An. Why do your young men behave like this, Solon? Some of them grappling and tripping each other, some throttling, struggling, intertwining in the clay like so many pigs wallowing. And yet their first proceeding after they have stripped-I noticed that-is to oil and scrape each other quite amicably; but then I do not know what comes over them — they put down their heads and begin to push, and crash their foreheads together like a pair of rival rams. There, look! that one has lifted the other right off his legs, and dropped him on the ground; now he has fallen on top, and will not let him get his head up, but presses it down into the clay; and to finish him off he twines his legs tight round his belly, thrusts his elbow hard against his throat, and throttles the wretched victim, who meanwhile is patting his shoulder; that will be a form of supplication; he is asking not to be quite choked to death. Regardless of their fresh oil, they get all filthy, smother themselves in mud and sweat till they might as well not have been anointed, and present, to me at least, the most ludicrous resemblance to eels slipping through a man’s hands.
Then here in the open court are others doing just the same, except that, instead of the clay, they have for floor a depression filled with deep sand, with which they sprinkle one another, scraping up the dust on purpose, like fowls; I suppose they want their interfacings to be tighter; the sand is to neutralize the slipperiness of the oil, and by drying it up to give a firmer grip.
And here are others, sanded too, but on their legs, going at each other with blows and kicks. We shall surely see this poor fellow spit out his teeth in a minute; his mouth is all full of blood and sand; he has had a blow on the jaw from the other’s fist, you see. Why does not the official there separate them and put an end to it? I guess that he is an official from his purple; but no, he encourages them, and commends the one who gave that blow.
Wherever you look, every one busy-rising on his toes, jumping up and kicking the air, or something.
Now I want to know what is the good of it all. To me it looks more like madness than anything else. It will not be very easy to convince me that people who behave like this are not wrong in their heads.
So. It is quite natural it should strike you that way, being so novel, and so utterly contrary to Scythian customs. Similarly you have no doubt many methods and habits that would seem extraordinary enough to us Greeks, v if we were spectators of them as you now are of ours. But be reassured, my dear sir; these proceedings are not madness; it is no spirit of violence that sets them hitting each other, wallowing in clay, and sprinkling dust. The thing has its use, and its delight too, resulting in admirable physical condition. If you make some stay, as I imagine you will, in Greece, you are bound to be either a clay-bob or a dust-bob before long; you will be so taken with the pleasure and profit of the pursuit.
An. Hands off, please. No, I wish you all joy of your pleasures and your profits; but if any of you treats me like that, he will find out that we do not wear scimetars for ornament.
But would you mind giving a name to all this? What are we to say they are doing?
So. The place is called a gymnasium, and is dedicated to the Lycean Apollo. You see his statue there; the one leaning on the pillar, with a bow in the left hand. The right arm bent over the head indicates that the God is resting after some great exertion.
Of the exercises here, that in the clay is called wrestling; the youths in the dust are also called wrestlers, and those who strike each other standing are engaged in what we call the pancratium. But we have other gymnasiums for boxing, quoit-throwing, and high-jumping; and in all these we hold contests, the winner in which is honoured above all his contemporaries, and receives prizes.
An. Ah, and what are the prizes, now?
So. At Olympia a wreath of wild olive, at the Isthmus one of pine, at Nemea of parsley, at Pytho some of the God’s sacred apples, and at our Panathenaea oil pressed from the temple olives. What are you laughing at, Anacharsis? Are the prizes too small?
An. Oh dear no; your prize-list is most imposing; the givers may well plume themselves on their munificence, and the competitors be monstrous keen on winning. Who would not go through this amount of preparatory toil, and take his chance of a choking or a dislocation, for apples or parsley? It is obviously impossible for any one who has a fancy to a supply of apples, or a wreath of parsley or pine, to get them without a mud plaster on his face, or a kick in the stomach from his competitor. O So. My dear sir, it is not the things’ intrinsic value that we look at. They are the symbols of victory, labels of the winners; it is the fame attaching to them that is worth any price to their holders; that is why the man whose quest of honour leads through toil is content to take his kicks. No toil, no honour; he who covets that must start with enduring hardship; when he has done that, he may begin to look for the pleasure and profit his labours are to bring.
