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of their own weakness or pride, by which they were led to put themselves to death, either that they might deliver themselves from the pains and troubles of this life, or immortalize their names, as was the case with Lycurgus, Cato, and a number of others. Reflections upon the Government of Sparta, and upon the Laws of
Lycurgus. 1. Things commendable in the Lars of Lycurgus. There must needs have been (to judge only by the event) a great fund of wisdom and prudence in the laws of Lycurgus; since, as long as they were observed in Sparta (which was above 500 years,) it was a most flourishing and powerful city. It was not so much (says Plutarch, speaking of the laws of Sparta,) the government and polity of a city, as the conduct and regular behaviour of a wise man, who passes his whole life in the exercise of virtue: or rather, continues the same author, as the poets feign, that Hercules, only with his lion's skin and club, went from country to country to purge the world of robbers and tyrants ; so Sparta, with a slip of parchment* and an old coat, gave laws to all Greece, which willingly submitted to her dominion ; suppressed tyrannies and unjust authority in cities; put an end to wars, as she thought fit, and appeased insurrections ; and all this generally without moving a shield or a sword, and only by sending a simple ambassador amongst them, who no sooner appeared, than all the people submitted, and ficked about him like so many bees about their monarch: so much respect did the justice and good government of this city imprint upon the minds of all their neighbours.
1. The nature of the Spartan government We find at the end of Lycurgus's life a reflection made by Plu tarch, which of itself comprehends a great encomium upon that legislator. He there says, that Plato, Diogenes, Zeno, and all those who have treated of the establishment of a political state or government, took their plans from the republic of Lycurgus; with this difference, that they confined themselves wholly to words and theory: but Lycurgus, without dwelling upon ideas and speculative projects, did really and effectually institute an inimitable polity, and form a whole city of philosophers.
In order to succeed in this undertaking, and to establish the most
* This was what the Spartans called scytale, a thong of leather or parchment, which they twisted round a staff in such a manner, that there was no vacancy or void space left upon it. They wrote upon this thong, and when they had written they untwisted it, and sent it to the general for whom it was intended. This general, who had another stick of the same size with that on which
the thong was twisted and written upon, wrapped it round that staff in the same manner, and by that means found out the connexion and arrangement of the letters, which otherwise were so displaced and out of order, that there was no possibility of their being read. Plut. in vit. Lyc. p. 444.
perfect form of a commonwealth that could be, he melted down, as it were, and blended together, what he found best in every kind of government, and most conducive to the public good; thus tempering one species with another, and balancing the inconveniences to which each of them in particular is subject, with the advantages that resr"; from their being united together. Sparta had something of the monarchical form of government, in the authority of her kings; the council of thirty, otherwise called the senate, was a true aristocracy; and the power vested in the people of nominating the senators, and of giving sanction to the laws,
resembled a democratical government. The institution of the Ephori afterwards served to rectify what was amiss in those previous establishments, and to supply what was defective. Plato, in more places than one, admires Lycurgus's wisdom in his institution of the senate, which was equally advantageous both to the kings and the people ; because by this means,* the law became the only supreme mistress of the kings, and the kings never became tyrants over the law. 2. Equal division of the lands : gold and silver banished from Sparta.
The design formed by Lycurgus of making an equal distribution of the lands among the citizens, and of antirely banishing from Sparta all luxury, avarice, lawsuits, and dissensions, by abolishing the use of gold and silver, would appear to us a scheme of a commonwealth finely conceived in speculation, but utterly impracticable in execution, did not history assure us, that Sparta actually subsisted in that condition for many ages.
When I place the transaction I am now speaking of among the laudable part of Lycurgus's laws, I do not pretend it to be absolutely unexceptionable; for I think it can scarce be reconciled with that general law of nature, which forbids the taking away one man's property to give it to another : and yet this is what was really done upon this occasion. Therefore, in this affair of dividing the lands, I consider only so much of it as was truly commendable in itself, and worthy of admiration.
