Upon the delivery of this message the Athenians sent to the Boeotians a herald of their own, who on their behalf declared 'that they had done no wilful injury to the temple, and would not damage it if they could help it; they had not originally entered it with any injurious intent, but in order that from it they1
might defend themselves against those who were really injuring them.
According to Hellenic practice, they who were masters of the land, whether much or little, invariably had possession of the temples, to which they were bound to2
show the customary reverence, but in such ways only as were possible3
There was a time when the Boeotians themselves and most other nations, including all who had driven out the earlier inhabitants of the land which they now occupied, attacked the temples of others, and these had in time become their own.
So the Boeotian temples would have become theirs if they had succeeded in conquering more of Boeotia. So much of the country as they did occupy was their own, and they did not mean to leave it until compelled. As to meddling with the water, they could not help themselves;
the use of it was a necessity which they had not incurred wantonly; they were resisting the Boeotians who had begun by attacking their territory.
When men were constrained by war, or by some other great calamity, there was every reason to think that their offence was forgiven by the God himself. He who has committed an involuntary misdeed finds a refuge at the altar, and men are said to transgress, not when they presume a little in their distress, but when they do evil of their own free will.
The Boeotians, who demanded a sacred place as a ransom for the bodies of the dead, were guilty of a far greater impiety than the Athenians who refused to make such an unseemly exchange.
They desired the Boeotians to let them take away their dead, not adding the condition ‘if they would quit Boeotia,’ for in fact they were in a spot which they had fairly won by arms and not in Boeotia, but simply saying, ‘if they would make a truce according to ancestral custom.’ '