A lame schoolmaster, an ambitious officer, and a grieving widow find their fates interwoven as the Messenian revolt threatens to destroy a Sparta.
Sparta is losing the war. The Spartan army cannot cope with guerrilla warfare, and the Messenians have struck right in the heart of the city. Mourning the deaths of hundreds of children, the Spartans send to the Oracle at Delphi for advice. They are told to let the Athenians select their supreme commander.
The Athenians have no interest in a Spartan victory. They appoint Tyrtaios, a lame schoolmaster from Attica with no military experience. Tyrtaios is a reclusive poet and everything he has ever heard about Sparta makes it the last place on earth he wants to be — but he isn’t given a choice.
The Spartan officer Agesandros is outraged by the “joke” Athens has played on Sparta, but he is a “New Citizen” — and his sister is married to a helot. Despite his military successes, his social position is fragile, while his resentment makes him his own worst enemy.
The widow Alethea, daughter of a Spartan nobleman, has resisted remarriage for more than a decade. When the Messenians burn down part of her farm and kill half her helots, her eldest son runs away from the agoge to “protect” her. This act of disobedience, however, puts his citizenship at risk. Alethea recognizes she has failed her sons, but her options are limited and time is running out.
Based on an incident recorded in Herodotus, A Song for Sparta tells the remarkable story of Sparta’s struggle with Messenia in the 7th century BC through the eyes of three different narrators. The Messenian Wars were the transformative event that shaped Spartan society for the next four hundred years.