Spartan Hoplite "Inspirers"



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Spartan Hoplite "Inspirers"
At Sparta the party loving was called eispnelas and his affection was termed a breathing in, or inspiring (eispnein); which expresses the pure and mental connection between the two persons, and corresponds with the name of the other, viz.: aítas, i.e., listener or hearer. Now it appears to have been the practice for every youth of good character to have his lover; and on the other hand every well-educated man was bound by custom to be the lover of some youth. (C. O. Müller, The Dorians, [1830], IV, 4)

Because of their borrowings from Crete, the Spartans established institutions before the end of the seventh century that were much closer in nature to those of the Cretans than to the institutions of any other Dorians. So similar were the two societies that some later authors believed the Cretans might have borrowed Spartan institutions rather than the reverse. Although the Spartans dropped the practices of the ritual kidnapping and the honeymoon, they made the customs that they did import more rigorous than their Cretan prototypes, as Aristotle observed in his Politics.

According to Herodotus, prior to the great reconstruction of their society (called the Eunomia) the Spartans "had been the very worst governed people in Greece, as well in matters of internal management as in their relations towards foreigners" (I, 65). After the Eunomia, admiration for their prowess induced other Greeks, particularly aristocratic ones, or at least those rich enough to serve as hoplites, to imitate their life-style and manners, including pederasty and its associated customs. Even Spartan culture flourished briefly, just before and after they made pederasty the basis of their pedagogy, but within a generation their rigid adherence to what they considered a perfect system, their overemphasis on military and physical training, and their dislike of innovation stiffled intellectual and artistic progress, just as their austerity and scorn of commerce impeded economic progress.

About Crete we know only of the system as a whole, of mythological figures, and of shadowy "musicians" or lawgivers, but prior to the appearance of Rhianus of Bene (f. c. 275 B.C.) we do not know of any historical individuals clearly designated as pederastic or of the boys whom they loved. We do not have the names of a single historic Cretan couple. On the other hand, for Sparta, we have the names of numerous couples and to a certain extent their biographies and historical contributions.



Sources
However scanty and unsatisfactory the literary sources for Sparta may be, they are the most extensive that we possess for any Greek city except Athens. Epigraphy and archeology have added less information proportionally on Laconia than on almost any other area since the Spartans did not erect many large buildings and felt no need to wall their city. From the works produced by (or perhaps merely ascribed over time to) Late Archaic poets who visited or came to reside at Sparta little survives save tantalizing fragments and paraphrases or notices and critiques about them or their works. The antiquarian Sosibius (f. c. 300) is the first indubitably Spartan intellectual from whom writings fragments have survived.

Although all the leading fifth- and fourth-century historians, philosophers, and political theorists discussed the customs of Athens' chief rival, none did so in great detail. In his Constitution of the Lacedemonians and Life of Agesilaus, Xenophon, an aristocrat, idealized the city that during his youth had defeated his native Athens, which he deemed too democratic. Admiring Sparta only slightly less, Xenophon's contemporary Plato exaggerated its oligarchic virtues in order to contrast them with Athenian democratic decadence and excesses, whereas his rival, the orator Isocrates (436-338), criticized Spartan customs and institutions. Aristotle, who devoted much of his Politics to Sparta, pointed out the many similarities among those of Sparta, Crete, and to a lesser extent Carthage. He argued that as the Spartans borrowed from the Cretans, the Carthaginians borrowed many of their institutions from the Spartans (1272b 24-1273b 26). A pseudo-Aristotelian Constitution of the Lacedaemonians exists in a few fragments.

The works of two of the greatest fourth-century historians, Theopompus and Ephorus, are mostly lost. Rather than admiring Sparta, Ephorus denigrated it. He also attributed its central institutions to an imitation of Cretan ones. Dionysius' contemporary the late biographer Cornelius Nepos (94-24 B.C.) has left us in his partially preserved Lives of Illustrious Men the portrait of three Spartans: "Pausanias," "Lysander," and "Agesilaus." Of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, written in the second century A.D., five about Spartans survive: "Lycurgus," "Lysander," "Agesilaus," "Cleomenes III," and "Agis IV." His "Lycurgus," our most comprehensive source for Spartan institutions, described conditions which probably took their final form just after the Second Messenian War and may actually have reflected what were then bold new innovations that only purported to restore the putative Lycurgan system. In his voluminous other works, including the Moralia, Plutarch gave many incidental details about Spartan attitudes and habits. Pausanias (f. c. 150 A.D.) described Spartan monuments and rituals in his Guide to Greece, and composed the longest surviving account of the Second Messenian War. In his Varia Historia, the Roman rhetorician Aelian (c. 170-235) provided some details about Spartan social customs.

Although all of the ancient sources speak of the importance, indeed of the centrality of pederasty to Spartan society after "Lycurgus" instituted his reforms, most books on Sparta published in English sidestep the subject, including Chrimes (1949), Michell (1952), Huxley (1962), and Forrest (1968). Even the massively detailed Cambridge Ancient History avoids discussing it. Michell shrank from it: "This aspect of Greek morals is an extraordinary one, into which, for the sake of our own equanimity, it is unprofitable to pry too closely."i An exception is Cartledge, whose general book on Laconia (1979) and article "The Politics of Spartan Pederasty" (1981) dealt directly with the subject.


Pre-Pederastic Sparta
Spartan expansion began slowly after the early eighth century. In the First Messenian War (735-715), King Theopompus inspired the Spartans to conquer and enserf the Messenians, who inhabited the valley to their west. The list of Olympic victors drawn up by the fifth-century sophist, Hippias of Elis, seems independently to confirm the dates of the first war: no Spartan won before and no Messenian post that conflist.ii Thereafter Sparta, which soon seized Pylus and the rest of the coast of Messenia, remained by far the largest polis in Greece. The annexations necessitated reorganization of Spartan society and government. Apparently Spartans ceased doing any labor or business since each was assigned an estate (cleros) with helots (serfs) to work them. This system may have evolved gradually as the estates were acquired, bequeathed, or redistributed over a long period of about a century embracing both Messenian Wars.

