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.

But I am not able because of my age[*](He is now 81 years old.) to include in my speech all the things which I grasp in my thought, save that it is a noble enterprise for us, in the midst of the injustice and madness of the rest of the world, to be the first to adopt a sane policy and stand forth as the champions of the freedom of the Hellenes, to be acclaimed as their saviors, not their destroyers,[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.80.) and to become illustrious for our virtues and regain the good repute which our ancestors possessed.

But I have yet to touch upon the chief consideration of all—that upon which centers everything that I have said and in the light of which we should appraise the actions of the state. For if we really wish to clear away the prejudice in which we are held at the present time, we must cease from the wars which are waged to no purpose and so gain for our city the hegemony for all time; we must abhor all despotic rule and imperial power, reflecting upon the disasters which have sprung from them; and we must emulate and imitate the position held by the kings of Lacedaemon:

they, it is true, have less freedom than their private citizens to do wrong,[*](The Spartan kings were powerful in the field, but otherwise were subject to the Ephors, who could even have them put to death. See Gilbert, Greek Consitituional Antiquities pp. 46 ff. and 57 ff.) yet are much more enviable than those who hold despotic power by force; for those who take the lives of despots are given the highest rewards by their fellow citizens,[*](He has in mind the honors shown by the Athenians to the “tyrannicides,” Harmodius and Aristogeiton.) whereas those Spartans who are not ready to lay down their lives for their kings in battle[*](See Isoc. 5.80 and Isoc. Letter 2.6.) are held in greater dishonor than men who desert their post and throw away their shields.[*](The r(iyaspis was not only despised but suffered humiliations and penalties. In Athens, which was less rigorous than Sparta, he lost his political rights.)

This, then, is the kind of leadership which is worth striving for. And this very position of honor which the kings of Lacedaemon have from their citizens we Athenians have it in our power to win from the Hellenes, if only they become convinced that our supremacy will be the instrument, not of their enslavement, but of their salvation.

My subject is not exhausted; there are many excellent things to be said upon it, but I am prompted by two considerations to stop speaking: the length of my discourse and the number of my years. But I urge and exhort those who are younger and more vigorous than I to speak and write the kind of discourses by which they will turn the greatest states—those which have been wont to oppress the rest—into the paths of virtue and justice, since when the affairs of Hellas are in a happy and prosperous condition, it follows that the state of learning and letters also is greatly improved.[*](A somewhat academic close, but the state of affairs and the state of learning are not dissociated in his mind; “philosophy” is the salvation of the state.)