Book III

A conversation held with Pericles the son of the great statesman may here be introduced.[1] Socrates began:

I am looking forward, I must tell you, Pericles, to a great improvement in our military affairs when you are minister of war.[2] The prestige of Athens, I hope, will rise; we shall gain the mastery over our enemies.

Pericles replied: I devoutly wish your words might be fulfilled, but how this happy result is to be obtained, I am at a loss to discover.

Shall we (Socrates continued), shall we balance the arguments for and against, and consider to what extent the possibility does exist?

Pray let us do so (he answered).

Socrates. Well then, you know that in point of numbers the Athenians are not inferior to the Boeotians?

Pericles. Yes, I am aware of that.

Socrates. And do you think the Boeotians could furnish a better pick of fine healthy men than the Athenians?

Pericles. I think we should very well hold our own in that respect.

Socrates. And which of the two would you take to be the more united people --the friendlier among themselves?

Pericles. The Athenians, I should say, for so many sections of the Boeotians, resenting the selfish policy[3] of Thebes, are ill disposed to that power, but at Athens I see nothing of the sort.

Socrates. But perhaps you will say that there is no people more jealous of honour or haughtier in spirit.[4] And these feelings are no weak spurs to quicken even a dull spirit to hazard all for glory's sake and fatherland.

Pericles. Nor is there much fault to find with Athenians in these respects.

Socrates. And if we turn to consider the fair deeds of ancestry,[5] to no people besides ourselves belongs so rich a heritage of stimulating memories, whereby so many of us are stirred to pursue virtue with devotion and to show ourselves in our turn also men of valour like our sires.

Pericles. All that you say, Socrates, is most true, but do you observe that ever since the disaster of the thousand under Tolmides at Lebadeia, coupled with that under Hippocrates at Delium,[6] the prestige of Athens by comparison with the Boeotians has been lowered, whilst the spirit of Thebes as against Athens had been correspondingly exalted, so that those Boeotians who in old days did not venture to give battle to the Athenians even in their own territory unless they had the Lacedaemonians and the rest of the Peloponnesians to help them, do nowadays threaten to make an incursion into Attica single-handed; and the Athenians, who formerly, if they had to deal with the Boeotians[7] only, made havoc of their territory, are now afraid the Boeotians may some day harry Attica.

To which Socrates: Yes, I perceive that this is so, but it seems to me that the state was never more tractably disposed, never so ripe for a really good leader, as to-day. For if boldness be the parent of carelessness, laxity, and insubordination, it is the part of fear to make people more disposed to application, obedience, and good order. A proof of which you may discover in the behaviour of people on ship- board. It is in seasons of calm weather when there is nothing to fear that disorder may be said to reign, but as soon as there is apprehension of a storm, or an enemy in sight, the scene changes; not only is each word of command obeyed, but there is a hush of silent expectation; the mariners wait to catch the next signal like an orchestra with eyes upon the leader.

Pericles. But indeed, given that now is the opportunity to take obedience at the flood, it is high time also to explain by what means we are to rekindle in the hearts of our countrymen[8] the old fires--the passionate longing for antique valour, for the glory and the wellbeing of the days of old.

Well (proceeded Socrates), supposing we wished them to lay claim to certain material wealth now held by others, we could not better stimulate them to lay hands on the objects coveted than by showing them that these were ancestral possessions[9] to which they had a natural right. But since our object is that they should set their hearts on virtuous pre-eminence, we must prove to them that such headship combined with virtue is an old time-honoured heritage which pertains to them beyond all others, and that if they strive earnestly after it they will soon out-top the world.

Pericles. How are we to inculcate this lesson?

Socrates. I think by reminding them of a fact already registered in their minds,[10] that the oldest of our ancestors whose names are known to us were also the bravest of heroes.

Pericles. I suppose you refer to that judgment of the gods which, for their virtue's sake, Cecrops and his followers were called on to decide?[11]

Socrates. Yes, I refer to that and to the birth and rearing of Erectheus,[12] and also to the war[13] which in his days was waged to stay the tide of invasion from the whole adjoining continent; and that other war in the days of the Heraclidae[14] against the men of Peloponnese; and that series of battles fought in the days of Theseus[15]--in all which the virtuous pre-eminence of our ancestry above the men of their own times was made manifest. Or, if you please, we may come down to things of a later date, which their descendants and the heroes of days not so long anterior to our own wrought in the struggle with the lords of Asia,[16] nay of Europe also, as far as Macedonia: a people possessing a power and means of attack far exceeding any who had gone before--who, moreover, had accomplished the doughtiest deeds. These things the men of Athens wrought partly single-handed,[17] and partly as sharers with the Peloponnesians in laurels won by land and sea. Heroes were these men also, far outshining, as tradition tells us, the peoples of their time.

