Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

Sparta's Laws

After Danaus and Chartas had left the house, Helen, the wife of Danaus, Melissa, and the younger children, ate their evening meal together. They were waited upon by the household slaves.

"When I am seven, I will go with Father and Chartas to the public tables," said the younger brother proudly.

"Yes," replied his mother, "in two years more you will become a son of the State. Then you will have no mother and no slaves to wait upon you. But you will learn how to endure hard things, and you will become a true Spartan of whom Mother will be proud." She laid her hand upon his head as she spoke.

"I am a Spartan now," said the boy, drawing himself up very straight.

"Yes," replied his mother, smiling, "but not a very big one."

"Melissa," said the little fellow after their meal was finished, "I wish you would tell me a story."

"What sort of a story do you want to hear?" asked Melissa with a smile.

"Oh—about the Law-Giver of Sparta!" exclaimed the boy with shining eyes.

"What do you know about the 'Law-Giver of Sparta?'" laughed Melissa.

"Oh, I know; I heard Father telling about him one day," said the boy, with a wise shake of his head. "Some day," he added, "I shall learn the laws, as Chartas does, and I want to hear the story of Ly—Ly—what was his name, Melissa?"

"Lycurgus," said Melissa, as she put her arm about the sturdy little fellow. "Lycurgus was a very wise man," she went on, "and he lived a great many years ago. He loved Sparta, and he wanted her people to be wise and happy. So he thought a great deal, and he studied a great deal, and at last he made a set of laws which he believed would make the Spartans a strong, hardy, happy people.

"He wanted to be very sure that his laws were good, so he went to Delphi, and asked the oracle at Delphi about them.

"The oracle told him that his laws were the best in all the world.

"So Lycurgus taught his laws to the people, and the Spartans kept the laws.

"But Lycurgus was afraid that after he died the people might forget his laws, or try to have them changed, so, after a long time, when he grew to be an old man, he told the Spartans that he was going again to Delphi, and he had the people promise that they would keep his laws until he came back.

"The people made a solemn promise that they would do this."

"And he didn't come back, did he?" interrupted the boy eagerly. "I remember; Father said so."

"No," answered Melissa, "he never came back; and so, after all these years, his laws are still kept—for the people promised, you know."

"Yes, I know," nodded the boy earnestly. "Thank you, Melissa. That was a good story."

The laws of Lycurgus, of which Melissa had told, were different from those of any other country. They provided that each Spartan should be given a certain amount of land, and slaves to take care of it. The Spartans were to spend their time in public affairs, such as the military and religious festivals, the education of the children, and the enforcement of the laws.

They did not carry on trade with other countries, or engage in the manufacture even of such articles as they themselves used. This was done by a class of men who had been conquered by the Spartans in battle, and who occupied a position between that of the Spartans and the slaves, who were called Helots.

All lines of work were passed on from father to son. A flute player was sure to be the son of a flute player; a maker of drinking-cups was sure to be the son of a man who had made drinking-cups. Even the cooks who made the black broth which appeared so often upon Spartan tables, had learned to make it from their fathers, and these men in turn, from their fathers before them.

Customs did not change in Sparta. Lycurgus had not intended that they should.

That evening, as Chartas and Theognis were on their way to quarters, Chartas suddenly asked, "Had you heard that Cinadon was on trial to-day before the ephors?"

"No," replied Theognis. "What was his offence?"

"He was accused of bringing a quantity of silver money into Sparta."

"And was he found guilty?" asked Theognis.

"Yes," replied Chartas, with a laugh. "He was found guilty and ordered to go without his dessert at table for ten days, as punishment."

Theognis, too, laughed, although a fine of this sort was not unusual in Sparta.

"Hurry, you are late," called Brasidas, who was standing at the door of their quarters, and Chartas and Theognis hastened their steps.

They were just in time to take their places for the drill upon the laws, which every Spartan boy was expected to learn.

Soon, in unison with the others, they began to chant—half singing, half reciting—and beating time to the rhythm with their bare feet:

"When ye have builded a temple to Zeus,

To Syllarian Zeus and Syllarian Athena,

Divided the folk into tribes and clans,

And established a Senate of thirty persons,

Including the two Kings,

Ye shall summon the folk to a stated Assembly

And these shall have the deciding voice."

And thus the laws of Lycurgus were taught from one generation to another.