Athens and Sparta: Comparative Analysis

Athens and Sparta are famous Greek city-states that are shaping the contemporary understanding of the Greek culture. As they are completely different, it is quite difficult to recognize that they existed in the same period and had tight relationships. This paper is aimed at comparing and contrasting Sparta and Athens to create a picture of life in Ancient Greece. The crucial differences in education, political organization, and attitude to arts are rooted in the military character of Spartans and in Athenians’ values of self-sufficiency and freedom. 


It is worth beginning with the analysis of states’ political organization: in Athens, there was democracy, whereas Spartan society was governed by oligarchs. Political organization of both states was completely different: in Athens, limited democracy was practiced, that is free male Athenians made decisions; while in Sparta, there was oligarchy, which meant that there was political and military elite responsible for decision making. One should recognize that despite limited self-governance in Athens, there also was political elite; so, the issue of aristocracy’s impact on decision making in Athens is also a significant factor to consider. The historians suggest that the phenomenon of democracy in Athens was an exception because the rest of the countries practiced different forms of monarchy. However, it is necessary to mention that Athenian democracy was quite different from the modern forms of democracy; therefore, the Athenian democracy was an outstanding phenomenon. In Athens, the population was divided into slaves and citizens, which were granted with rights and liberties. Only mature married men were participating in decision making, while women and slaves were not allowed to join them. In Sparta, there was a king who was the head of the army and the representative of the state. Nevertheless, the decision-making process involved participation of the most influential people of the state. Spartan people did not participate in governance; instead, they were taught to obey their ruler and be disciplined. 


Position of women is a significant issue that helps comprehend the principles of political structure and social order in both city-states. In Athens and Sparta, the position of women was similar: in both states, there were educated women who participated in social and political life both officially and unofficially. Nevertheless, Spartan women of citizenry class were fed, trained, and educated equally to men, while females in Athens were not allowed to enter their father’s part of the house. Moreover, the eldest males in the family decided the destinies of women. For example, Euripides’s Medea demonstrates that women were suffering because they had to be subordinate to men who did not deserve such subordination. In addition, women in Athens were considered less capable of science, sport, and politics than men, although some thinkers such as Plato believed that women should have had access to education. The position of Athenian women may be illustrated via religious practices: there was a cult of goddess Vesta who was a virgin keeper of the sacred fire. Only female nuns were allowed to worship Vesta and keep the fire in temples. Some of the nuns had to remain chaste, while other nuns had to serve by offering their bodies to men. It means that women in the traditional patriarchic Athenian society were displaced from social and political life to the area of the sacred. Thucydides supported women’s social passiveness: he believed that it was better for each woman to be unknown by men, which meant that her participation in political and social life should be minimal. In Sparta, women and men were equal because both sexes were the soldiers of their state; therefore, they were taught to sacrifice their life and interests for the state and its ruler. Although there are few sources regarding the position of women in Spartan and Athenian societies, it is worth referring to Aristotle who suggested that women were granted with too many rights and opportunities which negatively affected Spartan society. However, the opposite views on women’s issue in Athens may be found in Euripides’s Medea. This tragedy proves that there were educated and respected women who had power and authority despite the patriarchic social structure. The main character of the play, Medea, is so strong, determined, and wise that the king of the state is afraid of her, recognizing her excellence and cruelty. Therefore, in Athenian traditional patriarchic society, women had to be subordinate to men, whereas Spartan women were trained and taught equally to men, having opportunity to participate in business and politics. 


Both Athenians and Spartans paid much attention to education and physical training although Spartans were taught to be disciplined to serve the state, whereas Athenians believed science and art to be their self-purpose. In Sparta, the Agoge education system was established. According to this system, military training of male Spartans began at the age of seven when boys were taken from their mothers. The Agoge system was purposed to emphasize the role of the state, imposing self-discipline as the key trait of every Spartan. The rules were very strict: soldiers were not given comfortable clothes, shelter, or sufficient amount of food. Apart from weapon and physical trainings, the Agoge system provided reading, dancing, music, and writing preparation to the warriors to make them capable of appropriate serving. On the contrary to Sparta, Athenian Paidea concept formulated by Plato meant combination of good and beauty called kalos kagathos. The Paidea system incorporated scientific disciplines, physical exercises, and liberal arts to create a perfect member of the polis, who would be attractive, courageous, intelligent, wise, and virtuous. However, the member of polis is not a servant of the state but an independent and critical person who thinks that philosophy and sciences are essential for aristocrat’s life. Athenian culture emphasized interest to individual self, which was evident in the teaching of Diogenes, an Athenian philosopher living 412-323 BCE. He believed in individual’s self-sufficiency and freedom from the repressive impact of cultural norms. He denied the value of the city-state, claiming that people should live in accordance with nature, which would be impossible among the Spartans. Therefore, in contrast to Sparta, Athenian culture did not overestimate city’s significance, while a self-sufficient individual who embodies beauty and good was not the servant of the state. 


