Spartani ‘ideali’ e Spartani ‘anomali’
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The ancient tradition often compares ‘conventional’ and ‘unconventional’ Spartans. In our sources we can find typical Spartans, representing the best local tradition, and innovating Spartans, who excited suspicion in their own city’s public opinion and establishment. This paper considers such comparisons in different historical contexts, without claiming to be exhaustive. First of all, I consider the comparison between the Spartan king Archidamus and the ephor Sthenelaidas in the «Spartan debate» in Thucydides’s first book. Their speeches attempt not only to compare two individuals, but also to focus on «Spartan and Athenian national characteristics»: Archidamus is the typical Spartan, representing his own city’s traditional caution, hesitation, and inactivity; on the other hand, Sthenelaidas is the alternative Spartan, representing a more dynamic and innovating attitude. Moreover, I consider two couples, Lysander and Kallicratidas, and Agesilaus and Agesipolis, whose personalities and politics are often compared in our sources. On the one hand, Lysander and Agesilaus are innovating leaders and represent different imperialistic trends that are not consistent with Spartan tradition; on the other hand, Kallicratidas and Agesipolis (like his father, king Pausanias II) are more traditional leaders and conceive of Spartan hegemony as an instrument of panhellenic policy, respecting freedom and autonomy of Greek states, and following the ancient image of Sparta as the champion of freedom and the enemy of imperialism and tyranny. These cases emphasize some unchanging features in the comparison of different personalities and political orientations. On the one hand, we find men like Etoimaridas, Archidamus, Kallicratidas, Pausanias II and Agesipolis, representing sophrosyne and dikaiosyne, traditional moral virtues and self-control, supporting a panhellenic and ‘pacifist’ foreign policy, defending a panhellenic balance of power based on dividing spheres of influence, on mutual control, and on restriction of Spartan hegemonical ambitions. On the other hand, we find men like Sthenelaidas, Lysander and Agesilaus, representing unscrupulous military aggressiveness and ethical indifference, innovating capacity but also paranomia and imperialistic trends on the ‘Athenian’ model. Such parallelism has a strictly political character: the comparison is not between different personalities or ethics, but between different ideas about the hegemonic role of Sparta in Greece. In any case, it must be noted that in fourth-century Sparta ‘unconventional’ and ‘revolutionary’ behaviour can be perceived as ‘traditional’. Xenophon (Hell. V, 2, 32) mentions an interesting sentence by king Agesilaus about the case of Phoebidas, who held the acropolis of Thebes, the Kadmeia, on his own initiative. The ephors and most Spartiates angrily disapproved of Phoebidas’s behaviour as he had acted «without authorization by the state»; however, Agesilaus said that «if what he had done was harmful to Lacedaemon, he deserved to be punished, but if advantageous, it was a time-honoured custom that a commander, in such cases, had the right to act on his own initiative». In his contrast with Lysander, Kallicratidas, at the end of the fifth century, had refused personal initiatives as inconsistent with Spartan tradition; according to Agesilaus, an ambiguous and many-sided character, personalism can be considered a traditional element.
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