On the Peace.
2. On the Peace
[Or. VIII.]. Like the Areopagitikos
, this political pamphlet has the form of a deliberative speech, purporting to be spoken in the ekklesia (§§ 1, 15). But the fiction is not so well kept up as in the case of the Areopagitikos
, which concludes with an appeal to the assembly. Here the conclusion is more suitable to an essay than to a speech in debate, as if the writer had forgotten the supposition with which he set out (§ 145). In 357 B.C. Chios, Kos, Rhodes and Byzantium revolted from Athens. The Social War was concluded about midsummer, 355, by a treaty which declared the revolted states to be independent, and no longer members of the Athenian Confederacy. The Speech On the Peace
was probably written while negotiations for peace were pending, i.e. in the first half of 355 B. C.1
. The ambassadors whose ‘offers’ are spoken of in § 25 must be envoys sent by the allies2
. But the first overtures of peace had come from Athens, under pressure of Persian threats; and it is rather singular that no allusion to Persian hostility occurs in the speech3
‘It is the custom of everyone who addresses this assembly
to premise that the subject on which he is about to speak is the greatest and the gravest that could be discussed. In this instance, if in any, such a preface would be fitting. We are here to consider the question of peace or war.
‘You are wont to drive from the platform all speakers but those whose advice meets your wishes; for, though in private life you hate flattery, you tolerate it in the counsels of the State. On the present occasion the advocates of war are
Popularity of the WarParty.
naturally your favourites. They promise you the recovery of wealth and power. The supporters of peace have no such inducements to offer; they can only represent that it is best to remain quiet and not to seek dishonest gains. They preach that most difficult of virtues,—contentment. I fear for their success; for I observe that some are as eager for war as if it had been revealed to them by a god that we must conquer. If, however, the future is not indeed so certain, you ought not only to hear both sides, but to hear with especial attention that side to which your first inclinations do not lean.
‘The older among you ought to recollect, the younger must have heard, that advocates of war have ere now brought us into trouble,—but advocates of peace, never. Yet we are
Athens too ready to espouse quarrels.
always ready to plunge into war in anyone's quarrel, even when we cannot promote our own advantage. The reason is that, whereas in our private affairs we pick our advisers carefully, in public concerns we listen to drunkards rather than to sober men, to folly rather than to prudence.
‘It is up-hill work to oppose your prejudices; we have a democracy, but freedom of speech is enjoyed only by the most foolish members of this Assembly and by the comic poets in the theatre. As, however, I am not here to court your votes, I shall say what I think; first, about the special business which the presidents have brought before us; then, about the affairs of Athens generally (§§ 1—15).
‘I say, then, that we ought to make peace, not only with
True basis for peace— the Treaty of Antalkidas
Chios and Rhodes, and Byzantium but with all the world;— that we ought to adopt, not any special treaty drawn up for this occasion, but that broad treaty, arranged between Sparta
and Persia, which guaranteed the independence of every Hellenic city.
‘It will be asked why, if Thebes is to keep Plataea and Thespiae, Athens should needlessly resign what she holds. I hope to show on general grounds that all unjust acquisition is impolitic; but I will first endeavour to show what would be the results of this particular peace.
‘Security—prosperity—the esteem of Greece:—should
Advantages of peace for Athens.
we be satisfied if we obtained these things? What more we can desire, I know not. Well, all these things have been taken from us by the war, and will be restored by the peace. The war has given us peril—poverty—unpopularity. If we renounced it, we could obtain by diplomacy all that we are vainly fighting for. Philip4
would not contest Amphipolis with us;—Kersobleptes5
would not contest the Chersonese,— if they were once convinced that we were safe neighbours and that our policy was not aggressive. They would even resign to us something of their own, in order to have us as guarantors of their own power. We could get a slice of Thrace large enough for ourselves and for some of the distressed Greeks too. Athenodoros6
, a private man, and Kallistratos7
, an exile,
have planted towns there; much more could we. And such enterprises would become our rank in Hellas better than wars waged by mercenary troops (§§ 16—24).
‘This is enough to show that the offer of the envoys is advantageous. But I wish you to go away, not merely
Aggressive ambition is a snare.
persuaded to accept this peace, but convinced that, universally, it is better to be quiet than to meddle. We fancy that nothing can go well with us unless we hold the sea with a large fleet and force the other cities to pay rates to us and to send deputies to Athens. It would not be difficult to show that honesty is the best national pohcy; and that a State which is tempted to become aggressive is like an animal which a bait draws into a trap. But, after proving this in theory, it is less easy to enforce it in practice. Athens has long been corrupted by a class of bribed impostors who presume to bid us imitate our ancestors. What ancestors? Those who won Marathon, or those who brought on the disaster in Sicily? If the former, then
the contrast between their policy and that recommended to us is such as nothing but a sense of our desperate state could give me the courage to bring before you. Those ancestors fought for the Greeks against Asia. We bring Asiatic
mercenaries against Greece. They exposed their lives for the safety of Hellas. We will not risk ours even to gratify our greed. Out of our penury, we pay mercenaries whose crimes we screen, but who would join a higher bidder against us. Not only when Athens was popular, but when she was most hated, her citizens fought her battles themselves, although the treasury was overflowing. Then, the aliens and slaves rowed the triremes and the citizens fought. Now,
Citizens no longer fight.