An. Which pleasure and profit consists in their being seen in their wreaths by every one, and congratulated on their victory by those who before commiserated their pain; their happiness lies in their exchange of apples and parsley for toil.
So. Ah, you certainly do not understand our ways yet. You will revise your opinions before long, when you go to the great festivals and see the crowds gathering to look on, the stands filling up, the competitors receiving their ovations, and the victor being idolized.
An. Why, Solon, that is just where the humiliation comes in; they are treated like this not in something like privacy, but with all these spectators to watch the affronts they endure — who, I am to believe, count them happy when they see them dripping with blood or being throttled; for such are the happy concomitants of victory. In my country, if a man strikes a citizen, knocks him down, or tears his clothes, our elders punish him severely, even though there were only one or two witnesses, not like your vast Olympic or Isthmian gatherings. However, though I cannot help pitying the competitors, I am still more astonished at the spectators; you tell me the chief people from all over Greece attend; how can they leave their serious concerns and waste time on such things? How they can like it passes my comprehension — to look on at people being struck and knocked about, dashed to the ground and pounded by one another.
So. If the Olympia, Isthmia, or Panathenaea were only on now, those object-lessons might have been enough to convince you that our keenness is not thrown away. I cannot make you apprehend the delights of them by description; you should be there sitting in the middle of the spectators, looking at the men’s courage and physical beauty, their marvellous condition, effective skill and invincible strength, their enterprise, their emulation, their unconquerable spirit, and their unwearied pursuit of victory. Oh, I know very well, you would never have been tired of talking about your favourites, backing them with voice and hand.
An. I dare say, and with laugh and flout too. All the fine things in your list, your courages and conditions, your beauties and enterprises, I see you wasting in no high cause; your country is not in danger, your land not being ravaged, your friends or relations not being haled away. The more ridiculous that such patterns of perfection as you make them out should endure the misery all for nothing, and spoil their beauty and their fine figures with sand and black eyes, just for the triumphant possession of an apple or a sprig of wild olive. Oh, how I love to think of those prizes! By the way, do all who enter get them?
So. No, indeed. There is only one winner.
An. And do you mean to say such a number can be found to toil for a remote uncertainty of success, knowing that the winner cannot be more than one, and the failures must be many, with their bruises, or their wounds very likely, for sole reward?
So. Dear me; you have no idea yet of what is a good political constitution, or you would never depreciate the best of our customs. If you ever take the trouble to inquire how a State may best be organized, and its citizens best developed, you will find yourself commending these practices and the earnestness with which we cultivate them; then you will realize what good effects are inseparable from those toils which seem for the moment to tax our energies to no purpose.
An. Well, Solon, why did I come all the way from Scythia, why did I make the long stormy passage of the Euxine, but to learn the laws of Greece, observe your customs, and work out the best constitution? That was why I chose you of all Athenians for my friend and host; I had heard of you; I had been told you were a legislator, you had devised the most admirable customs, introduced institutions of great excellence, and in fact built up what you call a constitution. Before all things, then, teach me; make me your pupil. Nothing would please me more than to sit by your side without bit or sup for as long as you could hold out, and listen open-mouthed to what you have to say of constitution and laws.
So. The whole thing can hardly be so shortly disposed of, friend. You must take the different departments, one by one, and find out our views upon the Gods, then upon parents, upon marriage, and so for the rest. But I will let you know at once what we think about the young, and how we treat them when higher things begin to dawn upon their intelligence, when their frames begin to set and to be capable of endurance. Then you will grasp our purpose in imposing these exercises upon them and insisting on physical effort; our view is not bounded by the contests, and directed to their carrying off prizes there — of course only a small proportion of them ever reach that point; no; the indirect benefit that we secure for their city and themselves is of more importance. There is another contest in which all good citizens get prizes, and its wreaths are not of pine or wild olive or parsley, but of complete human happiness, including individual freedom and political independence, wealth and repute, enjoyment of our ancient ritual, security of our dear ones, and all the choicest boons a man might ask of Heaven. It is of these materials that the wreath I tell you of is woven; and they are provided by that contest for which this training and these toils are the preparation.
