The Spartans had railways! Travelers to the Peloponnese noticed two deep groves that were used by the Spartans to exploit the produce of the Messene plain. Another strange fact from The Corrupting Sea. The classic account of this, according to Horden and Purcell, is Christien J (1989) “Les liaisons entre Sparte et son territoire malgre l’encadrement montagneux,” in Bergier (1989) Montagnes, fleuves, forets dans l’historie. Very strange. I consider myself decently knowledgeable of  Classical Greek history, but never once did this come up. But oh did Marathon, Salamis, and all that other Athenian crap. I also was prattled to multiple times in a rather disjointed manner about various aspects of Spartan society. But never about this. Following Michael Mann’s a History of Power, it seems likely that the Spartans were able to exploit the most surplus through their power, and this power was predicated on their logistical capabilities within the Peloponnese, which explains why they never attempted to expand much further.

In our new eco-friendly age, I envision a reinvigorated new role for classical history, where we understand that the Spartans were much greener than the Athenians. A new template for our society can emerge, bringing with it authoritarianism, infanticide, and ecological self sufficiency. Many of the problems associated with wanton consumerism have their root in Athenian ideas. Our banking system, which infuriates everyone, has its roots in Athens (See Edward Cohen (1997), although this was a fairly minimal wealth multiplier, probably not even x2). The Spartans, by contrast, hated money. Their currency was heavy iron bars, which made it a pain in the ass to buy anything. Imagine if each dollar weighed a pound! It would increase savings, reduce needless consumption, and radically cut carbon emissions. What could go wrong! To fight global warming we must reject our Athenian past and move to our Spartan future. Oil companies, Athens, public transit, Sparta.

Midway through his terrific new memoir Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life, Michael Greenberg describes pitching a potential film to someone he considers an up-and-coming directer.

I had pitched him a story I had lying around: A police reporter affects the outcome of the crimes he covers, then writes about them, hiding his involvement. ‘That’s the plot of Superman,’ he said without hesitation. That I had not considered this similarity myself made me realize I was out of my league.

I too felt that way, laughing at the description. Who would think to explain Superman this way? To boil it down to this one particular element of the story? Not a Superman that emphasizes heroism, immigration, America, or the continuing capacity for reinvention, but a Superman defined by his reportage.

This description of the Superman saga is akin to Gordon Hutner’s great description of the plot of The Sun Also Rises in What America Read:

The Sun Also Rises tells of an American newspaper writer with a war injury living in Paris who drinks heavily and gets involved in a frustrating romance with a promiscuous aristocrat.

Yes, both descriptions are true, but they leave out too many of the elements we consider essential to have much worth. Where is World War I in this description of TSAR? As beneath the Iceberg as in Hem’s account; or the trip to Spain? or Robert Cohn?

No, Greenberg’s pitch doesn’t quite describe Superman. Writing reportage that leaves Superman out of the story is something that Clark Kent could never do. Superman, after all, isn’t Batman trying to stay in the Shadows, more powerful, as the Burton films tell us, as an urban legend than a known quantity. It’s the uncertainty of Badman that makes him so terrifying in Burton’s gothic vision.

So I briefly considered writing a post arguing that Greenberg should write Superman. Beg, Borrow, Steal is one of the best books I’ve read recently. The prose is taught, unadorned but affecting, and the book is filled with funny moments that magnify Greenberg’s intellectualism. Moreover, his life experiences show that he can write anything. At least, he’s had to in order to make a living. But, in the end, I can’t see his style working for the Man of Steel. Maybe a one-shot or limited series about Clark Kent, something like “Under a Yellow Sun.”

No, in the end this is a post about the director who made the Superman connection. Does it show an ability to distill plots down to their barest elements? Or the ability to connect ideas to myth? Either way, it’s yet further proof of an idea in Steve Hely‘s How I Became a Famous Novelist: that Hollywood thinks on a different scale than other media.

“You’re realizing I’m much better than you at this, right?…I deal in movies. I need to get four, five million people watching, minimum, or I’m on my ass in this town. I can’t afford to fuck around like you can.”

How I Became a Famous Novelist was a terrifically entertaining book and I hope it was a big success. But while I was reading it, I kept trying to think what type of movie it would be, how I would adapt it. Oddly, I think the only way to go is to turn it into an art movie, something with an extremely limited release that can stay true to the characters and critique.

Or maybe I just don’t think about things on the right scale.


If you aren’t yet doing so, check out The New Republic‘s new online book review. It’s great.