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I HAVE often wondered that those who convene the great festivals- and have established athletic contests, have deemed physical excellence worthy of such great rewards, and yet to those who have individually toiled for the public good, and have so formed their minds as to be able to benefit others as well as themselves, to these, I say, they have allotted no honour, for whom they ought to have had more consideration; for if the athletes were to acquire twice the strength they possess, no advantage would accrue to other men; but if one man were to conceive wise thought all would reap the enjoyment of his understanding who were willing to share in it. Yet I was not so discouraged by this as to yield to indifference; but thinking that the reputation which my speech would win by its unassisted merit would be a sufficient reward, I am here to advise you concerning war against the barbarians and harmony among ourselves. I am not unaware, that many of those who claim to teach the public, have attempted this subject, but, in the first place, I hope to show such superiority that it may be thought that others have as yet said nothing upon these matters, and at the same time I have already come to the conclusion that the best speeches are those which deal with the greatest subjects, dis1 The national festivals of the Olympian, Isthmian, Nemean, and Pythian games, with reference also to the special festivals of different states, such as the Dionysia at Athens and the Hecatombaea at Argos. 2 The Pentathlum (jumping, running, quoit-throwing, javelin-throwing, and wrestling), and the Pancratium (boxing and wrestling combined). 8 A very common term for those who could not speak Greek, not necessarily “barbarians," as we understand the word. * For the Sophists, or professors of wisdom, see Introduction. The special reference here is to Gorgias.
play most clearly the ability of the speakers, and give most assistance to the audience; and of such speeches the present is one. Further, the occasion has not yet gone by, so as to render it useless now to make mention of these things. For it is only time to cease speaking when either the business in hand is over, and it is no longer necessary to take counsel about it, or when the discussion is seen to have reached its limit, so that other speakers have no means left of carrying it further. But so long as events are going on just as before, and what has been said is inadequate, how can we avoid applying thought and study to this address, which, if it be rightly carried out, will release us from our civil war, from the present confusion, and from most serious troubles? In addition to this, if it were possible to represent the same subjects in one way only, it might have been supposed a superfluous task to weary one's hearers by speaking again in the same fashion as former speakers; but since the nature of oratory renders it possible to describe the same things in many different ways -to bring great matters to a low level, and invest small things with importance; to tell old stories in modern fashion, and speak of recent events in the style of ancient history-we must no longer avoid those subjects on which others have spoken before us, but we must try to speak better than they. For the events which are past are left as a common heritage to us all, but to apply them in season, and form a right conception of each event, and to arrange them aright in words is the peculiar gift of the wise. Now I think that a very great advance would be made in every pursuit, and especially in the practical study of literary expression, if admiration and honour were to be bestowed in practical affairs not so much on those who take the first step in anything, as on those who bring it in each case to the most successful conclusion, and in oratory, not so much on those who seek a subject on which no one has ever spoken before, as on those who know how to treat their subject in a manner which is beyond the powers of anyone else.
1 See Introduction, for the meaning of the term "philosophy" in the writings of Isocrates.
And yet some find fault with discourses which are beyond the powers of common men, and are over elaborated; and they have made so great a mistake as to judge compositions which have been written with the object of surpassing others by the standard of forensic contests about private contracts, as if both ought to be of the same kind, instead of the one being framed with a view to simplicity and the other for display; or as if they themselves could discern the happy mean, while a master of elaborate diction would not be able to speak in plain or simple language. Now it is clear that these men only commend those who are like themselves; but I have nothing to do with such, but I look to those who will accept no careless statements, but will indignantly reject them, and will seek to find something in my words which they will not find in others. To such hearers I will address myself on the subject before me, having first made bold to add a few words concerning myself. Others I see striving to mollify their audience in their introductory remarks, making excuses for what they propose to say, and alleging either that they have had to make their preparations offhand, or that it is difficult to find words adequate to the greatness of their subject-matter. But for me, if I do not do justice both to my subject and to my own reputation, and to the long experience of my life, as well as to the time I have spent over this address, I bid you have no mercy for me, but hold me in ridicule and contempt; for there is nothing of that sort that I do not deserve to suffer, if, while making such great promises, I show no superiority to others. Let these remarks, then, serve as an introduction with regard to my personal pretensions.
