Spartan Wit

Spartan wit was famous.   Laconic (Laconia was another word for Sparta) means short, pithy, to the point.

Plutarch, the old Greek historian,  gives some examples:

Once a Spartan king was watching a show with a sword-swallower.  “That’s easily done here in Sparta,” laughed an Athenian who was in the audience [Athens and Sparta were rivals].  “Your swords are so short.”
What was the pithy Spartan king’s reply?

“We find them long enough to reach our enemy.” Bang!

The man who gave Sparta its laws, Lycurgus, wanted to bring up wise men. He wondered about how to make everyone think a little. He hated babblers. He didn’t allow talk for talk’s sake.
“Would you like to hear a man imitate a nightingale to perfection?” someone asked him.
“No,” he answered. “I have heard the nightingale itself.”

Someone asked Lycurgus whether he thought the gods liked Spartan austerity. “Why do you offer them such lean and measly sacrifices?”
The answer, without a moment’s delay (though speed wasn’t essential, it gave a greater punch): “So that we will always have something to offer them.”


Spartan youths by Degas

Spartan children were raised without chatter: everything they heard was short and with a double—a wise—meaning.
They were trained to think before they spoke and to speak, finally, with grace, with sense. The shorter the sentence, the better.
“How many of you are there?” a visiting foreigner asked a Spartan boy.  Did the lad  frown and stutter and scratch his head and say the obvious: that he didn’t know exactly? Of course not.  He replied: “Enough, Sir, to keep out wicked men.”

See more examles of Spartan wit here.

All this impressed another Greek historian, Polybius, who lived hundreds of years after Lycurgus. Sparta was to him a country with a moral.  He liked to chew over Spartan ways—especially their toughness, their warrior education.  He thought he saw the good old spirit of Sparta in Rome; and he supposed it was Rome’s secret of success.


The ruins of Sparta   Is that all there is?

Read what the ancient Greek historian Thucydides wrote about Sparta:

Suppose the city of Sparta to be deserted, and nothing left but the … ground-plan, distant ages would be very unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at all equal to their fame. Their city is not built continuously, and has no splendid temples or other edifices; it rather resembles a group of villages, like the ancient towns of Hellas, and would therefore make a poor show.

See The Legend of Sparta (part 3) and read about their famous warrior education.


This entry was posted in 1, books, history, Sparta, The Greeks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Spartan Wit

  1. 100swallows says:

    Madame Monet: The other title got more readers.

  2. Madame Monet says:

    I love your new title–fits the post perfectly!

    Madame Monet

  3. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Madame Monet. I gave the post a more appropriate title now.

  4. Madame Monet says:

    Not what I was expecting from the title, but very interesting and informative. I didn’t know anything about this aspect of Spartan society.

    Madame Monet

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