History of the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides

Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.

‘Athenians, I have a better right to command than others—I must begin with this as Nicias has attacked me—and at the same time I believe myself to be worthy of it.

The things for which I am abused, bring fame to my ancestors and to myself, and to the country profit besides.

The Hellenes, after expecting to see our city ruined by the war, concluded it to be even greater than it really is, by reason of the magnificence with which I represented it at the Olympic games, when I sent into the lists seven chariots, a number never before entered by any private person, and won the first prize, and was second and fourth, and took care to have everything else in a style worthy of my victory.

Custom regards such displays as honourable, and they cannot be made without leaving behind them an impression of power.

Again, any splendour that I may have exhibited at home in providing choruses or otherwise, is naturally envied by my fellow-citizens, but in the eyes of foreigners has an air of strength as in the other instance.

And this is no useless folly, when a man at his own private cost benefits not himself only, but his city:

nor is it unfair that he who prides himself on his position should refuse to be upon an equality with the rest.

He who is badly off has his misfortunes all to himself, and as we do not see men courted in adversity, on the like principle a man ought to accept the insolence of prosperity; or else, let him first mete out equal measure to all, and then demand to have it meted out to him.

What I know is that persons of this kind and all others that have attained to any distinction, although they may be unpopular in their lifetime in their relations with their fellow-men and especially with their equals, leave to posterity the desire of claiming connection with them even without any ground, and are vaunted by the country to which they belonged, not as strangers or ill-doers, but as fellow-countrymen and heroes.

Such are my aspirations, and however I am abused for them in private, the question is whether any one manages public affairs better than I do.

Having united the most powerful states of Peloponnese, without great danger or expense to you, I compelled the Lacedaemonians to stake their all upon the issue of a single day at Mantinea; and although victorious in the battle, they have never since fully recovered confidence.