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.

These considerations you should bear in mind and not pay heed to those who gratify you for the moment, while caring nothing for the future, nor to those who profess to love the people, but are in fact the bane of the whole state; since in times past also when men of this character took over the supremacy of the rostrum,[*](Obviously sarcastic: Their “supremacy” spells disaster to the state.) they led the city on to such a degree of folly that she suffered the fate which I described a moment ago.

And indeed what is most astonishing of all in your conduct is that you prefer as leaders of the people, not those who are of the same mind as the men who made Athens great, but those who say and do the same kind of things as the men who destroyed her power; and you do this albeit knowing full well that it is not alone in making the city prosperous that good leaders are superior to the base,

but that our democracy itself under the leadership of the former remained unshaken and unchanged for many years,[*](A century, from the reforms of Cleisthenes in 510 to the revolution of 411 B.C.) whereas under the guidance of these men it has already, within a short period of time,[*](In 411 and 404 B.C.) been twice overthrown, and that, furthermore, our people who were driven into exile under the despots and in the time of the Thirty were restored to the state, not through the efforts of the sycophants,[*](False accusers, slanderers, professional blackmailers—a class of persons which sprang up like weeds in Athens after the age of Pericles. Their favorite device was to extort money by threatening or instituting law-suits. But the word was applied indiscriminately by Isocrates and others to demagogues and politicians of the opposite party. See Lafberg, Sycophancy in Athens. Cf. Aristoph. Pl. 850 ff. The term “flatterers” is used in 4.) but through those leaders who despised men of that character and were held in the highest respect for their integrity.[*](Aristides restored the people after the rule of the Pisistratidae and Thrasybulus after the rule of the Thirty—both men of unblemished reputation.)

Nevertheless, in spite of the many things which remind us how the city fared under both kinds of leadership, we are so pleased with the depravity of our orators that, although we see that many of our other citizens have been stripped of their patrimony because of the war and of the disorders which these sycophants have caused, while the latter, from being penniless, have become rich,[*](A frequent charge. See Isoc. 12.140 ff.; Dem. 23.208-209. Aeschines (Aeschin. 3.173) makes it against Demosthenes himself: “he maintains himself, not from his private income, but from your perils.” The popular orators were in a strong position to make or break the fortunes or the reputations of men and of cities. Isocrates attributes the bad treatment of the general Timotheus by the Athenians to the latter's failure to court the favor of the orators, which other military leaders took pains to do. See Isoc. 15.136. Generals in the field found oportunities to enrich themselves and were prudent enough to “cultivate” the popular leaders at home. Chares, particularly, had the reputation of doing this. See Isoc. 8.50, note. On the question of bribery at this time see Butcher, Demosthenes pp. 11 ff.) yet we are not aggrieved nor do we resent their prosperity

but remain patient with a condition of affairs wherein our city is reproached with doing violence to the Hellenes and extorting money from them,[*](See Aristoph. Wasps 655-724.) while these men reap the harvest,[*](Cf. Aristoph. Wasps 1114 ff.) and wherein our people, who are told by the sycophants that they ought to rule over the rest of the world, are worse off than those who are slaves to oligarchy,[*](See Isoc. 4.105.) while these men, who had no advantage to start with, have risen because of our folly from a mean to an enviable position.

And yet Pericles,[*](Isocrates' attitude towards Pericles is set forth at greater length in Isoc. 15.234.) who was the leader of the people before men of this stamp came into favor, taking over the state when it was less prudent than it had been before it obtained the supremacy, although it was still tolerably well governed, was not bent upon his own enrichment,[*](Thucydides (ii. 65) calls him “incorruptible beyond suspicion.”) but left an estate which was smaller than that which he received from his father, while he brought up into the Acropolis eight thousand talents,[*](See Isoc. 8.69, note; Isoc. 15.234.) apart from the sacred treasures.

But these demagogues have shown themselves so different from him that they have the effrontery to say that because of the care they give to the commonwealth they are not able to give attention to their private interests, although in fact these “neglected” interests have advanced to a degree of affluence which they would never have even dreamed of praying to the gods that they might attain, whereas our people, for whom they pretend to care, are in such straits that not one of our citizens is able to live with pleasure or at ease; on the contrary, Athens is rife with lamentations.