The necessity of keeping the helots in subjection and of maintaining extended frontiers put Sparta on the road to militarism by 715. During the seventh century, however, Sparta was frequently worsted, partly perhaps because her powerful Dorian rival Argos may have introduced a revolutionary infantry formation -- the phalanx -- that rendered outmoded the old cavalry formations upon which, some suppose, Dorian superiority had formerly rested.

Scholars still debate the origin of the phalanx. Some claim that it appeared full-blown; others, that it evolved gradually.iii Developed somewhere in Hellas and introduced between the two Messenian Wars to Sparta and to all other advanced Greek societies, it revolutionized warfare. It consisted of serried ranks of close-drilled, highly disciplined, and heavily armored hoplites, carrying pikes. In such formations, each man's large shield, strapped to his left arm, covered the next's exposed right flank. Through a combination of bravery instilled by example and praised from childhood on, of loyalty developed through friendship or love, and of closely coordinated teamwork engrained through constant drill, the phalanx, if it held, broke cavalry charges as well as opposing phalanxes.

The argument advanced by Forrest and Lorimer that the reorganization of Sparta's army into phalanxes took place before the Argives ambushed the Spartans at Hysiae in 669 seems less convincing than the proposition that the Spartans adopted the phalanx only after they had been defeated at Hysiae by the Argives, who used the new formation.iv As Cartledge recognized: "Sparta had been slower than Argos to adapt to the new hoplite mode of infantry warfare."v

As I believe that Sparta perfected the phalanx and institutionalized pederasty only after the Second Messenian War, the correct date of that controntation is crucial to my views about the time of the establish-ment of that practice in Laconia. To fix the date, a few words about the length of a generation in Greece are necessary. According to Tyrtaeus, the interval between the First and Second Messenian War, in which he himself fought, was two generations. Sealey, Forrest, and Cartledge, along with many other scholars, ascribed thirty years to Greek generations. Wade-Gery, correctly in my opinion, held out for forty.vi The length of a generation became forty years, I suggest, when the marriage age for upper-class males was raised from twenty to thirty. Although it is true that generations often measured thirty years when men married at twenty, by the end of the seventh century, in Sparta as in most of Greece, marriage was being postponed and would soon be forbidden in some societies under the age of thirty. From Hesiod, who c. 700 wished a man to marry about thirty (Works and Days, 695-701), to Solon, who c. 580 advised men to marry between twenty-eight and thirty-five (Elegy and Iambus, I, 141), many others suggested or imposed late marriage for upper-class men, in contrast to the Homeric custom of early unions. If a man married at thirty or later, his children produced over the next twenty years would on the average be forty years younger than he. Thus in overpopulated Late Archaic Sparta and elsewhere, it is possible that a forty-year generation became traditional. As a result, the Messenian revolt may not have broken out about 655, as many modern scholars maintain, but about 635, as tradition recorded. (It is possible some later writers became confused and imposed the forty-year interval on earlier accounts, but at other times they interpreted the generation referred to by earlier historians as signifying a thirty-year period.)

The war à l'outrance that Spartans fought for over twenty years against the Messenian rebels shook their society to the core. Things could never be the same again. Convinced after near catastrophe that they had to recast their society, they instituted the Eunomia, ascribing it to "Lycurgus." After their hard-won victory, they reconstructed their dislocated society and eliminated everything that was not conducive to maintaining security abroad and supremacy at home over helots and the inhabitants who were subordinate to Sparta but not enserfed (the perioikoi). In addition to attempting to avoid the stasis (class struggle and class warfare), which had discombobulated Sparta earlier, Spartans also sought to limit their legitimate offspring to the number of cleroi (estates) that they had to give them, thereby reducing rivalry within their own ranks.

Most scholars have overlooked Aristotle's observation that some citizens had become "very poor and others very rich, a state of society which is most often the result of war as in Lacedaemon in the time of the [Second] Messenian War; this is proved by a poem of Tyrtaeus called Eunomia. Crushed by the burden of war, certain citizens demanded a redistribution of land" (Politics, 1306b). However, as Andrewes has observed, "we do not know if any redistribution was carried out then. The most that can be said is that if any redistribution had taken place later than the middle of the sixth century we should almost certainly have heard of it [because the sources become more accurate and full then]."vii During the great revolt, all else had been subordinated to military prowess -- to training the best possible hoplite for an invincible phalanx. The years immediately following the war thus seem the most likely for the completion and consolidation of the Eunomia, including the institutionalization of pederasty.
"Lycurgus," Tyrtaeus, and Thaletas
The ancients agreed that a lawgiver had introduced pederasty to Sparta. None believed that it was instituted as a prehistoric Dorian or Indo-European custom, except perhaps by implication Pindar, who ascribed Spartan customs to the Dorian ancestor Aegimius. Although like other Hellenes Spartans came to view Heracles, the supposed ancestor of their kings, as a pederast, they usually ascribed the institutionalization to a more historic personage. Three names are associated with the customs, laws, and constitutions of Sparta and with its adoption of pederasty. "Lycurgus" was the name most often cited for the introduction of pederasty and of most of their other institutions. However, it seems better to assign many of them to Tyrtaeus, who at least was clearly historical. The soundest tradition makes the Cretan "musician" Thaletas of Gortyn the importer of pederasty to Sparta but also considers him a contemporary of Tyrtaeus rather than of the legendary Lycurgus.

