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   

comparison, of little moment. You should know too that liberty
preserved by your efforts will easily recover for us what we have
lost, while, the knee once bowed, even what you have will pass from
you. Your fathers receiving these possessions not from others, but
from themselves, did not let slip what their labour had acquired,
but delivered them safe to you; and in this respect at least you
must prove yourselves their equals, remembering that to lose what
one has got is more disgraceful than to be balked in getting, and
you must confront your enemies not merely with spirit but with
disdain. Confidence indeed a blissful ignorance can impart, ay, even
to a coward's breast, but disdain is the privilege of those who,
like us, have been assured by reflection of their superiority to their
adversary. And where the chances are the same, knowledge fortifies
courage by the contempt which is its consequence, its trust being
placed, not in hope, which is the prop of the desperate, but in a
judgment grounded upon existing resources, whose anticipations are
more to be depended upon.
"Again, your country has a right to your services in sustaining
the glories of her position. These are a common source of pride to you
all, and you cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect
to share its honours. You should remember also that what you are
fighting against is not merely slavery as an exchange for
independence, but also loss of empire and danger from the
animosities incurred in its exercise. Besides, to recede is no
longer possible, if indeed any of you in the alarm of the moment has
become enamoured of the honesty of such an unambitious part. For
what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it
perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe. And men of these
retiring views, making converts of others, would quickly ruin a state;
indeed the result would be the same if they could live independent
by themselves; for the retiring and unambitious are never secure
without vigorous protectors at their side; in fine, such qualities are
useless to an imperial city, though they may help a dependency to an
unmolested servitude.
"But you must not be seduced by citizens like these or angry with
me- who, if I voted for war, only did as you did yourselves- in spite
of the enemy having invaded your country and done what you could be
certain that he would do, if you refused to comply with his demands;
and although besides what we counted for, the plague has come upon
us- the only point indeed at which our calculation has been at fault.
It is this, I know, that has had a large share in making me more
unpopular than I should otherwise have been- quite undeservedly,
unless you are also prepared to give me the credit of any success with
which chance may present you. Besides, the hand of heaven must be
borne with resignation, that of the enemy with fortitude; this was the
old way at Athens, and do not you prevent it being so still. Remember,
too, that if your country has the greatest name in all the world, it
is because she never bent before disaster; because she has expended
more life and effort in war than any other city, and has won for
herself a power greater than any hitherto known, the memory of which
will descend to the latest posterity; even if now, in obedience to the
general law of decay, we should ever be forced to yield, still it will
be remembered that we held rule over more Hellenes than any other
Hellenic state, that we sustained the greatest wars against their
united or separate powers, and inhabited a city unrivalled by any
other in resources or magnitude. These glories may incur the censure
of the slow and unambitious; but in the breast of energy they will
awake emulation, and in those who must remain without them an
envious regret. Hatred and unpopularity at the moment have fallen to
the lot of all who have aspired to rule others; but where odium must
be incurred, true wisdom incurs it for the highest objects. Hatred
also is short-lived; but that which makes the splendour of the present
and the glory of the future remains for ever unforgotten. Make your
decision, therefore, for glory then and honour now, and attain both

Previous | Next
Site Search