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The work appears in pp489‑527 of Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1936. The Greek text and the English translation (by F. C. Babbitt) are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1964 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)
Plutarch's discussion whether the Athenians were more famous in war or in wisdom, sometimes referred to by a briefer title, De Gloria Atheniensium, is an epideictic oration like the preceding essays; we may perhaps infer from the words (345F), "This city has been the mother and kindly nurse of many other arts," that it was delivered at Athens. Like the preceding essays, it closes abruptly, and again we do not know the reason therefor.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his introduction to the translation of Plutarch revised by Goodwin, says, "The vigor of his pen appears in the chapter 'Whether the Athenians were more Warlike or Learned . . .' " It is strange that this vigour should be devoted to glorifying the men of arms and vilifying the men of letters, and yet this is precisely what Plutarch attempts to do in this essay. It is true that he lived in an era of profound peace, when the horrors of war were remote, but it is somewhat surprising to find him arguing for this thesis, especially since he shows by incidental statements that he is thoroughly aware of the contributions that Athens has made to literature. We may, then, be justified in the inference that the essay is a tour de force, like other rhetorical discussions which were p491 popular in Plutarch's day; it does not necessarily represent his own belief.a
Many of the historical references will be found in an amplified form in the Lives.
The essay is no. 197 in Lamprias's list of Plutarch's works where it bears the simpler title, "In what were the Athenians famous?" (Κατὰ τί ἔνδοξοι Αθηναῖοι;).b
p493 (345c) 1 1 . . . .Thus1 rightly spoke the great Themistocles to the generals who succeeded him, for whom he had opened a way for their subsequent exploits by driving out the barbarian host and making Greece free. And rightly will it be spoken also to those who pride themselves on their writings; for if you take away the men of action, you will have no men of letters. Take away Pericles' statesmanship, and Phormio's trophies for his naval victories at Rhium, Dand Nicias's valiant deeds at Cythera and Megara and Corinth, Demosthenes' Pylos, and Cleon's four hundred captives, Tolmides' circumnavigation of the Peloponnesus, and Myronides'2 victory over the Boeotians at Oenophyta — take these away and Thucydides is stricken from your list of writers. Take away Alcibiades' spirited exploits in the Hellespontine region, and those of Thrasyllus by Lesbos, and the overthrow by Theramenes of the oligarchy, Thrasybulus and Archinus and the uprising of the Seventy3 from Phylê against the Spartan hegemony, and Conon's restoration of Athens to her p495 power on the sea — Etake these away and Cratippus4 is no more.
Xenophon, to be sure, became his own history by writing of his generalship and his successes and recording that it was Themistogenes5 the Syracusan who had compiled an account of them, his purpose being to win greater credence for his narrative by referring to himself in the third person, thus favouring another with the glory of the authorship. But all the other historians, men like Cleitodemus, Diyllus,6 Philochorus, Phylarchus, have been for the exploits of others what actors are for plays, exhibiting the deeds of the generals and kings, and merging themselves with their characters as tradition records them, in order that they might share in a certain effulgence, so to speak, and splendour. FFor there is reflected from the men of action upon the men of letters an image of another's glory, which shines again there, since the deed is seen, as in a mirror, through the agency of their words.