Athens is like Persia—an employer of hireling troops; and, in her fleet, the needy citizens are forced to row, while foreigners carry arms. When we make a descent on a hostile coast, the alien comes ashore with shield and spear,—the citizen—with a cushion (§§ 25—48).
‘Our prospects abroad, however, would not be hopeless if
it was well with our domestic affairs. But these are in a state which calls for indignation. We, who are so proud of
being children of the soil, have lavished our franchise on aliens with as little care for the purity of our blood as if we were Triballi or Leukani. The penalty for bribing is death; and yet the largest bribers of the ekklesia become our generals.
We cherish the Constitution as the very life of the State; yet we reproach the advocates of peace with desiring an oligarchy, and court war, though by war the democracy has twice been overthrown. We are practised in debate and administration; yet we do not know our own minds for a day. We consider ourselves the most intelligent of the Greeks—and listen to the most contemptible advisers, making the worst citizens guardians of the city. Our ancestors judged that the ablest counsellors made the best generals. Our
The statesmen are no longer the generals.
counsellors are not trusted to lead; we send out as generals, with plenary powers, our most incapable men (§§ 49—56).
‘Some one to whom these remarks apply may be stung into asking—‘How is it that, if our policy is so bad, we are still on a level with any city in Greece?’ ‘Because,’ I
Thebes is as bad as Athens.
answer, ‘our competitors are as weak as ourselves. We save the Thebans, and they save us. It would be worth the while of either to provide pay for the ekklesiasts of the other. The oftener either holds assemblies, the better for its rival.’ If some more thoughtful questioner, admitting that the evils
exist, were to ask me what remedy I propose, I should be more at a loss for an answer; not for a satisfactory answer, but for one which would find favour with you (§§ 57—62).
‘True national prosperity depends on a religious respect
The remedy —to resign the Empire of the sea
for the rights of one's neighbours. How is the character which respects those rights most readily to be produced among us? By the surrender of our maritime Empire. Bear with me if I tell you that that empire is unjust, untenable, unprofitable. Unjust, because one city cannot claim to rule Hellas—a principle which we ourselves proclaimed in the case of Sparta; untenable, because wealth failed to hold it, and we are poor; unprofitable for both these reasons, and for others of which I will speak, if you will hear me as the admonisher, not denouncer, of Athens (§§ 63—73).
‘Let us compare the period before, and the period after,
Athens before and after she was Imperial
the city's acquisition of maritime empire. The difference between them is the difference between Aristeides, Themistokles, Miltiades on the one hand, and Hyperbolos, Kleophon, the demagogues of to-day, on the other. Athens had formerly commanded the admiration and the confidence of the Greeks for whom she had fought. Empire demoralised and abased her; her citizens dared not go outside their walls to meet the enemy; her fleet, manned by all the scoundrels in Greece, was its scourge; nothing but the moderation of Sparta saved her from political annihilation. The men of Imperial
Athens had reduced the art of unpopularity to a science. In the theatre, at the Dionysia, they used to display the balance of the money levied on their allies,—bringing in, at the same time, the children of those who had fallen in the war; thus reminding the allies of the extortion practised upon them, and the other Greeks present of the misery wrought by means of this plunder. It was the men of the empire who formed designs against Sicily, Italy, Carthage, at a moment when enemies held the suburbs8
of Athens. Under their
rule more disasters happened than in all the earlier or later history of the city—disasters in Egypt9
, at Cyprus10
, at Daton11
, in Sicily, in the Hellespont; until the public tombs were filled with citizens and the public registers with aliens. The happiest people is that by whom the old families are cherished; the best statesmen are those who deserve, but do not grasp, power. Such was the Athens, such were the Athenians of the time of the Persian Wars; and therefore they did not lead the lives of pirates. Their successors, instead of ruling for the good of their subjects, wished to tyrannise for their own; and they met with the fate of tyrants. No person not reckless alike of the past and of the future could wish to imitate them. The earlier and the later experiences of Athens prove, in fact, two things; that Attica produces good men, and that empire spoils them (§§ 74—94).
