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

To continue: we all know that obedience to the magistrates and the laws is found in the highest degree in Sparta. For my part, however, I think that Lycurgus did not so much as attempt to introduce this habit of discipline until he had secured agreement among the most important men in the state.

I base my inference on the following facts. In other states the most powerful citizens do not even wish it to be thought that they fear the magistrates: they believe such fear to be a badge of slavery. But at Sparta the most important men show the utmost deference to the magistrates: they pride themselves on their humility, on running instead of walking to answer any call, in the belief that, if they lead, the rest will follow along the path of eager obedience. And so it has proved.

It is probable also that these same citizens helped to set up the office of Ephor, having come to the conclusion that obedience is a very great blessing whether in a state or an army or a household. For they thought that the greater the power of these magistrates the more they would impress the minds of the citizens.[*](τοῦ ὑπακούειν is omitted in the translation. It can hardly be right; Schneider removed it, and Cobet proposed εἰς τὸ ὑπακούειν, so as to make them obedient.)

Accordingly, the Ephors are competent to fine whom they choose, and have authority to enact immediate payment: they have authority also to deprive the magistrates of office, and even to imprison and prefer a capital charge against them. Possessing such wide power they do not, like other states, leave persons elected to office to rule as they like throughout the year, but in common with despots and the presidents of the games, they no sooner see anyone breaking the law than they punish the offender.

Among many excellent plans contrived by Lycurgus for encouraging willing obedience to the laws among the citizens, I think one of the most excellent was this: before delivering his laws to the people he paid a visit to Delphi,[*](Herodotus 1.65.) accompanied by the most important citizens, and inquired of the god whether it was desirable and better for Sparta that she should obey the laws that he himself had framed. Only when the god answered that it was better in every way did he deliver them, after enacting that to refuse obedience to laws given by the Pythian god was not only unlawful, but wicked.