Spartans and their verbal austerity

Frederick Mordi

By Frederick Mordi


“Brevity,” Polonius once said in Shakespeare’s famous work, Hamlet, “is the soul of wit.” The ancient Spartans, who are known for their simple habits, bravery and unequalled brevity in the use of words, amply demonstrated this witty saying. Their words are short and sharp just like their swords.

Spartans were expected to always hit the nail on the head. In fact, it is said that a Spartan boy, who is too verbose, while responding to a teacher’s question, was liable to have his thumb bitten as punishment for wasting words. Spartan women also reportedly gave a departing warrior his shield with the words: “With it or on it!” This implies that he should return either victorious with his shield, or with his dead body upon it, but by no means, should he lose it.

Their legendary reputation for verbal austerity even in the face of danger…

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