I would prefer to live as an Athenian. As an avowed pacifist, my normal tendency would be to automatically select the least warlike society, which seems to be Athenian. Of course, they did engage in war with other city-states, but weren’t forced to start their combat training while still children. Spartan society, on the other hand, was too draconian in its approach to preparing the young for war. Starting at an age from 8 to 12, Spartan boys were forced to participate in cruel training practices and inhumane trials of fighting. At age 24, they were then drafted to be front-line soldiers. Talk about not having a childhood! For boys and men, they spent their whole lives preparing for and making war. Add to this the sexual abuse perpetrated upon them by their “mentors” and one could expect to get a potentially violent and sexually confused young man. It just seems to be a life of hardship and deprivation. Maybe not as much for the women, though. But I have to answer this question as a man.
And as far as how women were treated in Sparta, there is much I would not condone. The fact that newlywed brides were only given two weeks to become pregnant seems demanding and that they were compelled to sleep with other men if conception did not take place within that time frame sounds like a recipe for domestic disaster, at least in any contemporary sense.
As for aspects of Athenian culture that seem attractive to me, there are many. For starters, their culture was dedicated to the enrichment of life through arts, music and cultural traditions. They were also superior to the Spartans, architecturally-speaking. The Acropolis in Athens is the “crown jewel” of the Greek Classic Age and it has no counterpart in Spartan pantheon. So in this city-state, I see much more of an emphasis of arts and humanities, as opposed to warfare.
The Athenians were responsible for developing the basis of democracy. And at this time, this was a radical departure from the sociological norms of an ascendant civilization. The Chief Magistrate Solon also freed slaves, permitted exiles to return and abolished enslavement of debtors. Under the Greek law of the time, slaves were also allowed to earn money, so that they could eventually buy their freedom. This sort of reform was also very progressive for this period in history. This seems to be the formation of a prototypical government system of checks-and-balances. And although Athens, under Pericles, became once more subject to imperialistic government, the seeds of democracy and collective decision-making had taken root.
There is one aspect of Spartan society that seems superior to Athenian society, in my book. It seems that Spartan women were raised to be more independent and assertive than their Athenian counterparts, giving them more freedom. However, because most marriages were arranged in Sparta, the liberties given to the Spartan women did not extend into this realm of self-determination.
For both men and women in Sparta, the socio-cultural expectations were set really high. Men were born to fight and women were born to breed. Everything undertaken by a family or an individual was a sacrifice, or at least expected to be a tribute, to the state. Ultimately, this is the reason that I would have preferred Athenian society to Spartan society; Athenian society had much more respect and consideration for the individual’s rights. It gave its citizens much richer lives, as Athenian society emphasized arts and other forms of creativity, while Spartan society emphasized a strict obedience to the doctrine of the city-state and constantly keeping its citizens in a siege mentality. Athens was a more relaxed place to live and raise a family, or just pursue one’s own inclinations.