Go tell the Spartans: Plutarch’s “Moralia” online

I had not realised that so much of Plutarch was already online.  The excellent Attalus has compiled an index of the essays in the Moralia which are online, thanks to Bill Thayer at Lacus Curtius and others.

Among these is the Sayings of the Spartans.  These are easy to read, and worth reading.  Here are a few.

Once upon a time the Ephors said to Agis the son of Archidamus, “Take the young men and march against the country of this man here. He will himself guide you to its citadel.” “And how, sirs,” said Agis, “is it right to entrust so many youths to a man who is betraying his own country?”

Being asked what form of instruction was most in vogue in Sparta, he said, “Knowledge of how to rule and to be ruled.”He said that the Spartans did not ask ‘how many are the enemy,’ but ‘where are they?’

When someone inquired how many Spartans there were, he said, “Enough to keep all bad men away.”As he was going about among the walls of the Corinthians and observed that they were high and towering and vast in extent, ehe said, “What women live in that place?”

He came alone on an embassy to Philip [of Macedon], and when Philip exclaimed, “What is this? Have you come all alone?”, he said, “Yes, for I came to only one man.”

Archidamidas, in answer to a man who commended Charillus because he was gentle towards all alike, said, “And how could any man be justly commended if he be gentle towards the wicked?”

Archidamus, the son of Agesilaus, when Philip, after the battle of Chaeroneia, wrote him a somewhat haughty letter, wrote in reply, “If you should measure your own shadow, you would not find that it has become any greater than before you were victorious.”

Being asked how much land the Spartans controlled, he said, “As much as they can reach with the spear.”

When someone said to Astycratidas, after the defeat of Agis their king in the battle against Antipater in the vicinity of Megalopolis, “What will you do, men of Sparta? Will you be subject to the Macedonians? he said, “What! Is there any way in which Antipater can forbid us to die fighting for Sparta?”

Damis, with reference to the instructions sent from Alexander that they should pass a formal vote deifying him, said, “We concede to Alexander that, if he so wishes, he may be called a god.”

When Alexander caused proclamation to be made at Olympia that all exiles might return to their own land, save only the Thebans, Eudamidas said, “The proclamation for you, men of Thebes, is unfortunate, but very complimentary; for it is you only that Alexander fears.”

Herondas was at Athens when a man there was found guilty on a charge of not having any occupation, and when he heard of this, he bade them point out to him the man who had been convicted of the freeman’s crime!

When Leo, the son of Eurycratidas, was asked what kind of a city one could live in so as to live most safely, he said, “Where the inhabitants shall possess neither too much nor too little, and where right shall be strong and wrong shall be weak.”

Seeing that the runners at Olympia were eager to gain some advantage in starting, he said, “How much more eager are the runners for a quick start than for fair play!”

Xerxes wrote to Leonidas, “It is possible for you, by not fighting against God but by ranging yourself on my side, to be the sole ruler of Greece.” But he wrote in reply, “If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”When Xerxes wrote again, “Hand over your arms,” he wrote in reply, “Come and take them.”

When someone was reviling Lysander, he said, “Talk right on, you miserable foreigner, talk, and don’t leave out anything if thus you may be able to empty your soul of the vicious notions with which you seem to be filled.”

The suitors of his daughters, when after his death he was found to be a poor man, renounced their obligations; but the Ephors punished them because when they thought he was rich they courted his favour, but when they found from his poverty that he was just and honest they disdained him.

When he [Paedaretus] was not chosen as one of the three hundred, which was rated as the highest honour in the State, he went away cheerful and smiling; but when the Ephors called him back, and asked why he was laughing, he said, “Because I congratulate the State for having three hundred citizens better than myself.”

Pleistoanax, the son of Pausanias, when an Attic orator called the Spartans unlearned, said, “You are quite right, for we alone of the Greeks have learned no evil from you.”

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

A Spartan being asked what he knew, said, “How to be free.”

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 their places. 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 and with tears in his eyes, said, “Alas for the evil days! Because all the Greeks know what is right and fair, but the Spartans alone practise it.”

This is but a small selection.  All praise to Bill Thayer for typing this up and making it available online!


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