Isocrates. Isocrates with an English Translation in three volumes, by Larue Van Hook, Ph.D., LL.D. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1945-1968.

If the achiever of these exploits had been an ordinary person and not one of the very distinguished, it would not yet be clear whether this discourse is an encomium of Helen or an accusation of Theseus; but as it is, while in the case of other men who have won renown we shall find that one is deficient in courage, another in wisdom, and another in some kindred virtue, yet this hero alone was lacking in naught, but had attained consummate virtue.

And it seems to me appropriate to speak of Theseus at still greater length; for I think this will be the strongest assurance for those who wish to praise Helen, if we can show that those who loved and admired her were themselves more deserving of admiration than other men. For contemporary events we should with good reason judge in accordance with our own opinions, but concerning events in times so remote it is fitting that we show our opinion to be in accord with the opinion of those men of wisdom who were at that time living.

The fairest praise that I can award to Theseus is this—that he, a contemporary of Heracles,won a fame which rivalled his. For they not only equipped themselves with similar armor, but followed the same pursuits, performing deeds that were worthy of their common origin. For being in birth the sons of brothers, the one of Zeus, the other of Poseidon, they cherished also kindred ambitions; for they alone of all who have lived before our time made themselves champions of human life.

It came to pass that Heracles undertook perilous labors more celebrated and more severe, Theseus those more useful, and to the Greeks of more vital importance. For example, Heracles was ordered by Eurystheus[*](Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, imposed the twelve labors upon Heracles; see Isoc. 4.56 and note.) to bring the cattle from Erytheia[*](An island near the coast of Spain.) and to obtain the apples of the Hesperides and to fetch Cerberus up from Hades and to perform other labors of that kind, labors which would bring no benefit to mankind, but only danger to himself;

Theseus, however, being his own master, gave preference to those struggles which would make him a benefactor of either the Greeks at large or of his native land. Thus, the bull let loose by Poseidon which was ravaging the land of Attica, a beast which all men lacked the courage to confront, Theseus singlehanded subdued, and set free the inhabitants of the city from great fear and anxiety.

And after this, allying himself with the Lapiths, he took the field against the Centaurs, those creatures of double nature, endowed with surpassing swiftness, strength, and daring, who were sacking, or about to sack, or were threatening, one city after another. These he conquered in battle and straightway put an end to their insolence, and not long thereafter he caused their race to disappear from the sight of men.

At about the same time appeared the monster[*](The Minotaur, “the bull of Minos,” to whom seven boys and seven girls were annually sent as tribute by the Athenians; cf. Plat. Phaedo 58a.) reared in Crete, the offspring of Pasipha, daughter of Helius, to whom our city was sending, in accordance with an oracle's command, tribute of twice seven children. When Theseus saw these being led away, and the entire populace escorting them, to a death savage and foreseen, and being mourned as dead while yet living, he was so incensed that he thought it better to die than to live as ruler of a city that was compelled to pay to the enemy a tribute so lamentable.

Having embarked with them for Crete, he subdued this monster, half-man and half-bull, which possessed strength commensurate with its composite origin, and having rescued the children, he restored them to their parents, and thus freed the city from an obligation so savage, so terrible, and so ineluctable.

But I am at a loss how to deal with what remains to be said; for, now that I have taken up the deeds of Theseus and begun to speak of them, I hesitate to stop midway and leave unmentioned the lawlessness of Sciron[*](A mythical robber who haunted the rocks between Attica and Megara.) and of Cercyon and of other robbers like them whom he fought and vanquished and thereby delivered the Greeks from many great calamities.

But, on the other hand, I perceive that I am being carried beyond the proper limits of my theme and I fear that some may think that I am more concerned with Theseus than with the subject which I originally chose[*](See the Introduction to this discourse.). In this dilemma I prefer to omit the greater part of what might be said, out of regard for impatient hearers, and to give as concise an account as I can of the rest, that I may gratify both them and myself and not make a complete surrender to those whose habit it is out of jealousy to find fault with everything that is said.

