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Life of

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Life of

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Parallel Lives


published in Vol. V
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. V) Plutarch, The Parallel Lives

 p327  Comparison of Agesilaus and Pompey

(662) 1 1 Now that their lives lie spread before us, let us briefly run over the points in which the two men differed, and bring these together side by side. They are as follows. In the first place, it was in the justest manner that Pompey came to fame and power, setting out on his career independently, and rendering many great services to Sulla when Sulla was freeing Italy from her tyrants; 2 Agesilaüs, on the contrary, appeared to get his kingdom by sinning against both gods and men, since he brought Leotychides under condemnation for bastardy, although his brother had recognised him as his legitimate son, and made light of the oracle concerning his lameness. In the second place, Pompey not only continued to hold Sulla in honour while he lived, but also after his death gave his body funeral obsequies in despite of Lepidus, and bestowed upon his son Faustus his own daughter in marriage; whereas Agesilaüs cast out Lysander on the merest pretext, and heaped insult upon him. 3 And yet Sulla got no less from Pompey than he gave him, while in the case of Agesilaüs, it was Lysander who made him king of Sparta and general of all Greece. And, thirdly, Pompey's transgressions of right and justice in his political life were due to his family connections, for he joined in most of the wrongdoings of Caesar and Scipio because they were his relations by marriage; 4 but Agesilaüs snatched Sphodrias from the death which hung over him for wronging the Athenians, merely to gratify the love of his son, and when Phoebidas treacherously broke the peace with Thebes, he  p329 evidently made the crime itself a reason for zealously supporting him. In a word, whatever harm Pompey was accused of bringing upon the Romans out of deference to his friends or through ignorance, Agesilaüs brought as much upon the Lacedaemonians out of obstinacy and resentment when he kindled the Boeotian war.

2 1 Moreover, if we must assign to any ill-fortune of the two men the disasters which overtook them, that of Pompey could not have been anticipated by the Romans; but Agesilaüs would not permit the Lacedaemonians to guard against the "lame sovereignty," although they had heard and knew beforehand about it. For even if Leotychides had been ten thousand times convicted of being bastard and alien, the family of the Eurypontidae could easily have furnished Sparta with a king who was of legitimate birth and sound of limb, had not Lysander darkened the meaning of the oracle in the interests of Agesilaüs.

2 On the other hand, when we consider the remedy which Agesilaüs applied to the perplexity of the state in dealing with those who had played the coward, after the disaster at Leuctra, when he urged that the laws should slumber for that day, there was never another political device like it, nor can we find anything in Pompey's career to compare with it; on the contrary, he did not even think it incumbent upon him to abide by the laws which he himself had made, if he might only display the greatness of his power to his friends. But Agesilaüs, when he confronted the necessity of abrogating the laws in order to save his fellow-citizens, devised a way by which the citizens should not be harmed by the laws, nor the laws be abrogated to avoid such  p331 harm. 3 Further, I attribute also to political virtue in Agesilaüs that inimitable act of his in abandoning his career in Asia on receipt of the dispatch-roll. For he did not, like Pompey, help the commonwealth only as he made himself great, 663but with an eye to the welfare of his country he renounced such great fame and power as no man won before or since his day, except Alexander.

3 1 And now from another point of view, that of their campaigns and achievements in war, the trophies of Pompey were so many, the forces led by him so vast, and the pitched battles in which he was victorious so innumerable, that not even Xenophon, I think, would compare the victories of Agesilaüs, although that historian, by reason of his other excellent qualities, is specially privileged, as it were, to say and write whatever he pleases about the man. 2 I think also that in merci­ful behaviour towards their enemies the two men were different. For Agesilaüs was so bent on enslaving Thebes and depopulating Messenia, Thebes the mother-city of his royal line, and Messenia a sister colony to his country,​1 that he nearly lost Sparta, and did lose her supremacy in Greece; whereas Pompey gave cities to such of the pirates as changed their mode of life, and when it was in his power to lead Tigranes the king of Armenia in his triumphal procession, made him an ally instead, saying that he thought more of future time than of a single day.

