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The Story of the Greeks

Page: 30

Then, while the boys took their places and ate without speaking a word, the old men talked freely of all they pleased, sure that Spartan lads would never be mean enough to repeat anything they said, and trusting to their honor.

Although the Spartans had wine upon their table, they were a very temperate people, and drank only a very[Pg 68] little with each meal. To show the boys what a horrible thing drunkenness is, and the sure result of too much drinking, the old men sometimes gave them an object lesson.

They sent for one of the meanest Helots or slaves, and purposely gave him plenty of wine. He was encouraged to go on drinking until he sank on the floor in a drunken sleep. Then the old men would point him out to the boys, and explain to them that a man who has drunk too much is unworthy of the love or esteem of his fellow-creatures, and is in many ways worse than a beast.

The Spartan boys, thus early warned of the evils of drinking, were careful to take but very little wine, and to keep their heads quite clear, so that they might always be considered men, and might never disgrace themselves as they had seen the Helots do.

When the boys had passed through the first course of training, they in turn became the teachers and leaders of the smaller lads, and thus served their country until they were old enough to go to war. When they left for their first campaign, all the people came out to see them off, and each mother gave her son his shield, saying,—

"Come back with it or on it."

By this she meant "Come home honorably, bearing your shield, thus showing that you have never thrown it away to save yourself by flight; or die so bravely that your companions will bring back your body resting on your shield, to give you a glorious burial."[Pg 69]


XXV. LAWS OF LYCURGUS.

The Spartan girls, who were brought up by the women, were, like the boys, taught to wrestle, run, and swim, and to take part in gymnastics of all kinds, until they too became very strong and supple, and could stand almost any fatigue.

A Dancing Girl. A Dancing Girl.

They were also taught to read, write, count, sing, play, and dance; to spin, weave, and dye; and to do all kinds of woman's work. In short, they were expected to be strong, intelligent, and capable, so that when they married they might help their husbands, and bring up their children sensibly. At some public festivals the girls strove with one another in various games, which were witnessed only by their fathers and mothers and the other married people of the city. The winners in these contests were given beautiful prizes, which were much coveted.[Pg 70]

Lycurgus hoped to make the Spartans a strong and good people. To hinder the kings from doing anything wrong, he had the people choose five men, called ephors, to watch over and to advise them.


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