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This webpage reproduces part of the essay
Apophthegmata Laconica

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1931

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. III) Plutarch, Moralia

Sayings of Spartans

p353 (225f)Lycurgus1

1 Lycurgus, the lawgiver, wishing to recall the citizens from the mode of living then existent, and to lead them to a more sober and temperate order of life, and to render them good and honourable men (for they were living a soft life), reared two puppies of the same litter; and one he accustomed to dainty food, and allowed it to stay in the house; the other he took afield and trained in hunting. Later he brought them into the public assembly and put down some bones and dainty food and let loose a hare. Each of the dogs made for that to which it was accustomed, and, when the one of them had overpowered the hare, he said, "You see, fellow-citizens, that these dogs belong to the same stock, 226but by virtue of the discipline to which they have been subjected they have turned out utterly different from each other, and you also see that training is more effective than nature for good."2

But some say that he did not bring in dogs which were of the same stock, but that one was of the breed of house dogs and the other of hunting dogs; then he trained the one of inferior stock for hunting, and the one of better stock he accustomed to dainty food. And afterwards, as each made for that to which it had become accustomed, he made it clear how much instruction contributes for better or worse, saying, "So also in our case, fellow-citizens, noble birth, so admired of the multitude, and our being descended from Heracles does not bestow any advantage, bunless we do the sort of things for which he was manifestly the most glorious and most noble of all mankind, and p355unless we practise and learn what is good our whole life long."

2 He made a redistribution of the land, and assigned an equal share to all the citizens; and it is said that a while later, on returning from abroad, as he passed through the country, where the harvesting had just been finished, and saw the cocks of grain standing near together in even lines, he was much pleased, and said with a smile to those who were with him that it looked as if all the Spartan land belonged to many brothers who had recently divided it.3

3 Having introduced the abolition of debts, he next undertook to divide equally all household furnishings, cso as to do away completely with all inequality and disparity. But when he saw that the people were likely to demur about assenting to this outright spoliation, he decreed that gold and silver coin should in future have no value, and ordained that the people should use iron money only. He also limited the time within which it was lawful to exchange their present holdings for this money. dWhen this had been done, all wrongdoing was banished from Sparta. For nobody was able to steal or to accept a bribe or to defraud or rob any more, when the result was something of which concealment was not possible, nor was its acquisition envied, nor its use without risk, nor its exportation or importation safe. As an added measure, he brought about the banishment from Sparta of everything not absolutely necessary. And, by reason of this, no merchant, no public lecturer, no soothsayer or mendicant priest, no maker of fancy articles ever made his way into p357Sparta. The reason was that he permitted no handy coinage to circulate among them, but instituted the iron coinage exclusively, which in weight was over a pound and a quarter, and in value not quite a penny.4

4 Having determined to make an attack upon the prevailing luxury, and to do away with the rivalry for riches, he instituted the common meals. eAnd in answer to those who sought to know why he had established these, and had divided the citizens, when under arms, into small companies, he said, "So that they may get their orders promptly, and, in case they cherish any radical designs, the offence may be confined to a small number; also that there may be for all an equal portion of food and drink, and so that not only in drink or food, but in bedding or furniture or anything else whatsoever, the rich man may have no advantage at all over the poor man."5

5 Having made wealth unenviable, since nobody could make any use or show of it, he said to his intimate friends, "What a good thing it is, my friends, fto show in actual practice the true characteristic of wealth, that it is blind!"6

6 He took good care that none should be allowed to dine at home and then come to the common meal stuffed with other kinds of food and drink. The rest of the company used to berate the man who did not drink or eat with them, because they felt that he was lacking in self-control, and was too soft for the common way of living.7 Moreover, a fine was laid upon the man who was detected. A case in point is that of Agis, their king, who, returning from a long campaigning in which he had overcome the Athenians in p359war, 227wished to dine at home with his wife on this one day, and sent for his allowance of food; but the military commanders would not send it; and the following day, when the matter was disclosed to the Ephors, he was fined by them.8

7 The well-to‑do citizens resented legislation of this type, and, banding together, they denounced him and pelted him, wishing to stone him to death. As he was being pursued, he rushed through the market-place; and he out-distanced almost all his pursuers, and gained refuge in the shrine of Athena of the Brazen House; only, as he turned around, Alcander, who was pursuing him, put out one of his eyes by a stroke of his staff. But when, later, Lycurgus received Alcander, who was handed over to him for punishment by vote of the people, he did not treat him ill nor blame him, bbut, by compelling him to live under the same roof with him, he brought it to pass that Alcander had only commendation for Lycurgus and for the manner of living which he had found there, and was altogether enamoured of this discipline. Lycurgus dedicated a memorial of his unhappy experience in the shrine of Athena of the Brazen House, and gave to her the added epithet of Optilletis; for the Dorians in this part or world call the eyes 'optics (optilloi).'9

8 Being asked why he had not made any use of written laws, he said, "Because those who are trained and disciplined in the proper discipline can determine what will best serve the occasion."10

9 At another time when some sought to know why he had ordained that the people cshould use only an axe in putting a roof on their houses, and make a p361door with a saw only and none of the other tools, he said, "So that the citizens may be moderate in regard to all the things which they bring into the house, and may possess none of the things which are the cause of rivalry among other peoples."11

10 It was because of this custom also that their first king Leotychidas, dining at somebody's house12 and observing the construction of the ceiling, which was expensive and embellished with panels, asked his host if timbers grew square in their country!

