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brother at sea. Coming thus upon the Argives, who then held Corinth,
in the midst of their Isthmian festival, he made them fly just as they
had finished the customary sacrifice, and leave all their festive
provision behind them. Upon this the Corinthian exiles[184] who were
with him begged him to preside over the games, but this he refused to
do, ordering them to celebrate the festival, while he took care that
they did so without interruption. After he was gone the Argives
returned, and celebrated the Isthmian games over again. Some of the
winners on the former occasion now won the prize again, while others
were defeated. Agesilaus observed that the Argives by this act
confessed themselves to be cowards, if they set so high a value on
presiding at the games, and yet did not dare to fight for it. With
regard to such matters he used to think that a middle course was best,
and he always was present at the choruses and games at Sparta, taking
great interest in their management, and not even neglecting the races
for boys and for girls; but of some other matters in which most men
were interested he seemed to be entirely ignorant. For instance
Kallipides, who was esteemed the finest tragic actor in Greece, once
met him and spoke to him, after which he swaggered along amongst his
train, but finding that no notice was taken of him, he at length
asked, "Do you not know me, O king?" Agesilaus at this looked
carefully at him, and enquired, "Are you not Kallipides the player?"
for so the Lacedæmonians name actors. Again, when he was invited to
hear some one imitate the nightingale he answered, "I have heard the

Menekrates the physician, after having succeeded in curing some cases
of sickness which were thought to be desperate, was given the title of
Zeus, and used to use this appellation on all occasions in a foolish
manner. He even went so far as to write to Agesilaus in the following
terms, "Menekrates Zeus wishes King Agesilaus health." To this he
answered, "King Agesilaus wishes Menekrates more sense."

XXII. While he was encamped in the temple of Hera, near Corinth,
watching the soldiers disposing of the captives which they had taken,
ambassadors came from Thebes to treat for peace with him. He always
had borne a grudge against that city, and thinking that this would be
a good opportunity to indulge his hatred, he pretended neither to see
nor to hear them when they addressed him. But he soon paid the
penalty of his insolence; for before the Thebans left him news was
brought that an entire mora had been cut to pieces by Iphikrates. This
was the greatest disaster which had befallen the Spartans for many
years; for they lost a large number of brave and well-equipped
citizens, all heavy-armed hoplites, and that too at the hands of mere
mercenary light troops and peltasts. On hearing this Agesilaus at
first leaped up to go to their assistance; but when he heard that they
were completely destroyed, he returned to the temple of Hera, and
recalling the Bœotian ambassadors, bade them deliver their message.
But they now in their turn assumed a haughty demeanour, and made no
mention of peace, but merely demanded leave to proceed to Corinth. At
this, Agesilaus in a rage answered, "If you wish to go there to see
your friends rejoicing over their success, you will be able to do so
in safety to-morrow." On the next day he took the ambassadors with
him, and marched, laying waste the country as he went, up to the gates
of Corinth, where, having thus proved that the Corinthians dared not
come out and resent his conduct, he sent the ambassadors into the
city. As for himself, he collected the survivors of the mora, and
marched back to Lacedæmon, always starting before daybreak, and
encamping after sunset, that he might not be insulted by the
Arcadians, who bitterly hated the Lacedæmonians and enjoyed their
discomfiture. After this at the instance of the Achæans he crossed
over into Akarnania with them, where he obtained much plunder, and
defeated the Akarnanians in battle. The Achæans now begged him to
remain, and so prevent the enemy from sowing their fields in the
winter; but he answered that he should do exactly the reverse,
because, if the enemy next year had a good prospect of a harvest, they
would be much more inclined to keep the peace than if their fields lay
fallow. And this opinion of his was justified by the result; for as
soon as the Akarnanians heard that another campaign was threatened,
they made peace with the Achæans.

XXIII. Konon and Pharnabazus, after their victory in the sea-fight at
Knidus, had obtained command of the seas and began to plunder the
coast of Laconia, while the Athenian walls likewise were restored,
with money supplied by Pharnabazus for that purpose.

