Plutarch: Life of Agis

Translated by John & William Langhorne (1770). A few words and spellings have been changed.
The chapter numbers are shown in red.

Agis was king of Sparta from 244 to 241 B.C. He was born in about 262 B.C.

[1] It is not without appearance of probability that some think that the fable of Ixion is designed to represent the fate of ambitious men. Ixion took a cloud instead of Hera to his arms, and the Centaurs were the offspring of their embrace; 2 the ambitious embrace honour, which is only the image of virtue; and, governed by different impulses, incited by rivalry and all the different variety of passions, they produce nothing pure and genuine: the whole issue is of a preposterous kind. 3 The shepherds in Sophocles say of their flocks,
These are our subjects, yet we serve them,
And listen to their mute command.

The same may truly be affirmed of those great statesmen who govern according to the capricious and violent inclinations of the people. They become slaves, to gain the name of magistrates and rulers. 4 And as in a ship those at the oar can see what is before them better than the pilot, and yet are often looking back to him for orders; so they who conduct their administration only with a view to popular applause, are called governors indeed, but, in fact, are no more than slaves of the people.

[2] The complete, the honest statesman has no further regard to the public opinion than as the trust it gains him facilitates his designs, and crowns them with success. An ambitious young man may be allowed, indeed, to pride himself upon his great and good actions, and to expect his portion of fame. 2 For virtues, as Theophrastus says, when they first begin to grow in persons of that age and disposition, are cherished and strengthened by praise, and afterwards increase in proportion as the love of glory increases. 3 But an immoderate passion for fame, in all affairs, is dangerous, and in political matters destructive: for, joined to great authority, this passion drives all that are possessed with it into folly and madness, while they no longer think that glorious which is good, but account whatever is glorious to be also good and honest. 4 Therefore, as Phocion said to Antipater, when he desired something of him inconsistent with justice, "You cannot have Phocion for your friend and flatterer too;" this, or something like it, should be said to the multitude; "You cannot have the same man both for your governor and your slave;" 5 for that would be no more than exemplifying the fable of the serpent. Its tail, it seems, one day quarrelled with the head, and, instead of being forced always to follow, insisted that it should lead in its turn. Accordingly, the tail undertook the charge, and, as it moved forward aimlessly, it tore itself in a terrible manner: and the head, which was thus obliged, against nature, to follow a guide that could neither see nor hear, suffered likewise in its turn. 6 We see many under the same predicament, whose object is popularity in all the steps of their administration. Attached entirely to the capricious multitude, they produce such disorders as they can neither redress nor restrain.

7 These observations on popularity were suggested to us by considering the effects of it in the misfortunes of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. In point of disposition, of education, and political principles, none could exceed them; yet they were ruined, not so much by an immoderate love of glory as by a fear of disgrace, which, in its origin, was not wrong. 8 They had been so much obliged to the people for their favour, that they were ashamed not to repay them in marks of attention. On the contrary, by the most acceptable services, they always studied to outdo the honours paid them; and being still more honoured on account of those services, the affection between them and the people became at last so violent, that it forced them into a situation wherein it was in vain to say, "Since we are wrong, it would be a shame to persist." 9 The course of the narrative will confirm these observations.

With these two Romans let us compare two Spartan kings, Agis and Cleomenes, who were not inferior to them in popularity. 10 Like the Gracchi, they strove to enlarge the privileges of the people, and by restoring the just and glorious institutions which had long fallen into disuse, they became equally obnoxious to the great, who could not think of parting with the superiority which riches gave them, and to which they had long been accustomed. 11 These Spartans were not, indeed, brothers; but their actions were of the same kindred and complexion; the source of which was as follows.

