The Stoics and the Spartan ideal

spartaOver at Stoicism and the Art of Happiness Donald Robertson has published a draft of an interesting essay on the Stoic admiration for Sparta. Even in draft form it is definitely worth the reading and thought provoking, looking forward to a complete version. Here are some excerpts:

“Zeno was a Phoenician from the town of Citium who arrived in Athens and, after training in other form of philosophy, eventually founded the Stoic school there. The neighbouring city-state of Sparta was at that time an enemy of the Athenian state. However, the Stoics appear to have admired the Spartans and Zeno’s account of the ideal Stoic Republic is thought by modern scholars to have been modelled primarily on ancient Sparta.

Plato, Xenophon, and the Cynics also appear to have admired many aspects of Spartan society.  Indeed, Diogenes the Cynic was known so much for praising the Spartan way of life that it’s said an Athenian once asked him sarcastically why he didn’t go and live among them instead, to which he replied that a doctor doesn’t carry out his role among the healthy.

The Stoics, like many Hellenistic philosophers, particularly admired Lycurgus (820 – 730 BC) the semi-mythical founder of the Spartan constitution and the agôgê.  The Academic philosopher Plutarch wrote a biographical account of Lycurgus in which he claimed the Spartan had seen very clearly that the welfare of any individual depends upon the concord and virtue in his city, which inspired him to develop the Spartan laws and constitution (Lycurgus, 31).  Plutarch adds that this was the basis of various philosophical accounts of the ideal state, such as Plato’s Republic.

3 thoughts on “The Stoics and the Spartan ideal

  1. Hard to imagine a cosmopolitan Spartan isn’t it? Or one having much use for argumentation or even an exchange of ideas. I imagine them pretty satisfied with what they know and pretty sure that if they can kick your ass you probably don’t have anything very interesting to say.


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