About the most famous of these three, "Lycurgus," there is the greatest confusion. Herodotus believed that the Spartan system came from Crete rather than from the Delphic oracle.viii Most classical writers followed Herodotus in ascribing the Eunomia to Lycurgus, traditionally said to have been the guardian of an early king. Ancients gave dates for Lycurgus almost as widely separated as those they assigned to Homer. Herodotus placed Lycurgus around 1000; Thucydides situated him more than four centuries before his own time, i.e., in the ninth century. Even Aristotle placed him in the early eighth century. To solve the puzzle, Timaeus posited two Lycurguses: an elder and a younger, who might have flourished as late as the second half of the seventh century ("Lycurgus," 1). The contemporary poet Tyrtaeus' failure to mention Lycurgus, however, makes one doubt that anyone of that name, even a second "Lycurgus," could have produced the Eunomia c. 615.

Although Terpander supposedly visited Sparta before him, the earliest Spartan writer, if indeed he was Spartan, was Tyrtaeus, the patriotic poet and national hero. This figure is clearly and unequiv-ocally associated with the Eunomia. In fact, one of his fragments comes from an elegy entitled Eunomia (Elegy and Iambus, I, 63). An anti-Spartan tradition depicted him as a lame Athenian invited by the Spartans to raise their morale when they were at a nadir in the war against their helots (scholiast on Plato's Laws [Elegy and Iambus, I, 53] and Pausanias [IV, 15: 6]). Repeating that claim, the Athenian Lycurgus' oration Against Leocrates, delivered in 330, also explicitly tied Tyrtaeus to the Spartan system of (pederastic) education: "Everyone in Greece knows that the general they took from our city was Tyrtaeus, by whose aid, with a wisdom that looked far beyond the dangers of that day, they both defeated their enemies and established their system of education [my italics]" (105-07). Similarly, in his last dialogue, Plato blamed Tyrtaeus as well as Homer for introducing pederasty: "And is it not more disgraceful for Homer and Tyrtaeus and the other poets to have laid down evil precepts about life and institutions [or alternatively this may be translated as "bad rules for the conduct of life"] in their writings, than for Lycurgus and Solon and the other men who became men of letters after they had become legislators?" (Laws, IX, 858).

If the Olympiad of 612-609 given by Eusebiusix for Tyrtaeus' floruit is correct, Tyrtaeus' reference, "he has the noble bloom of lovely youth [erate], aye a marvel he for men to behold, and desirable [eratos] unto women, so long as ever he be alive, and fair in like manner when he be fallen in the vanguard" (Elegy and Iambus, I, 71), might indicate an institutionalization of pederasty in Sparta by that date. Licht detected homoeroticism therein as he did in Tyrtaeus' praise of the beauty of the youthful Tithonus (12, 5).x

The personage most clearly instrumental in institutionalizing pederasty in Sparta was the Cretan musician Thaletas. As an associate or disciple of the Cretan sage Onomacritus, Thaletas of Gortyn must have flourished during the latter part of the seventh century. Whoever called him to Sparta, whether "Lycurgus" or Tyrtaeus, he imported the "Dance of the Naked Youths" from Crete to quell a plague that followed the end of the Second Messenian War.xi In any case, he came to Sparta after pederasty had been institutionalized on Crete. His contemporary compatriot Epimenides performed a similar task in Athens a decade or two later, when Solon institutionalized pederasty there on Cretan and Spartan models.

The importance of these individuals for the formation of the Spartan lifestyle reflects a custom among Archaic Greeks according to which foreigners were imported or foreign models studied in order to reform constitutions and help in solving crises.xii Aelian pointed out that whenever the Spartans, with "no skill in music . . . required the aid of the Muses on occasion of general sickness of body or mind or any like public affliction, their custom was to send for foreigners, at the bidding of the Delphic oracle, to act as healers or purifiers. For instance they summoned Terpander, Thales [presumably Thaletas of Gortyn], Tyrtaeus, Nymphaeus of Cydonia, and Alcman" (Varia Historia, XII, 50). Among others, Plato claimed that Tyrtaeus was an Athenian and that the Cretans acknowledged that Tyrtaeus' poems were well-known in their poleis: "Yes, they have been imported into Crete from Lacedaemon; so we know them, too" (Laws, I, 629a). This late source implies that Crete and Sparta were in close contact during Tyrtaeus' lifetime just when the Spartans were importing Cretan institutions. Pausanias cited a contemporary of Eratosthenes (c. 275-194), the Cretan Rhianus of Bene, as a source for the Second Messenian War (IV, 6.1), indicating again how closely connected Archaic Sparta and Crete were.xiii

If not the author of the Eunomia, Tyrtaeus, like Thaletas, at least contributed to the great reforms of his day. However, "Lycurgus" appears to have been already by then a name in Spartan legend, and during the crisis, reformers pretended that they were restoring his long neglected but inspired and equitable laws. This would help explain why we do not have the name of a single seventh-century reformer who was unequivocally of Spartan ancestry. Perhaps Tyrtaeus paraphrased a forgery. If so, such a deception was wholly successful, as were the Cretan forgeries of the laws that Minos purportedly received from Zeus. Once established, the cult of "Lycurgus" grew and details about his life multiplied. About the life and deeds of the actual Lycurgus, if such a person ever lived, we know almost nothing and undoubtedly much of what Tyrtaeus and others did was ascribed to him.xiv
The Eunomia
From Tyrtaeus on, writers frequently spoke of the Eunomia. The phrase became shorthand for the entire Spartan system, whether it had been introduced piecemeal or not. Besides maintaining the number of men trained to serve as hoplites at the desired level of 9,000 to 12,000, the system prescribed pederasty and gymnasia with the grouping of boys into "herds," all of which came from Crete. As I have already mentioned, Sparta suppressed the practices of the kidnapping and honeymoon, rituals that were replaced with public floggings and enforced theft of food by the herd members. The crypteia, or periodic random killing of helots by herd members, also seems to have had no Cretan precedent, so that the Spartan version seems to have been the crueler of the two, although over time both appeared to be inimical to intellectual and artistic creativity.xv

