Plutarch’s Lives Volume 1, Plutarch
Plutarch’s Lives Volume 1
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Plutarch was a Greek Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. He is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans.

Plutarch's Lives Volume 1

Greek Lives Part 1


The Life of Agesilaus

1 Archidamus, the son of Zeuxidamas, after an illustrious reign over the Lacedaemonians, left behind him a son, Agis, by Lampido, a woman of honourable family; and a much younger son, Agesilaüs, by Eupolia, the daughter of Melesippidas. The kingdom belonged to Agis by law, and it was thought that Agesilaüs would pass his life in a private station. He was therefore given the so‑called “agoge,” or course of public training in Sparta, which, although austere in its mode of life and full of hardships, educated the youth to obedience. For this reason it was, we are told, that Simonides gave Sparta the epithet of “man-subduing,” since more than in any other state her customs made her citizens obedient to the laws and tractable, like horses that are broken in while yet they are colts. From this compulsory training the law exempts the heirs-apparent to the throne. But Agesilaüs was singular in this also, that he had been educated to obey before he came to command. For this reason he was much more in harmony with his subjects than any of the kings; to the commanding and kingly traits which were his by nature there had been added by his public training those of popularity and kindness.

2 While he was among the so‑called “bands” of boys who were reared together, he had as his lover Lysander, who was smitten particularly with his native decorum. For although he was contentious and high-spirited beyond his fellows, wishing to be first in all things, and having a vehemence and fury which none could contend with or overwhelm, on the other hand he had such a readiness to obey and such gentleness, that he did whatever was enjoined upon him, not at all from a sense of fear, but always from a sense of honour, and was more distressed by censure than he was oppressed by hardships. As for his deformity, the beauty of his person in its youthful prime covered this from sight, while the ease and gaiety with which he bore such a misfortune, being first to jest and joke about himself, went far towards rectifying it. Indeed, his lameness brought his ambition into clearer light, since it led him to decline no hardship and no enterprise whatever. We have no likeness of him (for he himself would not consent to one, and even when he lay dying forbade the making of “either statue or picture” of his person), but he is said to have been a little man of unimposing presence. And yet his gaiety and good spirits in every crisis, and his raillery, which was never offensive or harsh either in word or look made him more lovable, down to his old age, than the young and beautiful. But according to Theophrastus, Archidamus was fined by the ephors for marrying a little woman, “For she will bear us,” they said, “not kings, but kinglets.”

3 It was during the reign of Agis that Alcibiades came from Sicily as an exile to Sparta, and he had not been long in the city when he incurred the charge of illicit intercourse with Timaea, the wife of the king. The child, too, that was born of her, Agis refused to recognize as his own, declaring that Alcibiades was its father. Duris says that Timaea was not very much disturbed at this, but in whispers to her Helot maids at home actually called the child Alcibiades, not Leotychides; moreover, that Alcibiades himself also declared that he had not approached Timaea out of wanton passion, but because he was ambitious to have the Spartans reigned over by his descendants. On this account Alcibiades withdrew from Sparta, being in fear of Agis; and the boy was always an object of suspicion to Agis, and was not honoured by him as legitimate. But when the king lay sick, the supplications and tears of Leotychides prevailed upon him to declare him his son in the presence of many witnesses.

Notwithstanding this, after the death of Agis, Lysander, who by this time had subdued the Athenians at sea and was a man of the greatest influence in Sparta, tried to advance Agesilaüs to the throne, on the plea that Leotychides was a bastard and had no claim upon it. Many of the other citizens also, owing to the excellence of Agesilaüs and the fact that he had been reared with them under the common restraints of the public training, warmly espoused the plan of Lysander and co-operated with him. But there was a diviner in Sparta, named Diopeithes, who was well supplied with ancient prophecies, and was thought to be eminently wise in religious matters. This man declared it contrary to the will of Heaven that a lame man should be king of Sparta, and cited at the trial of the case the following oracle: —

“Bethink thee now, O Sparta, though thou art very glorious, lest from thee, sound of foot, there spring a maimed royalty; for long will unexpected toils oppress thee, and onward-rolling billows of man-destroying war.”

To this Lysander answered that, in case the Spartans stood in great fear of the oracle, they must be on their guard against Leotychides; for it mattered not to the god that one who halted in his gait should be king, but if one who was not lawfully begotten, nor even a descendant of Heracles, should be king, this was what the god meant by “maimed royalty.” And Agesilaüs declared that Poseidon also had borne witness to the bastardy of Leotychides, for he had cast Agis forth from his bed-chamber by an earthquake, and after this more than ten months elapsed before Leotychides was born.

