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.

Now it is not difficult to reply to those who take us to task without reason. But if anyone among those who are more fair-minded were to confront me and object, while conceding that I speak the truth and am correct in condemning the things which are taking place, that we have a right to expect of those who seek to admonish us with friendly purpose that they should not only denounce what has been done[*](See also Dem. 1.16.)

but should also counsel us what to abstain from and what to strive for in order to cease from this way of thinking and from making such blunders, his objection would place me at a loss, not for a true answer and one that would be profitable, but for one that would be acceptable to you. But since I have set out to speak openly I must not shrink from disclosing what I think on these matters also.

Well then, the qualities which we must possess as a foundation if we are to be happy and prosperous, namely, piety and moderation and justice and virtue in all its phases, I mentioned a moment ago.[*](See 31-35.) But as to the means by which we may most speedily be taught to attain to such a character, what I am going to say will probably seem repellent to you when you have heard it as well as far removed from the opinions held by the rest of the world.

For I, for my part, consider that we shall manage our city to better advantage and be ourselves better men and go forward in all our undertakings if we stop setting our hearts on the empire of the sea. For it is this which plunged us into our present state of disorder, which overthrew that democratic government[*](Established by Solon and Cleisthenes, who are much praised in the Areopagiticus, Isoc. 7.) under which our ancestors lived and were the happiest of the Hellenes, and which is the cause, one might almost say, of all the ills which we both suffer ourselves and inflict upon the rest of the Hellenes.

I know, however, that it is difficult for one who attempts to denounce that imperial power which all the world lusts after and has waged many wars to obtain to impress his hearers as saying anything which is not intolerable. Nevertheless, since you have endured the other things which I have said, which, although true, are offensive,

I beg you to be patient also with what I shall say upon this subject and not to impute to me the madness of having chosen to discourse to you on matters so contrary to the general opinion without having something true to say about them. Nay, I believe that I shall make it evident to all that we covet an empire which is neither just nor capable of being attained nor advantageous to ourselves.

Now that it is not just I can show you by lessons which I have learned from yourselves. For when the Lacedaemonians held this power,[*](After 404 B.C.) what eloquence did we not expend in denouncing their rule, contending that it was just for the Hellenes to enjoy independence?

What cities of repute did we not call upon to join the alliance[*](In 395, at Corinth, an anti-Spartan alliance was entered.) which was formed in this cause? How many embassies did we not dispatch to the great King[*](That headed by Conon in 395 B.C. is known.) to convince him that it was neither just nor expedient for one state to dominate the Hellenes? Indeed we did not cease waging war and facing perils both by land and sea until the Lacedaemonians were willing to enter into the treaty which guaranteed our independence.[*](The Peace of Antalcidas.)

At that time, then, we recognized the principle that it is not just for the stronger to rule over the weaker,[*](That is, we recognized it as valid not only in our domestic relations but in our foreign policy.) even as now we recognize it in the nature of the polity which has been established amongst ourselves. But that we could not, if we would, attain to this empire by conquest I think I shall quickly prove. For when, with the help of ten thousand talents,[*](A round number. Cf. Isoc. 15.234. In 126 he speaks of 8000. Thucydides (ii.13. 3) states that 9700 talents was the largest amount ever stored on the Acropolis.) we were not able to retain it, how can we acquire it in our present state of poverty, especially since we are now addicted, not to the ways of life by which we gained it, but to those by which we lost it?

Furthermore, that it is not even for the advantage of the state to accept this empire, if it were offered to us, I think you will learn very quickly from what further I have to say. But first I want to say a word by way of leading up to this point, fearing that, on account of my many strictures, I may give the impression to some of you of having chosen to denounce our city.

If I were attempting to discourse in this manner before any others, I should naturally lay myself open to this charge. But now I am addressing myself to you, not with the wish that I may prejudice you in the eyes of others, but with the desire that I may cause you to make an end of such a policy and that Athens and the rest of the Hellenes may form a lasting peace.