During the decimating Second Messenian War, Spartans were forced to enlist helots and perioikoi as soldiers, many of whom then became citizens. When the war ended, new citizens and perhaps old ones who might have become impoverished and thereby had lost full rights (as one did when he could not make the required contribution to the mess, the syssitia), presumably received allotments of land, no doubt most often in Messenia. This practice must have raised or returned the number of cleroi to 9,000 or 12,000. To avoid the subdivision of these already numerous allotments into uneconomic units, the Spartans then adopted, in addition to infanticide, the Cretan customs of late marriage, pederasty, athletic nudity, seclusion of women, herding of boys, and men's messes. These customs were designed, as Aristotle said, to limit the rapidly expanding population of landowners. The occupation of practically all the most desirable colonial sites in the West by the second half of the seventh century (Spartans do not seem to have immigrated to the Pontus, which continued to be colonized later) and increased rivalry for what remained from the Carthaginians and Etruscans limited emigration there. Overcrowding soon led other Greek states to imitate these customs now that recourse to emigration was gradually becoming impossible.xvi

The Second Messenian War also brought the Spartans to institute more rigorous training for their boys in order to make perfect hoplites of them. Afterwards the Eunomia made that rigor permanent. It combined such training with customs imported from Crete to form a concatenation of institutions that produced a deliberately limited number of athletic champions and military heroes united by love and drill into a formidable phalanx whose members were expected to serve the polis selflessly. After the Eunomia, boys at seven were "enrolled in certain companies and classes, where they all lived under the same order and discipline, doing their exercises and taking their play together" (Plutarch, "Lycurgus"). Forbidden to wear tunics after the age of twelve, they received but one rude cloak a year, and until they attained their majority at eighteen they roamed the countryside in herds, called agelai as in Crete. Each was headed by an outstanding iren, as Spartans aged twenty to twenty-two were designated, the category just older than ephebes (18-20). These droves terrorized, beat, robbed, and occasionally even murdered helots. They exercised nude together in the palaestra and slept outdoors in groups on beds of rushes along the riverbank.

Although a boy does not normally become useful in warfare much before eighteen, serious mental and physical instruction can begin at twelve, an equally crucial turning point for both mind and body when almost all educational systems promote from primary to secondary school. Spartan age categories, though stricter and more consequential, resembled those of other poleis.xvii The Spartans began their schooling at seven (or our six depending on how one reckons) but did not advance much beyond elementary literacy and the memorization of patriotic poetry. Incidentally, boys' competitions were apparently added at the Olympic Games only in the late seventh or early sixth century, when pederasty became dominant. Other festivals came to have categories for those between twelve and sixteen as well as for those between sixteen and twenty.xviii Girls and boys ran and wrestled together on Chios (Athenaeus, XIII, 566) as well as at Sparta, but so far as we know not in other poleis, though, according to one tradition, there were originally competitions for women at Olympia.

The most detailed discussion of the agele and of the age categories used inscriptions from Roman times to analyze the internal structure of the Archaic herd.xix Chrimes' argument that Sparta preserved its agoge (rigorous training for Spartiates) with only insignificant changes from Archaic to imperial times is convincing. The iren chosen to lead the herd, the Boagos ("leader of the bull-calves" or, as Hesychius defined the term, "the boy who was leader of the agele") would regard strictly the rank of the boys' families. The Synepheboi, who were much rarer, may have been of higher-class families than the Kasens, who might have mothers of lower rank, perhaps foreign perioikoi or even helots, or be "adopted" foreigners like Xenophon's sons. Kasen has the connotation of adopted brother or cousin. Training was so rough, often scarring, sometimes maiming, and even occasionally fatal, that royal heirs were exempted from it. Having successfully completed the ephebic training, the Boagoi, who were from the most distinguished families, could be chosen at age twenty to rule the younger males.

Spartan boys had fewer ties to the messes than Cretan boys, in part because they were not kidnapped and brought there as in Crete. Because Plutarch furnished us so many details, we can see how carefully the Spartans were divided into age cohorts. Probably Spartans borrowed the actual age limits from Cretans as they certainly did the idea, but, as I have pointed out above, we are little informed of the exact ages at which males moved from one age category to another on Crete.

Between the ages of twenty and sixty, Spartiates dined in syssitia (or as they also called them phiditia), modelled on Cretan andreia, by which name men's houses were at first also designated in Sparta. These all-male messes were supposedly instituted by Lycurgus to check disobedience as well as to inculcate habits of sobriety, frugality, and good manners (Xenophon, Constitution V, 2-7).xx At the proper age of eighteen or twenty, one had to be elected to the syssition in order to become a full citizen. Such a person was designated a Spartiate or "Equal." A single negative vote sufficed to exclude a candidate from membership. If he was not chosen, he could not exercise full citizenship despite having completed the rigors of the agoge.

Flogging for all kinds of misdemeanors, especially for stealing food toughened Spartan boys. Public contests to see who could endure the longest became tourist sights in Roman times. While the youths were flogged at the altar of the temple of Artemis Orthia, a priestess held up a small statue of the goddess in her hand to indicate a religious approbation. Pausanias, relying on an idea of Euripides that Spartans once practiced human sacrifice, reported that they "used to slaughter a human sacrifice chosen by drawing lots; Lycurgus substituted the whipping of fully grown boys, and the altar still gets its fill of human blood" (III, 16. 9). Specially designated priests inferred omens from observing the effects of the blows. According to Mozonius, preserved in the fifth-century A.D. anthology of pagan writers collected by Stobaeus, "The sons of the Lacedaemonians make it very evident that stripes do not appear to them either shameful or hard to be borne, since they allow themselves to be whipped in public, and take a pride in it."

