The Story of the Greeks

Page: 29

The imprisoned fox, hoping to escape, began to gnaw a hole in the boy's chest, and to tear his flesh with his sharp claws; but, in spite of the pain, the lad sat still, and let the fox bite him to death.[Pg 66]

It was only when he fell lifeless to the floor that the teachers found the fox, and saw how cruelly he had torn the brave little boy to pieces. Ever since then, when boys stand pain bravely and without wincing, they have been called little Spartans, in memory of this lad.

In order that the boys should be taught to behave well under all circumstances, they were never allowed to speak except when spoken to, and then their answers were expected to be as short and exact as possible.

This style of speaking, where much was said in few words, was so usual in the whole country of Laconia, that it is still known as the laconic style.

To train them in this mode of speech, the elders daily made the boys pass an oral examination, asking them any questions they could think of. The boys had to answer promptly, briefly, and carefully; and if they failed to do so, it was considered a great disgrace.

These daily questionings were meant to sharpen their wits, strengthen their memories, and teach them how to think and decide quickly and correctly.

The Spartan youths were further taught to treat all their elders with the greatest respect; and it must have been a pretty sight to see all these manly fellows respectfully saluting all the old people they met, and even stopping their play to make way for them when they came on the street.

To strengthen their muscles, the boys were also carefully trained in gymnastics. They could handle weapons, throw heavy weights, wrestle, run with great speed, swim, jump, and ride, and were experts in all exercises which tended to make them strong, active, and well.[Pg 67]


The Spartan men prided themselves upon living almost as plainly as the boys, and, instead of eating their meals at home with the women and children, they had a common table. Each man gave a certain amount of flour, oil, wine, vegetables, and money, just enough to provide for his share of food.

Instead of having varied and delicate dishes, they always ate about the same things; and their favorite food was a thick dark stew or soup, which they called black broth. Rich and poor were treated alike, sat side by side, and ate the same food, which was intended to make them equally strong and able to serve their country.

The girls and women never came to these public tables; but the boys were given a seat there as soon as they had learned their first and most important lesson, obedience.

When the boys came into the public dining hall for the first time, the oldest man present called them to him, and, pointing to the door, solemnly warned them that nothing said inside the walls was ever to be repeated without.