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The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.
The advantages arising from the public gynastic exercises practiced in Greece and sometimes their downsides are set forth in this lively and entertaining dialogue. Lucian, assuming the personage of Anacharsis, the Scythian, laughs at the obvious absurdities and ridiculous circumstances which sometimes accompanied the gymnastic exercises. While the lawgiver, Solon, defends his own statutes and customs. The contrasted characters of the Grecian and the Scythian are well supported throughout and the whole sprinkled with a portion of true Attic salt, a distinguishing characteristic of Lucian.
- Based on Francklin
An. Why do your young men behave like this, Solon? Some of them grappling and tripping each other, somethrottling, struggling, intertwining in the clay like so many pigs wallowing. And yet their first proceeding after they havestripped-I noticed that-is to oil and scrape each other quite amicably; but then I do not know what comes over them — theyput down their heads and begin to push, and crash their foreheads together like a pair of rival rams. There, look! that onehas lifted the other right off his legs, and dropped him on the ground; now he has fallen on top, and will not let him gethis head up, but presses it down into the clay; and to finish him off he twines his legs tight round his belly, thrusts hiselbow hard against his throat, and throttles the wretched victim, who meanwhile is patting his shoulder; that will be a formof supplication; he is asking not to be quite choked to death. Regardless of their fresh oil, they get all filthy, smotherthemselves in mud and sweat till they might as well not have been anointed, and present, to me at least, the most ludicrousresemblance 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 adepression filled with deep sand, with which they sprinkle one another, scraping up the dust on purpose, like fowls; Isuppose they want their interfacings to be tighter; the sand is to neutralize the slipperiness of the oil, and by drying itup 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 thispoor 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 theother’s fist, you see. Why does not the official there separate them and put an end to it? I guess that he is an officialfrom 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 veryeasy 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 Scythiancustoms. Similarly you have no doubt many methods and habits that would seem extraordinary enough to us Greeks, v if we werespectators of them as you now are of ours. But be reassured, my dear sir; these proceedings are not madness; it is no spiritof violence that sets them hitting each other, wallowing in clay, and sprinkling dust. The thing has its use, and itsdelight too, resulting in admirable physical condition. If you make some stay, as I imagine you will, in Greece, you arebound to be either a clay-bob or a dust-bob before long; you will be so taken with the pleasure and profit of thepursuit.
An. Hands off, please. No, I wish you all joy of your pleasures and your profits; but if any of you treats melike 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 oneleaning on the pillar, with a bow in the left hand. The right arm bent over the head indicates that the God is resting aftersome great exertion.
Of the exercises here, that in the clay is called wrestling; the youths in the dust are also called wrestlers, and thosewho 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 hiscontemporaries, 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 theGod’s sacred apples, and at our Panathenaea oil pressed from the temple olives. What are you laughing at, Anacharsis? Arethe prizes too small?
An. Oh dear no; your prize-list is most imposing; the givers may well plume themselves on their munificence, andthe competitors be monstrous keen on winning. Who would not go through this amount of preparatory toil, and take his chanceof a choking or a dislocation, for apples or parsley? It is obviously impossible for any one who has a fancy to a supply ofapples, or a wreath of parsley or pine, to get them without a mud plaster on his face, or a kick in the stomach from hiscompetitor.
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 whosequest of honour leads through toil is content to take his kicks. No toil, no honour; he who covets that must start withenduring 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 ontheir victory by those who before commiserated their pain; their happiness lies in their exchange of apples and parsley fortoil.
So. Ah, you certainly do not understand our ways yet. You will revise your opinions before long, when you go tothe great festivals and see the crowds gathering to look on, the stands filling up, the competitors receiving theirovations, and the victor being idolized.
An. Why, Solon, that is just where the humiliation comes in; they are treated like this not in something likeprivacy, but with all these spectators to watch the affronts they endure — who, I am to believe, count them happy when theysee them dripping with blood or being throttled; for such are the happy concomitants of victory. In my country, if a manstrikes a citizen, knocks him down, or tears his clothes, our elders punish him severely, even though there were only one ortwo witnesses, not like your vast Olympic or Isthmian gatherings. However, though I cannot help pitying the competitors, Iam still more astonished at the spectators; you tell me the chief people from all over Greece attend; how can they leavetheir serious concerns and waste time on such things? How they can like it passes my comprehension — to look on at peoplebeing 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 toconvince you that our keenness is not thrown away. I cannot make you apprehend the delights of them by description; youshould be there sitting in the middle of the spectators, looking at the men’s courage and physical beauty, their marvellouscondition, effective skill and invincible strength, their enterprise, their emulation, their unconquerable spirit, and theirunwearied 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 beingravaged, your friends or relations not being haled away. The more ridiculous that such patterns of perfection as you makethem 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 theway, 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 thatthe winner cannot be more than one, and the failures must be many, with their bruises, or their wounds very likely, for solereward?
