Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Leonidas continued to reign in Sparta until his death, and then he was succeeded by his son, Cleomenes. This young man had a great deal of spirit and determination, and as soon as he saw how the rich Spartans were living in ease and luxury, caring for nothing but their own selfish pleasures, while the poor were suffering, he resolved to put the laws of Lycurgus into effect once more.

He knew that Agis had lost his life in a similar attempt, but he was not to be turned from his purpose on that account. But he adopted a different method. He resorted to war, thinking thus to be furnished with an excuse for the changes he desired to make, and led his forces against the Achæans, who had given cause for offence. He met with splendid success, and covered his name with glory.

Then he returned to Sparta, and with part of his army fell upon the Ephori while they were at the public supper-table, and put them all to death. Next day eighty citizens, who he thought would be likely to oppose his plan, were banished, and all the seats of the Ephori, except one, were removed; that one Cleomenes himself occupied, and gave audience to the people. He explained to them how Lycurgus had established a council of Elders to act with the king in governing the country; but how in consequence of the wars the kings had been called from home and the Ephori, who had replaced the Elders, had become absolute rulers. He then recounted all the evils that had resulted, and said that if it had been possible for him to restore order without bloodshed he would gladly have done so, but in killing the Ephori he had acted for the good of Sparta, whose happiness and safety was his only aim. "The whole land is now your common property," he added; "debtors shall be cleared of their debts, and all those who are worthy of citizenship shall be made free Spartans, no matter what their former condition may have been."

Then the wealthy citizens, without exception, gave up their lands, and a new division was made. Even those that Cleomenes had banished got their share, for he promised that they should return as soon as quiet and order were restored. The old Spartan discipline and system of education were again introduced, the schools of exercise were reopened, and the public tables for dining re-established. Fearing that it might create jealousy were he to rule alone, Cleomenes took his brother Euclidas to share his throne, and that was the only time that Sparta ever had two kings of the same family.

It had been told to Cleomenes that the Achæans no longer feared him, because they did not believe that he would venture out of Sparta while affairs were undergoing a change. Therefore, to prove how ready his troops were to obey him, he made an incursion into the territories of Megalopolis, wasted the country far and wide, and collected rich booty. In one of his last marches he stopped a company of actors on the road, built a stage in the enemy's country, and offered a prize to the best performer. He devoted one day to this theatre, not that he cared much for such pleasures, but it was done out of bravado, to show the enemy that he felt too much contempt for them to give all his thoughts to the war. It was the custom among the Greeks to have players, jugglers, singers, and dancers attached to their armies, but no such people were ever seen in the camp of Cleomenes, for he and his men were too sober for that sort of diversion. They spent the greatest part of their leisure in exercising and conversation, and the young men were encouraged to make quick, bright answers, such as we have mentioned in the life of Lycurgus. The older ones took pleasure in teaching the younger, and the king himself was one of their best instructors, because of the example he set by his excellent conduct.

He was perfectly temperate, and as plain and simple in his habits as the commonest of the citizens. People who approached him were not awed by robes of state, rich carriages, pages, door-keepers, or display of any sort. They always found him in simple clothing, ready to meet them, offer his hand, and listen cheerfully and attentively to what they had to say, and it was more satisfactory to receive their answers from his own lips than to wait for it to come through secretaries. All these things won their hearts, and made them declare that Cleomenes was the only worthy descendant of Hercules.

At his supper-table couches, which were used instead of chairs, were placed for only three people, but when he entertained ambassadors or strangers more were added. No better food was provided on such occasions than usual, but the dishes were larger and there was more wine. After supper the table was removed, and a stand was brought in with a brass vessel full of wine, two silver bowls and cups, so that whoever chose to drink might help himself, though the wine was not offered to the guests. There was no music, nor was any required, for the king entertained the company himself by asking questions, relating anecdotes, and conversing, which he considered the best and most honorable method of gaining friends.

