Letter IX, To Archidamos
3. To Archidamos
[Ep. IX.]—This Letter is addressed to Archidamos III., who succeeded his father Agesilaos as one of the kings of Sparta in
361 B.C., and died in 338. In his Sixth Oration (366 B.C.) Isokrates supposes this same Archidamos giving heroic counsels to Sparta; he now urges him to become the leader of Greece against Persia.
In § 4 there is a reference to ‘the battle in
the city:’ i.e. the attempt of Epameinondas to surprise Sparta in 362 B.C.1
From § 16 it appears that Isokrates was now eighty. If he was not more, the Letter belongs to 356 B.C.
Either the Letter was meant merely to introduce a discourse sent along with it2
, or it is itself fragmentary. The latter supposition seems the more likely3
‘I leave to others, Archidamos, the easy task of praising
you, your father, and your race. Those who choose that theme have topics enough ready to their hand,—the splendour of a descent from Herakles and Zeus; the valour of the Dorian colonies of the Peloponnesos; the achievements of Sparta under the Herakleidae, and the virtues taught by the unchanging Spartan discipline; the wisdom of your father; his conduct in times of disaster; and lastly that battle at Sparta in which you saved the state. But my purpose is not to speak of your past exploits; it is the more arduous one of inciting you to enterprises of a new kind—enterprises which will benefit not Sparta only but all the Hellenes. (§§ 1—7.)
‘It is strange that no powerful statesman or speaker has
yet taken pity on the present miserable condition of Hellas.
Every part of it is full of war, factions, massacres, woes unnumbered. Most wretched of all are those Greeks on the seaboard of Asia whom by the treaty we gave over, not merely to the barbarians, but to those of our own race who are barbarian in all save speech. These roving desperadoes, under any chance leader, form armies larger and better than those of the settled communities; armies which do trifling damage to Persia, but bring desolation to the Greek cities which they visit. They slay, they banish, they plunder; children are outraged; women, whom none but kinsmen had ever seen even veiled, are stripped naked before all eyes. (§§ 8—10.)
‘These miseries, now long continued, have as yet attracted the indignation of no leading city in Greece; nor of any leading man, except your father. Agesilaos stood alone
in his life-long desire to free the Greeks and to turn their arms against the barbarian. He failed only because he sought to combine the war against Persia with the restoration of his personal friends to their respective cities. He thus excited factions which left men no leisure for the war. The moral of his life is that the Greeks must be reconciled among themselves before they are led against the Great King. (§§ 11—14.)
‘Some, perhaps, whose so-called ‘philosophy’ has none but petty aims, will call it madness in me to suppose that Greece at large can be better or worse for any words of mine. But, though eighty years old and worn out, I am arrogant enough to believe that such counsels can come from no one so well as from me, and that perchance they will bear fruit. I believe that, if the other Greeks had to pick out the man who could best advocate, and the man who could best execute, measures recognized as useful, the choice would fall on none but you and me. My part is the smaller; to say what one thinks is not hard; but you should be moved by you descent, by your place in Sparta, by your name in Greece, to rise to the height of your new duty. Leave all else, and give your mind to two things only—the deliverance of the Greeks from their miserable feuds, and the crushing of barbarian
insolence. That these things can be done,—that they are expedient for you, for Sparta, and for the rest of Hellas,— it shall now be my task to explain.’ (§§ 15—19.)