11 Being asked why he had prohibited frequent campaigns against the same foes, he said, "So that they may not, by becoming accustomed to defending themselves frequently, become skilled in war." It was for this reason also that there appeared to be no slight ground for complaint against Agesilaus, who by his almost continual inroads and campaigns into Boeotia dhad rendered the Thebans a match for the Spartans. At any rate Antalcidas, when he saw him wounded, exclaimed, "You have got a handsome reward as you deserve for your fostering care in teaching them to give when they did not wish to fight and did not even know how."13

12 When someone else desired to know why he instituted strenuous exercise for the bodies of the maidens in races and wrestling and throwing the discus and javelin, he said, "So that the implanted stock of their offspring, by getting a strong start in strong bodies, may attain a noble growth, and that they themselves may with vigour abide the birth of their children and readily and nobly resist the pains p363of travail; and moreover, if the need arise, that they may be able to fight for themselves, their children, and their country."14

e13 When some persons expressed disapproval of the nudity of the maidens in the processions, and sought to know the reason for it, he said, "So that they, by following the same practices as the men, may not be inferior to them either in bodily strength and health or in mental aspirations and qualities, and that they may despise the opinion of the crowd." Wherefore is recorded also in regard to Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas, a saying to this effect: when some woman, a foreigner presumably, remarked to her, "You Spartan women are the only women that lord it over your men," she replied, f"Yes, for we are the only women that are mothers of men!"15

14 By excluding the unmarried from looking on at the festival of the naked youth, and by laying upon them other additional disgrace, he created much concern about having children. He also deprived them of the honour and attention which the young bestowed on their elders. And nobody said a word against the remark which was made to Dercylidas, although he was a general and in high repute; for one of the younger men, as Dercylidas approached, did not rise to offer his seat, saying, "No, for you are not the father of any son who will rise and offer his seat to me."16

15 When someone inquired why he had made a law that girls should be given in marriage without any dowry, he said, "So that some of them shall not be left unwedded because of lack of means, and some shall not be eagerly sought because of abundant wealth, but that each man, with an eye to the ways p365of the maid, shall make virtue the basis of his choice." 228For this reason he also banished from the State all artificial enhancement of beauty.17

16 He set limits to the time of marriage for both men and women, and, in answer to the man who inquired about this, he said, "So that the offspring may be sturdy by being sprung from mature parents."18

17 In answer to a man who expressed surprise because he debarred the husband from spending the nights with his wife, but ordained that he should be with his comrades most of the day and pass the whole night in their company, and visit his bride secretly and with great circumspection, he said, "So that they may be strong of body and never become sated, and that they may be ever fresh in affection, band that the children which they bring into the world may be more sturdy."19

18 He banished perfume on the ground that it spoiled and ruined the olive oil,20 and also the dyer's art on the ground that it was a flattery of the senses.

19 To all whose business was the enhancement of personal beauty he made Sparta forbidden ground, for the reason that they outraged the arts through the vileness of their art.21

20 So strict in those times was the virtue of the women, and so far removed from the laxity of morals which later affected them,22 that in the earlier days the idea of adultery among them was an incredible p367thing. cThere is still recalled a saying of a certain Geradatas, a Spartan of the very early times, who, on being asked by a foreigner what was done to adulterers in their country, since he saw that there had been no legislation by Lycurgus on that subject, said, "Sir, there is never an adulterer in our country." But when the other retorted with, "Yes, but if there should be?" Geradatas said, "His penalty is to provide an enormous bull which by stretching his neck over Mount Taygetus can drink from the river Eurotas." And when the other in amazement said, "But how could there ever be a bull of that size?" Geradatas laughed and said, "But how could there ever be an adulterer in Sparta, in which wealth and luxury and adventitious aids to beauty are held in disesteem, and respect and good order and obedience to authority are given the highest place?"23

21 In answer to the man who was insistent that he establish a democracy in the State Lycurgus said, d"Do you first establish a democracy in your own house."24

22 When someone inquired why he ordained such small and inexpensive sacrifices to the gods, he said, "So that we may honour the Divine powers without ceasing."25

23 As he permitted the citizens to engaged only in that kind of athletic contests in which the arm is not held up,26 somebody inquired what was the reason. p369He replied, "So that no one of the citizens shall get the habit of crying quits in the midst of a hard struggle."27

