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RHETRA (ῥήτρα). This word is variously explained by both ancient and modern writers. Hesychius, s.v. defines it συνθῆκαι διὰ λόγων: cf. Photius, s. v. συνθῆκαι, λόγοι, ὁμολογίαι. Gilbert (Stud. z. altspart. Gesch. p. 140) considers this to have been the original meaning (e. g. the covenant of the nature of a wager in Od. 14.393; the treaty between Eleians and Heraeans, Röhl, Inscr. Gr. Ant. No. 110 = Hicks, Manual, No. 8; cf. I. G. A. No. 118), from which that of “law” was deduced, whilst Wilamowitz (Homer. Untersuch. p. 280) looks upon “covenant” as its only meaning. Yet it would seem that ῥήτρα meant “law” (Etym. M p. 703, . γὰρ κατὰ Δωριεῖς νόμος: Photius, s. r. Ταραντῖνοι δὲ νόμον καὶ οἷον ψηφίσματα) in I. G. A. No. 112 = Cauer,2 No. 253, regulating the prosecution for witchcraft, and “decree” in No. 113, conferring citizenship on Deucalion; in Xen. Anab. 6.6, 28, it means a “revolution” of the army (cf. § 2, δημόσιον ἔδοξεν εἶναι); and king Agis' proposal for cancelling all debts and making a new distribution of landsis called ῥήτρα by Plut. Agis 8, 9, as well as that of Epitadeus for changing the law of inheritance (l.c. 5). [p. 2.557]In Lyc. 13 Plutarch identifies ῥῆτραι with χρησμοί τὰ μὲν οὖν τοιαῦτα νομοθετήματα ῥήτρας ὠνόμασεν, ὡς παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ νομιζόμενα (κομιζόμενα̣ cf. 6, ὥστε μαντείαν ἐκ Δελφῶν κομίσαι περὶ αὐτῆς, ἣν ῥήτραν καλοῦσιν) καὶ χρησμοὺς ὄντα: cf. Photius, s.v. παρα] Λακεδαιμονίοις ῥήτρα Λυκούργου νόμος, ὡς ἐκ χρησμῶν τεθέμενος. In this Plutarch is followed by Göttling (Verh. d. Leipz. Ges. d. Wissensch. i. p. 136 ff.), Oncken (Staatsl. d. Arist. ii. p. 332 f.), etc.; since, however, oracles were usually in verse (Plut. de Pyth. Orac. 19 specially states that these were given καταλογάδην), Göttling restores the verse form, whilst Bergk (Poet. Lyr. ii.4 p. 10 n.) looks upon them not as the oracles themselves, but as the prose explanations of the oracles given by the Delphian priesthood. Ῥήτρα (from root ἐρ, ϝερ, Curtius, Gk. Etym. i. p. 428, transl.) may easily bear all these meanings; in NOMOS instances are given of νόμος being explained by συνθήκη, as something agreed on by a community, and it is shown how of old a divine origin was claimed for law as εὕρημα καὶ δῶρον θεῶν: see also Grote (Hist. of Gr. ii. p. 346 n.).

Plutarch (Lyc.) gives four; ῥῆτραι, the first in 100.6, the other three in 100.13 (but see Ages. 26, ἐν ταῖς καλουμέναις τρισὶ ῥήτραις, and de Esu Carn. p. 997 C, ἐν ταῖς τρισὶ ῥήτραις). The first runs: Διὸς Ἑλλανίου (some MSS. Συλλανίου: for the numerous alterations of the name, see Thumser, Staatsalterth. i. p. 166, n. 4) καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς Ἑλλανίας ἱερὸν ἱδρυσάμενον, φυλὰς φυλάξαντα καὶ ὠβὰς ὠβάξαντα, τριάκοντα γερουσίαν σὺν ἀρχαγέταις καταστήσαντα, ὥρας ἐξ ὥρας (ὥραις ἐξ ὡρᾶν, Wilamowitz, Isyllos v. Epid. p. 10, since Isyllus has ὥραις ἐξ ὡρᾶν in B, 50.16) ἀπελλάζειν μεταξὺ Βαβύκας τε καὶ Κνακιῶνος, οὕτως εἰσφέρειν τε καὶ ἀφίστασθαι: δάμῳ δὲ τὰν κυρίαν ἦμεν (Sintenis, δάμῳ δ᾽ἀγορὰν εἶμεν, Coray, etc. MSS. γαμωδαν γοριανημην) καὶ κράτος. These directions, which Lycurgus is said to have received from Delphi, are fully explained by Plutarch, who seems to have largely drawn on Aristotle's Λακεδαιμονίων πολιτεία. They are: the building of a temple to Zeus Hellanios and Athena Hellania; the division of the people into φυλαὶ (i. e. the local φ., Paus. 3.16, 9) and ὠβαί (O. Müller connects τριάκοντα with ὠβάς, but it would be strange if the number of the ὠβαὶ were given and that of the φυλαὶ omitted); the establishment of the γερουσία, consisting of 28 γέροντες (cf. 100.5, sub fin.) with the two kings (Ulrichs, Rhein. Mus. 1848, p. 210, adds πρεσβυγενέας after τριάκοντα from Plut. an serie, etc. 10: διὸ τὴν μὲν ἐν Λακεδαίμονι παραζευχθεῖσαν ἀριστοκρατίαν τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν Πύθιος πρεσβυγενέας, δὲ Λυκοῦργος ἄντικρυς γέροντας ὠνόμασεν. Göttling, l.c. p. 342. and Curtius, Gr. Gesch. i.6 p. 654, n. 31, consider τριάκοντα a late addition); the calling together of the people at the time of the full moon (Schol. Thuc. 1.67, εἰωθότα λέγει ξύλλογον ὅτι ἐν πανσελήνῳ ἐγίγνετο ἀεί) between Babyca and Cnacion (Aristotle and the other commentators do not agree as to the locality meant; but see ECCLETI). Εἰσφέρειν evidently refers to the function of the gerousia “to bring forward proposals,” but the meaning of ἀφίστασθαι is not so clear; Göttling (l.c. p. 339) and Ulrichs (l.c. p. 231) refer ἀφίστασθαι too to the gerousia, and translate it “withdraw a proposal;” Grote (l.c. p. 346 n.) takes it to mean “to put the question for decision;” Meyer (Rhein. Mus. 1887, p. 84 n.), following one part of Plutarch's explanation (διαλύειν τὸν δῆμον), translates it “to dissolve,” whilst Gilbert (l.c. 135 f.), accepting the other part (μὴ κυροῦν), explains it “to refuse,” so that it refers to the function of the ἀπέλλα, viz. to their power of rejecting the proposals of the gerousia.

