THE laws which Lycurgus drew up for the Spartans were very strict. For instance, as soon as a babe came into the world, the law ordered that the father should wrap it up in a cloak, and carry it before a council made up of some of the oldest and wisest men.
They looked at the child carefully, and if it seemed strong and healthy, and was neither crippled nor in any way deformed, they said that it might live. Then they gave it back to the father, and bade him bring up the child for the honor of his country.
If the babe was sickly or deformed, it was carried off to a mountain near by, and left alone; so that it soon died of hunger or thirst, or was eaten up by the wild beasts.
The Spartan children staid under their father's roof and in their mother's care until they were seven years old. While in the nursery, they were taught all the beautiful old Greek legends, and listened with delight to the stories of the ancient heroes, and especially to the poems of Homer telling about the war of Troy and the adventures of Ulysses.
As soon as the children had reached seven years of age, they were given over to the care of the state, and allowed to visit their parents but seldom. The boys were put in charge of chosen men, who trained them to become strong and brave; while the girls were placed under some good and wise woman, who not only taught them all they needed to know to keep house well, but also trained them to be as strong and fearless as their brothers. All Spartan boys were allowed but one rough woolen garment, which served as their sole covering by night and by day, and was of the same material in summer as in winter.
They were taught very little reading, writing, and arithmetic, but were carefully trained to recite the poems of Homer, the patriotic songs, and to accompany themselves skillfully on the lyre. They were also obliged to sing in the public chorus, and to dance gracefully at all the religious feasts.
As the Spartans were very anxious that their boys should be strong and fearless, they were taught to stand pain and fatigue without a murmur; and, to make sure that they could do so, their teachers made them go through a very severe training.
Led by one of the older boys, the little lads were often sent out for long tramps over rough and stony roads, under the hot sun; and the best boy was the one who kept up longest, in spite of bleeding feet, burning thirst, and great fatigue.
Spartan boys were allowed no beds to sleep in, lest they should become lazy and hard to please. Their only couch was a heap of rushes, which they picked on the banks of the Eurotas, a river near Sparta; and in winter they were allowed to cover these with a layer of cat-tail down to make them softer and warmer.