[3] When the love of money made its way into Sparta, and brought avarice and meanness in its train on the one hand, and on the other, luxury, effeminacy and extravagance, that state soon deviated from its original virtue, and sank into contempt until the reign of Agis and Leonidas. 2 Agis was of the Eurypontid family, the son of Eudamidas, the sixth in descent from Agesilaus, who was distinguished by his expedition into Asia, and for his eminence in Greece. 3 Agesilaus was succeeded by his son Archidamus, who was slain by the Messapii at Mandorium in Italy. Agis was the eldest son of Archidamus, and being slain at Megalopolis by Antipater, and leaving no children, was succeeded by his brother Eudamidas. He was succeeded by another Archidamus, his son, and that prince by another Eudamidas, his son likewise, and the father of that Agis of whom we are now speaking. 4 Leonidas, the son of Cleonymus, was of the the Agiad family, the other royal family; he was the eighth in descent from that Pausanias who conquered Mardonius at Plataea. 5 Pausanias was succeeded by his son Pleistonax, and he by another Pausanias, who being banished to Tegea, left his kingdom to his eldest son Agesipolis. He, dying without issue, was succeeded by his brother Cleombrotus, who left two sons, Agesipolis and Cleomenes. 6 Agesipolis, after a short reign, died without issue, and Cleomenes, who succeeded him in the kingdom, after burying his eldest son Acrotatus, left surviving another son Cleonymus, who, however, did not succeed to the kingdom, which fell to Areus the son of Acrotatus, and grandson of Cleomenes. 7 Areus being slain at Corinth, the crown descended to his son Acrotatus, who was defeated and killed in the battle of Megalopolis, by the tyrant Aristodemus. 8 He left his wife pregnant; and as the child proved to be a son, Leonidas, the son of Cleonymus, took the guardianship of him; and when his charge died in his minority, the crown fell to him. This prince was not agreeable to his people. 9 For, though the corruption was general, and they all grew daily more and more depraved, yet Leonidas was more remarkable than the rest for his deviation from the customs of his ancestors. He had spent much time in the courts of the Asiatic princes, particularly in that of Seleucus, and he had the indiscretion to introduce the pomp of those courts into a Greek state, and into a kingdom where the laws were the rules of government.

[4] Agis far exceeded not only him, but almost all the kings who reigned before him since the great Agesilaus, in goodness of disposition and dignity of mind. For, though brought up in the grandest affluence, and in all the indulgence that might be expected from female tuition, under his mother Agesistrata, and his grandmother Archidamia, who were the richest of the Lacedaemonians, yet before he reached the age of twenty, 2 he declared war against pleasure; and to prevent any vanity which the beauty of his person might have suggested, he discarded all unnecessary ornament and expense, and constantly appeared in a plain Lacedaemonian cloak. In his diet, his bathing, and all his exercises, he kept close to the Spartan simplicity, and he often used to say that the crown was no further an object of desire to him, than as it might enable him to restore the laws and ancient discipline of his country.

[5] The first symptoms of corruption and distemper in their commonwealth appeared at the time when the Spartans had completely destroyed the Athenian empire, and began to bring gold and silver into Lacedaemon. 2 Nevertheless, while the agrarian law established by Lycurgus still remained, and the lots of land descended undiminished from father to son, order and equality in some measure remained, which prevented other errors from being fatal. 3 But Epitadeus, a man of great authority in Sparta, though at the same time factious and ill-natured, being appointed one of the ephors, and having a quarrel with his son, procured a law that all men should have liberty to give away their estates in their lifetime, or to leave them to whom they pleased at their death. 4 It was to indulge his private resentment, that this man proposed the decree, which others accepted and confirmed from a motive of avarice, and thus the best institution in the world was abrogated. 5 Men of fortune now extended their estates without bounds, not scrupling to exclude the right heirs; and property quickly coming into a few hands, the rest of the people were poor and miserable. The latter found no time or opportunity for liberal arts and exercises, being obliged to drudge in mean employments for their living, and consequently looking with envy and hatred on the rich. 6 There remained not above seven hundred of the old Spartan families, of which, perhaps, one hundred had estates in land. 7 The rest of the city was filled with an insignificant rabble without property or honour, who had neither heart nor spirit to defend their city against wars abroad, and who were always watching an opportunity for changes and revolutions at home.

