Xenophon’s The Polity of the Spartans

Please make sure you read Lectures 5 & 6 in the Classical World module and the assigned readings in the textbook for Week 4 BEFORE starting this assignment!

Please read the following two documents and write a brief essay in which you complete the following areas of analysis: 1. Assess the primary source documents by comparing both their contents as well as the societies each describe and by contextualizing each of them within their historical era(s); 2. Explain the importance of the documents; 3. Analyze the significance of change across time in history as demonstrated by these documents and how they relate to our contemporary world; and 4. Analyze the varied impact of historical issues on diverse groups within or between societies as demonstrated by these documents. The more complete and detailed your analysis of each document and your analysis of the comparisons between them and the societies within which they were created is, the more effective it is likely to be. No outside research is required to complete this assignment.

NOTE: Wikipedia, other encyclopedias, and/or sparknotes or other secondary summaries as well as .org or .com sites are NOT acceptable sources for a college or university paper and are not allowed as sources on this assignment. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE this assignment – all plagiarized assignments will earn a grade of 0.

Document I: Xenophon’s The Polity of the Spartans

I recall the astonishment with which I first noted the unique position of Sparta among the states of Hellas, the relatively sparse population, and at the same time the extraordinary powers and prestige of the community. I was puzzled to account for the fact. It was only when I came to consider the peculiar institutions of the Spartans that my wonderment ceased.

Lycurgos provided guardians with a body of youths in the prime of life and bearing whips to inflict punishment when necessary, with this happy result, that in Sparta modesty and obedience ever go hand in hand, nor is there lack of either.

Instead of softening their feet with shoe or sandal, his rule was to make them hardy through going barefoot. This habit, if practiced, would, as he believed, enable them to scale heights more easily and clamber down precipices with less danger. In fact, with his feet so trained the young Spartan would leap and spring and run faster unshod than another in the ordinary way. Instead of making them effeminate with a variety of clothes, his rule was to habituate them to a single garment the whole year through, thinking that so they would be better prepared to withstand the variations of heat and cold. Again, as regards food, according to his regulation, the eiren, or head of the flock, must see that his messmates gather to the club meal with such moderate food as to avoid bloating and yet not remain unacquainted with the pains of starvation. His belief was that by such training in boyhood they would be better able when occasion demanded to continue toiling on an empty stomach….On the other hand, to guard against a too great pinch of starvation, he did give them permission to steal this thing or that in the effort to alleviate their hunger.

When Lycurgos first came to deal with the question, the Spartans, like the rest of the Hellenes, used to eat privately at home. Tracing more than half the current problems he saw in society to this custom, he was determined to drag his people out of holes and corners into the broad daylight, and so he invented the public mess rooms. As to food, his ordinance allowed them only so much as should guard them from want…..So that from beginning to end, until the meal breaks up, the common board is never stinted for food nor yet extravagantly furnished. So also in the matter of drink. While putting a stop to all unnecessary drink, he left them free to quench thirst when nature dictated…..Thus there is the necessity of walking home when a meal is over, and a consequent anxiety not to be caught tripping under the influence of wine, since they all know of course that the supper table must be presently abandoned and that they must move as freely in the dark as in the day, even with the help of a torch.

It is clear that Lycurgos set himself deliberately to provide all the blessings of heaven for the good man, and a sorry and ill-starred existence for the coward. In other states the man who shows himself base and cowardly, wins to himself an evil reputation and the nickname of a coward, but that is all. For the rest he buys and sells in the same marketplace with a good man; he sits beside him at a play; he exercises with him in the same gymnasion, and all as suits his humor. But at Sparta there is not one man who would not feel ashamed to welcome the coward at the common meal-tables… during games he is left out as the odd man… during the choric dance he is driven away. Nay, in the very streets it is he who must step aside for others to pass, or, being seated, he must rise and make room, even for a younger man…

Lycurgos also provided for the continual cultivation of virtues even to old age, by fixing the election to the council of elders [Gerousia] as a last ordeal at the goal of life, thus making it impossible for a high standard of virtuous living to be disregarded even in old age… Moreover he laid upon them, like some irresistible necessity, the obligation to cultivate the whole virtue of a citizen. Provided they duly perform the injunctions of the law, the city belonged to them each and all, in absolute possession, and on an equal footing…

When the commons were assembled, he [Lycurgus] suffered no other to give his opinion, but the people had the right of giving judgment on an opinion laid before them by the Elders and Kings. Later, however, when the commons began to twist and distort the opinions of the Elders and Kings by addition and subtraction, Kings Polydorus and Theopompus inserted in the rhetra or ordinance the following clause: ‘If the commons choose a crooked opinion, the elderborn and archleaders [that is the Elders and Kings] have powers of dissolution’ —which means that they may refuse to ratify it and may withdraw themselves altogether and dismiss the commons, as trying to divert and change the opinion of the Elders and Kings contrary to what is best —, and themselves persuaded the people to accept it in the belief that this was the command of the God Phoebus [Apollo].

Document II: Thucydides’ The Funeral Oration of Pericles

That part of our history which tells of the military achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready valour with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of Hellenic [i.e. other Greek] or Persian aggression, is a theme too familiar to my hearers for me to focus on, and I shall therefore pass it by. But what was the road by which we reached our position, what the form of government under which our greatness grew, what the national habits out of which it sprang; these are questions which I may try to solve before I proceed to my tribute upon these men; since I think this to be a subject upon which on the present occasion a speaker may properly dwell, and to which the whole assemblage, whether citizens or foreigners, may listen with advantage.

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition.

Then, again, our military training is in many respects superior to that of our adversaries. Athens is thrown open to the world, we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands. And in the matter of education, whereas they from early youth are always undergoing… exercises which are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet are equally ready to face the perils which they face. If then we prefer to meet danger… with a courage which is gained by habit and not enforced by law, are we not greatly the better for it? Since… when the hour comes, we can be as brave as those who never allow themselves to rest; thus Athenians are equally admirable in peace and in war…

Indeed if I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose, and also that the eulogy of the men over whom I am now speaking, those who have died in conflict with our enemies, might be by definite proofs established. That eulogy is now in a great measure complete; for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her, men whose fame, unlike that of most Hellenes, will be found to be only commensurate with their deserts. And if a test of worth be wanted, it is to be found in their closing scene, and this not only in cases in which it set the final seal upon their merit, but also in those in which it gave the first intimation of their having any. For there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country’s battles should be as a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual. But none of these [I eulogize] allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance, and to let their own wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory…

In doing good, we are unlike others of mankind; we make our friends by conferring, not by receiving favors. Now he who confers a favor is the firmer friend, because he would rather by kindness keep alive the memory of an obligation; but the recipient is colder in his feelings, because he knows that in requiting another’s generosity he will not be winning gratitude but only paying a debt. We, alone, do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit. To sum up: I say that Athens is a school to Hellas and an education to the World.

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