The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 1

Author: Isocrates  | Date: 380 B.C.


On The Union of Greece to Resist Persia*
(380 B.C.)

Of the wars, indeed, the Persian was the most famous; the old achievements, however, are not less strong proofs for those who dispute about hereditary institutions. For when Greece was still in a lowly condition, the Thracians indeed came to our land with Eumolpus the son of Poseidon, and the Scythians with the Amazons the daughters of Mars, not at the same time, but at the time when each of them were rulers of Europe, hating, indeed, the whole race of the Greeks, but making charges against us separately, thinking that by this line of conduct they would incur danger against one state indeed, but would at the same time conquer all.

They did not, however, succeed, but having engaged with our ancestors separately, they were destroyed equally as if they had made war on all together. And the magnitude of the evils which befell them is manifest, for the speeches concerning them would never have lived on for so long a time had not also their achievements far excelled those of other men. It is recorded, then, concerning the Amazons, that not one of those who came went back again, while those who were left at home were driven out of their government on account of their calamity here; and concerning the Thracians, [it is said] that altho during the former times they dwelt beside us, on our borders, yet on account of that expedition they left so great an intervening space, that in the district between us, many nations and all kinds of races and great cities have been established.

Glorious indeed, then, are these things, and befitting those who dispute for the supremacy, but akin to what has been said, and such as it is natural that those sprung from such men would perform, were the exploits of those who waged war against Darius and Xerxes.

Always indeed, then, both our ancestors and the Lacedmonians acted in a spirit of rivalry to each other. Not but what in those times they contended for the most glorious objects, not thinking each other to be enemies, but rivals, not paying court to the foreigner with a view to the slavery of the Greeks, but being of one mind about the common safety, and engaging in acontest as to this, viz., which of the two shall be the authors of it. And they displayed their valor first, indeed, in the case of those sent by Darius. For when these had landed in Attica, the one did not wait for their allies, but making what was a common war a personal one, they went out to meet those who had treated contemptuously the whole of Hellas with their private force, a few against many myriads, as if about to brave the danger in the case of the lives of others, while the others no sooner heard of the war being in Attica than, neglecting everything else they came to assist us, making as great haste as if it was their own country which was being ravaged.

And after these things, when the subsequent expedition took place, which Xerxes led in person, after abandoning his palace and undertaking to become a general, and having collected all the men from Asia; and who, being anxious not to speak in extravagant terms, has spoken about him in language which fell short of the reality?—a man, who reached such a height of arrogance, that considering it to be a trifling achievement to subdue Greece, and wishing to leave behind such a monument as surpasses human nature, ceased not until he had devised and at the same time carried out by compulsion that which all talk of, so that with his armament he sailed through the mainland and marched over the sea, having bridged over the Hellespont and dug a canal through Athos. Against him, indeed,having such high thoughts, and having succeeded in accomplishing such great deeds and having become the lord of so many, they went forth, having divided amongst themselves the danger, the Lacedmonians indeed to Thermopyl against the land force, having selected a thousand of themselves, and taking along with them a few of their allies with the intention of preventing them in the narrow pass from advancing farther, while our fathers [went out] to Artemisium, having manned sixty triremes to meet the whole naval force of the enemy. And they had the courage to do these things, not so much through contempt of the enemy as from a spirit of rivalry with each other, the Lacedmonians indeed envying our state, for the battle at Marathon, and seeking to put themselves on an equality with us, and fearing lest our state should twice in succession become the author of deliverance to the Greeks, and our fathers wishing chiefly indeed to retain their present glory and to make it manifest to all that both in the former case it was through valor and not through fortune that they had conquered; in the next place also to induce the Greeks to maintain a sea-fight by showing to them that valor gets the better of numbers in naval dangers and enterprises equally as in those by land.

