'And yet if we subdue the Chalcidian rebels we may retain our hold on them; but Sicily1
is a populous and distant country, over which, even if we are victorious, we shall hardly be able to maintain our dominion. And how foolish it is to select for attack a land which no conquest can secure, while he who fails to conquer will not be where he was before!
'I should say that the Sicilian cities are not dangerous to you,—certainly not in their present2
condition, and they would be even less so if they were to fall under the sway of the Syracusans (and this is the prospect with which the Egestaeans would fain scare you).
At present individuals might cross the sea out of friendship for the Lacedaemonians; but if the states of Sicily were all united in one empire they would not be likely to make war upon another empire. For whatever chance they may have of overthrowing us if they unite with the Peloponnesians, there will be the same chance of their being overthrown themselves if the Peloponnesians and Athenians are ever united against them3
The Hellenes in Sicily will dread us most if we never come;
in a less degree if we display our strength and speedily depart; but if any disaster occur, they will despise us and be ready enough to join the enemies who are attacking us here. We all know that men have the greatest respect for that which is farthest off, and for that of which the reputation has been least tested;
and this, Athenians, you may verify by your own experience. There was a time when you feared the Lacedaemonians and their allies, but now you have got the better of them, and because your first fears have not been realized you despise them, and even hope to conquer Sicily.
But you ought not to be elated at the chance mishaps of your enemies; before you can be confident you should have gained the mastery over their minds4
. Remember that the Lacedaemonians are sensitive to their disgrace, and that their sole thought is how they may even yet find a way of inflicting a blow upon us which will retrieve their own character; the rather because they have laboured so earnestly and so long to win a name for valour.
If we are wise we shall not trouble ourselves about the barbarous Egestaeans in Sicily; the real question is how we can make ourselves secure against the designs of an insidious oligarchy.