The Mantineans were the first people who asked the assistance of Cleomenes. He entered their city secretly by night, and helped them to turn out the Achæan soldiers commanded by Aratus. Then the Achæans assembled their forces, and Cleomenes challenged them to a battle, in which he defeated them. Aratus refused to be general of the Achæans when they got into such a bad condition, and then they invited Cleomenes to take that office, but, unfortunately, he was ill and had to go back home.

This ruined the affairs of Greece, for Aratus, who was jealous of the growing powers of Cleomenes, took advantage of his illness to call Antigonus into Greece. This was a shameful action, for it filled the Peloponnesus with Macedonians, who were hated by all the kings; besides, Aratus was the very person who had expelled them in previous years.

So when Cleomenes got well and announced his readiness to undertake the command the Achæans had offered him before, Aratus made proposals that he could not accept; he therefore declared war against him. Without giving the inhabitants time for preparation, Cleomenes entered Achaia and took several cities by surprise, then marched on to Corinth. The people hastened to pay their respects to him, and Aratus, seeing how they favored his rival, became frightened and fled.

Cleomenes won repeated victories, but at last, after making himself master of almost the whole of the Peloponnesus, he lost in one campaign all that he had gained, for fortune favored Antigonus, and many of the cities that had surrendered to Cleomenes went over to the Macedonians.

This misfortune was closely followed by another; for as he was marching back home, Cleomenes was informed of the death of his wife, a charming young woman, whom he loved very much. His sorrow was deep, but he did not neglect affairs of state on that account; he spent only one day at home with his mother and child, and then turned his attention to his public duties.

Now Ptolemy, King of Egypt, offered to help Cleomenes with troops, on condition that he would send his mother and his little son for hostages. It was a long time before the Spartan king dared to mention this proposition to his mother, but she saw that he had something unpleasant on his mind, and questioned both him and his friends so often as to the nature of it that at last he told her. She laughed heartily, and said, "Is this the thing that you have so often tried to tell me and were afraid? Make haste to put me on shipboard, and send this carcass where it may be of most service to Sparta before age renders it good for nothing and sinks it into the grave." This noble answer was acted upon, and the old lady with her little grandson embarked at once for Egypt.

Then, by freeing some of the Helots on condition that each paid a certain sum of money, Cleomenes collected an army of two thousand and made a sudden raid on Megalopolis, a city that was as great and powerful as Sparta. The inhabitants were taken completely by surprise, and nearly all of them fled to Messene. About a thousand men armed in defence of the city, but, finding it of no use, two of the most prominent of the Megalopolitans went to Cleomenes and begged him to restore it to its inhabitants. After a pause he consented, and sent the two men who had applied to him with a herald of his own to Messene, to tell the Megalopolitans that they might return in perfect safety if they would forsake the Achæans and declare themselves his friends and allies.

They refused, and Cleomenes was so angry because his gracious proposal met with no favor that he sent all the pictures and statues of Megalopolis to Sparta, and then destroyed the city. On his return home he immediately made preparations for a second expedition, and marched into Argos, laying the whole country waste. The enemy looked upon him as a wonderful genius; for with a very small army he had opposed the whole power of the Macedonians and Peloponnesians.

At last fortune favored the Macedonians at the battle of Sellasia, which Cleomenes was forced to fight, though he had only twenty thousand men with whom to oppose Antigonus, who had thirty thousand. Euclidas, one of the commanders, was slain, and out of six thousand Lacedæmonians whom he led to battle only two hundred were saved. Cleomenes escaped to Sparta, and, after advising the citizens to receive Antigonus, went with a few friends to the sea-shore, and embarked on some vessels that had been prepared for them.

Sparta surrendered as soon as Antigonus arrived, and the citizens had no cause to regret his presence, for he treated them very kindly, and, after sacrificing to the gods, left on the third day. His reason for going away so soon was that he had been summoned to Macedonia, where a dangerous war was going on. Although far gone in consumption, Antigonus would not desert his country in her need; he went home and won a splendid victory, but burst a blood-vessel when shouting with joy, "O glorious day!" A fever came on, and before long he was dead.

