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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II   


fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding
him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as
useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot
originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a
stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable
preliminary to any wise action at all. Again, in our enterprises we
present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each
carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons;
although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of
reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most
justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and
pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger. In
generosity we are equally singular, acquiring our friends by
conferring, not by receiving, favours. Yet, of course, the doer of the
favour is the firmer friend of the two, in order by continued kindness
to keep the recipient in his debt; while the debtor feels less
keenly from the very consciousness that the return he makes will be
a payment, not a free gift. And it is only the Athenians, who,
fearless of consequences, confer their benefits not from
calculations of expediency, but in the confidence of liberality.
"In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I
doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to
depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a
versatility, as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown
out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state
acquired by these habits proves. For Athens alone of her
contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation,
and alone gives no occasion to her assailants to blush at the
antagonist by whom they have been worsted, or to her subjects to
question her title by merit to rule. Rather, the admiration of the
present and succeeding ages will be ours, since we have not left our
power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs; and far
from needing a Homer for our panegyrist, or other of his craft whose
verses might charm for the moment only for the impression which they
gave to melt at the touch of fact, we have forced every sea and land
to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or
for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us. Such is the
Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to
lose her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their
survivors be ready to suffer in her cause.
"Indeed if I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our
country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the
same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose, and also that the
panegyric of the men over whom I am now speaking might be by
definite proofs established. That panegyric is now in a great
measure complete; for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what
the heroism of these and their like have made her, men whose fame,
unlike that of most Hellenes, will be found to be only commensurate
with their deserts. And if a test of worth be wanted, it is to be
found in their closing scene, and this not only in cases in which it
set the final seal upon their merit, but also in those in which it
gave the first intimation of their having any. For there is justice in
the claim that steadfastness in his country's battles should be as a
cloak to cover a man's other imperfections; since the good action
has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than
outweighed his demerits as an individual. But none of these allowed
either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his
spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to
tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their
enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and
reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully
determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance, and to
let their wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of
final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act

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