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The J. A. Freese Translation


This "speech" is the companion of the last. It is clear from the speech itself that it cannot have been written until the king had been some little time on the throne. The earliest date to which it has been assigned is B.C. 372; some, without giving a definite year, place it somewhere between B.C. 372-365. It is not addressed to the whole people, but only to the most distinguished citizens, who had been called together by Nicocles for the purpose of hearing it. As the last discourse showed the duty of a king to his subjects, so this sets forth the converse duty of subjects to their king. It contains a defence of monarchy as compared with other forms of government, which does not represent the real opinions of Isocrates. This is followed by praises of the reign of Nicocles, which sound rather strange when put into the king's own mouth; he boasts of his descent, and the services he has rendered to his people, promising to continue as he has begun. And the discourse concludes with moral advice to his subjects, impressing upon them how much they owe him, and the way they must behave in order to make the state prosperous and flourishing.*

*The treatise is also called "Symmachicos" in the argument of an unknown grammarian, as being addressed to the "allies" as well as the subjects of Nicias.


1. There are people who are hostile to oratory and censure those who study philosophy, alleging that they pursue such studies for the sake not of virtue but of selfish advantage. I should like, then, to hear from those who are of that opinion for what reason they blame those who desire to speak well, while they praise those who wish to act aright; for if acts of selfishness pain them, we shall find such acts arising with greater frequency and to a higher degree from deeds than from words. 2. Further, too, it is strange if they are ignorant of this-- that we are reverent in matters of religion, and cultivate justice and practice the rest of the virtues, not in order that we may come off worse than other people, but that we may spend our life enjoying as many blessings as possible; so that we ought not to blame those circumstances which enable a man in the course of virtue to advance his selfish interests, but we should blame the men who go wrong in their actions or deceive by their words and do not make just use of them.

3. I am surprised that those who hold this view do not speak ill also of wealth and strength and courage. For if on account of those who do wrong and tell lies they dislike oratory, they ought equally to condemn all other advantages; for equally among those who possess other advantages it will be found that some do wrong and injure many by means of these advantages. 4. In fact it is not fair, if some men strike those they meet, to lay the blame on strength, nor because men kill those whom they ought not, to revile courage, nor generally to shift the wickedness of men on to circumstances, but we should blame the men themselves who abuse good things and with means adapted to benefit their fellow-countrymen endeavour to do them hurt. 5. But as it is, neglecting in this way to make a distinction in each case, they are ill-disposed to all discussion, and they have made the great mistake of not perceiving that they are quarrelling with the very quality which of all that are to be found in human nature is most productive of good things. For in the rest of our endowments we do not in any way excel the other animals, but we are inferior to many of them both in swiftness and in strength and in other faculties; 6. but by the presence in us of the power of persuading each other and of disclosing to our own kind whatever we take counsel about, we have not only escaped from the life of wild beasts, but we have come together and founded cities, established laws, and discovered arts, and nearly everything devised by our means has been provided for us by the help of the faculty of discourse. 7. For this faculty it is that laid down the laws concerning things just and unjust, base and honourable; without which ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. By this faculty we convict the bad, and extol the good. By means of this we educate the foolish and prove the wise; for we take right discourse as the greatest proof of wise judgment, and discourse which is true and law-abiding and just is an image of a good and faithful mind. 8. It is with this faculty too that we both dispute on doubtful questions and inquire into what is unknown; for the same arguments by which we persuade others in speech, we also use in our deliberations, and so, while we give the title of rhetoricians to those who can speak in public, we attribute prudent counsel to all who can best discourse of affairs in the privacy of their own minds.

9. To sum up concerning this faculty, we shall find that no wise action is done without the help of discourse, but that discourse is the guide of all deeds and of all thoughts, and is most employed by those who possess the greatest intelligence; so that those who dare to speak evil of educators and followers of philosophy are as deserving of hatred as those who violate the shrines of the gods.

10. Now I approve of all discourses which can benefit us even in a small degree; not but what I deem noblest and most kingly and most befitting me those which advise concerning moral conduct and political institutions, and of these such as teach rulers how to treat the people, and private individuals how to behave towards their rulers; for it is by these means that I see states becoming happiest and greatest.

11. Now the one part of the subject, how to reign, you have already heard from Isocrates; that which follows, the duty of subjects, I will endeavour to set forth, not with any hope of surpassing him, but because this is the subject on which it is most suitable for me to discourse to you. For if through my not disclosing what I wish you to do you should mistake my sentiments, I could not reasonably be angry with you; but if, after a public statement by me, none of my wishes should be followed, I should have a right to censure any who disobeyed.