And to the king (of Asia), indeed, nothing is more important than to consider by what means we shall never cease warring against one another, while we are so far from bringing any of hisinterests into collision or causing them to be distracted by factions, that we even endeavor to assist in putting an end to the troubles which have befallen him through fortune; since we also allow him to make use of one of the two armaments in Cyprus, and to blockade the other, tho both of them belong to Hellas. For both those who have revolted are friendly disposed towards us and give themselves up to the Lacedmonians, and the most useful part of those who are serving with Tiribazus and of the land army have been collected from these districts, and the greater part of the navy has sailed along with them from Ionia, who would much more gladly have ravaged Asia in concert than have fought against one another on account of trifles. Of these things we take no thought, but we are disputing about the islands of the Cyclades, and thus heedlessly have we surrendered to the foreign foe cities so many in number and so great in magnitude. Therefore, he is in possession of some, and is on the point of [taking possession of] others, and is plotting against others, having despised all of us, and with good reason. For he has effected what no one of his ancestors ever did; for it has been agreed on, both by us and by the Lacedmonians, that Asia belongs to the king, and he has taken possession of the Grecian cities with such authority as to raze some of them to the ground, and in others to fortify citadels. And all these things have happened through our folly and not on account of his power.

Our citizens are at this time reconciled with all the others with whom they have been at war, and forget the hostility which has arisen, but to the inhabitants of the continent they do not feel grateful, even when they receive benefits [from them], so undying is the anger they feel toward them. And our fathers condemned many to death for favoring the Medes; and even at the present day, in their public assemblies, they make imprecations, before they transact any other business, on whomsoever of the citizens makes proposals for peace to the Persians. And the Eumolpid and the Heralds, in the celebration of the mysteries, on account of their hatred for them, proclaim publicly also to all other foreigners, as they do to homicides, that they are excluded from the sacred rites. And such hostile feelings do we entertain by nature toward them, that even in our legends, we occupy ourselves with most pleasure with those relating to the Trojan and Persian wars, by which it is possible to hear of their calamities. And one might finds hymns composed in consequence of the war against the foreigners, but dirges produced for us in consequence of that against the Greeks, and might find the former sung at the festivals, while we call to mind the latter in our calamities. And I think that even the poetry of Homer received greater honors, because he nobly extolled those who made war against the foreign foe; and that for this reason our ancestors wished to make his art honored, both in thecontests in poetry and in the education of the younger generation, in order that, hearing frequently his poems, we may learn by heart the enmity which existed toward them, and, emulating the deeds of valor of those who made war upon them, may set our hearts upon the same exploits as they achieved.

Wherefore there appear to me to be very many things which encourage us to make war against them, and especially the present favorable opportunity, than which nothing is more clear. And we must not let it slip. For, in fact, it is disgraceful not to use it when present, but to remember it when it is past. For what additional advantage could we even wish to have, if intending to go to war with the king, beyond what we already possess? Has not Egypt revolted from him, as well as Cyprus; and have not Phoenicia and Syria been devastated owing to the war; and has not Tyre, on account of which he was greatly elated, been seized by his enemies? And the majority of the cities in Cilicia those on our side possess, and the rest it is not difficult to acquire. But Lycia no one of the Persians ever conquered. And Hecatomnos, the overseer of Caria, in reality indeed has revolted for a long time already, and will confess it whenever we may wish. And from Cnidus to Sinope the Greeks inhabit the coasts of Asia, whom it is not necessary to persuade to go to war, but [only] not to prevent them.

And yet, as we already possess so many basesof operation, and as so great a war encircles Asia, what need is there too accurately to scrutinize what are likely to be the results? For where they are inferior to small portions, it is not uncertain how they would be disposed, if they should be compelled to war with all of us. Now the case stands thus. If, indeed, the king occupy in greater force the cities on the sea-coast, establishing in them greater garrisons than at present, perhaps also those of the islands which are near the mainland, as Rhodes and Samos and Chios, might lean to his fortunes; but if we be the first to seize them, it is probable that those inhabiting Lydia and Phrygia, and the rest of the country which lies above them, would be in the power of those who make these their base of operations. Wherefore it is necessary to hasten and to make no loss of time, that we may not suffer what our fathers did.

