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(4.17) 'Men of Athens, the Lacedaemonians have sent us to negotiate for the recovery of our countrymen in the island, in the hope that you may be induced to grant us terms such as will be at once advantageous to you and not inglorious to us in our present misfortune. If we speak at length, this will be no departure from the custom of our country. On the contrary, it is our manner not to say much where few words will suffice, but to be more liberal of speech when something important has to be said and words are the ministers of action.12 Do not receive what we say in a hostile spirit, or imagine that we deem you ignorant and are instructing you, but regard us simply as putting you in mind13 of what you already know to be good policy. For you may turn your present advantage to excellent account, not only keeping what you have won, but gaining honour and glory as well. You will then escape the reverse which is apt to be experienced by men who attain any unusual good fortune; for, having already succeeded beyond all expectation, they see no reason why they should set any limit to their hopes and desires. Whereas they who have oftenest known the extremes of either kind of fortune ought to be most suspicious of prosperity; and this may naturally be expected to be the lesson which experience has taught both us and you.

(4.18) 'Look only at the calamity which has just overtaken us, who formerly enjoyed the greatest prestige of any Hellenic state, but are now come hither to ask of you the boon which at one time we should have thought ourselves better able to confer. You cannot attribute our mishap to any want of power; nor to the pride which an increase of power fosters. We were neither stronger nor weaker than before, but we erred in judgment, and to such errors all men are liable. Therefore you should not suppose that, because your city and your empire are powerful at this moment, you will always have fortune on your side. The wise ensure their own safety by not making too sure of their gains, and when disasters come they can meet them more intelligently; they know that war will go on its way whithersoever chance may lead, and will not restrict itself to the limits which he who begins to meddle with it would fain prescribe. They of all men will be least likely to meet with reverses, because they are not puffed up with military success, and they will be most inclined to end the struggle in the hour of victory. It will be for your honour, Athenians, to act thus towards us. And then the victories which you have gained already cannot be attributed to mere luck; as they certainly will be if, rejecting our prayer, you should hereafter encounter disasters, a thing which is not unlikely to happen. Whereas you may if you will leave to posterity a reputation for power and wisdom which no danger can affect.

(4.19) 'The Lacedaemonians invite you to make terms with them and to finish the war. They offer peace and alliance and a general friendly and happy relation, and they ask in return their countrymen who are cut off in the island. They think it better that neither city should run any further risk, you of the escape of the besieged, who may find some means of forcing their way out, we of their being compelled to surrender and passing absolutely into your hands. We think that great enmities are most effectually reconciled, not when one party seeks revenge and, getting a decided superiority, binds his adversary by enforced oaths and makes a treaty with him on unequal terms, but when, having it in his power to do all this, he from a generous and equitable feeling overcomes his resentment, and by the moderation of his terms surprises his adversary, who, having sufered no violence at his hands, is bound to recompense his generosity not with evil but with good, and who therefore, from a sense of honour, is more likely to keep his word. And mankind are more ready to make such a concession to their greater enemies than to those with whom they have only a slight difference.14 Again, they joyfully give way to those who first give way themselves, although against overbearing power they will risk a conflict even contrary to their own better judgment.

(4.20) 'Now, if ever, is the time of reconciliation for us both, before either has suffered any irremediable calamity, which must cause, besides the ordinary antagonism of contending states, a personal and inveterate hatred, and will deprive you of the advantages which we now offer. While the contest is still undecided, while you may acquire reputation and our friendship, and while our disaster can be repaired on tolerable terms, and disgrace averted, let us be reconciled, and choosing peace instead of war ourselves, let us give relief and rest to all the Hellenes. The chief credit of the peace will be yours. Whether we or you drove them into war is uncertain; but to give them peace lies with you, and to you they will be grateful. If you decide for peace, you may assure to yourselves the lasting friendship of the Lacedaemonians freely offered by them, you on your part employing no force but kindness only. Consider the great advantages which such a friendship will yield. If you and we are at one, you may be certain that the rest of Hellas, which is less powerful than we, will pay to both of us the greatest deference.'

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


12.(From 4.17) Or, taking logos with didaskontas: 'when some weighty communication has to be made by words, if anything is to be really done.'

13.(From 4.17) Cp. iv. 95 init.; iv. 126 init. ; v. 6o fin.

14.(From 4.19) Cp. v. 91 init.

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.