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The Comparison of Numa with Lycurgus
By Plutarch

Translated by John Dryden

Having thus finished the lives of Lycurgus and Numa, we shall now,
though the work be difficult, put together their points of difference
as they lie here before our view. Their points of likeness are obvious;
their moderation, their religion, their capacity of government and
discipline, their both deriving their laws and constitutions from
the gods. Yet in their common glories there are circumstances of diversity;
for first Numa accepted and Lycurgus resigned a kingdom; Numa received
without desiring it, Lycurgus had it and gave it up; the one from
a private person and a stranger was raised by others to be their king;
the other from the condition of a prince voluntarily descended to
the state of privacy. It was glorious to acquire a throne by justice,
yet more glorious to prefer justice before a throne; the same virtue
which made the one appear worthy of regal power exalted the other
to the disregard of it. Lastly, as the musicians tune their harps,
so the one let down the high-flown spirits of the people at Rome to
a lower key, as the other screwed them up at Sparta to a higher note,
when they were sunken low by dissoluteness and riot. The harder task
was that of Lycurgus; for it was not so much his business to persuade
his citizens to put off their armour or ungird their swords, as to
cast away their gold or silver, and abandon costly furniture and rich
tables; nor was it necessary to preach to them, that, laying aside
their arms, they should observe the festivals, and sacrifice to the
gods, but rather, that, giving up feasting and drinking, they should
employ their time in laborious and martial exercises; so that while
the one effected all by persuasions and his people's love for him,
the other, with danger and hazard of his person, scarcely in the end
succeeded. Numa's muse was a gentle and loving inspiration, fitting
him well to turn and soothe his people into peace and justice out
of their violent and fiery tempers; whereas, if we must admit the
treatment of the Helots to be a part of Lycurgus's legislation, a
most cruel and iniquitous proceeding, we must own that Numa was by
a great deal the more humane and Greek-like legislator, granting even
to actual slaves a licence to sit at meat with their masters at the
feast of Saturn, that they also might have some taste and relish of
the sweets of liberty. For this custom, too, is ascribed to Numa,
whose wish was, they conceive, to give a place in the enjoyment of
the yearly fruits of the soil to those who had helped to produce them.
Others will have it to be in remembrance of the age of Saturn, when
there was no distinction between master and slave, but all lived as
brothers and as equals in a condition of equality. 

In general, it seems that both aimed at the same design and intent,
which was to bring their people to moderation and frugality; but of
other virtues, the one set his affection most on fortitude, and the
other on justice; unless we will attribute their different ways to
the different habits and temperaments which they had to work upon
by their enactments; for Numa did not out of cowardice or fear affect
peace, but because he would not be guilty of injustice; nor did Lycurgus
promote a spirit of war in his people that they might do injustice
to others, but that they might protect themselves by it.

In bringing the habits they formed in their people to a just and happy
mean, mitigating them where they exceeded, and strengthening them
where they were deficient, both were compelled to make great innovations.
The frame of government which Numa formed was democratic and popular
to the last extreme, goldsmiths and flute-players and shoemakers constituting
his promiscuous, many-coloured commonalty. Lycurgus was rigid and
aristocratical, banishing all the base and mechanic arts to the company
of servants and strangers, and allowing the true citizens no implements
but the spear and shield, the trade of war only, and the service of
Mars, and no other knowledge or study, but that of obedience to their
commanding officers, and victory over their enemies. Every sort of
money-making was forbid them as freemen; and to make them thoroughly
so and keep them so through their whole lives, every conceivable concern
with money was handed over, with the cooking and the waiting at table,
to slaves and helots. But Numa made none of these distinctions; he
only suppressed military rapacity, allowing free scope to every other
means of obtaining wealth; nor did he endeavour to do away with inequality
in this respect, but permitted riches to be amassed to any extent,
and paid no attention to the gradual and continual augmentation and
influx of poverty; which it was his business at the outset, whilst
there was no great disparity in the estates of men, and whilst people
still lived much in one manner, to obviate, as Lycurgus did, and take
measures of precaution against the mischiefs of avarice, mischiefs
not of small importance, but the real seed and first beginning of
all the great and extensive evils of after-times. The re-division
of estates, Lycurgus is not, it seems to me, to be blamed for making,
nor Numa for omitting; this equality was the basis and foundation
of the one commonwealth; but at Rome, where the lands had been lately
divided, there was nothing to urge any re-division or any disturbance
of the first arrangement, which was probably still in existence.

With respect to wives and children, and that community which both,
with a sound policy, appointed, to prevent all jealousy, their methods,
however were different. For when a Roman thought himself to have a
sufficient number of children, in case his neighbour who had none
should come and request his wife of him, he had a lawful power to
give her up to him who desired her, either for a certain time, or
for good. The Lacedaemonian husband, on the other hand, might allow
the use of his wife to any other that desired to have children by
her, and yet still keep her in his house, the original marriage obligation
still subsisting as at first. Nay, many husbands, as we have said,
would invite men whom they thought likely to procure them fine and
good-looking children into their houses. What is the difference, then,
between the two customs? Shall we say that the Lacedaemonian system
is one of an extreme and entire unconcern about their wives, and would
cause most people endless disquiet and annoyance with pangs and jealousies?
the Roman course wears an air of a more delicate acquiescence, draws
the veil of a new contract over the change, and concedes the general
insupportableness of mere community? Numa's directions, too, for the
care of young women, are better adapted to the female sex and to propriety;
Lycurgus's are altogether unreserved and unfeminine, and have given
a great handle to the poets, who call them (Ibycus, for example) Phoenomerides,
bare-thighed; and give them the character (as does Euripides) of being
wild after husbands- 

