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

Previous | Next

History of The Peloponnesian War - Book VI   

reckoned itself, but Hellas greatly over-estimated their numbers,
and has hardly had an adequate force of heavy infantry throughout this
war. The states in Sicily, therefore, from all that I can hear, will
be found as I say, and I have not pointed out all our advantages,
for we shall have the help of many barbarians, who from their hatred
of the Syracusans will join us in attacking them; nor will the
powers at home prove any hindrance, if you judge rightly. Our
fathers with these very adversaries, which it is said we shall now
leave behind us when we sail, and the Mede as their enemy as well,
were able to win the empire, depending solely on their superiority
at sea. The Peloponnesians had never so little hope against us as at
present; and let them be ever so sanguine, although strong enough to
invade our country even if we stay at home, they can never hurt us
with their navy, as we leave one of our own behind us that is a
match for them.

"In this state of things what reason can we give to ourselves for
holding back, or what excuse can we offer to our allies in Sicily
for not helping them? They are our confederates, and we are bound to
assist them, without objecting that they have not assisted us. We
did not take them into alliance to have them to help us in Hellas, but
that they might so annoy our enemies in Sicily as to prevent them from
coming over here and attacking us. It is thus that empire has been
won, both by us and by all others that have held it, by a constant
readiness to support all, whether barbarians or Hellenes, that
invite assistance; since if all were to keep quiet or to pick and
choose whom they ought to assist, we should make but few new
conquests, and should imperil those we have already won. Men do not
rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike
the first blow to prevent the attack being made. And we cannot fix the
exact point at which our empire shall stop; we have reached a position
in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to
extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of
being ruled ourselves. Nor can you look at inaction from the same
point of view as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits
and make them like theirs.
"Be convinced, then, that we shall augment our power at home by this
adventure abroad, and let us make the expedition, and so humble the
pride of the Peloponnesians by sailing off to Sicily, and letting them
see how little we care for the peace that we are now enjoying; and
at the same time we shall either become masters, as we very easily
may, of the whole of Hellas through the accession of the Sicilian
Hellenes, or in any case ruin the Syracusans, to the no small
advantage of ourselves and our allies. The faculty of staying if
successful, or of returning, will be secured to us by our navy, as
we shall be superior at sea to all the Siceliots put together. And
do not let the do-nothing policy which Nicias advocates, or his
setting of the young against the old, turn you from your purpose,
but in the good old fashion by which our fathers, old and young
together, by their united counsels brought our affairs to their
present height, do you endeavour still to advance them;
understanding that neither youth nor old age can do anything the one
without the other, but that levity, sobriety, and deliberate
judgment are strongest when united, and that, by sinking into
inaction, the city, like everything else, will wear itself out, and
its skill in everything decay; while each fresh struggle will give
it fresh experience, and make it more used to defend itself not in
word but in deed. In short, my conviction is that a city not
inactive by nature could not choose a quicker way to ruin itself
than by suddenly adopting such a policy, and that the safest rule of
life is to take one's character and institutions for better and for
worse, and to live up to them as closely as one can."
Such were the words of Alcibiades. After hearing him and the
Egestaeans and some Leontine exiles, who came forward reminding them

Previous | Next
Site Search