Imágenes de páginas

and corrupt manners, than against infectious distempers. Properly speaking, the very trade and business of the Lacedæmonians was war: every thing with them tended that way: arms were their only exercise and employment: their life was much less hard and austere in the camp, than in the city; and they were the only people in the world to whom the time of war was a time of ease and refreshment; because then the reigns of that strict and severe discipline which prevailed at Sparta, were somewhat relaxed, and the men were indulged in a little more liberty. a With them the first and most inviolable law of war, as Demaratus told Xerxes, was never to fly, or turn their backs, whatever superiority of numbers the enemy's army might consist of; never to quit their post; never to deliver up their arms; in a word, either to conquer, or to die on the spot. This maxim was so important and essential in their opinion, that when the poet Archilochus came to Sparta, they obliged him to leave their city immediately, because they understood that in one of his poems, he said, "It was better for a man to throw down "his arms, than to expose himself to be killed."

[ocr errors]

. Hence it is, that a mother recommended to her son, who was going to make a campaign, that he should return either with or upon his shield; and that another, hearing that her son was killed in fighting for his country, answered very coldly, a I brought him into the world for no other end." This temper of mind was general among the Lacedæmonians. After the famous battle of Leuctra, which was so fatal to the Spartans, the parents of those that died in the action congratulated one another upon it, and went to the temples to thank the gods that their children had done their duty; whereas the relations of those who survived the defeat were inconsolable. If any of the Spartans fled in battle, they were dishonoured and disgraced for ever. They were not only excluded from all posts and employments in the state, from all assemblies and public diversions, but it was reckoned scandalous to make any alliances with them by marriage; and a thousand affronts and insults were publicly offered them with impunity.

The Spartans never went to fight without first imploring the help of the gods by public sacrifices and prayers; and when that was done, they marched against the enemy with a perfect confidence and expectation of success, as being assured of the divine protection; and, to make use of Plutarch's ex

a Herod. 1. vi. c. 104.

Plut. in Lacon, institut. p. 239.

• Αλλη προσαναδιδέσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα, καὶ παρακεκομένη Τέκνου (ἔφη) ἢ τὰν, ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς Plut. Lacon. apophthegm. p. 241

that were slain were brought home upon their shields.

d Cic. lib. i, Tuse, Quæst. n. 102. Plut. in vit. Age p. 612.

Sometimes they

pressions, "As if God were present, with, and fought with * them,” ὡς «ν θες συμπαρόντος.

• When they had broken and routed their enemy's forces, they never pursued them further than was necessary to make themselves sure of the victory: after which they retired; as thinking it neither glorious, nor worthy of Greece, to cut in pieces and destroy an enemy that yielded and fled. And this proved as useful as honourable to the Spartans: for their enemies, knowing that all who resisted them were put to the sword, and that they spared none but those that fled, generally chose rather to fly than to resist.

When the first institutions of Lycurgus were received and confirmed by practice, and the form of government he had established seemed strong and vigorous enough to support itself; as Plato says of God, that after he had finished the creation of the world, he rejoiced, when he saw it revolve and perform its first motions with so much justice and harmony; so the Spartan legislator, pleased with the greatness and beauty of his laws, felt his joy and satisfaction redoubled, when he saw them, as it were, walk alone, and go forward so happily.

But desiring, as far as depended on human prudence, to render them immortal and unchangeable, he signified to the people, that there was still one point remaining to be performed, the most essential and important of all, about which he would go and consult the oracle of Apollo; and in the meantime, he made them all take an oath, that till his return they would inviolably maintain the form of government which he had established. When he was arrived at Delphos, he consulted the god, to know whether the laws he had made were good and sufficient to render the Lacedæmonians happy and virtuous. The priestess answered, that nothing was wanting to his laws; and that as long as Sparta observed them, she would be the most glorious and happy city in the world. Lycurgus sent this answer to Sparta : and then, thinking he had fulfilled his ministry, he voluntarily died at De phos, by abstaining from all manner of sustenance. His notion was, that the death of great persons and statesmen should not be useless and unprofitable to the state, but a kind of supplement to their ministry, and one of their most important actions, which ought to do them as much or more honour than all the rest. He therefore thought, that in dying thus he should crown and complete all the services which he had rendered his fellow-citizens during his life; since his

6 Plut. in vit. Lyc. p 57.

a Plut. in vit. Lyc. p. 54. This passage of Plato is in his Timæus, and gives us reason to believe that this phi-osopher had read what Moses says of God, when he created the world; Fat Deus cuncta quæ fecerat, et erant vakde bona, Gen. i, 31,

[ocr errors]

death would engage them to a perpetual observation of his institutions, which they had sworn to observe inviolably till his return.

Although I represent Lycurgus's sentiments upon his own death in the light wherein Plutarch has transmitted them to us, I am very far from approving them and I make the same declaration with respect to several other facts of the like nature, which I sometimes relate without making any reflections upon them, though I think them very unworthy of approbation. The pretended wise men of the heathens had, as well concerning this article as several others, but very faint and imperfect notions; or, to speak more properly, remained in great darkness and error. They laid down this admirable principle, which we meet with in many of their writings, a That man, placed in the world as in a certain post by his general, cannot abandon it without the express command of him upon whom he depends, that is, of God himself. At other times, they looked upon man as a criminal condemned to a melancholy prison, from whence indeed he might desire to be released, but could not lawfully attempt to be so, but by the course of justice, and the order of the magistrate; and not by breaking his chains, and forcing the gates of his prison. These notions are beautiful, because they are true: but the application they made of them was wrong, namely, as they took that for an express order of the Deity, which was the pure effect of their own weakness or pride, by which they were led to put themselves to death, either that they might deliver themselves from the pains and troubles of this life, or immortalize their names, as was the case with Lycurgus, Cato, and a number of others. REFLECTIONS UPON THE GOVERNMENT OF SPARTA, AND UPON THE LAWS OF LYCURGUS.