[6] For these reasons Agis thought it a noble undertaking, as in fact it was, to bring the citizens again to an equality, and by that means to replenish Sparta with respectable inhabitants. For this purpose he tested the inclinations of his subjects. The young men listened to him with a readiness far beyond his expectation; they adopted the cause of virtue with him, and, for the sake of liberty, changed their manner of living with as little objection as they would have changed their apparel. 2 But most of the old men, being far gone in corruption, were as much afraid of the name of Lycurgus as a fugitive slave, when brought back, is of that of his master. They spoke bitterly, therefore, against Agis for lamenting the present state of things, and desiring to restore the ancient dignity of Sparta. 3 On the other hand, Lysander, the son of Libys, Mandroclidas the son of Epiphanes, and Agesilaus, not only accepted his glorious designs, but co-operated with them.

4 Lysander had great reputation and authority among the Spartans. No man understood the interests of Greece better than Mandroclidas, and with his shrewdness and capacity he had a proper mixture of spirit. 5 As for Agesilaus, he was uncle to the king, and a man of great eloquence, but at the same time effeminate and avaricious. However, he was won over to this enterprise by his son Hippomedon, who had distinguished himself in many wars, and was influential on account of the attachment of the Spartan youth to his person. 6 It must be acknowledged, indeed, that the thing which really persuaded Agesilaus to embark in the design was the greatness of his debts, which he hoped would be cleared off by a change in the constitution.

7 As soon as Agis had won him over, he endeavoured, with his assistance, to bring his own mother into the scheme. She was sister to Agesilaus, and by her extensive connections, her wealth, and the number of people who owed her money, had great influence in Sparta, and a considerable share in the management of public affairs. [7] Upon the first intimation of the thing, she was quite astonished at it, and dissuaded the young man as much as possible, from measures which she looked upon as neither practicable nor salutary. 2 But Agesilaus showed her that they might easily be brought to bear, and that they would prove of the greatest advantage to the state. The young prince, too, entreated his mother to sacrifice her wealth to the advancement of his glory, and to indulge his laudable ambition. "It is impossible," said he, "for me ever to vie with other kings in point of opulence. The servants of a satrap, or the slaves of the stewards of Ptolemy and Seleucus, are richer than all the Spartan kings put together. 3 But if by sobriety, by simplicity of provision for the body, and by greatness of mind, I can do something which shall far exceed all their pomp and luxury, I mean the making of an equal partition of property among all the citizens, I shall really become a great king, and have all the honour which such actions demand."

4 This address changed the opinions of the women. They entered into the young man's glorious views; they caught the flame of virtue, as it were, by inspiration, and, in their turn, hastened Agis to put his scheme into execution. They sent for their friends, and recommended the affair to them; for they knew that the Lacedaemonians always listen to their wives, and that the women are permitted to meddle more with public business than the men are with the domestic. 5 This, indeed, was the principle obstruction to Agis' enterprise. A great part of the wealth of Sparta was now in the hands of the women. 6 Consequently they opposed the reforms, not only because they knew that they must forfeit those pleasures in which, by straying from the severer paths of sobriety, they had come to place their happiness; but because they saw that they must also lose that honour and power which accompanied their wealth. 7 They therefore applied to Leonidas, the other king, and desired him, as the older man, to put a stop to the projects of Agis.

8 Leonidas was inclined to serve the rich; but as he feared the people, who were desirous of the change, he did not oppose it openly. Privately, indeed, he strove to wreck the design, by applying to the magistrates, and invidiously represented that "Agis offered the poor a share in the estates of the rich, as the price of absolute power; and the distribution of lands, and cancelling of debts, were only a means to purchase guards for himself, not citizens for Sparta."

