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What Does It Mean to Have an “Enemy Within?"

Paul Cartledge, in Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World, describes Sparta's unique society and culture at the time Xerxes, the Persian ruler, was amassing his army:

Professionals in a world of amateurs, the Spartans alone of Greek cities maintained a standing army. But they were not militaristic in the sense that they enjoyed war for its own sake. That unique army was invented and maintained, first and often foremost, to dominate and suppress the Helots [the Spartan slaves]. In fact, their whole society was organized as a kind of standing army. It was kept ever on the alert against the enemy within, as well as against any Greek or non-Greek enemies from without. (Cartledge, page 65.)

What does it mean to have an "enemy within?"

Could an individual have an "enemy within" himself or herself—or—does that concept only apply to a group of people (such as a city or a country)? Explain your answer.

If the concept also applies to individuals, what are examples of "enemies within?" Could discouragement, for example, be an "enemy within" ourselves? Could fear (such as fear of failure) be an "enemy within?" If so, how can we rid ourselves of such "enemies within?"

Do you agree with the African proverb:  "When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you?" Explain your answer.


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