Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHETHER THE ATHENIANS WERE MORE RENOWNED FOR THEIR WARLIKE ACHIEVEMENTS OR FOR THEIR LEARNING. - The Morals, vol. 5
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WHETHER THE ATHENIANS WERE MORE RENOWNED FOR THEIR WARLIKE ACHIEVEMENTS OR FOR THEIR LEARNING. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 5 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 5.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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WHETHER THE ATHENIANS WERE MORE RENOWNED FOR THEIR WARLIKE ACHIEVEMENTS OR FOR THEIR LEARNING.
1. . . . These things he rightly spoke to the commanders that accompanied him, to whom he opened the way for future performances, while he expelled the barbarians and restored Greece to her ancient liberty. And the same thing may be said to those that magnify themselves for their writings. For if there were none to act, there would be none to write. Take away the political government of Pericles, and the naval trophies of Phormio at Rhium, and the brave achievements of Nicias at Cythera, Megara, and Corinth, Demosthenes’s Pylos, and the four hundred captives taken by Cleon, Tolmides sailing round the Peloponnesus, and Myronidas vanquishing the Boeotians at Oenophyta: and you murder Thucydides. Take away the daring braveries of Alcibiades in the Hellespont, and of Thrasyllus near Lesbos; the dissolution of the oligarchy by Theramenes; Thrasybulus, Archippus, and the seventy that from Phylae ventured to attack the Lacedaemonian tyranny; and Conon again enforcing Athens to take the sea: and then there is an end of Cratippus. For as for Xenophon, he was his own historian, relating the exploits of the army under his command, but saying that Themistogenes the Syracusan had written the history of them; dedicating the honor of his writing to another, that writing of himself as of another, he might gain the more credit. But all the other historians, as the Clinodemi, Diyli, Philochorus, Philarchus, were but the actors of other men’s deeds, as of so many plays, while they compiled the acts of kings and great generals, and thrusting themselves into the memory of their fame, partake of a kind of lustre and light from them. For there is a certain shadow of glory which reflects from those that act to those that write, while the actions of another appear in the discourse as in a mirror.
2. But this city was the mother and charitable nurse of many other arts and sciences; some of which she first invented and illustrated, to others she gave both efficacy, honor, and increase. More especially to her is painting beholden for its first invention, and the perfection to which it has attained. For Apollodorus the painter, who first invented the mixing of colors and the softening of shadows, was an Athenian. Over whose works there is this inscription:
Then for Euphranor, Nicias, Asclepiodorus, and Plistaenetus the brother of Phidias, some of them painted the victories, others the battles of great generals, and some of them heroes themselves. Thus Euphranor, comparing his own Theseus with another drawn by Parrhasius, said, that Parrhasius’s Theseus ate roses, but his fed upon beef. For Parrhasius’s piece was daintily painted, and perhaps it might be something like the original. But he that beheld Euphranor’s Theseus might well exclaim,
Euphranor also painted with great spirit the battle of Mantinea, fought by the cavalry between the Athenians and Epaminondas. The story was thus. The Theban Epaminondas, puffed up with his victory at Leuctra, and designing to insult and trample over fallen Sparta and the glory of that city, with an army of seventy thousand men invaded and laid waste the Lacedaemonian territory, stirred up the subject people to revolt, and not far from Mantinea provoked the Spartans to battle; but they neither being willing nor indeed daring to encounter him, being in expectation of a reinforcement from Athens, Epaminondas dislodged in the night-time, and with all the secrecy imaginable fell into the Lacedaemonian territory; and missed but little of taking Sparta itself, being destitute of men to defend it. But the allies of the Lacedaemonians made haste to its relief; whereupon Epaminondas made a show as if he would again return to spoiling and laying waste the country; and by this means deceiving and amusing his enemies, he retreats out of Laconia by night, and with swift marches coming upon the Mantineans unexpectedly, at what time they were deliberating to send relief to Sparta, presently commanded the Thebans to prepare to storm the town. Immediately the Thebans, who had a great conceit of their warlike courage, took their several posts, and began to surround the city. This put the Mantineans into a dismal consternation, and filled the whole city with dreadful outcries and hurly-burly, as being neither able to withstand such a torrent of armed men ready to rush in upon them, nor having any hopes of succor.
But at the same time, and by good fortune, the Athenians came down from the hills into the plains of Mantinea, not knowing any thing of the critical moment that required more speedy haste, but marching leisurely along. However, so soon as they were informed of the danger of their allies, by one that scouted out from the rest, though but few in respect of the number of their enemies, single of themselves, and tired with their march, yet they presently drew up into order of battle; and the cavalry charging up to the very gates of Mantinea, there happened a terrible battle betweeen the horse on both sides; wherein the Athenians got the better, and so saved Mantinea out of Epaminondas’s hands. This conflict was painted by Euphranor, and you see in the picture with what strength, what fury and vigor they fought. And yet I do not believe that any one will compare the skill of the painter with that of the general; or would endure that any one should prefer the picture before the trophy, or the imitation before the truth itself.