3 If, however, it is the greatest and most far-reaching decisions and acts in war that are to determine preëminence in the virtues of leader­ship, then the  p333 Lacedaemonian leaves the Roman far behind. For, in the first place, he did not desert nor abandon his city, though the enemy attacked with an army of seventy thousand men, while he had only a few men-at‑arms, and these had recently been vanquished at Leuctra; 4 but Pompey, after Caesar had occupied a single city of Italy with only fifty-three hundred men, hurried away from Rome in a panic, either yielding ignobly to so few, or conjecturing falsely that there were more; and after conveying with him his own wife and children, he left those of the other citizens defenceless and took to flight, when he ought either to have conquered in a battle for his country, or to have accepted terms from his conqueror, who was a fellow-citizen and a relation by marriage. 5 But as it was, to the man for whom he thought it a terrible thing to prolong a term of military command or vote a consul­ship, to this man he gave the power of capturing the city and saying to Metellus that he considered him and all the rest of the citizens as his prisoners of war.

4 1 Furthermore, the chief task of a good general is to force his enemies to give battle when he is superior to them, but not to be forced himself to do this when his forces are inferior, and by so doing Agesilaüs always kept himself unconquered; whereas in Pompey's case, Caesar escaped injury at his hands when he was inferior to him, and forced him to stake the whole issue on a battle with his land forces, wherein Caesar was superior, thus defeating him and becoming at once master of treasures, provisions, and the sea, — advantages which would have brought his ruin without a battle had they remained in his enemy's control. 2 And that which is urged as an excuse for this failure is really a very severe  p335 accusation against a general like him. For that a youthful commander should be frightened by tumults and outcries into cowardly weakness and abandon his safest plans, is natural and pardonable; but that Pompey the Great, whose camp the Romans called their country, and his tent their senate, while they gave the name of traitors and rebels to the consuls and praetors and other magistrates at Rome, — 3 that he who was known to be under no one's command, but to have served all his campaigns most success­fully as imperator, should be almost forced by the scoffs of Favonius and Domitius, and by the fear of being called Agamemnon, to put to the hazard the supremacy and freedom of Rome, who could tolerate this? If he had regard only for the immediate infamy involved, then he ought to have made a stand at the first and to have fought to the finish the fight for Rome, instead of calling the flight which he then made a Themistoclean stratagem and afterwards counting it a disgraceful thing to delay before fighting in Thessaly. 6644 For surely Heaven had not appointed that Pharsalian plain to be the stadium and theatre of their struggle for the supremacy, nor was he summoned by voice of herald to go down thither and do battle or leave to another the victor's wreath; nay, there were many plains, ten thousand cities, and a whole earth which his great resources by sea afforded him had he wished to imitate Maximus, or Marius, or Lucullus, or Agesilaüs himself, 5 who withstood no less tumults in Sparta when its citizens wished to fight with the Thebans in defence of their land, and in Egypt endured many calumnies and accusations and suspicions on the part of the king when he urged him to keep quiet; but he followed his own best counsels as he wished, and  p337 6 not only saved the Egyptians against their wills, and by his sole efforts ever kept Sparta upright in the midst of so great a convulsion, but actually set up a trophy in the city for a victory over the Thebans, which victory he put his countrymen in the way of winning later, by keeping them then from the destruction into which they would have forced their way. Wherefore Agesilaüs was afterwards commended by those whom he had forced to take the path of safety, while Pompey, whom others had led into error, found accusers in the very ones to whom he had yielded. 7 And yet some say that he was deceived by his father-in‑law Scipio, who wished to appropriate to his own uses the greater part of the treasure which he had brought from Asia, and therefore hid it away, and then hastened on the battle, on the plea that there was no longer any money. But even if this were true, a general ought not to suffer himself to be so easily deceived, nor afterwards to put his greatest interests at hazard. In these matters, then, such is the way in which we regard each of the men.

5 1 And as to their voyages to Egypt, one went thither of necessity and in flight; the other for no honourable reason, nor of necessity, but for money, that what he got for serving the Barbarians as commander might enable him to make war upon the Greeks. Then again, as to the charges which we bring against the Egyptians for their treatment of Pompey, these the Egyptians lay at the door of Agesilaüs for his treatment of them. For Pompey trusted them and was wronged by them; while Agesilaüs was trusted by them and yet forsook them and went over to the enemies of those whom he had sailed to assist.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

1 Thebes was the birth-place of Heracles, from whom the Spartan kings were supposed to be descended; and Messenia, like Sparta, was settled by the Heracleidae.

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