Home | Texts by category | | Quick Search:   
Works by Thucydides
Pages of History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II

Previous | Next

History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II   

government under which our greatness grew, what the national habits
out of which it sprang; these are questions which I may try to solve
before I proceed to my panegyric upon these men; since I think this to
be a subject upon which on the present occasion a speaker may properly
dwell, and to which the whole assemblage, whether citizens or
foreigners, may listen with advantage.
"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states;
we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its
administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it
is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal
justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing,
advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class
considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again
does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is
not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we
enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There,
far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do
not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what
he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot
fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But
all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as
citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to
obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the
protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute
book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot
be broken without acknowledged disgrace.
"Further, we provide plenty of means for the mind to refresh
itself from business. We celebrate games and sacrifices all the year
round, and the elegance of our private establishments forms a daily
source of pleasure and helps to banish the spleen; while the magnitude
of our city draws the produce of the world into our harbour, so that
to the Athenian the fruits of other countries are as familiar a luxury
as those of his own.
"If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our
antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien
acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing,
although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our
liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native
spirit of our citizens; while in education, where our rivals from
their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at
Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to
encounter every legitimate danger. In proof of this it may be
noticed that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone, but
bring with them all their confederates; while we Athenians advance
unsupported into the territory of a neighbour, and fighting upon a
foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their
homes. Our united force was never yet encountered by any enemy,
because we have at once to attend to our marine and to dispatch our
citizens by land upon a hundred different services; so that,
wherever they engage with some such fraction of our strength, a
success against a detachment is magnified into a victory over the
nation, and a defeat into a reverse suffered at the hands of our
entire people. And yet if with habits not of labour but of ease, and
courage not of art but of nature, we are still willing to encounter
danger, we have the double advantage of escaping the experience of
hardships in anticipation and of facing them in the hour of need as
fearlessly as those who are never free from them.
"Nor are these the only points in which our city is worthy of
admiration. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge
without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and
place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in
declining the struggle against it. Our public men have, besides
politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary
citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still

Previous | Next
Site Search