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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book IV   

While those who have known most vicissitudes of good and bad, have
also justly least faith in their prosperity; and to teach your city
and ours this lesson experience has not been wanting.

"To be convinced of this you have only to look at our present
misfortune. What power in Hellas stood higher than we did? and yet
we are come to you, although we formerly thought ourselves more able
to grant what we are now here to ask. Nevertheless, we have not been
brought to this by any decay in our power, or through having our heads
turned by aggrandizement; no, our resources are what they have
always been, and our error has been an error of judgment, to which all
are equally liable. Accordingly, the prosperity which your city now
enjoys, and the accession that it has lately received, must not make
you fancy that fortune will be always with you. Indeed sensible men
are prudent enough to treat their gains as precarious, just as they
would also keep a clear head in adversity, and think that war, so
far from staying within the limit to which a combatant may wish to
confine it, will run the course that its chances prescribe; and
thus, not being puffed up by confidence in military success, they
are less likely to come to grief, and most ready to make peace, if
they can, while their fortune lasts. This, Athenians, you have a
good opportunity to do now with us, and thus to escape the possible
disasters which may follow upon your refusal, and the consequent
imputation of having owed to accident even your present advantages,
when you might have left behind you a reputation for power and
wisdom which nothing could endanger.
"The Lacedaemonians accordingly invite you to make a treaty and to
end the war, and offer peace and alliance and the most friendly and
intimate relations in every way and on every occasion between us;
and in return ask for the men on the island, thinking it better for
both parties not to stand out to the end, on the chance of some
favourable accident enabling the men to force their way out, or of
their being compelled to succumb under the pressure of blockade.
Indeed if great enmities are ever to be really settled, we think it
will be, not by the system of revenge and military success, and by
forcing an opponent to swear to a treaty to his disadvantage, but when
the more fortunate combatant waives these his privileges, to be guided
by gentler feelings conquers his rival in generosity, and accords
peace on more moderate conditions than he expected. From that
moment, instead of the debt of revenge which violence must entail, his
adversary owes a debt of generosity to be paid in kind, and is
inclined by honour to stand to his agreement. And men oftener act in
this manner towards their greatest enemies than where the quarrel is
of less importance; they are also by nature as glad to give way to
those who first yield to them, as they are apt to be provoked by
arrogance to risks condemned by their own judgment.
"To apply this to ourselves: if peace was ever desirable for both
parties, it is surely so at the present moment, before anything
irremediable befall us and force us to hate you eternally,
personally as well as politically, and you to miss the advantages that
we now offer you. While the issue is still in doubt, and you have
reputation and our friendship in prospect, and we the compromise of
our misfortune before anything fatal occur, let us be reconciled,
and for ourselves choose peace instead of war, and grant to the rest
of the Hellenes a remission from their sufferings, for which be sure
they will think they have chiefly you to thank. The war that they
labour under they know not which began, but the peace that concludes
it, as it depends on your decision, will by their gratitude be laid to
your door. By such a decision you can become firm friends with the
Lacedaemonians at their own invitation, which you do not force from
them, but oblige them by accepting. And from this friendship
consider the advantages that are likely to follow: when Attica and
Sparta are at one, the rest of Hellas, be sure, will remain in
respectful inferiority before its heads."

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