12. Now I think that I should best exhort and induce you to remember my words and obey them, not by confining myself to giving counsel and leaving off after an enumeration of precepts, but by demonstrating to you first, that we ought to be content with our existing political constitution, not only for necessity's sake, nor even because we live under it all our lives, but because it is the best of all constitutions; 13. and secondly, that I do not hold this rule by lawlessness or usurpation, but by law divine and human, by reason both of my original ancestors and of my father and of myself. For when I have made these things plain before you, who will not condemn himself to the severest penalty if he should disobey my counsel and ordinances?

14. Concerning political constitutions, then (for that was my starting-point), I think that all consider it a most monstrous thing that good and wicked men should be held in the same estimation, but think it most reasonable that a distinction should be recognized between them, and that those who are unlike should not win like rewards, but that men should fare and receive honour according to their individual merits. 15. Now oligarchies and democracies seek in either case equality for those who share political rights, and what is highly thought of amongst them is that none should have an advantage over another; which is to the interest of wicked men; but monarchies confer most on the best man, second honours on the man who comes next to him, third and fourth places to the rest according to the same principle. And if this is not everywhere realized, still the design of the constitution is of that kind. 16. And indeed all will allow that absolute sovereignties are better able to see through both the characters and actions of men. Would not, then, every wise man prefer to have a part in that kind of constitution in which his good qualities will not lie hidden, rather than to be carried on with the multitude without anyone recognizing what manner of man he is? Then, again, we should be right in judging this so much milder than other constitutions in proportion as it is easier to apply the mind to the sentiments of a single man than to seek to please many various minds. 17. Now that it is pleasanter and milder and more just, one could show for many reasons, not but that it is easy to see this at a glance by means of the above considerations; but as regards the remaining points, we should best observe the superior excellence of monarchies for taking necessary counsel and action, by placing the most important spheres of action side by side, and endeavouring to bring them to the test. Those, then, who year by year enter upon their offices retire into private life before understanding state affairs or gaining any experience of them; 18. but those who are continuously in charge of the same affairs, even if their natural ability is inferior, are yet in experience at least far in advance of others.

Then, again, the former neglect many things through looking to each other, while the latter overlook nothing, knowing that everything must be done through them. In addition to this, those who rule in oligarchies and democracies injure the public interests by reason of their contending ambitions; while monarchical rulers, not having anyone to be jealous of, do what is best in all cases as far as possible. 19. Moreover, the former fall into arrear in the transaction of business; for they spend most of their time over their private affairs, and, when they meet in council, they are more frequently to be found disputing than deliberating in common; the latter, on the other hand, have no meetings in council, nor times appointed for them, but, being occupied day and night in public business, let no opportunities slip, but do everything at the proper moment. 20. Further, the former are ill-affected towards each other, and would like their predecessors in office as well as their successors to govern the state as badly as possible, that they themselves may get as much credit as they can; while monarchs, on the contrary, being during all their life masters of affairs, are possessed with feelings of good will which also last for all time. 21. But the greatest difference is this: the one class of rulers apply their mind to public affairs as if they were their own concern, the others as if they were the concern of other people, and for advisers on these affairs the latter take the most audacious of the common people, while the former take the wisest men whom they can select from all, and while other rulers honour those who can speak before crowds, monarchs honour those who know how to deal with affairs.

22. But it is not only in the common round of everyday business that monarchies excel, but they also have grasped all the superior advantages which arise in war. For to raise forces and make use of them, so as either to escape notice or to attract observation, either to persuade or to coerce, to buy of some and win others by other kinds of service --all these things are more in the power of absolute sovereignties than of other forms of constitution. And this may be proved no less from actual events than from arguments. 23. For in the first place the Persian power we all know to have attained such greatness, not because of the wisdom of individuals, but because they more than other nations reverence the kingly office; and in the second place we know that Dionysius the tyrant,1 who received the rest of Sicily reduced to devastation, and his own country in a state of siege, not only freed it from the existing dangers, but made it greatest among the Hellenic states; 24. and, moreover, we know that the Carthaginians and the Lacedaemonians, who enjoy the best constitution of all the Hellenes, though they are under an oligarchy at home, prefer a monarchy in time of war. And one could show that even the Athenian state, which has the most hatred for absolute monarchies, fails when it sends out a number of generals, but succeeds when it meets dangers by the employment of one only. 25. What clearer proof then could one give than such instances as these that monarchies are far superior to other constitutions? For we see at once that those who are perpetually subject to absolute rule possess the greatest means of power, and that those who have a good oligarchy, in the matters they are most anxious about, establish as master of their armies in one case a single general, in the other a king, while those who hate absolute sovereignties fail to achieve their objects whenever they send out a number of commanders. 26. And if we must refer also to antiquity, it is said that the gods too have Zeus for their king. If this story is true about them, it is clear that they too prefer this order of things; if on the other hand no one knows the truth, but it is we that of our own imaginations have formed this supposition about them, it is a proof that all of us hold monarchy in the highest honour; for we should never have said that the gods employed it, if we did not consider that it far excelled other forms of government. 27. Now on the subject of political constitutions, how far one is better than another, it is not possible either to ascertain or to speak exhaustively; yet, nevertheless, for the needs of the present at all events, sufficient has already been said about them. Now to show that we rightfully hold our rule, the argument is much shorter and more generally acknowledged than what has gone before. 28. For who does not know that Teucer,2 the original founder of our race, taking with him the ancestors of the rest of my fellow-citizens, sailed hither, founded the state for them, and apportioned the country among them, and that my father Evagoras3 recovered the rule which others had lost, after undergoing the greatest dangers, and produced so great a revolution that Phoenicians4 no longer reign over Salaminians, but in their stead the former rulers now again occupy the throne?

