Isocrates. Isocrates with an English Translation in three volumes, by George Norlin, Ph.D., LL.D. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1928-1980.

Doubtless some of you are astonished that I, who heretofore have observed the customs[*](In Sparta the young were not supposed to appear in public places. Plutarch states (Plut. Lyc. 25) that men were not allowed even in the market-place until after they were thirty years old.) of the state more faithfully, I dare say, than any other of my generation, have now so completely changed that I have come forward, in spite of my youth, to offer counsel regarding a subject which even our elders hesitate to discuss.

The fact is that if any of those who are accustomed to address you had spoken in a manner worthy of the state, I should strictly have held my peace; but now, since I see that they are either seconding the demands of the enemy, or opposing them but feebly, or have kept silent altogether, I have risen to set forth my own views on this subject, feeling that it would be disgraceful if by keeping the place appropriate to my years I should allow the state to pass measures unworthy of itself.

Moreover, I think that although on other matters it may be proper for men of my age to keep silent, yet on the question of war it is fitting that they most of all should give counsel who will also have the greatest part in the dangers, especially since the power to judge of what ought to be done is an endowment common to all of us.

For if it were established that older men always know what is best, while the younger are never correct in their views, it would be right to exclude us from giving counsel; but since it is not by the number of our years that we differ in wisdom from one another, but by our natural endowments and by our cultivation of them, why should you not make trial of both the young and the old, in order that you may be in a position to choose from all courses which are proposed that which is the most expedient?

I am amazed at those who think that we are fit to command ships of war and to lead armies in the field,[*](Archidamus had commanded Spartan armies in 370 and 367. See Xen. Hell. 6.4.17 and vii. 1. 28.) where bad judgement on our part would involve the state in many grave disasters, and yet do not think that we ought to express our views on matters which you are about to decide, wherein if we proved to be right we should benefit you all, while if, on the other hand, we failed of your assent we should ourselves perhaps suffer in reputation, but should not in any way impair the commonwealth.

It is not, I assure you, because I am ambitious to be an orator, nor because I am prepared to change my former mode of life that I have spoken as I have about these things, but because I want to urge you not to reject any time of life, but to seek among all ages for the man who can offer good advice on the problems which now confront us;

for never since we have dwelt in Sparta has any war or any peril come upon us in which so much has been at stake as in this question which we are now assembled to discuss. For while in times past we fought that we might have dominion over the other states, now we must fight that we ourselves may not be forced to do their bidding—which is proof of a free spirit, to preserve which no hardship on earth is too great to endure, not for us alone, but for all others as well who have not renounced every claim to manhood but still make even slight pretensions to courage.

As for myself, at any rate, if I may speak my own mind, I had rather die this moment for not complying with the dictates of the foe than live many times my allotted span of life at the price of voting what the Thebans demand. For I should feel disgraced, I who am descended from Heracles,[*](The Spartan kings claimed descent from Heracles Isoc. 4.62.) who am the son of the ruling king and likely myself to attain to this honor,[*](Archidamus became king after the death of Agesilaus in 361 B.C.) if I did not strive with all the strength that is in me to prevent this territory, which our fathers left to us, from becoming the possession of our slaves.

And I expect you also to share my feelings when you reflect that, while until the present day we seem to have been unfortunate in our contest with the Thebans,[*](Since the battle of Leuctra.) and to have been overcome in body because of the mistakes of our leader,[*](Cleombrotus the king was partly blamed for the Spartan defeat at Leuctra.) yet up to this moment we possess our spirits unconquered;

but that if through fear of the dangers which now threaten us we relinquish anything that is ours, we shall justify the boasts of the Thebans, and erect against ourselves a trophy far more imposing and conspicuous than that which was raised at Leuctra; for the one will stand as a memorial of our ill-fortune; the other, of our abject spirit. Let no man, therefore, persuade you to fasten such a disgrace upon the state.

And yet our allies[*](Especially the Corinthians. See Introduction.) have been only too zealous in advising you that you must give up Messene and make peace. Because of this they merit your indignation far more than those who revolted[*](The Arcadians had joined the Thebans in invading Sparta. The Argives, Eleans, and Achaeans had also forsaken Sparta and gone over partly or wholly to the Thebans.) from you at the beginning. For the latter, when they had forsaken your friendship, destroyed their own cities, plunging them into civil strife and massacres and vicious forms of government.[*](Such disturbances and changes of government took place about this time in Arcadia, Argos, Sicyon, Elis, and Phlius. See Xen. Hell. 7.1-4. By vicious forms of government Archidamus probably refers to the democracies which in various places had been set up instead of the earlier oligarchies.) These men, on the other hand, come here to inflict injury upon us;

for they are trying to persuade us to throw away in one brief hour the glory which our forefathers amid manifold dangers during the course of seven hundred years[*](A round number for the period between 1104 B.C., the traditional date when the sons of Heracles took Sparta, and the date of the present oration, 366 B.C.) acquired and bequeathed to us—a disaster more humiliating to Lacedaemon and more terrible than any other they could ever have devised.