"These with the young men from the house go out, 
With thighs that show, and robes that fly about." For in fact the
skirts of the frock worn by unmarried girls were not sewn together
at the lower part, but used to fly back and show the whole thigh bare
as they walked. The thing is most distinctly given by Sophocles-

"-She, also, the young maid, 
Whose frock, no robe yet o'er it laid, 
Folding back, leaves her bare thigh free, 
Hermione." And so their women, it is said, were bold and masculine,
overbearing to their husbands in the first place, absolute mistresses
in their houses, giving their opinions about public matters freely,
and speaking openly even on the most important subjects. But the matrons,
under the government of Numa, still indeed received from their husbands
all that high respect and honour which had been paid them under Romulus
as a sort of atonement for the violence done to them; nevertheless,
great modesty was enjoined upon them; all busy intermeddling forbidden,
sobriety insisted on, and silence made habitual. Wine they were not
to touch at all, nor to speak, except in their husband's company,
even on the most ordinary subjects. So that once when a woman had
the confidence to plead her own cause in a court of judicature, the
senate, it is said, sent to inquire of the oracle what the prodigy
did portend; and, indeed, their general good behaviour and submissiveness
is justly proved by the record of those that were otherwise; for as
the Greek historians record in their annals the names of those who
first unsheathed the sword of civil war, or murdered their brothers,
or were parricides, or killed their mothers, so the Roman writers
report it as the first example, that Spurius Carvilius divorced his
wife, being a case that never before happened, in the space of two
hundred and thirty years from the foundation of the city; and that
one Thalaea, the wife of Pinarius, had a quarrel (the first instance
of the kind) with her mother-in-law, Gegania, in the reign of Tarquinius
Superbus; so successful was the legislator in securing order and good
conduct in the marriage relation. Their respective regulations for
marrying the young women are in accordance with those for their education.
Lycurgus made them brides when they were of full age and inclination
for it. Intercourse, where nature was thus consulted, would produce,
he thought, love and tenderness, instead of the dislike and fear attending
an unnatural compulsion; and their bodies, also, would be better able
to bear the trials of breeding and of bearing children, in his judgment
the one end of marriage. 

The Romans, on the other hand, gave their daughters in marriage as
early as twelve years old, or even under; thus the thought their bodies
alike and minds would be delivered to the future husband pure and
undefiled. The way of Lycurgus seems the more natural with a view
to the birth of children; the other, looking to a life to be spent
together, is more moral. However, the rules which Lycurgus drew up
for superintendence of children, their collection into companies,
their discipline and association, as also his exact regulations for
their meals, exercises, and sports, argue Numa no more than an ordinary
lawgiver. Numa left the whole matter simply to be decided by the parent's
wishes or necessities; he might, if he pleased, make his son a husbandman
or carpenter, coppersmith or musician; as if it were of no importance
for them to be directed and trained up from the beginning to one and
the same common end, or as though it would do for them to be like
passengers on shipboard, brought thither each for his own ends and
by his own choice, uniting to act for the common good only in time
of danger upon occasion of their private fears, in general looking
simply to their own interest. 

We may forbear, indeed, to blame common legislators, who may be deficient
in power or knowledge. But when a wise man like Numa had received
the sovereignty over a new and docile people, was there anything that
would better deserve his attention than the education of children,
and the training up of the young, not to contrariety and discordance
of character, but to the unity of the common model of virtue, to which
from their cradle they should have been formed and moulded? One benefit
among many that Lycurgus obtained by his course was the permanence
which it secured to his laws. The obligation of oaths to preserve
them would have availed but little, if he had not, by discipline and
education, infused them into the children's characters, and imbued
their whole early life with a love of his government. The result was
that the main points and fundamentals of his legislation continued
for above five hundred years, like some deep and thoroughly ingrained
tincture, retaining their hold upon the nation. But Numa's whole design
and aim, the continuance of peace and goodwill, on his death vanished
with him; no sooner did he expire his last breath than the gates of
Janus's temple flew wide open, and, as if war had, indeed, been kept
and caged up within those walls, it rushed forth to fill all Italy
with blood and slaughter; and thus that best and justest fabric of
things was of no long continuance, because it wanted that cement which
should have kept all together, education. What, then, some may say,
has not Rome been advanced and bettered by her wars? A question that
will need a long answer, if it is to be one to satisfy men who take
the better to consist in riches, luxury, and dominion, rather than
in security, gentleness, and that independence which is accompanied
by justice. However, it makes much for Lycurgus, that, after the Romans
had deserted the doctrine and discipline of Numa, their empire grew
and their power increased so much; whereas so soon as the Lacedaemonians
fell from the institutions of Lycurgus, they sank from the highest
to the lowest state, and, after forfeiting their supremacy over the
rest of Greece, were themselves in danger of absolute extirpation.
Thus much, meantime, was peculiarly signal and almost divine in the
circumstances of Numa, that he was an alien, and yet courted to come
and accept a kingdom, the frame of which though he entirely altered,
yet he performed it by mere persuasion, and ruled a city that as yet
had scarce become one city, without recurring to arms or any violence
(such as Lycurgus used, supporting himself by the aid of the nobler
citizens against the commonalty), but, by mere force of wisdom and
justice, established union and harmony amongst all. 



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