Letters of Julian/Letter 28

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Letters by Julian, translated by Emily Wilmer Cave Wright
28. On behalf of the Argives; unaddressed

From The Works of the Emperor Julian, volume III (1913) Loeb Classical Library.

28. On behalf of the Argives; unaddressed[1][edit]

[362, Constantinople]

On behalf of the city of Argos, if one wished to recount her honours, many are the glorious deeds both old and new that one might relate. For instance, in the achievements of the Trojan War they may claim to have played the chief part even as did the Athenians and Lacedaemonians, in later times, in the Persian War. For though both wars are held to have been waged by all Greece in common, yet it is fitting that the leaders, just as they had the larger share of toils and anxiety, should have also a larger share of the praise. These events, however, may seem somewhat antiquated. But those that followed, I mean the return of the Heracleidae, the taking of his birthright from the eldest,[2] the sending from Argos of the colony to Macedonia, and the fact that, though they were such near neighbours to the Lacedaemonians, they always preserved their city unenslaved and free, are proofs of no slight or common fortitude. But, furthermore, all those great deeds accomplished by the Macedonians against the Persians might with justice be considered to belong to this city; for this was the native land of the ancestors of Philip and Alexander,[3] those illustrious men. And in later days Argos obeyed the Romans, not so much because she was conquered as in the character of an ally, and, as I think, she too, like the other states, shared in the independence and the other rights which our rulers always bestow on the cities of Greece.

But now the Corinthians, since Argos has been assigned to their territory — for this is the less invidious way of expressing it — by the sovereign city,[4] have grown insolent in ill-doing and are compelling the Argives to pay them tribute; it is seven years, as I am told, since they began this innovation, and they were not abashed by the immunity of Delphi or of the Eleans,[5] which was granted to them so that they might administer their sacred games. For there are, as we know, four very important and splendid games in Greece; the Eleans celebrate the Olympian games, the Delphians the Pythian, the Corinthians those at the Isthmus, and the Argives the Nemean festival. How then can it be reasonable that those others should retain the immunity that was granted to them in the past, whereas the Argives, who, in consideration of a similar outlay, had their tribute remitted in the past, or perhaps were not even subject to tribute originally, should now be deprived of the privilege of which they were deemed worthy? Moreover, Elis and Delphi are accustomed to contribute only once in the course of their far-famed four-year cycles, but in that period there are two celebrations of the Nemean games among the Argives, and likewise of the Isthmian among the Corinthians. And besides, in these days two other games[6] of this sort have been established among the Argives, so that there are in all in four years four games. How then is it reasonable that those others who bear the burden of this function only once should be left free from the tax, whereas the Argives are obliged to contribute to yet other games in addition to their fourfold expenditure at home; especially as the contribution is for a festival that is neither Hellenic nor of ancient date? For it is not to furnish gymnastic or musical contests that the Corinthians need so much money, but they buy bears and panthers for the hunting shows which they often exhibit in their theatres. And they themselves by reason of their wealth are naturally able to support these great expenses, — especially as many other cities, as is to be expected, help by contributing for this purpose, — so that they purchase the pleasure of indulging their temperaments.[7] But the Argives are not so well off for money, and compelled as they are to slave for a foreign spectacle held in the country of others, will they not be suffering unjust and illegal treatment and moreover unworthy of the ancient power and renown of their city being, as they are, near neighbours of Corinth, who therefore ought to be the more kindly treated, if indeed the saying is true, "Not so much as an ox would perish[8] except through the wrongdoing of one's neighbours"? But it appears that when the Argives bring these charges against the Corinthians they are not raising a dispute about a single paltry ox, but about many heavy expenses to which they are not fairly liable.

And yet one might put this question also to the Corinthians, whether they think it right to abide by the laws and customs of ancient Greece, or rather by those which it seems they recently took over from the sovereign city? For if they respect the high authority of ancient laws and customs, it is no more fitting for the Argives to pay tribute to Corinth than for the Corinthians to pay it to Argos. If, on the other hand, in reliance on the laws they now have, they claim that their city has gained advantages since they received the colony from Rome, then we will exhort them in moderate language not to be more arrogant than their fathers and not to break up the customs which their fathers with sound judgment maintained for the cities of Greece, or remodel them to the injury and detriment of their neighbours; especially since they are relying on a recent decision, and, in their avarice, regard as a piece of luck the inefficiency of the man who was appointed to represent the case of the city of Argos. For if he had appealed and taken the suit outside of the jurisdiction of Greece, the Corinthians would have had less influence; their rights, would have been shown to be weak, when investigated by these numerous and upright advocates,[9] and, swayed by these, it is likely that the judge would have been awed into giving the proper decision, especially as the renown of Argos would also have had weight.

