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THE BOY AND THE FOX
LTHOUGH Sparta was one of the smallest of the Greek states, it
became one of the most famous. This was because one of
its great men, Lycurgus, gave it laws of unusual
excellence. That he might do this, he traveled in many
countries and noticed everything that was best in their
When he went home again he drew up the constitution, a
body of laws obedience to which made the Spartans
brave, strong, patient, and victorious.
He found that a few citizens owned all the land, while
many had no estate. By his rules the land was equally
divided so that every family had a small farm. Each
farm would yield, in a year, about seventy bushels of
grain for a man and twelve bushels for his wife,
besides olives for oil and grapes for wine. In that
way nobody could become very rich, and nobody had any
excuse for being a beggar.
Lycurgus then tried to divide among the people all the
money, jewelry, handsome dresses, and rich furniture
that were in the country. But those who owned such
things would not give them up. So he tried another way
to keep everybody poor. He would not allow any gold or
silver coins to be used. The only money the Spartans
had was iron, and that was very cheap, so that a
man wishing to carry a hundred dollars with him must
own or hire a cart and a yoke of oxen. That put a stop
to nearly all the stealing, for robbers could not
easily escape with their ill-gotten gains.
Yet on the other hand the Spartan children were taught
to steal anything they could carry. Lycurgus said the
habit would be useful in time of war. When they were
in an enemy's country the Spartan soldiers could in
that way get food and money. To them the only disgrace
in stealing was in being found out.
Lycurgus did not wish his people to be friendly with
strangers. Foreigners were not invited to come and do
business in Sparta or to live there. Spartans were not
to be merchants, or traders, or travelers. They were
to stay at home and be good citizens and soldiers. The
only time for travel was when they went out to fight
Every child, when only a few days old, was carried
before a company of wise old men. They looked at it
carefully. If it was deformed, or if it seemed sickly,
it was not allowed to live. Every Spartan was expected
to be strong and well. Only plain and wholesome food
was eaten. Nothing rich or dainty was allowed.
Little boys stayed at home with their mothers until
they were seven years old. Then the state took charge
of them and trained them in gymnastics and in the art
of war. Their daily exercise was jumping, running,
wrestling, playing at quoits and with lances. They
were treated roughly and cruelly, but they were taught
not to complain.
They were not thought to be men
until they were thirty years old; from that time until
they were sixty years old they were obliged to serve
the state. Only the women, the children under seven
and the men over sixty ate at home. All others, even
though married, had to eat at the public tables. They
sat down in companies of fifteen persons, and the same
kind of food was served to all. The favorite dished
was a "black broth," which only Spartans liked.
In their festivals the Spartans had three choirs, one
of old men, one of young men, and one of boys. The old
"Once in battle bold we shone."
The young men chanted,
"Try us; our vigor is not gone."
Then the boys ended with the chorus,
"The palm remains for us alone."
The Spartans had slaves called Helots, who did all the
rough and coarse work. They were permitted to get
drunk, and when they were in that condition Spartan
fathers called their sons and said, "See! Thus slaves
may drink and thus they may behave, but such condition
and such action are not for freemen or the sons of
Spartan women were taught to be almost as fierce and
warlike as the men. When the young men were going to
war, each mother gave her son a shield and said, "Come
back with this or on it." If he was defeated and lost
his shield, above all he threw it away and ran
from the field, he was forever disgraced. Those who
were killed in battle were laid, each upon his shield,
by his comrades, and carried home in honor as heroes.
It is very strange that when they marched to fight they
did not blow trumpets. They charged to the soft, sweet
music of flutes. It was their boast that they did not
need loud noise to make them brave.
Their character is shown in the story of the boy and
the fox. The little fellow on his way to school saw
some fox cubs playing together. They belonged to a man
who was fond of pets. The boy picked one up and hiding
it under his coat went on to school. The fox, restless
and angry, began to gnaw the boy's flesh just above the
heart. The child studied his lessons without a word or
cry, though he grew pale and weak. Suddenly he sank
down upon the ground, and when the teacher went to him
and opened his coat, the fox jumped out and ran away.
But the boy was dead. He could steal and suffer and
die rather than be found out. That was the Spartan
idea of manliness.