So eager was Lycurgus for the establishment of this form of government, that he obtained an oracle from Delphi about it, which they call a
‘rhetra.’ And this is the way it runs:
‘When thou hast built a temple to Zeus Syllanius and Athena Syllania, divided the people into ‘phylai’ and into ‘obai,’ and established a senate of thirty members, including the ‘archagetai,’ then from time to time ‘appellazein’ between Babyca and Cnacion1
and there introduce and rescind measures; but the people must have the deciding voice and the power.’
In these clauses, the
‘phylai’ and the
‘obai’ refer to divisions and distributions of the people into clans
, or brotherhoods
‘archagetai’ the kings
are designated, and
‘apellazein’ means to assemble
the people, with a reference to Apollo
, the Pythian god, who was the source and author of the polity. The Babyca is now called Cheimarrus, and the Cnacion Oenus; but Aristotle says that Cnacion is a river, and Babyca a bridge.
Between these they held their assemblies, having neither halls nor any other kind of building for the purpose. For by such things Lycurgus thought good counsel was not promoted, but rather discouraged, since the serious purposes of an assembly were rendered foolish and futile by vain thoughts, as they gazed upon statues and paintings, or scenic embellishments, or extravagantly decorated roofs of council halls. When the multitude was thus assembled, no one of them was permitted to make a motion, but the motion laid before them by the senators and kings could be accepted or rejected by the people.
Afterwards, however, when the people by additions and subtractions perverted and distorted the sense of motions laid before them, Kings Polydorus and Theopompus inserted this clause into the rhetra:
‘But if the people should adopt a distorted motion, the senators and kings shall have power of adjournment’; that is, should not ratify the vote, but dismiss outright and dissolve the session, on the ground that it was perverting and changing the motion contrary to the best interests of the state. And they were actually able to persuade the city that the god authorized this addition to the rhetra, as Tyrtaeus reminds us in these verses:—
Phoebus Apollo's the mandate was which they brought from Pytho,
Voicing the will of the god, nor were his words unfulfilled:
Sway in the council and honours divine belong to the princes
Under whose care has been set Sparta's city of charm;
Second to them are the elders, and next come the men of the people
Duly confirming by vote unperverted decrees.