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.

Many of you are wondering, I suppose, what in the world my purpose is[*](Strictly, what my purpose was. The aorist tense reflects the fact that the Athenian orators had to give written notice, in advance, of any subject they proposed to discuss before the General Assembly. See Isoc. 7.15.) in coming forward to address you on The Public Safety, as if Athens were in danger or her affairs on an uncertain footing, when in fact she possesses more than two hundred ships-of-war, enjoys peace throughout her territory, maintains her empire on the sea,[*](The second Athenian Confederacy, organized in 378 B.C. See General Introduction p. xxxvii.)

and has, furthermore, many allies who, in case of any need, will readily come to her aid,[*](He refers here, probably, to allies by special treaty as distinguished from the allies next mentioned, who were members of the Confederacy and under the leadership of Athens. The latter paid their quotas into the Athenian treasury for the support of the Confederate navy.) and many more allies who are paying their contributions[*](In the second Confederacy the word su/ntacis (contribution) was used instead of fo/ros (tribute) which became an odious term in the Confederacy of Delos. Cf. Isoc. 15.123.) and obeying her commands. With these resources, one might argue that we have every reason to feel secure, as being far removed from danger, while our enemies may well be anxious and take thought for their own safety.

Now you, I know, following this reasoning, disdain my coming forward, and are confident that with this power you will hold all Hellas under your control. But as for myself, it is because of these very things that I am anxious; for I observe that those cities which think they are in the best circumstances are wont to adopt the worst policies, and that those which feel the most secure are most often involved in danger.

The cause of this is that nothing of either good or of evil visits mankind unmixed, but that riches and power are attended and followed by folly, and folly in turn by licence;[*](See General Introduction p. xxxiii.) whereas poverty and lowliness are attended by sobriety and great moderation;

so that it is hard to decide which of these lots one should prefer to bequeath to one's own children. For we shall find that from a lot which seems to be inferior men's fortunes generally advance to a better condition,[*](Cf. Isoc. 6.103 ff.) whereas from one which appears to be superior they are wont to change to a worse.

Of this truth I might cite examples without number from the lives of individual men, since these are subject to the most frequent vicissitudes; but instances which are more important and better known to my hearers may be drawn from the experiences of our city and of the Lacedaemonians. As for the Athenians, after our city had been laid waste by the barbarians, we became, because we were anxious about the future and gave attention to our affairs, the foremost of the Hellenes;[*](Athens, then a walled city, was temporarily abandoned by her people before the battle of Salamis, and destroyed by the troops of Xerxes. After the Persian Wars, she became the head of the Confederacy of Delos. See Isoc. 6.42 ff., and Isoc. 4.71-72.) whereas, when we imagined that our power was invincible, we barely escaped being enslaved.[*](At the end of the Peloponnesian War, Athens was at the mercy of Sparta and the Spartan allies. The latter proposed that Athens be utterly destroyed and her citizens sold into slavery, but the Spartans refused to allow the city “which had done a great service to Hellas” to be reduced to slavery. Xen. Hell. 2.2.19-20. Cf. Isoc. 8.78, 105; Isoc. 14.32; Isoc. 15.319.)

Likewise the Lacedaemonians, after having set out in ancient times from obscure and humble cities, made themselves, because they lived temperately and under military discipline, masters of the Peloponnesus;[*](See Isoc. 4.61; Isoc. 12.253 ff.) whereas later, when they grew overweening and seized the empire both of the sea and of the land, they fell into the same dangers as ourselves.[*](The Spartan supremacy began with the triumph over Athens in 404 B.C. and ended with the defeat at Leuctra, 371 B.C. See Vol I. p. 402, footnote. Cf. Isoc. 5.47. After Leuctra, Athens, in her turn, saved Sparta from destruction. See Isoc. 5.44 and note.)

Whoever, therefore, knowing that such great vicissitudes have taken place and that such mighty powers have been so quickly brought to naught, yet trusts in our present circumstances, is all too foolish,[*](For the language cf. Isoc. 6.48.) especially since Athens is now in a much less favorable condition than she was at that time, while the hatred[*](By the bitter “Social War.” See General Introduction p. xxxviii.) of us among the Hellenes and the enmity[*](In the course of the “Social War,” the Athenian general Chares had aided the satrap Artabazus in his revolt against Artaxerxes III. See Diodorus xvi. 22.) of the great King, which then brought disaster to our arms, have been again revived.

