Peithô's Web    Thucydides Home  Jowett TOC 


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

(4.59) 'Sicilians, the city to which I belong is not the least in Sicily, nor am I about to speak because Syracuse suffers more than other cities in the war, but because I want to lay before you the policy which seems to me best fitted to promote the common good of the whole country. You well know, and therefore I shall not rehearse to you at length, all the misery of war. Nobody is driven into war by ignorance, and no one who thinks that he will gain anything from it is deterred by fear. The truth is that the aggressor deems the advantage to be greater than the suffering; and the side which is attacked would sooner run any risk than suffer the smallest immediate loss. But when such feelings on the part of either operate unseasonably, the time for offering counsels of peace has arrived, and such counsels, if we will only listen to them, will be at this moment invaluable to us. Why did we go to war? Simply from a consideration of our own individual interests, and with a view to our interests we are now trying by means of discussion to obtain peace; and if, after all, we do not before we separate succeed in getting our respective rights, we shall go to war again.

(4.60) 'But at the same time we should have the sense to see that this conference is not solely concerned with our private interests, but with those of the whole country. Sicily is in my opinion at this moment imperilled by the designs of the Athenians, and we must try, if not too late, to save her. The Athenians are a much more convincing argument of peace than any words of mine can be. They are the greatest power in Hellas; they come hither with a few ships to spy out our mistakes; though we are their natural enemies, they assume the honourable name of allies, and under this flimsy pretence turn our enmity to good account. For when we go to war and invite their assistance (and they are fond of coming whether they are invited or not) we are taxing ourselves for our own destruction, and at the same time paving the way for the advance of their empire. And at some future day, when they see that we are exhausted, they are sure to come again with a larger armament, and attempt to bring all Sicily under their yoke.39

(4.61) 'And yet if we must call in allies and involve ourselves in dangers, as men of sense, looking to the interest of our several states, we should set before us the prospect of gaining an increase of dominion, not of losing what we already have. We should consider that internal quarrels more than anything else are the ruin of Sicily and her cities; we Sicilians are fighting against one another at the very time when we are threatened by a common enemy. Knowing this, we should be reconciled man to man, city to city, and make an united effort for the preservation of all Sicily. Let no one say to himself, "The Dorians among us may be enemies to the Athenians, but the Chalcidians, being Ionians, are safe because they are their kinsmen." For the Athenians do not attack us because we are divided into two races, of which one is their enemy and the other their friend, but because they covet the good things of Sicily which we all share alike.40 Is not their reception of the Chalcidian appeal a proof of this?41 They have actually gone out of their way to grant the full privileges of their old treaty to those who up to this hour have never aided them as required by the terms of that treaty. The ambition and craft of the Athenians are pardonable enough. I blame not those who wish to rule, but those who are willing to serve. The same human nature which is always ready to domineer over the subservient, bids us defend ourselves against the aggressor. And if, knowing all these things, we continue to take no thought for the future, and have not, every one of us, made up our minds already that first and foremost we must all deal wisely with the danger which threatens all, we are grievously in error.

'Now a mutual reconciliation would be the speediest way of deliverance from this danger; for the Athenians do not come direct from their own country, but first plant themselves in that of the Sicilians who have invited them. Instead of finishing one war only to begin another, we should then quietly end our differences by peace. And those who came at our call and had so good a reason for doing wrong will have a still better reason for going away and doing nothing.

(4.62) 'Such is the great advantage which we obtain by sound policy as against the Athenians. And why, if peace is acknowledged by all to be the greatest of blessings, should we not make peace among ourselves? Whatever good or evil is the portion of any of us, is not peace more likely than war to preserve the one and to alleviate the other? And has not peace honours and glories of her own unattended by the dangers of war? (But it is unnecessary to dilate on the blessings of peace any more than on the miseries of war.) Consider what I am saying, and instead of despising my words, may every man seek his own safety in them! And should there be some one here present who was hoping to gain a permanent advantage either by right or by force, let him not take his disappointment to heart. For he knows that many a man before now who has sought a righteous revenge, far from obtaining it, has not even escaped himself; and many an one who in the consciousness of power has grasped at what was another's, has ended by losing what was his own. The revenge of a wrong is not always successful merely because it is just; nor is strength most assured of victory when it is most full of hope. The inscrutable future is the controller of events, and, being the most treacherous of all things, is also the most beneficent; for when there is mutual fear, men think twice before they make aggressions upon one another.

(4.63) 'And now, because we know not what this hidden future may bring forth, and because the Athenians, who are dangerous enemies, are already at our gates,--having these two valid reasons for alarm, let us acquiesce in our disappointment, deeming that the obstacles to the fulfilment of our individual hopes42 are really insuperable. Let us send out of the country the enemies who threaten us, and make peace among ourselves, if possible for ever; but if not, for as long as we can, and let our private enmities bide their time. If you take my advice, rest assured that you will maintain the freedom of your several cities; from which you will go forth your own masters, and recompense, like true men, the good or evil which is done to you. But if you will not believe me, and we are enslaved by others, the punishment of our enemies will be out of the question. Even supposing we succeed in obtaining vengeance to our hearts' content, we may perhaps become the friends of our greatest enemies, we certainly become the enemies of our real friends.

(4.64) 'As I said at first, I am the representative of a great city which is more likely to act on the aggressive than on the defensive; and yet with the prospect of these dangers before me I am willing to come to terms, and not to injure my enemies in such a way that I shall doubly injure myself. Nor am I so obstinate and foolish as to imagine that, because I am master of my own will, I can control fortune, of whom I am not master; but I am disposed to make reasonable concessions. And I would ask the other Sicilians to do the same of their own accord, and not to wait until the enemy compels them. There is no disgrace in kinsmen yielding to kinsmen, whether Dorians to Dorians, or Chalcidians to the other Ionians. Let us remember too that we are all neighbours, inhabitants of one island home, and called by the common name of Sicilians. When we see occasion we will fight among ourselves, and will negotiate and come to terms among ourselves. But we shall always, if we are wise, unite as one man against the invader; for when a single state suffers, all are imperilled. We will never again introduce allies from abroad, no, nor pretended mediators. This policy will immediately secure to Sicily two great blessings; she will get rid of the Athenians, and of civil war. And for the future we shall keep the island free and our own, and none will be tempted to attack us.'

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


39.(From 4.60) Cp. iv. 1 med.

40.(From 4.61) Cp. vi. 77, 79.

41.(From 4.61) Cp. iii. 86.

42.(From 4.63) Or, reading ekastos ti: 'to the accomplishment of those things which each of us in whatever degree was hoping to effect.'

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.

Scanned and edited specially for Peithô's Web. Jowett's footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Peithô's Web accepts no liability whatsoever for errors or any other problem with the texts or their use.

Special thanks to (link) for graciously permitting images of their ancient art and replicas of armor and weapons to appear in our Thucydides pages.

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