The Spartan Tradition in European Thought

By Elizabeth Rawson | Go to book overview

2
THE GROWTH OF LACONISM

NEITHER mythology nor archaeology suggest that there was anything peculiar about Bronze-Age Lacedaemon. Certainly Homer depicts the country of Menelaus and Helen as much like other kingdoms, and the only hint of things to come lies in his charming picture of Artemis following the hunt on Mount Taygetus;1 for the hounds and hunting of Sparta were famous to the end of antiquity and beyond. As for the first dark centuries of the new Dorian state, all we have to throw light on its reputation are some lines of oracular verse, so old that they single out a people which was obscure after the eighth century as the first warriors in Greece. Sparta is allowed, perhaps only in compliment to Helen, to claim the fairest women.2

It was probably, as we saw, in the late eighth or the seventh century that Sparta's institutions reached more or less their final form in a reform or series of reforms designed to cope with problems common to much of Greece. At any rate, while other states in the seventh and sixth centuries were often torn by factious nobles or succumbed to tyrants, who sometimes profited from social unrest, Sparta prospered under her comparatively broadly based and firmly organized system, and developed a reputation not only for military prowess, but for political wisdom and the rule of law rather than of individuals; and even as a centre of the arts, especially the choral arts of singing and dancing, to which poets and musicians from the islands of the Aegean, the coast of Asia Minor, and even as far afield as Sicily were attracted (Some of the philosophers of Ionia are said to have come on visits too). It is these three aspects that are celebrated by our only contemporary witnesses, the poets of the archaic age, both from Lacedaemon and elsewhere. Of the former, Tyrtaeus became famous all over Greece for his elegies, which, while Sparta was struggling against a Messenian revolt, preached courage in war and readiness to die for one's city--a relatively new ideal for

____________________
1
Odyssey vi. 102
2
Anthologia Palatina xiv. 73.

-12-

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The Spartan Tradition in European Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • FOREWORD TO PAPERBACK EDITION v
  • Preface vii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS viii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Plates x
  • I INTRODUCTION 1
  • 2 - The Growth of Laconism 12
  • 3 - The Fourth Century in Greece 33
  • 4 - Laconism in the West 56
  • 5 - Plato and Aristotle 61
  • 6 - Laconism in the Hellenistic Age 81
  • 7 - Laconism Exported 94
  • 8 - Under the Empire 107
  • 9 - The Middle Ages 116
  • 10 - Sparta Rediviva 130
  • II - Kings and Ephors 158
  • 12 - In Utopia and Among the Savages 170
  • 13 - The Revolutionary Period in England 186
  • 14 - Spartans on the Stage 202
  • France in the Eighteenth Century(i) 220
  • 16 - France in the Eighteenth Century (ii) 242
  • 7 - The French Revolution and Its Aftermath 268
  • 18 - Italy in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • 19 - Sparta in Germany 306
  • 20 - England: from the Whigs to the Liberals 344
  • APPENDIX NOTE ON THE UNITED STATES 368
  • INDEX OF NAMES 371
  • INDEX OF SUBJECTS 387
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