Despite such violence, hardly any writer (except Plato) disapproved of the customs that the Spartans imported from Crete. Having asserted that Lycurgus borrowed institutions from Crete, Herodotus emphasized sworn brotherhoods and common messes as ingredients of Sparta's military greatness (I, 65). Plato's uncle Critias, another admirer of Spartan habits, observed that in contrast to the excessive drinking typical of Athenian symposia, "The Spartan way brings food and drink enough for thinking and working, but no excess; they have no day set aside for overindulgence and drunkenness" (Diels, II, 88, 6, 9ff).

Nude athletics were perhaps as central to the Eunomia as they were to Greek pederasty in general. Pagan Greeks, like early Christians, knew that nudity encouraged pederasty. Plato described the poleis where pederastic love thrived as "the cities which have most to do with gymnastics" (Laws, I, 636c). Cicero opined: "For my part I think this practice [pederasty] had its origin in the Greek gymnasia where that kind of love-making was free and permitted." (Tusculan Disputations, IV, 33). Catullus had Attis remark: "I, to be a woman -- I who was a stripling, I a youth, I a boy, I was the flower of the gymnasium, I was once the glory of the palaestra" (LXIII), and Plato's dialogues make it quite clear that each palaestra recognized one boy as its greatest beauty.

No literate peoples other than the Greeks ever exercised nude, though many, including the Egyptians, stripped their prisoners and kept them nude to debase them. The Lydians considered nudity humiliating (Herodotus, I, 10). As Thucydides pointed out (I, i, 6), the Spartans were the first (mainland) Greeks to strip naked in athletic competitions (probably c. 615 at the behest of the Cretan Thaletas). Against such an authority as Thucydides we cannot credit the story of Pausanias (I, 44. 1) that it was Orsippus of Megara who introduced nudity (c. 720) because the accidental falling of his garment facilitated his victory in the stadion, the Olympic foot race. It seems far more likely that because of the Spartans' participation in the Olympic games, nudity spread to the upper-class youths of other cities attending them. Thus, it may have infiltrated other cities even before lawgivers set up gymnasia in imitation of those at Crete and Sparta.
Demography
The traditions regarding Spartan marriage customs are, as in other areas, contradictory. They seem to have changed with circumstances. If they married before thirty, the age at which the law allowed them to set up housekeeping with their wives, Spartan men apparently had to sneak away from their comrades to see their spouses since until that age they were required to live in barracks, as was apparently the case in Crete (Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XV). Xenophon said that Lycurgus designed this system to heighten their desire and to ensure that "any offspring which might result would therefore be stronger than if the parents were surfeited with each other" (Constitution, I, 5-6).

Sanctions against those who did not marry were probably made severe only after decline in the population became a problem. The unmarried could, according to a late source, be locked in a dark room with maidens, and each obliged to marry the woman he left the room with. If they persisted in their bachelorhood, they could be thrashed until they married (Athenaeus, XIII, 555). Public opinion (probably after 480) also chastised those who delayed marriage unduly:

[T]hey were denied that respect and observance which the younger men paid their elders; and no man, for example, found fault with what was said to Dercyllidas, though so eminent a commander; upon whose approach one day, a young man, instead of rising, retained his seat, remarking, 'No child of yours will make room for me.' (Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XV, 3)

It appears that to compel marriage severer measures were eventually adopted at certain times, even to the point of making persistent bachelors parade around the city nude in mid-winter. These customs help explain why for a century and a half after the Eunomia the population remained stable. On the other hand, the sharply declining population from the fifth through the third centuries may indicate that Spartan birthrates were below those of the rest of Greece although the usual explanations given are infanticide, loss of status through poverty, and failure of potential citizens to complete the agoge. Nevertheless, declining fertility rates resulting from less frequent marriages and from less frequent impregnations (due to pederastic preoccupations of husbands or to anal intercourse with their wives) should not be dismissed out of hand, as some do.

In Aristophanes' Lysistrata, in which Athenian and Spartan representatives become desperate for sex after their wives have gone on strike, the Athenian finally exclaimes "Why don't we summon Lysistrata, who alone can reconcile us? His Spartan counterpart retorts, "By the twin gods, summon Lysistratos too, if you like!" After the reconciliation between husbands and wives, when the Athenian proposes "Now I want to strip off and work the land!" the Spartan replies "And I want to do the manuring first!" Dover realized the implications of such statements:

Before drawing the conclusion that Athenians and Spartans are here contrasted as heterosexual vs. homosexual, we should reflect that Aristophanes could perfectly well have put both these jokes into the mouth of a speaker of Athenian or any other nationality, given that the Athenian in 1091f. has said "If someone doesn't reconcile us pretty quick we shall have to fuck Kleisthenes!", and that heterosexual anal intercourse was common (to judge from the vase-paintings) at Athens. The second joke, however, has an additional point if the Spartans were regarded as the "inventors" of anal penetration.xxi

The isolated piece of information that it was a Spartan custom "for girls before their marriage to be treated like favorite boys" (Hagnon in Athenaeus, XIII, 602d) further suggests that anal penetration was permitted, if not encouraged. Of course, Hagnon might have been referring to intercrural sex. Whichever activity he meant, a passage from Plutarch's "Lycurgus" shows how fragile the distinction between homosexual and heterosexual coupling could be in Sparta. According to Plutarch, part of the preparation for the bride's wedding night included cropping her hair and dressing her in male clothes (XV, 5)!

