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I've writen two books about Greece and Rome, introducing each civilization with their most famous authors woven into the narrative. Check them out on their own website!

Lessons from the Lawgivers

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I’m now far enough into the podcast to start to reap the fruits of Plutarch’s parallel project. We begin with the lawgivers. Be sure to listen to the podcast for my answer to two pressing questions, which I also detail in their own short blog posts below:

Why are the essays comparing the lives so short?

Why does Plutarch compare Greeks and Romans?

Founding Kings and Lawgivers – Romulus v. Theseus

C. 1 – Motivations

  1. Theseus chose hard things; Romulus was forced. Romulus became “courageous out of fear.” 
  2. Romulus kills one tyrant; Th many. The traveled by land on purpose.
  3. Theseus chose to fight villains, while R + R allowed Amulius to harm others and only stopped him when he threatened to harm themselves. 
  4. Whatever happened in Crete, it displays all of Theseus’s best virtues: courage, great wisdom, justice for the common good, and yearning for glory and virtue. 
  5. Philosophers’ definition of love as “the assistance from the gods for care and protection of the young.” Ariadne’s love for Theseus seemed the work of a god; loving Theseus if obviously loving the best in humanity. 

C. 2 – Neither Good Kings to the End

  1. Neither acted like a king to the end, Theseus heading to democracy and Romulus to tyranny. Same mistake, different source. First duty of a ruler: preserve the realm. 
  2. This is done by preserving power in a fitting way, not weakening it by giving it away or increasing it by taking what isn’t right. This causes hatred or contempt in one’s subjects, the first fed by kindliness and humanity, the second by selfishness and severity. 

C. 3 – Women and Family Law

  1. Misfortunes of men not to be attributed entirely to fortune, then character can be found as a cause too. Romulus hasty and angry with his brother, Theseus with his son. 
  2. Rom and Rem were trying to deliberate about the future of their city. No call for rage and death here. Theseus wronged his son because of jealousy, slander, and love—powerful masters few men have escaped. Theseus also stopped at words and the gods did the rest. Romulus’s haste extended into action. 

C. 4 – Romulus’s Rise more impressive

  1. Romulus rose from utter obscurity as slaves and sons of swineherds to freedom, bringing freedom to many of the Latin around them. Theseus was a consolidator, and as such had to destroy much of ancient prestige to bring everyone together around Athens. 
  2. Romulus did not initially expand his city by tearing down others; rather, he began from nothing and acquired territory, country, kingdom, families, marriages, and households all without harming anyone and rather becoming a refuge providing a hearth and home to the heartless and homeless. 

C. 5 – Family Helped and Harmed

  1. Dispute about who killed Remus could exonerate Romulus. Romulus did save his mother and grandfather from destruction. 
  2. Theseus destroyed his own father through negligence, forgetting to change the sails from black to white.

C. 6 – Stealing Women

  1. Theseus has no excuse – he stole too many women for no other reasons than lust and pride (hubris and erōs).
  2. Theseus motivated by lust; Romulus carried off 800 women taking only one for wife and treating all women honorably afterwards. 
  3. Promoted modesty, tenderness, and stability in marriage. Proof: 230 years until the first divorce occurred. Just as the Greeks track firsts  for parricide and matricide, so do the Roman all know the first divorce (Spurius Carvilius for barrenness on the part of his wife). 
  4. Time also proves Romulus more correct as his peoples and the two kings ruled well for a time afterwards. The Athenians derived no advantage from Theseus’s dalliances, actually losing out on territory and narrowly avoiding a Trojan War between Sparta and Athens because C & P come to free Helen from Theseus’s kidnapping.

Pious Lawgivers – Lycurgus and Numa

C. 1 – Balanced Commonalities

  1. What they have in common: piety, moderation, governing, educating, divine source for laws. 
  2. Differences: Numa accepted, Lycurgus rejected a kingdom. King to private citizen, reverse for Numa. Win a kingdom by justice, also noble to choose justice over a kingdom. Thus VIRTUE is really what they had in common. 
  3. Numa loosened strings in Rome, L tightened them. L had harder job persuading citizens to put aside gold and silver, feasting and drinking to practice as soldiers and athletes. 
  4. N succeeded through goodwill and persuasion. L lost an eye and still barely succeeded. If Lycurgus did bring in practice of helots…
  5. Numa is more Greek and humane. The feast of Saturnalia looks back to the equality under the Age of Saturn “neither slave nor master, all regarded as kinsmen and equals.”

C. 2 – Justice in Society and Land

  1. Both prioritized autarchy (self-rule) and sophrosyne (practical wisdom), but Lycurgus emphasized bravery, N righteousness. But the different situations could have required this. 
  2. Numa stopped war to prevent injustice being done. L promoted war to prevent the Spartans suffering injustice. (What does this say about Spartans staying poor to prevent warfare?)
  3. Numa favors the masses with his social setup, L aristocratic, citizens only use shield and spear, no mechanical arts for the free, so that they could focus on “obeying their commanders and ruling their enemies.” 
  4. Free Spartans could not be involved in any business: only for slaves and helots. Because Numa didn’t separate these distinctly, poverty increased in Rome.
  5. These early seeds later became the weeds that caused the “greatest evils later” (cf. Lucullus)
  6. Both did right by the land, even though they did the opposite: Lycurgus re-distributed it, N didn’t. Lycurgus started with total equality; Numa was not a founder and the land had been allotted recently, so it makes sense that he didn’t. 

