Friday, 2 December 2011

A Stolen Comment

Thanks Graham Lister

I mentioned Doric (the dialect of North-Eastern Scotland) in another comment and I only have just recalled that the term Doric also relates to the concept of Xenelasia.

Xenelasia was the title given to a set of laws in ancient Doric Crete and Lacedæmonia that proscribed the inclusion of foreigners and any foreign arts and music into their respective commonwealths.

The Xenelasia laws were famously noted in Sparta. Lacedæmonian magistrates had the duty and authorization to expel any person who posed a threat to public order and morals for they considered their state a family writ large. Foreigners were allowed to visit for religious festivals and missions of state but foreigners were not allowed to live in the environs. Special exceptions were given to friends and allies, (laconophiles) like Xenophon. On the reverse side, the general populace was forbidden foreign travel. These laws were intended to preserve the native character of the Doric tribe from any taint of foreign influence. The greatest compliment given to a Greek of this era was that he maintained the customs of his forefathers.

Plutarch wrote on this topic:

“And this was the reason why he (Lycurgus) forbade them to travel abroad, and go about acquainting themselves with foreign rules of morality, the habits of ill-educated people, and different views of government. Withal he banished from Lacedaemon all strangers who would not give a very good reason for their coming thither; not because he was afraid lest they should inform themselves of and imitate his manner of government (as Thucydides says), or learn anything to their good; but rather lest they should introduce something contrary to good manners. With strange people, strange words must be admitted; these novelties produce novelties in thought; and on these views and feelings whose discordant character destroys the harmony of the state. He was as careful to save his city from the infection of foreign bad habits, as men usually are to prevent the introduction of a pestilence.”

Niccolò Machiavelli believed that Sparta enjoyed such longevity because “she did not permit strangers to establish themselves in the republic” and remarked that the Roman Republic took the opposite course spelling her eventual doom.

What could be possibly be further from the American ‘proposition nation’? In principle we are all Americans!

In Plato’s Laws, Clinias the Cretan remarks on Homer that “…we Cretans are not much given to cultivating verse of alien origin.”

From “The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race” by Karl Otfried Müller

Practically all the Doric states that did not pass Xenalasia laws lost their national character and soon their political liberty. Most of these cities passed under what was called ‘club-law’ and violence and social disorder marked them. The only countries and city states that had peace were the ones that preserved their particular national character intact.

Because Doric Corcyreans were active, industrious and enterprising, good sailors and active merchants they had entirely lost the stability and noble features of the Doric character. Some said that they exceeded the Athenians in degradation and that even their dogs excelled in impudence. Argos was also a Doric state. It also lost its “noble features of the Doric character” and “Argos became such an unsettled state of public affairs, sycophancy and violence became prevalent”.

Tarentum was also a Doric state, a colony in Magna Graecia. “At a subsequent period, however, as there was no longer men of this stamp (noble character) to carry on the government, and the corruption of manners, caused by the natural fruitfulness of the country, and restrained by no strict laws, was continually on the increase, the state of Tarentum was so entirely changed, that every trace of the ancient Doric character, and particularly of the mother-country, disappeared; hence, although externally powerful and wealthy, it was from its real internal debility, in the end, necessarily overthrown, particularly when the insolent violence of the people became a fresh source of weakness.”

History warns us of experiments in maximal liberty.

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