24 When someone asked why he ordered a frequent change of camping-place, he said, "So that we may inflict greater injury upon our enemies."28

25 When someone sought to know why he forbade assaults on walled places, he said, "So that valiant men may not suffer death eat the hands of a woman or a child or some such person."29

26 When some of the Thebans advised with him in regard to the sacrifice and the lamentation which they perform in honour of Leucothea, he advised them that if they regarded her as a goddess they should not bewail her, but if they looked upon her as a woman they should not offer sacrifice to her as to a goddess.30

27 In answer to some of the citizens who desired to know, "How we can keep off any invasion by enemies," he said, "If you remain poor, and no one of you desires to be more important than another."31

28 And at another time, when they raised a question about fortifications, he said that a city is not unfortified whose crowning glory is men and not bricks and stones.32

f29 The Spartans gave particular attention to their hair, recalling a saying of Lycurgus in reference to it, p371that it made the handsome more comely and the ugly more frightful.33

30 He gave instructions that in war, when they had put the enemy to flight and had gained a victory, they should continue the pursuit only far enough to make their success assured, and then return immediately; for he said that it was neither a noble trait nor a Greek trait to slay those who had yielded, and this policy was not only honourable and magnanimous, but useful as well; for the opposing army, knowing that they customarily spared those who surrendered, but made away with those who resisted, would regard it as more profitable to flee than to stay.34

31 When somebody inquired why he forbade spoiling the enemy's dead, he said, 229"So that the soldiers may not, by looking about covertly for spoil, neglect their fighting, but also that they may keep to their poverty as well as to their post."35


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The reputed founder of the Spartan constitution. A brief account of his laws may be found also in Porphyry,º De abstinentia, IV.3 ff.

2 As in Moralia, 3A.

3 Related with more detail by Plutarch in his Life of Lycurgus, chap. vii (44A).

4 Plutarch tells all this, at somewhat greater length, in his Life of Lycurgus, chap. ix (44D).º Cf. also Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta, 7.5 and 6; Plato, Eryxias, 400B; Pollux, Onomasticon, VII.105, and IX.79; Justin, Historiae Philippicae, III.2.11‑12.

5 Plutarch amplifies this account in his Life of Lycurgus, chap. x (45B).

6 Ibid. (45C).

7 Ibid. (45D).

8 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xii (46C).

9 Plutarch tells the story more fully in his Life of Lycurgus, chap. xi (45D-46A); cf. also Aelian, Varia Historia, XIII.23, and Stobaeus, Florilegium, XIX.13.

10 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiii (47A).

11 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiii (47C), and Moralia, 189E (3), supra.

12 In Corinth, according to Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiii (47C); cf. also Moralia, 189E, supra, and the note.

13 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiii (47D), and Moralia, 189D, supra, and the note.

14 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiv (47F); Suidas, Lexicon, under Lycurgus.

15 Cf. Moralia, 240E (5) infra, and Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiv (47E‑48B).

16 Ibid. chap. xv (48C); and Moralia, 223A, supra.

17 Cf. Aelian, Varia Historia, VI.6.

18 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xv (48D), and Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta, 1.6.

19 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xv (48E), and Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta, 1.5.

20 Cf. Seneca, Quaestiones Naturales, IV.13.9. Perfumes in ancient times were made with a base of oil; cf. Moralia, 127B.

For some further information, see the article Unguenta of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

21 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. ix (p. 44F).

22 Athenaeus, 141F, quotes Phylarchus at some length regarding the degeneration of the Spartans.

23 In part this is in close agreement with Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xv (49C), but the main point, which is lacking in the MSS., is usually inserted here by the editors from the Life. See the critical note 2.

The critical note to the Greek text reads:

ταῦρον ἐκτίνει μέγαν . . . τηλικοῦτος; γελάσας] Xylander from the Life of Lycurgus, chap. xv: MSS. have only ταῦτον ἔφη ὁ Γεραδάτας.

24 Cf. the note on Moralia, 189E (2), supra.

25 Cf. the note on Moralia 172B, supra.

26 As a sign of defeat; cf. E. Norman Gardiner, Greek Athletic Sports and Festivals (London, 1910), p415.

27 Cf. the note on 189E (4), supra.

28 Cf. Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta, 12.5.

29 Cf. Plutarch's Comparison of Lysander and Sulla, 477D. As a matter of fact, the Spartans were quite without ability to attack a walled town, as is clear from Herodotus, IX.70, and Thucydides, I.102.

30 This saying of Xenophanes seems to have been attributed by someone to Lycurgus. Cf. Moralia, 171E, 379B, and 763C; also Aristotle, Rhetoric, II.23.27.

31 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xix (52B).

32 Cf. the note on Moralia, 210E (29), supra.

33 Cf. the note on Moralia, 189E (1), supra.

34 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xxi (54A); Thucydides, V.73; Polyaenus, Strategemata, I.16.3.

35 Cf. Moralia, 224B (16), supra.


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