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This webpage reproduces part of the essay
Apophthegmata Laconica


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

 p395  Sayings of Spartans

232dVarious Sayings of Spartans to Fame Unknown

1 When the ambassadors of the Samians spoke at great length, the Spartans said to them, "We hae forgot the first part, and the later part we did na ken because we hae forgot the first."1

e2 When a speaker extended his remarks to a great length, and then asked for answers to report to his citizens, they said, "Report that you found it hard to stop speaking and we to listen."2

 p397  3 In answer to the Thebans who were disputing with them over some matters, they said, "You should have less pride or more power."3

4 A Spartan, being asked why he wore his beard so very long, said, "So that I may see my grey hairs and do nothing unworthy of them."

5 Another, in answer to the inquiry, "Why do you use short swords?" said, "So that we may get close to the enemy."

6 When someone was praising the Argive warriors, a Spartan said, "Yes, at Troy!"4

7 Another, being told that some people after dining are forced to drink,​5 said, "What, and are they forced to eat also?"

8 When Pindar wrote,6

Athens the mainstay of Greece,

a Spartan said that Greece was like to fall if it rested on any such mainstay as that!

f9 Someone on seeing a painting in which Spartans were depicted as slain by Athenians, kept repeating, "Brave, brave Athenians." A Spartan cut in with, "Yes, in the picture!"

10 To a man who was listening avidly to some spitefully slanderous remarks a Spartan said, "Stop being so generous with your ears against me!"7

11 To a man who was being punished, and kept saying, "I did wrong unwillingly," someone retorted, "Then take your punishment unwillingly."

 p399  12 Someone, seeing men seated on stools​8 in a privy, said, "God forbid that I should ever sit where it is not possible to rise and yield my place to an older man."9

13 When some Chians, on a visit to Sparta, vomited after dinner in the hall of the ephors, and befouled with ordure the very chairs in which the Ephors were wont to sit, 233the Spartans, first of all, instituted a vigorous investigation, lest possibly these might be citizens; but when they learned that they were, in fact, Chians, they caused public proclamation to be made that 'The Spartans grant permission to the Chians to be filthy.'10

14 When someone saw almonds of the hard sort​11 selling at double the price of others, he said, "Are stones so scarce?"

15 A man plucked a nightingale and finding almost no meat, said, "It's all voice ye are, and nought else."12

16 One of the Spartans saw Diogenes the Cynic holding his arms around a bronze statue in very cold weather,​13 and asked Diogenes if he were cold, and when Diogenes said "No," the other said, "What great thing are you doing then?"

17 One of the people of Metapontum, being reproached for cowardice by a Spartan,​14 said, b"But as a matter of fact we have not a little of the country of other states"; whereupon the Spartan replied, "Then you are not only cowardly, but also unjust."

18 A man who was visiting Sparta stood for a long time upon one foot, and said to a Spartan, "I do  p401 not think that you, sir, could stand upon one foot as long as that"; and the other interrupting said, "No, but there is not a single goose that could not do it."

19 When a man boasted greatly of his art in speaking, a Spartan said, "By Heaven, there is no art nor can there be an art without a firm hold on truth."15

c20 When an Argive said once upon a time, "There are many tombs of Spartans in our country," a Spartan said, "But there is not a single tomb of an Argive in our country," indicating by this that the Spartans had often set foot in Argos, but the Argives had never set foot in Sparta.16

21 A Spartan having been taken prisoner in war and put up for sale, when the crier said, "I offer a Spartan for sale," stopped his mouth, saying, "Cry a prisoner of war."17

22 One of the men serving in the army of Lysimachus, being asked by him whether he were not one of the Helots, said, "Do you suppose that any Spartan would come to get the sixpence which you pay?"

23 At the time when Thebans had conquered the Spartans at Leuctra and advanced to the river Eurotas itself, one of them, boasting, said, "Where are the Spartans now?" A Spartan who had been captured by them said, "They are not here; dotherwise you would not have come thus far."

24 At the time when the Athenians had surrendered their city,​18 they declared it was only right that Samos should be left to them, but the Spartans  p403 said, "Do you, at a time when you do not even own yourselves, seek to possess others?" From this incident arose the proverb:19

Who does not own himself would Samos own.