Later on the kings Polydorus and Theopompus added, according to Plutarch, εἰ δὲ σκολιὰν δᾶμος ἕλοιτο, τοὺς πρεσβυγενέας καὶ ἀρχαγέτας ἀποστατῆρας εἶμεν, and managed to represent this clause as likewise ordained by the god. To prove this, Plutarch quotes three distichs, which he ascribes vaguely to Tyrtaeus (ὥς του Τυρταῖος ἐπιμέμνηται); Diodorus, who follows Ephorus (7.14, 5), quotes the second and third of them with slight verbal discrepancies (he has εὐθείην ῥήτραις . instead of εὐθείαις), but does not assign them to Tyrtaeus; besides, his first is different from the one given by Plutarch, and he adds two more. There is, therefore, very slight reason for considering these three distichs quoted by Plutarch as a fragment fiom Tyrtaeus' Εὐνομία, and dating so far back the notion of the Delphian origin of the Spartan constitution (cf. Hdt. 1.65).

Triebner (Forschungen z. spart. Verfassungsgesch.) declares this rhetra, as well as Aristotle's commentary on it, to be a late forgery; but that it was generally known as a genuine document of Lycurgus in the beginning of the third century is evident fiom the allusion to it in Isyllus of Epidaurus (l.c. p. 23 E, 1. 14 f.): when Philip marched against Sparta, Asclepius promised to help the Lacedaemonians, “ οὕνεκα τοὺς Φοίβου χρησμοὺς σώζοντι δικαίως
οὓς μαντευσάμενος παρέταξε πόληϊ Λυκοῦργος.

Grote (l.c. p. 355 n.) calls this rhetra “the primitive constitutional rhetra of Sparta,” which Lycurgus brought with him from Delphi. Gilbert (l.c. p. 140 ff.) sees in it the covenant made by the three communities--the Agiadae, Eurypontidae, and Aegidae--on uniting into one community (συνοικισμός), viz. Sparta. Wilamowitz (Homer. Unters. p. 280 f.) considers it to have been the covenant between the king (he takes “the king,” not Lycurgus, as Plutarch does, to be the subject of ἱδρυσάμενον, etc.) and the δᾶμος, i. e. the aristocracy. Busson (Lykurgos u. d. grosse Rh. p. 21) connects it with a constitutional change effected by Lycurgus, through which the state was made to include all those of Dorian blood, whether of noble birth or not. Meyer's view (l.c. p. 85 f.) seems the most probable, viz. that this rhetra was not the basis on which the Spartan constitution has been built up, but was simply the main features of that constitution reduced to a formula about half a century before the time of Aristotle.

This explanation applies also to the other ῥῆτραι, which were merely general formulae, and by no means explicit laws. The 2nd rhetra runs, μὴ χρῆσθαι νόμοις ἐγγράφοις, i. e. the Lacedaemonians had no written code of laws, never going beyond the stage of customary law [NOMOS]; the 3rd, ὅπως οἰκία πᾶσα τὴν μὲν ὀροφὴν ἀπὸ πελέκεως εἰργασμένην ἔχῃ, τὰς δὲ [p. 2.558]θύρας ἀπὸ πρίονος μόνου καὶ μηδενὸς τῶν ἄλλων ἐργαλείων: and the 4th forbade ἐπὶ τοὺς αὐτοὺς πολεμίους στρατεύειν, ἵνα μὴ πολλάκις ἀμύνεσθαι συνεθιζόμενοι πολεμικοὶ γένωνται.


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.65
    • Homer, Odyssey, 14.393
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.16
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.9
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.6
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.67
    • Plutarch, Agis, 8
    • Plutarch, Agis, 9
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