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Corinthian Envoy At Athens

Special thanks to for permission to use this image adapted from their authentic replica of a Spartan spear.

(1.37) 'Since these Corcyraeans have chosen to speak, not only of their reception into your alliance, but of our misdoings and of the unjust war which has been forced upon them by us, we too must touch on these two points before we proceed to our main argument, that you may be better prepared to appreciate our claim upon you, and may have a good reason for rejecting their petition. They pretend that they have hitherto refused to make alliances from a wise moderation, but they really adopted this policy from a mean and not from a high motive. They did not want to have an ally who might go and tell of their crimes, and who would put them to the blush whenever they called him in. Their insular position makes them judges of their own offences against others, and they can therefore afford to dispense with judges appointed under treaties; for they hardly ever visit their neighbours, but foreign ships are constantly driven to their shores by stress of weather. And all the time they screen themselves under the specious name of neutrality, making believe that they are unwilling to be the accomplices of other men's crimes. But the truth is that they wish to keep their own criminal courses to themselves: where they are strong, to oppress; where they cannot be found out, to defraud; and whatever they may contrive to appropriate, never to be ashamed. If they were really upright men, as they profess to be, the greater their immunity from attack the more clearly they might have made their honesty appear by a willingness to submit differences to arbitration.

(1.38) 'But such they have not shown themselves either towards us or towards others. Although they are our colony they have always stood aloof from us, and now they are fighting against us on the plea that they were not sent out to be ill used. To which we rejoin that we did not send them out to be insulted by them, but that we might be recognised as their leaders and receive proper respect. Our other colonies at any rate honour us; no city is more beloved by her colonies than Corinth. That we are popular with the majority proves that the Corcyraeans have no reason to dislike us; and, if it seems extraordinary that we should go to war with them, our defence is that the injury which they are doing us is unexampled.32 Even if we had been misled by passion, it would have been honourable in them to make allowance for us, and dishonourable in us to use violence when they showed moderation. But they have wronged us over and over again in their insolence and pride of wealth; and now there is our colony of Epidamnus which they would not acknowledge in her distress, but, when we came to her rescue, they seized and are now holding by force.

(1.39) 'They pretend that they first offered to have the matter decided by arbitration. The appeal to justice might have some meaning in the mouth of one who before he had recourse to arms acted honourably, as he now talks fairly,33 but not when it is made from a position of security and advantage. Whereas these men began by laying siege to Epidamnus, and not until they feared our vengeance did they put forward their specious offer of arbitration. And as if the wrong which they have themselves done at Epidamnus were not enough, they now come hither and ask you to be, not their allies, but their accomplices in crime, and would have you receive them when they are at enmity with us. But they ought to have come when they were out of all danger, not at a time when we are smarting under an injury and they have good reason to be afraid. You have never derived any benefit from their power, but they will now be benefited by yours, and, although innocent of their crimes, you will equally be held responsible by us. If you were to have shared the consequences with them, they ought long ago to have shared the power with you.34

(1.40) 'We have proved that our complaints are justified and that our adversaries are tyrannical and dishonest; we will now show you that you have no right to receive them. Admitting that the treaty allows any unenrolled cities to join either league, this provision does not apply to those who have in view the injury of others, but only to him who is in need of protection,--certainly not to one who forsakes his allegiance and who will bring war instead of peace to those who receive him, or rather, if they are wise, will not receive him on such terms. And war the Corcyraeans will bring to you if you listen to them and not to us. For if you become the allies of the Corcyraeans you will be no longer at peace with us, but will be converted into enemies; and we must, if you take their part, in defending ourselves against them, defend ourselves against you. But you ought in common justice to stand aloof from both; or, if you must join either, you should join us and go to war with them; to Corinth you are at all events bound by treaty, but with Corcyra you never even entered into a temporary negotiation. And do not set the precedent of receiving the rebellious subjects of others. At the revolt of Samos,35 when the other Peloponnesians were divided upon the question of giving aid to the rebels, we voted in your favour and expressly maintained "that every one should be allowed to chastise his own allies." If you mean to receive and assist evil-doers, we shall assuredly gain as many allies of yours as you will of ours; and you will establish a principle which will tell against yourselves more than against us.

(1.41) 'Such are the grounds of right which we urge; and they are sufficient according to Hellenic law. And may we venture to recall to your minds an obligation of which we claim the repayment in our present need, we and you being not enemies who seek one another's hurt, nor yet friends who freely give and take? There was a time before the Persian invasion when you were in want of ships for the Aeginetan war, and we Corinthians lent you twenty: the service which we then rendered to you gave you the victory over the Aeginetans,36 as the other, which prevented the Peloponnesians from aiding the Samians, enabled you to punish Samos. Both benefits were conferred on one of those critical occasions when men in the act of attacking their enemies are utterly regardless of everything but victory, and deem him who assists them a friend though he may have previously been a foe, him who opposes them a foe, even though he may happen to be a friend; nay, they will often neglect their own interests in the excitement of the struggle.

(1.42) 'Think of these things; let the younger be informed of them by their elders, and resolve all of you to render like for like. Do not say to yourselves that this is just, but that in the event of war something else is expedient; for the true path of expediency is the path of right. The war with which the Corcyraeans would frighten you into doing wrong is distant, and may never come; is it worth while to be so carried away by the prospect of it, that you bring upon yourselves the hatred of the Corinthians which is both near and certain? Would you not be wiser in seeking to mitigate the ill-feeling which your treatment of the Megarians has already inspired?37 The later kindness done in season, though small in comparison, may cancel a greater previous offence. And do not be attracted by their offer of a great naval alliance; for to do no wrong to a neighbour is a surer source of strength than to gain a perilous advantage under the influence of a momentary illusion.

(1.43) 'We are now ourselves in the same situation in which you were, when we declared at Sparta that every one so placed should be allowed to chastise his own allies; and we claim to receive the same measure at your hands. You were profited by our vote, and we ought not to be injured by yours. Pay what you owe, knowing that this is our time of need, in which a man's best friend is he who does him a service, he who opposes him, his worst enemy. Do not receive these Corcyraeans into alliance in despite of us, and do not support them in injustice. In acting thus you will act rightly, and will consult your own true interests.'

Such were the words of the Corinthians.

Special thanks to for permission to use this image adapted from their authentic replica of a Spartan spear.


32. (From 1.38) Or, 'and there is nothing extraordinary in our going to war with them, for they are doing us an unexampled injury.'

33. (From 1.39) Or, 'whose actions corresponded to his professions, before he entered on the struggle.'

34. (From 1.39) The last words of the chapter are omitted by Poppo on the authority of several of the best MSS.; they may perhaps be a gloss. If they are retained they may be translated: 'But you ought not to share all the consequences of their crimes, while in the crimes, and in them alone, you have no part.'

35. (From 1.40) Cp. i. 115.

36. (From 1.41) Cp. Herod. vi. 89.

37. (From 1.42) Cp. i. 67 fin.

From Thucydides, translated into English, to which is prefixed an essay on inscriptions and a note on the geography of Thucydides, by Benjamin Jowett. Second edition. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1900.

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Background mosaic from the Architectural Ornament collection of the Architectural Engineering Graduate Students Association of The Pennsylvania State University.