Thucydides’ History, Book 6

Chapter 34

“Plucking up our courage, let us make preparation for the matters here and sending some to Sicily, let us secure our ground more, let use try to make friendship and alliance with them, let us send ambassadors to the other Sikeliots to make clear as to the common danger, and to Italy, so that we might make an ally for ourselves, or at least so that they do not welcome the Athenians. And it seems to me that it would also be best to send to Carthage ; for it is not unbelievable to them, but rather they are always in fear lest the Athenians come upon their city, such that—believing it likely that if they let them pass here, they might themselves be in hardship—they might wish to give us aid, whether secretly, or openly, or by some other means. They are the most powerful of those now, should they be willing ; for they have acquired the most gold and silver, from which both war and all other things thrive. And let us send also to Lacedaimon and to Corinth, asking both to help with all haste and to set war in motion over there. And this, which I consider especially opportune and you, due to an accustomed peace, might not be quickly persuaded, but let it be said nevertheless. For the Sikeliots if we were all willing together, and if not all then the majority with us, having put out to sea our entire naval power, as it stands, with two months nourishment, to meet with the Athenians at Tarentum and the Ipygian promontory, and to make it clear to them that the first contest will not be near Sicily, or where those men were carried over the Ionian, then we might especially shock them and we might set them to reckoning that we set ourselves as guardians from a friendly land (for Tarentum has welcomed us), whereas for them the whole sea must be crossed with all their preparation, and whereas it would be difficult to maintain battle formation due to the length of the voyage, and it would be easy for us to attack, only the sluggish coming upon us and a few at a time. And if they, lightened, should make another attack by fast-sailing in a more closely gathered pack, or if they should make use of their oars, we would lay ourselves upon the most hard-pressed, and if it does not seem well, it is there for us to withdraw to Tarentum ; and they, having come across with few provisions, as for a sea-battle, would look toward some one desolate land after another, and whether remaining would be besieged, or trying to sail through, would leave behind their other preparation and not having the surety of cities, whether they would be harboured, they would be disheartened. Such that I, in this reckoning, believe that those men, shut out, would not sail away from Corcyra, but either by deliberating and making use of spies, how many we are and in which land, would be driven out in time for winter, or assailed by the unexpected would disband the voyage, especially one of the most experienced of the generals, or so I hear, with the unwilling man leading, he would seize a pretext well-pleased, if anything of any worth was seen from us. We would be reported, I know this well, in exaggeration ; and the opinions of men are set in place according to what is said, and they fear more those who attack first or those who have plainly shown to those who try that they are defended, believing that they face a challenge equal to them. This would be the very thing the Athenians now experience. For they are coming against us as if we are not well-defended, having observed rightly that we did not despoil them with the Lacedaimonians ; if they were to see a bravado contrary to their expectation, they would be panic-stricken more by surprise than by the actual might. Therefore, obey this especially, and be bold, or if not, then that (you must) swiftly ready everything else for war, and instill in the minds of all that looking down on those approaching reveals itself in the prowess of deeds, whereas that acting as if for danger, believing men are most surefooted by making preparations with fear, this would turn out to be the most useful thing. These men are coming and are on the voyage I know well that they are already as much as here, even if they are not yet.”

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