Constitution of the Lacedaimonians


Xenophon, creator; Scripta minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, translator; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

I have given a fairly complete account of the institutions of Lycurgus so far as they apply to the successive stages of life. I will now try to describe the system that he established for all alike.

Lycurgus found the Spartans boarding at home like the other Greeks, and came to the conclusion that the custom was responsible for a great deal of misconduct. He therefore established the public messes outside in the open,[*](Lit. moved the Syskania out into the open. See Introduction 3.) thinking that this would reduce disregard of orders to a minimum.

The amount of food he allowed was just enough to prevent them from getting either too much or too little to eat. But many extras are supplied from the spoils of the chase; and for these rich men sometimes substitute wheaten bread. Consequently the board is never bare until the company breaks up, and never extravagantly furnished.

Another of his reforms was the abolition of compulsory drinking,[*](At the public meals each had his own cup: there was no passing of cups along as at Athens and elsewhere. Critias in Athenacus, 10.432 D and 11.463 E.) which is the undoing alike of body of mind. But he allowed everyone to drink when he was thirsty, believing that drink is then most harmless and most welcome.

Now what opportunity did these public messes give a man to ruin himself or his estate by gluttony or wine-bibbing?

Note that in other states the company usually consists of men of the same age, where modesty is apt to be conspicuous by its absence from the board. But Lycurgus introduced mixed companies[*](Something appears to be lost after ἀνέμιξε . Schneider suggested ἀνέμιξε τὰς ἡλικίας ὥστε, mixed the ages, so that.) at Sparta, so that the experience of the elders might contribute largely to the education of the juniors.

In point of fact, by the custom of the country the conversation at the public meals turns on the great deeds wrought in the state, and so there is little room for insolence or drunken uproar, for unseemly conduct or indecent talk.

And the system of feeding in the open has other good results. They must needs walk home after the meal, and, of course, must take good care not to stumble under the influence of drink (for they know that they will not stay on at the table); and they must do in the dark what they do in the day. Indeed, those who are still in the army are not even allowed a torch to guide them.

Lycurgus had also observed the effects of the same rations on the hard worker and the idler; that the former has a fresh colour, firm flesh and plenty of vigour, while the latter looks puffy, ugly and weak. He saw the importance of this; and reflecting that even a man who works hard of his own will because it is his duty to do so, looks in pretty good condition, he required the senior for the time being in every gymnasium to take care that the tasks set should be not too small for the rations allowed.

And I think that in this matter too he succeeded. So it would not be easy to find healthier or handier men than the Spartans. For their exercises train the legs, arms and neck equally.