The boys were also taught to use a discourse which combined pungency with grace, and condensed much observation into a few words. His iron money, indeed, Lycurgus made of large weight and small value, as I have observed,1
but the current coin of discourse he adapted to the expression of deep and abundant meaning with simple and brief diction, by contriving that the general habit of silence should make the boys sententious and correct in their answers. For as sexual incontinence generally produces unfruitfulness and sterility, so intemperance in talking makes discourse empty and vapid.
King Agis, accordingly, when a certain Athenian decried the Spartan swords for being so short, and said that jugglers on the stage easily swallowed them, replied:
‘And yet we certainly reach our enemies with these daggers.’ And I observe that although the speech also of the Spartans seems short, yet it certainly reaches the point, and arrests the thought of the listener.
And indeed Lycurgus himself seems to have been short and sententious in his speech, if we may judge from his recorded sayings; that, for instance, on forms of government, to one who demanded the establishment of democracy in the city:
‘Go thou,’ said he,
‘and first establish democracy in thy household.’ That, again, to one who inquired why he ordained such small and inexpensive sacrifices:
‘That we may never omit,’ said he,
‘to honour the gods.’
Again, in the matter of athletic contests, he allowed the citizens to engage only in those where there was no stretching forth of hands.2
There are also handed down similar answers which he made by letter to his fellow-citizens. When they asked how they could ward off an invasion of enemies, he answered:
‘By remaining poor, and by not desiring to be greater the one than the other.’ And when they asked about fortifying their city, he answered:
‘A city will be well fortified which is surrounded by brave men and not by bricks.’ Now regarding these and similar letters, belief and scepticism are alike difficult.