Xenophon, the author of the document, The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, was born in 434 BC and became a middle-class Athenian but was later exiled to Spartan land (pg. 81). This document was written in order to keep record of the way life was lived back in Sparta where he fulfilled his exile. The law maker, Lycurgus, was a very creative and intuitive man but additionally he was fair and just. Lycurgus made laws that would honestly benefit everyone in Sparta to the fullest extent and differ from the old ways of the other Greeks.
The new ways of Sparta stunned the other Greeks by how different and irregular they were. I believe that Xenophon too was fascinated by the laws he now had to abide by and wrote it all down so that others could analyze it as well. In the document Xenophon writes, “I not only admire [Lycurgus], but consider to have been in the fullest sense a wise man” (pg 82). Xenophon was so fond of Lycurgus and his way of ruling that wanted to save these rules to be studied forever and wrote them down.
This can be considered one of the first real constitutions written down in history which gives it such great significance along with the fact that it is a direct account from that time period originally written in a language we code decode. This document was written for any politically involved or scholarly person who wanted to study the ways of the Spartans. Xenophon believed that Lycurgus was as most genius law maker and thought that if he shared his ways maybe everyone else could be as good as Sparta.
Lycurgus’ laws were “contrary to those of most governments” (pg 82) which is why it needed to be written down and spread around. I strongly feel that when Xenophon was exiled he tried to seek out the flaws in the governmental system that had done wrong and subconsciously abandoned all of the beliefs that the old government he used to follow cherished. In order to show their flaws, Xenophon wanted to compare both ways of life. As shown in The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, Xenophon compares the jurisdiction between the overall Greek and the more sophisticated Spartans.
For example, when he writes about the boys as objects of affection, he states that among the other Greeks such as the Boeotians and Eleians, a man and a boy may enter a union and attempt to gain favor of the young boys however, it is sometimes prohibited for them to converse. As learned in lecture, in ancient Greece, during Xenophon’s time, it wasn’t unusual for older men to be attracted to the younger Greek boys however it was not something someone would share in the open.
It was referred to in another Greek writing, The Birds by Aristophanes, the two main characters imagine a land where it would be rude for a family friend not to grope another man’s son. This shows just how prevalent the phenomenon of these relations between older and younger men had become in Xenophon’s home. Lycurgus however did not agree that it should have to be so hidden and stated that an older man liked a boy because of his personality and not only due to lust and physical attraction, that it was an excellent thing and should be celebrated (pg 85).
Xenophon definitely wrote to inform the general Greek population of this new way of life to those who thus far did not follow and believe in the ways that Lycurgus did. This is probably one of his greatest works not only because it is our best explanation of Spartans rules and community life, but also because it stirred up the governments around Sparta. They tried to get rid of him through exile because of his wrongdoings while he exploits their faulty governmental regulations through his writing which spread much further.
Using evidence from the document, it is obvious that Xenophon was not only a true follower of Lycurgus but is a strong ancient day liberalist. Xenophon believed in all of the rules Lycurgus set up which were, at the time, contrary to popular beliefs of those in the other Greek societies. For example, Lycurgus set up a food system in which people were only to take enough to survive. It states that they should “take only such a quantity as never to be oppressed with repletion, and not to be strangers to living somewhat frugally” so that they would be “more satisfied with any kind of food” (pg 84).
I feel that this shows Xenophon as a warrior or strong willed because he believes that suffering in the end will bring good fortune. This is also shown in the document when he agrees with Lycurgus’ law that one should not wear shoes in order to toughen their feet so they can become stronger and more agile. As a liberalist with a strong warrior background, Xenophon celebrated the strength and intuitive creativity of the Spartan way of life. His attitudes toward all other nations were that they were weak; the way they were set up would not be beneficial to their people.
However, after being raised in Athens for all those years, how is it that he just now is changing his views? After being exiled for fighting under the rule of the Spartan king, Xenophon began living his new life as a respectable member of the Spartan community. He wrote a lot and became an active member as well as studied under Socrates, which I believed helped him to see the ways of life from a new point of view. Since the Spartans rules were so different from the others it makes sense that Xenophon would be compelled to write about their lifestyle, which was a powerful and virtuous one at that.
I think the fact the these rules seemed to try to push everyone to be the best they could be in every category including virtue (honours paid to old age encouragement of virtue 91), honor (infamy and penalties of cowardice 90), to be humble (obedience to the magistrate and laws 89), and last but definitely not least, physical strength. The environment around them seems to be one with an availability of steep terrain but it is also a city.
