Sparta Banned Archilochus. Enough Said.

Sparta has some problems (and a wildly unjustifiable popularity). Here’s another one.

Valerius Maximas, 6.3 Ext 1

“Although it is possible to use the whole planet to offer examples of Roman cruelty, it is not useless to learn of foreign instances in summary. The Spartans ordered that the books of Archilochus were to be expelled from their state because they believed that they were insufficiently modest and were also shameful reading.

They did not want their children’s minds to be filled with these ideas in case they might harm their characters more than it sharpened their wits. For this reason they exiled the greatest or nearly greatest poet because he wounded a household he hated with vulgar curses.”

Ceterum etsi Romanae severitatis exemplis totus terrarum orbis instrui potest, tamen externa summatim cognosse fastidio non sit. Lacedaemonii libros Archilochi e civitate sua exportari iusserunt, quod eorum parum verecundam ac pudicam lectionem arbitrabantur: noluerunt enim ea liberorum suorum animos imbui, ne plus moribus noceret quam ingeniis prodesset. itaque maximum poetam aut certe summo proximum, quia domum sibi invisam obscenis maledictis laceraverat, carminum exsilio multarunt.

The Chiggi Vase

Valerius Maximus’ account is somewhat different from the story most people know. Where he seems to take issue with Archilochus’ invective and his salacious content, others claim the issue was his cowardice. Plutarch claims that Archilochus was expelled from Sparta for this poem:

Fr. 5

“Some Saian takes joy the the shield, that blameless weapon
I left next to a bush unwillingly.
But I rescued myself. What does that shield matter to me?
Fuck it. I’ll buy no worse a shield next time.”

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ
θάμνῳ, ἔντος ἀμώμητον, κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·
αὐτὸν δ᾿ ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

Plutarch also reports:

Spartan Sayings, 241f6

“Another spartan woman as she was passing her son his shield advised him, “child, [come home] either with this or on it.”

῎Αλλη προσαναδιδοῦσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα καὶ παρακελευομένη ‘τέκνον’ ἔφη, ‘ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας.’

3 thoughts on “Sparta Banned Archilochus. Enough Said.

  1. Noble Youth

    COWARD! Really it seems he was just as willing to pick up another shield after casting off his first, regardless of what it represents. We’ll likely never know the reason, but I’ll trust the Spartans.

  2. The Kokonspiracy

    Some Saian guy picked up the shield
    I dropped when I fled from the field.
    “Whatever,” I said.
    “At least I’m not dead.
    “I’ll buy me a new one to wield.”

    1. The Kokonspiracy

      Another one snatched up the sword
      I tossed as I ran from his horde.
      “That does it,” I sighed.
      “Our city-state’s pride
      Is more than a man can afford.”

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