July 22, 2007


I think the point of pairing Lycurgus with Solon, rather than Numa, which is what Plutarch does, is that both are lawgivers, and that both fix in some way the characteristics of Athens and Sparta.

Lycurgus does a number of interesting things.

So what comments do I have?

Plutarch doesn’t say so here, but I would think that the only way the equal distribution of land can be enforced is by having structures in place that effectively inhibit the profit and loss mechanism so that the more able cannot outdo their less competent brethren in the market place. By effectively getting rid of currency he has one mechanism that may serve that purpose. It would appear that both foreign trade and trade within Sparta were effectively undermined by this technique.

By outlawing “superfluous arts” he imposes a form of censorship that results in the elimination of “foreign goods and small wares; merchants sent no shiploads into Laconian ports; no rhetoric-master, no itinerant fortune-teller, no harlot-monger or gold or silversmith, engraver, or jeweler, set foot in a country which had no money.” Now the rhetoric-master is not a particularly well-loved character, but the teachers of rhetoric brought an openness to new ideas, and by effectively keeping them out the access to those ideas was blocked.

What seems to have happened, based on Plutarch’s description seems to be roughly analogous to the development of the Shaker style of furniture, or the development in the Islamic world of calligraphy, miniatures, and rug making, relatively minor arts in the West, into the major forms of artistic expression.

When Interestingly Plutarch observes that the lack of foreign travel means that Spartan tourists do not come back with ideas of liberation, democracy, and so on. It strikes me as rather similar to the closed society of the old Soviet Union. Travel between the USSR and the West was difficult, and travelers were closely watched. Yet the hunger for Western material goods, the desire for freedom, and the bankruptcy of the economy ultimately did in the old Soviet system.