2 1 This city, as we all know, has been the mother and kindly nurse of many other arts, some of which she was the first to discover and reveal, while to others she gave added strength and honour and advancement; not least of all, painting was enhanced and embellished by her. 346For Apollodorus the painter, the first man to discover the art of mixing colours and chiaroscuro, was an Athenian. Upon his productions is inscribed:
It were easier that you blame than try to make the same.7
p497 Euphranor, Nicias, Asclepiodorus, and Panaenus, the brother of Pheidias, some of them painted conquering generals, others battles, and still others the heroes of old. As, for example, Euphranor compared his own Theseus with that of Parrhasius, saying that Parrhasius's Theseus8 had fed on roses, but his on beef; for in truth Parrhasius's portrait has a certain delicacy and subtlety in its execution, and it does somewhat resemble Theseus; but someone, on seeing Euphranor's Theseus, exclaimed, not inaptly,
Euphranor has painted also, not without some animation, the cavalry battle against Epameinondas at Mantineia. The action came about in this way:10 Epameinondas the Theban, after the battle of Leuctra, was greatly elated, and conceived the desire to trample upon the prostrate Sparta, and grind her pride and self-esteem into the dust. And first he attacked with an army of seventy thousand, pillaged the Spartans' territory, and persuaded the Perioeci to revolt from them. Then he challenged to battle the forces that were drawn up in the vicinity of Mantineia; Cbut when they did not wish or even dare to risk an engagement, but continued to await reinforcements from Athens, he broke camp by night and, without being observed by anybody, descended into Lacedaemon and almost succeeded, by a sudden p499 attack, in capturing and occupying the city, which was without defenders. But when the Spartan allies perceived this, and aid for the city quickly arrived, he retired as though he were again about to turn to plundering and devastating the countryside. But when he had thus deceived his enemies and quieted their suspicions, he set forth by night from Laconia and, rapidly traversing the intervening territory, appeared to the Mantineans unexpectedly, while they also were engaged in discussing the right moment for sending aid to Sparta, Dand ordered the Thebans to arm straightway for the attack. Accordingly the Thebans, who took great pride in their skill at arms, advanced to the attack and encircled the city walls. There was consternation among the Mantineans, and shouting and running hither and thither, since they were unable to repulse this assembled force which was bursting upon them like a torrent, nor did any thought of possible succour occur to their minds. At this crucial and fateful moment the Athenians were descending from the heights to the plain of Mantineia, with no knowledge of this turn of fortune or of the keenness of the struggle, but were proceeding leisurely on their journey. However, when one of the Mantineans ran out with report of the danger, Ealthough the Athenians were few in comparison with the great numbers of their enemy, and although they were weary from their march, and none of their other allies was at hand, nevertheless they straightway took their places in battle-array with almost their whole number, while the cavalry donned their armour and rode ahead of p501 the rest, and under the very gates and the wall of the city engaged in a sharp cavalry encounter; the Athenians prevailed and rescued Mantineia from the clutches of Epameinondas.
This was the action which Euphranor depicted, and in his portrayal of the battle one may see the clash of conflict and the stout resistance abounding in boldness and courage and spirit. FBut I do not think you would award judgement to the painter in comparison with the general, nor would you bear with those who prefer the picture to the trophy of victory, or the imitation to the actuality.
3 1 Simonides, however, calls painting inarticulate poetry and poetry articulate painting:11 for the actions which painters portray as taking place at the moment literature narrates and records after they have taken place. 347Even though artists with colour and design, and writers with words and phrases, represent the same subjects, they differ in the material and the manner of their imitation; and yet the underlying end and aim of both is one and the same; the most effective historian is he who, by a vivid representation of emotions and characters, makes his narration like a painting. Assuredly Thucydides12 is always striving for this vividness in his writing, since it is his desire to make the reader a spectator, as it were, and to produce vividly in the minds of those who peruse his narrative the emotions of amazement and consternation which were experienced by those who beheld them. BFor he tells how Demosthenes13 is p503 drawing up the Athenians at the very edge of the breakwater at Pylos, and Brasidas is urging on his pilot to beach the ship, and is hurrying to the landing-plank, and is wounded and falls fainting on the forward-deck; and the Spartans are fighting an infantry engagement from the sea, while the Athenians wage a naval battle from the land. Again, in his account of the Sicilian14 expedition: "The armies of both sides on the land, as long as the fighting at sea is evenly balanced, are enduring an unceasing struggle and tension of mind" because of their battling forces; and "because of the continued indecisiveness of the struggle they accompany it in an extremity of fear, Cwith their very bodies swaying in sympathy with the opinion of the outcome." Such a description is characterized by pictorial vividness both in its arrangement and in its power of description; so, if it be unworthy to compare painters with generals, let us not compare historians either.