[8] Agis, however, having managed to get Lysander elected one of the ephors, took the opportunity to propose his decree to the elders; according to which, "Debtors were to be released from their obligations; and lands to be divided in the following manner:- those that lay between the valley of Pellene and Mount Taygetus, as far as Malea and Sellasia, were to be distributed in four thousand five hundred equal lots; fifteen thousand lots were to be made of the remaining territory, 2 which should be shared among the neighbouring inhabitants who were able to bear arms: as to what lay within the limits first mentioned, Spartans were to have the preference; 3 but if their number fell short, it should be made up out of foreigners who were irreproachable in point of person, condition, and education. 4 These were to be divided into fifteen companies, some of four hundred, some of two hundred, who were to eat together, and keep to the mode of life enjoined by the laws of Lycurgus".

[9] When the decree was thus proposed, and the elders differed in their opinions upon it, Lysander summoned an assembly of the people; and he, with Mandroclidas and Agesilaus, in their speeches to the citizens, entreated them not to allow the few to abuse the many, or to see with unconcern the majesty of Sparta trodden under foot. They desired them to recollect the ancient oracles which bade them beware of the love of money, as a vice the most ruinous to Sparta; as well as the recent answer from the temple of Pasiphae, which gave them the same warning. 2 For Pasiphae had a temple at Thalamiae. Some say that this Pasiphae was one of the daughters of Atlas, who had by Zeus a son named Ammon. Others suppose her to be Cassandra, the daughter of Priamus, who died at that place, and might have the name of Pasiphae, from her answering the questions of all that consulted her. 3 But Phylarchus says that she was no other than Daphne, the daughter of Amyclas, who flying from the solicitations of Apollo, was turned into a laurel tree, and afterwards honoured by that god with the gift of prophecy. 4 Be this as it may, it was affirmed that her oracle had commanded all the Spartans to return to the equality which the laws of Lycurgus originally enjoined.

5 Last of all, king Agis entered the assembly, and, after a short speech, declared that he would make a large contribution to the institution which he recommended. He would first give up to the community his own great estate, consisting of arable and pasture land, and of six hundred talents in money: 6 then his mother and grandmother, all his relations and friends, who were the richest persons in Sparta, would follow his example.

[10] The people were astonished at the magnificence of the young man's proposal, and rejoiced that now, after the space of three hundred years, they had at last found a king worthy of Sparta. Upon this, Leonidas began openly and vigorously to oppose the new regulations. 2 He considered that he should be obliged to do the same as his colleague, without finding the same acknowledgements from the people; that all would be equally under the necessity of giving up their fortunes, and that he who first set the example would alone reap the honour. He therefore demanded of Agis, "Whether he thought Lycurgus a good and just man?" 3 Agis answered that he did, and Leonidas went on as follows: "But did Lycurgus ever order just debts to be cancelled, or bestow the freedom of Sparta upon foreigners? Did he not rather think his commonwealth could not be in a healthy state, except if foreigners were entirely excluded?" 4 Agis replied, "I do not wonder that Leonidas, who was educated in a foreign country, and has children by an intermarriage with a Persian family, should not realise that Lycurgus, in banishing money, banished both debts and usury from Lacedaemon. As for foreigners, he excluded only those who were not likely to conform with his institutions, or were not fit to class with his people. 5 For he did not dislike them merely as foreigners; his objections were to their manners and customs, and he was afraid that by mixing with his Spartans, they would infect them with their luxury, effeminacy and avarice. 6 Terpander, Thales and Pherecydes were foreigners, yet because their poetry and philosophy was in harmony with the maxims of Lycurgus, they were held in great honour at Sparta. 7 Even you commend Ecprepes, who, when he was one of the ephors, removed the two strings which Phrynis the musician had added to the seven of the harp; you commend those who did the same to Timotheus; 8 and yet you complain of our intention to banish extravagance, pride and luxury from Sparta. Do you think that in removing the swelling and excessive graces of music they had no further view, and that they were not afraid that the excess and disorder would reach the lives and manners of the people, and destroy the harmony of the state?