When addressing that the children should not wear shoes he specifies that it will allow them to go up steep inclines with greater ease so I feel that there are either many steep steps leading towards their great buildings in the city or possibly rough terrain. Another thing I noticed is that the Spartas are very set on being powerful, strong and ready to battle so it is very likely that the warriors in Sparta must be equipped to walk over far, steep distances in order to battle. The surrounding areas of Sparta are possibly spread out from city to city do that one city is not directly touching another Greek city even though they may be close.
Again, while addressing the wear of the Spartans, Xenophon states that they need to wear only one outfit so that they can become accustomed to both the cold and heat which leads me to believe that the general climate there was about the same as it would be over here in North America today. As far as the people in Sparta, they are all accustomed to joining in competitions, becoming stronger and becoming the best of the best. Sparta differs a lot from Athens not only based upon its laws but the way the people act and react to one another.
In Sparta the women we to be equal to the men; “the female should practice bodily exercises no less than the male sex …expecting that when both parents were rendered strong, a stronger offspring would be born from them. ” (pg 82). Not only does this show that the people of Sparta were all about toughness and strength but it goes back to support the idea that Xenophon too was like them and had a warrior like personality about him. Also, they are trying to spread equality between the men and women in ancient Sparta which is something that women are still struggling with today.
In the other Greek nations the women are to sit and spin wool, to be sedentary, which would be parallel to the old ideas in American history which would not let women hold places in many jobs, institutions or positions in war. Sparta believes that men and women should both become strong and sturdy, ready for war. Although the women were not completely equal to men, this coincides with the way American women in modern day have worked so hard to become equal to men. One rule in particular that seems very odd is a part of a rule previously mentioned; Citizens are to be frugal when it comes to food.
The second part of the rule is that if one does become hungry, it is “honorable to steal as many cheeses as possible” (pg 84) but on the contrary, if caught doing so, one will be greatly punished. It is like saying that it is not illegal unless caught like in today’s society how underage drinking is one of the most common problems but unless you get caught there won’t be a problem. This rule was likely created in order to make the Spartan people more cunning and creative in order to make them more useful in battle.
Also, survival of the fittest may come into play in this situation; It is clear that the Spartan’s were mainly concentrated on being strong and warriors so if one was not smart enough to find ways to steal cheese and felt as though he did not have enough to eat, he would either have to leave Sparta or he may perish. Either way the Spartans would have lost one of their weak links and would become stronger as a whole. This document most clearly tells us that Lycurgus was a very great leader and a liberalist of his days going against all that the other Greeks believed to be true.
Not only that, but Lycurgus created one of the strongest nations in which Xenophon quickly felt at home. Although he may not directly state it, Xenophon conveys a sense of bitterness towards the other Greeks by judging everything they do. He makes it seem ridiculous that the rules the follow were ever thought to be substantial laws when he makes remarks that nearly make fun of their way such as when he says things like “a man should feel ashamed”(83), “how can we expect women treated thus way should produce”(82), or “Instead of being rendered effeminate”(84).
Although it may be easily miss ed, after given a bit of thought it is clear that Xenophon is, in a way, making fun of the others by calling their men feminine, men shameful and telling them they do not even know how to treat their women. He shoots small phrases and insults to the others in order to diminish their power and pull support over to their side. Clearly he was very successful in using his persuasion technique as the Spartans rules spread to the “modern ruling classes of England and continental Europe” which both have based their education on the Greek classics (82).
This document is a very scholarly piece and gives one of the greatest accounts of history back in ancient Greece on not only the Spartan side but also on the side of all of the other Greek. It gives a good overview of multiple ways of life and sets up a time period in which new laws were being created which would eventually take over the old ways that the others used to follow.
It reminds me of when the American’s first made their laws apart from the British rule, although they were a small nation compared to Great Britain, they were powerful and thoughtful in their rule making. Based on the rules that Lycurgus placed on his people, I believe the Spartans could be considered the original revolutionaries. I feel during this time the Athenians looked at the Spartans with distaste and thought they were much smarter than the Spartans who were trying to enforce new, unorthodox rules which would make them stronger.
It probably also scared the Athenians a little because their people were not strong and built like the Spartans, instead they had the intelligence, which Xenophon and Lycurgus found to be insufficient anyway as they criticize the way of education used in Athens in the constitution. This document is of great importance as it set up the new way of life and set apart the Spartans from all other Greeks which is part of the reason they are so famous today.
Courtney from Study Moose
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