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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the essay
Lacaenarum Apophthegmata


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

 p455  Sayings of Spartan Women

240c Argileonis

[link to original Greek text] Argileonis, the mother of Brasidas, when her son had met his death,​1 and some of the citizens of Amphipolis arrived at Sparta and came to her, asked if her son had met his death honourably and in a manner worthy of Sparta. And when they proceeded to tell of his greatness, and declared that he was the best of all the Spartans in such enterprises, she said, "Sirs, my son was a gude and honourable mon, but Sparta has mony a mon dbetter than him."2


1 [link to original Greek text] Gorgo, daughter of king Cleomenes, when Aristagoras of Miletus was urging her father to enter upon the war against the Persian king in behalf of the Ionians, promising a vast sum of money, and, in answer to Cleomenes' objections, making the amount larger and larger, said, "Father, the miserable foreigner will be your ruin if you don't get him out of the house pretty soon!"4

2 [link to original Greek text] Once when her father told her to give some grain to a man by way of remuneration, and added, "It is because he showed me how to make the wine  p457 taste good," she said, e"Then, father, there will be more wine drunk, and the drinkers will become more intemperate and depraved."5

3 [link to original Greek text] When she had watched Aristagoras having his shoes put on and laced by one of the servants, she said, "Father, the foreigner hasn't any hands!"6

4 [link to original Greek text] When a foreigner made advances in a mild and leisurely way, she pushed him aside, saying, "Get away from here, you who cannot play a woman's part either!"

5 [link to original Greek text] Being asked by a woman from Attica, "Why is it that you Spartan women are the only women that lord it over your men," she said, "Because we are the only women that are mothers of men."7

6 [link to original Greek text] As she was encouraging her husband Leonidas, when he was about to set out for Thermopylae, to show himself worthy of Sparta, she asked what she should do; and he said, "Marry a good man, and bear good children."8


1 [link to original Greek text] Gyrtias, when on a time Acrotatus, her grandson, in a fight with other boys received many blows, and was brought home for dead, and the family and friends were all wailing, said, "Will you not stop your noise? fHe has shown from what blood he was sprung." And she said that people who were good for anything should not scream, but should try to find some remedy.9

 p459  2 [link to original Greek text] When a messenger came from Crete bringing the news of the death of Acrotatus,​10 she said, "When he had come to the enemy, was he not bound either to be slain by them or to slay them? It is more pleasing to hear that he died in a manner worthy of myself, his country, and his ancestors than if he had lived for all time a coward."11


[link to original Greek text] Damatria heard that her son had been a coward and unworthy of her, and when he arrived, she made away with him. This is the epigram​12 referring to her:

Sinner against our laws, Damatrius, slain by his mother,

Was of the Spartan youth; she was of Sparta too.

Other Spartan Women to Fame Unknown

241 1 [link to original Greek text] Another Spartan woman made away with her son, who had deserted his post, on the ground that he was unworthy of his country, saying, "Not mine the scion." This is the epigram referring to her:13

Off to your fate through the darkness, vile scion, who makes such a hatred,

So the Eurotas flow not e'en for the timorous deer.

Worthless whelp that you are, vile remnant, be off now to Hades;

Off! for never I bore Sparta's unworthy son.​14

 p461  2 [link to original Greek text] Another, hearing that her son had fallen on the field of battle, said:15

"Let the poor cowards be mourned, but, with never a tear do I bury

You, my son, who are mine, yea, and are Sparta's as well."

3 [link to original Greek text] Another, hearing that her son had been saved and had run away from the enemy, wrote to him, "Ill report is spread about ye; aither clear yersel' of this or stop yer living."

b 4 [link to original Greek text] Another, when her sons had run away from battle and come to her, said, "Where have you come now in your cowardly flight, vile varlets? Do you intend to slink in here whence you came forth?" And with these words she pulled up her garment and showed them.​16a

5 [link to original Greek text] One woman, observing her son coming towards her, inquired, "How fares our country?" And when he said, "All have perished," she took up a tile and, hurling it at him, killed him, saying, "And so they sent you to bear the bad news to us!"