[11] From this time the common people followed Agis. But the rich entreated Leonidas not to give up their cause; and they exerted their influence so effectively amongst the elders, whose chief power lay in previously determining what laws should be proposed to the people, that they carried their vote against the decree by a majority of one. 2 Lysander, however, being yet in office, resolved to prosecute Leonidas under an ancient law, which forbids every descendant of Heracles from having children by a foreign woman, and makes it a capital offence for a Spartan to settle in a foreign country. 3 He instructed others to allege these things against Leonidas, while he, with his colleagues, watched for a sign from heaven. 4 It was the custom for the ephors every ninth year, on a clear star-lit night, when there was no moon, to sit down, and in silence observe the heavens. 5 If a star happened to shoot from one part of them to another, they pronounced the kings guilty of some crime against the gods, and suspended them until they were re-established by an oracle from Delphi or Olympia. 6 Lysander, affirming that the sign had appeared to him, summoned Leonidas to his trial, and produced witnesses to prove that he had two children by an Asian woman, whom one of Seleucus' lieutenants had given to him as wife; but that, on her conceiving a mortal aversion to him, he returned home unwillingly, and filled the vacancy in the throne of Sparta. 7 During this trial, he persuaded Cleombrotus, son-in-law of Leonidas, and of royal blood, to lay claim to the crown. 8 Leonidas, greatly terrified, fled to the altar of Athene in the "Brazen House", and his daughter, leaving Cleombrotus, joined him as a suppliant. 9 He was summoned back to the court of law; and as he did not appear, he was deposed, and the kingdom awarded to Cleombrotus.

[12] Soon after this revolution, Lysander's time expired, and he left his office. The ephors of the following year listened to the supplication of Leonidas, and agreed to restore him. They likewise began a prosecution against Lysander and Mandroclidas for the cancelling of debts and distribution of lands, which those magistrates agreed to contrary to the laws. 2 In this danger they persuaded the two kings to unite their interests, and to disregard the machinations of the ephors. "These magistrates," said they, "have no power but what they derive from some dispute between the kings. In such a case they have a right to support with their votes the prince whose measures are salutary, against the other who does not consult the public good; 3 but when the kings are unanimous, nothing can overcome their determination. To resist them is to fight against the laws. For, as we said, they can only decide between the kings in case of disagreement; when their sentiments are the same, the ephors have no right to interpose."

4 The kings, prevailed upon by this argument, entered the place of assembly with their friends, where they removed the ephors from their seats, and put others in their place. Agesilaus was one of these new magistrates. 5 They then armed a great number of the young men, and released many out of prison; upon which their adversaries were struck with terror, expecting that many lives would be lost; 6 however they put not one man to the sword; on the contrary Agis, understanding that Agesilaus designed to killed Leonidas in his flight to Tegea, and had placed assassins for that purpose on the way, generously sent a party of men whom he could depend upon, to escort him, and they conducted him safely to Tegea.

[13] Thus the business went on with all the success they could desire, and they encountered no further opposition. But this excellent design, so worthy of Lacedaemon, miscarried through the failure of one of its pretended advocates, the vile disease of avarice, in Agesilaus. 2 He was possessed of a large and fine estate in land, but at the same time deeply in debt; and as he was neither able to pay his debts, nor willing to part with his land, he persuaded Agis, that if both his intentions were carried into execution at the same time, it would probably raise great commotion in Sparta, but if he first obliged the rich by the cancelling of debts, they would afterwards quietly and readily consent to the distribution of lands. 3 Agesilaus drew Lysander too into the same snare. An order, therefore, was issued for bringing in all bonds (the Lacedaemonians call them claria), and they were piled together in the market-place, and burned. 4 When the fire began to burn, the money-lenders and other creditors walked off in great distress. But Agesilaus, in a scoffing way, said, "He never saw a brighter or more glorious flame."

