Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
(Greek historian, A.D. 46?c.A.D. 120; author of numerous biographical sketches. It has been said: He stands before us as the legate, the ambassador, and the orator on behalf of those institutions whereby the old-time men were rendered wise and virtuous)
WHEN the love of gold and silver had once gained admittance into the Lacedæmonian commonwealth, it was quickly followed by avarice and baseness of spirit in the pursuit of it, and by luxury, effeminacy and prodigality in the use. Then Sparta fell from almost all her former virtue and repute.
For the rich men without scruple drew the estate into their own hands, excluding the rightful heirs from their succession; and all the wealth being centered upon the few, the generality were poor and miserable. Honorable pursuits, for which there was no longer leisure, were neglected; the state was filled with sordid business, and with hatred and envy of the rich.
Agis, therefore, believing it a glorious action, as in truth it was, to equalize and repeople the state, began to sound the inclinations of the citizens. He found the young men disposed beyond his expectation; they were eager to enter with him upon the contest in the cause of virtue, and to fling aside, for freedoms sake, their old manner of life, as readily as the wrestler does his garment. But the old men, habituated and confirmed in their vices, were most of them alarmed. These men could not endure to hear Agis continually deploring the present state of Sparta, and wishing she might be restored to her ancient glory.
Agis, nevertheless, little regarding these rumours, took the first occasion of proposing his measure to the council, the chief articles of which were these: That every one should be free from their debts; all the lands to be divided into equal portions.
The people were transported with admiration of the young mans generosity, and with joy that, after three hundred years interval, at last there had appeared a king worthy of Sparta. But, on the other side, Leonidas was now more than ever averse, being sensible that he and his friends would be obliged to contribute with their riches, and yet all the honour and obligation would redound to Agis. [Sparta had two kings, Leonidas and Agis.]
From this time forward, as the common people followed Agis, so the rich men adhered to Leonidas. They besought him not to forsake their cause; and with persuasions and entreaties so far prevailed with the council of Elders, whose power consisted in preparing all laws before they were proposed to the people, that the designed measure was rejected, though but by one vote.
[Attacked by his enemies, Agis sought refuge in a temple.] Leonidas proceeded also to displace the ephors, and to choose others in their stead; then he began to consider how he might entrap Agis. At first, he endeavored by fair means to persuade him to leave the sanctuary, and partake with him in the kingdom. The people, he said, would easily pardon the errors of a young man, ambitious of glory. But finding Agis was suspicious, and not to be prevailed with to quit his sanctuary, he gave up that design; yet what could not then be effected by the dissimulation of an enemy, was soon after brought to pass by the treachery of friends.
Amphares, Damochares, and Arcesilaus often visited Agis, and he was so confident of their fidelity that after a while he was prevailed on to accompany them to the baths, which were not far distant, they constantly returning to see him safe again in the temple. They were all three his familiars; and Amphares had borrowed a great deal of plate and rich household stuff from the mother of Agis, and hoped if he could destroy her and the whole family, he might peaceably enjoy those goods. And he, it is said, was the readiest of all to serve the purposes of Leonidas, and being one of the ephors, did all he could to incense the rest of his colleagues against Agis. These men, therefore, finding that Agis would not quit his sanctuary, but on occasion would venture from it to go to the bath, resolved to seize him on the opportunity thus given them. And one day as he was returning, they met and saluted him as formerly, conversing pleasantly by the way, and jesting, as youthful friends might, till coming to the turning of the street which led to the prison, Amphares, by virtue of his office, laid his hand on Agis, and told him, You must go with me, Agis, before the other ephors, to answer for your misdemeanors. At the same time Damochares, who was a tall, strong man, drew his cloak tight around his neck, and dragged him after by it, whilst the others went behind to thrust him on. So that none of Agis friends being near to assist him, nor any one by, they easily got him into the prison, where Leonidas was already arrived, with a company of soldiers, who strongly guarded all the avenues; the ephors also came in, with as many of the Elders as they knew to be true to their party, being desirous to proceed with some semblance of justice. And thus they bade him give an account of his actions. To which Agis, smiling at their dissimulation, answered not a word. Amphares told him it was more seasonable for him to weep, for now the time was come in which he should be punished for his presumption. Another of the ephors, as though he would be more favorable, and offering as it were an excuse, asked him whether he was not forced to what he did by Agesilaus and Lysander. But Agis answered, he had not been constrained by any man, nor had any other intent in what he did but to follow the example of Lycurgus, and to govern conformably to his laws. The same ephor asked him whether now at least he did not repent his rashness. To which the young man answered that though he were to suffer the extremest penalty for it, yet he could never repent of so just and glorious a design. Upon this they passed sentence of death on him, and bade the officers carry him to the Dechas, as it is called, a place in the prison where they strangle malefactors. And when the officers would not venture to lay hands on him, and the very mercenary soldiers declined it, believing it an illegal and a wicked act to lay violent hands on a king, Damochares, threatening and reviling them for it, himself thrust him into the room.
For by this time the news of his being seized had reached many parts of the city, and there was a concourse of people with lights and torches about the prison gates, and in the midst of them the mother and the grandmother of Agis, crying out with a loud voice that their king ought to appear, and to be heard and judged by the people. But this clamour, instead of preventing, hastened his death; his enemies fearing, if the tumult should increase, he might be rescued during the night out of their hands.
Agis, being now at the point to die, perceived one of the officers bitterly bewailing his misfortune. Weep not, friend, said he, for me, who die innocent, by the lawless act of wicked men. My condition is much better than theirs. As soon as he had spoken these words, not showing the least sign of fear, he offered his neck to the noose.