But as for the rights of the case with respect to the city you[10] will learn them from the beginning from the orators if only you will consent to hear them and they are permitted to present their case, and then the situation will be correctly judged from their arguments. But in order to show that we ought to place confidence in those who have come on this embassy, I must add a few words concerning them. Diogenes and Lamprias[11] are indeed philosophers equal to any in our time, and they have avoided the honours and lucrative offices of the state; but they are ever zealous to serve their country to the best of their ability, and whenever the city is in any great emergency, then they plead causes, assist in the government, go on embassies, and spend generously from their own resources. Thus by their actions they refute the reproaches brought against philosophy,[12] and disprove the common opinion that those who pursue philosophy are useless to the state. For their country employs them for these tasks and they are now endeavouring to aid her to obtain justice by my assistance, as I in turn by yours. For this is indeed the only hope of safety left for the oppressed, that they may obtain a judge who has both the will and ability to give a fair decision. For if either of these qualities be lacking, so that he is either imposed on or faithless to his trust, then there is no help for it — the right must perish. But now, since we have judges who are all that we could wish, and yet are not able to plead because they did not appeal at the time, they beg that this disability may first of all be removed for them, and that the lack of energy of the man who at that time was the city's advocate and had the suit in charge may not be the cause of so great detriment to her for all time to come.

And we ought not to think it irregular that the case should again be brought to trial. For, though in the affairs of private persons it is expedient to forego a little one's advantage and the more profitable course, and thereby purchase security for the future — since in their little life it is pleasant, even for a little, to enjoy peace and quiet; moreover it is a terrible thought that one may die while one's case is on trial before the courts and hand down the lawsuit to one's heirs unsettled, so that it seems better to secure the half by any possible means than to die while struggling to gain the whole, — cities on the other hand do not die, and unless there be found someone to give a just decision that will free them from their quarrels with one another, they must inevitably maintain undying ill-will, and their hatred moreover is deep-rooted and gains strength with time.

I have said my say, as the orators express it. You must yourselves determine what is proper to do.


  1. If the date is correct, this was probably a private communication to the newly-appointed Proconsul of Achaia, Praetextatus. Under the Roman dominion, Greek cities to settle their disputes had recourse to lawsuits which were often long and tedious. Seven years before Julian's accession, Corinth had successfully claimed the right to tax Argos. The money was spent on wild beast shows and similar entertainments at Corinth. The Argives appealed to Julian for a revision of the case, and he now writes to the Proconsul of Achaia, leaving the decision to him, but strongly supporting the claim of Argos. As this letter is the only evidence for the Corinthian exaction or the Argive appeal, we do not know the result. Nor can we determine whether Julian is writing in 362 or 363. It seems unlikely that the Argives appealed to him when he was a student at Athens in 355, as some scholars have maintained. See Introduction.
  2. Temenus the Heraclid received Argos as his share; his descendants were expelled and colonised Macedonia; cf. Julian, Oration 3. 106d; Herodotus 8. 137.
  3. Alexander claimed to be an Argive. For the colonisation of Macedonia cf. Herodotus 5. 22.
  4. Rome, cf. Oration 4. 131 d. Corinth had been made a Roman colony by Augustus, and claimed authority over certain other cities that were not colonies; the Roman Proconsul regularly resided at Corinth.
  5. i.e. the Corinthians ought to have allowed similar immunity to Argos.
  6. One of these festivals was the Heraean games.
  7. I follow Heyler in interpreting φρόνημα as the pleasure-loving "temperament," genius, of the Corinthians. Others translate "pride."
  8. A paraphrase of Hesiod, Works and Days 348, αὐδ᾽ ἄν βοῖς ἀπόλοιτ, εἰ μὴ γείτων κακὸς εἴη; cf. Plautus, Mercator 4. 4. 31.
  9. i.e. the present embassy led by Diogenes and Lamprias; see below, 410b.
  10. Julian now addresses the Proconsul directly. If 355 is the correct date the Proconsul may be the insolent person referred to in To Theodorus, Letter 16, as having slighted Julian's wishes.
  11. These men are otherwise unknown.
  12. Cf. Plato, Republic 489a.