5 The common people demanded that the distribution of lands should also be made immediately, and the kings gave orders for it; but Agesilaus found some pretence or other for delay, until it was time for Agis to take the field on behalf of the Achaeans, who were allies of the Spartans, and had applied to them for help. 6 For they expected that the Aetolians would take the route through the territory of Megara, and enter the Peloponnese. Aratus, general of the Achaeans, assembled an army to prevent it, and wrote to the ephors for assistance.

[14] They immediately sent Agis upon that service; and that prince went out with the highest hopes, on account of the spirit of his men and their attachment to his person. 2 They were mostly impoverished young men, who being now released from their debts, and expecting a division of lands if they returned from the war, strove to recommend themselves as much as possible to Agis. 3 It was a most agreeable spectacle to the cities, to see them march through the Peloponnese without committing the least violence, and with such discipline that they were scarcely heard as they passed. The Greeks said to one another, "With what excellent order and decency must the armies under Agesilaus, Lysander, or Leonidas of old have moved, when we find such exact obedience, such reverence in these Spartans to a general who is, perhaps, the youngest man in the whole army." 4 Indeed, this young prince's simplicity of diet, his love of labour, and his affecting no show either in his dress or arms above a private soldier, made all the common people, as he passed, look upon him with pleasure and admiration, 5 but his new regulations at Sparta displeased the rich, and they were afraid that he might raise commotions everywhere among the populace, and encourage them to follow his example.

[15] After Agis had joined Aratus at Corinth, in the deliberations about meeting and fighting the enemy he showed a prompt courage and spirit, without any wild or irrational ideas. 2 He gave it as his opinion, that they should give battle, and not suffer the war to enter the gates of the Peloponnese. He would do, however, whatever Aratus thought most expedient, 3 because Aratus was the older man, and general of the Achaeans, whom he came not to dictate to, but to assist in the war.

4 It must be admitted that Baton of Sinope relates it in another manner. He says that Aratus was for fighting, and Agis declined it. But Baton was unaware of what Aratus writes by way of apology for himself on this point. That general tells us, that as the farmers had almost finished their harvest, he thought it better to let the enemy pass, than to hazard by a battle the loss of the whole country. 5 Therefore, when Aratus determined not to fight, and dismissed his allies with compliments on their readiness to serve him, Agis, who had gained great honour by his behaviour, marched back to Sparta, where by this time internal troubles and changes demanded his presence.

[16] Agesilaus, still one of the ephors and delivered from the pressure of debts which had weighed down his spirits, spared no act of injustice that might bring money into his coffers. He even added to the year a thirteenth month, though the proper time for that intercalation had not come, and insisted on the people's paying additional taxes for that month. 2 Being afraid, however, of revenge from those whom he had injured, and seeing himself hated by all the world, he thought it necessary to maintain a guard, which always attended him to the magistrates' office. 3 As to the kings, he expressed an utter contempt for one of them, and he pretended that the respect he paid to the other was more on account of his being his kinsman, than his wearing the crown. Beside, he propagated a report, that he should be one of the ephors in the following year. 4 His enemies, therefore, determined to attempt an immediate attack upon him, and openly brought back Leonidas from Tegea, and placed him on the throne. The people saw it with pleasure; for they were angry at finding themselves deceived with respect to the promised distribution of lands. 5 Agesilaus would hardly have escaped their fury, had not his son Hippomedon, who was held in great esteem by the whole city on account of his valour, interceded for his life.

6 The kings both took sanctuary; Agis in the "Brazen House", and Cleombrotus in the temple of Poseidon. 7 It was against the latter that Leonidas was most incensed; and therefore passing Agis by, he went with a party of soldiers to seize Cleombrotus, whom he reproached, in terms of resentment, with conspiring against him, though honoured with his alliance, depriving him of the crown, and banishing him from his county.

[17] Cleombrotus had nothing to say, but sat in the deepest distress and silence. 2 Chilonis, the daughter of Leonidas, had looked upon the injury done to her father as done to herself; when Cleombrotus robbed him of the crown, she left him, to console her father in his misfortune. While he was in the sanctuary, she stayed with him, and when he went into exile, she attended him in his flight, sympathising with his sorrow, and full of resentment against Cleombrotus. 3 But when the fortunes of her father changed, she changed too. She joined her husband as a suppliant, and was found sitting by him with great marks of tenderness; and her two children, one on each side, at her feet. 4 The whole company was much struck at the sight, and they could not refrain from tears when they considered her goodness of heart and such instances of affection.

