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.

I have said these things at the outset because in the rest of my discourse I am going to speak without reserve and with complete frankness. For suppose that a stranger from another part of the world were to come to Athens,[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.133.) having had no time to be tainted with our depravity, but brought suddenly face to face with what goes on here, would he not think that we are mad and bereft of our senses, seeing that we plume ourselves upon the deeds of our ancestors and think fit to eulogize our city by dwelling upon the achievements of their time and yet act in no respect like them but do the very opposite?

For while they waged war without ceasing in behalf of the Hellenes against the barbarians, we removed from their homes those who derive their livelihood from Asia and led them against the Hellenes;[*](The Athenian general Chares employed Asiatic mercenaries in the war against the Athenian allies.) and while they liberated the cities of Hellas[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.83.) and lent them their aid and so were adjudged worthy of the hegemony, we seek to enslave these cities[*](By conquest of the revolting allies.) and pursue a policy the very opposite of theirs and then feel aggrieved that we are not held in like honor with them—

we who fall so far short of those who lived in those days both in our deeds and in our thoughts that, whereas they brought themselves to abandon their country[*](See Isoc. 4.96.) for the sake of saving the other Hellenes and fought and conquered the barbarians both on the land and on the sea,[*](Especially the battles of Marathon and Salamis.) we do not see fit to run any risk even for our own advantage;

on the contrary, although we seek to rule over all men, we are not willing to take the field ourselves,[*](The same complaint is repeatedly made by Demosthenes in the Philippics and the Olynthiacs.) and although we undertake to wage war upon, one might almost say, the whole world,[*](Between 363-355 B.C. Athens made war on Alexander of Thessaly, King Cotys in the Thracian Chersonnese, Amphipolis, Euboea, Chios, Byzantium, and Potidaea—to mention only the chief campaigns.) we do not train ourselves for war but employ instead vagabonds, deserters, and fugitives who have thronged together here in consequence of other misdemeanors,[*](See Introduction to the Panegyricus, Vol. I. p. 117.) who, whenever others offer them higher pay, will follow their leadership against us.[*](The Athenian general Chares with his mercenary troops actually enlisted during the Social War in the service of the Persian Satrap Artabazus, who paid them well. See Isoc. 7.8, note; Dem. 4.24.)

But, for all that, we are so enamored of these mercenaries that while we would not willingly assume the responsibility for the acts of our own children if they offended against anyone, yet for the brigandage, the violence, and the lawlessness of these men,[*](See General Introd. p. xxxix, Isocrates, Vol. I., L.C.L.) the blame for which is bound to be laid at our door, not only do we feel no regret, but we actually rejoice whenever we hear that they have perpetrated any such atrocity.

And we have reached such a degree of imbecility that, although we are ourselves in need of the necessities of daily existence, we have undertaken to support mercenary troops and we do violence to our own allies and extort money from them in order to provide pay for the common enemies of all mankind.[*](These troops, whose only thought was for pay or plunder, made no difference between foes and friends. See Isoc. Letter 9.9-10. Demosthenes also (Dem. 23.139) calls them koinoi\ kata\ ka=san xw/ran e)xqroi/.)

And so far are we inferior to our ancestors, both those who enjoyed the esteem of the Hellenes and those who incurred their hatred,[*](The distinction is between those who were awarded the hegemony and those who later turned the hegemony into an empire maintained by force.) that whereas they, when they resolved to wage war against any state, deemed it their duty, notwithstanding that the Acropolis was stored with silver and gold,[*](See 126.) to face danger in their own persons in support of their resolutions, we, on the other hand, not withstanding that we are in such extreme poverty[*](See19 and Isoc. 7.54.) and are so many in number, employ, as does the great King, mercenary armies!

In those days, when they manned their triremes, they put on board crews of foreigners and slaves but sent out citizens to fight under heavy arms. Now, however, we use mercenaries as heavy-armed troops but compel citizens to row the ships,[*](See Isoc. 7.54, note.) with the result that when they land in hostile territory these men, who claim the right to rule over the Hellenes, disembark with their cushions[*](Pads for the rowers' benches.) under their arms, while men who are of the character which I have just described take the field with shield and spear!

However, if one could see that the domestic policy of Athens was well managed he might be of good cheer as to our other affairs. But is it not about this very thing that he would feel most aggrieved? For we assert that we are sprung from our very soil[*](See Isoc. 4.23-24.) and that our city was founded before all others,[*](See Isoc. 4.37.) but although we ought to be an example to all the world of good and orderly government, we manage our state in a worse manner and with more disorder than those who are just founding their cities.