These circumstances disposed the Lacedæmonians to make peace with the
king of Persia. They consequently sent Antalkidas to Tiribazus to
arrange terms, and most basely and wickedly gave up to the king those
Greek cities in Asia on behalf of which Agesilaus had fought.
Antalkidas, indeed, was his enemy, and his great reason for concluding
a peace on any terms was, that war was certain to increase the
reputation and glory of Agesilaus. Yet when some one reproached
Agesilaus, saying that the Lacedæmonians were Medising,[185] he
answered, "Nay, say, rather, the Medes (Persians) are Laconising."

By threats of war he compelled those Greek states who were unwilling
to do so to accept the terms of the peace, especially the Thebans; for
one of the articles of the peace was, that the Thebans should leave
the rest of Bœotia independent, by which of course they were greatly
weakened. This was proved by subsequent events. When Phœbidas, in
defiance of law and decency, seized the Kadmeia, or citadel of Thebes,
in time of peace, all Greeks cried shame on him, and the Spartans felt
especial annoyance at it. The enemies of Agesilaus now angrily
enquired of Phœbidas who ordered him to do so, and as his answers
hinted at Agesilaus as having suggested the deed, Agesilaus openly
declared himself to be on Phœbidas's side, and said that the only
thing to be considered was, whether it was advantageous to Sparta or
not; for it was always lawful to render good service to the state,
even impromptu and without previous orders. Yet in his talk Agesilaus
always set a high value upon justice, calling it the first of all
virtues; for he argued that courage would be useless without justice;
while if all men were just, there would be no need of courage. When he
was informed, "The pleasure of the great king is so-and-so," he was
wont to answer, "How can he be greater than I, unless he be
juster?" - thus truly pointing out that justice is the real measure of
the greatness of kings. When the king of Persia sent him a letter
during the peace, offering to become his guest[186] and friend, he
refused to open it, saying that he was satisfied with the friendship
existing between the two states, and that while that lasted he
required no private bond of union with the king of Persia. However, in
his actions he was far from carrying out these professions, but was
frequently led into unjust acts by his ambition. In this instance he
not only shielded Phœbidas from punishment for what he had done at
Thebes, but persuaded Sparta to adopt his crime as its own, and
continue to hold the Kadmeia, appointing as the chiefs of the garrison
Archias and Leontidas,[187] by whose means Phœbidas made his way into
the citadel.

XXIV. This at once gave rise to a suspicion that Phœbidas was merely
an agent, and that the whole plot originated with Agesilaus himself,
and subsequent events confirmed this view; for as soon as the Thebans
drove out the garrison and set free their city, Agesilaus made war
upon them to avenge the murder of Archias and Leontidas, who had been
nominally polemarchs, but in reality despots of Thebes. At this period
Agesipolis was dead, and his successor Kleombrotus was despatched into
Bœotia with an army; for Agesilaus excused himself from serving in
that campaign on the ground of age, as it was forty years since he had
first borne arms, and he was consequently exempt by law. The real
reason was that he was ashamed, having so lately been engaged in a war
to restore the exiled popular party at Phlius, to be seen now
attacking the Thebans in the cause of despotism.

There was a Lacedæmonium named Sphodrias, one of the faction opposed
to Agesilaus, who was established as Spartan governor of the town of
Thespiæ, a daring and ambitious man, but hot-headed, and prone to act
without due calculation. This man, who longed to achieve distinction,
and who perceived that Phœbidas had made a name throughout Greece by
his exploit at Thebes, persuaded himself that it would be a much more
glorious deed if he were to make himself master of the Peiræus, and so
by a sudden attack cut off the Athenians from the sea. It is said that
this attempt originated with the Bœotarchs, Pelopidas and Mellon, who
sent emissaries to Sphodrias to praise and flatter him, and point out
that he alone was capable of conducting so bold an adventure. By this
language, and an affectation of sympathy with Lacedæmon, these men at
length prevailed on him to attempt a most unrighteous deed, and one
which required considerable boldness and good fortune to ensure its
success. Daylight, however, overtook Sphodrias before he had crossed
the Thriasian plain, near Eleusis. All hope of surprising Peiræus by a
night attack was now gone, and it is said, also, that the soldiers
were alarmed and terror-stricken by certain lights which gleamed from
the temples at Eleusis. Sphodrias himself, now that his enterprise had
so manifestly failed, lost heart, and after hurriedly seizing some
unimportant plunder, led his men back to Thespiæ. Upon this an embassy
was sent from Athens to Sparta to complain of the acts of Sphodrias;
but on the arrival of the ambassadors at Sparta they found that the
government there were in no need of encouragement from without to
proceed against Sphodrias, for they had already summoned him home to
be tried for his life. Sphodrias durst not venture to return to
Sparta, for he saw that his fellow-countrymen were angry with him and
ashamed of his conduct towards the Athenians, and that they wished
rather to be thought fellow-sufferers by his crime than accomplices in

