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The Loyalty of the Megalopolitans

There is another illustration of this writer's manner
to be found in his treatment of the cases of Mantinea and Megalopolis. The misfortunes of the former he has depicted with his usual exaggeration and picturesqueness: apparently from the notion, that it is the peculiar function of an historian to select for special mention only such actions as are conspicuously bad. But about the noble conduct of the Megalopolitans at that same period he has not said a word: as though it were the province of history to deal with crimes rather than with instances of just and noble conduct; or as though his readers would be less improved by the record of what is great and worthy of imitation, than by that of such deeds as are base and fit only to be avoided. For instance, he has told us clearly enough how Cleomenes took the town, preserved it from damage, and forthwith sent couriers to the Megalopolitans in Messene with a despatch, offering them the safe enjoyment of their country if they would throw in their lot with him;—and his object in telling all this is to enhance the magnanimity and moderation of Cleomenes towards his enemies. Nay, he has gone farther, and told us how the people of Megalopolis would not allow the letter to be read to the end, and were not far from stoning the bearers of it. Thus much he does tell us. But the sequel to this, so appropriate to an historian,—the commendation, I mean, and honourable mention of their noble conduct,—this he has altogether left out. And yet he had an opportunity ready to his hand. For if we view with approval the conduct of a people who merely by their declarations and votes support a war in behalf of friends and allies; while to those who go so far as to endure the devastation of their territory, and a siege of their town, we give not only praise but active gratitude: what must be our estimate of the people of Megalopolis? Must it not be of the most exalted character? First of all, they allowed their territory to be at the mercy of Cleomenes, and then consented to be entirely deprived of their city, rather than be false to the league: and, finally, in spite of an unexpected chance of recovering it, they deliberately preferred the loss of their territory, the tombs of their ancestors, their temples, their homes and property, of everything in fact which men value most, to forfeiting their faith to their allies. No nobler action has ever been, or ever will be performed; none to which an historian could better draw his reader's attention. For what could be a higher incentive to good faith, or the maintenance of frank and permanent relations between states? But of all this Phylarchus says not a word, being, as it seems to me, entirely blind as to all that is noblest and best suited to be the theme of an historian.

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