An. You strange man! you had all these grand prizes up your sleeve, and you told me a tale of apples and parsley and tufts of wild olive and pine.
So. Ah, you will not think those such trifles either, when you take my meaning. They are manifestations of the same spirit, all small parts of that greater contest, and of the wreath of happiness I told you of. But it is true that instead of beginning at the beginning I was carried away to the meetings at the Isthmus and Olympia and Nemea. However, we have plenty of time, and you profess curiosity; it is a simple matter to go back to the beginning, to that many-prized contest which I tell you is the real end of all.
An. That will be better; we are more likely to prosper on the high road; perhaps I shall even be cured of my inclination to laugh at any one I see priding himself on his olive or parsley wreath. But I propose that we go into the shade over there and sit down on the benches, not to be interrupted by these rounds of cheering. And indeed I must confess I have had enough of this sun; how it scorches one’s bare head! I did not want to look like a foreigner, so I left my hat at home. But the year is at its hottest; the dog-star, as you call it, is burning everything up, and not leaving a drop of moisture in the air; and the noonday sun right overhead gives an absolutely intolerable heat. I cannot make out how you at your age, so far from dripping like me, never turn a hair; instead of looking about for some hospitable shade, you take your sunning quite kindly.
So. Ah, Anacharsis, these useless toils, these perpetual clay-baths, these miseries in the sand and the open air, are prophylactics against the sun’s rays; we need no hats to ward off his shafts. But come along.
And you are not to regard me as an authority whose statements are to be accepted as matter of faith; wherever you think I have not made out my case, you are to contradict me at once and get the thing straight. So we shall stand to win; either you, after relieving your mind of all objections that strike you, will reach a firm conviction, or, failing that, I shall have found out my mistake. And in the latter case, Athens will owe you a debt that she cannot be too quick to acknowledge; for your instructions and corrections of my ideas will redound to her advantage. I shall keep nothing back; I shall produce it all in public, stand up in the assembly and say: Men of Athens, I drew up for you such laws as I thought would most advantage you; but this stranger — and at that word I point to you, Anacharsis — this stranger from Scythia has been wise enough to show me my mistake and teach me better ways. Let his name be inscribed as your benefactor’s; set him up in bronze beside your name-Gods, or by Athene on the citadel. And be assured that Athens will not be ashamed to learn what is for her good from a barbarian and an alien.
An. Ah, now I have a specimen of that Attic irony which I have so often heard of. I am an unsettled wanderer who lives on his cart and goes from land to land, who has never dwelt in a city, nor even seen one till now; how should I lay down a constitution, or give lessons to a people that is one with the soil it lives on 77, and for all these ages has enjoyed the blessings of perfect order in this ancient city? How, above all, instruct that Solon whose native gift all men say it is to know how a state may best be governed, and what laws will bring it happiness? Nevertheless, you shall be my legislator too; I will contradict you, where I think you wrong, for my own better instruction. And here we are, safely covered from the sun’s pursuit, and this cool stone invites us to take our ease. Start now and give me your reasons. Why seize upon the rising generation so young, and subject them to such toils? How do you develop perfect virtue out of clay and training? What is the exact contribution to it of dust and summersaults? That and that only is my first curiosity. All the rest you shall give me by degrees as occasion rises later. But, Solon, one thing you must bear in mind: you are talking to a barbarian. What I mean is, you must be simple, and brief; I am afraid I shall forget the beginning, if a very abundant flow follows.