Cleomenes put out to sea after his escape from Sparta and sailed to Africa. He was welcomed by the king's officers and conducted to Alexandria, where, though he did not receive special honors, he was kindly treated. But after a time his dignified behavior and his charming and witty style of conversation won upon the king, who offered to send him back to Greece with vessels and money, to re-establish himself in his kingdom. Cleomenes was delighted with this offer, but before it could be carried into effect the king died, and all his hopes were blasted. The next ruler of Egypt did nothing but amuse himself, and Cleomenes knew it was useless to apply to him for assistance.

The king's prime minister was named Sosibius, and to him Cleomenes made a demand for a vessel to carry him and his friends to Greece, for he had heard of the death of Antigonus and of the war going on. Sosibius was afraid to keep so bold a man as the Spartan king against his will, yet he did not think it safe to let him go with the knowledge he had gained of Egyptian affairs.

While he was considering what to do, a Messenian named Nicagoras came to Alexandria. This man hated Cleomenes, who was unfortunate in owing him a sum of money, which he had not been able to pay when it came due. Cleomenes happened to be walking on the dock when Nicagoras landed.

"What business has brought you to Egypt?" he asked.

Nicagoras pretended to be friendly, and, after deceitfully paying Cleomenes a compliment, replied, "I am bringing some fine war-horses for the king."

"You had better have brought him some dancers and actors," returned Cleomenes, with a laugh, "for that is the sort of cattle he likes best."

Nicagoras smiled, but said nothing. A few days later he asked Cleomenes for the money he owed him, but did not get it. This made him angry, and he told Sosibius of the joke upon the king that Cleomenes had made when he arrived with the horses. He also wrote a letter, in which he accused Cleomenes of wanting to get supplies from Egypt in order that he might use them to seize some of her territory. This letter he gave Sosibius just before he sailed, and in due course of time it was laid before the king, who ordered Cleomenes to be invited into a large house, where he was to be retained and treated as formerly, but not suffered to go out.

It was unbearable to Cleomenes to be kept a prisoner; besides, he had reason to believe that he had not many days to live; so, when the king went on a journey, a stratagem which he had planned with his friends was carried into effect. It was customary for kings of Egypt to send a supper and some presents to prisoners whom they intended to set free. As soon as Ptolemy Philopator was well out of the way, the friends of Cleomenes announced that he had been released by royal command, and carried the necessary tokens to the prison gate. The keepers were entirely deceived, and, after Cleomenes had offered a sacrifice, accepted his invitation to the banquet that had been sent. Wine was served to them so plentifully that they became intoxicated, and while they were in that state the Spartan king put on his military tunic, and sword in hand rushed out of the house, followed by his friends, thirteen in number.

They went through the streets inviting the people to liberty. Their spirit and boldness won the greatest praise, but not a man ventured to follow or assist them. Two members of the royal family whom they met were killed on the spot. They then proceeded to the citadel, intending to force it open and join the prisoners to their party. But the keepers had got wind of their intention and had barricaded the gates. This was a grave disappointment, and after making another vain attempt about the city to arouse the people, Cleomenes stopped, and thus addressed his companions: "These people are so weak-minded that they fly from liberty; let us, therefore, die in a manner that will bring down no dishonor on our names." Each man then fell upon his own sword and killed himself. This happened after Cleomenes had been king of Sparta sixteen years.

The mother and son of Cleomenes, who had gone to Egypt as hostages, were overcome with grief when the news of his death reached them. The latter threw himself headlong from the top of a house, but was not killed, and when he was picked up he was very angry because he was not suffered to destroy himself.

When the king got home, he ordered the body of Cleomenes to be flayed and nailed to a cross, while the aged mother, her female companions, and her little grandson, were all put to death.