On the Peace


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. 1929-1982.

We must not attribute the cause to any subsequent misfortunes but to their crimes in the beginning, as the result of which they were brought to such a disastrous end. So that anyone would be much more in accord with the truth if he should assert that they first became subject to the dominion of their present ills at the moment when they attempted to seize the dominion of the sea,[*](For this word-play cf. Isoc. 5.61, note; also this discourse, Isoc. 8.105.) since they were seeking to acquire a power which was in no wise like that which they had before possessed.

For because of their supremacy on land and of their stern discipline and of the self control which was cultivated under it, they readily obtained command of the sea, whereas because of the arrogance[*](The best commentary upon the association here of self-control (moderation) with an inland power and of the opposite with a sea power is a very interesting passage of the Isoc. 12.115-116.) which was bred in them by that power they speedily lost the supremacy both on land and sea. For they no longer kept the laws which they had inherited from their ancestors nor remained faithful to the ways which they had followed in times past,

but conceived that they were licensed to do whatever they pleased and so were plunged into great confusion. For they did not know that this licence which all the world aspires to attain is a difficult thing to manage, that it turns the heads of those who are enamored by it, and that it is in its nature like courtesans, who lure their victims to love but destroy those who indulge this passion.

And yet it has been shown clearly that it has this effect; for anyone can see that those who have been in the strongest position to do whatever they pleased have been involved in the greatest disasters, ourselves and the Lacedaemonians first of all. For when these states, which in time past had governed themselves with the utmost sobriety and enjoyed the highest esteem,[*](See Isoc. 4.80-81.) attained to this license and seized the empire, they differed in no respect from each other, but, as is natural in the case of those who have been depraved by the same passions and the same malady, they attempted the same deeds and indulged in similar crimes and, finally, fell into like disasters.

For we, being hated by our allies and standing in peril of being enslaved, were saved by the Lacedaemonians;[*](See 78.) and just so they, when all the rest wanted to destroy them, came to us for refuge and were saved through us.[*](See Isoc. 5.44, note; Isoc. 7.7, note.) And yet how can we praise a dominion which subjects us to so miserable an end? How can we fail to abhor and shun a power which has incited these two cities both to do and to suffer many abominable things?

But, after all, we should not be surprised that in the past all men have failed to see that this power is the cause of so many ills to those who hold it, nor should we wonder that it has been the bone of contention between us and the Lacedaemonians. For you will find that the great majority of mankind go astray in choosing a course of action and, being possessed of more desires for things evil than for things good, take counsel more in the interest of their foes than of themselves. You can observe this in matters of the greatest importance.

For when has it ever happened otherwise? Did we not choose to pursue a policy in consequence of which the Lacedaemonians became masters of the Hellenes? Did not they, in their turn, manage their supremacy so badly that not many years later we again got the upper hand and became the arbiters of their safety?

Did not the meddlesomeness of the partizans of Athens cause the various states to become partisans of Sparta, and did not the insolence of the partisans of Sparta force these same states to become partisans of Athens? Did not the people themselves, because of the depravity of the popular orators, desire the oligarchy which was established under the Four Hundred? And have not we, all of us, because of the madness of the Thirty,[*](For the excesses of the Thirty see Isoc. 7.66 ff.) become greater enthusiasts for democracy than those who occupied Phyle?[*](Thrasybulus, the leader of the “people's party,” seized the fortress of Phyle on Mt. Parnes and held it against the Thirty until the democracy was restored. See Isoc. 7.64, note.)

Indeed in matters of lesser importance and in our everyday life, one could show that the majority take pleasure in the foods and habits which injure both the body and the soul but consider laborious and irksome those from which both sides of our nature would benefit, and that those men are looked upon as austere who remain steadfast in habits which are beneficial.[*](Cf. Isoc. 2.45.)

Since, therefore, in the circumstances in which they live every day and about which they are more directly concerned, men show that they prefer the worse to the better course, how can we be surprised if they lack insight regarding the empire of the sea and make war upon each other to possess a power regarding which they have never reflected in their lives?

Look at the one-man-rule which is established in various states and observe how many there are who aspire to it and are ready to undergo anything whatsoever to obtain it. And yet what that is dire and difficult is not its portion?[*](Cf. Pictures of the fate of despots in Isoc. 2.5, Isoc. 10.32 ff., and Plat. Rep. 579.) Is it not true that when men obtain unlimited power they find themselves at once in the coil of so many troubles

that they are compelled to make war upon all their citizens, to hate those from whom they have suffered no wrong whatsoever, to suspect their own friends and daily companions, to entrust the safety of their persons to hirelings whom they have never even seen, to fear no less those who guard their lives than those who plot against them, and to be so suspicious towards all men as not to feel secure even in the company of their nearest kin?[*](Cf. Cicero, Laelius15: “haec enim est tyrannorum vita nimirum in qua nulla fides, nulla caritas, nulla stabilis bennnevolentiae potest esse fiducia; omnia semper suspecta atque sollicita.”)