29. There remains, therefore, of the task I proposed, to say something about myself, that you may know that your king is such a person, that not only on account of my ancestors, but also on my own merits, I should fairly be thought to deserve even greater honour than I receive. I think that all will allow that the most precious of the virtues are temperance and justice. 30. For not only do they benefit us on their own account, but if we should wish to inquire into the natures, powers, and uses of things, we shall find that such qualities as do not partake of these kinds of virtue are the cause of great evils, while such as are based on justice and temperance benefit in many ways the life of man. Now if any of my predecessors enjoyed fame by reason of these virtues, I think that I too am entitled to a share in the same glory.

31. Now my justice you will best see from the following circumstance. Finding, when I came into power, the royal treasury empty, all our resources exhausted, and public affairs full of confusion and requiring great care, watchfulness, and expense, though I knew that others in similar crises tried to right their affairs by every possible shift, and were compelled to do many things repugnant to their dispositions, 32. I nevertheless was not corrupted by any one even of these considerations, but so righteously and well did I devote attention to affairs that I omitted no means by which it was possible for the state to increase and to make progress towards happiness. Towards my fellow-citizens I behaved with such mildness that no banishments, or executions, or confiscations of property, or any other calamity of that kind has taken place in my reign. 33. When Hellas was inaccessible to us on account of the war which had arisen, and we were being harried on every side, I removed most of our difficulties, paying some in full and others in part, asking for delay from some, and with others seeking reconciliation as far as I could on the subject of their complaints. And, moreover, when the inhabitants of the island were still ill disposed towards us and at the same time the Great King, though formally on friendly terms with us, was in fact our bitter enemy, I appeased both these sources of hostility, by zealous service to the king, and by just behaviour to the others. 34. So far am I from coveting what belongs to others, that whereas other rulers, on possessing even a small superiority of power over their neighbours, take slices off their territory, and seek to gain an unfair advantage, I, on the contrary, have not even thought right to accept land offered to me, but I prefer by justice to possess my own country only, rather than by wickedness to win a dominion many times the size of that which I now enjoy.

35. But why need I spend time in mentioning every detail, especially when I can in one word give a clear description of myself? It will be acknowledged that I have never yet done wrong to any man, but have done services to many, both of my countrymen and of other Hellenes, and have given greater gifts to both than all my predecessors on the throne together. Yet all who pride themselves on justice, and profess to be above money ought to be able to speak of themselves in as excessive a strain of praise.