His courage Theseus displayed in these perilous exploits which he hazarded alone; his knowledge of war in the battles he fought in company with the whole city; his piety toward the gods in connexion with the supplications of Adrastus and the children of Heracles when, by defeating the Peloponnesians in battle, he saved the lives of the children[*](Cf. Eur. Heraclid. for the story and also Isocrates, Isoc. 4.56.), and to Adrastus he restored for burial, despite the Thebans, the bodies of those who had died beneath the walls of the Cadmea[*](Cf. Eur. Supp. The story of Adrastus is told in detail in Isoc. 12.168 ff. Adrastus, king of Argos, led the expedition of the “Seven against Thebes” (cf. Aesch. Seven), which met with defeat.); and finally, he revealed his other virtues and his prudence, not only in the deeds already recited, but especially in the manner in which he governed our city.

For he saw that those who seek to rule their fellow-citizens by force are themselves the slaves of others, and that those who keep the lives of their fellow-citizens in peril themselves live in extreme fear, and are forced to make war, on the one hand, with the help of citizens against invaders from abroad, and, on the other hand, with the help of auxiliaries against their fellow citizens;

further, he saw them despoiling the temples of the gods, putting to death the best of their fellow-citizens, distrusting those nearest to them, living lives no more free from care than do men who in prison await their death; he saw that, although they are envied for their external blessings, yet in their own hearts they are more miserable than all other men—

for what, pray, is more grievous than to live in constant fear lest some bystander kill you, dreading no less your own guards than those who plot against you? Theseus, then, despising all these and considering such men to be not rulers, but pests, of their states, demonstrated that it is easy to exercise the supreme power and at the same time to enjoy as good relations as those who live as citizens on terms of perfect equality.

In the first place, the scattered settlements and villages of which the state was composed he united, and made Athens into a city-state[*](A reference to the sunoikismo/s attributed to Theseus, i.e., the uniting of the scattered villages in Attica into a polis or city-state. Cf. Thuc. 2.15.) so great that from then even to the present day it is the greatest state of Hellas: and after this, when he had established a common fatherland and had set free the minds of his fellow-citizens, he instituted for them on equal terms that rivalry of theirs for distinction based on merit, confident that he would stand out as their superior in any case, whether they practised that privilege or neglected it, and he also knew that honors bestowed by high-minded men are sweeter than those that are awarded by slaves[*](With this passage (Isoc. 10.34-35) Isoc. 4.38-89, with note, should be compared.). And he was so far from doing anything contrary to the will of the citizens

that he made the people masters of the government, and they on their part thought it best that he should rule alone, believing that his sole rule was more to be trusted and more equitable than their democracy. For he did not, as the other rulers did habitually, impose the labors upon the citizens and himself alone enjoy the pleasures; but the dangers he made his own, and the benefits he bestowed upon the people in common.

In consequence, Theseus passed his life beloved of his people and not the object of their plots, not preserving his sovereignty by means of alien military force, but protected, as by a bodyguard, by the goodwill of the citizens[*](Cf. Isoc. 2.21.), by virtue of his authority ruling as a king, but by his benefactions as a popular leader; for so equitably and so well did he administer the city that even to this day traces of his clemency may be seen remaining in our institutions.

As for Helen, daughter of Zeus, who established her power over such excellence and sobriety, should she not be praised and honored, and regarded as far superior to all the women who have ever lived? For surely we shall never have a more trustworthy witness or more competent judge of Helen's good attributes than the opinion of Theseus. But lest I seem through poverty of ideas to be dwelling unduly upon the same theme and by misusing the glory of one man to be praising Helen, I wish now to review the subsequent events also.

After the descent of Theseus to Hades, when Helen returned to Lacedaemon, and was now of marriageable age, all the kings and potentates of that time formed of her the same opinion; for although it was possible for them in their own cities to wed women of the first rank, they disdained wedlock at home and went to Sparta to woo Helen.

And before it had yet been decided who was to be her husband and all her suitors still had an equal chance, it was so evident to all that Helen would be the object of armed contention that they met together and exchanged solemn pledges of assistance if anyone should attempt to take her away from him who had been adjudged worthy of winning her; for each thought he was providing this alliance for himself.