Can we possibly conceive, that a man could persuade the richest and most opulent inhabitants of a city to resign all their revenues and estates, to level and cor.found themseles with the poorest of the people; to subject themselves to a nou way of living, both severe in itself, and full of restraint; in a...rd, to debar themselves of the use of every thing wherein the ha piness and comfort of life is thought to consist? And yet this is what Lycurgus actually effected in Sparta.
Such an institution as this would have been less wonderful, had it subsisted only during the life of the legislator ; but we know that it lasted many ages after his decease. Xenophon, in the encomium * Νόμος επειδή κύριος εγένετο βασιλεύς των ανθρώπων, αλλ' ουκ άνθρωποι
1968 véumy. Plat. Epist. vii.
he has left us of Agesilaus, and Cicero, in one of his orations, observe, that Lacedæmon was the only city in the world that preserved her discipline and laws for so considerable a term of years unaltered and inviolate. Soli, said the latter,* speaking of the 1 acedæmonians, toto orbe terrarum septingentos jam annos ampliùs unis moribus et nunquam mutatis legibus vivunt. I believe, however, that in Cicero's time the discipline of Sparta, as well as her power, was very much relaxed and diminished; but all historians agree, that it was maintained in all its vigour till the reign of Agis, under whom Lysander, though incapable himself of being blinded or corrupted with gold, filled his country with luxury and the love of riches, by bringing into it immense sums of gold and silver, which were the fruit of his victories, and thereby subverting the laws of Lycurgus.
But the introduction of gold and silver money was not the first wound given by the Lacedæmonians to the institutions of their legislator. It was the consequence of the violation of another law still more fundamental. Ambition was the vice that preceded, and made way for, avarice. The desire of conquests drew on that of riches, without which they could not propose to extend their dominions. The main design of Lycurgus, in the establishing his laws, and especially that which prohibited the use of gold and silver, was, as Polybiust and Plutarch have judiciously observed, to curb and restrain the ambition of his citizens; to disable them from making conquests, and in a manner to force them to confine themselves within the narrow bounds of their own country, without carrying their views and pretensions any farther. Indeed, the government which he established, was sufficient to defend the frontiers of Sparta, but was not calculated for the raising her to a dominion over other cities.
The design, then, of Lycurgus was not to make the Spartans conquerors. To remove such thoughts from his fellow-citizens, he expressly forbid them, though they inhabited a country surrounded with the sea, to meddle with maritime affairs ; to have any fleets, or ever to fight upon the sea. They were religious observers of this prohibition for many ages, and even till the defeat of Xerxes : but upon that occasi n they began to think of making themselves masters at sea, that .Jey might be able to keep so formidable an enemy at the greater 'stance. But having soon perceived, that these maritime, remote commands, corrupted the manners of their generals, they laid that project aside without any difficulty, as we shall observe, when we come to speak of king Pausanias.
When Lycurgus armed his fellow-citizens with shields and lances, it was not to enable them to commit wrongs and outrages with impunity,
but only to defend themselves against the invasions and injuries of others. He made them indeed a nation of warriors and
† Polyb. I. vi. p. 491. | Plut. in moribus laced Ibid. in vit. Lycurg. p. 59.
• Pro. Flac. num. lxiii.
soldiers; but it was only that, under the shadow of their arms, they might live in liberty, moderation, justice, union, and peace, by being content with their own territories, without usurping those of others, and by being persuaded, that no city or state, any more than individuals, can ever hope for solid and lasting happiness but from virtue only. Men of a depraved taste (says Plutarch* farther on the same subject,) who think nothing so desirable as riches and a large extent of dominion, may give the preference to those vast empires that have subdued and enslaved the world by violence; but Lycur gus was convinced, that a city had occasion for nothing of that kind. in order to be happy. His policy, which has justly been the admiration of all ages, had no farther views than to establish equity, moderation, liberty, and peace; and was an enemy to all injustice, violence, and ambition, and the passion of reigning and extending the bounds of the Spartan commonwealth.