Sparta like other poleis often tried to correlate marriage patterns and birthrates with population pressures.xxii At times of population shortage, as during the First Messenian War, absentee Spartan husbands are reported to have requested single citizens of good character and physique to impregnate their wives and produce sturdy and virtuous soldiers (Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XV). In Archaic Sparta, as elsewhere, overpopulation often encouraged emigration to colonies, exposure of infants, attempts at contraception, abortion, and delayed marriages. The Eunomia mandated that all babies judged by the elders to be sickly and ill-formed should be exposed. The elders' decision was final, whatever the wishes of the father, who in other poleis had the deciding voice.xxiii The numbers of Spartiates were diminished by yet other factors. Those who could not endure the rigorous training (agoge), those who "trembled" in war, and those who were unable to provide their shares of the public messes lost their status as Homoioi, that is "Equals."

Aristotle was probably correct in saying that his Cretan lawgiver instituted segregation of the sexes and pederasty among knights in order to diminish the number of their heirs (Politics, 1272a 12). It was exceedingly difficult to provide estates large enough for the knights to support equestrian accoutrements, including fine steeds which require extensive pastures. The Spartan lawgiver who imported the Cretan innovations apparently also aimed at an anti-natalist policy. "Lycurgus" delayed the marriage of females until eighteen or nineteen (we do not know at what age Cretan girls married), which is thought to be the highest in Greece. With this measure the lawgiver purportedly did not seek to diminish the birthrate but to provide stronger offspring from older mothers, for which reason he also ordered women to exercise, an expedient not copied elsewhere. This measure undoubtedly saved the lives of certain girls because fifteen-year-olds experience greater difficulty and run more risks in childbirth than those of eighteen, but delaying the marriage of fertile females by an average of three or four years must also have retarded the growth of the Spartan population. Once that growth faltered, the Spartans turned to certain measures, discussed above, designed to increase their numbers, but they did not renounce pederasty. Before 465 Sparta always succeeded in replenish-ing its population. Only after that date, when heavy war casualties became endemic, and disabling poverty increased, did it become impossble to reverse that decline. Homosexuality, which had abetted Sparta's greatness, did not cause its decline, and no ancient drew that conclusion.
Inspirers and Listeners

Spartans sought to produce heroes who would fight unflinchingly in the phalanx. The Inspirer's primary duty was to instill courage, loyalty, patriotism, and endurance in his Listener. A worthy and dedicated lover also inspired by example. During battle, the peril, anguish, din, con-fusion, and blood put almost unbearable strain on the hoplite. His chances of surviving the lethal clash of the phalanxes greatly increased if his fellows held steadfast, protecting their own left and the exposed right side of their neighbors.

Perhaps because of Spartan close-mouthedness and of their tendency to submerge themselves in the communality of their fellows, we do not have the name of a single Spartiate identified as Inspirer or Listener for the whole of the Archaic period. In fact, even for classical and Hellenistic times we have identified as such only kings or other members of the royal household and their lovers or beloveds. Our earliest example comes from the very beginning of the classical age. Cornelius Nepos described the "intensely sensual" nature of the relationship between Pausanias, the victor at Plataea in 479, and his eromenos Argilius (4.1), who betrayed his lover's treason to the ephors (Thucydides, I, 132). The long-lived Agesilaus (444-360), a lame bastard not originally thought of as an heir and consequently not exempted from the agoge, heard (as they said of Listeners) the regent Lysander while still in the herd. His son Archidamus III (r. 361-338) loved Cleonymus. Cleomenes III heard Xenares and inspired Panteus.

How often and in what form, or even whether the Inspirer and Listener normally had sexual relations is quite impossible to tell. Between the graffiti at the Spartan colony of Thera, which date to about 600, and the Attic comedies of the late fifth century we have no clear-cut statement about anal intercourse anywhere in Hellas, however much the system would seem to have encouraged it. Most Greeks seem to have felt that after the eromenos had sprouted a beard physical involvement of any type was, if not improper, at least unseemly. Others, but by no means all, apparently believed that men made themselves ridiculous by continuing after the age of thirty to pursue boys. It was felt that once a former eromenos became an adult he should no longer endure a passive sexual role. Indeed, he should, in his twenties, take an eromenos for himself.

Not a single literary or artistic source describing sex in the Spartan barracks or herds has come down to us, nor has any about homosexual acts between Spartans and helots or perioikoi. The Dutch scholar Bremmer opined that Bethe's celebrated assumption that the Spartan term eispnelas should be understood as "'in-blower' of seed . . . must remain pure conjecture. Strictly speaking we cannot but conclude that there does not exist any certainty about the Spartan way of copulation."xxiv Former lovers usually remained close friends. Perhaps they still engaged, at least occasionally, in sexual acts. Perhaps in certain periods they also often fought alongside each other in ranks of battle. According to Xenophon, Socrates denied that this was a regular practice, declaring that Spartiates "even when arrayed with foreigners and even when not stationed in the same line with their lovers just as surely feel ashamed to desert their comrades" (Symposium, VIII, 35).

Xenophon, Plutarch, and Aelian maintained that although Spartans' love for boys depended upon the physical beauty of the youth (as it theoretically did not among the Cretans), it did not arouse sensual desires in the erastes. (Proper eromenoi were never supposed to enjoy their passive role, though the vases portray some who did so with enthusiasm.) These writers argued that if a Spartan coveted his boy's body he was seen to be no different from a father coveting his son's body or a brother his sibling's. Spartans supposedly declared such a person to be forever "without honour," that is, they deprived him of his citizen's rights.xxv

