« PreviousContinue »
Lysander therefore had reason to say,* that old age had no where 80 honourable an abode as in Sparta, and that it was an agreeable thing to grow old in that city.
II. Things blamable in the laws of Lycurgus. In order to perceive more clearly the defects in the laws of Ly curgus, we have only to compare them with those of Moses, which we know were dictated by more than human wisdom. But my design in this place is not to enter into a strict detail of the particulars Wicrein the laws of Lycurgus are faulty: I shall content myself with making only some slight reflections, which probably the reader has already anticipated, as he must have been justly disgusted by the mere recital of some of those ordinances. 1. The choice made of the cuildren that were either to be brought up
unexposed. To begin, for instance, with that ordinance relating to the choice they made of their children, which of them were to be brought up, and which exposed to perish; who would not be shocked at the unjust and inhuman custom of pronouncing sentence of death upon all such infants as had the misfortune to be born with a constitution that appeared too weak and delicate to undergo the fatigues and exercises to which the commonwealth destined all her subjects ? Is it then impossible, and without example, that children, who are tender and weak in their infancy, should ever alter as they grow up, and become in time of a robust and vigorous constitution? Or suppose it were so, cán a man no way serve his country, but by the strength of his body? Is there no account to be made of his wisdom, prudence, counsel, generosity, courage, magnanimity, and, in a word, of all the qualities that depend upon the mind and the intellectual faculties? Omnino illud honestum, quod ex animo excelso magnificoque quærimus, animi efficitur, non corporis mr.busof Did Lycurgus himself render less service or do less honox:r, to Sparta, by establishing his laws, than the greatest generals did by their victories? Agesilaus was of so small a stature, and so mean in person, that at the first sight of him the Egyptians could not help laughing; and yet, little as he was, he made the great king of Persia tremble upon the throne of half the world.
But what is yet stronger than all I have said, has any other person a right or power over the lives of men, than He from whom they received them, even God himself? And does not a legislator visibly usurp the authority of God, whenever he arrogates to bimself such a power without his commission ? That precept of the
* Lysandrum Lacedæmonium dicere aiunt solitum: Lacedæmone esse honestissimuna domicilium senectutis. Cic. de sen. n. 63. Εν Λακεδαιμοι κάλλιστα γηρώσι. Plut. in. Mor. p. 795
Cicer. 1. i. de offic. n. 79. Ibid. n. 66
decalogue, which was only a renewal of the law of nature, Thou shalt not kill, universally condemns all those among the ancients, who imagined they had a power of life and death over their slaves, and even over their own children.
2. Their care confined only to the body. : The great defect in Lycurgus's laws (as Plato and Aristotle ha re observed) is, that they tended only to form a nation of soldiers. All that legislator's thoughts seemed wholly bent upon the means of strengthening the bodies of the people, without any concern for the cultivation of their minds. Why should he banish from his cominonwealth all arts and sciences, which, besides many other advantages,* have this most happy effect, that they soften our manners, polish our understandings, improve the heart, and render our behaviour civil, courteous, gentle, and obliging ; such, in a word, as qualifies us for company and society, and makes the ordinary intercourse of life agreeable?. Hence it came to pass, that there was something of a roughness and austerity in the temper and behaviour of the Spartans, and many times even something of ferocity, a failing that proceeded chiefly from their education, and that rendered them disagreeable and offensive to all their allies.
3. Their barbarous cruelty towards their children. It was an excellent practice in Sparta, to-accustom their youth betimes to suffer heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and by several severe and laborious exercises to bring the body into subjection to reason, whose faithful and diligent minister it ought to be in the execution of all her orders and injunctions; which it can never do, if it be not able to undergo all sorts of hardships and fatigues. But was it rational in them to carry their severity so far, as the inhuman treatment we have mentioned ? and was it not utterly barbarous and brutal in the fathers and mothers to see the blood trickling from the wounds of their children, nay, even to see them expiring under the lashes, without concern?
4. The mothers' inhumanity. Some people admire the courage of the Spartan mothers, who could hear the news of the death
of their children slain in battle, not only without tears, but even with a kind of joy and satisfaction. For my part, I should think it much better that nature should show herself a little more on such occasions, and that the love of one's country should not utterly extinguish the sentiments of maternal tenderness. One of our generals in France, who in the heat of
* Omnes artes quibus ætas puerilis ad humanitatem informari solet. Cic. Orat. pro Arch.
+ Exercendum corpus, et ita afficiendum est, ut obedire consilio rationique possit ja exequendis negotiis labore tolerando. Lib. i. de offic. n. 79
battle was told that his son was killed, spoke much more properly on the subject: Let us at present think, said be, how to conquer the enemy; to-morrow I will mourn for my son.
5. Their excessive leisure. Nor can I see what excuse can be made for that law, imposed by Lycurgus upon the Spartans, which enjoined the spending the whole of their time, except when they were engaged in war, in idleness and inaction. He left all the arts and trades entirely to the slaves and strangers that lived amongst them, and put nothing into the hands of the citizens but the lance and the shield. Not to mention the danger there was in suffering the number of slaves that were necessary for tilling the land, to increase to such a degree as to become much greater than that of their inasters, which was often an occasion of seditions and riots among them; how many disorders must men necessarily fall into, that have so much leisure upon their hands, and have no daily occupation or regular labour? This is an inconvenience even now but too common among our nobility, and which is the natural effect of their injudicious education. Except in the time of war, most of our gentry spend their lives in a most useless and unprofitable manner. They look upon agriculture, arts, and commerce, as beneath them, and derogatory to their gentility. They seldom know to handle any thing but their swords. As for the sciences, they take but a very small tincture of them; just so much as they cannot well be without; and many have not the least knowledge of thein, nor any manner of taste for books or reading. We are not to wonder then, if gaming and hunting, eating and drinking, mutual visits and frivolous discourse, make up their whole occupation. What a life is this for men that have any parts or understanding!