There must needs have been, to judge only by the event, a great fund of wisdom and prudence in the laws of Lycurgus; since, as long as they were observed in Sparta, which was above 500 years, it was a most flourishing and powerful city. It was not so much (says Plutarch, speaking of the laws of Sparta) the government and polity of a city, as

a Vetat Pythagoras, injussu imperatoris, id est Dei, de præsidio et statione vitæ decedere. Cic. de Senect. n. 73.

Cato sic abiit e vita, ut causam moriendi nactum se esse gauderet. Vetat enim dominans ille in nobis Deus injussu hinc nos suo deinigrare. Cum vero causam justam Deus ipse dederit, ut tune Socrati, nunc Catoni, sæpe multis; næ ille, medius fidius, vir sapiens, lætus ex his tenebris in lucem illam excesse rit. Nec tamen illa vincula carceris ruperit; legis enim vetant: sed, tanquam a magistrata aut ab aliqua potestate legitima, sic a Deo evocatus atque emissus, exterit. Id. 1. Tusc. Quæst. n. 74. Z



the conduct and regular behaviour of a wise man, who passed his whole life in the exercise of virtue: or rather (continues the same author), as the poets feign, that Hercules, only with his lion's skin and club, went from country to country to purge the world of robbers and tyrants; so Sparta, with a slip of parchment a and an old coat, gave laws to all Greece, which willingly submitted to her dominion; suppressed tyrannies and unjust authority in cities; put an end to wars, as she thought fit, and appeased insurrections; and all this generally without moving a shield or a sword, and only by sending a simple ambassador amongst them, who no sooner appeared, than all the people submitted, and flocked about him like so many bees about their monarch: so much respect did the justice and good government of this city imprint upon the minds of all their neighbours.


We find at the end of Lycurgus's life, one single reflection made by Plutarch, which of itself comprehends a great encomium upon that legislator. He there says, that Plato, Diogenes, Zeno, and all those who have treated of the establishment of a political state of government, took their plans from the republic of Lycurgus, with this difference, that they confined themselves wholly to words and theory; but Lycurgus, without dwelling upon ideas and speculative projects, did really and effectually institute an inimitable polity, and form a whole city of philosophers.

In order to succeed in this undertaking, and to establish the most perfect form of a commonwealth that could be, he melted down, as it were, and blended together what he found best in every kind of government, and most conducive to the public good; thus tempering one species with another, and balancing the inconveniencies to which each of them in particular is subject, with the advantages that result from their being united together. Sparta had something of the monarchical form of government, in the authority of her kings: the council of 30, otherwise called the senate, was a true aristocracy; and the power vested in the people of nominating the senators, and of giving sanction to the laws, resembled a democratical government. The creation of the Ephori afterwards served to rectify what was amiss in those previous

a This was what the Spartans called Scytale, a thong of leather or parchment, which they twisted round a staff in such a manner, that there was no vacancy or void space left upon it They wrote upon this thong, and when they had written, they untwisted it; and sent it to the general for whom it was intended. This general, who had another stick of the same size with that on which the thong was twisted and written upon, wrapt it round that staff in the same man ner, and by that means ound out the connexion and the right placing of the letters, which otherwise were so displaced and out of order, that there was no possibility of their being read, Plut. in vit. Lyc. p. 444.

establishments, and to supply what was defective. Plato, in more places than one, admires Lycurgus's wisdom, in his institution of the senate, which was equally advantageous both to the kings and the people ; because by this means, the law became the only supreme mistress of the kings, and the kings never became tyrants over the law.



The design formed by Lycurgus of making an equal distribution of the lands among the citizens, and of entirely banishing from Sparta all luxury, avarice, law-suits, and dissensions, by abolishing the use of gold and silver, would appear to us a scheme of a commonwealth finely conceived in speculation, but utterly impracticable in execution, did not history assure us that Sparta actually subsisted in that condition for many ages.

When I place the transaction I am now speaking of among the laudable parts of Lycurgus's laws, I do not pretend it to be absolutely unexceptionable; for I think it can scarce be reconciled with that general law of nature, which forbids the taking away one man's property to give it to another; and yet this is what was really done upon this occasion. Therefore in this affair of dividing the lands, I consider only so much of it as was truly commendable in itself, and worthy of admiration.

Can we possibly conceive, that a man could persuade the richest and most opulent inhabitants of a city to resign all their revenues and estates, in order to level and confound themselves with the poorest of the people; to subject themselves to a new way of living, both severe in itself, and full of restraint; in a word, to debar themselves of the use of every thing, wherein the happiness and comfort of life is thought to consist? and yet this is what Lycurgus actually effected in Sparta.

Such an institution as this would have been less wonderful, had it subsisted only during the life of the legislator; but we know, that it lasted many ages after his decease. Xenophon, in the encomium he has left us of Agesilaus, and Cicero, in one of his orations, observes, that Lacedæmon was the only city in the world that preserved her discipline and laws for so considerable a term of years unaltered and inviolate. ¿Soli, said the latter, speaking of the Lacedæmonians, toto orbe terrarum septingentos jam annos amplius unis moribus et nunquam mutatis legibus vivunt. I believe though, that in α Νόμῷ ἐπειδὴ κύρι@· ἐγένετο βασιλεὺς τῶν ὠνθρώπων, ἀλλ' ἐν ἄνθρωποι Túpavio, vóμwv. Plat. Epist. yiji.

6 Pro Flac. num. iii.

« AnteriorContinuar »