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(6.33) 'I dare say that, like others, I shall not be believed when I tell you that the expedition is really coming; and I am well aware that those who are either the authors or reporters of tidings which seem incredible not only fail to convince others, but are thought fools for their pains. Yet, when the city is in danger, fear shall not stop my mouth; for I am convinced in my own mind that I have better information than anybody. The Athenians, wonder as you may, are coming against us with a great fleet and army; they profess to be assisting their Egestaean allies and to be restoring the Leontines. But the truth is that they covet Sicily, and especially our city. They think that, if they can conquer us, they will easily conquer the rest. They will soon be here, and you must consider how with your present resources you can make the most successful defence. You should not let them take you by surprise because you despise them, or neglect the whole matter because you will not believe that they are coming at all. But to him who is not of this unbelieving temper I say- And do not you be dismayed at their audacity and power. They cannot do more harm to us than we can do to them; the very greatness of their armament may be an advantage to us; it will have a good effect on the other Sicilian cities, who will be alarmed, and in their terror will be the more ready to assist us. Then, again, if in the end we overpower them, or at any rate drive them away baffled, for I have not the slightest fear of their accomplishing their purpose, we shall have achieved a noble triumph. And of this I have a good hope. Rarely have great expeditions, whether Hellenic or Barbarian, when sent far from home, met with success. They are not more numerous than the inhabitants and their neighbours, who all combine through fear; and if owing to scarcity of supplies in a foreign land they miscarry, although their ruin may be chiefly due to themselves, they confer glory on those whom they meant to overthrow. The greatness of these very Athenians was based on the utter and unexpected ruin of the Persians,31 who were always supposed to have directed their expedition against Athens. And I think that such a destiny may very likely be reserved for us.

(6.34) 'Let us take courage then, and put ourselves into a state of defence; let us also send envoys to the Sicels, and, while we make sure of our old allies, endeavour to gain new ones. We will despatch envoys to the rest of Sicily, and point out that the danger is common to all; we will also send to the Italian cities in the hope that they may either join us, or at any rate refuse to receive the Athenians. And I think that we should send to the Carthaginians; the idea of an Athenian attack is no novelty to them; they are always living in apprehension of it. They will probably feel that if they leave us to our fate, the trouble may reach themselves, and therefore they may be inclined in some way or other, secretly, if not openly, to assist us. If willing to help, of all existing states they are the best able; for they have abundance of gold and silver, and these make war, like other things, go smoothly. Let us also send to the Lacedaemonians and Corinthians and entreat them to come to our aid speedily, and at the same time to revive the war in Hellas. I have a plan which in my judgment is the best suited to the present emergency, although it is the last which you in your habitual indolence will readily embrace.32 Let me tell you what it is. If all the Sicilian Greeks, or at least if we and as many as will join us, taking two months' provisions, would put out to sea with all our available ships and prepare to meet the Athenians at Tarentum and the promontory of Iapygia, thereby proving to them that before they fight for Sicily they must fight for the passage of the Ionian Sea, we should strike a panic into them. They would then reflect that at Tarentum (which receives us), we, the advanced guard of Sicily, are among friends, and go forth from a friendly country, and that the sea is a large place not easy to traverse with so great an armament as theirs. They would know that after a long voyage their ships will be unable to keep in line, and coming up slowly and few at a time will be at our mercy. On the other hand, if they lighten their vessels and meet us in a compact body with the swifter part of their fleet, they may have to use oars, and then we shall attack them when they are exhausted. Or if we prefer not to fight, we can retire again to Tarentum. Having come over with slender supplies and prepared for a naval engagement, they will not know what to do on these desolate coasts. If they remain they will find themselves blockaded; if they attempt to sail onwards they will cut themselves off from the rest of their armament, and will be discouraged; for they will be far from certain whether the cities of Italy and Sicily will receive them. In my opinion the anticipation of these difficulties will hamper them to such a degree, that they will never leave Corcyra. While they are holding consultations, and sending out spies to discover our number and exact position, they will find themselves driven into winter; or in dismay at the unexpected opposition, they may very likely break up the expedition; especially if, as I am informed, the most experienced of their generals has taken the command against his will, and would gladly make any considerable demonstration on our part an excuse for retreating. I am quite sure that rumour will exaggerate our strength. The minds of men are apt to be swayed by what they hear; and they are most afraid of those who commence an attack, or who at any rate show to the aggressor betimes that he will meet with resistance; for then they reflect that the risk is equally divided. And so it will be with the Athenians. They are now attacking us because they do not believe that we shall defend ourselves, and in this opinion they are justified by our neglect to join with the Lacedaemonians in putting them down. But, if they see that they were mistaken, and that we boldly venture,33 they will be more dismayed at our unexpected resistance than at our real power. Take my advice; if possible, resolve on this bold step, but if not, adopt other measures of defence as quickly as possible. Remember each and all of you that the true contempt of an invader is shown by deeds of valour in the field, and that meanwhile the greatest service which you can render to the state is to act as if you were in the presence of danger, considering that safety depends on anxious preparation.34 The Athenians are coming; I am certain that they are already on the sea and will soon be here.'

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


31. (From 6.33) Cp. i. 69 fin.

32. (From 6.34) Cp. i. 143 fin.

33. (From 6.34) Cp. ii. 89 med.

34. (From 6.34) Cp. ii. 11 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.