So. Why, you had better work the sluice yourself, whenever the word-stream is either turbid or diverging into a wrong channel. As for mere continuance, you can cut that up by questions. However, so long as what I have to say is not irrelevant, I do not know that length matters. There is an ancient procedure in the Areopagus, our murder court. When the members have ascended the hill, and taken their seats to decide a case of murder or deliberate maiming or arson, each side is allowed to address the court in turn, prosecution and defence being conducted either by the principals or by counsel. As long as they speak to the matter in hand, the court listens silently and patiently. But if either prefaces his speech with an appeal to its benevolence, or attempts to stir its compassion or indignation by irrelevant considerations — and the legal profession have numberless ways of playing upon juries — the usher at once comes up and silences him. The court is not to be trifled with or have its food disguised with condiments, but to be shown the bare facts. Now, Anacharsis, I hereby create you a temporary Areopagite; you shall hear me according to that court’s practice, and silence me if you find me cajoling you; but as long as I keep to the point, I may speak at large. For there is no sun here to make length a burden to you; we have plenty of shade and plenty of time.
An. That sounds reasonable. And I take it very kindly that you should have given me this incidental view of the proceedings on the Areopagus; they are very remarkable, quite a pattern of the way a judicial decision should be arrived at. Let your speech be regulated accordingly, and the Areopagite of your appointment shall listen as his office requires.
So. Well, I must start with a brief preliminary statement of our views upon city and citizens. A city in our conception is not the buildings — walls, temples, docks, and so forth; these are no more than the local habitation that provides the members of the community with shelter and safety; it is in the citizens that we find the root of the matter; they it is that replenish and organize and achieve and guard, corresponding in the city to the soul in man. Holding this view, we are not indifferent, as you see, to our city’s body; that we adorn with all the beauty we can impart to it; it is provided with internal buildings, and fenced as securely as may be with external walls. But our first, our engrossing preoccupation is to make our citizens noble of spirit and strong of body. So they will in peace time make the most of themselves and their political unity, while in war they will bring their city through safe with its freedom and well-being unimpaired. Their early breeding we leave to their mothers, nurses, and tutors, who are to rear them in the elements of a liberal education. But as soon as they attain to a knowledge of good and evil, when reverence and shame and fear and ambition spring up in them, when their bodies begin to set and strengthen and be equal to toil, then we take them over, and appoint them both a course of mental instruction and discipline, and one of bodily endurance. We are not satisfied with mere spontaneous development either for body or soul; we think that the addition of systematic teaching will improve the gifted and reform the inferior. We conform our practice to that of the farmer, who shelters and fences his plants while they are yet small and tender, to protect them from the winds, but, as soon as the shoot has gathered substance, prunes it and lets the winds beat upon it and knock it about, and makes it thereby the more fruitful.
We first kindle their minds with music and arithmetic, teach them to write and to read with expression. Then, as they get on, we versify, for the better impressing their memories, the sayings of wise men, the deeds of old time, or moral tales. And as they hear of worship won and works that live in song, they yearn ever more, and are fired to emulation, that they too may be sung and marvelled at by them that come after, and have their Hesiod and their Homer. And when they attain their civil rights, and it is time for them to take their share in governing — but all this, it may be, is irrelevant. My subject was not how we train their souls, but why we think fit to subject them to the toils we do. I will silence myself without waiting for the usher, or for you, my Areopagite, who have been too considerate, methinks, in letting me maunder on out of bounds all this way.
An. Another point of Areopagite procedure, please, Solon. When a speaker passes over essential matters in silence, has the court no penalty for him?
So. Why? I do not take you.
An. Why, you propose to pass by the question of the soul, which is the noblest and the most attractive to me, and discuss the less essential matters of gymnasiums and physical exercise.
So. You see, my dear sir, I have my eye on our original conditions; I do not want to divert the word-stream; it might confuse your memory with its irregular flow. However, I will do what I can in the way of a mere summary for this branch of the subject; as for a detailed examination of it, that must be deferred.
Well, we regulate their sentiments partly by teaching them the laws of the land, which are inscribed in large letters and exposed at the public expense for all to read, enjoining certain acts and forbidding others, and partly by making them attend good men, who teach them to speak with propriety, act with justice, content themselves with political equality, eschew evil, ensue good, and abstain from violence; sophist and philosopher are the names by which these teachers are known. Moreover, we pay for their admission to the theatre, where the contemplation of ancient heroes and villains in tragedy or comedy has its educational effect of warning or encouragement. To the comic writers we further give the licence of mockery and invective against any of their fellow citizens whose conduct they find discreditable; such exposure may act both directly upon the culprits, and upon others by way of example.