XXV. Sphodrias had a son, named Kleonymus, who was still quite a
youth, and who was beloved by Archidamus, the son of Agesilaus. He now
assisted this youth, who was pleading his father's cause as best he
might, but he could not do so openly, because Sphodrias belonged to
the party which was opposed to Agesilaus. When, however, Kleonymus
came to him, and besought him with tears and piteous entreaties to
appease Agesilaus, because the party of Sphodrias dreaded him more
than any one else, the young man, after two or three days' hesitation,
at length, as the day fixed for the trial approached, mustered up
courage to speak to his father on the subject, telling him that
Kleonymus had begged him to intercede for his father.

Agesilaus was well aware of his son's intimacy with Kleonymus, which
he had never discouraged; for Kleonymus promised to become as
distinguished a man as any in Sparta. He did not on this occasion,
however, hold out to his son any hopes of a satisfactory termination
of the affair, but said that he would consider what would be the most
fitting and honourable course to pursue. After this reply, Archidamus
had not the heart to meet Kleonymus, although he had before been
accustomed to see him several times daily. This conduct of his plunged
the friends of Sphodrias into yet deeper despair of his cause, until
Etymokles, one of the friends of Agesilaus, in a conference with them,
explained that what Agesilaus really thought about the matter was,
that the action itself deserved the greatest censure; but yet that
Sphodrias was a brave energetic man, whom Sparta could not afford to

Agesilaus used this language out of a desire to gratify his son, and
from it Kleonymus soon perceived that Archidamus had been true to him
in using his interest with his father; while the friends of Sphodrias
became much more forward in his defence. Indeed Agesilaus was
remarkably fond of children, and an anecdote is related of him, that
when his children were very little he was fond of playing with them,
and would bestride a reed as if it were a horse for their amusement.
When one of his friends found him at this sport, he bade him mention
it to no one before he himself became the father of a family.

XXVI. Sphodrias was acquitted by the court; and the Athenians, as soon
as they learned this, prepared for war. Agesilaus was now greatly
blamed, and was charged with having obstructed the course of justice,
and having made Sparta responsible for an outrage upon a friendly
Greek state, merely in order to gratify the childish caprice of his
son. As he perceived that Kleombrotus was unwilling to attack the
Thebans, he himself invaded Bœotia, disregarding the law under which
on a former occasion he had pleaded exemption from military service on
account of his age. Here he fought the Thebans with varying success;
for once, when he was being borne out of action wounded, Antalkidas
observed to him, "A fine return you are getting from the Thebans for
having taught them how to fight against their will." Indeed, the
military power of the Thebans at that time was at its height, having
as it were been exercised and practised by the many campaigns
undertaken against them by the Lacedæmonians. This was why Lykurgus of
old, in his three celebrated _rhetras_, forbade the Lacedæmonians to
fight often with the same people, lest by constant practice they
should teach them how to fight. Agesilaus was also disliked by the
allies of the Lacedæmonians, because of his hatred of Thebes and his
desire to destroy that state, not on any public grounds, but merely on
account of his own bitter personal dislike to the Thebans. The allies
complained grievously that they, who composed the greater part of the
Lacedæmonium force, should every year be led hither and thither, and
exposed to great risks and dangers, merely to satisfy one man's
personal pique. Hereupon we are told that Agesilaus, desiring to prove
that this argument about their composing so large a part of the army
was not founded on fact, made use of the following device: - He ordered
all the allies to sit down in one body, and made the Lacedæmonians sit
down separately. Next he gave orders, first that all the potters
should stand up; and when they had risen, he ordered the smiths,
carpenters, masons, and all the other tradesmen successively to do so.
When then nearly all the allies had risen to their feet, the Spartans
all remained seated, for they were forbidden to learn or to practise
any mechanical art. At this Agesilaus smiled, and said, "You see, my
men, how many more soldiers we send out than you do."

