The World's Famous Orations/Volume 1/On the Union of Sicily Against Invaders
ON THE UNION OF SICILY AGAINST INVADERS
Born in 460 B.C., died in 407; promoted the union of the Sicilian cities which made possible the defeat of Athens in 413; and in 412 went to Asia Minor, where he was successful for a time, but then lost a battle, was removed from command and sent into exile; fought against Carthage; died while attempting to reinstate himself in Syracuse.
It is not because I am of a city that is either the least powerful, or the most distressed by hostilities that I shall address you, Sicilians, but in order publicly to state what appears to me the best policy for the whole of Sicily. And now with regard to war, to prove that it is a disastrous thing, why need one particularize all the evil involved in it, and so make a long speech before those who are acquainted with it? For no one is either driven to engage in it through ignorance, or deterred from it by fear, should he think that he will gain any advantage; but it is the lot of the former to imagine the gains greater than the dangers; and the latter will face the perils rather than put up with any present loss. But if both should happen to be thus acting unseasonably, exhortations to peace would be useful. And this would be most serviceable to us too at the present time, if we did but believe it. For it was surely with a purpose of well securing our own several interests that we both went to war at first, and are endeavoring by means of conference to come to terms again with each other; and if each one should not succeed in going away with what is fair, we shall proceed to hostilities again.
We should be convinced, however, that it is not for our own separate interests alone, if we are wise, that this congress will be held; but to consider whether we shall be able any longer to save the whole of Sicily, which, as I conceive, is the object of the machinations of the Athenians. And we should regard that people as much more compulsory mediators in such case than my words; who, possessing as they do the greatest power of all the Greeks, are watching our blunders, being here with a few ships; and under the legitimate name of alliance are speciously bringing to a profitable conclusion their natural hostility to us. For if we go to war, and call them in to our aid, men who of their own accord turn their arms even upon such as do not call them in; and if we injure ourselves by means of our own resources, and at the same time pave the way for their dominion; it is probable that when they observe us worn out, they will come hereafter with a great force, and endeavor to bring all these states into subjection to them.
And yet we ought, if we are wise, to aim at acquiring for our own respective countries what does not belong to them, rather than at diminishing what they already have, both in calling in allies and incurring fresh dangers; and to consider that faction is most ruinous to states, and particularly to Sicily, the inhabitants of which are all being plotted against, while we are at variance city with city. Knowing this then, we ought to make peace, individual with individual, and state with state, and to make a common effort to save the whole of Sicily; and the thought should be entertained by no one, that tho the Dorian part of us are enemies of the Athenians, the Chalcidian race is secured by its Ionian connection. For they are not attacking our nations, because they are different, and from their hatred of one of them; but from coveting the good things of Sicily, which we possess in common. And this they have now shown upon the invitation of the Chalcidian race; for to those who had never yet assisted them on the ground of their alliance, they themselves with forwardness answered their claim, beyond the letter of the compact.
With regard to the Athenians then, so great is found to be the benefit of our taking good advice. And with regard to peace, which is acknowledged by all to be a most excellent thing, how can it fail to be incumbent on us to conclude it among ourselves? Or do you think, that whatever good thing, or the contrary, anyone has, quiet would not more effectually than war put a stop to the latter, and help to preserve the former; and that peace has not the less hazardous honors and splendors? with all other topics which one might discuss in many words, on such a subject as war. Considering then these things, you ought not to disregard what I say, but should rather provide each for your own safety in compliance with it. And if any one think that he shall certainly gain some advantage, either by right or might, let him not be annoyed by failure through the unexpected result; knowing that many men ere now, both while pursuing with vengeance those who have wronged them, and hoping, in other instances, to win an advantage by greater power, in the one case, so far from avenging themselves, have not even saved themselves; and in the other, instead of gaining more, have happened also to lose what they had. For vengeance is not necessarily successful, because a man is injured; nor is strength sure, because it is sanguine. But the incalculable nature of the future prevails to the greatest possible degree; and tho the most deceptive of all things, still proves the most useful; for because we are equally afraid, we are more cautious in attacking one another.
And now, on account of our indefinite fear of this unknown future, and our immediate dread of the Athenians' presence, being alarmed on both these grounds, and thinking, with regard to any failure in our ideas of what we severally thought to achieve, that these obstacles are a sufficient bar to their fulfilment, let us send away from the country the enemy that is among us, and ourselves make peace forever, if possible; but if not that, let us make a treaty for the longest term we can, and put off our private differences to a future period. In a word, let us be convinced that by following my advice we shall each have a free city, from which we shall, as our own masters, make an equally good return to him who treats us either well or ill; but if, through not following it, we are subject to others, then, not speak of avenging ourselves on any one, we necessarily become, even if most fortunate, friends to our greatest enemies, and at variance with those with whom we ought not to be so.
And for myself, altho, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I represent a most powerful city, and am more likely to attack another than to defend myself, yet I think it right to provide against these things, and to make concessions; and not so to injure my enemies as to incur greater damage myself; nor through a foolish animosity to think that I have absolute sway alike over my own plans and over fortune, which I can not control: but to give way, as far as is reasonable. And I call on you all, of your own free will, to act in the same manner as myself, and not to be compelled to do it by your enemies. For there is no disgrace in connections giving way to connections, whether a Dorian to a Dorian, or a Chalcidian to those of the same race; in a word, all of us who are neighbors, and live together in one country, and that an island, and are called by the one name of Sicilians. For we shall go to war again, I suppose, when it may so happen, and come to terms again among ourselves by means of general conferences; but to foreign invaders we shall always, if we are wise, offer united resistance, inasmuch as by our separate losses we are collectively endangered; and we shall never in future call in any allies or mediators. For by acting thus we shall at the present time avoid depriving Sicily of two blessings—riddance both of the Athenians and of civil war—and shall in future enjoy it by ourselves in freedom, and less exposed to the machinations of others.
- Delivered in Syracuse before the Assembly. Reported by Thucydides. Translated by Henry Dale.