The Girl was sceptical about seeing a ballet, but by the end she was asking to see more, and I'm pleased to introduce her. I’m no ballet expert, but I can be duly amazed by actors conveying an entire story without dialogue, silent-film style, while performing Olympic-level gymnastics.
Every night I quiz The Girl on some of the lessons we’ve had recently, and while I’ve been trying to focus on practical lessons – energy efficiency, first aid, self-defence and so on, sometimes we go off on a tangent – she will ask about an unfamiliar word or phrase, I’ll explain, and we go off on discussions. We often have to leave the lessons behind at that point, but I don’t mind – there’s usually a new lesson waiting for us.
The other night we came across the word “laconic,” and I asked her what it meant.
“Sure – it means that you say something really short, no longer than it needs to be. You want the classic example or the extreme one?” she said.
I’m not sure what they are, I said, smiling, so can I hear them both?
“Well,” she said, the extreme one was when this writer wrote a famous book … I forget his name …”
Oh I know what you’re referring to, I said – Victor Hugo, after he wrote Les Miserables.
“Okay,” she said, “and when he sent it to the publisher he went on holiday on an island somewhere. After a while, he wanted to know how his book was selling, but he didn’t want to write any more than he had to, so he wrote to his publisher a single thing – a question mark. And his publisher wrote back, ‘!’”
Brilliant, I said – I think I can guess what the classic one is, but tell me all the same.
“Well, Laconia was where Sparta was, and you know how the Spartans were,” she said knowingly. Sure, I said -- we've read about them before.
“So someone – the Athenians, maybe, or the Persians – sent them a message before battle, saying, ‘If we win we will destroy your country, we will burn your city, we will do all these bad things to you,’ and the Spartans sent back a message with one word … IF.”
You’re absolutely spot on, I said – that was excellent. I think it was Phillip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, who had threatened them, according to Plutarch – and after that, not even his son, who conquered most of the known world, tried to conquer Sparta next door.
“I love the Spartans,” she said fondly. “They should make a movie out of them someday.”
Maybe you can make a movie yourself, when you grow up, I said.
I thought of mentioning that there was a film that popularized the Spartans a few years ago, but I’m afraid she might want to see it, and that’s not going to happen. I’ve raised her on Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin, and while she’s ten now and I let her see things like X-Men, that film’s cartoon violence is still a long way from 300’s slow-motion arterial sprays.
Also, while I forgive much in adapting a story for the silver screen, I’m pretty sure the Herodotus did not mention any giant mutant troll-monsters. Or a Greece entirely populated by well-shaven underwear models. Or a Persian army that looked like backup dancers for Prince. You get the idea.
Top photo: Still from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, courtesy of the Royal Opera House. Bottom photo: still from the film 300.