An. Ah, I have seen the tragedians and comedians you speak of, at least if the former are men in heavy stilted shoes, and clothes all picked out with gold bands; they have absurd head-pieces with vast open mouths, from inside which comes an enormous voice, while they take great strides which it seems to me must be dangerous in those shoes. I think there was a festival to Dionysus going on at the time. Then the comedians are shorter, go on their own feet, are more human, and smaller-voiced; but their head-pieces are still more ridiculous, so much so that the audience was laughing at them like one man. But to the others, the tall ones, every one listened with a dismal face; I suppose they were sorry for them, having to drag about those great clogs.
So. Oh no, it was not for the actors that they were sorry. The poet was probably setting forth some sad tale of long ago, with fine speeches that appealed to the audience’s feelings and drew tears from them. I dare say you observed also some flute-players, with other persons who stood in a circle and sang in chorus. These too are things that have their uses. Well, our youths’ souls are made susceptible and developed by these and similar influences.
Then their bodily training, to which your curiosity was especially directed, is as follows. When their first pithless tenderness is past, we strip them and aim at hardening them to the temperature of the various seasons, till heat does not incommode nor frost paralyse them. Then we anoint them with oil by way of softening them into suppleness. It would be absurd that leather, dead stuff as it is, should be made tougher and more lasting by being softened with oil, and the living body get no advantage from the same process. Accordingly we devise elaborate gymnastic exercises, appoint instructors of each variety, and teach one boxing, another the pancratium. They are to be habituated to endurance, to meet blows half way, and never shrink from a wound. This method works two admirable effects in them: makes them spirited and heedless of bodily danger, and at the same time strong and enduring. Those whom you saw lowering their heads and wrestling learn to fall safely and pick themselves up lightly, to shove and grapple and twist, to endure throttling, and to heave an adversary off his legs. Their acquirements are not unserviceable either; the one great thing they gain is beyond dispute; their bodies are hardened and strengthened by this rough treatment. Add another advantage of some importance: it is all so much practice against the day of battle. Obviously a man thus trained, when he meets a real enemy, will grapple and throw him the quicker, or if he falls will know better how to get up again. All through we are reckoning with that real test in arms; we expect much better results from our material if we supple and exercise their bodies before the armour goes on, so increasing their strength and efficiency, making them light and wiry in themselves (though the enemy will rather be impressed with their weight).
You see how it will act. Something may surely be expected from those in arms who even without them would be considered awkward customers; they show no inert pasty masses of flesh, no cadaverous skinniness, they are not shade-blighted women; they do not quiver and run with sweat at the least exertion, and pant under their helmets as soon as a midday sun like this adds to the burden. What would be the use of creatures who should be overpowered by thirst and dust, unnerved at sight of blood, and as good as dead before they came within bow-shot or spear-thrust of the enemy? But our fellows are ruddy and sunburnt and steady-eyed, there is spirit and fire and virility in their looks, they are in prime condition, neither shrunken and withered nor running to corpulence, but well and truly proportioned; the waste superfluity of their tissues they have sweated out; the stuff that gives strength and activity, purged from all inferior admixture, remains part of their substance. The winnowing fan has its counterpart in our gymnastics, which blow away chaff and husks, and sift and collect the clean grain.
The inevitable result is sound health and great capacity of enduring fatigue. A man like this does not sweat for a trifle, and seldom shows signs of distress. Returning to my winnowing simile — if you were to set fire on the one hand to pure wheat grain, and on the other to its chaff and straw, the latter would surely blaze up much the quicker; the grain would burn only gradually, without a blaze and not all at once; it would smoulder slowly and take much longer to consume. Well, disease or fatigue being similarly applied to this sort of body will not easily find weak spots, nor get the mastery of it lightly. Its interior is in good order, its exterior strongly fortified against such assaults, so that it gives neither admission nor entertainment to the destroying agencies of sun or frost. To any place that begins to weaken under toil comes an accession from the abundant internal heat collected and stored up against the day of need; it fills the vacancy, restores the vital force, and lengthens endurance to the utmost. Past exertion means not dissipation but increase of force, which can be fanned into fresh life.