The Attic comedians, however, regularly parodied the sensual character of Spartan love for boys. Lakonizein, like cretizein, meant to act as a pederast, implying anal intercourse (Aristophanes, fr. 338; Eupolis, 351.1). Cicero rejected without qualification the assertion that Dorian pederasty had no sensuality: "The Lacedemonians, while they permit all things except outrage in the love of youths, certainly distinguish the forbidden by a thin wall of partition from the sanctioned, for they allow embraces and a common couch to lovers" (Tusculan Disputations, IV, 4). And, indeed, it is difficult to believe that no sexual activity ever occurred as a result of this homoerotic educational process which paired an unmarried adult at the apogee of his virility with an adolescent boy, still to a certain degree androgynous. Inspirers and Listeners exercised and wrestled together nude and perhaps also dined and drank together, two on a couch, in a society, we must remember, that had no equivalent of the Judaeo-Christian or Zoroastrian prejudice against committing homosexual acts.xxvi Equally pertinent perhaps should be the recognition, so well formulated by Werner Jaeger, that "Lovers who were bound by the male Eros were guarded by a deeper sense of honour from committing any base action, and were driven by a nobler impulse in attempting any honourable deed." As a result, "The Spartan state deliberately made Eros a factor, and an important factor, in its educational system, its agoge. And the relation of the lover to his beloved had a sort of educational authority similar to that of the parent to the child; in fact, it was in many respects superior to parental authority at the age when youths began to ripen into manhood and to cast off the bonds of domestic authority and family tradition. It is impossible to doubt the numerous affirmations of the educational power of Eros, which reach their culmination in Plato's Symposium."xxvii
Cultural Efflorescence and Blight

Seventh- and sixth-century Sparta attracted many foreign artists, artisans, poets, and musicians. Because of its well-known fondness for what came to be deemed traditional or old-fashioned music, Sparta was for a brief period particularly attractive to musicians. Olympus of Phrygia, a composite figure fusing Greek and Eastern musicians, Terpander from Lesbos, Thaletas of Gortyn, and his contemporary Polymnestus of Colophon, Xenodamus of Cythera, Xenocritus of Locri, and Sacadas of Argos were attracted to Sparta at that time (Plutarch, De Musica, 9). The most famous literary figure of the Spartan cultural efflorescence, however, was Alcman, a poet of Spartan lesbianism who lived at the time of the Eunomia. The date, place of birth, and descent of Alcman are in modern as in ancient times in dispute. He may have been a Spartan or a foreign slave from Sardis. Modern editors have Alcman flourishing in the 37th Olympiad (632-629 B.C.). Although other authors date him earlier, Eusebius (c. 260-340) said that Alcman flourished c. 612 (Chronology, 403.14: Ol. 42.2). This late chronology is buttressed by a date post quem, Alcman's allusion to the king of Sparta in 635, the date of the beginning of the Second Messenian War, of which, however, his fragments say nothing at all, leading me to believe that his floruit was just after it.xxviii Athenaeus placed him at the time of the victory over Argos at Thyrea in 546 (XV, 678b), so that Eusebius' date is about in the middle of those given by the other sources.

Alcman is usually cited as the chief poetic representative of love for women (including what would now be styled lesbian love). He was regarded by some ancients as the inventor of erotic poetry. He made abundant use of double entendre and subtle allusions.xxix His Partheneia, which constitute most of his surviving verses, show maidens unashamed of mutual intimate attachments or of those with matrons. Nearly seventy lines are fully readable and there are also 177 fragments in the Greek Lyric II of 1988 as well as ancient commen-taries about them. As Dover noted, Alcman's language is erotic, but as in the case of Sappho's monodies, it is impossible to know who is addressing whom in some of his choral odes. The relationship between the lesbianism that he described and the lesbianism that Sappho practiced on Lesbos has been noticed by others before now.xxx

There can be no doubt about Alcman's sensual glorification of beautiful Spartan girls and about his description of lesbian love among them or of women for them, but there is no direct evidence that he lusted after males. A rank speculation would suggest that Alcman grew up before pederasty was institutionalized in Sardis or even in Sparta, that is, if born in 645, he would have been thirty and married in 615. He seems to have been a woman-lover by nature as well as by habit. We have no pederastic verses from Alcman, although several ancients listed him together with others who were clearly pederastic poets.xxxi A commentator on Alcman's life stated that "the Spartans . . . put him in charge of the traditional choruses of their daughters and young men [my italics]" (Oxyrhynchus papyrus 2506, fr. 1, col. 2).

Two of Alcman's fragments seem particularly erotic: "Aphrodite it is not, but wild Eros playing like the boy he is, coming down over the flower-tips -- do not touch them, I beg you! -- of the galingale" (58). The reference to the garlands with galingale led Bowra to conclude that such a garland was particularly appropriate for a ceremony of ladies "concerned with Hera as a goddess of health and growth." Easterling found, on the contrary, that wreaths were made from whatever was handy, as galingale was in Laconia. He concluded, therefore, that if the allusion was to garlands, "the context is the familiar symposia," with Alcman warning against a dangerous passion, Eros, irresponsibly playing with human affections. The distinction Alcman made between Aphrodite, whose type of love was common, and Eros, whose love was wild, might explain Athenaeus and the Suda's claims that Alcman invented love poetry. Thus we see interconnections between Alcman's concepts and those of the overtly pederastic poets, as indicated by a second fragment: "At the command of the Cyprian, Eros once again pours sweetly down and warms my heart" (59a).xxxii Whatever these fragments signify, it must be noted that no lines unequivocally discussing male pederasty by Alcman have survived, if any were ever written.