Again, the news of the battle of Marathon Thersippus of Eroeadae brought back, as Heracleides Ponticus relates; but most historians declare that it was Eucles who ran in full armour, hot from the battle, and, bursting in at the doors of the first men of the State, could only say, "Hail! we are victorious!"15 p505 and straightway expired. Yet this man came as a self-sent messenger regarding a battle in which he himself had fought; Dbut suppose that some goatherd or shepherd upon a hill or a height had been a distant spectator of the contest and had looked down upon that great event, too great for any tongue to tell, and had come to the city as a messenger, a man who had not felt a wound nor shed a drop of blood, and yet had insisted that he have such honours as Cynegeirus received, or Callimachus, or Polyzelus, because, forsooth, he had reported their deeds of valour, their wounds and death; would he not have been thought of surpassing impudence? Why, as we are told, the Spartans merely sent meat from the public commons to the man who brought glad tidings of the victory in Mantineia which Thucydides16 describes! And indeed the compilers of histories are, as it were, reporters of great exploits who are gifted with the faculty of felicitous speech, and achieve success in their writing through the beauty and force of their narration; Eand to them those who first encountered and recorded the events are indebted for a pleasing retelling of them. We may be sure that such writers are lauded also merely through being remembered and read because of the men who won success; for the words do not create the deeds, but because of the deeds they are also deemed worthy of being read.
Many the lies that he spoke, but he made them all to seem truthful.
p507 The story is also told that one of Menander's18 intimate friends said to him, "The Dionysian Festival is almost here, Menander; haven't you composed your comedy?" Menander answered, "By heaven, I have really composed the comedy: the plot's all in order. FBut I still have to fit the lines to it." For even poets considered the subject matter more necessary and vital than the words.
When Pindar was still young, and prided himself on his felicitous use of words, Corinna warned him that his writing lacked refinement, since he did not introduce myths, which are the proper business of poetry, but used as a foundation for his work unusual and obsolete words, extensions of meaning, paraphrases, lyrics and rhythms, which are mere embellishments of the subject matter.19 348So Pindar,20 giving all heed to her words, composed the famous lyric:
Ismenus, or Melia of the golden distaff,
Or Cadmus, or the holy race of men that were sown,
Or the mighty strength of Heracles,
Or the gladsome worship of Dionysus.
He showed it to Corinna, but she laughed and said that one should sow with the hand, not with the whole sack. For in truth Pindar had confused and jumbled together a seed-mixture, as it were, of myths, and poured them into his poem.21 That poetry concerns itself with the composition of mythological matters Plato22 also has stated. A myth aims at being a false p509 tale, resembling a true one; wherefore it is far removed from actual events,B if a tale is but a picture and an image of actuality, and a myth is but a picture and image of a tale. And thus those who write of imaginative exploits lag as far behind historians as persons who tell of deeds come short of those that do them.
5 1 Athens, to be sure, possessed no famous writer of either epic or melic poetry; for Cinesias23 seems to have been an infelicitous dithyrambic poet. He was himself without family or fame but, jeered and mocked by the comic poets, he acquired his share in unfortunate notoriety. And for the dramatic poets, the Athenians considered the writing of comedy so undignified and vulgar a business that there was a law forbidding any member of the Areopagus to write comedies. CBut tragedy blossomed forth and won great acclaim, becoming a wondrous entertainment for the ears and eyes of the men of that age, and, by the mythological character of its plots, and the vicissitudes which its characters undergo, it effected a deception wherein, as Gorgias24 records, "he who deceives is more honest than he who does not deceive, and he who is deceived is wiser than he who is not deceived." For he who deceives is more honest, because he has done what he has promised to do; and he who is deceived is wiser, because the mind which is not insensible to fine perceptions is easily enthralled by the delights of language.
