor?" as an Ironic Echo to Talos' speech about his lack of identity aside from being a Spartan hoplite.
  • Foil:
    • Brithos to Agias. Both were said to abandon everyone in Thermopylae, something wrong. While the former was saved and earned back his glory, the latter commited suicide.
    • Talos to Brithos. Both were born free but they somehow lost their freedom ad honor. The former because he was born cripple (and his considered incapable as a soldier) and the latter because was believed that he fled the battle at Thermopylae. After they fight at Platea, they can earn their honor back.
  • Greco-Persian Wars: It's set during the second one and cover the next 30 years until the Third Messenian War between Sparta, its Messenian subjects and the Helots.
  • Handicapped Badass: Talos. He is cripple, but he knows how to fight, thanks to his grandpa's help, and he managed to defend Antinea when she was assaulted by Brithos and his friends.
  • Heel–Face Turn: While not a villain, Brithos used to see the Helots as slaves, that they shouldn't even count as human beings. After he is saved by Talos and hangs out with him for a year, he changes his opinion over them.
  • Heel Realization: Thanks to The Power of Friendship and some Humiliation Conga, Brithos realizes how petty and cruel he's been to Talos and how wrong he is to have always regard Helot people as cowardly subhumans when they're obviously not content of being slaves but die in battle for Sparta when required anyway.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Talos' dog, Krios.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partner: Brithos to Agias. They were best friends and the former's death striked the latter deeply.
  • Gentle Giant: Karas. He is kinda tough, but he is always loyal and supportive to Talos.
  • Internal Reveal: Done thrice with Talos' real parentage, despite being known to the reader since the first pages:
    • First, his striking resemblance to his biological mother and his limping clue to Aristarkhos that he's his long lost son;
    • Talos himself learns his real identity by King Pausanias after the Battle of Platea;
    • Implied to Brithos, who finally puts the pieces together about him when Talos unknowingly mentions Spartan deformed children being adopted by Helots.
  • In the Hood: There's a recurring mysterious man who wears a hooded cloak and spies around Talos' hut. He believes he's a member of Crypteia but turns out he's his biological father desperate to catch a glimpse of him.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Brithos is stopped in his suicide attempt by Talos and Karas (who unceremoniously knocks him unconscious);
    • Later Talos himself attempts to kill himself and is thankfully stopped by Laghal.
  • Keeping the Enemy Close: The reason why Brithos chose Talos as his field steward. He knows there's something more about him and wants to know where the hell he learned to fight like a skilled warrior.
    • The same reason why Talos saved Brithos from committing suicide. He knows that there is something that connects him with his family and he wants to find out.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Brithos looks and follows the footsteps of his father, Aristarkhos. He shares also his Heroic Sacrifice that was ultimately meaningless and what the Ephores wanted all along.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Talos and Brithos are separated brothers. While Talos tragically learns it after Britos' death, Brithos it's implied to have figured it out.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Pausanias informs Talos his true identity. That he is the son of a Spartan family and that his actual name is Kleidimos.
  • Made a Slave: Talos. Although he was born free, he was abandoned by his father and he was adopted by some Helots.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Brithos silently cries the night before the Battle of Platea. It is because he's guessed why he felt a weird connection to Talos: he's his long lost brother.
    • When Kleidimos sees the Helots going down the mountains to fight the Spartans, he wants to join them. However, his new position doesn't allow him. Not knowing which path to take, he curls into a ball and cries.
  • Master Race: The Spartans were this in Real Life.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The Delphic Oracle and the Pythia herself. While the prophecies to Themistokles and Talos prove to be correct, the others are so pessimistic and pro-Persian winning that is suspicious;
    • Talos eventual disappearance. Has he magically turned into a wolf, has he died of his injuries in a unknown place or has he secretly left to reunite with his wife and son? We will never know.
  • Mentor Archetype: Kritolaos is this to Talos. He is the one whi taught him how to fight and gave him a goal when Talos had lost every hope and believed that their nation would always remain slaves.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Talos, the protagonist, in the most classical tradition of The Chosen One.
  • Never Found the Body: The book ends with Talos disappearing and leaving his weapons but no corpse behind. It's up to the reader to decide what really happened.
  • No Name Given: Talos' adoptive mother is never given a name.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: What the Ephors turn out to be. They often antagonize the two kings more progressive or pragmatic decisions because they see themselves as the protect of the Good Old Ways and tend to rule Sparta more as an oligarchy than a kingdom.
  • Police State: Thanks to the Ephors' above Obstructive Bureaucrat tendencies, Sparta keeps a tight control on his most notable citizens and not even the Kings are safe from being controlled. Turns out Spartan Ephors knew about Talos' identity and every single plot featured in the novel.
  • Psycho Serum: King Kleomenes was slowly poisoned to madness by the Ephors.
  • Raised By Muggles: Zigzagged trope. Talos is raised by Helot shepherds, but is also given secret military training by rebel Helots. That is not so much a mundane upbringing.
  • Sanity Slippage: Pausanias after the wars in Persia. He was fine, but then he planned on betray Greece and become King of Persia. Even Laghal comments on how insane he has become.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Antinea doesn't have much character.
  • Secret Police: Crypteia.
  • Sex Slave: A really sad example of Laghal, the slave little boy who Talos befriends and grows up to be Pausanias' bed-warmer.
  • Slave Race: The Helots were this in Real Life.
  • Slave Revolt: As historians report, the Helots exploits an earthquake in 464 BC to successfully rebel against their Spartan master's.
  • Slave Liberation: At the end of the story, the Helots rebel and are granted freedom and a new land to live in.
  • The So-Called Coward: Agias and Brithos.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Talos and Antinea,twice. The first time is entirely mundane: she moved away with her master's family. The second after The Reveal of Talos' noble heritage, which makes them an Unequal Pairing since as a noble Spartan she's suitable to be a servant or a concubine at best. It's implied that being with her is one of the reasons he turns his back on Sparta for good.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Talos is described to look like his biological mother and have the same eyes as her, while Brithos to look like his father.
    • The son of Talos and Antinea has characteristics from both of his parents. He has his father's hair and his mother's green eyes.
  • Suicide by Cop: Brithos purposefully decides to die in battle to gain his honour back.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Talos gives a well-deserved one twice to Brithos.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Talos becomes a warrior, just like his father and brother. This is not what his adoptive grandpa wanted for him.
  • Uriah Gambit: Brithos and Aristarkhos, and King Leonidas to a lesser extent. The former two because they were faithful to the disgraced King Kleomenes and suspected something was off about his demise. The latter because his Heroic Sacrifice would have convinced the Athenians to send their fleet in Sparta's aid.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Pausanias was not even wrong in wanting to get rid of the Ephors and integrate the Helots as citizens of Sparta since a) Sparta has a serious problem with depopulation and their society is not sustainable anymore, b) the Ephors are all too eager of getting rid of those who go against the Good Old Ways such as King Kleomenes, King Leonidas, Aristarkhos and Pausanias himself. He's just too ambitious and too much machiavellian in allying with Persia to do so, but even then, those who have some knowledge of The Peloponnesian War know that it's a line that the Ephors will eventually cross in few decades.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Talos is the youngest son of Kleomenides and the one who survived the war and inherit the family estate.
  • You Remind Me of X: Talos bears a Strong Family Resemblance to his biological mother. His real father Aristarkhos picks this up quickly, while his brother Brithos puts the pieces together the night before his death.

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