6 [link to original Greek text] As a man was narrating to his mother the noble death of his brother, she said, "Isn't it a shame, then, to have missed his company on such a journey?"17

c 7 [link to original Greek text] One woman sent forth her sons, five in number, to war, and, standing in the outskirts of the city, she awaited anxiously the outcome of the battle. And when someone arrived and, in answer to her inquiry, reported that all her sons had met death, she said,  p463 "I did not inquire about that, you vile varlet, but how fares our country?" And when he declared that it was victorious, "Then," she said, "I accept gladly also the death of my sons."18

8 [link to original Greek text] Another was burying her son, when a commonplace old woman came up to her and said, "Ah the bad luck of it, you puir woman." "No, by Heaven," said she, "but good luck; for I bore him that he might die for Sparta, dand this is the very thing that has come to pass for me."19

9 [link to original Greek text] When a woman from Ionia showed vast pride in a bit of her own weaving, which was very valuable, a Spartan woman pointed to her four sons, who were most well-behaved, and said, "Such should be the employments of the good and honourable woman, and it is over these that she should be elated and boastful."20

10 [link to original Greek text] Another, hearing about her son that he was conducting himself badly in a foreign land, wrote to him, "Ill report is spread about ye; pit this from ye or else stop yer living."21

11 [link to original Greek text] Of somewhat similar character is this: Chian exiles came to Sparta, and accused Paedaretus of many misdeeds; ewhereupon his mother Teleutia sent for them and, after listening to their complaints, feeling that her son was in the wrong, sent him this letter: "Mither to Paedaretus. Aither dae better, or stay where ye are, and gie up hope o' gaen back safe to Sparta."

 p465  12 [link to original Greek text] Another, when her son was being tried for some offence, said to him, "My child, either rid yourself of the charges, or rid yourself of life."

13 [link to original Greek text] Another, as she accompanied a lame son on his way to the field of battle, said, "At every step,​b my child, remember your valour."​22a

14 [link to original Greek text] Another, when her son came back to her from field of battle wounded in the foot, and in great pain, said, f"If you remember your valour, my child, you will feel no pain, and be quite cheerful."​22b

15 [link to original Greek text] A Spartan, wounded in battle and unable to walk, was crawling on all fours. He was mortified at being so ridiculous; but his mother said to him, "How much better to be joyful over your bravery than to be mortified at silly laughter."

16 [link to original Greek text] Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, "Either this or upon this."23

17 [link to original Greek text] Another, as her son was going forth to war, said, as she gave the shield into his hands, "This shield your father kept always safe for you; do you, therefore, keep it safe, or cease to live."

18 [link to original Greek text] Another, in answer to her son who said that the sword which he carried was short,​24 said, "Add a step to it."

242 19 [link to original Greek text] Another, hearing that her son had been slain fighting bravely in the line of battle, said, "Yes, he  p467 was mine." But learning in regard to her other son that he had played the coward and saved his life, she said, "No, he was not mine."25

20 [link to original Greek text] Another, hearing that her son had been killed in battle on the spot where he had been placed, said, "Lay him away, and let his brother take his place."

21 [link to original Greek text] Another, engaged in conducting a solemn public procession, heard that her son was victorious on the field of battle, but that he was dying from the many wounds he had received. She did not remove the garland from her head, but with a proud air said to the women near her, "How much more noble, my friends, bto be victorious on the field of battle and meet death, than to win at the Olympic games and live!"26

22 [link to original Greek text] As a man was relating to his sister the noble death of her son, she said, "As glad as I am for him, I am sorry for you that you were left behind when you might have gone in such brave company."27

23 [link to original Greek text] A man sent to a Spartan woman to ask if she were inclined to look with favour upon seduction; she replied, "When I was a child I learned to obey my father, and made that my practice. Then when I became a married woman, my husband took that place. So if the man's proposal is honourable, let him lay the matter before my husband first."​c

24 [link to original Greek text] A poor girl, being asked what dowry she brought to the man who married her, said, "The family virtue."

c 25 [link to original Greek text] A Spartan woman, being asked if she had made advances to her husband, said, "No, but my husband has made them to me."28

 p469  26 [link to original Greek text] A girl had secret relations with a man, and, after bringing on an abortion, she bore up so bravely, not uttering a single sound, that her delivery took place without the knowledge of her father and others who were near. For the confronting of her indecorum with decorum gained the victory over the poignant distress of her pains.

27 [link to original Greek text] A Spartan woman who was being sold as a slave, when asked what she knew how to do, said, "To be faithful."