But those who admonish and those who denounce cannot avoid using similar words, although their purposes are as opposite as they can be.[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.130.) You ought not, therefore, to have the same feeling towards all who use the same language but, while abhorring those who revile you to your harm as inimical to the state, you ought to commend those who admonish you for your good and to esteem them as the best of your fellow-citizens,

and him most of all, even among them, who is able to point out most vividly the evils of your practices and the disasters which result from them. For such a man can soonest bring you to abhor what you should abhor and to set your hearts on better things. These, then, are the things which I have to say in defense of my harshness both in the words which I have spoken and those which I am about to speak. I will now resume at the place where I left off.

For I was on the point of saying that you could best learn that it is not to your advantage to obtain the empire of the sea if you should consider what was the condition of Athens before she acquired this power and what after she obtained it. For if you will examine one condition in contrast with the other you will see how many evils this power has brought upon the city.

Now the polity as it was in the earlier time was as much better and stronger than that which obtained later as Aristides and Themistocles and Miltiades[*](Demosthenes (Dem. 3.21 ff.) compares Aristides and Pericles with the present-day orators who say to the people:“What are your desires; what shall I propose; how can I please you?”) were better men than Hyperbolus[*](Hyperbolus, successor to Cleon, the tanner. Aristophanes calls him ponhro/s (Aristoph. Peace 684); Thucydides, moxqhro/s (Thuc. 8.73).) and Cleophon[*](For Cleophon see Isoc. 8.13, note.) and those who today harangue the people.[*](Aristophon and Eubulus.) And you will find that the people who then governed the state were not given over to slackness and poverty and empty hopes,[*](Cf.“hopes from the platform,” Dem. 4.45.)

but were able to conquer in battle all who invaded their territory;[*](See Isoc. 4.86.) that they were awarded the meed of valor[*](See Isoc. 4.99.) in the wars which they fought for the sake of Hellas; and that they were so trusted that most of the states of their own free will placed themselves under their leadership.[*](See Isoc. 4.72.)

But, notwithstanding these advantages, in place of a polity which was admired by all men this power has led us on to a state of license which no one in the world could commend; in place of our habit of conquering those who took the field against us it has instilled into our citizens such ways that they have not the courage even to go out in front of the walls to meet the enemy;[*](A rhetorical point. It was Pericles' policy in the Peloponnesian War to meet the enemy only on the sea and to keep on the defensive on land. He was bitterly criticized for keeping the Athenians cooped up within their walls while the Spartans invaded and ravaged their lands.)

and in place of the good will which was accorded us by our allies and of the good repute in which we were held by the rest of the Hellenes it brought us into such a degree of odium that Athens barely escaped being enslaved and would have suffered this fate had we not found the Lacedaemonians, who were at war with us from the first, more friendly than those who were formerly our allies[*](See Isoc. 7.6 and note.)

not that we can have any just complaint against the latter for being obdurate towards us; for they were not aggressors but on the defensive, and came to have this feeling after suffering many grievous wrongs at our hands. For who could have brooked the insolence of our fathers? Gathering together from all Hellas men who were the worst of idlers and men who had a part in every form of depravity and manning their triremes with them,[*](Mercenaries made up the crews at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. See Thuc. 1.121.) they made themselves odious to the Hellenes,[*](Cf. Thuc. 2.9.) driving into exile the best of the citizens in the other states[*](The aristocratic families, in order to make room for the democratic faction. Isocrates evidently means that their property was confiscated and used to pay the mercenaries. See Thuc. 8.21. The rhetorical point is the same as in 46.) and distributing their property among the most depraved of the Hellenes!

But if I were to make bold to go through in detail what took place in those times I might probably help you to be better advised regarding the present situation, but I should prejudice my own reputation; for you are wont to hate not so much those who are responsible for your mistakes as those who undertake to denounce them.