And naturally so; for they know well that those who held despotic power before them have been put out of the way, some by their parents,[*](Alexander of Macedon by his mother.) some by their sons,[*](Astyages by Cyrus.) some by their brothers,[*](Acetas by Perdiccas; Jason of Pherae by Polydorus.) and some by their wives[*](Alexander of Pherae.) and, furthermore, that the lineage of these rulers has been blotted out from the sight of men.[*](See Isoc. 5.108, note.) Nevertheless they willingly submit themselves to such a multitude of calamities.[*](Cf. the saying of Periander (Hdt. 3.53): turanni\s xrh=ma sfalero/n: polloi\ d' au)th=s e)rastai/ ei)si.) And when men who are of the foremost rank and of the greatest reputation are enamored of so many evils, is it any wonder that the rest of the world covets other evils of the same kind?

But I do not fail to realize that while you accept readily what I say about the rule of despots, yet you hear with intolerance what I say about the empire of the sea. For you have fallen into a most shameful and careless way of thinking, since what you see clearly in the case of others, this you are blind to in your own case. And yet it is not the least important sign of whether men are possessed of intelligence if they are seen to recognize the same course of conduct in all cases that are comparable.[*](That is, if they apply the same standard of judgement to all similar cases.)

But you have never given this a thought; on the contrary, while you consider the power of a despot to be harsh and harmful not only to others but to those who hold it, you look upon the empire of the sea as the greatest good in the world, when in fact it differs neither in what it does nor in what it suffers from one-man-rule. And you think that the affairs of the Thebans are in a bad way because they oppress their neighbors,[*](The Thespians and the Plataeans, whom the Thebans expelled from their territory.) but, although you yourselves are treating your allies no better than the Thebans treat the Boeotians, you believe that your own actions leave nothing to be desired.

If, then, you heed my advice you will stop taking counsel in your utterly haphazard fashion and give your attention to your own and the state's welfare; pondering and searching into these questions: What is it which caused these two states—Athens and Sparta I mean—to rise, each one of them, from obscure beginnings to be the first power in Hellas and then to fall, after they had attained a power second to none, into peril of being enslaved?

What are the reasons that the Thessalians, who inherited very great wealth and possess a very rich and abundant territory,[*](See Isoc. 15.155; Thuc. 1.2.) have been reduced to poverty, while the Megarians, who had small and insignificant resources[*](The Megarians were mere “nobodies” among the Greeks. Cf. Aristoph. Ach. 519, and the saying: tw=n *megare/wn ou)dei\s lo/gos. Isocrates could have ventured no more astounding paradox than in holding up the Megarians as an example to follow.) to begin with and who possess neither land nor harbors[*](He means no lands or harbors to speak of, for the Megarians had both, though very little land.) nor mines but are compelled to farm mere rocks, own estates which are the greatest[*](Through commerce.) among the Hellenes?

Why is it that the Thessalians, with a cavalry of more than three thousand horse and light-armed troops beyond number,[*](See Xen. Hell. 6.1.19.) have their fortresses occupied from time to time by certain other states[*](By the Macedonians under Alexander II. and by the Thebans under Pelopidas.) while the Megarians, with only a small force, govern their city as they see fit? And, again, why is it that the Thessalians are always at war with each other while the Megarians, who dwell between the Peloponnesians on the one hand and the Thebans and the Athenians on the other, are continually in a state of peace?[*](An “unphilosophical” answer might be that no one coveted Megarian territory, whereas Thessalian resources were tempting. See a remark of Thuc. 1.2.)

If you will go over these and similar questions in your minds, you will discover that arrogance and insolence have been the cause of our misfortunes while sobriety and self control have been the source of our blessings.[*](See General Introd. pp. xxxii, xxxiii, Isocrates, Vol. I., L.C.L.) But, while you commend sobriety in individual men and believe that those who practice it enjoy the most secure existence and are the best among your fellow citizens, you do not think it fit to make the state practice it.

And yet it behoves states much more than individuals to cultivate the virtues and to shun vices;[*](Cf. Plat. Rep. 545b.) for a man who is godless and depraved may die before paying the penalty for his sins, but states, since they are deathless, soon or late must submit to punishment at the hands both of men and of the gods.