25 When the Spartans had taken by storm a certain city, the Ephors said, "Gone is the wrestling-school of our young men; they no longer will have competitors."20

26 When their king promised to wipe out completely another city ewhich, as it happened, had given much trouble to the Spartans, they would not allow it, saying, "You must not abolish nor remove the whetstone of our youth."

27 They appointed no trainers to instruct in wrestling so that the rivalry might not be in skill, but in courage.​21 This is the reason why Lysanoridas, when he was asked how Charon had conquered him, said, "By his great resourcefulness."

28 Philip wrote at the time when he entered their country, asking whether they wished that he should come as a friend or as a foe; and they made answer, "Neither."

29 They sent an ambassador to Antigonus, son of Demetrius, and, upon learning that the ambassador had addressed Antigonus as King, fthey fined him, although he had brought for each one of them a bushel and a half of wheat at a time when there was great scarcity of food.

30 When Demetrius complained that they had  p405 sent only one ambassador to him, they replied, "Is it not enough — one to one?"22

31 When a bad man brought in a very good idea, they accepted it; but they took it away from him and bestowed the right of proposing it upon another man who had lived a virtuous life.23

32 When two brothers quarrelled with each other, the Spartans fined the father because he permitted his sons to quarrel.

33 They fined a visiting harp-player because he played the harp with his fingers.24

34 The boys were fighting, and one of them wounded the other mortally with the stroke of a sickle. The friends of the wounded boy, as they were about to separate, promised to avenge him and make away with the one who had struck him, but the boy said, "In Heaven's name do not, for it is not right; 234the fact is, I should have done that myself if I had been quick enough and brave enough."

35 In the case of another boy, when the time had arrived during which it was the custom for the free boys to steal whatever they could, and it was a disgrace not to escape being found out, when the boys with him had stolen a young fox alive, and given it to him to keep, and those who had lost the fox came in search for it, the boy happened to have slipped the fox under his garment. The beast, however, became savage and ate through his side to the vitals; but the boy did not move or cry out, so as to avoid being exposed, and left, when they had departed, the boys saw what had happened, and blamed him, saying that  p407 it would have been better to let the fox be seen than to hide it even unto death; but the boy said, b"Not so, but better to die without yielding to the pain than through being detected because of weakness of spirit to gain a life to be lived in disgrace."25

36 Some people, encountering Spartans on the road, said, "You are in luck, for robbers have just left this place," but they said, "Egad, no, but it is they who are in luck for not encountering us."26

37 A Spartan being asked what he knew, said, "How to be free."

38 A Spartan boy, being taken captive by Antigonus the king and sold, cwas obedient in all else to the one who had bought him, that is, in everything which he thought fitting for a free person to do, but when his owner bade him bring him a chamber-pot, he would not brook such treatment, saying, "I will not be a slave"; and when the other was insistent, he went up to the roof, and saying, "You will gain much by your bargain," he threw himself down and ended his life.27

39 Another one being sold, when someone said, "If I buy you, will you be good and helpful?" said, "Yes, and if you do not buy me."28

40 Another captive being put up for sale, when the crier that he was offering a slave for sale, said, "You damnable wretch, won't you say 'a captive'?"29

41 A Spartan had as an emblem on his shield a  p409 fly, and that, too, no bigger than life-size. dWhen some mockingly said that he had done this to escape being noticed, he said, "Rather that I may be noticeable; for I come so close to the enemy that my emblem is seen by them in its true size."

42 Another, when a lyre was brought in at an evening party, "It is not Spartan to indulge in nonsense."30

43 A Spartan, being asked if the road into Sparta were safe, said, That depends on what kind of a mon ye are; for the lions gang about where they wull, but the hares we hunt over that land."