For some are driven to rehearse and bewail amongst themselves their poverty and privation while others deplore the multitude of duties enjoined upon them by the state—the liturgies and all the nuisances connected with the symmories and with exchanges of property;[*](The burdens of state expense were theoretically carried by those best able to bear them. The twelve hundred richest citizens were divided in accordance with their wealth into twenty classes, called symmories. Special tax levies for war purposes were levied upon them in proportion to their means. Besides, men of the wealthiest class were called upon to perform the “liturgies” at their own expense. One of the most burdensome of these was the trierarchy—fitting out a battleship for service and maintaining it in fighting trim for one year. If a man called upon to undertake such a burden felt that another could better afford to stand the expense he had the right to demand that he do so or else exchange property with him. See Isoc. 15.145, note, and the introduction to that discourse.) for these are so annoying that those who have means find life more burdensome than those who are continually in want.

I marvel that you cannot see at once that no class is so inimical to the people as our depraved orators and demagogues. For, as if your other misfortunes were not enough, their chief desire is that you should be in want of your daily necessities, observing that those who are able to manage their affairs from their private incomes are on the side of the commonwealth and of our best counsellors,

whereas those who live off the law-courts and the assemblies[*](Three obols a day were paid for the attendance of jury-men and of members of the General Assembly. See Isoc. 7.24, 54, and notes; Isoc. 15.152.) and the doles derived from them are constrained by their need to be subservient to the sycophants and are deeply grateful for the impeachments and the indictments[*](See Isoc. 15.314, note.) and the other sharp practices which are due to the sycophants.

Wherefore these men would be most happy to see all of our citizens reduced to the condition of helplessness in which they themselves are powerful.[*](Cf. Isoc. 15.241.) And the greatest proof of this is that they do not consider by what means they may provide a livelihood for those who are in need, but rather how they may reduce those who are thought to possess some wealth to the level of those who are in poverty.

What, then, is the way of escape from our present ills? I have already discussed most of the points which bear upon this question, not in sequence, but as each fell into its opportune place. But perhaps it will help you to hold them in memory if I attempt to bring together and review those which more than others press upon our attention.

The first way by which we can set right and improve the condition of our city is to select as our advisers on affairs of state the kind of men whose advice we should desire on our private affairs, and to stop thinking of the sycophants as friends of democracy and of the good men and true[*](This term is almost technical for the aristocratic party, but is here used in a broader sense. Cf. Isoc. 15.316.) among us as friends of oligarchy,[*](Cf. Isoc. 15.318.) realizing that no man is by nature either the one or the other but that all men desire, in each case, to establish that form of government in which they are held in honor.

The second way is to be willing to treat our allies just as we would our friends and not to grant them independence in words, while in fact giving them over to our generals to do with as they please,[*](Aimed at Chares. Diodorus (xv. 95) says of him: tou\s summa/xous a)dikw=n diete/lei. Cf. Aristot. Rh. 3.17: *)isokra/ths kathgorei= *xa/rhtos e)n tw=| summaxikw=|.) and not to exercise our leadership as masters but as helpers,[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.80.) since we have learned the lesson that while we are stronger than any single state we are weaker than all Hellas.

And the third way is to consider that nothing is more important, save only to show reverence to the gods, than to have a good name among the Hellenes. For upon those who are so regarded they willingly confer both sovereign power and leadership.

If, then, you will abide by the advice which I have given you, and if, besides, you will prove yourselves warlike by training and preparing for war but peaceful by doing nothing contrary to justice,[*](Repeated from Isoc. 2.24.) you will render not only this city but all the Hellenes happy and prosperous.

For no other of the states will dare to oppress them; on the contrary, they will hold back and studiously avoid aggression when they see the power of Athens on the alert and ready to go to the aid of the oppressed. But no matter what course the rest may take, our own position will be honorable and advantageous;

for if the foremost states resolve to abstain from acts of oppression, we shall have the credit for this blessing; but if, on the other hand, they attempt to oppress others, then all who fear them and suffer evil at their hands will come to us for refuge, with many prayers and supplications, offering us not only the hegemony but their own support.

So that we shall not lack for allies to help us to check the oppressors but shall find many ready and willing to join their forces to our own. For what city or what men will not be eager to share our friendship and our alliance when they see that the Athenians are at once the most just and the most powerful of peoples and are at the same time both willing and able to save the other states, while needing no help for themselves?

What a turn for the better should you expect the affairs of our city to take when we enjoy such good will from the rest of the Hellenes? What wealth will flow into Athens when through her all Hellas is made secure? And who among men will fail to praise those who will have been the authors of blessings so many and so great?