4 In this way, and for these reasons, Agesilaüs was appointed king, and straightway enjoyed possession of the estates of Agis as well as his throne, after expelling Leotychides as a bastard. But seeing that his kinsmen on his mother’s side, though worthy folk, were excessively poor, he distributed among them half of his estates, thereby making his inheritance yield him good-will and reputation instead of envy and hatred. As for Xenophon’s statement​ that by obeying his country in everything he won very great power, so that he did what he pleased, the case is as follows. At that time the ephors and the senators had the greatest power in the state, of whom the former hold office for a year only, while the senators enjoy their dignity for life, their offices having been instituted to restrain the power of the kings, as I have said in my Life of Lycurgus. Therefore from the outset, and from generation to generation, the kings were traditionally at feud and variance with them. But Agesilaüs took the opposite course. Instead of colliding and fighting with them, he courted their favour, winning their support before setting out on any undertaking; and whenever he was invited to meet them, hastening to them on the run. If ever the ephors visited him when he was seated in his royal chair and administering justice, he rose in their honour; and as men were from time to time made members of the senate, he would send each one a cloak and an ox as a mark of honour. Consequently, while he was thought to be honouring and exalting the dignity of their office, he was unawares increasing his own influence and adding to the power of the king a greatness which was conceded out of good-will towards him.

5 In his dealings with the rest of the citizens he was less blame-worthy as an enemy than as a friend; for he would not injure his enemies without just cause, but joined his friends even in their unjust practices. And whereas he was ashamed not to honour his enemies when they did well, he could not bring himself to censure his friends when they did amiss, but actually prided himself on aiding them and sharing in their misdeeds. For he thought no aid disgraceful that was given to a friend. But if, on the other hand, his adversaries stumbled and fell, he was first to sympathize with them and give them zealous aid if they desired it, and so won the hearts and the allegiance of all. The ephors, accordingly, seeing this, and fearing his power, laid a fine upon him, alleging as a reason that he made the citizens his own, who should be the common property of the state.

Natural philosophers are of the opinion that, if strife and discord should be banished from the universe, the heavenly bodies would stand still, and all generation and motion would cease in consequence of the general harmony. And so the Spartan lawgiver seems to have introduced the spirit of ambition and contention into his civil polity as an incentive to virtue, desiring that good citizens should always be somewhat at variance and in conflict with one another, and deeming that complaisance which weakly yields without debate, which knows no effort and no struggle, to be wrongly called concord. And some think that Homer also was clearly of this mind; for he would not have represented Agamemnon as pleased when Odysseus and Achilles were carried away into abuse of one another with “frightful words,” if he had not thought the general interests likely to profit by the mutual rivalry and quarrelling of the chieftains. This principle, however, must not be accepted without some reservations; for excessive rivalries are injurious to states, and productive of great perils.

6 Agesilaüs had but recently come to the throne, when tidings were brought from Asia that the Persian king was preparing a great armament with which to drive the Lacedaemonians from the sea. Now, Lysander was eager to be sent again into Asia, and to aid his friends there. These he had left governors and masters of the cities, but owing to their unjust and violent conduct of affairs, they were being driven out by the citizens, and even put to death. He therefore persuaded Agesilaüs to undertake the expedition and make war in behalf of Hellas, proceeding to the farthest point across the sea, and thus anticipating the preparations of the Barbarian. At the same time he wrote to his friends in Asia urging them to send messengers to Sparta and demand Agesilaüs as their commander. Accordingly, Agesilaüs went before the assembly of the people and agreed to undertake the war if they would grant him thirty Spartans as captains and counsellors, a select corps of two thousand enfranchised Helots, and a force of allies amounting to six thousand. They readily voted everything, owing to the co-operation of Lysander, and sent Agesilaüs forth at once with the thirty Spartans. Of these Lysander was first and foremost, not only because of his own reputation and influence, but also because of the friendship of Agesilaüs, in whose eyes his procuring him this command was a greater boon than his raising him to the throne.