44 In a clinch one wrestler, who had the other by the neck, eover­powered him with little effort, and pulled him to the ground. Since the one who was down was at a disadvantage in using his body, he bit the arm that held him. His opponent said, "Spartan, you bite like a woman." "No, indeed," said he, "but like a lion."31

45 A lame man was going forth to war, and some persons followed after him laughing. He turned around and said, "You vile noddles! A man does not need to run away when he fights the enemy, but to stay where he is and hold his ground."32

46 Another,​33 mortally wounded by an arrow, said, as his life was ebbing away, "I am not troubled because I must die, but because my death comes at the hands of a womanish archer, and before I have accomplished anything."34

 p411  47 A man stopped at an inn and gave the innkeeper a piece of meat to prepare; and when the innkeeper asked for cheese and oil besides, the other said, f"If I had cheese, what need should I have of meat too?"35

48 In answer to the man who called Lampis​36 of Aegina happy, because he seemed very rich in having many cargoes on the sea in ships, a Spartan said, "I do not pay much attention to happiness that hangs by ropes!"37

49 When somebody told a Spartan that he was lying, the Spartan replied, "Yea, we are free men; but ithers, if they dinna tell the truth, will rue it."38

50 When someone set himself to make a corpse stand upright, and, for all his efforts, was unable to do this, he said, "Egad, there is need of something inside."

51 Tynnichus, when his son Thrasybulus was slain, bore it sturdily; and this epigram​39 was written on him:

235Lifeless to Pitane came, on his shield upborne, Thrasybulus;

Seven the wounds he received, pierced by the Argive spears;

All in the front did he show them; and him with his blood-stained body

Tynnichus placed on the pyre, saying these words in his eld:

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

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

52 When the keeper of a bath was pouring in a  p413 great quantity of water for Alcibiades, a Spartan​40 said, "Why all this for him as if he were not clean? The fellow is pouring in extra water as if for a very dirty man."

53 When Philip of Macedon sent some orders to the Spartans by letter, bthey wrote in reply, "What you wrote about, 'No.' "​41

When he invaded the Spartans' country, and all thought that they should be destroyed, he said to one of the Spartans, "What shall you do now, men of Sparta?" And the other said, "What else than die like men? For we alone of all the Greeks have learned to be free, and not to be subject to others."42

54 After the defeat of Agis,​43 Antipater demanded fifty boys as hostages, but Eteocles, who was Ephor, said they would not give boys, lest the boys should turn out to be uneducated through missing the traditional discipline; and they would not be fitted for citizen­ship either. But the Spartans would give, if he so desired, either old men or women to double the number. cAnd when Antipater made dire threats if he should not get the boys, the Spartans made answer with one consent, "If the orders you lay upon us are harsher than death, we shall find it easier to die."44

55 While the games were being held at Olympia, an old man was desirous of seeing them, but could find no seat. As he went to place after place, he met with insults and jeers, and nobody made room for him. But when he came opposite the Spartans, all the boys and many of the men arose and yielded  p415 their places.​a Whereupon the assembled multitude of Greeks expressed their approbation of the custom by applause, and commended the action beyond measure; but old man, shaking

His head grey-haired and grey-bearded,​45

and with tears in his eyes, said, "Alas for the evil days! dBecause all the Greeks know what is right and fair, but the Spartans alone practise it."

Some say that the same thing happened at Athens also. It was at the time of the Panathenaic festival, and the people of Attica were teasing an old man in an unseemly manner, calling him to them as if they were intending to make room for him, and not making room if he came to them. When he had passed through almost all the spectators and came opposite the delegates of the Spartans, they all arose from where they were sitting and gave him place. The crowd, delighted, applauded the action with great approval, and one of the Spartans said, e"Egad, the Athenians know what is right and fair, but do not do it."46

56 A beggar asked alms of a Spartan, who said, "If I should give to you, you will be the more a beggar; and for this unseemly conduct of yours he who first gave you is responsible, for he thus made you lazy."

57 A Spartan, seeing a man taking up a collection for the gods, said that he did not think much of gods who were poorer than himself.

58 A man who caught another in adultery with an ugly woman said, "Puir soul! what was yer muckle need?"47

 p417  59 Another, listening to an orator rolling off long sentences, said, "Egad, but the man has courage; he twists his tongue well about no subject at all."

f60 One man who came to Sparta, and observed the honour which the young render to the old, said, "Only in Sparta does it pay to grow old."48

61 A Spartan, being asked what kind of a man Tyrtaeus the poet was, said, "A good man to sharpen the spirit of youth."

62 Another who had sore trouble with his eyes was going forth to war; and when some said to him, "Where are you going in that state, or what do you purpose to do?" he said, "Even if I accomplish nothing else, I may at least blunt an enemy's sword."

