PLUTARCH, PLATO AND SPARTA

D. Futter

Abstract


In the Life of Lycurgus, Plutarch appears to say that Plato embraced
the Spartan constitution as a socio-political ideal. This claim
generates a puzzle. On the one hand, the Republic’s preferred form
of government, a meritocratic aristocracy, is incompatible with the
‘mixed’ Spartan constitution, which balances power between
different organs of state; on the other, the ardent Platonist Plutarch
cannot reasonably be thought to have misunderstood the
fundamentals of his teacher’s political philosophy. This paper
explores possible resolutions of the antinomy. It is concluded that
while the Platonic republic can be regarded as an extension and
idealisation of Spartan socio-economic arrangements, the cities’
formal governmental structures are irreconcilable. Plutarch’s
attribution of the Spartan constitution to Plato is not strictly correct;
the question of whether its assertion can be explained in terms of
literary and rhetorical goals is left for future research.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/57-0-130

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