XXVII. On his return from his campaign against the Thebans, Agesilaus,
while passing through Megara, was seized with violent pain in his
sound leg, just as he was entering the town-hall in the Acropolis of
that city. After this it became greatly swelled and full of blood, and
seemed to be dangerously inflamed. A Syracusan physician opened a vein
near the ankle, which relieved the pain, but the flow of blood was
excessive, and could not be checked, so that he fainted away from
weakness, and was in a very dangerous condition. At length the
bleeding stopped, and he was conveyed home to Lacedæmon, but he
remained ill, and unable to serve in the wars for a long time.

During his illness many disasters befel the Spartans both by land and
by sea. Of these, the most important was the defeat at Tegyra, where
for the first time they wore beaten in a fair fight by the Thebans.
The Lacedæmonians were now eager to make peace with all the Greek
cities, and ambassadors from all parts of Greece met at Sparta to
arrange terms. Among them was Epameinondas, a man who was renowned for
his culture and learning, but who had not hitherto given any proof of
his great military genius. This man, perceiving that all the other
ambassadors were sedulously paying their court to Agesilaus, assumed
an independent attitude, and in a speech delivered before the congress
declared that nothing kept the war alive except the unjust pretensions
of Sparta, who gained strength from the sufferings of the other
states, and that no peace could be durable unless such pretensions
were laid aside, and Sparta reduced to the equality with the rest of
the cities of Greece.

XXVIII. Agesilaus, observing that all the representatives of the Greek
states were filled with admiration at this language, and manifested
strong sympathy with the speaker, enquired whether he thought it right
and just that the cities of Bœotia[188] should be left independent.

Epameinondas quickly and boldly enquired in answer, whether he
thought it right to leave each of the towns in Laconia independent. At
this Agesilaus leaped to his feet in a rage, and asked him to state
clearly whether he meant to leave Bœotia independent. As Epameinondas
in reply merely repeated his question, as to whether Agesilaus meant
to leave Laconia independent, Agesilaus became furious, eagerly seized
the opportunity to strike the name of Thebes out of the roll of cities
with whom peace was being made, and declared war against it. He
ratified a treaty of peace with the other Greek cities, and bade their
representatives begone, with the remark, that such of their disputes
as admitted of settlement must be arranged by peaceful negotiation,
and such as could not must be decided by war; but that it was too much
trouble for him to act as arbitrator between them in their manifold
quarrels and disagreements.

Kleombrotus, the other Spartan king, was at this time in the Phokian
territory at the head of an army. The Ephors now at once sent orders
to him to cross the Theban frontier, while they assembled a force from
all the allied cities, who were most reluctant to serve, and objected
strongly to the war, yet dared not express their discontent or disobey
the Lacedæmonians. Many sinister omens were observed, which we have
spoken of in the life of Epameinondas, and Prothous the Laconian
openly opposed the whole campaign; yet Agesilaus would not desist, but
urged on the war against Thebes, imagining that now, when all the
other states were standing aloof, and Thebes was entirely isolated, he
had a more favourable opportunity than might ever occur again for
destroying that city. The dates of this war seem to prove that it was
begun more out of ill-temper than as a consequent of any definite
plan; for the peace was ratified in Lacedæmon with the other cities on
the fourteenth of the month Skirophorion; and on the fifth of the next
month, Hekatombæon, only twenty days afterwards, the Spartans were
defeated at Leuktra. A thousand Lacedæmonians perished, among them
Kleombrotus the king, and with him the flower of the best families in
Sparta. There fell also the handsome son of Sphodrias, Kleonymus, who
fought before the king, and was thrice struck to the ground and rose
again before he was slain by the Thebans.

