Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin
A Laconic Answer
MANY miles beyond Rome there was a famous country which we
call Greece. The people of Greece were not
u-nit-ed like the Romans; but in-stead there were sev-er-al states, each of which had its own rulers.
Some of the people in the southern part of the country were
called Spar-tans, and they were noted for their simple
habits and their brav-er-y. The name of their land was
La-co´ni-a, and so they were sometimes called La-cons.
One of the strange rules which the Spartans had, was that
they should speak briefly, and never use more words than
were needed. And so a short answer is often spoken of as
being la-con-ic; that is, as being such an answer as a
Lacon would be likely to give.
There was in the northern part of Greece a land called
Mac´e-don; and this land was at one time ruled over by
a war-like king named Philip.
Philip of Mac-e-don wanted to become the master of all
Greece. So he raised a great army, and made war upon the
other states, until nearly all of them were forced to call
him their king. Then he sent a letter to the Spartans in
La-co-ni-a, and said, "If I
go down into your country, I will level your great city to
In a few days, an answer was brought back to him. When
he opened the letter, he found only one word written there.
That word was "IF."
It was as much as to say, "We are not afraid of you so
long as the little word 'if' stands in your way."