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Lycurgus

Lycurgus

 

LycurgusAlthough the ancient accounts of the personal history of Lycurgus have many discrepancies, and are disputed by modern critics, we give the generally received outline of his career. He is reputed to have been born about 926 B.C. and to be the son of king Eunomus. As guardian of his nephew, who had succeeded to the throne, Lycurgus conducted thc affairs of thc state with great wisdom and probity. Later on, he became a traveler, and 'while visiting the island of Crete thoroughly studied its laws. Thence he passed to Asia Minor, and viewed the Ionian cities, sunk in luxury and effeminacy. Finding there the poems of Homer, he was so enraptured by their manly and heroic strain that he collected and transcribed them, and was the first to introduce them. fully into Greece.

 

In the meantime Sparta was a prey to civil dissenions, and several deputations 'were sent to Lycurgus, imploring him to return and resume the reins of Government. At length, after fully maturing the political knowledge which it had been his principal object to acquire by travel, he came back to his native land. Perceiving that the disorders of the state admitted no other effectual remedy than a total change of thc laws and constitution, he proposed a new legislative system for Sparta.

 

Like other legislators, Lycurgus fortified his authority with the sanctions of religion, and obtained from the oracle of Delphi a declaration that the new constitution would be the most excellent in the world. He also directed thirty of his friends to appear armed in the market-place, in order to intimidate opposition. Thus surrounded, he promulgatea the new constitution and code of laws. The monarchical part of the government, ad ministered by two kings, was retained; but a senate of twenty-eight persons was formed, as a mediating body between them and the people. He was equally averse to a tyranny and an unmixed democracy. Yet the people were allowed a public assembly in which the most important measures were to be voted on, and five officers, called ephors, were commissioned as their representatives, to see that the kings did not violate their enactments. These ephors became eventually the controlling power of the Spartan state.

 

The next step of Lycurgus was the very arduous measure of equalizing landed property. The territory of Sparta and of the rest of Laconia was divided into lots, each capable of, supporting a single family, and one of these was assigned to each citizen. Lycurgus attempted to equalize other property by forbidding the use of gold and silver coin, and allowing no other money than iron, which was so bulky that it was impossible to board much wealth. Still further to reduce to a social level, and preclude private luxury, he ordained that all the men should eat at public tables, where all were served alike with plain, wholesome food. This regulation proved more grievous to the richer classes than any other, and even caused a tumult, in which Lycurgus lost an eye. His behavior on this occasion was truly philosophical, as he pardoned the youthful perpetrator, and converted him into a pennanent friend.

 

The spirit of his ordinances, which extended to all the particulars of education, and of social arrangements, was to form a people in whom patriotism should be paramount to private interests, who should be vigerous in body and invincible in defence of their country. pursuance of this, he scrupled not to sacrifice the decencies of life. Together with riches, he excluded all the fine art'S, and all the studies which soften and humanize the mind and heart. But what he aimed at he obtained i and Sparta, under the stern laws of Lycurgus, became a gymnasium of athletic warriors, whose prowess for centuries.

 

The disinterestedness of Lycurgus was proved by his last administrative act. In an assembly of the people that he convoked, he said that it was important that he should consult the oracle at Delphi on one remaining point  but before his departure he wished them to take a solemn oath to observe his laws inviolably until his return. They complied, and he went to Delphi, where he obtained a declaration that while Sparta should keep the laws of Lycurgus, she should be the most flourishing of cities. this oracle he sent to Sparta, and then disappeared, in order that they might never be freed from the obligation of their oath. The classical authors are not agreed concerning what afterwards became of him. His memory was long honored at Sparta by au anniversary, at "Which his praises were recited and sung.

 

 

LACONIC SPEECH.

 

Lycurgus fixed but a small value on a considerable quantity of his iron money; but on the contrary, the worth of speech was to consist in its being comprised in a few plain words pregnant with a great deal of sense j and he contrived that by long silence they might learn to be sen tentious and acute in their replies. As debauchery often uses weakness and sterility in the body, so the intemperance of the tongue makes conversation empty and insipid. King Agis, there· forel when a certain Athenian laughed at the Lacedremonian short swords, and said, The jugglers would swallow them with ease upon the stage answered in his laconic way "And yet we can reach our enemies hearts with them. 'Indeed to me there seems to be something in this concise manner of speaking which immediately reaches the object aimed at, and forcibly strikes the mind of the hearer. Lycurgus himself was short and sententious in his discoursed if we may judge by some of his answer!:' which are recorded; that  for instance concerning thc constitution. When oue advised him to establish a popular government in Lacaedemon "Go," said he, "and first make a trial of it in thy own family." That again, concerning sacrifices to the Deityl when he was asked why he appointed them so trifling and of so little value, "That we might never be· in want," said he, "of something to offer him." Once more, when they inquired of him, what sort of martial exercise;-she allowed of, he answered, "All, except those in which you stretch out your hands which was the form of demanding quarter in battle. Several such like replies of his are said to be taken from the letters which he wrote to his countrymen as to their question,low shall we best guard against the inva~ sion of the enemy?" By continuing poor, and not desiring in your possession to be oue above another." And to the question, whether they should enclose Sparta with walls, "'that city is well fortified, which has a wall of men instead of brick. Whether these and some other letters ascribed to him are genuine or not, is no easy matter to determine.

 

That they hated long speech, the following sayings are a farther proof. King Leonidas said to one who discourseo at all improper time about affairs of some concern, "My friend, yon should not talk so much to the purpose of what it is not to the purpose to talk of." Charilaus, the nephew of Lycurgus, being asked why his uncle had made so few laws, answered, "To men of few words, few laws are sufficient." Some people finding fault with Hecatrens the sophist, because, when admitted to one of the public repasts, he said nothing all the time, Archidamidas replied, "He that k nows how to speak, knows also when to speak. " -PLUTARCH.

 

Lycurgus

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