Section 5

Spartan Lifestyle

by Xenophon

What is the lifestyle which he established for the people, irrespective of age?

When Lycurgus first came to deal with the question, the Spartans like the rest of the Hellenes, used to mess privately at home.

Tracing more than half the current misdemeanours to this custom, (2) he was determined to drag his people out of holes and corners into the broad daylight. This is why he invented the public mess-rooms.

Whereby he expected at any rate to minimise the transgression of orders.

As to food, (3) his ordinance allowed them so much as, while not inducing repletion, should guard them from actual want.

There are many exceptional dishes in the shape of game supplied from the hunting field.

Or, as a substitute for these, rich men will occasionally garnish the feast with wheaten loaves.

So that from beginning to end, till the mess breaks up, the common board is never stinted for viands, nor yet extravagantly furnished.

He banned all unnecessary drinks, detrimental to a firm brain and a steady gait.

He left them free to quench thirst when nature dictated (6); a method which would at once add to the pleasure whilst it diminished the danger of drinking.

How, on such a system of common meals, it would be possible for any one to ruin either himself or his family either through gluttony or wine-bibbing.

This too must be borne in mind, that in other states equals in age, (7) for the most part, associate together, and such an atmosphere is little conducive to modesty.

Whereas in Sparta, Lycurgus was careful so to blend the ages that the younger men must benefit largely by the experience of the elder—an education in itself, and the more so since by custom of the country conversation at the common meal has reference to the honourable acts which this man or that man may have performed in relation to the state.

The scene, in fact, but little lends itself to the intrusion of violence or drunken riot; ugly speech and ugly deeds alike are out of place.

Amongst other good results obtained through this out-door system of meals may be mentioned these: There is the necessity of walking home when the meal is over, and a consequent anxiety not to be caught tripping under the influence of wine, since they all know of course that the supper-table must be presently abandoned, and that they must move as freely in the dark as in the day, even the help of a torch to guide the steps being forbidden to all on active service.

Lycurgus saw the effect of equal amounts of food on different persons.

The hardworking man has a good complexion, his muscles are well fed, he is robust and strong.

The man who abstains from work, on the other hand, may be detected by his miserable appearance; he is blotched and puffy, and devoid of strength.

This observation, I say, was not wasted on him.

On the contrary, turning it over in his mind that any one who chooses, as a matter of private judgment, to devote himself to toil may hope to present a very creditable appearance physically, he enjoined upon the eldest for the time being in every gymnasium to see to it that the labours of the class were proportional to the meats.

He was not out of his reckoning in this matter more than elsewhere. At any rate, it would be hard to discover a healthier or more completely developed human being, physically speaking, than the Spartan.

Their gymnastic training, in fact, makes demands alike on the legs and arms and neck, (13) etc., simultaneously.


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