The Origin of the Laconic Answer

11 04 2012

Many years ago, my wife and I bought a fascinating anthology of stories, poems and other eclectica by former US Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett.  It was a fantastic book, aptly titled The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories.

TBOV is a volume whose value–or, more accurately, values–transcends age, time and epoch.  Virtue and its cultivation will always be a worthy enterprise and books like this help us on our way to that end.

I remember, in particular, one story.  Drawn from the history of ancient Greece, it shows us the genesis of the laconic answer.  Short and to the point.  Here it is:

This story, another famous anecdote about the Spartans’ bravery, is from the time of Philip of Macedon (382-336 B.C.), who forcibly unified most of Greece’s cities.

“Long ago the people of Greece were not united, as they are today. Instead there were several cities and states, each with its own leader. King Philip of Macedon, a land in the northern part of Greece, wanted to bring all of Greece together under his rule. So he raised a great army and made war upon the other states, until nearly all were forced to call him their king. Sparta, however, resisted.

“The Spartans lived in the southern part of Greece, an area called Laconia, and so they were sometimes called Lacons. They were noted for their simple habits and their bravery. They were also known as a people who used few words and chose them carefully; even today a short answer is often described as being ‘laconic.’

“Philip knew he must subdue the Spartans if all of Greece was to be his. So he brought his great army to the borders of Laconia, and sent a message to the Spartans.

“‘If you do not submit at once,’ he threatened them, ‘I will invade your country. And if I invade, I will pillage and burn everything you hold dear. If I march into Laconia, I will level your great city to the ground.’

“In a few days, Philip received an answer. When he opened the letter, he found only one word written there.

“That word was ‘IF.'”

Embellish your bookshelf—or your e-reader—and add this treasure to it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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