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

The following achievement of Lycurgus, again, deserves admiration. He caused his people to choose an honourable death in preference to a disgraceful life. And, in fact, one would find on consideration that they actually lose a smaller proportion of their men than those who prefer to retire from the danger zone.

To tell the truth, escape from premature death more generally goes with valour than with cowardice: for valour is actually easier and pleasanter and more resourceful and mightier.[*](The sentiment is taken from Tyrtaeus.) And obviously glory adheres to the side of valour, for all men want to ally themselves somehow with the brave.

However, it is proper not to pass over the means by which he contrived to bring about this result. Clearly, what he did was to ensure that the brave should have happiness, and the coward misery.

For in other states whn a man proves a coward, the only consequence is that he is called a coward. He goes to the same market as the brave man, sits beside him, attends the same gymnasium, if he chooses. But in Lacedaemon everyone would be ashamed to have a coward with him at the mess or to be matched with him in a wrestling bout.

Often when sides are picked for a game of ball he is the odd man left out: in the chorus he is banished to the ignominious place; in the streets he is bound to make way; when he occupies a seat he must needs give it up, even to a junior; he must support his spinster relatives at home and must explain to them why they are old maids: he must make the best of a fireside without a wife, and yet pay forfeit for that: he may not stroll about with a cheerful countenance, nor behave as though he were a man of unsullied fame, or else he must submit to be beaten by his betters.

Small wonder, I think, that where such a load of dishonour is laid on the coward, death seems preferable to a life so dishonoured, so ignominious.