Further, we accustom them to running, both of the long distance and of the sprinting kind. And they have to run not on hard ground with a good footing, but in deep sand on which you can neither tread firmly nor get a good push off, the foot sinking in. Then, to fit them to leap a trench or other obstacle, we make them practise with leaden dumb-bells in their hands. And again there are distance matches with the javelin. Yes, and you saw in the gymnasium a bronze disk like a small buckler, but without handle or straps; you tried it as it lay there, and found it heavy and, owing to its smooth surface, hard to handle. Well, that they hurl upwards and forwards, trying who can get furthest and outdo his competitors — an exercise that strengthens the shoulders and braces the fingers and toes.
As to the clay and dust that first moved your laughter, I will tell you now why they are provided. In the first place, that a fall may be not on a hard surface, but soft and safe. Secondly, greater slipperiness is secured by sweat and clay combined (you compared them to eels, you remember); now this is neither useless nor absurd, but contributes appreciably to strength and activity. An adversary in that condition must be gripped tightly enough to baffle his attempts at escape. To lift up a man who is all over clay, sweat, and oil, and who is doing his very best to get away and slip through your fingers, is no light task, I assure you. And I repeat that all these things have their military uses too: you may want to take up a wounded friend and convey him out of danger; you may want to heave an enemy over your head and make off with him. So we give them still harder tasks in training, that they may be abundantly equal to the less.
The function we assign to dust is just the reverse, to prevent one who is gripped from getting loose. After learning in the clay to retain their hold on the elusive, they are accustomed in turn to escape themselves even from a firm grasp. Also, we believe the dust forms a plaster that keeps in excessive sweat, prevents waste of power, and obviates the ill effects of the wind playing upon a body when its pores are all relaxed and open. Besides which, it cleanses the skin and makes it glossy. I should like to put side by side one of the white creatures who live sheltered lives and, after washing off his dust and clay, any of the Lyceum frequenters you should select, and then ask you which you would rather resemble. I know you would make your choice at the first glance, without waiting to see what they could do; you would rather be solid and well-knit than delicate and soft and white for want of the blood that had hidden itself away out of sight.
Such are the exercises we prescribe to our young men, Anacharsis; we look to find them good guardians of their country and bulwarks of our freedom; thus we defeat our enemies if they invade us, and so far overawe our immediate neighbours that they mostly acknowledge our supremacy and pay us tribute. During peace also we find our account in their being free from vulgar ambitions and from the insolence generated by idleness; they have these things to fill their lives and occupy their leisure. I told you of a prize that all may win and of a supreme political happiness; these are attained when we find our youth in the highest condition alike for peace and war, intent upon all that is noblest.
An. I see, Solon; when an enemy invades, you anoint yourselves with oil, dust yourselves over, and go forth sparring at them; then they of course cower before you and run away, afraid of getting a handful of your sand in their open mouths, or of your dancing round to get behind them, twining your legs tight round their bellies, and throttling them with your elbows rammed well in under their chin-pieces. It is true they will try the effect of arrows and javelins; but you are so sunburnt and full-blooded, the missiles will hurt you no more than if you were statues; you are not chaff and husks; you will not be readily disposed of by the blows you get; much time and attention will be required before you at last, cut to pieces with deep wounds, have a few drops of blood extracted from you. Have I misunderstood your figure, or is this a fair deduction from it?