I am in doubt whether to suppose that you care nothing for the public welfare or that you are concerned about it, but have become so obtuse that you fail to see into what utter confusion our city has fallen. For you resemble men in that state of mind—you who have lost all the cities in Thrace,[*](Not all the cities on the northern coast of the Aegean (Thrace), but those on the Chalcidian peninsula, notably Amphipolis Pydna, Potidaea, and Olynthus, which had fallen under the power or under the influence of Philip of Macedon. See Dem. 4.4.) squandered to no purpose more than a thousand talents on mercenary troops,[*](Athenian forces were now largely made up of paid foreigners, recruited from everywhere. See Isoc. 8.44-47; Dem. 4.20.)

provoked the ill-will of the Hellenes and the hostility of the barbarians, and, as if this were not enough, have been compelled to save the friends of the Thebans[*](Probably the Messenians, who had been made independent of Sparta by the Thebans. See Introduction to Isoc. 6.. Demosthenes, in his speech For the Megalopolitans, criticizes the Athenians for their folly in pledging themselves to aid the Messenians against Spartan aggression. See especially Dem. 16.9.) at the cost of losing our own allies[*](Such powerful states as Chios, Byzantium, and Rhodes were lost to the Athenian Confederacy by the peace following the “Social War.” Of the seventy-five cities which belonged to the Confederacy the majority remained loyal. See Isoc. 7.2.); and yet to celebrate the good news of such accomplishments we have twice now offered grateful sacrifices to the gods,[*](Diodorus (Dio. Sic. 16.22) records the celebration in Athens of the victory of Chares, supporting the rebellion of the Satrap Artabazus, over Artaxerxes III. See § 8, note. The occasion of the second celebration is not known.) and we deliberate about our affairs more complaisantly than men whose actions leave nothing to be desired!

And it is to be expected that acting as we do we should fare as we do; for nothing can turn out well for those who neglect to adopt a sound policy for the conduct of their government as a whole. On the contrary, even if they do succeed in their enterprises now and then, either through chance or through the genius of some man,[*](The reference is to the victorious campaigns of Conon and his son Timotheus. See Isoc. 4.142, 154; Isoc. 5.61-64; Isoc. 15.107 ff.) they soon after find themselves in the same difficulties as before, as anyone may see from what happened in our own history.

For when all Hellas fell under the power of Athens, after the naval victory of Conon and the campaign of Timotheus, we were not able to hold our good fortune any time at all, but quickly dissipated and destroyed it.[*](In the disastrous “Social War.”) For we neither possess nor do we honestly seek to obtain a polity which can properly deal with our affairs.

And yet we all know that success does not visit and abide with those who have built around themselves the finest and the strongest walls,[*](Cf. Thucydides vii. 77: a)/ndres ga\r po/lis, kai\ ou) tei/xh ou)de\ nh=es a)ndrw=n kenai/. Also Alcaeus fr. 28, 29 L.C.L., and Sir William Jones, What Constitutes a State.) nor with those who have collected the greatest population in one place, but rather with those who most nobly and wisely govern their state.

For the soul of a state is nothing else than its polity,[*](Cf. Isoc. 12.138; Aristot. Pol. 1295a40; Dem. 24.210.) having as much power over it as does the mind over the body; for it is this which deliberates upon all questions, seeking to preserve what is good and to ward off what is disastrous; and it is this which of necessity assimilates to its own nature the laws, the public orators and the private citizens; and all the members of the state must fare well or ill according to the kind of polity under which they live.

And yet we are quite indifferent to the fact that our polity has been corrupted, nor do we even consider how we may redeem it. It is true that we sit around in our shops[*](In the market-place, especially the barber shops.) denouncing the present order and complaining that never under a democracy have we been worse governed, but in our actions and in the sentiments which we hold regarding it we show that we are better satisfied with our present democracy than with that which was handed down to us by our forefathers. It is in favor of the democracy of our forefathers that I intend to speak, and this is the subject on which I gave notice that I would address you.

For I find that the one way—the only possible way—which can avert future perils from us and deliver us from our present ills is that we should be willing to restore that earlier democracy which was instituted by Solon, who proved himself above all others the friend of the people, and which was re-established by Cleisthenes, who drove out the tyrants and brought the people back into power—

a government than which we could find none more favorable to the populace or more advantageous to the whole city.[*](For Solon and Cleisthenes as the authors of the restricted democracy of Athens cf. Isoc. 15.232. For Isocrates' political ideas see General Introduction p. xxxviii.) The strongest proof of this is that those who enjoyed this constitution wrought many noble deeds, won the admiration of all mankind, and took their place, by the common consent of the Hellenes, as the leading power of Hellas; whereas those who were enamored of the present constitution made themselves hated of all men, suffered many indignities, and barely escaped falling into the worst of all disasters.[*](Cf. Isoc. 7.6 and note.)

And yet how can we praise or tolerate a government which has in the past been the cause of so many evils and which is now year by year ever drifting on from bad to worse? And how can we escape the fear that if we continue to progress after this fashion we may finally run aground on rocks more perilous than those which at that time loomed before us?

But in order that you may make a choice and come to a decision between the two constitutions, not from the summary statement you just heard, but from exact knowledge, it behoves you, for your part, to render yourselves attentive to what I say, while I, for my part, shall try to explain them both to you as briefly as I can.

For those who directed the state in the time of Solon and Cleisthenes did not establish a polity which in name merely was hailed as the most impartial and the mildest of governments, while in practice showing itself the opposite to those who lived under it, nor one which trained the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and licence to do what they pleased as happiness,[*](For similar caricatures of the later Athenian democracy see Thuc. 3.82.4 ff., and especially Plat. Rep. 560-561.) but rather a polity which detested and punished such men and by so doing made all the citizens better and wiser.