5 Chilonis then pointing to her mourning clothes and her dishevelled hair, thus addressed Leonidas: "It was not, my dear father, compassion for Cleombrotus which put me in these clothes and gave me this look of misery. My sorrows began with your misfortunes and your banishment, and have ever since remained my familiar companions. 6 Now you have conquered your enemies, and are again king of Sparta, should I still retain these marks of affliction, or assume festive and royal ornaments while the husband of my youth, whom you gave me, falls a victim to your vengeance? 7 If his own submission, if the tears of his wife and children cannot propitiate you, he must suffer a severer punishment for his offences than you require:- he must see his beloved wife die before him. 8 For how can I live and support the sight of my own sex, after both my husband and my father have refused to listen to my supplication, and when it appears that, both as a wife and a daughter, I am born to be miserable with my family? 9 If this poor man had any plausible reasons for what he did, I removed them all by forsaking him to follow you. 10 But you furnish him with a sufficient excuse for his misbehaviour, by showing that a crown is so great and desirable an object, that a son-in-law might be slain, and a daughter utterly disregarded, where that is in the question."

[18] Chilonis, after this supplication, rested her cheek on her husband's head, and with an eye dim and languid with sorrow, looked around at the spectators. Leonidas consulted his friends upon the point, and then told Cleombrotus to rise and go into exile; 2 but he desired Chilonis to stay, and not to leave so affectionate a father, who had been kind enough to grant her her husband's life. 3 Chilonis, however, would not be persuaded. When her husband was risen from the ground, she put one child in his arms, and took the other herself, and after having paid due homage at the altar where they had taken sanctuary, she went with him into banishment. So that, had not Cleombrotus been corrupted with the love of false glory, he must have thought exile with such a woman a greater happiness than a kingdom without her.

4 After Cleombrotus was thus expelled, the ephors were removed, and others put in their place. 5 Then Leonidas laid a scheme to get Agis into his power. At first, he urged him to leave his sanctuary, and resume his share in the government; "For the people," he said, "though that he might well be pardoned, as a young man ambitious of honour; and the more so, because they, as well as he, had been deceived by the craft of Agesilaus." 6 But when he found that Agis suspected him, and chose to stay where he was, he threw off the mask of kindness. 7 Amphares, Damochares and Arcesilaus used to accompany Agis, for they were his intimate friends. They likewise conducted him from the temple to the bath, and, after he had bathed, brought him back to the sanctuary. 8 Amphares had recently borrowed a great deal of expensive clothes and cups from Agesistrata, and he hoped that if he could destroy the king and the princesses of his family, he might keep those goods as his own. 9 On this account he is said to have first listened to the suggestions of Leonidas, and to have endeavoured to bring the ephors, his colleagues, to do the same.

[19] As Agis spent the rest of his time in the temple, and only went out to the bath, they resolved to make use of that opportunity. 2 Therefore, one day on his return, they met him with a great appearance of friendship, and as they conducted him on his way, conversed with much freedom and gaiety, which his youth and their intimacy with him seemed to warrant. 3 But when they came to the turning of a street which led to the prison, Amphares, by virtue of his office, arrested him. "I take you Agis," said he, "into custody, in order that you may give an account to the ephors of your administration." 4 At the same time, Damochares, who was a tall, strong man, wrapped his cloak about his head, and dragged him off. The rest, as they had previously arranged, pushed him on behind, and as no-one came to his rescue or assistance, he was committed to prison.