So. Dear me; you have no idea yet of what is a good political constitution, or you would never depreciate thebest of our customs. If you ever take the trouble to inquire how a State may best be organized, and its citizens bestdeveloped, you will find yourself commending these practices and the earnestness with which we cultivate them; then you willrealize 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 allAthenians for my friend and host; I had heard of you; I had been told you were a legislator, you had devised the mostadmirable customs, introduced institutions of great excellence, and in fact built up what you call a constitution. Beforeall things, then, teach me; make me your pupil. Nothing would please me more than to sit by your side without bit or sup foras 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, oneby one, and find out our views upon the Gods, then upon parents, upon marriage, and so for the rest. But I will let you knowat once what we think about the young, and how we treat them when higher things begin to dawn upon their intelligence, whentheir frames begin to set and to be capable of endurance. Then you will grasp our purpose in imposing these exercises uponthem and insisting on physical effort; our view is not bounded by the contests, and directed to their carrying off prizesthere — of course only a small proportion of them ever reach that point; no; the indirect benefit that we secure for theircity and themselves is of more importance. There is another contest in which all good citizens get prizes, and its wreathsare not of pine or wild olive or parsley, but of complete human happiness, including individual freedom and politicalindependence, wealth and repute, enjoyment of our ancient ritual, security of our dear ones, and all the choicest boons aman might ask of Heaven. It is of these materials that the wreath I tell you of is woven; and they are provided by thatcontest 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 parsleyand 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 thesame spirit, all small parts of that greater contest, and of the wreath of happiness I told you of. But it is true thatinstead of beginning at the beginning I was carried away to the meetings at the Isthmus and Olympia and Nemea. However, wehave plenty of time, and you profess curiosity; it is a simple matter to go back to the beginning, to that many-prizedcontest 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 myinclination to laugh at any one I see priding himself on his olive or parsley wreath. But I propose that we go into theshade over there and sit down on the benches, not to be interrupted by these rounds of cheering. And indeed I must confess Ihave 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 athome. But the year is at its hottest; the dog-star, as you call it, is burning everything up, and not leaving a drop ofmoisture in the air; and the noonday sun right overhead gives an absolutely intolerable heat. I cannot make out how you atyour age, so far from dripping like me, never turn a hair; instead of looking about for some hospitable shade, you take yoursunning quite kindly.
So. Ah, Anacharsis, these useless toils, these perpetual clay-baths, these miseries in the sand and the openair, 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 Ihave not made out my case, you are to contradict me at once and get the thing straight. So we shall stand to win; eitheryou, after relieving your mind of all objections that strike you, will reach a firm conviction, or, failing that, I shallhave 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 produceit all in public, stand up in the assembly and say: Men of Athens, I drew up for you such laws as I thought would mostadvantage you; but this stranger — and at that word I point to you, Anacharsis — this stranger from Scythia hasbeen wise enough to show me my mistake and teach me better ways. Let his name be inscribed as your benefactor’s; set him upin bronze beside your name-Gods, or by Athene on the citadel. And be assured that Athens will not be ashamed to learnwhat 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 wholives 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 laydown a constitution, or give lessons to a people that is one with the soil it lives on, and for all these ages has enjoyed the blessings of perfect order in this ancient city? How, above all, instructthat Solon whose native gift all men say it is to know how a state may best be governed, and what laws will bring ithappiness? Nevertheless, you shall be my legislator too; I will contradict you, where I think you wrong, for my own betterinstruction. And here we are, safely covered from the sun’s pursuit, and this cool stone invites us to take our ease. Startnow and give me your reasons. Why seize upon the rising generation so young, and subject them to such toils? How do youdevelop perfect virtue out of clay and training? What is the exact contribution to it of dust and summersaults? That andthat only is my first curiosity. All the rest you shall give me by degrees as occasion rises later. But, Solon, one thingyou must bear in mind: you are talking to a barbarian. What I mean is, you must be simple, and brief; I am afraid I shallforget 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 awrong channel. As for mere continuance, you can cut that up by questions. However, so long as what I have to say is notirrelevant, I do not know that length matters. There is an ancient procedure in the Areopagus, our murder court. When themembers have ascended the hill, and taken their seats to decide a case of murder or deliberate maiming or arson, each sideis allowed to address the court in turn, prosecution and defence being conducted either by the principals or by counsel. Aslong as they speak to the matter in hand, the court listens silently and patiently. But if either prefaces his speech withan appeal to its benevolence, or attempts to stir its compassion or indignation by irrelevant considerations — and the legalprofession have numberless ways of playing upon juries —, the usher at once comes up and silences him. The court is not tobe trifled with or have its food disguised with condiments, but to be shown the bare facts. Now, Anacharsis, I hereby createyou a temporary Areopagite; you shall hear me according to that court’s practice, and silence me if you find me cajolingyou; 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; wehave 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 theproceedings 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 ourconception is not the buildings — walls, temples, docks, and so forth; these are no more than the local habitation thatprovides 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 thisview, 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 isprovided with internal buildings, and fenced as securely as may be with external walls. But our first, our engrossingpreoccupation is to make our citizens noble of spirit and strong of body. So they will in peace time make the most ofthemselves and their political unity, while in war they will bring their city through safe with its freedom and well-beingunimpaired. Their early breeding we leave to their mothers, nurses, and tutors, who are to rear them in the elements of aliberal education. But as soon as they attain to a knowledge of good and evil, when reverence and shame and fear andambition spring up in them, when their bodies begin to set and strengthen and be equal to toil, then we take them over, andappoint them both a course of mental instruction and discipline, and one of bodily endurance. We are not satisfied with merespontaneous development either for body or soul; we think that the addition of systematic teaching will improve the giftedand reform the inferior. We conform our practice to that of the farmer, who shelters and fences his plants while they areyet small and tender, to protect them from the winds, but, as soon as the shoot has gathered substance, prunes it and letsthe 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 geton, 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 toomay be sung and marvelled at by them that come after, and have their Hesiod and their Homer. And when they attain theircivil rights, and it is time for them to take their share in governing — but all this, it may be, is irrelevant. My subjectwas not how we train their souls, but why we think fit to subject them to the toils we do. I will silence myself withoutwaiting for the usher, or for you, my Areopagite, who have been too considerate, methinks, in letting me maunder on out ofbounds all this way.
An. Another point of Areopagite procedure, please, Solon. When a speaker passes over essential matters insilence, 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; itmight confuse your memory with its irregular flow. However, I will do what I can in the way of a mere summary for thisbranch 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 andexposed at the public expense for all to read, enjoining certain acts and forbidding others, and partly by making themattend 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 orcomedy has its educational effect of warning or encouragement. To the comic writers we further give the licence of mockeryand invective against any of their fellow citizens whose conduct they find discreditable; such exposure may act bothdirectly 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 stiltedshoes, and clothes all picked out with gold bands; they have absurd head-pieces with vast open mouths, from inside whichcomes an enormous voice, while they take great strides which it seems to me must be dangerous in those shoes. I think therewas a festival to Dionysus going on at the time. Then the comedians are shorter, go on their own feet, are more human, andsmaller-voiced; but their head-pieces are still more ridiculous, so much so that the audience was laughing at them like oneman. But to the others, the tall ones, every one listened with a dismal face; I suppose they were sorry for them, having todrag 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 oflong ago, with fine speeches that appealed to the audience’s feelings and drew tears from them. I dare say you observed alsosome 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 pithlesstenderness is past, we strip them and aim at hardening them to the temperature of the various seasons, till heat does notincommode nor frost paralyse them. Then we anoint them with oil by way of softening them into suppleness. It would be absurdthat leather, dead stuff as it is, should be made tougher and more lasting by being softened with oil, and the living bodyget no advantage from the same process. Accordingly we devise elaborate gymnastic exercises, appoint instructors of eachvariety, and teach one boxing, another the pancratium. They are to be habituated to endurance, to meet blows half way, andnever shrink from a wound. This method works two admirable effects in them: makes them spirited and heedless of bodilydanger, and at the same time strong and enduring. Those whom you saw lowering their heads and wrestling learn to fall safelyand pick themselves up lightly, to shove and grapple and twist, to endure throttling, and to heave an adversary off hislegs. Their acquirements are not unserviceable either; the one great thing they gain is beyond dispute; theirbodies are hardened and strengthened by this rough treatment. Add another advantage of some importance: it is all so muchpractice against the day of battle. Obviously a man thus trained, when he meets a real enemy, will grapple and throw him thequicker, or if he falls will know better how to get up again. All through we are reckoning with that real test in arms; weexpect much better results from our material if we supple and exercise their bodies before the armour goes on, so increasingtheir strength and efficiency, making them light and wiry in themselves (though the enemy will rather be impressed withtheir weight).
