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Imagine for a moment that at any time and place you had a full army, completely armed and waiting to serve your every command. No matter where you went, you could call on their weapons and brawn to do your bidding while you sat back and watched the destruction of your enemies go down, satisfied and totally safe from harm. Now imagine that the men you call upon are actually the skeletons of the dead, brought forth out of the ground by a dark and godly magic, tuned in to you and you alone, following your every command without question! That sounds more like what we'd be used to as we read further into Greek mythology, and for good reason; such a legion of undead soldiers existed in the form of the SPARTOI, spectral, skeletal soldiers reanimated through god-powered magic and sorcery!
Also called the "Sown Men," the Spartoi clawed and pulled themselves out of the ground when the teeth of
' special drakon were planted in the dirt, fully armed and suited up in rusted, bloodied old armor. Whoever owned the teeth controlled the Spartoi. In a way, the fact that they were grown from the teeth of Ares' prized pets made them his "children," even though they were just the reanimated bones of long-dead mortals. And being dead, they weren't the brightest soldiers one could have fighting for you.
The "Sown Men"
The Spartoi show up several times throughout the course of Greek mythology. In the first instance, they are a part of the story of the Greek hero,
. Cadmus had been told by the prophet of
at the Oracle of Delphi that he was to follow a special sacrificial cow for as long as the cow could walk. Literally, Apollo wanted them to follow behind the cow until the poor thing fell over from exhaustion. On the spot that the cow finally fell (too tired to mosey forth any longer), Cadmus was to erect a brand new city. To honor Apollo, Cadmus decided that he would also sacrifice the cow (adding insult to injury for the weary animal...) , and asked his men to go out to a nearby spring to gather up some water for the ceremony. One big problem; the spring was guarded viciously by a drakon, one of Ares' sacred beasts, and the green-scaled nightmare sunk its sabre-like fangs into most of his unsuspecting men, swallowing them down its giant, hungry pink throat without even so much as chewing. One minute, you're getting water for your boss and the next minute you're in dozens of pieces inside a drakon's oily gut. Talk about a
bad day! Luckily for the remaining men, Cadmus showed up on the scene and slaughtered the giant serpent with his razor-sharpened sword. Another problem now; Ares was beyond ticked off that his beloved drakon was now headless and would surely be dropping by to do something incredibly torturous and painful to Cadmus (Ares was never known for his forgiveness, his even-temper or his stability mentally...).
Cadmus takes the drakon's teeth...
Knowing that Ares would be around eventually to take some vengeance out on the guy, the war god's "sister,"
decided to step in and save the Cadmus in the best way she could. Appeasing the war god would mean that Cadmus would need to become Ares' slave for an unknown amount of time, and most of Cadmus' men were now in the innards of a dead snake, so someone was going to have to help build the new city that Apollo had ordered. Athena had just the thing to assist the hero. She told Cadmus to pull the bloody teeth out of the dead, stinking drakon's mouth and plant them in the dirt (of course, she neglected to tell Cadmus exactly WHY he was doing this (I suppose even Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is allowed to forget things once in awhile...). When he tossed the sharp, stained teeth onto the dark brown earth of the campsite, immediately the ground beneath his feet began to squirm as if it were alive. Dozens of brown, ancient skeletons began to climb out of the crumbling dirt, their jawbones working as if trying to speak yet making no sound. Long worms crawled out of their mouths and tattered, rotting tunics covered what was left of their bodies. Cadmus and his men were of course terrified by the horrific scene before them, and prepared to do battle with the skeletal Spartoi. Cadmus hefted a decent sized rock off of the ground and lobbed it at the skeleton closest to him and bounced it right off its already-cracked skull; doing so affected no damage on the otherworldly soldier, but it would wind up having a strange effect all the same.
Spartoi on the move...
The Spartoi weren't in the least bit intelligent, they had no souls and they certainly didn't have a brain inside their mud-caked skulls to speak of; "thinking" that one of their other members had tossed the rock, that Spartoi attacked one of his own and before anything else could be said or done, the legions of skeletons were hacking each other apart. It took Athena returning to stop the massacre from getting completely out of hand, and the goddess had to then explain that the Spartoi weren't there to kill off Cadmus and his men; they were there to help him build the city! Only five remained after the Spartoi had dismantled all of their brethren, but now that their purpose was known, they were put to work on the huge task ahead. Eventually, the Spartoi and the remains of Cadmus' men founded the city of Thebes, though they had to construct it without their fearless leader.
Cadmus, meanwhile, was forced to work as a slave to Ares for eight years to make up for killing his drakon, but in the end, even he made out OK!; Ares was so impressed by his tough, gritty will to survive the worst the war god could throw at him that he gave his daughter,
, the goddess of harmony and peace, to him as his wife.
The second time that the Spartoi reared their bony undead heads in Greek mythology came within the story of
and the Argonauts on their long journey to seek the Golden Fleece of Colchis. When finally arriving at the kingdom of Colchis, Jason was ordered to defeat the Khalkotauroi, several magical, fire-breathing bronze-skinned bulls that King Aeetes had challenged him to harness and plow the stoniest field in the kingdom with. With a little help from
, Aeetes sorceress daughter, Jason is able to avoid their flaming, molten breath and actually uses the bulls to complete the king's request (which of course, he thought would be impossible for Jason to do!) Beaten at his own game, Aeetes throws a massive kingly hissy-fit, blows a blood vessel and decides to get rid of Jason once and for all. Being a close buddy of Ares, Aeetes has one of his other drakon on loan to protect the kingdom of Colchis' greatest treasure, the Golden Fleece, a golden flying ram's skin that can heal any wound or cure any sickness. Aeetes also had a collection of the drakon's teeth handy (with express permission from Ares), and in his screeching rage, he casts them into the freshly plowed field. Within minutes, swarms of rotting, maniacal Spartoi were rattling their ancient, rusted armor, chasing (more like stumbling) after the Argonauts at top speed. Jason, using his extremely intelligent noggin, does exactly what Cadmus had done in the past to deal with the Spartoi; he tossed a rock into the middle of the advancing undead and, totally confused and bamboozled, the skeleton army began to viciously attack each other! This time, none survived, leaving nothing but piles and piles of jumbled old bones and rusting swords behind, allowing Jason and his men to make good the escape. Stupid skeletons...it goes to show that while an army of undead soldiers sounds like a pretty amazing thing to have on your side (and visually pretty awe-inspiring), you're far better off with the real thing, flesh and blood spirited men, especially when all it takes to throw the Spartoi off is a single well-aimed rock! Makes the zombies in the Walking Dead seem pretty smart in comparison! (as for Jason and the gang, you'll have to check out his page to find out what happens in before and after their encounter with the Spartoi!
Clip from "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) - Attack of the Spartoi!
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