What profit, then, did these fine tragedies bring to Athens to compare with the shrewdness of Themistocles which provided the city with a wall, with the p511 diligence of Pericles which adorned the Acropolis, Dwith the liberty which Miltiades bestowed, with the supremacy to which Cimon advanced her? If in this manner the wisdom of Euripides, the eloquence of Sophocles,25 and the poetic magnificence of Aeschylus rid the city of any of its difficulties or gained for her any brilliant success, it is but right to compare their tragedies with trophies of victory, to let the theatre rival the War Office, and to compare the records of dramatic performances with the memorials of valour.
6 1 Is it, then, your pleasure that we introduce the men themselves bearing the emblems and badges of their achievements, and assign to each their proper entrance? Then from this entrance let the poets approach, speaking and chanting to the accompaniment of flutes and lyres,
Whoever in words like these is unskilled and whose mind is not free from uncleanness,
Who never has sung and never has danced in the rites of the noble Muses,
Nor has ever been trained in the Bacchic rites of the tongue of bull-eating Cratinus!26
Let them bring with them their equipment, their masks and altars, their stage machinery, their revolving changes of scene, and the tripods that commemorate their victories. Let their tragic actors accompany them, men like Nicostratus and Callippides, p513 Mynniscus, Theodorus, and Polus, who robe Tragedy and bear her litter, as though she were some woman of wealth; or rather, let them follow on as though they were painters and gilders and dyers of statues.27 FLet there be provided also a bounteous outlay for stage furnishings, supernumeraries, sea-purple robes, stage machinery, as well as dancing-masters and bodyguards, an intractable crowd. It was in reference to all this that a Spartan28 not ineptly remarked that the Athenians were making a great mistake in wasting their energies on amusements, that is to say, in lavishing on the theatre what would pay for great fleets and would support armies in the field. 349For, if we reckon up the cost of each tragedy, the Athenian people will be seen to have spent more on productions of Bacchae, Phoenissae, Oedipuses, and Antigones, and the woes of Medea and Electra, than they spent in fighting for their supremacy and for their liberty against the barbarians. For the generals often ordered their men to bring along uncooked rations when they led them forth to battle; and the commanders, I can swear, after providing barley-meal and a relish of onions and cheese for the rowers, would embark them on the triremes. But the men who paid for the choruses gave the choristers eels and tender lettuces, roast-beef and marrow, and pampered them for a long time while they were training their voices and living in luxury. BThe result for the defeated choregoi29 was to p515 be held in contumely and ridicule; but to the victors belonged a tripod,30 which was, as Demetrius says, not a votive offering to commemorate their victory, but a last oblation of their wasted livelihood, an empty memorial of their vanished estates. Such are the returns paid by the poetic art and nothing more splendid ever comes from it.
