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(2.89) 'Soldiers, I have summoned you because I see that you are alarmed at the numbers of the enemy, and I would not have you dismayed when there is nothing to fear. In the first place, the reason why they have provided a fleet so disproportionate is because we have defeated them already, and they can see themselves that they are no match for us; next, as to the courage which they suppose to be native to them and which is the ground of their confidence when they attack us,50 that reliance is merely inspired by the success which their experience on land usually gives them, and will, as they fancy, equally ensure them by sea. But the superiority which we allow to them on land we may justly claim for ourselves at sea; for in courage at least we are their equals, and the superior confidence of either of us is really based upon greater experience. The Lacedaemonians lead the allies for their own honour and glory; the majority of them are dragged into battle against their will; if they were not compelled they would never have ventured after so great a defeat to fight again at sea. So that you need not fear their valour; they are far more afraid of you and with better reason, not only because you have already defeated them, but because they cannot believe that you would oppose them at all if you did not mean to do something worthy of that great victory. For most men when, like these Peloponnesians, they are a match for their enemies51 rely more upon their strength than upon their courage; but those who go into battle against far superior numbers and under no constraint must be inspired by some extraordinary force of resolution. Our enemies are well aware of this, and are more afraid of our surprising boldness than they would be if our forces were less out of proportion to their own. Many an army before now has been overthrown by smaller numbers owing to want of experience; some too through cowardice; and from both these faults we are certainly free. If I can help I shall not give battle in the gulf, or even sail into it. For I know that where a few vessels which are skilfully handled and are better sailers engage with a larger number which are badly managed the confined space is a disadvantage. Unless the captain of a ship see his enemy a good way off he cannot come on or strike properly; nor can he retreat when he is pressed hard. The manoeuvres suited to fast-sailing vessels, such as breaking of the line or returning to the charge, cannot be practised in a narrow space. The sea-fight must of necessity be reduced to a land-fight52 in which numbers tell. For all this I shall do my best to provide. Do you meanwhile keep order and remain close to your ships. Be prompt in taking your instructions, for the enemy is near at hand and watching us. In the moment of action remember the value of silence and order, which are always important in war, especially at sea. Repel the enemy in a spirit worthy of your former exploits. There is much at stake; for you will either destroy the rising hope of the Peloponnesian navy, or bring home to Athens the fear of losing the sea. Once more I remind you that you have beaten most of the enemy's fleet already; and, once defeated, men do not meet the same dangers with their old spirit.' Thus did Phormio encourage his sailors.

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


50. (From 2.89) Or, taking the antecedent to as supplied by the clause hou di' allo ti tharsousin ... katorthountes: 'as to the ground of the confidence with which they attack us as if courage were native to them.'

51. (From 2.89) Or, 'For men who, like these Peloponnesians, are numerically superior to the enemy whom they face.'

52. (From 2.89) Cp. vii. 62.

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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