The Spartan Tradition in European Thought

By Elizabeth Rawson | Go to book overview

6
LACONISM IN THE HELLENISTIC AGE

THE GREAT figures of the fourth century continued to a remarkable extent to dominate Greek intellectual history, whether in rhetoric, historiography, or political theory. One proof of this is the astonishing persistence of interest in Sparta; for the place itself, deprived of territory by Philip and defeated again under Alexander, was henceforth of no importance beyond the Peloponnese.

It is true, no doubt, that the time for practical laconism was past; among the characters described by Aristotle's pupil and successor, Theophrastus, the laconomaniac has no place, and the 'oligarchic man does not resemble him. But, though the once very influential political literature of the Academy and Peripatos is lost, the pupils both of Plato and Aristotle seem if anything to have had fewer reserves than their masters in admiration for Sparta. Perhaps more practical and less idealistic, they lay less stress on her intellectual and moral shortcomings. No longer a menacing rival of Athens (to which most of them did not belong by birth), Sparta, for them, takes off almost wholly into the realm of fantasy.

Plato's immediate pupils included a crop of practical lawgivers, apart from Dion, and some of them more successful that he; it seems to have been a common jibe that they liked to imagine themselves as Solons and Lycurguses. Law, justice, and the problem of expert knowledge are still preoccupying the author of the Minos, who here gives Crete pride of place over Sparta. Other pseudo-Platonic dialogues concentrate on the ethical side of laconism. Alcibiades I praises the descent, wealth, affability, and general greatness of Spartan kings in a wholesale if fairly light- hearted way. In Alcibiades II1 the best form of prayer is said to be

____________________
1
The dialogues mentioned probably range in date from the later fourth to the third century.

-81-

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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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