While his forces were assembling at Geraestus, Agesilaüs himself went to Aulis with his friends and spent the night. As he slept, he thought a voice came to him, saying: “King of the Lacedaemonians, thou art surely aware that no one has ever been appointed general of all Hellas together except Agamemnon, in former times, and now thyself, after him. And since thou commandest the same hosts that he did, and wagest war on the same foes, and settest out for the war from the same place, it is meet that thou shouldst sacrifice also to the goddess the sacrifice which he made there before he set sail.” Almost at once Agesilaüs remembered the sacrifice of his own daughter which Agamemnon had there made in obedience to the soothsayers. He was not disturbed, however, but after rising up and imparting his vision to his friends, declared that he would honour the goddess with a sacrifice in which she could fitly take pleasure, being a goddess, and would not imitate the cruel insensibility of his predecessor. So he caused a hind to be wreathed with chaplets, and ordered his own seer to perform the sacrifice, instead of the one customarily appointed to this office by the Boeotians. Accordingly, when the Boeotian magistrates heard of this, they were moved to anger, and sent their officers, forbidding Agesilaüs to sacrifice contrary to the laws and customs of the Boeotians. These officers not only delivered their message, but also snatched the thigh-pieces of the victim from the altar. Agesilaüs therefore sailed away in great distress of mind; he was not only highly incensed at the Thebans, but also full of ill-boding on account of the omen. He was convinced that his undertakings would be incomplete, and that his expedition would have no fitting issue.

7 As soon as he came to Ephesus, the great dignity and influence which Lysander enjoyed were burdensome and grievous to him. The doors of Lysander were always beset with a throng, and all followed in his train and paid him court, as though Agesilaüs had the command in name and outward appearance, to comply with the law, while in fact Lysander was master of all, had all power, and did everything. In fact, none of the generals sent out to Asia ever had more power or inspired more fear than he; none other conferred greater favours on his friends, or inflicted such great injuries upon his enemies. All this was still fresh in men’s minds, and besides, when they saw the simple, plain, and familiar manners of Agesilaüs, while Lysander retained the same vehemence and harshness, and the same brevity of speech as before, they yielded to the latter’s influence altogether, and attached themselves to him alone. As a consequence of this, in the first place, the rest of the Spartans were displeased to find themselves assistants of Lysander rather than counsellors of the king; and, in the second place, Agesilaüs himself, though he was not an envious man, nor displeased that others should be honoured, but exceedingly ambitious and high-spirited, began to fear that brilliant success which he might achieve in his undertakings would be attributed to Lysander, owing to popular opinion. He went to work, therefore, in this way.

To begin with, he resisted the counsels of Lysander, and whatever enterprises were most earnestly favoured by him, these he ignored and neglected, and did other things in their stead; again, of those who came to solicit favours from him, he sent away empty-handed all who put their chief confidence in Lysander; and in judicial cases likewise, all those against whom Lysander inveighed were sure to come off victory, while, on the contrary, those whom he was manifestly eager to help had hard work even to escape being fined. These things happened, not casually, but as if of set purpose, and uniformly. At last Lysander perceived the reason, and did not hide it from his friends, but told them to go and pay their court to the king, and to those more influential with him than himself.

8 Accordingly, since his words and acts seemed contrived to bring odium upon the king, Agesilaüs, wishing to despite him still more, appointed him his carver of meats, and once said, we are told, in the hearing of many: “Now then, let these suppliants go off to my carver of meats and pay their court to him.” Lysander, then, deeply pained, said to him: “I see, Agesilaüs, that thou knowest very well how to humble thy friends.” “Yes indeed,” said the king, “those who wish to be more powerful than I am.” Then Lysander said: “Well, perhaps these words of thine are fairer than my deeds. Give me, however, some post and place where I shall be of service to thee, without vexing thee.”​ Upon this he was sent to the Hellespont, and brought over to Agesilaüs from the country of Pharnabazus, Spithridates, a Persian, with much money and two hundred horsemen. He did not, however, lay aside his wrath, but continued his resentment, and from this time on planned how he might wrest the kingdom from the two royal families, and make all Spartans once more eligible to it. And it was thought that he would have brought about a great disturbance in consequence of this quarrel, had not death overtaken him on his expedition into Boeotia. Thus ambitious natures in a commonwealth, if they do not observe due bounds, work greater harm than good. Even though Lysander was troublesome, as he was, in gratifying his ambition unseasonably, still, Agesilaüs must surely have known another and more blameless way of correcting a man of high repute and ambition when he erred. As it was, it seems to have been due to the same passion that the one would not recognize the authority of his superior, nor the other endure the being ignored by his friend and comrade.

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