The Spartan Tradition in European Thought

By Elizabeth Rawson | Go to book overview

8
UNDER THE EMPIRE

UNDER the empire it became hard to suppose that Rome was exactly like Sparta only better, though it might still be said of the past, especially in a moral sense: the Spartans came closer than others to the gravitas of early Romans.1 Though at the start of the period we find one understandable regret that Roman generals have shown themselves less obedient to the civil authorities than Agesilaus did,2 and though Tacitus illustrates his argument that great oratory and political corruption go hand in hand by pointing out that Crete and Sparta had neither,3 interest in Sparta becomes generally less political. If Nero when in Greece refused to visit Athens and Sparta, the first, according to a hostile source, because the matricide Orestes had been tried there and the second 'on account of the laws of Lycurgus, which were inconsistent with his own policy', this is as likely to be a charge of luxury and debauchery as of tyranny.4 Although Roman Stoicism was for a time in the later first century A.D. identified with a republican opposition, it is only in an ethical context that Stoic references to Sparta survive. Seneca (who was of course no republican) when recommending suicide or contempt for death quotes the tale of the captive Spartan boy who dashed out his brains rather than be a slave, as well as citing the Three Hundred at Thermopylae. (These last, as his father's Suasoriae show, provided a favourite set piece for the rhetorical declamations.) Or, recommending the good man never to give up, he adduces the Spartan refusal to take part in games involving a formal admission of defeat; and so on.5 Spartan austerity was warmly praised by Musonius Rufus, in violent reaction against the excesses of his own day.6

As for the ordinary Roman, he would seem to have thought,

____________________
1
Valerius Maximus ii.6.
2
Cornelius Nepos, Agesilaus iv.2-3.
3
Tacitus, Dialogus40.
4
Cassius Dio, lxii. 14.3.
5
Seneca, Epistulae Morales lxxvii.14; lxxxii.20; de Beneficiis v. 3.1. cf. Seneca Rhetor, Suasoriae ii.
6
Musonius Rufus, ed. Hense, pp. 112-13. Cf. 3, 97, 125.

-107-

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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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