C. 3 – Women and Family Law

  1. Both strove to attack selfish jealousy in husbands, but in different ways. Romans could offer their wives in marriage temporarily or permanently to someone else. Spartans could lend their wives out while still keeping them as wives. 
  2. Many Spartans did this. Spartan implies complete indifference to the wife. The Roman, with “humble modesty”, thinly veils the practice but still reveals that commonality of wives cannot be practiced. 
  3. Numa’s laws better ordered for young women than L’s. The poets called forth as authorities that they run after the men and have their thighs exposed regularly. 
  4. Sophocles called in as a witness that the tunic not sown below the hips, baring the whole thigh as the girls walked. 
  5. Thus, their women acted as boldly as men, not only ruling their houses absolutely but partaking in public debate and free speech. But Numa was careful to continue allaying the fears of the recently stolen women, while still required them to be modest, refrain from meddling, remain silent, avoid wine, and only speak in the presence of the husband. 
  6. When a woman attempted to plead her own case in court, an oracle was sought out to explain this as it seemed more like a sign from the gods than something a Roman woman would do. 
  7. The Romans record the first divorce, just as the Greek record the first crimes of other sorts (parricides, matricides, those who made war on family), 230 years after the founding of Rome. Only under the last king did a daughter-in-law finally argue with a mother-in-law. 

C. 4 – Lasting Laws and Insightful Questions

  1. When to marry shows much about education in the state. L encourages marriage when the young woman is ready for it, producing kindly love and strength for conception and childbirth, seeing no other end of marriage than the production of children. Romans married off at 12 or younger, their bodies and dispositions more controlled by their husbands than anyone else. 
  2. N regarded character as paramount, L prioritized nature. N just an ordinary law-giver the way he treats the young men. L had arranged them and ordered them for discipline from 7 years and up. 
  3. Numa let a man raise his son to any occupation, comparison to a ship where the passengers all have their separate purposes and unite only in times of danger or hardship, otherwise acting as individuals. 
  4. If a wise man made governor, should his goal NOT be to fashion the boys together in the same path of virtue?
  5. This made L’s laws permanent and secure, the oaths of adult Spartans would have meant little if the obedience to the laws had not been built in to their training and education. 500 years these laws remain in force. 
  6. Numa’s peace vanished with him and the doors of Janus were kept continuously open and Italy was “filled with the blood of the slain”, so his building crumbled immediately, lacking the cement of education. 
  7. Was Rome not bettered by her wars? Too long to answer now, but the question assume that better means wealth, luxury, and empire not safety, gentleness, and independence under justice. The Romans rose after abandoning Numa’s peace, but the Spartans sank after leaving behind L’s laws. Last word: Numa affected change with persuasion, not revolution and bloodshed. “Wisdom and Justice winning the hearts of all citizens and bringing them into harmony”

The Laws of Wisdom and Happiness – Solon and Publicola

C. 1 – Solon Wisest; Publicola Happiest

  1. P imitates S and S endorsed P
  2. Tells praised for good fortune, virtue, and good offspring. P has more of first two while alive and hundreds of years of the last one after he dies. 
  3. P also slew his enemies while T died fighting them. 
  4. Solon also asks to live long enough to be mourned after he is gone and all of Rome mourns for Publicola. 
  5. Even Publicola’s wealth was well earned and well spent. Thus, if Solon was wisest, P was happiest. 

C. 2 – Mutual Aid of Two Lawgivers

  1. P makes the consul less overbearing on the people, even adopting laws of Solon’s, making rulers appointed by the people, and giving appeal to the people as an option for defendants. Doubled the size of the Senate, increasing representation and watering down the power of the little elite. 
  2. Quaestor separates the powers so that a just consul can work on affairs of state and that an unjust one does not have his power augmented by direct access to funds. P hated tyrants more, allowing them to be killed without trial (preventing tyranny? Solon’s immediately followed by tyrants). 
  3. They both reject absolute power and walk the fine line between lifting up the regular people and oppressing them. 

C. 3 – Laws and Legacy

  1. Solon forgave debts. UN-precedented and the only way to free the lower class from the clutches of the rich. 
  2. Solon’s personal reputation enough to outweigh the backlash caused by the cancellation of debts, preventing discord and bloodshed. 
  3. Solon began more illustriously, having no colleague and blazing his own path. P ended well, because what he started continued while S lived to see his own laws undefended. 
  4. S knew what Peis wanted but was unable to stop him. P drove out any attempt at tyranny again. Virtues equal but power of execution higher for Publicola

C. 4 – Military Power

  1. P fought and commanded in person. Solon also had to trick the people into taking back Salamis. 
  2. P used force when necessary (expelling Tarquin and uncovering conspirators) and peaceful resolution when possible (Porsena/Claudius)
  3. S gained land (Salamis) while P gave some up (???), but won the war and the honor of former enemies as well. 

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