The World's Famous Orations/Volume 1/In Support of the Athenian Expedition to Sicily
IN SUPPORT OF THE ATHENIAN EXPEDITION TO SICILY
Born in Athens in 450 B.C., died in 404; at his suggestion Athens undertook the Sicilian expedition, out of which came the military career of Alcibiades, during which he was assassinated in Phrygia, pierced by a volley of arrows.
It is both befitting, Athenians, for me, more than others, to enjoy command (for with this topic must I commence my speech, since Cleon has attacked me upon it), and at the same time, I deem myself worthy of it. For those things about which I am so assailed with clamor, confer honor on my ancestors and myself, and benefit on my country at the same time. For the Greeks considered our state to be greater than they had ever done, even beyond its actual power, through the splendor of my display as its deputy to the Olympic games (whereas they hoped before that it had been exhausted by the war); inasmuch as I entered seven chariots—a number which no private individual had ever yet entered—and gained the first prize, and was second and fourth, and provided everything else in a style worthy of my victory. For according to tho usual view of them, such things are a subject of honor; while, from the practise of them, an idea of power is also formed. And again, whatever distinction I gain at home by my exhibitions of choruses, or in any other way, it is naturally envied by my fellow citizens, but for foreigners this too has an appearance of power. And this is no useless folly, when a man benefits at his own costs, not himself only, but his country also.
Nor is it unfair fur one who prides himself on his own prosperity, to refuse to be on an equality with the mass; since in the same way he who is unfortunate shares his calamities with no one else. But as we are not courted when in adversity, by the same rule let a man also submit to be slighted by the prosperous; or let him treat the unfortunate as on an equal footing [when he is in prosperity], and so claim the like treatment in return [when he is himself in adversity] . I know, however, that men in such circumstances, and all who ever surpassed others in splendor of any kind, though disliked in their own lifetime, most of ail in their dealings with their equals, and then with the rest of the world also, have yet left to some of those who came after them a desire to claim connection with them, even where there were no grounds for it; and a subject for glorying to the country they belonged to, not as for aliens, or offenders, but as for countrymen, who had achieved glorious things. And in my case, who aim at such things, and am therefore in private assailed with clamor, consider, with regard to public affairs, whether I administer them in a manner inferior to any one else, or not. For having united the most powerful states of the Peloponnese, without any great danger or expense to you. I brought the Lacedæmonians to a single day's struggle for their all at Mantinea; in consequence of which, altho they were victorious in the battle, they do not ever now feel any firm confidence in themselves.
In this way, then, did my youth and preternatural folly, as it is thought, deal with the power of the Peloponnesians by means of suitable arguments; and, gaining credit by my vehemence, obtained their assent. And now too be not afraid of it; but while I am still in the flower of it, and Nicias appears fortunate, avail yourselves fully of the services of each of us. And with regard to the expedition to Sicily, change not your determination from an idea that it would be undertaken against a great power. For it is only with a mixed rabble that its cities are populous; and they easily admit changes in their government, and adopt new ones. And for this reason no one is furnished, as though in behalf of his own country, either with arms for the person, or with ordinary resources, as regards the country; but whatever each one thinks that he can get from the people, either by persuading them through his oratory, or by factious measures, and will so find a home in another land, in case of his not being successful, with that he provides himself. It is not likely, then, that a populace of such a character should either listen to any counsel with one heart, or apply themselves to action in common; but they would severally side with whatever was said to please them; especially if they are torn by factions, as we hear.Again, with regard to heavy-armed troops, neither have the Siceliots so many as are boasted of, nor did the rest of the Greeks prove so numerous as they severally reckoned themselves; but Greece had very much misstated them, and was with difficulty equipped with them in sufficient numbers on the outbreak of this war. The states in those parts, then, from what I learn by report, are of this character, and still more easy to deal with—for we shall have many barbarians, who from hatred of the Syracusans will join us in attacking them—and those here will not prove an obstacle, if you take a right view of the matter. For our fathers had these very men, whom they say you would leave behind you in hostility when sailing there, and the Mede beside, as their enemies; and still they won their empire; tho strong in nothing else but the superiority of their fleet. And as things stand now, never yet were the Peloponnesians more hopeless with regard to us; and even if they are ever so confident, for invading our country indeed they are strong enough, even tho we do not undertake the expedition; but with their naval force they cannot hurt us [tho we do not undertake
From a Bust in the Clementine Museum at Rome
On what reasonable argument, then, could we ourselves shrink from it; or on what plea addressed to our allies there could we refuse to succor them? For since we have entered into league with them, we ought to assist them, and not to object that they too have not assisted us. For we united them with us, not that they might come here to help us in their turn, but that by annoying our enemies there they might prevent their coming here to attack us. And it is in this way that empire has been won. both by us and by all others who have enjoyed it: I mean, by readily taking part with those barbarians or Greeks who from time to time called them to their aid; since if all should remain quiet, or nicely choose whom they ought to assist; we should make but slight additions to it, but should rather run a risk of losing even what it now is. For men do not only defend themselves against a superior when he has attacked them, but also strike the first blow, to prevent his attacking them. And it is not possible for us to portion out exactly how far we wish to hold dominion; but since are are in our present position, we must form designs against some, and not give up others; because we should be subjected to the rule of another party, if we did not ourselves rule over others. Nor must you take the same view of quiet as the rest of the world, unless you will also receive fresh institutions assimilating to theirs. Considering, then, that we shall rather aggrandize our possessions here, if we go in quest of those there, let us make the expedition; that we may both prostrate the pride of the Peloponnesians, by being seen, regardless of present peace, to sail even against Sicily; and at the same time, by either ruling, as we most probably shall, over the whole of Greece, through being joined by those there, or at any rate by injuring the Syracusans, by which both ourselves and our allies will be benefited.
And as for security, whether for remaining there, in case of any success, or for returning, our fleet will provide us with it; for by sea we shall be superior to all the Siceliots put together. And let not the non-interfering policy which Nicias recommends in his speeches, nor his setting the young against the old, divert you from your purpose; but acting in your usual order, just as our fathers, by consulting young with old, raised the state to its present height, do ye now too, in the same manner, endeavor to advance it; being convinced that youth and old age can do nothing without each other; but that the period of levity, and of mid-age, and of extreme preciseness, will have most power when joined together; and that the state, if it remain quiet, will be worn out on itself, like anything else, and its skill in everything grow dull: while by entering into contest it will continually gain fresh experience, and will find self-defense habitual to it, not in word, but rather in deed. My decided opinion then is, that I think a state of no inactive character would most quickly be ruined by a change to inactivity: and that those men live most securely, who regulate their affairs in accordance with their existing habits and institutions, even though they may be of an inferior character, with the least variation.
- Delivered in Athens as reported by Thucydides. Translated by Henry Dale.