"All men sturdily oppose the enemy which is lined up for battle but fall
back when he has surrendered, wearing down the hardihood of the former and showing pity for the
misfortune of the latter. For our ardour is broken whenever the former enemy, having by a
change of fortune become a suppliant, submits to suffer whatever suits the pleasure of his
And the spirits of civilized men are gripped, I
believe, most perhaps by mercy, because of the sympathy which nature has planted in all. The
Athenians, for example, although in the Peloponnesian War they had blockaded many
Lacedaemonians on the island of Sphacteria1
and taken them captive, released
them to the Spartans on payment of ransom.
On another occasion
the Lacedaemonians, when they had taken prisoner many of the Athenians and their allies,
disposed of them in the same manner. And in so doing they both acted nobly. For hatred should
exist between Greeks only until victory has been won and punishment only until the enemy has
And whoever goes farther and wreaks vengeance
upon the vanquished who flees for refuge to the leniency of his conqueror is no longer
punishing his enemy but, far more, is guilty of an offence against human weakness.
For against harshness such as this one may mention the adages of the
wise men of old: 'O man, be not high-spirited'; 'Know thyself'; 'Observe how Fortune is lord of
all.' For what reason did the ancestors of all the Greeks ordain that the trophies set up in
celebrating victories in war should be made, not of stone, but of any wood at hand?
Was it not in order that the memorials of the enmity, lasting as they
would for a brief time, should quickly disappear? Speaking generally, if you wish to establish
the quarrel for all time, know that in doing so you are treating with disdain human weakness;
for a single moment, a slight turn of Fortune, often brings low the arrogant.