[Milton-L] teaching practices

tom bishop tgb2 at po.cwru.edu
Mon Feb 23 11:05:26 EST 2004

Angelica Duran quotes the following "At birth, there is not much 
difference between man and man, but superiority lies with he who is 
reared in the severest school" attributing it tentatively to 
Archidamus.  It is recorded by Thucydides in his history (Book 1 
chapter 84, section 4), where it is indeed given to Archidamus as 
part of his speech attempting unsuccessfully to dissuade the Spartans 
from going to war against the Athenians. I thought it might be of 
interest to the list to provide the context:

"We are both warlike and wise, and it is our sense of order that 
makes us so. We are warlike, because self-control contains honor as a 
chief constituent, and honor bravery. And we are wise, because we are 
educated with too little learning to despise the laws, and with too 
severe a self-control to disobey them, and are brought up not to be 
too knowing in useless matters,--such as the knowledge which can give 
a specious criticism of an enemy's plans in theory, but fails to 
assail them with equal success in practice,--but are taught to 
consider that the schemes of our enemies are not dissimilar to our 
own, and that the freaks of chance are not determinable by 
calculation. In practice we always base our preparations against an 
enemy on the assumption that his plans are good; indeed, it is right 
to rest our hopes not on a belief in his blunders, but on the 
soundness of our provisions. Nor ought we to believe that there is 
much difference between man and man, but to think that the 
superiority lies with him who is reared in the severest school. 
(85.1) These practices, then, which our ancestors have delivered to 
us, and by whose maintenance we have always profited, must not be 
given up. And we must not be hurried into deciding in a day's brief 
space a question which concerns many lives and fortunes and many 
cities, and in which honor is deeply involved,--but we must decide 
calmly. This our strength peculiarly enables us to do."

The severity of the Spartan school was, of course, as well-known for 
its brutalizing narrow-mindedness as for its effectiveness at turning 
out superior soldiers.  I do not recall that it is recorded what 
Milton thought of the Spartan system, but it is hard to imagine he 
would have regarded it with anything but horror.

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