in American Senator

Chapter 18 – The Attorney’s Family Is Disturbed

he went through his meal like a Spartan

Mrs. Masters, upon learning of Mary’s planned trip to Lady Ushant, attempts to prevent her from going.  When Mr. Masters affirms that Mary is going, Mrs. Masters verbally abuses and shames Mary for rejecting Lawrence Twentyman’s advances.  Mr. Masters, vexed by his wife’s actions, eats his dinner “like a Spartan.”  Trollope may be referring to a story, related by Plutarch, in which a young Spartan boy allows a stolen fox to maul him under his cloak so that he won’t be found out.  Mr. Masters shows similar self-discipline in eating his meal quietly and not giving in to his wife’s demand that Mary not visit Lady Ushant.  The fact that so much of the novel pertains to hunting foxes may make the connection to this story stronger.  Trollope may also mean that Mr. Masters was laconic at his meal, like a Spartan.  The Spartans inhabited Laconia, and “Laconic” was originally an adjective that meant “Spartan,” but “laconic” later came to mean “sparing of words.”  In eating his meal like a Spartan, Mr. Masters also ate it quietly.  [CD & RR 2012]

Source: Plutarch, Lycurgus 18.1.