Pericles. Yes, so runs the story of their heroism.

Socrates. Therefore it is that, amidst the many changes of inhabitants, and the migrations which have, wave after wave, swept over Hellas, these maintained themselves in their own land, unmoved; so that it was a common thing for others to turn to them as to a court of appeal on points of right, or to flee to Athens as a harbour of refuge from the hand of the oppressor.[18]

Then Pericles: And the wonder to me, Socrates, is how our city ever came to decline.

Socrates. I think we are victims of our own success. Like some athlete,[19] whose facile preponderance in the arena has betrayed him into laxity until he eventually succumbs to punier antagonists, so we Athenians, in the plenitude of our superiority, have neglected ourselves and are become degenerate.

Pericles. What then ought we to do now to recover our former virtue?

Socrates. There need be no mystery about that, I think. We can rediscover the institutions of our forefathers--applying them to the regulation of our lives with something of their precision, and not improbably with like success; or we can imitate those who stand at the front of affairs to-day,[20] adapting to ourselves their rule of life, in which case, if we live up to the standard of our models, we may hope at least to rival their excellence, or, by a more conscientious adherence to what they aim at, rise superior.

You would seem to suggest (he answered) that the spirit of beautiful and brave manhood has taken wings and left our city;[21] as, for instance, when will Athenians, like the Lacedaemonians, reverence old age--the Athenian, who takes his own father as a starting-point for the contempt he pours upon grey hairs? When will he pay as strict an attention to the body, who is not content with neglecting a good habit,[22] but laughs to scorn those who are careful in this matter? When shall we Athenians so obey our magistrates--we who take a pride, as it were, in despising authority? When, once more, shall we be united as a people--we who, instead of combining to promote common interests, delight in blackening each other's characters,[23] envying one another more than we envy all the world besides; and--which is our worst failing--who, in private and public intercourse alike, are torn by dissension and are caught in a maze of litigation, and prefer to make capital out of our neighbour's difficulties rather than to render natural assistance? To make our conduct consistent, indeed, we treat our national interests no better than if they were the concerns of some foreign state; we make them bones of contention to wrangle over, and rejoice in nothing so much as in possessing means and ability to indulge these tastes. From this hotbed is engendered in the state a spirit of blind folly[24] and cowardice, and in the hearts of the citizens spreads a tangle of hatred and mutual hostility which, as I often shudder to think, will some day cause some disaster to befall the state greater than it can bear.[25]

Do not (replied Socrates), do not, I pray you, permit yourself to believe that Athenians are smitten with so incurable a depravity. Do you not observe their discipline in all naval matters? Look at their prompt and orderly obedience to the superintendents at the gymnastic contests,[26] their quite unrivalled subservience to their teachers in the training of our choruses.

Yes (he answered), there's the wonder of it; to think that all those good people should so obey their leaders, but that our hoplites and our cavalry, who may be supposed to rank before the rest of the citizens in excellence of manhood,[27] should be so entirely unamenable to discipline.

Then Socrates: Well, but the council which sits on Areopagos is composed of citizens of approved[28] character, is it not?

Certainly (he answered).

Socrates. Then can you name any similar body, judicial or executive, trying cases or transacting other business with greater honour, stricter legality, higher dignity, or more impartial justice?

No, I have no fault to find on that score (he answered).

Socrates. Then we ought not to despair as though all sense of orderliness and good discipline had died out of our countrymen.

Still (he answered), if it is not to harp upon one string, I maintain that in military service, where, if anywhere, sobreity and temperance, orderliness and good discipline are needed, none of these essentials receives any attention.

May it not perhaps be (asked Socrates) that in this department they are officered by those who have the least knowledge?[29] Do you not notice, to take the case of harp-players, choric performers, dancers, and the like, that no one would ever dream of leading if he lacked the requisite knowledge? and the same holds of wrestlers or pancratiasts.

Moreover, while in these cases any one in command can tell you where he got the elementary knowledge of what he presides over, most generals are amateurs and improvisers.[30] I do not at all suppose that you are one of that sort. I believe you could give as clear an account of your schooling in strategy as you could in the matter of wrestling. No doubt you have got at first hand many of your father's "rules for generalship," which you carefully preserve, besides having collected many others from every quarter whence it was possible to pick up any knowledge which would be of use to a future general. Again, I feel sure you are deeply concerned to escape even unconscious ignorance of anything which will be serviceable to you in so high an office; and if you detect in yourself any ignorance, you turn to those who have knowledge in these matters (sparing neither gifts nor gratitude) to supplement your ignorance by their knowledge and to secure their help.