But perhaps you will take the equipment of your tragedians and comedians, and when you get your marching orders put on those wide-mouthed headpieces, to scare the foe with their appalling terrors; of course, and you can put the stilted things on your feet; they will be light for running away (if that should be advisable), or, if you are in pursuit, the strides they lend themselves to will make your enemy’s escape impossible. Seriously now, are not these refinements of yours all child’s play — something for your idle, slack youngsters to do? If you really want to be free and happy, you must have other exercises than these; your training must be a genuine martial one; no toy contests with friends, but real ones with enemies; danger must be an element in your character-development. Never mind dust and oil; teach them to use bow and javelin; and none of your light darts diverted by a puff of wind; let it be a ponderous spear that whistles as it flies; to which add stones, a handful each, the axe, the shield, the breastplate, and the helmet.
On your present system, I cannot help thinking you should be very grateful to some God for not having allowed you to perish under the attack of any half-armed band. Why, if I were to draw this little dagger at my girdle and run amuck at your collective youth, I could take the gymnasium without more ado; they would all run away and not dare face the cold steel; they would skip round the statues, hide behind pillars, and whimper and quake till I laughed again. We should have no more of the ruddy frames they now display; they would be another colour then, all white with terror. That is the temper that deep peace has infused into you; you could not endure the sight of a single plume on an enemy’s crest.
So. Ah, Anacharsis, the Thracians who invaded us with Eumolpus told another tale; so did your women who assailed Athens with Hippolyta; so every one who has met us in the field. My dear sir, it does not follow from our exercising our youths without arms that we expose them in the same condition to the real thing; the independent bodily development once complete, training in arms follows; and to this they come much the fitter for their previous work.
An. Where is your military gymnasium, then? I have been all over Athens, and seen no sign of it.
So. But if you stay longer you will find that every man has arms enough, for use at the proper time; you will see our plumes and horse-trappings, our horses and horsemen; these last amounting to a quarter of our citizens. But to carry arms and be girded with scimetars we consider unnecessary in peace time; indeed there is a fine for going armed in town without due cause, or producing weapons in public. You of course may be pardoned for living in arms. The want of walls gives conspiracy its chance; you have many enemies; you never know when somebody may come upon you in your sleep, pull you out of your cart, and dispatch you. And then, in the mutual distrust inseparable from an independence that recognizes no law or constitution, the sword must be always at hand to repel violence.
An. Oho, you think the wearing of arms, except on occasion, unnecessary; you are careful of your weapons, avoid wear and tear for them, and put them away for use when the time comes; but the bodies of your youth you keep at work even when no danger presses; you knock them about and dissolve them in sweat; instead of husbanding their strength for the day of need, you expend it idly on clay and dust. How is that?
So. I fancy you conceive of force as something similar to wine or water or liquid of some sort. You are afraid of its dribbling away in exercise as those might from an earthenware jar, and by its disappearance leaving the body, which is supposed to have no internal reserves, empty and dry. That is not the case; the greater the drain upon it in the course of exercise, the greater the supply; did you ever hear a story about the Hydra? cut off one of its heads, and two immediately sprang up in its place. No, it is the unexercised and fibreless, in whom no adequate store of material has ever been laid up, that will peak and pine under toil. There is a similar difference between a fire and a lamp; the same breath that kindles the former and soon excites it to greater heat will put out the latter, which is but ill provided to resist the blast; it has a precarious tenure, you see.
An. Ah, I cannot get hold of all that, Solon; it is too subtle for me — wants exact thought and keen intelligence. But I wish you would tell me — at the Olympic, Isthmian, Pythian, and other Games, attended, you tell me, by crowds to see your youth contend, why do you have no martial events? Instead, you put them in a conspicuous place and exhibit them kicking and cuffing one another, and when they win give them apples or wild olive. Now your reason for that would be worth hearing.
So. Well, we think it will increase their keenness for exercise to see the champions at it honoured and proclaimed by name among the assembled Greeks. It is the thought of having to strip before such a crowd that makes them take pains with their condition; they do not want to be a shameful spectacle, so each does his best to deserve success. And the prizes, as I said before, are not small things — to be applauded by the spectators, to be the mark of all eyes and fingers as the best of one’s contemporaries. Accordingly, numbers of spectators, not too old for training, depart with a passion thus engendered for toilsome excellence. Ah, Anacharsis, if the love of fair fame were to be wiped out of our lives, what good would remain? Who would care to do a glorious deed? But as things are you may form your conclusions from what you see. These who are so keen for victory when they have no weapons and only a sprig of wild olive or an apple to contend for, how would they behave in martial array, with country and wives and children and altars at stake?