63 Bulis and Sperchis of Sparta went as volunteers to Xerxes king of the Persians, to render satisfaction which Sparta owed according to an oracle, 236because the people had killed the heralds sent to them by the Persian. These men came before Xerxes and bade him make away with them in any manner he desired, as representing the Spartans. But when he, filled with admiration, let them go free, and was insistent that they remain with him, they said, "And how should we be able to live here, abandoning our country and laws and those men in whose behalf we made such a long journey to die?" And when Indarnes​49 the general besought them at greater length, and said that they would receive equal honour with the friends of the king who stood highest in  p419 advancement, they said, b"You seem to us not to know what is the meed of liberty, which no man of sense would exchange for the kingdom of the Persians."50

64 Because a friend with whom a Spartan was intending to stay dodged him on the first day, and on the next day, having borrowed bedding, received him sumptuously, the Spartan jumped on the bedding and trod it under foot, remarking that it was because of this that yesterday he had not had even straw to sleep on.

65 Another, on going to Athens, saw that the Athenians were hawking salt fish and dainties, collecting taxes, keeping public brothels, and following other unseemly pursuits, and holding none of them to be shameful. cWhen he returned to his own country, his fellow-citizens asked how things were in Athens, and he said, "Everything fair and lovely," speaking sarcastically and conveying the idea that among the Athenians everything is considered fair and lovely, and nothing shameful.

66 Another, being asked a question, answered "No." And when the questioner said, "You lie," the other said, "You see, then, that it is silly of you to ask questions to which you know the answer!"

67 Once upon a time, ambassadors from Sparta arrived at the court of Lygdamis the despot. But as he tried to put them off and repeatedly postponed the interview, and, to crown all, it was asserted that he was in a delicate condition, the Spartans said, "Tell him, in God's name, that we have not come to wrestle with him, dbut to have a talk with him."

68 When someone, initiating a Spartan into the Mysteries, asked him what his conscience told him  p421 was the most unholy deed he had ever done, he said, "The gods know." And when the other became even more insistent, and said, "It is absolutely necessary that you tell," the Spartan asked in turn, "To whom must I tell it? To you or to the god?" And when the other said, "To the god," the Spartan said, "You go away then."51

69 Another, passing by a tomb at night, and imagining that he saw a ghost, ran at it with uplifted spear, and, as he thrust at it, he exclaimed, "Where are you fleeing from me, you soul that shall die twice?"

70 Another, having vowed to throw himself from the Leucadian cliff, went up and came down again after seeing the height. Being jeered at for this, he said, e"I did na think my vow needed anither greater vow to dae it!"

71 Another, in the thick of the fight, was about to bring down his sword on an enemy when the recall sounded, and he checked the blow. When someone inquired why, when he had his enemy in his power, he did not kill him, he said, "Because it is better to obey one's commander than to slay an enemy."52

72 Someone said to a Spartan who was defeated at Olympia, "Spartan, your opponent proved himself the better man." "No," said he, "not that, but more upsetting!"53

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Moralia, 216A (15), supra.

2 Cf. Moralia, 215E (9), supra.º

3 Cf. Moralia, 218E (8), supra.

4 A thousand years before.

5 Perhaps the reference is to the expression πρὸς βίαν πίνειν found in Alcaeus (No. 20 in Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. III p156), Sophocles (Frag. 669 Nauck) and Aristophanes (Acharnians, 73). Cf. also Menander, The Arbitrants, lines 4‑5 (in L. C. L. p18) where the same words are used.

6 Frag. No. 76 (ed. Christ).

7 Cf. the similar remark of Simonides quoted in Stobaeus, Florilegium, II.42.

8 Not in Sparta, of course.

9 As in Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xx (52F).

10 A similar story is told of the Clazomenians by Aelian, Varia Historia, II.15.

11 Cf., for example, Athenaeus, 53A.

12 "Vox et praeterea nihil."

13 A part of his self-imposed training to inure himself to cold, as in the summer he used to roll in the hot sand to inure himself to heat, according to Diogenes Laertius, VI.23.

