‘Athenians and Spartans took different approaches to raising male children, but their approaches to raising female children were the same.’
To what extent do you agree with this statement?
Clear and fluent introduction to the essay
Athens and Sparta as societies were predicated on fundamentally different ideologies, and, accordingly their methods of raising children – whether male or female – were similarly disparate. Whereas Spartan education – the brutal agoge for males and a form of state education for females – had the ultimate aim of military perfection, Athenian education for males was not systematic in the same way and almost non-existent for females. This correlated to Athens’ societal values, which had a broader focus than the agoge on the development of young men and which limited the scope of female achievement to the oikos.
Knowledge & Understanding (KU2)
Discerning selection and application of factual knowledge
Astute and selective integration of source material
Research & Analysis (RA2)
Critical analysis and synthesis of research.
t is easy to identify the differences between Sparta and Athens apropos the rearing of male children. Sparta’s fundamental social institution was, of course, the agoge; having survived a sort of screening process at birth where the elders would determine whether or not a male infant was healthy enough to live, all boys – except for the heirs apparent to the two kingships – would enter the agoge at the age of seven. The agoge itself was divided into 3 stages; the first was enrolment, under the supervision of a paidonomos (or magistrate). The second began at 12 with boys systematically underfed, to encourage the sort of resilience needed in battle and the sort of guile necessary to steal food, given only one article of clothing per year, and forced to sleep on ‘mattresses which they made for themselves from the tips of reeds growing along the River Eurotas’ (Plutarch, Lycurgus). The third stage was at 18, when they became reserve members of the Lacedaemonian army, and concluded at 20, when they became fully-fledged soldiers and formally enrolled in a syssition. The overarching aim of this system was to produce superlative warriors. After all, the Spartans were distrustful of Athens’ walled city, for they believed a city’s men should be its walls (Plutarch, Lycurgus) and its ideals, not its buildings, should be its defining characteristic. This clearly reflected in its rearing of male children, from its devaluation of the traditional family unit in favour of the military mess down to manner in which enforced universal participation in the agoge regardless of social status truly ensured that the homoioi it produced were equal peers.
I Knowledge & Understanding (KU3)
Well informed recognition of the differences between Spartan and Athenian ‘systems’.
Research & Analysis (RA1)
Extensive and balanced research.
n contrast, Athens did not have such a clearly defined and specific aim, and so its raising of male children was not as systematic or as rigorous. Education of male children differed, largely contingent on the means available to the child’s family; he might attend school as a youth, but would only progress to higher education if his family could afford it (Barrow, Greek and Roman Education). Moreover, the oikos remained at all times the fundamental social unit; boys were not removed from their families as in Sparta. If anything – as the lives of women exemplify – Athenian societal practices were geared mostly towards its preservation. A practice of employing sophists as teachers also developed, but, once again, there was never any universal or systematic education system as in Sparta. Since Athens had a broader focus on maintaining a functional democratic society composed of harmonious oikos units, it took an entirely different approach to raising male children to its Laconian compatriots, who were focussed always on ideological conformity and militaristic perfection.
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n any case, it can clearly be seen that the rearing of male children differed between the two poleis. But what of females? As it happens, the contrasting ideological foundations of each polis resulted in different practices regarding the rearing of female children too. Athenian society relied on the integrity of the individual oikos, and the primary means of maintaining the prosperity of an oikos through the generations was to produce an heir; therefore, the two most prized functions of a woman – and those for which her childhood were meant to prepare her for – were to ‘bear us [citizens] legitimate children and to be the trusted guardians of our households’ (Demosthenes, Against Neaera). Society attempted to ensure the legitimacy of the heir by the almost absolute confinement of females, both as children and adults, to the oikos. Females at all ages were also subject to their kurios (their father prior to marriage and their husband afterwards). In fitting with their future destiny as managers of the household, females received very little education as children beyond what was necessary for household duties, such as weaving, cooking and cleaning, as Xenophon’s Oikonomikos famously documents.
Fluent explanation of ideas.
Knowledge & Understanding (KU3)
Well-informed recognition and reflection on the diversity of attitudes and values between Athens and Sparta
hereas the Athenian approach to raising female children – confining them to the oikos and limiting their education only to the bare minimum – fostered sickliness and condoned stupidity, respectively. Sparta took an almost diametric approach to raising female children, in accordance with its aspirations towards military perfection. It is not that Sparta was a less conservative society and therefore more sympathetic to the feminist cause – hardly so; rather, it recognised that healthy females produced healthy children, and the enforced serfdom of the helots meant the oikos – for what little it was worth in Sparta – did not really require significant contributions from women of the citizen group. As such, Spartan females received a form of state education, involving dancing, gymnastics and athletics – if not for women’s liberation, then for eugenic purposes, since ‘healthier children will be born if both parents are strong’ (Xenophon, Spartan Constitution). Female children of Sparta enjoyed a freedom uncommon for Athenian females at any age; simply because Sparta did not share its obsession with the maintenance of the oikos, having its own preoccupations with physical and military prowess.
In conclusion, Athenians and Spartans took different approaches to raising male as well as female children. These differences were a manifestation of the fundamentally different ideologies that underpinned both societies, where Spartan children were compelled either to be perfect warriors or to produce them, and Athenian children were encouraged to protect the integrity of the oikos.
Performance Standards for Stage 2 Classical Studies
Knowledge and Understanding
Research and Analysis
In-depth knowledge and critical understanding of selected texts, ideas, individuals, groups, institutions, practices, events, and artefacts of the classical world.
Discerning selection and application of factual knowledge that demonstrates critical understanding of the civilisations of Greece and/or Rome.
Discerning and well-informed recognition of, and insightful reflection on, the diversity of attitudes, beliefs, and values in the classical world.
Extensive and balanced research into primary and secondary sources, including literary text(s).