Such reflections as these, which Plutarch agreeably intersperses in-his lives, and in which their greatest and most essential beauty consist, are of infinite use towards the giving us true notions, wherein consists the solid and true glory of a state that is really happy; as also to correct those false idéas which we are apt to form of the vain greatness of those empires which have swallowed up kingdoms, and of those celebrated conquerors who owe all their fame and grandeur to violence and usurpation.
3. The excellent education of their Youth. The long duration of the laws established by Lycurgus, is certainly very wonderful : but the means he made use of to succeed therein are no less worthy of admiration. The principal of these was the extraordinary care he took to have the Spartan youth brought up in an exact and severe discipline: for (as Plutarch observes) the religious obligation of an oath, which he exacted from the citizens, would have been a feeble tie, had he not by education infused his laws, as it were, into the minds and manners of the children, and made them suck in almost with their mother's milk an affection for his institutions. This was the reason why his principal ordinances subsisted above 500 years, having sunk into the very temper and hearts of the people, like a strong and good dye,f that penetrates thoroughly, Cicero makes the same remark, and ascribes the courage and virtue of the Spartans, not so much to their own natural disposition, as to their excellent education: Cujus civitatis spectata ac nobilitata virtus, non solùm naturâ corroborata, verùm etiam disciplinâ putatur.1 All this shows of what importance it is to a state to take care, that their youth be brought up in a manner proper to inspire them with a love for the laws of their country
* Plut. in vit. Lycurg. p. 59. et in vit. Agesil. p. 614. 1 "Ωσπες βαφής ακράτου και ισχυρας καθαψαμένης. Plet. Ep. ii. Orat. pro. Flac. n. 63.
The great maxim of Lycurgus, which Aristotle repeats in expressterms,* was, that as children belong to the state, their education ought to be directed by the state, and the views and interests of the state only considered therein. It was for this reason he enacted, that they should be educated all in common, and not left to the humour and caprice of their parents, who generally, through a soft and blind indulgence, and a mistaken tenderness enervate at once both the bodies and minds of their children. At Sparta, from their tenderest years, they were inured to labour and fatigue by the excrcises of hunting and racing, and accustomed betimes to endure hunger and thirst, heat and cold; and, what is difficult to make mothers believe, all these hard and laborious - exercises tended to procure them health, and make their constitutions the more vigorous and robust ; able to bear the hardships and fatigues of war, for which they were all designed from their cradles.
4.' Obedience. But the most excellent thing in the Spartan education, was its teaching young people so perfectly well how to obey. It is from hence the poet Simonides gives that city such a magnificent epithet,t which denotes that they alone knew how to subdue the passions of men, and to render them pliant and submissive to the laws, in the same manner as horses are taught to obey the spur and the bridle, by being broken and trained while they are young. For this reason, Agesilaus advised Xenophon to send his children to Sparta, that they might learn there the noblest and greatest of all sciences, that is, how to command, and how to obey.
5. Respect towards the aged, One of the lessons oftenest and most strongly inculcated upon the Lacedæmonian youth, was, to entertain great reverence and respect to old men, and to give them proofs of it upon all occasions, by saluting them, by making way for them, and giving them place in the streets, by rising up to show them honour in all companies and public assemblies; but above all, by receiving their advice, and even their reproofs, with docility and submission : by these characteristics a Lacedæmonjan was known wherever he came ; if he had behaved otherwise, it would liave been looked upon as a reproach to himself, and a dishonour to his country. An old man of Athens going into the theatre once to see a play, none of his own countrymen offered him a seat; but when he came near the place where the Sp an ambassadors and their retinue were sitting, they all rose up out of reverence to his age, and seated him in the midst of them.
* L. viii. Politic.
Marie Lacou. Lantitat p. 927