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(4.126) 'Did I not suspect, men of Peloponnesus, that you may be terrified because you have been deserted by your companions and are assailed by a host of barbarians, I should think only of encouraging and not of instructing you.85 But now that we are left alone in the face of numerous enemies, I shall endeavour in a few words to impress upon you the main points which it concerns you to be informed of and to remember. For you ought to fight like men not merely when you happen to have allies present, but because courage is native to you; nor should you fear any number of foreign troops. Remember that in the cities from which you come, not the many govern the few, but the few govern the many, and have acquired their supremacy simply by successful fighting. Your enemies are barbarians, and you in your inexperience fear them. But you ought to know, from your late conflicts with the Macedonian portion of them86--and any estimate which I can form, or account of them which I receive from others, would lead me to infer--that they will not prove so very formidable. An enemy often has weak points which wear the appearance of strength; and these; when their nature is explained, encourage rather than frighten their opponents. As, on the other hand, where an army has a real advantage, the adversary who is the most ignorant is also the most foolhardy. The Illyrians, to those who have no experience of them, do indeed at first sight present a threatening aspect. The spectacle of their numbers is terrible, their cries are intolerable, and the brandishing of their spears in the air has a menacing effect. But in action they are not the men they look, if their opponents will only stand their ground; for they have no regular order, and therefore are not ashamed of leaving any post in which they are hard pressed; to fly and to advance being alike honourable, no imputation can be thrown on their courage. When every man is his own master in battle he will readily find a decent excuse for saving himself. They clearly think that to frighten us at a safe distance is a better plan than to meet us hand to hand; else why do they shout instead of fighting? You may easily see that all the terrors with which you have invested them are in reality nothing; they do but startle the sense of sight and hearing. If you repel their tumultuous onset, and, when opportunity offers, withdraw again in good order, keeping your ranks, you will sooner arrive at a place of safety, and will also learn the lesson that mobs like these, if an adversary withstand their first attack, do but threaten at a distance and make a flourish of valour, although if he yields to them they are quick enough to show their courage in following at his heels when there is no danger.'

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


85.(From 4.126) Cp. iv. 17 med.; iv. 95 init.; v. 69 fin.

86.(From 4.126) Cp. iv. 124 med.

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.