In conclusion, Sparta was a military state aimed at creating warriors, while democratic Athenian polis was aimed at creating a perfect member of this polis, whose excellence would be the self-purpose. Athenian education system raised thinkers, while the Agoge system reproduced moderate disciples to emphasize the significance of the state. Despite belonging to the same root, which is the Greek culture, Athens and Sparta are different in terms of political organization, education, and the role of women. 

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians

Both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians represent the key issues that were important for people of their time, providing the solution to the stated problems. In order to get deeper in the themes of these authors, it is worth estimating their historical context. Plato’s Allegory, a part of the dialogue The Republic, was written in the Classical Age between 380 and 360 B.C. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians was written for early Christian community in Corinth in 53–54 CE. The topical issue of both texts, namely the path from ignorance to wisdom, will be the subject of analysis in this paper. Both authors offer their recipe to wisdom and happiness, which lies in recognition of personal ignorance and authority of Christian God in Paul’s text and recognition of the perfect world of Forms in Plato’s Allegory. 


In the Allegory, Plato introduces his philosophical theory of Forms and appearances, which is related to rational knowledge, while Paul’s teaching rests on the sacred knowledge reached by the Spirit instead of intellect. Paul states that human knowledge and wisdom is insufficient compared to God, whose knowledge and wisdom is absolute. Therefore, people should confess in their sins and make their Spirit follow God, attempting to establish constant connection. People cannot reach happiness and harmony in knowledge or power, while God remains the eternal source of good for every living being. On the contrary, Plato offers a rational approach to knowledge, stating that people should train their reasoning, memory, and body to be able to face existence of the world of Forms, although Paul insists that rational component of it should be replaced by faith in and trust to God. Plato’s Allegory shows that due to ignorance, people see only the shadows of objects living in the world of appearances, which is leading men astray. Therefore, the reality is above human routine comprehension because it demands dealing with the Forms. However, both thinkers agree that people are imperfect and that they should self-improve to fight ignorance. For this reason, recognition of personal ignorance is the first stage on the path of self-improvement for those who have thirst for truth and wisdom. 


Paul and Plato are sure that their definitions and approaches to wisdom are correct, while both of them emphasize the relative nature of virtues. Plato and Paul recognize that virtues and piety are relative as person may make moral conducts to feel pride or reach some selfish purposes, which means that knowledge and good may serve evil. In the Allegory, Plato distinguishes wisdom from particular virtues, claiming that wisdom is related to divine area, while virtues may be cultivated by exercises and habitation. People may direct their virtues by their will, making them follow either evil or good purposes. When it comes to Paul, he confirms that people’s intentions may be motivated by pride, that is why nobody should think that he is wise, intelligent, and capable. In the Letter to the Corinthians, the author teaches people to obey God and have faith in supreme wisdom, underestimating the significance of rational knowledge and people’s ability to reach it. Therefore, it may be concluded that Plato recognizes human wisdom and offers path through learning, and Paul emphasizes the God’s absolute wisdom, refusing humans in the desire to reach the true knowledge due to their sinful nature. 


Paul and Plato believe that people should learn to overcome their ignorance and become wiser in Plato’s context and be stronger in faith in terms of Paul’s approach. For Plato, learning is education which involves ability to think critically and use personal reasons instead of memorizing others’ ideas and strategies. All people are able to learn as each person has inclinations to learning; the only task is to turn the power of reason from illusive world of appearances to supreme world of Forms. Paul provides a variety of advice for the Corinthians, which should be considered to establish powerful state where people obey God’s laws and where faith in God is strong. Paul also teaches people to think and avoid stupidity, although this path also involves a variety of moral principles and interpretation of religious rituals that determine people’s faith and wisdom, paying special attention to love that is an irreplaceable component of belief in God. 


In conclusion, Allegory of the Cave and First Letter to the Corinthians are of different origin; however, they explore the same philosophical issues that are inherent in any culture. Both texts are dedicated to the issues of morality, wisdom, path to the truth, and the value of virtue. Paul’s approach is based on strengthening of faith, while Plato’s position is self-improvement via education. Both paths come through ignorance, morality, and individual’s desire to self-improve via different tools.