And it is fitting to make the expedition in the present age, in order that those who participate in the calamities may also have the enjoyment of the advantages, and may not continue to live unfortunate during all their lifetime. For the time past is sufficient—in which what horror is there which has not happened?—for, tho there are many evils already existing in the nature of man, we ourselves have invented in addition more than the necessary evils, having created wars and factions among ourselves, so that some are perishing lawlessly in their own cities, and some are wandering in a foreign land with theirchildren and wives, and many being compelled, through want of the daily necessaries of life, to serve as mercenaries, are dying fighting against their friends on behalf of their enemies. And at this no one has ever been indignant, but they think it becoming to shed tears at the calamities composed by poets, but, tho gazing upon many dreadful genuine sufferings happening on account of the war, they are so far from pitying them, that they even take more pleasure in the misfortunes of one another than in their own personal advantages. And perhaps, also, many might laugh at my simplicity, if I were to lament the misfortunes of individuals at such critical times, in which Italy has been devastated, and Sicily reduced to slavery, and so many cities have been surrendered to the foreigners, and the remaining portions of the Greeks are in the greatest dangers.

Now it is necessary to put out of the way these plottings, and to attempt those deeds from which we shall both inhabit our cities in greater security, and be more faithfully disposed to one another, and what is to be said about these matters is simple and easy. For it is neither possible to enjoy a secure peace, unless we make war in concert against the foreign enemy, nor for the Greeks to be of one mind until we consider both our advantages to come from one another, and our dangers to be against the same people.

But when these things have been done, and the embarrassment with regard to our means ofliving has been taken away, which both dissolves friendships and perverts relationships into enmity, and involves all men in wars and factions, it is not possible that we shall not be of one mind, and entertain toward one another genuine feelings of good will. For which reasons we must esteem it of the greatest importance how we shall, as soon as possible, banish the war from hence to the continent, as this is the only advantage we should reap from the dangers in fighting against one another, namely, if it should seem good to us to employ against the foreign foe the experience which we have derived from them.

And truly we shall not even annoy the cities by enrolling soldiers from them, a thing which is now most troublesome to them in the war against one another; for I think that those who will wish to stay at home will be much fewer in number than those who will desire to follow with us. For who, whether young or old, is so indifferent that he will not wish to have a share in this expedition, commanded indeed by the Athenians and Lacedmonians, but collected in defense of the liberty of the allies, and sent out by the whole of Hellas, and marching to take vengeance upon the foreign foe? And how great must we consider the fame, and the memory, and the glory which those will either have in their lives, or leave behind them in their deaths, who have been the bravest in such exploits? For where those who made war against Alexander, and captured one city, were deemed worthy of such praises, whatpanegyrics must we expect that they will obtain who have conquered the whole of Asia? For who, either of those able to write poetry, or of those who understand how to speak, will not labor and study, wishing to leave behind him a memorial for all ages, at the same time of his own intellect and of their valor?

*Supposed to have been first published at Olympia 880 B.C., and here abridged. It has been pointed out that, while the conquest of Asia by Alexander was not due to a union of Athens and Sparta, that achievement, in some other ways, was a justification of the plans advocated by Isocrates. Translated by Rev. James Rice. The writing and revising of this work are said to have been extended by Isocrates over a period of ten years.


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Chicago: Isocrates, "On the Union of Greece to Resist Persia* (380 B.C.)," The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 1, trans. Rev. James Rice in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 91–101. Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024,

MLA: Isocrates. "On the Union of Greece to Resist Persia* (380 B.C.)." The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 1, translted by Rev. James Rice, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. The World#8217;s Famous Orations, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 91–101. Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Isocrates, 'On the Union of Greece to Resist Persia* (380 B.C.)' in The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 1, trans. . cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.91–101. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from