You see how it will act. Something may surely be expected from those in arms who even without them would be consideredawkward 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 thisadds to the burden. What would be the use of creatures who should be overpowered by thirst and dust, unnerved at sight ofblood, and as good as dead before they came within bow-shot or spear-thrust of the enemy? But our fellows are ruddy andsunburnt and steady-eyed, there is spirit and fire and virility in their looks, they are in prime condition, neithershrunken and withered nor running to corpulence, but well and truly proportioned; the waste superfluity of their tissuesthey have sweated out; the stuff that gives strength and activity, purged from all inferior admixture, remains part of theirsubstance. The winnowing fan has its counterpart in our gymnastics, which blow away chaff and husks, and sift and collectthe clean grain.
The inevitable result is sound health and great capacity of enduring fatigue. A man like this does not sweat for atrifle, and seldom shows signs of distress. Returning to my winnowing simile — if you were to set fire on the one hand topure wheat grain, and on the other to its chaff and straw, the latter would surely blaze up much the quicker; the grainwould 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 masteryof it lightly. Its interior is in good order, its exterior strongly fortified against such assaults, so that it givesneither admission nor entertainment to the destroying agencies of sun or frost. To any place that begins to weaken undertoil comes an accession from the abundant internal heat collected and stored up against the day of need; it fills thevacancy, restores the vital force, and lengthens endurance to the utmost. Past exertion means not dissipation but increaseof 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 onhard ground with a good footing, but in deep sand on which you can neither tread firmly nor get a good push off, the footsinking in. Then, to fit them to leap a trench or other obstacle, we make them practise with leaden dumb-bells in theirhands. And again there are distance matches with the javelin. Yes, and you saw in the gymnasium a bronze disk like a smallbuckler, 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 — anexercise 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 claycombined (you compared them to eels, you remember); now this is neither useless nor absurd, but contributes appreciably tostrength and activity. An adversary in that condition must be gripped tightly enough to baffle his attempts at escape. Tolift up a man who is all over clay, sweat, and oil, and who is doing his very best to get away and slip through yourfingers, is no light task, I assure you. And I repeat that all these things have their military uses too: you may want totake 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 inthe 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 ofthe wind playing upon a body when its pores are all relaxed and open. Besides which, it cleanses the skin and makes itglossy. I should like to put side by side one of the white creatures who live sheltered lives and, after washing off hisdust and clay, any of the Lyceum frequenters you should select, and then ask you which you would rather resemble. I know youwould make your choice at the first glance, without waiting to see what they could do; you would rather be solid andwell-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 countryand bulwarks of our freedom; thus we defeat our enemies if they invade us, and so far overawe our immediate neighbours thatthey mostly acknowledge our supremacy and pay us tribute. During peace also we find our account in their being free fromvulgar ambitions and from the insolence generated by idleness; they have these things to fill their lives and occupy theirleisure. I told you of a prize that all may win and of a supreme political happiness; these are attained when we find ouryouth 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 forthsparring at them; then they of course cower before you and run away, afraid of getting a handful of your sand in their openmouths, or of your dancing round to get behind them, twining your legs tight round their bellies, and throttling them withyour elbows rammed well in under their chin-pieces. It is true they will try the effect of arrows and javelins; but you areso sunburnt and full-blooded, the missiles will hurt you no more than if you were statues; you are not chaff and husks; youwill not be readily disposed of by the blows you get; much time and attention will be required before you at last, cut topieces with deep wounds, have a few drops of blood extracted from you. Have I misunderstood your figure, or is this a fairdeduction from it?