For a generation after the enactment of the Eunomia, Sparta enjoyed cultural prominence. In the mid-sixth century the Spartan Gitiadas erected the celebrated Bronzehouse. Not known for other monumental buildings or stone statuary, Archaic Spartans nevertheless managed to build this glittering temple on their acropolis. There, to the right of the Bronzehouse, stood "a statue of Zeus the Highest, the oldest of all bronze statues, not cast in bronze in one piece, but each part made of beaten bronze and then fitted together and all held in place with bolts" (Pausanius, III, 17. 6). Over time, however, the fundamentally anti-intellectual bias of the Eunomia blighted Sparta's cultural efflorescence. Thereafter Spartans began to cling to their old songs and dances, rejecting innovation. Conscious anachronism rendered Sparta and Crete increasingly anomalous, as most of the rest of the Greeks rapidly evolved intellectually and socially. The Ionians were the first to deny magic and miracles and to seek only rational explanations for the origins of the world and the workings of nature. Many moderns have gone so far as to claim that the East Greeks, these settlers of the Aegean Islands and the Anatolian coasts, were the first individuals, the first fully-conscious humans who saw themselves as distinct from all others, even those in their own immediate society. For several centuries Ionians and Aeolians had profited from their fortuitous location to engage in a rich cultural exchange between the Hellenic and Near Eastern civilizations. From their magnificent harbors they had sent forth merchants and colonists all over the Mediterranean who returned home laden with profit as well as with knowledge. But it was only after they adopted pederastic institutions from Crete and perhaps from Sparta also at the very end of the seventh century that their creative impulses burst forth.




i Michell (1952) 195.

ii Ibid. 19-20.

iii "Until a few years ago it was believed that all the items of hoplite equipment and with them the hoplite phalanx were adopted within a few decades a little before or after 700; and once one city adopted them, the others had to do likewise in order to survive. But recent study of vases has led to different conclusions. It now appears that the several items of hoplite equipment were adopted piecemeal; none of them is attested before 750, but all of them appeared by 700. However, at first they were used separately, not combined into a complete set of equipment; the full hoplite panoply is first shown in a vase ca. 675. Further, the adoption of hoplite equipment did not at once bring a change in tactics; men using some or all the items of hoplite equipment continued to fight in the less organized fashion of the eighth century. The hoplite phalanx does not appear on vases before ca. 650" (Sealey [1976] 29-30).

iv Lorimer (1947) 128 presumed that Sparta adopted the porpax shield, the long rectangular shield used by hoplites in the phalanx, within the first quarter of the seventh century. However, we can probably never ascertain whether the true hoplite, using the porpax shield evolved gradually or was created at once expressly for the phalanx together with his large shield.

v Cartledge (1977) 25.

vi Wade-Gery in Cambridge Ancient History (1965) III, Ch. XXII.

vii Andrewes (1956) 70-71.

viii "Some report besides, that the priestess [of Apollo at Delphi] delivered to him the entire system of laws which are still observed by the Spartans. The Lacedaemonians, however, themselves assert that Lycurgus, when he was guardian of his nephew, Labotas, king of Sparta, and regent in his room, introduced them from Crete; for as soon as he became regent, he altered the whole of the existing customs, substituting new ones, which he took care should be observed by all. After this he arranged whatever appertained to war, establishing the companies of thirty, messmates, and sworn brotherhoods, besides which he instituted the senate, and the ephoralty. Such was the way in which the Lacedaemonians became a well-governed people" (I, 65).

ix Chronologia, VII, p. 198 b, 12 Helm.

x Licht (1906) 627. For a different reading, see Dover (1978) 195.

xi The fact that such an early credible source as the contemporary poet Pratinas, who actually resided at Sparta, recorded that Thaletas stayed the plague at Sparta lends credence to the story. See Plutarch "On Music," 42, 1146bc.

xii Jaeger (1944) 85.

xiii Oxford Classical Dictionary (1970) 922.

xiv Andrewes (1956) 76-77.

xv Other less direct evidence ties Spartan pederasty to Cretan models. Aelian qualified as neanias (youth) the male who was the hero of a pederastic adventure situated in Crete celebrating Hyacinthus, Apollo's eromenos, whose festival became so important in Sparta (Varia Historia, III 10. 12). Indicating that upper-class pederasty there may have been imported from Crete, this term (neanias) is also used for a member of the elite corps of the hippeis (knights, from hippo = horse) in Sparta. Three hundred of them guarded the Spartan king, "because they think that their safe return and victory depend upon the friendship of the men drawn up" (Xenophon, Constitution, IV, 3-4). The Hyacinthia, most famous at Sparta, was also celebrated in Crete at Gortyn and Cnossus (Willetts [1962] 104-105). Like the Cretans, Spartans sacrificed to Eros before battle (Athenaeus, XIII, 561) and used paedonomes to supervise boys (Sergent [1987] 57). The Spartan custom of ritually kidnapping wives (Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XV) may have been an original Dorian one that inspired the Cretan custom of kidnapping eromenoi.

xvi Boardman (1964).

xvii Meister (1963).

xviii Gardiner (1930).

xix Chrimes (1949) Ch. III.

xx See also Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XII.

xxi Dover (1978) 188-189.

xxii Hodkinson in Powell (1988) 79-121.

xxiii See Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XVI.

xxiv Bremmer (1980) 283.

xxv Xenophon, Constitution, II, 13, Symposium, VIII, 35; Plutarch, "Lycurgus," XVIIf; "Agesilaus," XX; "Cleomenes III;" Institut. Lac., VII; Aelian, Varia Historia, III, 10.

xxvi We know that after victory in the Peloponnesian War Spartan harmosts "abused" boys, by which buggery is clealy meant (Plutarch, Moralia, 773f-774a; Xenophon, Hellenica, III, 5, 12-13). Their hero King Agesilaus (399-360), however, fought his passion for Magabates (Plutarch, "Agesilaus," XI, 2 and 5).

xxvii Jaeger (1946)

xxviii See also West (1965) 188 and Dover (1978) 179, n. 26.

xxix Filippo (1977) 17-22.

xxx See Gentili (1976) 60-61, 65-66.

xxxi Statius with Pindar and Ibycus (Silvae, 5.3.146), Plutarch with Pindar, Simonides, and Bacchylides (De Musica, 17.1136f), and Athenaeus with Stesichorus and Simonides (XIV, 638e).

xxxii Easterling (1974) 40-41.


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