28 [link to original Greek text] Another, taken captive, and asked a similar question, said, "To manage a house well."

29 [link to original Greek text] Another, asked by a man if she would be good if he bought her, said, "Yes, and if you do not buy me."29

d 30 [link to original Greek text] Another who was being sold as a slave, when the crier inquired of her what she knew how to do, said, "To be free." And when the purchaser ordered her to do something not fitting for a free woman, she said, "You will be sorry that your meanness has cost you such a possession," and committed suicide."30

The Editor's Notes:

1 At the battle of Amphipolis, 422 B.C.

2 Cf. the note on Moralia, 190B, supra.

3 Gorgo later became the wife of Leonidas.

4 Cf. Herodotus, V.48‑51.

5 Cf. the note on Moralia, 218D (4), where the same idea is attributed to Archidamus.

6 Cf. Diogenes Laertius, VI.44, where Diogenes the cynic goes Gorgo one better.

7 Cf. Moralia, 227E, supra, and the note.

8 Cf. Moralia, 225A (2), supra.

9 The last sentence is borrowed from Plato, Republic, 604C.

10 Son of Areus I, king of Sparta. he fell in battle at Megalopolis in 265 B.C., but the fact that his father Areus had been fighting in Crete may account for the intrusion of Crete here. Pausanias (VIII.27.11) makes a more serious error in confusing this Acrotatus with his grandfather of the same name.

11 Cf. the similar saying of a Spartan woman, quoted by Teles in Stobaeus, Florilegium, CVIII.83.

12 Cf. the Palatine Anthology, VII no. 433, or W. R. Paton, The Greek Anthology (in L. C. L.), II p238.

13 Cf. the variant version in the Palatine Anthology, VII no. 433 (or W. R. Paton, The Greek Anthology (in L. C. L.), II p238).

14 Cf. Moralia, 242A, infra.

15 Cf. Moralia, 235A, supra.

16 Cf. Moralia, 246A, and Teles as quoted by Stobaeus, Florilegium, CVIII.83.

17 Cf. Moralia, 242B (22), infra.

18 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Agesilaus, chap. xxix (612C‑D).

19 The story is told also by Teles in Stobaeus, Florilegium, CVIII.83; cf. also Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, I.42 (102).

20 Cf. Severus in Stobaeus, Florilegium, V.47, and the similar story of the Roman Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi.

21 Cf. Moralia, 241A (3), supra.

22a 22b Cf. Moralia, 331B; Stobaeus, Florilegium, VII.29; Cicero, De oratore, II.61 (249).

23 Referred to Gorgo as the author by Aristotle in his Aphorisms, as quoted by Stobaeus, Florilegium, VII.31, but it is often spoken of as a regular Spartan custom. Cf., for example, the scholium on Thucydides, II.39.

Ancient writers were not agreed whether the second half meant to fall upon the shield (dead or wounded) or to be brought home dead upon it. In support of the second (traditional) interpretation Cf. Moralia, 235A, and Valerius Maximus, II.7, ext. 2.

24 Cf. Moralia, 191E, supra.

25 Cf. Moralia, 241A, supra.

26 Cf. the somewhat similar story about Xenophon in Moralia, 118F.

27 Cf. Moralia, 241B (6), supra.

28 Cf. Moralia, 140C.

29 Cf. Moralia, 234C (39), supra.

30 Cf. Moralia, 234B (37 and 38), supra.

Thayer's Notes:

a As they say, the first time is tragedy; after that, farce. A somewhat similar incident occurred in my own life, when I was a twenty-year‑old with my first civilian job in Schenectady, NY: my parents came to visit, and we were sitting in a restaurant, where I was going on about my forthcoming trip to Europe; my mother kept on nudging me that I had no plans to go see Bern in Switzerland, where I was born, and I kept on saying that there was no reason for me to go there. Finally, my father put an end to it, raising his voice slightly so the neighbouring tables could hear: "Alright dear — show him where he was born."

b This woman's words, 2500 years later, have been fittingly adopted as the motto of Leonidas International, a nonprofit organization for the uplift and rehabilitation of physically and emotionally wounded warriors. I encourage you, gentle reader, to follow that link.

c This is not a rhetorical rebuff: see Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, 15.6‑9.

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Page updated: 21 Apr 18