XXIX. In spite of the unparalleled disaster which had befallen the
Lacedæmonians, for the Theban victory was the most complete ever won
by one Greek state over another, the courage of the vanquished is
nevertheless as much to be admired as that of the victors. Xenophon
remarks that the conversation of good and brave men, even when jesting
or sitting at table, is always worth remembering, and it is much more
valuable to observe how nobly all really brave and worthy men bear
themselves when in sorrow and misfortune. When the news of the defeat
at Leuktra arrived at Sparta, the city was celebrating the festival of
the Gymnopædia, and the chorus of grown men was going through its
usual solemnity in the theatre. The Ephors, although the news clearly
proved that all was lost and the state utterly ruined, yet would not
permit the chorus to abridge its performance, and forbade the city to
throw off its festal appearance. They privately communicated the names
of the slain to their relatives, but they themselves calmly continued
to preside over the contest of the choruses in the theatre, and
brought the festival to a close as though nothing unusual had
occurred. Next morning, when all men knew who had fallen and who had
survived, one might see those whose relations had been slain, walking
about in public with bright and cheerful countenances: but of those
whose relatives survived, scarce one showed himself in public, but
they sat at home with the women, as if mourning for the dead; or if
any one of them was forced to come forth, he looked mournful and
humbled, and walked with cast-down eyes. Yet more admirable was the
conduct of the women, for one might see mothers receiving their sons
who had survived the battle with silence and sorrow, while those whose
children had fallen proceeded to the temples to return thanks to the
gods, and walked about the city with a proud and cheerful demeanour.

XXX. Yet, when their allies deserted them, and when the victorious
Epameinondas, excited by his success, was expected to invade
Peloponnesus, many Spartans remembered the oracle about the lameness
of Agesilaus, and were greatly disheartened and cast down, fearing
that they had incurred the anger of Heaven, and that the misfortunes
of the city were due to their own conduct in having excluded the sound
man from the throne, and chosen the lame one; the very thing which the
oracle had bidden them beware of doing. Nevertheless, Agesilaus was so
powerful in the state, and so renowned for wisdom and courage, that
they gladly made use of him as their leader in the war, and also
employed him to settle a certain constitutional difficulty which arose
about the political rights of the survivors of the battle. They were
unwilling to disfranchise all these men, who were so numerous and
powerful, because they feared that if so they would raise a revolution
in the city. For the usual rule at Sparta about those who survive a
defeat is, that they are incapable of holding any office in the state;
nor will any one give them his daughter in marriage; but all who meet
them strike them, and treat them with contempt. They hang about the
city in a squalid and degraded condition, wearing a cloak patched with
pieces of a different colour, and they shave one half of their beards,
and let the other half grow. Now, at the present crisis it was thought
that to reduce so many citizens to this condition, especially when the
state sorely required soldiers, would be an absurd proceeding; and
consequently, Agesilaus was appointed lawgiver, to decide upon what
was to be done. He neither altered the laws, nor proposed any new
ones, but laid down his office of lawgiver at once, with the remark,
that the laws must be allowed to sleep for that one day, and
afterwards resume their force. By this means he both preserved the
laws, retained the services of the citizens for the state, and saved
them from infamy. With the intention of cheering up the young men, and
enabling them to shake off their excessive despondency, he led an army
into Arcadia. He was careful to avoid a battle, but captured a small
fort belonging to the people of Mantinea, and overran their territory;
thus greatly raising the spirits of the Spartans, who began to pluck
up courage, and regard their city as not altogether ruined.

XXXI. After this, Epameinondas invaded Laconia with the army of the
Thebans and their allies, amounting in all to no less than forty
thousand heavy-armed soldiers. Many light troops and marauders
accompanied this body, so that the whole force which entered Laconia
amounted in all to seventy thousand men. This took place not less than
six hundred years after the Dorians had settled in Lacedæmon; and
through all that time these were the first enemies which the country
had seen; for no one before this had dared to invade it. Now, however,
the Thebans ravaged the whole district with fire and sword, and no one
came out to resist them, for Agesilaus would not allow the
Lacedæmonians to fight against what Theopompus calls 'such a heady
torrent of war,' but contented himself with guarding the most
important parts of the city itself, disregarding the boastful threats
of the Thebans, who called upon him by name to come out and fight for
his country, since he was the cause of all its misfortunes, because he
had begun the war.

Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 17 of 55)