Famous Greeks: Lycurgus

The traditional founder of the Spartan way of life, Lycurgus (776 B.C.) was already wrapped in the shade of legend by the beginning of the historical period in Greece in the sixth century B.C. He represented one of the most characteristic figures of early Greek history: the lawgiver, a single individual who saves his country from civil war and establishes its characteristic political, social, and religious institutions. No such institutions in antiquity were as famous or significant as those of Sparta. This lecture analyzes the balanced constitution of Sparta and its social and educational institutions. It explores the purpose of these institutions and the Greek ideal of civic virtue, the willingness of the individual to subordinate his own interests to the good of the nation as a whole. The lecture concludes with an examination of Sparta’s legacy and why the Founders of our country admired certain aspects of the Spartan constitution and way of life.

Questions to Consider:

1. The Founders of the United States, such as James Madison, were students of the classics and read Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus with interest. What elements in the United States Constitution recall the Spartan constitution?

2. Do you believe that the primary purpose of education in a democracy, such as Sparta or the United States, should be the inculcation of civic virtue?

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