36. Now, further, as to temperance I have yet greater things to tell. For since I knew that all men think most of all of their children and wives, and are especially angry with those who commit offences against them, and that an insult offered to them causes the greatest evils, and that owing to it many have before now perished both among private citizens and among men in power, I therefore avoided so completely these causes of trouble, that from the time I came to the throne, it will be acknowledged that I have never had intercourse with any but my own wife. 37. I was not unaware that rulers enjoy a good repute with the multitude who merely observe justice towards their own countrymen while providing themselves with their pleasures from other sources; but I wished at once to remove myself as far as possible from suspicions of that kind, and to make my conduct an example to the rest of my countrymen, knowing that the people are wont to spend their lives in following those practices with which they see their rulers occupying themselves. 38. Then, too, I thought it was the duty of kings to be as much better than private individuals as the honours which they receive are greater than theirs, and that it was monstrous conduct for men to compel others to live in an orderly way, while they themselves do not show more temperance than their subjects. 39. Besides, I saw that, while in other matters the majority of mankind obtained the mastery, even the best were overcome by the desires which relate to boys and women; I wished, therefore, to show myself capable of firmness in matters in which I proposed to excel, not only ordinary men, but even those who pride themselves on their virtue. 40. More than that, I considered that men were guilty of great wickedness who, after taking a wife, and entering upon a life-long association, are not content with the arrangement they have made, but by their own indulgences pain those whom they expect never to cause them any pain, and while in other associations of life they behave fairly, do wrong in their dealings towards their wives, whom it was their greater duty to protect in proportion as they are nearer and dearer to them and of greater value than other people. 41. Then again, such kings do not know that they are sowing the seeds of factions and quarrels within their palaces. Yet those who reign as they ought should endeavour not only to keep in harmony the state which they rule, but also their own house and the place in which they dwell; for all these things are the acts of temperance and justice. 42. Nor did I hold the same opinion about the rearing of children as most kings, and I did not think it right to get some children from a mother of humble birth and others from one of higher estate, nor to leave some of them bastards and others true-born, but that all should be able to trace back the same origin both on the father's and on the mother's side, among mortals to my father Evagoras, and among demi-gods to the sons of Aeacus,5 and among gods to Zeus, and that none of my offspring should be deprived of this noble birth.

43. Now among many inducements which I have to abide by this course of conduct, I have been especially encouraged by seeing, that while courage and cleverness and other qualities of good repute are shared even by many bad men, justice and temperance are the peculiar possessions of good and true men. I considered it, therefore, the noblest thing to excel other men, if it were possible, in those virtues in which the wicked have no part, but which are the most genuine and stedfast and deserving the greatest praises. 44. For these reasons and on these reflections I have with especial earnestness cultivated temperance, and of pleasures I have chosen not those occasioned by deeds which give no honour, but those inspired by the fame attending manly excellence. Now we should not test all virtues alike in the same sort of circumstances, but justice in poverty, temperance in positions of power, and self-mastery in the years of youth. 45. It will be seen, then, that I have on all these occasions given proof of my character. When I was left in need of money I behaved so justly as to injure none of my countrymen; when I got power, so that I could do whatever I wished, I proved more temperate than those in a private station; and both these difficulties I mastered at that time of life in which we should find the majority of men committing most faults in their conduct. 46. Now before another audience I should perhaps have hesitated to say these things; not that I do not take pride in my achievements, but for fear that my words might not be believed; but you are witnesses for me of the truth of all that I have said. Now it is indeed right to commend and admire those who are orderly by nature, but still more those who are so in obedience to reason; 47. for those who are temperate by chance and not by purpose, might by chance also be led astray, but those who, in addition to their natural bent, have also the conviction that virtue is greatest of good things, will clearly remain in this position all their life.

The reason why I have prolonged the discourse both about myself and about the other things which I have spoken of, is that I may leave you no excuse for not carrying out willingly and readily whatever I advise and command.

48. Now I say that each one of you ought to perform his appointed duty carefully and faithfully; for in whichever of these respects you fall short, it necessarily follows that in that respect your actions are faulty. Therefore do not neglect or despise a single one of the tasks enjoined upon you, with the idea that things do not depend upon it, but busy yourselves about them on the understanding that the whole will be good or ill according to each of the parts. 49. Take trouble over my business as well as your own, and do not consider a small reward the honours which they receive who superintend our affairs with success. Abstain from what belongs to others, that you may more securely possess your own homes. You ought to be towards others such as you expect me to prove towards you. 50. Do not make haste to be rich rather than to have a good reputation, remembering that both among Hellenes and barbarians those who have the greatest reputations for virtue are masters of the greatest wealth. Consider that money transactions which are contrary to justice will bring not wealth but peril. Do not think getting to be gain and spending to be loss; for neither of these has always the same effect, but whichever of them happen in season and at the call of virtue, benefits those who do it. 51. Do not show signs of unwillingness in respect to even one of my commands; for those of you who make themselves useful in the greatest number of my affairs, will confer most benefits upon their own houses. Whatever each one of you is conscious of in his own heart, consider that I too shall not fail to perceive it, but imagine that even if my body is not present, my mind is at hand to see what is going on; for with this conviction you will be more temperate in all your deliberations. 52. Conceal nothing either of what you possess, or of what you do, or of what you purpose to effect, knowing that about matters which are kept secret there must of necessity arise many apprehensions. Do not seek to perform your duties as a citizen in a tricky or underhand way, but so simply and openly that it would not be easy for anyone to slander you even if he wished it. Put your actions to the test and count those amongst them bad which you wish to do without my knowledge, but good when I should think better of you on hearing of them. 53. Do not keep silence if you see any men with wicked designs against my rule, but denounce them, and consider that those who assist concealment deserve the same punishment as the offenders. Attribute good fortune not to those who escape detection when they do anything wrong, but to those who commit no offence at all; for it is reasonable that the former should suffer the same evils as they themselves inflict, and that the latter should earn the gratitude which they deserve.

