The Story of the Greeks
Page: 28They were taught very little reading, writing, and arithmetic, but were carefully trained to recite the poems of Homer, the patriotic songs, and to accompany them[Pg 64]selves skillfully on the lyre. They were also obliged to sing in the public chorus, and to dance gracefully at all the religious feasts.
As the Spartans were very anxious that their boys should be strong and fearless, they were taught to stand pain and fatigue without a murmur; and, to make sure that they could do so, their teachers made them go through a very severe training.
Led by one of the older boys, the little lads were often sent out for long tramps over rough and stony roads, under the hot sun; and the best boy was the one who kept up longest, in spite of bleeding feet, burning thirst, and great fatigue.
Spartan boys were allowed no beds to sleep in, lest they should become lazy and hard to please. Their only couch was a heap of rushes, which they picked on the banks of the Eu-ro´tas, a river near Sparta; and in winter they were allowed to cover these with a layer of cat-tail down to make them softer and warmer.
As greedy and disobedient children were viewed at Sparta with the contempt they deserved, all the boys were trained to obey at a word, whatever the order given, and were allowed only the plainest and scantiest food.
Strange to relate, the Spartans also trained their boys to steal. They praised them when they succeeded in[Pg 65] doing so without being found out, and punished them only when caught in the act. The reason for this queer custom was this: the people were often engaged in war, and as they had no baggage wagons following their army, and no special officer to furnish food, they had to depend entirely upon the provisions they could get on their way.
Whenever an army came in sight, the people hid not only their wealth, but also their food; and, had not the Spartan soldiers been trained to steal, they would often have suffered much from hunger when they were at war.
To test the courage of the Spartan boys, their teachers never allowed them to have a light, and often sent them out alone in the middle of the night, on errands which they had to do as best they could.
Then, too, once a year all the boys were brought to the Temple of Diana, where their courage was further tried by a severe flogging; and those who stood this whipping without a tear or moan were duly praised. The little Spartan boys were so eager to be thought brave, that it is said that some let themselves be flogged to death rather than complain.
The bravery of one of these boys was so wonderful that you will find it mentioned in nearly every Greek history you read. This little fellow had stolen a live fox, and hidden it in the bosom of his dress, on his way to school.