But perhaps you will take the equipment of your tragedians and comedians, and when you get your marching orders put onthose wide-mouthed headpieces, to scare the foe with their appalling terrors; of course, and you can put the stilted thingson your feet; they will be light for running away (if that should be advisable), or, if you are in pursuit, the strides theylend themselves to will make your enemy’s escape impossible. Seriously now, are not these refinements of yours all child’splay — something for your idle, slack youngsters to do? If you really want to be free and happy, you must have otherexercises 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; andnone of your light darts diverted by a puff of wind; let it be a ponderous spear that whistles as it flies; to which addstones, 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 toperish under the attack of any half-armed band. Why, if I were to draw this little dagger at my girdle and run amuck at yourcollective 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 moreof the ruddy frames they now display; they would be another colour then, all white with terror. That is the temper that deeppeace 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 assailedAthens with Hippolyta; so every one who has met us in the field. My dear sir, it does not follow from our exercising ouryouths without arms that we expose them in the same condition to the real thing; the independent bodily development oncecomplete, 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 willsee our plumes and horse-trappings, our horses and horsemen; these last amounting to a quarter of our citizens. But to carryarms and be girded with scimetars we consider unnecessary in peace time; indeed there is a fine for going armed in townwithout due cause, or producing weapons in public. You of course may be pardoned for living in arms. The want ofwalls gives conspiracy its chance; you have many enemies; you never know when somebody may come upon you in your sleep, pullyou out of your cart, and dispatch you. And then, in the mutual distrust inseparable from an independence that recognizes nolaw 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, avoidwear and tear for them, and put them away for use when the time comes; but the bodies of your youth you keep at work evenwhen no danger presses; you knock them about and dissolve them in sweat; instead of husbanding their strength for the day ofneed, 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 afraidof its dribbling away in exercise as those might from an earthenware jar, and by its disappearance leaving the body, whichis supposed to have no internal reserves, empty and dry. That is not the case; the greater the drain upon it in the courseof exercise, the greater the supply; did you ever hear a story about the Hydra? cut off one of its heads, and twoimmediately sprang up in its place. No, it is the unexercised and fibreless, in whom no adequate store of material has everbeen laid up, that will peak and pine under toil. There is a similar difference between a fire and a lamp; the same breaththat kindles the former and soon excites it to greater heat will put out the latter, which is but ill provided to resist theblast; 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 keenintelligence. But I wish you would tell me — at the Olympic, Isthmian, Pythian, and other Games, attended, you tell me, bycrowds to see your youth contend, why do you have no martial events? Instead, you put them in a conspicuous place andexhibit them kicking and cuffing one another, and when they win give them apples or wild olive. Now your reason for thatwould be worth hearing.
So. Well, we think it will increase their keenness for exercise to see the champions at it honoured andproclaimed by name among the assembled Greeks. It is the thought of having to strip before such a crowd that makes them takepains with their condition; they do not want to be a shameful spectacle, so each does his best to deserve success. And theprizes, as I said before, are not small things — to be applauded by the spectators, to be the mark of all eyes and fingersas the best of one’s contemporaries. Accordingly, numbers of spectators, not too old for training, depart with a passionthus engendered for toilsome excellence. Ah, Anacharsis, if the love of fair fame were to be wiped out of our lives, whatgood 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, howwould 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 rooster fights, and the excitement they raise. You wouldlaugh, no doubt, especially when you were told that they are enjoined by law, and that all of military age must attend andwatch how the birds spar till they are utterly exhausted. And yet it is not a thing to laugh at either; a spirit of contemptfor danger is thus instilled into men’s souls; shall they yield to cocks in nobility and courage? shall they let wounds orweariness or discomfort incapacitate them before there is need? But as for testing our men in arms and looking on while theygash one another, no, thank you! that would be brutality and savagery, besides the bad policy of butchering our bravest, whowould 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 theywill go into a place enclosed by water, divide into two troops, and handle one another as severely as enemies (except thatthey too have no arms), until the Lycurgites drive the Heraclids, or vice versa, out of the enclosure and into the water; itis all over then; not another blow breaks the peace. Still worse, you may see them being scourged at the altar, streamingwith blood, while their parents look on — the mothers, far from being distressed by the sight, actually making them hold outwith threats, imploring them to endure pain to the last extremity and not be unmanned by suffering. There are many instancesof their dying under the trial; while they had life and their people’s eyes were on them, they would not give up, norconcede 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’sordinance, they victimize themselves for no good reason. Lycurgus their lawgiver would have many reasonable remarks to maketo you on the subject, and give you his grounds for thus afflicting them; he was not moved by enmity or hatred; he was notwasting the state’s young blood for nothing; he only thought it proper that defenders of their country should have endurancein the highest degree and be entirely superior to fear. However, you need no Lycurgus to tell you; you can surely see foryourself that, if one of these men were captured in war, no tortures would wring a Spartan secret out of him; he would takehis 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 thesafe basis of superannuation?
So. It was in his old age, after returning from Crete, that he legislated. He had been attracted to Crete byhearing 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 ofyourselves.
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 tooneself or one’s country. If I do happen to be at Sparta when this performance is on, I shall expect a public stoning attheir hands for laughing at it all, when I see them being whipped like robbers or thieves or such malefactors. Really, Ithink 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 theabsence of your opponents. In Sparta you will find some one to plead properly for their customs. But now, as I havedescribed ours to you, not apparently to your satisfaction, I may fairly ask you to take your turn and tell me how you trainyour 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 arenot much like yours; for we would never take a single box on the ears, we are such cowards; but such as they are, you shallhave them. We must put off our talk till tomorrow, though, if you do not mind; I want to think quietly over what you havesaid, and collect materials for what I am to say myself. On that understanding let us go home; for it is getting late.