7 1 But let us now review the generals in their turn, as they make entrance from the other side; and at their approach those who have had no part in deeds of valour or political life or campaigns must in very truth "speak not a word of evil sound and clear the way," whoever there be that lacks courage for such deeds as theirs and "whose mind is not free from uncleanness, nor has ever been trained in the Bacchic rites" Cthat are the handiwork of Miltiades, bane of Medes, and Themistocles, slayer of Persians. This is the rebel-rout of the god of war, with battalions on land and squadrons on sea, laden with mingled spoils and trophies:
Hearken, Alala, daughter of War,
Thou prelude of clashing spears, thou to whom are offered
Heroes in the holy sacrifice of death,31
as Epameinondas the Theban cried, when he and his men were dedicating themselves to the noblest and most resplendent of struggles for their native land, the graves of their fathers, and their holy shrines. I seem to see their victories advancing, not dragging p517 along a bull or a goat as their prize, nor garlanded with ivy and redolent of the lees of Dionysus; but whole cities are theirs, and islands, and even continents, temples costing a thousand talents,32 Dand colonies of vast population; and they are garlanded with all manner of trophies and spoils. Their ornaments and emblems are buildings like the Parthenon one hundred feet in length, southern Long Walls,33 dockyards, Propylaea, Chersonese, and Amphipolis.34 Marathon leads forward the Victory of Miltiades, and Salamis does the same for Themistocles' Victory, poised upon the wreckage of a thousand ships. Cimon's Victory brings an hundred Phoenician ships from the Eurymedon, and the Victory of Demosthenes and Cleon brings from Sphacteria the captive shield35 of Brasidas and his soldiers in chains. Conon's Victory fortifies the city with new walls, while that of Thrasybulus leads back from Phylê the people restored to freedom. EAlcibiades' Victories revive the city laid prostrate by her failure in Sicily. From the struggles of Neileus and Androclus36 about Lydia and Caria Greece came to see that Ionia was rising. If you inquire of the other Victories in turn what good came to the State from each, one will reply Lesbos, another Samos, another Cyprus, another the Euxine, another five hundred triremes, another ten thousand talents, to say nothing of the glory and the trophies which they won. These are the things which the city p519 celebrates in her festivals, for these she sacrifices to the gods, not for the dramatic victories of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Nor is the day celebrated when Carcinus37 was successful with his Aëropê, or Astydamas38 with his Hector, but even yet the State celebrates the victory at Marathon on the sixth of Boëdromion.39 FOn the sixteenth of this month they pour a libation of wine in memory of Chabrias's victory at Naxos.40 On the twelfth they used to sacrifice thank-offerings for the recovery of their liberty, for on that day the exiles returned from Phylê.41 On the third they won the battle of Plataeae.42 The sixteenth of Munichion they dedicated to Artemis, for on that day the goddess shone with full moon upon the Greeks as they were conquering at Salamis. 350The conflict at Mantineia43 has made the twelfth of Scirophorionº more sacred; for in this battle, when the other allies were overpowered and routed, it was that Athenians alone who defeated the force opposed to them and erected a trophy taken from the victorious enemy. These are the things which have uplifted Athens to heights of glory and greatness; it was for these that Pindar44a addressed Athens as
The mainstay of Greece,
not because she had guided the Greeks aright with p521 the tragedies of Phrynichus and Thespis, but because, as he himself says, first at Artemisium
Sons of the Athenians laid the far-shining foundation of freedom.44b
BAnd when at Salamis and Mycalê and Plataeae they had firmly established, as in adamant, the liberty of Greece, they handed it down to all mankind.
8 1 But the compositions of the poets we may affirm to be but a childish pastime; orators, however, have some claim when compared with generals; wherefore with good reason Aeschines45 asserts derisively that Demosthenes declares that he will enter a suit for possession on behalf of the Speakers' Platform against the War Office. Is it, then, right to prefer Hypereides' Plataean oration to Aristeides' victory at Plataea? Or Lysias's speech against the Thirty46 to Thrasybulus's and Archinus's slaughter of those tyrants? Or Aeschines' oration against Timarchus's wanton ways Cto Phocion's expedition to Byzantium,47 by which he prevented the sons of Athenian allies from becoming victims of the wantonness and drunken lust of Macedonians? Or with the crowns48 which the Athenian people in common received when they had given freedom to Greece shall we compare p523 Demosthenes' oration On the Crown? For in this speech the orator has made this matter exceedingly perspicuous and intelligible in taking his oath "by the memory of those of our ancestors who risked their lives for us at Marathon,"49 not by the teachers who in the schools gave them as youths their early training.