‘The effect of naval supremacy may be further seen in
the case of Sparta. Her polity, unaltered and unshaken
through seven centuries12
, was all but overthrown when she became imperial. Her sins against Greece were thus far worse than ours, that faction and bloodshed, entailing perpetual feuds, were rife in her subject cities. She was
ungrateful, also, to all her benefactors in turn—to Thebes, to Chios, to Persia. She established despots in Italy and Sicily; and in the Peloponnesos outraged Elis, Corinth, Mantineia, Phlius, Argos. In fact she never ceased doing violence until she had prepared for herself the calamity of
Leuktra,—which was not the beginning of her misfortunes but the result of her folly. She was ruined by the arrogance of Empire—Empire, which allures and betrays like a false mistress. Ought not the traitress to be detested who has brought both Athens and Sparta to misery? It is no marvel that, nevertheless, all woo Empire. No men know their own real
interests. We, by meddling, prepared the Spartan ascendancy, and they, by insolence, brought about a reaction in our favour. The demagogues led up to the Thirty Tyrants, and these, in turn, made all of us ultra-democrats. The case is the same in regard to monarchy. Absolute power is universally coveted, though all know that an absolute ruler has an anxious life and usually a violent death. You admit this, and are yet unwilling to apply the same reasoning to the case of an Imperial State. You even allow that the despotism of Thebes wrongs Boeotia; but will not admit that your own government injures your allies. If, then, you listen to me, you will consider through what causes Athens and Sparta rose to rule Hellas, and then came into peril of enslavement; through what causes the Thessalians have lost their hereditary wealth, while the Megarians, placed among enemies and originally
poor, have become the richest of the Greeks. It is moderation that has brought the blessing, intemperance that has brought the curse,—a curse which sometimes tarries, which an individual sometimes eludes by death, but from which there is no escape for the immortality of a State (§§ 95—120).
‘Remembering this, you must not be led by demagogues
who, in their words and in their deeds, resemble those who brought Athens to ruin. It was not such men as these who made, and kept, the city great; or who brought back from exile the victims of the Peisistratidae or of the Thirty. While Athens acquires a name for rapacity throughout Greece, these men enrich themselves at our cost. Perikles, one of
the earliest demagogues13
, at least did not fill his own purse, though he left 8,000 talents in the akropolis. Now, we hear nothing but the lamentations of those who are absolutely starving, or of those who, though not destitute, are crushed by public imposts. Unprincipled speakers and demagogues are our worst enemies. They do not merely compromise our national name; it is their interest that each one of us should be in actual want, and so at their mercy. They delight, therefore, in impeachments, indictments, and all that machinery of calumny by which we can be brought to the beggary which makes their wealth (§§ 121—131).
‘To sum up—the conditions of restoring Athens to
Three conditions of welfare.
prosperity are three:—that we should cease to assume that every informer is a true democrat, and every honourable man an oligarch;—that we should treat allies as friends, not as slaves;—that we should value above all things the esteem of Greece.
‘If you do this—and if, at the same time, you show yourselves warlike in preparation, but peaceful in the justice. of your policy—Greece will be tranquillised, seeing your power ready to step in to the support of the injured. In any event, however, Athens will gain reputation. If wars cease, the credit will be ours. If they do not, we shall be the recognised champions of the weak. The infirmities of age do not suffer me to express all that I foresee as in store for us. But, in one word, let us be the deliverers, not the despoilers of Greece.
‘The position among the Hellenes at which Athens ought to aim is like that which the kings of Sparta held among the
Lacedaemonians. These kings are not despots, but leaders
who command a devoted loyalty; the Spartan who shrank from dying for them would be more disgraced than if he cast away his shield.
‘Two things warn me to cease—the length of this speech, and the number of my years. Let younger men strive, by speaking and writing, to give an honest direction to the politics of Greece. They may remember that, when Greece prospers, her most thoughtful men prosper too’ (§§ 132—145).
The Speech On the Peace
excels in one respect
almost all the other compositions of Isokrates. The elaborate evenness of his usual style is here broken by a sincere indignation; the disasters, moral and material, brought on Athens by the war rouse him to direct and vigorous utterance. Chares and Aristophon, the leaders of the War Party, are the men at whom his attack is specially levelled14
. It is this definite significance which gives their sting to his invectives against the corrupt generals15
and the corrupt statesmen16
Dionysios admires the Speech as an exhortation to a just and upright policy17
; Isokrates himself quotes it in the Antidosis18
as an example of practical advice on contemporary affairs. The tenor of the advice is this:—Let Athens resign empire (ἀρχή
), and be content with hegemony,—the headship of a Confederacy of which all the members shall be free —such a Confederacy as she presided over just after the Persian Wars. Abstinence from aggression,
and the manifestation of a just temper, of a resolution to protect the weak against the strong, will suffice to place and to keep Athens at the head of such a league. Isokrates fails to remark that the Athenian hegemony of 478, and the revived hegemony of 378, had passed into empire by the same inevitable process. He has an ideal of a free confederacy which experience has not taught him to be impossible; and for the attainment of this ideal he believes nothing to be needful but that Athens should become and appear virtuous. In the Areopagitikos
he propounds a simple return to old constitutional forms as the remedy for the internal disorders of Athens; in the speech he maintains that her
foreign policy may be amended and made triumphant by a return to the spirit of Aristeides19
. The counsel is in itself good and noble, but is thoroughly unpractical; it estimates in a manner infinitely too flattering what Athens was capable of doing and what Hellas was ready to accept.