14 Possibly Cleonymus (Diodorus, XX.104).

15 In almost the same words in Plato, Phaedrus, 260E.

16 Cf. Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus, chap. xxxi (613D).

17 Cf. Moralia, 234C (40), infra.

18 At the close of the Peloponnesian war, 404 B.C. Samos had been the naval base for the Athenians during the preceding years.

19 Cf. Dio Chrysostom, Oration LXXIV (637 M., 395 R.); Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroemiographi Graeci, I p292 (Diogenianus, VII.34), and II p571 (Apostol. XIII.5).

20 The last clause looks like an explanatory comment. Pantazides would omit it.

21 Cf. Moralia, 639F, and Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas, chap. vii (281B).

22 Cf. Moralia, 216B (16), supra.

23 Cf. Moralia, 41B, and 801B; Aeschines, Against Timarchus, 180‑181; Philo Judaeus, The Worse Plotting against the Better, 195B; Aulus Gellius, XVIII.3.

24 Thus making the music pleasanter to hear than if he had used the plectrum. Cf. Moralia, 802F.

Thayer's Note: Not a harp, but properly the cithara; for full details — including on plectrum vs. fingers, see the article Cithara in the 1911 Britannica.

25 The story is told more briefly in Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus, chap. xviii (51B).

26 Cf. the note on Moralia, 194D (3), supra.

27 Cf. Moralia, 242D (30), infra. This story is repeated by Philo Judaeus, Every Virtuous Man is Free, chap. xvii (882C); Seneca, Epistulae Moral. no. 77 (X.1.14), and is referred to by Epictetus, I.2.

28 Cf. Moralia, 242C (29), infra.

29 Cf. Moralia, 233C (21), supra.

30 Cf. Moralia, 220A (3). For the expression of similar sentiments see Plutarch's Life of Themistocles, chap. ii (112C); Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, I.2 (4).

31 The same story is told of Alcibiades in Moralia, 186D (1), and in Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades, chap. i (192C).

32 Cf. Moralia, 210F (34), and 217C; Valerius Maximus, III.7, ext. 8.

33 Callicrates at the battle of Plataea (Herodotus, IX.72).

34 Repeated by Plutarch, Life of Aristeides, chap. xvii (329C).

35 Repeated in Moralia, 995B, where the meat is fish. Cf. also Aelian, Varia Historia, 787A; Demosthenes, Or. xxiii.211 (691).

36 Lampis was famous for his ships and his wealth. Cf., for example, Moralia, 787A; Demosthenes, Or. xxiii.211 (691).

37 Cf. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V.14 (40).

38 Cf. Moralia, 229A (2).

39 Attributed to Dioscorides in the Palatine Anthology, VII.229 (The Greek Anthology in the L. C. L., II p130).

40 The Spartans were not enthusiastic bathers (cf. Moralia 237B).

41 The story is told with slightly more detail in Moralia, 513A.

42 Cf. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V.14 (42).

43 Agis III, in 331 B.C.

44 A different version of the Spartans' reply is given in Moralia, 64D.

45 Homer, Il. XXII.74, and XXIV.516.

46 Cf. Cicero, De senectute, 18 (63‑64); Valerius Maximus, IV.5, ext. 2.

47 In Moralia, 525D, the same saying is attributed to a man of Byzantium.

48 A similar sentiment is attributed to Lysander by Cicero, De senectute, 18 (63).

49 Hydarnes in Herodotus, VII.135.

50 Cf. Moralia, 815E; Dio Chrysostom, Or. LXXVI ad fin.; Stobaeus, Florilegium, VII.70, and XXXIX.27 (quoting Serenus). The ultimate source is probably Herodotus, VII.134‑136.

51 A similar story is told of Antalcidas, Moralia, 217C (1), and of Lysander, Moralia, 229D (10), supra.

52 Cf. Moralia, 273F; Plutarch's Comparison of Pelopidas and Marcellus, chap. iii (317D); Epictetus, II.6. The source is doubtless Xenophon, Cyropaedia, IV.1.3, and Chrysantas is the man's name.

53 For a similar sentiment see Moralia, 233E (27), supra.

Thayer's Note:

a The same story is told by Cicero, Cato Maior 18.63‑64, but set in Athens.

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