5 Leonidas presently came with a strong band of mercenaries, to secure the outside of the prison; and the ephors entered it, with such elders as were of their party. They began, as in a judicial process, with demanding what he had to say in defence of his proceedings; 6 and as the young man only laughed at their dissimulation, Amphares told him that they would soon make him weep for his presumption. Another of the ephors, who seemed inclined to put him in a way of excusing himself and getting off, asked him whether Lysander and Agesilaus had not forced him into the measures he took. 7 But Agis answered, "I was forced by no man; it was my attachment to the institutions of Lycurgus, and my desire to imitate him, which made me adopt his form of government". Then the same magistrate asked whether he repented of what he had done; 8 and his answer was, "I shall never repent of so glorious a design, though I see death before my eyes." Upon this they passed sentence of death upon him, and commanded the officers to carry him into the dechas, which is a small apartment in the prison where they strangle criminals. 9 But the officers did not dare to touch him, and even the mercenaries declined it, for they thought it impious to lay violent hands on a king. Damochares, seeing this, loaded them with reproaches, and threatened to punish them. At the same time he laid hold of Agis himself, and thrust him into the dungeon.

10 By this time it was generally known that Agis had been taken into custody, and there was a great tumult of people at the prison gates with lanterns and torches. Among the numbers who protested at these proceedings were the mother and grandmother of Agis, crying out and begging that the king might be heard and judged by the people in full assembly. 11 But this, instead of procuring him a respite, hastened his execution; for they were afraid he would be rescued in the night, if the tumult should increase.

[20] As Agis was going to execution, he perceived one of the officers lamenting his fate with tears; upon which he said, "My friend, dry up your tears; for, as I suffer innocently, I am in a better condition than those who condemn me contrary to law and justice." So saying, he cheerfully offered his neck to the executioner.

2 Amphares then went to the gate, and Agesistrata threw herself at his feet, on account of their long intimacy and friendship. He raised her from the ground, and told her that no further violence would be offered to her son, nor would he now have any hard treatment. He told her, too, that she might go in and see her son, if she pleased. 3 She desired that her mother might be admitted with her, and Amphares assured her, there would be no objection. When he had let them in, he commanded the gates to be locked again, and Archidamia to be brought in first. She was very old, and had lived in great honour and esteem among the Spartans. After she was put to death, he ordered Agesistrata to walk in. 4 She did so, and beheld her son laid out on the ground, and her mother hanging by the neck. She assisted the officers in taking Archidamia down, placed the body by that of Agis, and wrapped it decently up. 5 Then embracing her son and kissing him, she said, "My son, your extreme moderation, mildness, and humanity have ruined both you and us." 6 Amphares, who from the door saw and heard all that happened, went up in great fury to Agesistrata, and said, "If you approved your son's actions, you shall also have his reward." 7 She rose up to meet her fate, and said, with a sigh for her country, "May all this be for the good of Sparta."

[21] When these events were reported in the city, and the three corpses carried out, the terror that the sad scene inspired did not prevent the people from openly expressing their grief and indignation, and their hatred of Leonidas and Amphares. For they were persuaded that there had not been such a series of villainous and impious actions at Sparta, since the Dorians first inhabited the Peloponnese. 2 The majesty of the kings of Sparta had been held in such veneration even by their enemies, that they had not dared to strike them even when they had the opportunity for it in battle. 3 So it was, that in the many battles between the Lacedaemonians and the other Greeks, the former had lost only their king Cleombrotus, who fell by a javelin in the battle of Leuctra a little before the time of Philippus of Macedonia. 4 As for Theopompus, who, as the Messenians claim, was killed by Aristomenes, the Lacedaemonians deny it, and say he was only wounded. That indeed is a matter of some dispute: 5 but it is certain that Agis was the first king of Lacedaemon to be put to death by the ephors, and that he suffered only for engaging in an enterprise that was truly glorious and worthy of Sparta, though he was of an age at which even errors are considered pardonable. His friends had more reason to complain of him than his enemies, for saving Leonidas, and trusting his associates in the sincere generosity and goodness of his heart.

Attalus' home page   |   29.02.16   |   Any comments?