Wherefore the State has given public burial not to men like Isocrates, Antiphon,c and Isaeus, but to these men, whose remains she has taken in her embrace; Dand these men it was that the orator deified in his oath when he swore by men whose example he was not following.50 But Isocrates, although he had declared51 that those who had risked their lives at Marathon and fought as though their souls were not their own, and although he had hymned their daring and their contempt of life, himself (so they say), when he was already an old man,52 replied to someone who asked him how he was getting on, "Even as does a man over ninety years of age who considers death the greatest of evils." For he had not grown old sharpening his sword nor whetting his spear-point nor polishing his helmet nor campaigning nor pulling at the oar, but in glueing together and arranging antitheses, balanced clauses, and inflexional similarities, Eall but smoothing off and proportioning his periods with chisel and file. How could this person do other than fear the clash of arms and the impact of phalanxes, he who feared to let vowel collide with vowel, or to p525 utter a phrase whose balance was upset by the lack of a single syllable?53 For Miltiades set forth for Marathon, joined battle the next day, and returned victorious with his army to the city; and Pericles,54 when he had subdued the Samians in nine months, was prouder of his achievement than was Agamemnon, who captured Troy in the tenth year. But Isocrates consumed almost twelve years in writing his Panegyric;55 and during this period Fhe took part in no campaigns, nor served on any embassy, nor founded any city, nor was dispatched as commander of a fleet, although this era brought forth countless wars. But while Timotheus was freeing Euboea, and Chabrias56 with his fleet was fighting at Naxos, and Iphicrates near Lechaeum was cutting to pieces the Spartan division,57 and the Athenian people, having liberated every city, 351bestowed upon Greece equal suffrage with themselves, Isocrates sat at home remodelling a book with mere words, as long a time as sufficed for Pericles to erect the Propylaea and his temples a hundred feet long. Yet Cratinus58 pokes fun even at Pericles for his slowness in accomplishing his undertakings, and remarks somewhat as follows about his Middle Wall:59
Pericles in his talk makes the wall to advance,
By his acts he does nothing to budge it.
But consider the petty spirit of this sophist, which p527 caused the ninth part of his life to be spent on the composition of one speech. Is it, then, greatly worth our while to compare the speeches of the orator Demosthenes with the deeds of Demosthenes the general? To compare the speech Against Conon60 for assault and battery with Demosthenes' trophies won at Pylos? BTo compare the speech directed at Arethusius61 on the slaves with Demosthenes' reduction of the Spartans to slavery? The orator's age when he wrote his speeches against his guardians62 was the same as that of Alcibiades when he united the Mantineans and Eleans against Sparta.63 And indeed Demosthenes' public orations have this wonderful characteristic: in the Philippics he spurs his countrymen on to action and he praises the action of Leptines.64
Thayer's Note: I suspect we're missing far more than a leadoff remark: see my note below.
3 Cf. Xenophon, Hellenica, II.4.2.
4 An historian who continued Thucydides, claiming to be his contemporary (see E. Schwartz, Hermes, XLIV.496).
5 Cf. Xenophon, Hellenica, III.1.2; M. MacLaren, Trans. Amer. Phil. Assoc. LXV (1934) pp240‑247.
6 Cf. Moralia, 862B; Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. II.360‑361.
9 Homer, Il. II.547.
18 Cf. the Scholia Cruquiana on Horace, Ars Poetica, 311.
19 Cf. Moralia 769C.
20 Pindar, Frag. 29, ed. Christ; ed. Sandys (L. C. L.) p512; cf. Lucian, Demosthenis Encomium, 19.
21 Edmonds's version (Lyra Graeca, III p7) of this famous passage is incomprehensible to me.
23 Cf. Moralia, 1141E; Aristophanes, Birds, 1373 ff.; Frogs, 366; Ecclesiazusae, 327 ff.; Plato, Gorgias, 502A. Athenaeus, 551D, quotes from an oration of Lysias against him; but even though unpopular he was at least witty; Cf. Moralia, 22A (170A).
27 That is, a tragedy is an unadorned statue. The actors supply the decoration: encaustic paint, gold-leaf, and dye.
29 The choregoi, the men who trained the tragic choruses at Athens, lavished their private resources on the festival competitions; but the victor had merely a tripod awarded to him to show for all his vast expenditure, the loser worse than nothing.
