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18. "What therefore can we allege with any probability for our backwardness; or what can we pretend unto our confederates for denying them assistance? Whom we ought to defend, were it but because we have sworn it to them, without objecting that they have not reciprocally aided us. For we took them not into league that they should come hither with their aids, but that by troubling our enemies there they might hinder them from coming hither against us. [2] And the way whereby we, and whosoever else hath dominion hath gotten it, hath ever been the cheerful succouring of their associates that required it, whether they were Greeks or barbarians. For if we should all sit still, or stand to make choice which were fit to be assisted and which not, we should have little under our government of the estates of other men, but rather hazard our own. [3] For when one is grown mightier than the rest, men use not only to defend themselves against him when he shall invade, but to anticipate him, that he invade not at all. Nor is it in our power to be our own carvers how much we will have subject to us; but considering the case we are in, it is as necessary for us to seek to subdue those that are not under our dominion, as to keep so those that are; lest if others be not subject to us, we fall in danger of being subjected unto them. [4] Nor are we to weigh quietness in the same balance that others do, unless also the institution of this state were like unto that of other states. Let us rather make reckoning by enterprising abroad to increase our power at home, and proceed on our voyage that we may cast down the haughty conceit of the Peloponnesians and show them the contempt and slight account we make of our present ease by undertaking this our expedition into Sicily. [5] Whereby, either conquering those states we shall become masters of all Greece, or weaken the Syracusians, to the benefit of ourselves and our confederates. And for our security to stay, if any city shall come to our side, or to come away if otherwise, our galleys will afford it. [6] For in that we shall be at our own liberty, though all the Sicilians together were against it.

Let not the speech of Nicias, tending only to laziness and to the stirring of debate between the young men and the old, avert you from it; but with the same decency wherewith your ancestors, consulting young and old together, have brought our dominion to the present height, endeavour you likewise to enlarge the same. And think not that youth or age, one without the other, is of any effect, but that the simplest, the middle sort, and the exactest judgments tempered together is it that doth the greatest good; and that a state as well as any other thing will, if it rest, wear out of itself, and all men's knowledge decay; whereas by the exercise of war experience will continually increase, and the city will get a habit of resisting the enemy, not with words, but action. [7] In sum, this is my opinion: that a state accustomed to be active, if it once grow idle, will quickly be subjected by the change; and that they of all men are most surely planted that with most unity observe the present laws and customs, though not always of the best.

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load focus Notes (Charles F. Smith)
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