Plutarch's Life of Agesilaos : response to sources in the presentation of character
This commentary attempts to elucidate Plutarch's authorial intention in this Lffe by studying his response to source material, using topography where necessary. 2 Plutarch admired Sparta and the Spartans in so far as they were loyal to the Lykourgan rules for an ordered society, but identified shortcomings that marred their interpretation of its principles: (i) They neglected abstract values, mistakenly defining justice as "the best interest of Sparta", and lacking safeguards against I excesses. (ii) They misinterpreted the purpose of their training, using military superiority to control others, not for their own security. 3 Plutarch used manifestations of Agesilaos' character to indicate and explain the decline of Sparta during his reign. 4 Agesilaos received training in accordance with Lykourgan rules and inherited and acquired favourable characteristics. He exemplified the admirable qualities of king and Panhellenist general, and remained a worthy model for the true asceticism of a Spartiate, for devotion to the service of Sparta, and for self-denying obedience to the state and its laws; -. 5 but his accession was irregular and his conduct of affairs was guided by contention, excessive competitiveness, a distorted sense of justice and limited political judgement. 6 His hatred of Thebes was a personal excess which involved the city excessively in war. Leuktra brought defeat, loss of power and unprecedented humiliation. 7 Sparta declined because of failure to understand and follow the most important Lykourgan principle, which forbade military imperialism (Lyk. 28-31). 1 Plutarch followed Xenophon and other sources selectively for historical events, but imposed his own organization, interpretation and moral judgements on the selected material. 2 Two rhetorical aspects of the Life are: the intention to explain Sparta's decline, and the exposition of an ideology. Plutarch has identified unnecessary pitfalls and commends the Spartans' way of life, properly understood. 3 This rhetoric does not entail the falsity of his work.