I wonder what your feelings would be if you saw our quail and cock fights, and the excitement they raise. You would laugh, no doubt, especially when you were told that they are enjoined by law, and that all of military age must attend and watch how the birds spar till they are utterly exhausted. And yet it is not a thing to laugh at either; a spirit of contempt for danger is thus instilled into men’s souls; shall they yield to cocks in nobility and courage? shall they let wounds or weariness or discomfort incapacitate them before there is need? But as for testing our men in arms and looking on while they gash one another, no, thank you! that would be brutality and savagery, besides the bad policy of butchering our bravest, who would serve us best against our enemies.
You say you are going to visit the rest of Greece also. Well, if you go to Sparta, remember not to laugh at them either, nor think their labour is all in vain, when they charge and strike one another over a ball in the theatre; or perhaps they will go into a place enclosed by water, divide into two troops, and handle one another as severely as enemies (except that they too have no arms), until the Lycurgites drive the Heraclids, or vice versa, out of the enclosure and into the water; it is all over then; not another blow breaks the peace. Still worse, you may see them being scourged at the altar, streaming with blood, while their parents look on — the mothers, far from being distressed by the sight, actually making them hold out with threats, imploring them to endure pain to the last extremity and not be unmanned by suffering. There are many instances of their dying under the trial; while they had life and their people’s eyes were on them, they would not give up, nor concede anything to bodily pain; and you will find their statues there, set up honoris causa by the Spartan state. Seeing these things, never take them for madmen, nor say that, since it is neither a tyrant’s bidding nor a conqueror’s ordinance, they victimize themselves for no good reason. Lycurgus their lawgiver would have many reasonable remarks to make to you on the subject, and give you his grounds for thus afflicting them; he was not moved by enmity or hatred; he was not wasting the state’s young blood for nothing; he only thought it proper that defenders of their country should have endurance in the highest degree and be entirely superior to fear. However, you need no Lycurgus to tell you; you can surely see for yourself that, if one of these men were captured in war, no tortures would wring a Spartan secret out of him; he would take his scourging with a smile, and try whether the scourger would not be tired sooner than the scourged.
An. Solon, did Lycurgus take his whippings at the fighting age, or did he make these spirited regulations on the safe basis of superannuation?
So. It was in his old age, after returning from Crete, that he legislated. He had been attracted to Crete by hearing that their laws were the best possible, devised by Minos, son of Zeus.
An. Well, and why did you not copy Lycurgus and whip your young men? It is a fine institution quite worthy of yourselves.
So. Oh, we were content with our native exercises; we are not much given to imitating other nations.
An. No, no; you realize what a thing it is to be stripped and scourged with one’s hands up, without benefit to oneself or one’s country. If I do happen to be at Sparta when this performance is on, I shall expect a public stoning at their hands for laughing at it all, when I see them being whipped like robbers or thieves or such malefactors. Really, I think a state that submits to such ridiculous treatment at its own hands wants a dose of hellebore.
So. Friend, do not plume yourself on winning an undefended case where you have it all your own way in the absence of your opponents. In Sparta you will find some one to plead properly for their customs. But now, as I have described ours to you, not apparently to your satisfaction, I may fairly ask you to take your turn and tell me how you train your youth in Scythia; what exercises do you bring them up in? how do you make good men of them?
An. Quite a fair demand, Solon; I will give you the Scythian customs; there is no grandeur about them; they are not much like yours; for we would never take a single box on the ears, we are such cowards; but such as they are, you shall have them. We must put off our talk till tomorrow, though, if you do not mind; I want to think quietly over what you have said, and collect materials for what I am to say myself. On that understanding let us go home; for it is getting late.
77 See Athenians in Notes.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57