We glory and take great pride in being better born than the rest but we are readier to share this noble birth-right with any who desire it[*](The Athenians were less conservative in the matter of citizenship than other states. Cleisthenes gave citizenship to the resident aliens in Athens at the time of his reforms. In 427 citizenship was conferred upon all the people of Plataeae. From time to time numerous individuals were admitted to this privilege.) than are the Triballians or the Leucanians[*](The Triballians were a savage tribe in the interior of Thrace(see Isoc. 12.227); the Lucanians a rude people, noted for their ferocity, in Southern Italy.) to share their ignoble origin. We pass a multitude of laws,[*](See Isoc. 7.40-41.) but we care so little about them (for if I give you a single instance you will be able to judge of the others as well) that, although we have prescribed the penalty of death for anyone who is convicted of bribery, we elect men who are most flagrantly guilty of this crime as our generals[*](This seems to be a covert attack upon Chares, who according to Theopompus (in Athenaeus xii. 532) paid money to the orators to advocate a war policy, especially to the orator Aristophon, who may be alluded to in 36 and in this paragraph. Chares in the field and Aristophon on the rostrum were the leaders of Athenian jingoism at this time.) and we pick out the man who has been able to deprave the greatest number of our citizens and place him in charge of the most important affairs.

We are concerned about our polity no less than about the safety of the whole state and we know that our democracy flourishes and endures in times of peace and security while in times of war it has twice already been overthrown,[*](By the oligarchical revolution of 411 B.C., when the government of the Four Hundred was established, and that of 404 B.C., when the reign of the Thirty began.) but we are hostile to those who desire peace as if suspecting them of favoring oligarchy,[*](For example, Timotheus, who was no flatterer. See Isoc. 15.131 ff. Cf. Isoc. 15.318.) while we are friendly to those who advocate war as if assured of their devotion to democracy.

We are versed beyond all others in discourse and in the conduct of affairs, but we are so devoid of reason that we do not hold the same views about the same question on the same day; on the contrary, the things which we condemn before we enter the assembly are the very things which we vote for when we are in session, and again a little later when we depart to our homes we disapprove of the things which we resolved upon here.[*](Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach. 630) ridicules the Athenians for being quick in making up and in changing their minds. Cf.Aristoph. Eccl. 797.) We pretend that we are the wisest of the Hellenes, but we employ the kind of advisers whom no one could fail to despise, and we place these very same men in control of all our public interests to whom no one would entrust a single one of his private affairs.

But, what is most reprehensible of all, we regard those whom all would acknowledge to be the most depraved of our citizens[*](Cf. Isoc. 15.316 ff. and notes; Aristoph. Frogs 730 ff.) as the most trustworthy guardians of our polity; and we judge the character of our alien residents by the kind of patrons[*](Only through a citizen to represent him as his “patron” before the law could a foreign resident enjoy the protection of the state. The word for patron, prosta/ths, was also used for the leader of the General Assembly. Hence the play on the word, which can be reproduced only by a free rendering in English.) they select to represent them, but do not expect that we shall be judged by the character of those who represent us at the head of the state.

So far are we different from our ancestors that whereas they chose the same men to preside over the city and to be generals in the field,[*](For example, Pericles, who personally led a number of expeditions.) since they believed that one who could give the best counsel on this platform would best take counsel with himself when alone, we ourselves do the very opposite;

for the men whose counsels we follow in matters of the greatest importance—these we do not see fit to elect as our generals, as if distrusting their intelligence, but men whose counsel no one would seek either on his own business or on that of the state—these we send into the field with unlimited authority,[*](Obviously a jibe at Chares (the enemy of Isocrates' pupil and friend Timotheus. See Isoc. 15.116, note) who was sent out as strathgo\s au)tokra/twr. See Dem. 23.173.) as if expecting that they will be wiser abroad than at home and will find it easier to take counsel on questions pertaining to the Hellenes than on those which are proposed for consideration here.

I say these things, not with reference to all, but with reference to those only who are open to the charges which I have made. However, the remainder of the day would not suffice me if I should attempt to review all the errors which have crept into our conduct of affairs.

But someone among those who are hard hit by my strictures might take offense and demand of me, “How is it, if indeed we are so badly advised, that we are safe and hold a power which is inferior to that of no other city?” I, for my part, would reply to this question that we have in our adversaries men who are no more prudent than ourselves.

For example, if the Thebans, after the battle which they won over the Lacedaemonians,[*](The Battle of Leuctra, 371 B.C., the end of the Spartan supremacy and the beginning of the Theban hegemony, which lasted but nine years.) had contented themselves with liberating the Peloponnesus and making the other Hellenes independent[*](See Isoc. 5.53 ff.) and had thenceforth pursued peace, while we continued to make such blunders, then neither could this man have asked such a question nor could we ourselves have failed to realize how much better moderation is than meddlesomeness.

But now matters have taken such a turn that the Thebans are saving us and we them, and they are procuring allies for us and we for them.[*](Not intentionally, but by our mistakes.) So that if we were sensible we should supply each other with money for our general assemblies; for the oftener we meet to deliberate the more do we promote the success of our rivals.

But those among us who are able to exercise even a modicum of reason ought not to rest our hopes of safety upon the blunders of our enemies but upon our own management of affairs and upon our own judgement. For the good fortune which results to us from their stupidity might perhaps cease or change to the opposite, whereas that which comes about because of our own efforts will be more certain and more enduring.