Plutarch and Xenophon on The Lycurgan Reforms
The one thing we know for certain about Spartan society is that we don’t know much about it. Very few documents and artifacts about the Spartans have been discovered, but the ones that have tell us everything we know. Two of these works are Plutarch’s On Sparta and Xenophon’s Spartan Society. One of the main things these two accounts focused on was the Lycurgan reforms. Through their stories and writings Plutarch and Xenophon had both some similarities and differences when talking about the political, economic, militaristic, and social reforms. One of the main differences when comparing these two writings is how Plutarch gives a historical account of Spartan society and tries to keep objectivity in his writings, while Xenophon appreciates the Spartan society and often makes it evident he is using it to criticise the Greek society of his time.
When talking about the differences between these two writing styles one important thing to keep in mind is that Xenophon lived during the fourth century BC and Plutarch lived in the first century AD. This means that these two writers had different contexts and intentions when creating their account. One thing that they both talked about was how the political aspect of Spartan society was changed by the Lycurgan reforms. The biggest of these reforms was changing the role of a king. The two kings were no longer excused from normal citizen activities. Plutarch gives an example of this with the story of King Agis. “King Agis returned from the campaign and wanted to eat at home with his wife instead of at the communal mess and called for his portions; the polemarchs would not send them. The next day he did not carry out a required s...
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...ly become the most powerful and most famous state in Greece” (Spartan Society, 1). Their shared admiration of Sparta is very reasonable. The Spartan city state was thriving due to the Lycurgan reforms; it was something completely new to Sparta that captured the eyes of many.
When taking into account how Xenophon lived during the fourth century BC and Plutarch lived in the first century AD, it is interesting that they can actually have some similarities in their historical accounts. The biggest of these being that they both admired Sparta greatly, and could not help but to adore their glory. But there are far more accounts that show their differences. When talking about the political, economic, militaristic, and social reforms Plutarch stayed objective while Xenophon clearly showed his appreciation for Sparta, and used that view to critique his Greek society.
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