To which Pericles: I am not so blind, Socrates, as to imagine you say these words under the idea that I am truly so careful in these matters; but rather your object is to teach me that the would-be general must make such things his care. I admit in any case all you say.

Socrates proceeded: Has it ever caught your observation, Pericles, that a high mountain barrier stretches like a bulwark in front of our country down towards Boeotia--cleft, moreover, by narrow and precipitous passes, the only avenues into the heart of Attica, which lies engirdled by a ring of natural fortresses?[31]

Pericles. Certainly I have.

Socrates. Well, and have you ever heard tell of the Mysians and Pisidians living within the territory of the great king,[32] who, inside their mountain fortresses, lightly armed, are able to rush down and inflict much injury on the king's territory by their raids, while preserving their own freedom?

Pericles. Yes, the circumstance is not new to me.

And do you not think (added Socrates) that a corps of young able- bodied Athenians, accoutred with lighter arms,[33] and holding our natural mountain rampart in possession, would prove at once a thorn in the enemy's side offensively, whilst defensively they would form a splendid bulwark to protect the country?

To which Pericles: I think, Socrates, these would be all useful measures, decidedly.

If, then (replied Socrates), these suggestions meet your approbation, try, O best of men, to realise them--if you can carry out a portion of them, it will be an honour to yourself and a blessing to the state; while, if you fail in any point, there will be no damage done to the city nor discredit to yourself.

[1] Or, "On one occasion Pericles was the person addressed in conversation." For Pericles see "Hell." I. v. 16; vii. 15; Plut. "Pericl." 37 (Clough, i. 368).

[2] "Strategos."

[3] "The self-aggrandisement."

[4] Reading {megalophronestatoi}, after Cobet. See "Hipparch," vii. 3; or if as vulg. {philophronestatoi}, transl. "more affable."

[5] See Wesley's anthem, Eccles. xliv. 1, "Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us."

[6] Lebadeia, 447 B.C.; Delium, 424 B.C. For Tolmides and Hippocrates see Thuc. i. 113; iv. 100 foll.; Grote, "H. G." v. 471; vi. 533.

[7] Reading {ote B. monoi}, al. {ou monoi}, "when the Boeotians were not unaided."

[8] Reading {anerasthenai}, Schneider's emendation of the vulg. {aneristhenai}.

[9] Cf. Solon in the matter of Salamis, Plut. "Sol." 8; Bergk. "Poet. Lyr. Gr. Solon," SALAMIS, i. 2, 3.

[10] Or, "to which their ears are already opened."

[11] See Apollodorus, iii. 14.

[12] Cf. "Il." ii. 547, {'Erekhtheos megaletoros k.t.l.}

[13] Cf. Isoc. "Paneg." 19, who handles all the topics.

[14] Commonly spoken of as "the Return." See Grote, "H. G." II. ch. xviii.

[15] Against the Amazons and Thracians; cf. Herod. ix. 27; Plut. "Thes." 27.

[16] The "Persian" wars; cf. Thucyd. I. i.

[17] He omits the Plataeans.

[18] Cf. (Plat.) "Menex."; Isocr. "Paneg."

[19] Reading {athletai tines}, or if {alloi tines}, translate "any one else."

[20] Sc. the Lacedaemonians. See W. L. Newman, op. cit. i. 396.

[21] Or, "is far enough away from Athens."

[22] See below, III. xii. 5; "Pol. Ath." i. 13; "Rev." iv. 52.

[23] Or, "to deal despitefully with one another.

[24] Reading {ateria}. See L. Dindorf ad loc., Ox. ed. lxii. Al. {apeiria}, a want of skill, or {ataxia}, disorderliness. Cf. "Pol. Ath." i. 5.

[25] Possibly the author is thinking of the events of 406, 405 B.C. (see "Hell." I. vii. and II.), and history may repeat itself.

[26] Epistatoi, i.e. stewards and training-masters.

[27] {kalokagathia}.

[28] Technically, they must have passed the {dokimasia}. And for the "Aeropagos" see Grote, "H. G." v. 498; Aristot. "Pol." ii. 12; "Ath. Pol." 4. 4, where see Dr. Sandys' note, p. 18.

[29] {episteme}. See below, III. ix. 10.

[30] Cf. "Pol. Lac." xiii. 5.

[31] The mountains are Cithaeron and Parnes N., and Cerata N.W.

[32] For this illustration see "Anab." III. ii. 23; cf. "Econ." iv. 18, where Socrates ({XS}) refers to Cyrus's expedition and death.

[33] Cf. the reforms of Iphicrates.