54. Do not establish political clubs or unions without my sanction; for confederacies of that sort may achieve advantages under other constitutions, but are dangerous under monarchies. Abstain not only from offences, but also from practices of such a nature that suspicion must necessarily attend them. Consider my friendship to be the safest and surest of all. 55. Preserve the existing condition of things and do not desire any change of constitution, knowing that political troubles must of necessity destroy states, and make private homes desolate. Do not think that it is only their natural dispositions which cause absolute rulers to be harsh or mild, but also the conduct of the citizens; for many have before now been compelled on account of the misbehaviour of their subjects to rule with greater severity than their own inclination suggested. Take courage as much on account of your own virtue as of my mildness. 56. Consider my safety to be your own security; for if my fortunes are on a good footing yours also will be in the same condition. You must be submissive towards my authority, abiding by customs and preserving the royal laws, but splendid in your public services on behalf of the state and in the other tasks imposed upon you by me.

57. Persuade young men to virtue, not only by exhortations but by giving them indications in your actions of what good men ought to be. Teach your children to obey the king, and accustom them to attend as much as possible to this branch of education; for if they learn to be good subjects they will be able to govern many, and if they are faithful and just they will share our rewards; but if they prove bad men they will risk the loss of their existing possessions. 58. Consider that you will hand down to your children the greatest and surest riches if you can leave them our goodwill. Consider most miserable and unfortunate those who have proved untrustworthy to those who trusted them; for it follows that such men must pass the rest of their time in dejection and in fear of everything, trusting their friends no more than their enemies. 59. Envy not those who possess the most wealth, but those who are conscious of no guilt; for it is in such a frame of mind that a man can pass his life most pleasantly. Do not think that vice can profit more than virtue, and that only its name is more hateful, but consider that the effects of things correspond to the names they have severally acquired. 60. Do not be jealous of those who hold the first place in my favour, but compete with them, and try, by rendering yourselves excellent, to attain equality with the foremost. Think it your duty to love and honour whomsoever the king loves and honours, that from me too you may meet with the same regard. Think of me in my absence as you speak in my presence. 61. Display your loyalty to us in deeds rather than in words. Do not inflict on the rest of the world outrages at which you are indignant when you suffer them yourselves at the hands of others. Do not practice in action what you denounce in speech. Expect your fortune to be such as are your thoughts about us. Do not merely praise good men, but also imitate them. 62. Consider my words to be laws and endeavour to abide by them, knowing that those of you who best carry out what I wish will soonest have the opportunity of living as they themselves wish. The sum of what I have said is that, just as you think those subject to your authority should behave to you, so you too ought to behave towards my authority.

63. Now if you do this, why need I speak at length as to what will follow? For if I continue to act as I have done in the past, and you to render me loyal service, you will speedily see your life improved, my dominion increased and the state grown happy. 64. It were worth while, then, for the sake of such great blessings, to leave nothing undone, but to endure any toils and dangers; and you now have it in your power to achieve all this, without any hardship, if only you will be faithful and just.

1. See Or. v. 65.

2. On his return from Troy, after the death of his brother Ajax, Teucer was banished from the island of Salamis in the Saronic Gulf, by his father Telamon, because he had failed to avenge his brother's death. By the advice of Apollo, he sailed to Cyprus, where he founded a city called Salamis: see Horace, Odes i. 7, 21.

3. See Oration ix.

4. The Phoenicians very early gained a footing in Hellas and its islands. There was a tradition that Cadmus led a Phoenician colony into the heart of Boeotia, and founded a town called Cadmea, which afterwards became the citadel of Thebes. There seems no doubt, from the names, order, and forms of the letters, that the Greek alphabet was derived from the Phoenician. For the Phoenicians in Cyprus, see Or. ix. 19.

5. Zeus was the father of Aeacus, Aeacus of Telamon, and Telamon of Teucer. Aeacus, Minos, and Rhadamanthus were the judges of the infernal regions: see Or. ix. 14 sqq.

From Isocrates' Orations Vol. I, translated by J. H. Freese. London: George Bell & Sons, 1894.

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