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29. When his principal institutions were at last firmly fixed in the customs of the people, and his civil polity had sufficient growth and strength to support and preserve itself, just as Plato says1 that Deity was rejoiced to see His universe come into being and make its first motion, so Lycurgus was filled with joyful satisfaction in the magnitude and beauty of his system of laws, now that it was in operation and moving along its pathway. He therefore ardently desired, so far as human forethought could accomplish the task, to make it immortal, and let it go down unchanged to future ages. [2] Accordingly, he assembled the whole people, and told them that the provisions already made were sufficiently adapted to promote the prosperity and virtue of the state, but that something of the greatest weight and importance remained, which he could not lay before them until he had consulted the god at Delphi. They must therefore abide by the established laws and make no change nor alteration in them until he came back from Delphi in person; then he would do whatsoever the god thought best. [3] When they all agreed to this and bade him set out on his journey, he exacted an oath from the kings and the senators, and afterwards from the rest of the citizens, that they would abide by the established polity and observe it until Lycurgus should come back; then he set out for Delphi.

On reaching the oracle, he sacrificed to the god, and asked if the laws which he had established were good, and sufficient to promote a city's prosperity and virtue. [4] Apollo answered that the laws which he had established were good, and that the city would continue to be held in highest honour while it kept to the polity of Lycurgus. This oracle Lycurgus wrote down, and sent it to Sparta. But for his own part, he sacrificed again to the god, took affectionate leave of his friends and of his son, and resolved never to release his fellow-citizens from their oath, but of his own accord to put an end to his life where he was. He had reached an age in which life was not yet a burden, and death no longer a terror; when he and his friends, moreover, appeared to be sufficiently prosperous and happy. [5] He therefore abstained from food till he died, considering that even the death of a statesman should be of service to the state, and the ending of his life not void of effect, but recognized as a virtuous deed. As for himself, since he had wrought out fully the noblest tasks, the end of life would actually be a consummation of his good fortune and happiness; and as for his fellow-citizens, he would make his death the guardian, as it were, of all the blessings he had secured for them during his life, since they had sworn to observe and maintain his polity until he should return. [6] And he was not deceived in his expectations, so long did his city have the first rank in Hellas for good government and reputation, observing as she did for five hundred years the laws of Lycurgus, in which no one of the fourteen kings who followed him made any change, down to Agis the son of Archidamus. For the institution of the ephors did not weaken, but rather strengthened the civil polity, and though it was thought to have been done in the interests of the people, it really made the aristocracy more powerful.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 1.65
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), NOMOS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), NOMO´THETES
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Plato, Timaeus, 37c
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
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