Turning to public affairs, there are men who, as soon as ever they come forward to speak, advise us that we ought to make up our mutual enmities and turn against the barbarian, and they enumerate the calamities that have befallen us owing to the civil war, and the advantages that would arise from the proposed campaign against him. Now although these men speak truly, they do not start from the best point for enabling themselves to bring this about. The Hellenes are either sub
1 He was in his fifty-seventh year.
ject to us or to the Lacedaemonians; for the forms of constitution by which they govern their states have divided most of them in this way. Whoever, then, thinks that the others will unite in any good policy before he has reconciled those who are at their head, is a mere simpleton, and out of touch with practical affairs. But if a man does not merely aim at personal display, but wishes to effect something, he must seek for such arguments as shall persuade these two states to share and share alike, to divide the supremacy,” and to win from the barbarians those advantages which now they desire should accrue to them from the Hellenes. Now our commonwealth would be easily induced to take this course, but the Lacedaemonians are for the present still hard to persuade, for they have inherited an erroneous notion that it is their ancestral prerogative to be leaders; but if it be shown to them that this honour belongs to us rather than to them, they will soon waive their punctilious claims in this matter, and follow their interests.
Now other speakers ought to have started from this basis, and not to have given advice about matters of common agreement before instructing us on disputed points; but I especially am bound, for two reasons, to give most of my attention to this matter: first, if possible, that some useful result may be attained, and that we may cease from our mutual rivalry and unite in a war against the barbarians; and, secondly, if that is impossible, that I may point out who are those that stand in the way of the happiness of Hellas, and that it may be made clear to all that, as previously the old maritime empire of Athens was based on a just title, so now she has a good right to dispute the leadership. For, on the one hand, if the men who deserve honour in each sphere of action are those who have the most experience and the greatest power, it is beyond dispute that we have a right to recover the leadership which we formerly used to possess; for no one can point to any other state that is so pre-eminent in war by land as ours excels in maritime enterprises. And, on the other hand, if any think that this is not a fair criterion, 1 Into democracies under Athens, or oligarchies under Sparta. 2 Athens receiving the supremacy on sea, Sparta on land.
but that fortune is too changeable for such a conclusion (since power never continues in the same hands), and claim that leadership, like any other prize, should be held either by those who first won this honour, or by those who have conferred the most benefits upon Hellas, I think that these too are on our side; for the further back one examines both these qualifications, the more we shall leave behind those who dispute our claim. For it is allowed that our commonwealth is the most ancient and the largest and most renowned in all the world; and, good as is this foundation of our claim, for what follows we have still greater right to be honoured. For we did not win the country we dwell in by expelling others from it, or by seizing it when uninhabited, nor are we a mixed race collected together from many nations, but so noble and genuine is our descent, that we have continued for all time in possession of the land from which we sprang, being children of our native soil, and able to address our city by the same titles that we give to our nearest relations; for we alone among the Hellenes have the right to call our city at once nurse and fatherland and mother. Yet our origin is but such as should be possessed by a people who indulge in a reasonable pride, who have a just claim to the leadership of Hellas,
a and who bring to frequent remembrance their ancestral glories.
This will show the magnitude of the gifts with which fortune originally endowed us; the great benefits we have conferred upon others we shall best examine by a detailed narrative of the early history and achievements of our city; for we shall find that she has not only led the way in warlike enterprises, but is also the founder of nearly all the established institutions among which we dwell, and under which we carry on our public life, and by means of which we are enabled to live. Now of useful services we must of necessity prefer, not such as on account of their insignificance escape notice and are passed over in silence, but such as on account of their importance are spoken of and kept in memory by all men, both in former times and at the present day and in every place. 1 Like the Spartans at the time of the Dorian immigration into Peloponnesus.