The Spirit of Sparta or the Taste of Xenophon

"The Spirit of Sparta or the Taste of Xenophon," Social Research, Vol. 6, No. 4 (November 1939).


Xenophon’s treatise Constitution of the Lacedemonians appears to be devoted to praise of the Spartan constitution, or, which amounts to the same thing, of the Spartan mode of life.  A superficial reading gives the impression that his admiration of Sparta is unreserved.  One is therefore all the more surprised to find him declaring quite abruptly, toward the end of the treatise, that contemporary Sparta suffers from very grave defects.  Yet in all but the fourteenth of the fifteen chapters he praises contemporary Sparta about as much as the Sparta of old, and he seems to speak quite indiscriminately of what the Spartan legislator Lycurgus had enacted in the remote past and of what the Spartans were actually doing in his time.  That is to say the treatise as a whole hides the censure, inserted toward the end, of contemporary Sparta.  In order to hide that censure still more Xenophon uses a strange device: he does not put it right at the end, which would be its proper place but where it would strike the eyes, but sandwiches it in somewhere in the last section of the treatise.

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