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(6.9) 'I know that we are assembled here to discuss the preparations which are required for our expedition to Sicily, but in my judgment it is still a question whether we ought to go thither at all; we should not be hasty in determining a matter of so much importance, or allow ourselves to enter into an impolitic war at the instigation of foreigners. Yet to me personally war brings honour; and I am as careless as any man about my own life: not that I think the worse of a citizen who takes a little thought about his life or his property, for I believe that the sense of a man's own interest will quicken his interest in the prosperity of the state. But I have never in my life been induced by the love of reputation to say a single word contrary to what I thought; neither will I now: I will say simply what I believe to be best. If I told you to take care of what you have and not to throw away present advantages in order to gain an uncertain and distant good, my words would be powerless against a temper like yours. I would rather argue that this is not the time for vigorous action, and that your great aims will not be easily realised.

(6.10) 'I tell you that in going to Sicily you are leaving many enemies behind you, and seem to be bent on bringing new ones hither. You are perhaps relying upon the treaty recently made, which if you remain quiet may retain the name of a treaty; for to a mere name the intrigues of certain persons both here and at Lacedaemon have nearly succeeded in reducing it. But if you meet with any serious reverse, your enemies will be upon you in a moment, for the agreement was originally extracted from them by the pressure of misfortune, and the discredit of it was on their side not on ours.10 In the treaty itself there are many disputed points; and, unsatisfactory as it is, to this hour several cities, and very powerful cities too, persist in rejecting it. Some of these are at open war with us already;11 others may declare war at ten days' notice;12 and they only remain at peace because the Lacedaernonians are indisposed to move. And in all probability, if they find our power divided (and such a division is precisely what we are striving to create), they will eagerly join the Sicilians, whose alliance in the war they would long ago have given anything to obtain. These considerations should weigh with us. The state is far from the desired haven, and we should not run into danger and seek to gain a new empire before we have fully secured the old. The Chalcidians in Thrace have been rebels all these years and remain unsubdued, and there are other subjects of ours in various parts of the mainland who are uncertain in their allegiance. And we forsooth cannot lose a moment in avenging the wrongs of our allies the Egestaeans, while we still defer the punishment of our revolted subjects, whose offences are of long standing.

(6.11) 'And yet if we subdue the Chalcidian rebels we may retain our hold on them; but Sicily is a populous and distant country; over which, even if we are victorious, we shall hardly be able to maintain our dominion. And how foolish it is to select for attack a land which no conquest can secure, while he who fails to conquer will not be where he was before!

'I should say that the Sicilian cities are not dangerous to you, certainly not in their present condition, and they would be even so if they were to fall under the sway of the Syracusans (and this is the prospect with which the Egestaeans would fain scare you). At present individuals might cross the sea out of friendship for the Lacedaemonians; but if the states of Sicily were all united in one empire they would not be likely to make war upon another empire. For whatever chance they may have of overthrowing us if they unite with the Peloponnesians, there will be the same chance of their being overthrown themselves if the Peloponnesians and Athenians are ever united against them.13 The Hellenes in Sicily will dread us most if we never come; in a less degree if we display our strength and speedily depart; but if any disaster occur, they will despise us and be ready enough to join the enemies who are attacking us here. We all know that men have the greatest respect for that which is farthest off, and for that of which the reputation has been least tested; and this, Athenians, you may verify by your own experience. There was a time when you feared the Lacedaemonians and their allies, but now you have got the better of them, and because your first fears have not been realised you despise them, and even hope to conquer Sicily. But you ought not to be elated at the chance mishaps of your enemies; before you can be confident you should have gained the mastery over their minds.14 Remember that the Lacedaemonians are sensitive to their disgrace, and that their sole thought is how they may even yet find a way of inflicting a blow upon us which will retrieve their own character; the rather because they have laboured so earnestly and so long to win a name for valour. If we are wise we shall not trouble ourselves about the barbarous Egestaeans in Sicily; the real question is how we can make ourselves secure against the designs of an insidious oligarchy.

(6.12) 'We must remember also that we have only just recovered in some measure from a great plague and a great war, and are beginning to make up our losses in men and money. It is our duty to expend our new resources upon ourselves at home, and not upon begging exiles who have an interest in successful lies; who find it expedient only to contribute words, and let others fight their battles; and who, if saved, prove ungrateful; if they fail, as they very likely may, only involve their friends in a common ruin.

'I dare say there may be some young man here who is delighted at holding a command, and the more so because he is too young for his post;15 and he, regarding only his own interest, may recommend you to sail; he may be one who is much admired for his stud of horses, and wants to make something out of his command which will maintain him in his extravagance. But do not you give him the opportunity of indulging his own magnificent tastes at the expense of the state. Remember that men of this stamp impoverish themselves and defraud the public. An expedition to Sicily is a serious business, and not one which a mere youth can plan and carry into execution off-hand. (6.13) The youth of whom I am speaking has summoned to his side young men like himself, whom, not without alarm, I see sitting by him in this assembly, and I appeal against them to you elder citizens. If any of you should be placed next one of his supporters, I would not have him ashamed, or afraid, of being thought a coward if he does not vote for war. Do not, like them, entertain a desperate craving for things out of your reach; you know that by prevision many successes are gained, but few or none by mere greed. On behalf of our country, now on the brink of the greatest danger which she has ever known, I entreat you to hold up your hands against them. Do not interfere with the boundaries which divide us from Sicily; I mean the Ionian gulf which parts us if we sail along the coast, the Sicilian sea if we sail through the open water; these are quite satisfactory. The Sicilians have their own country; let them manage their own concerns. And let the Egestaeans in particular be informed that, having originally gone to war with the Selinuntians on their own account, they must make peace on their own account. Let us have no more allies such as ours have too often been, whom we are expected to assist when they are in misfortune, but to whom we ourselves when in need may look in vain.

(6.14) 'And you, Prytanis, as you wish to be a good citizen, and believe that the welfare of the state is entrusted to you, put my proposal to the vote, and lay the question once more before the Athenians. If you hesitate, remember that in the presence of so many witnesses there can be no question of breaking the law, and that you will be the physician of the state at the critical moment. The first duty of the good magistrate is to do the very best which he can for his country, or, at least, to do her no harm which he can avoid.'

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


10. (From 6.10) Cp. v. 46 init.

11. (From 6.10) Cp. v. 115 med.

12. (From 6.10) Cp. v. 26 med, vi. 7 fin.

13. (From 6.11) Cp. viii. 46.

14. (From 6.11) Cp. ii. 87 init. ; vi. 72 init.

15. (From 6.12) Omitting the comma after ekplein.

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.

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