Thayer's Note: in 2009, very roughly $15,000,000.
37 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p797.
38 Ibid. p778.
45 Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon, 146.
46 The speech Against Eratosthenes.
48 Whether "the crowns of Conon" or "the crowns received by the Athenian people" should be read is hard to decide. In favour of Conon may be quoted Demosthenes, xx.69‑70; and in favour of the Athenian people (as well as Conon and Chabrias), Demosthenes, xxii.616, and xxiv.180.
49 Quoted from De Corona, 208.
57 Cf. Demosthenes, Oration xxiii.198.
60 Demosthenes, Oration LIV.
61 Ibid. LIII.
62 Ibid. XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX.
64 Wyttenbach is probably correct in regarding the text of this last paragraph as too corrupt and disjointed for any certain correction and interpretation. The statement concerning Leptines is certainly wrong (cf. Demosthenes, Oration XX); but it may have been set right in the context, for the ending is surely missing.
a The Loeb editor, a literary man, cannot believe that Plutarch, another literary man, might really think writers and artists less important in the general scheme of things than those who allow those writers and artists to flourish. I think we can do better than that.
It's true that the points made in the essay have a paradoxical feel about them, and are somewhat pushed, and also true that we shouldn't expect Plutarch to be making them. One solution to the problem, to be sure, is the one chosen by the Loeb editor: Plutarch didn't mean what he wrote, it's just an exercise. This is a very weak idea, though; although some Greeks made just such exercises their stock in trade — defend an absurd position for the sheer virtuosic effect of it — Plutarch is no sophist and isn't given to that. Building on the same train of thought, though, another and better way out might be to decide that the essay is not by Plutarch, since several of the works collected as Plutarch are almost certainly not by him. Alas, I don't think this is one of them: it has much the same feel as his best stuff.
Everyone does agree, however, that we don't have the full text of what he wrote; and that fact, to my mind, opens us up to the real solution: what we will read on this page is only the thesis, or more probably the antithesis, of the essay — the other, and the synthesis, are missing. Restoring the thesis is obvious enough: how great is Athens, with her poetry, her tragedies, her paintings, which we owe to her men of letters and her artists! To which Themistocles' remark would provide the opening rebuttal, followed by what we have above, the antithesis: how great is Athens, her freedom, her heroism and selflessness, which we owe to her soldiers and her generals! without whom the other wouldn't so much as exist.
Plutarch's synthesis can only be guessed at, but here is what I would have written, starting in the mouth of the first speaker — surely this essay was once a dialogue — and reaching its conclusion on common ground, maybe with a final prayer to Zeus. With apologies to Plutarch, then, who would have said it better, and at greater length:
But there is no virtue in winning battles, capturing land and killing men; the virtue of armies and military leaders in a free state [and Athens was certainly one of the freest states that ever was] is to place themselves at the service of its people's ideals. Armies that fight just for the pleasure of fighting, and generals who attack for the mere sake of conquering or gaining "glory" are nothing short of monstrous, as we have seen countless times in human history: without the ideals of thinkers and artists, it's the glory of the soldier that wouldn't so much as exist.
The artist and the professional soldier can only agree: the heart and core of a people lies in our ideals and in the extent we approach Truth and Virtue. What our thinkers and artists create, our soldiers preserve from the forces of destruction and evil, and together they are partners — let neither group think for an instant that it stands alone or, worse yet, hold the other in contempt and deem itself better. May Athens truly be a city on a hill: may she perfect and extend her glory and share it with the world.
In sum, without Patton and Eisenhower, Schwartzkopf and Petraeus, no Ezra Pound or Flannery O'Connor, no Andy Warhol or Philip Glass. But without these and others like them, giving voice to Truth and Beauty as they see them, nothing to defend, nothing worth fighting for. As Rabbi Hillel said (Pirke Avot 1:14), "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?"
b I would prefer to translate the title of the essay "In What Did the Glory of the Athenians Consist?"
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