6. Their cruelty towards the Helots. Lycurgus would be utterly inexcusable if he gave occasion, as hie is aecused of having done, for all the rigour and cruelty exercised towards the Helots in his republic. These Heluts were slaves employed by the Spartans to till the ground. It was their custom not only to make these poor creatures drunk, and expose them before their children, in order to give them an abhorrence for so shameful and odious a vice, but they treated them also with he utmost barbarity, and thought themselves at liberty to destroy them by any violence or cruelty whatsoever, under pretence of their being always ready to rebel.
Upon a certain occasion related by Thucydides,* 2000 of these Helots disappeared at once, without any body's knowing what was become of them. Plutarch pretends, this barbarous custom was not practised till after Lycurgus's time, and that he had no hand in it.
. Lib. iv.
7. Modesty and decency entirely neglected. But that wherein Lycurgus appears to be most culpable, and what most clearly shows the prodigious enormities and gross darkness in which the Pagans were plunged, is the little regard he showed for modesty and decency, in what concerned the education of girls, and the marriages of young women; which was without doubt the source of those disorders that prevailed in Sparta, as Aristotle has wisely observed. When we compare these indecent and licentious institutions of the wisest legislator that ever profane antiquity could boast, with the sanctity and purity of the evangelical precepts, what a noble idea does it give us of the dignity and excellence of the Christian religion!
Nor will it give us a less advantageous notion of this pre-eminence, if we compare the most excellent and laudáble part of Lycurgus's institutions with the laws of the Gospel. It is, we must own, a wonderful thing, that a whole people should consent to a division of their lands, which set the poor upon an equal footing with the rich; and that by a total exclusion of gold and silver, they should reduce themselves to a kind of voluntary poverty. But the Spartan legislator, when he enacted these laws, had the sword in his hand; whereas the Christian Legislator says but a word, Blessed are the poor in spirit, and thousands of the faithful through all suceeeding generations, renounce their goods, sell their lands and estates, and leave all to follow Jesus Christ, their master, in poverty and want.
The government of Athens. The laws of Solon. The history of that republic from the
time of Sulon to the reign of Darius the First. I have already observed, that Athens was at first governed by kings. But they had little more than the name; for their whole power being confined to the command of the armies, vanished in time of peace. Every man was master in his own house, where he lived in an absolute state of independence. Codrus, the last king of Athens, having devoted himself to die for the public good, his sons Medon and Nileus quarrelled about the succession. The Athenians took this occasion to abolish the regal power, though it did not much incommode them; and declared, that Jupiter alone was king of A ens; at the very same time that the Jews,* weary of the theocracy, that is, of having the true God for their king, would absolutely have a man to reign over them.
Plutarch observes, that Homer, when he enumerates the ships o the confederate Grecians, gives the name of people to none but the Athenians; from whence it may be inferred, that the Athenians, even then had a great inclination to a democratical government, and that the chief authority was at that time vested in the people.
• Codrus was contemporary with Saul.
In the place of their kings they substituted a kind of governors for life, under the title of Archons. But this perpetual magistracy appeared still; in the eyes of this free people, as too lively an image of regal power, of which they were desirous of abolishing even the very sha low; for which reason, they first reduced that office to the term often years, and then to that of one: and this they did with a view of resuming the authority the more frequently into their own hands, which they never transferred to their magistrates but with regret.
Such a limited power as this was not sufficient to restrain those turbulent spirits, who were grown excessively jealous of their liberty and independence, very tender and apt to be offended at any thing that seemed to encroach upon their equality, and always ready to take umbrage at whatever had the least appearance of dominion or superiority. From hence arose continual factions and quarrels : there was no agreement or concord among them, either about re ligion or government.
Athens therefore continued a long time incapable of enlarging her power, it being very happy for her that she could preserve herself from ruin in the midst of those long and frequent dissensions, with which she had to struggle.
Misfortunes instruct. Athens learned, at length, that true liberty consists in a dependance upon justice and reason. This happy subjection could not be established, but by a legislator. She therefore pitched upon Draco, a man of acknowledged wisdom and integrity.
It does not appear that Greece had, before his time, Ant. J. C. 624. any written laws. He published some,
whose rigour, anticipating, as it were, the Stoical doctrine, was so great, that it punished the smallest offence, as well as the most enormous crimes, equally with death. These laws of Draco, written, says Demades, not with ink, but with blood, had the same fate as usually attends all violent extremes. Sentiments of humanity in the judges, compassion for the accused, whom they were wont to look upon rather as unfortunate than criminal, and the apprehensions the accusers and witnesses were under of rendering themselves odious to the people; all these motives, I say, concurred to produce a remissness in the execution of the laws; which by that means, in process
of time, became as it were abrogated through disuse: and thus an excessive rigour paved the way for impunity.
The danger of relapsing into their former disorders, made them have recourse to fresh precautions : for they were willing to slacken the curb and restraint of fear, but not to break it. In order therefore to find out mitigations, which might make amends for what they took away from the letter of the law, they cast their eyes upon
one of the wisest and most virtuous persons of his age, Ant. J. C. 604. I mean Solon; whose singular qualities, and especially his great mildness, had acquired him the affection and veneration of the whole city. · VOL. II. 2.
A. M. 3380.