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Having dealth with the subject of birth, I wish next to explain the educational system of Lycurgus, and how it differs from other systems.

In the other Greek states parents who profess to give their sons the best education place their boys under the care and control of a moral tutor1 as soon as they can understand what is said to them, and send them to a school to learn letters, music and the exercises of the wrestling-ground. Moreover, they soften the children's feet by giving them sandals, and pamper their bodies with changes of clothing; and it is customary to allow them as much food as they can eat. [2]

Lycurgus, on the contrary, instead of leaving each father to appoint a slave to act as tutor, gave the duty of controlling the boys to a member of the class from which the highest offices are filled, in fact to the “Warden” as he is called. He gave this person authority to gather the boys together, to take charge of them and to punish them severely in case of misconduct. He also assigned to him a staff of youths provided with whips to chastise them when necessary; and the result is that modesty and obedience are inseparable companions at Sparta. [3] Instead of softening the boys' feet with sandals he required them to harden their feet by going without shoes. He believed that if this habit were cultivated it would enable them to climb hills more easily and descend steep inclines with less danger, and that a youth who had accustomed himself to go barefoot would leap and jump and run more nimbly than a boy in sandals. [4] And instead of letting them be pampered in the matter of clothing, he introduced the custom of wearing one garment throughout the year, believing that they would thus be better prepared to face changes of heat and cold. [5] As to the food, he required the prefect to bring with him2 such a moderate amount of it that the boys would never suffer from repletion, and would know what it was to go with their hunger unsatisfied; for he believed that those who underwent this training would be better able to continue working on an empty stomach, if necessary, and would be capable of carrying on longer without extra food, if the word of command were given to do so: they would want fewer delicacies and would accommodate themselves more readily to anything put before them, and at the same time would enjoy better health. [6] He also thought that a diet which made their bodies slim would do more to increase their height than one that consisted of flesh-forming food.

On the other hand, lest they should feel too much the pinch of hunger,3 while not giving them the opportunity of taking what they wanted without trouble he allowed them to alleviate their hunger by stealing something. [7] It was not on account of a difficulty in providing for them that he encouraged them to get their food by their own cunning. No one, I suppose, can fail to see that. Obviously a man who intends to take to thieving must spend sleepless nights and play the deceiver and lie in ambush by day, and moreover, if he means to make a capture, he must have spies ready. There can be no doubt then, that all this education was planned by him in order to make the boys more resourceful in getting supplies, and better fighting men.

Someone may ask: [8] But why, if he believed stealing to be a fine thing, did he have the boy who was caught beaten with many stripes? I reply: Because in all cases men punish a learner for not carrying out properly whatever he is taught to do. So the Spartans chastise those who get caught for stealing badly. [9] He made it a point of honour to steal as many cheeses as possible [from the altar of Artemis Orthia],4 but appointed others to scourge the thieves, meaning to show thereby that by enduring pain for a short time one may win lasting fame and felicity. It is shown herein that where there is need of swiftness, the slothful, as usual, gets little profit and many troubles. [10]

In order that the boys might never lack a ruler even when the Warden was away, he gave authority to any citizen who chanced to be present to require them to do anything that he thought right, and to punish them for any misconduct. This had the effect of making the boys more respectful; in fact boys and men alike respect their rulers above everything. [11] And that a ruler might not be lacking to the boys even when no grown man happened to be present, he selected the keenest of the prefects, and gave to each the command of a division. And so at Sparta the boys are never without a ruler. [12]

I think I ought to say something also about intimacy with boys, since this matter also has a bearing on education. In other Greek states, for instance among the Boeotians, man and boy live together, like married people;5 elsewhere, among the Eleians, for example, consent is won by means of favours. Some, on the other hand, entirely forbid suitors to talk with boys. [13]

The customs instituted by Lycurgus were opposed to all of these. If someone, being himself an honest man, admired a boy's soul and tried to make of him an ideal friend without reproach and to associate with him, he approved, and believed in the excellence of this kind of training. But if it was clear that the attraction lay in the boy's outward beauty, he banned the connexion as an abomination; and thus he caused lovers to abstain from boys no less than parents abstain from sexual intercourse with their children and brothers and sisters with each other. [14]

I am not surprised, however, that people refuse to believe this. For in many states the laws are not opposed to the indulgence of these appetites.

I have now dealt with the Spartan system of education, and that of the other Greek states. Which system turns out men more obedient, more respectful, and more strictly temperate, anyone who chooses may once more judge for himself.

1 I have adopted for παιδαγωγός the term used at Oxford for a person who has charge of, but does not teach, an undergraduate.

2 συμβολεύειν is the conjecture of F. Portus for συμβουλεύειν, and εἴρενα that of Schneider for ἄρρενα. The prefect took his meals with the class of which he had charge. But Stobaeus' text runs σῖτόν γε μὴν τοσοῦτον ἔχειν (for which read ἐσθίειν) συνεβούλευεν ὡς, “he recommended them to eat so moderately that they”; and this is probably right.

3 Anabasis, 4.6.14.

4 At this altar the annual scourging of Spartan boys and youths took place, according to Plutarch and Pausanias; but this custom seems to have no connexion with that of punishing those who were caught thieving. It is not improbable that the whole of this sentence is an interpolation; if not, the text is corrupt beyond restoration.

5 Symposium, 8.34.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • Raphael Kühner, Bernhard Gerth, Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache, KG 1.3.1
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CAL´CEUS
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