So far do they go in their selfish greed, so great is the cowardice which they impute to us, that they, who have time and again called upon us to make war in defense of their own territory,[*](Especially Corinth and Phlius. See Xen. Hell. 4.4.7 and 15.) think we ought not to risk battle for Messene, but, in order that they may themselves cultivate their lands in security, seek to convince us that we ought to yield to the enemy a portion of our own; and, besides all that, they threaten that if we do not comply with these terms, they will make a separate peace.

For my part, I do not think that our risk without their alliance will be as much more serious for us as it will be more glorious and splendid and notable in the eyes of all mankind; for to endeavor to preserve ourselves and to prevail over our enemies, not through the aid of others, but through our own powers, is in keeping with the past achievements of our state.

Although I have never been fond of oratory, having in fact always thought that those who cultivate the power of speech are somewhat lacking in capacity for action,[*](An allusion to the traditional Spartan fondness for brevity and distrust of eloquence.) yet at the moment there is nothing I should value more than the ability to speak as I desire about the question now before us; for in the present crisis I am confident that with this aid I could render a very great service to the state.

First, I think that I ought to explain to you in what way we acquired Messene, and for what reasons you settled in the Peloponnesus—you who from of old are Dorians. And the reason why I shall go back to remote times is that you may understand why your enemies are trying to rob you of this country, which you acquired, no less than Lacedaemon itself, with a just title.

When Heracles had put off this life and from being mortal became a god, his sons at first went on divers wanderings and faced many perils because of the power of their enemies;[*](For the return of the the sons of Heracles and details connected therewith see Apollod. 2.8.2-4, and Frazer's notes on this passage (Loeb Classical Library, Vol.I). Cf. Isoc. 4.54-58 and notes.) but after the death of Eurystheus they fixed their habitation among the Dorians. In the third generation thereafter they came to Delphi, desiring to consult the oracle about certain matters. Apollo, however, made them no answer to the questions which they asked, but merely bade them seek the country of their fathers.

Searching into the meaning of the oracle, they found, first, that Argos belonged to them by right of their being next of kin, for after the death of Eurystheus they were the sole survivors of Perseus' line;[*](Sthenelus, father of Eurystheus, was a son of Perseus. For the manner of Eurystheus' death see Isoc. 4.60.) next, that Lacedaemon was theirs by right of gift, for when Tyndareus, having been driven from his throne,[*](Tyndareus, son of Perieres and of Perseus' daughter, Gorgophone, was king of Lacedaemon until driven out by his half-brother Hippocoön and by Hippocoön's sons. See Apollod. 3.10.5.) was restored to it by Heracles,[*](Heracles slew Hippocoön and his twenty sons and restored Tyndareus.) after Castor and Polydeuces had vanished from among men,[*](Castor was slain during a foray in Messene. His brother, Polydeuces, who according to most accounts was a son of Zeus by Leda, while Castor was a son of Tyndareus by Leda, refused to accept immortality unless it was shared by his brother. Zeus, therefore, granted that the two brothers dwell, on alternate days, among the gods and among men. According to others both were sons of Zeus. Hence Isocrates can refer to their kinship with Heracles, the son of Zeus and Alcmene. See Apollod. 3.11.2 and Isoc. 10.61.) he gave the land to Heracles because of this act of kindness and also because of the kinship of Heracles and his own sons;

and lastly, they found that Messene was theirs as a prize taken in war, for Heracles, when he had been robbed of the cattle from Erytheia,[*](To fetch the cattle of Geryon from Erytheia, an island off the coast of Spain, was the tenth labor imposed on Heracles by Eurystheus. See Apollod. 2.5.10.) by Neleus and all his sons except Nestor, had taken the country captive and slain the offenders, but had committed the city to Nestor's charge, believing him to be prudent, because, although the youngest of his brethren, he had taken no part in their iniquity.

Assuming this to be the purport of the oracle, they joined forces with your forefathers and organized an army, sharing meantime their own country with their followers,[*](That is, the common folk of the Dorians as distinguished from the descendants of Heracles, the ancestors of Archidamus.) but receiving from them the kingship as the prize reserved for themselves alone; then having confirmed these covenants by mutual pledges, they set out upon the expedition.