When I was thinking about Sparta last spring, I kept some of the sayings recorded by Plutarch in my file of “things to be translated”. Here are the last ones. They are not cited with approval. This is Sparta.
Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans (Apophthegmata Lakonica )
“When someone was commending a politician for his talent at amplifying minor matters, Agesilaos remarked that a cobbler is not good at his job if he puts big shoes on small feet.”
Ἐπαινοῦντος δέ τινος ῥήτορα ἐπὶ τῷ δυνατῶς αὔξειν τὰ μικρὰ πράγματα, οὐδὲ σκυτοτόμον, ἔφησεν, εἶναι σπουδαῖον, ὃς μικρῷ ποδὶ ὑποδήματα μεγάλα περιτίθησιν.
“When he was asked to hear a person who could imitate a nightingale, he refused, adding “I have heard the bird many a time.”
Τοῦ δὲ μιμουμένου τὴν τῆς ἀηδόνος φωνὴν ἀκοῦσαι παρακαλούμενος, παρῃτήσατο φήσας “αὐτᾶς ἄκουκα πολλάκις.
“[Agis] said that the Spartans never asked “how many” of the enemy there were, but only “where are they”.
Οὐκ ἔφη δὲ τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους ἐρωτᾶν πόσοι εἰσὶν οἱ πολέμιοι, ἀλλὰ ποῦ εἰσίν.
“When asked what kind of men the Ionians were, he said “bad free men but good slaves”
Ἐρωτηθεὶς δὲ ὁποῖοι ἄνδρες εἰσὶν οἱ Ἴωνες, “ἐλεύθεροι μέν,” ἔφη, “κακοί, δοῦλοι δὲ ἀγαθοί.”
“In response to the Athenian who said the Spartans were uneducated, he said “At least we are the only ones who have learned nothing evil from you.”
Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἀμαθεῖς καλοῦντα τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Ἀθηναῖον, “μόνοι γοῦν,” εἶπεν, “ἡμεῖς οὐδὲν μεμαθήκαμεν παρ᾿ ὑμῶν κακόν.”
“In response to someone who praised a musician and was amazed as his talent, he said, “Sir, what prize will you have left for good men when you praise a musician this much?”
Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἐπαινοῦντα κιθαρῳδὸν καὶ θαυμάζοντα τὴν δύναμιν αὐτοῦ, “ὦ λῷστε,” ἔφη, “ποῖον γέρας παρὰ σοῦ τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἔσται, ὅταν κιθαρῳδὸν οὕτως ἐπαινῇς;”
“While he listened to a musician play, [Demaratus] remarked, “he doesn’t seem so bad at this nonsense”
Ψάλτου δὲ ἀκροώμενος, “οὐ κακῶς,” εἶπε, “φαίνεταί μοι φλυαρεῖν.”
“When someone showed him a city wall and asked if it was strong and high, he said, “isn’t this a place for women?”
Ἐπιδεικνυμένου δέ τινος αὐτῷ τεῖχος καὶ πυνθανομένου εἰ καρτερὸν καὶ ὑψηλόν, “οὐ δὴ γυναικών;” εἶπεν.
“This is what Leotychidas said to Philip, the master of the Orphic mysteries who was extremely poor but was claiming that those initiated into the mysteries by him would be blessed after the end of life: “Fool, why don’t you die as quickly as possible so you can stop whining about your bad luck and poverty?”
Πρὸς Φίλιππον τὸν ὀρφεοτελεστὴν παντελῶς πτωχὸν ὄντα, λέγοντα δ᾿ ὅτι οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτῷ μυηθέντες μετὰ τὴν τοῦ βίου τελευτὴν εὐδαιμονοῦσι, “τί οὖν, ὦ ἀνόητε,” εἶπεν, “οὐ τὴν ταχίστην ἀποθνῄσκεις, Fἵν᾿ ἅμα παύσῃ2 κακοδαιμονίαν καὶ πενίαν κλαίων;”
“When someone was asking why they did not dedicated the weapons of their enemies to the gods, he said that it would neither be right to show the youth or to dedicate to the gods weapons which were taken thanks to the cowardice of their owners.”
Πυθομένου δέ τινος διὰ τί τὰ ἀπὸ τῶν πολεμίων ὅπλα τοῖς θεοῖς οὐκ ἀνατιθέασιν, ἔφη ὅτι τὰ διὰ τὴν δειλίαν τῶν κεκτημένων θηραθέντα οὔτε τοὺς νέους ὁρᾶν καλὸν οὔτε τοῖς θεοῖς ἀνατιθέναι.
One thought on “What Kind of Men? A Few Spartan Sayings”
If I recall correctly, Philip had a pretty good response thaf I’ll paraphrase here:
Philip: What would you say if you sat down to a feast of only olives?
Leotychidas: That would be a poor feast. Even by Spartan standards.
Philip: Exactly. I stay because I have not had my full of life yet.