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Saturday, 3 February 2018

Lycurgus, Homer and the Spartans; Lycurgus the Lawmaker, a biographical sketch by Plutarch

Lycurgus, The Father of Sparta, by Plutarch, from A History of

"In Ionia, Lycurgus discovered the immortal works of Homer. Lycurgus compiled the scattered fragments of Homer and made sure that the serious lessons of statecraft and morality in Homer's epics became widely known...

 Lycurgus had already decided that some fundamental changes would have to be made in Sparta.  When he returned, he did not merely tinker with the laws, but instead followed the example of a wise doctor treating a patient with many diseases, who changes the patient's diet, compels him to exercise, and puts him in a whole new frame of mind...

Some further refinements of the Spartan constitution came after Lycurgus.  It turned out that sometimes the public speakers would pervert the sense of propositions and thus cause the people to vote foolishly, so the senate reserved the right to dissolve the assembly if they saw this happening...

The laws of Lycurgus purported to be utterances of the Delphic oracle, and were called rhetra.  One law was that the law should never be put in writing.  Spartan law would therefore have to be imprinted in the minds of the citizens through good education, and if the education were good enough, then law would be superfluous.  Wise judges would always keep the law's spirit fresh.

    As for commercial law, Lycurgus was unwilling to prescribe rules for business.  He preferred to let questions be decided by wise judgment rather than by specious reasoning based on interpretations of writings.  In this way, the law adapted naturally to changing circumstances...

    The most important job of any lawgiver, in Lycurgus' opinion, was the proper education of the young.  He began at the very beginning, with the marriages that produced the children that were to be educated".

John Milton, from Areopagitica (1644):

"That other leading city of Greece, Lacedæmon, considering that Lycurgus their lawgiver was so addicted to elegant learning, as to have been the first that brought out of Ionia the scattered works of Homer, and sent the poet Thales from Crete to prepare and mollify the Spartan surliness with his smooth songs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility, it is to be wondered how museless and unbookish they were, minding nought but the feats of war".

Photos from Wikipedia: This photo by  Matt Popovich
Taken with a Canon IXUS 132 at the Law Courts of Brussels on December 30, 2013

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