3. Though indeed Simonides calls painting silent poetry, and poetry speaking painting. For those actions which painters set forth as they were doing, those history relates when they were done. And what the one sets forth in colors and figures, the other relates in words and sentences; only they differ in the materials and manner of imitation. However, both aim at the same end, and he is accounted the best historian, who can make the most lively descriptions both of persons and passions. Therefore Thucydides always drives at this perspicuity, to make the hearer (as it were) a spectator, and to inculcate the same passions and perturbations of mind into his readers as they were in who beheld the causes of those effects. For Demosthenes embattling the Athenians near the rocky shore of Pylos; Brasidas hastening the pilot to run the ship aground, then going to the rowers’ seats, then wounded and fainting, sinking down in that part of the vessel where the oars could not trouble him; the land fight of the Spartans from the sea, and the sea engagement of the Athenians from the land; then again in the Sicilian war, both a land fight and sea engagement, so fought that neither had the better,* . . . So that if we may not compare painters with generals, neither must we equal historians to them.
Thersippus of Eroeadae brought the first news of the victory at Marathon, as Heraclides of Pontus relates. But most report that Eucles, running armed with his wounds reeking from the fight, and falling through the door into the first house he met, expired with only these words in his mouth, “God save ye, we are well.” Now this man brought the news himself of the success of a fight wherein he was present in person. But suppose that any of the goat-keepers or herd-men had beheld the combat from some high hill at a distance, and seeing the success of that great achievement, greater than by words can be expressed, should have come to the city without any wound or blood about him, and should have claimed the honors done to Cynaegirus, Callimachus, and Polyzelus, for giving an account of their wounds, their bravery and deaths, wouldst thou not have thought him impudent above impudence itself; seeing that the Lacedaemonians gave the messenger that brought the news of the victory at Mantinea* no other reward than a quantity of victuals from the public mess? But historians are (as it were) well-voiced relators of the actions of great men, who add grace and beauty and dint of wit to their relations, and to whom they that first light upon them and read them are indebted for their pleasing tidings. And being read, they are applauded for transmitting to posterity the actions of those that do bravely. For words do not make actions, though we give them the hearing.
4. But there is a certain grace and glory of the poetic art, when it resembles the grandeur of the actions themselves; according to that of Homer,
It is reported also, that when one of his familiar friends said to Menander, The feasts of Bacchus are at hand, and thou hast made ne’er a comedy; he made him this answer: By all the Gods, I have made a comedy, for I have laid my plot; and there remains only to make the verses and measures to it. So that the poets themselves believe the actions to be more necessary than the words, and the first things to be considered. Corinna likewise, when Pindar was but a young man and made too daring a use of his eloquence, gave him this admonition, that he was no poet, for that he never composed any fables, which was the chiefest office of poetry; in regard that strange words, figures, metaphors, songs, and measures were invented to give a sweetness to things. Which admonition Pindar laying up in his mind, wrote a certain ode which thus begins:
Which when he showed to Corinna, she with a smile replied: When you sow, you must scatter the seed with your hand, not empty the whole sack at once. And indeed we find that Pindar intermixes in his poetic numbers a collection of all sorts of fables. Now that poetry employs itself in mythology is agreed by Plato likewise. For a fable is the relation of a false story resembling truth, and therefore very remote from real actions; for relation is the image of action, as fable is the image of relation. And therefore they that feign actions fall as far behind historians as they that speak differ from those that act.
5. Athens therefore never bred up any true artist in epic or lyric verse. For Cinesias was a troublesome writer of dithyrambics, a person of mean parentage and of no repute; and being jeered and derided by the comedians, proved very unfortunate in the pursuit of fame.
Now for the dramatic poets, the Athenians looked upon comedy to be so ignoble and troublesome, that they published a law that no Areopagite should make any comedies. But tragedy flourished and was cried up, and with wonder and admiration heard and beheld by all people in those days, deceiving them with fables and the display of various passions; whereby, as Gorgias says, he that deceived was more just than he that deceived not, and he that was deceived was wiser than he who was not deceived. He that deceived was more just, because it was no more than what he pretended to do; and he that was deceived was wiser, for that he must be a man of no sense that is not taken with the sweetness of words. And yet what benefit did those fine tragedies procure the Athenians? But the shrewdness and cunning of Themistocles walled the city, the industry of Pericles adorned their citadel, and Cimon advanced them to command their neighbors. But as for the wisdom of Euripides, the eloquence of Sophocles, the lofty style of Aeschylus, what calamity did they avert from the city; or what renown or fame did they bring to the Athenians? Is it fitting then that dramatic poems should be compared with trophies, the stage with the generals’ office, or lists of dramas with noble achievements?
6. Would ye that we should introduce the men themselves carrying before them the marks and signals of their own actions, permitting them to enter in order, like the actors upon the stage? But then poets must go before them, with flutes and lyres, saying and singing:
And then there must be scenes, and vizards, and altars, and versatile machines. There must be also the tragedy-actors, the Nicostrati, Callippidae, Menisci, Theodori, Poli, the dressers, and sedan-men of tragedy, — like those of some sumptuously apparelled lady, or rather like the painters, gilders, and colorers of statues, — together with a costly preparation of vessels, vizards, purple coats, and machines, attended by an unruly rabble of dancers and guards; and let all the preparation be exceeding costly and magnificent. A Lacedaemonian once, beholding all this, not improperly said: How strangely are the Athenians mistaken, consuming so much cost and labor upon ridiculous trifles; that is to say, wasting the expenses of navies and of victualling whole armies upon the stage. For if you compute the cost of those dramatic preparations, you will find that the Athenians spent more upon their Bacchae, Oedipuses, and Antigone, and the woes of Medea and Electra, than in their wars against the barbarians for liberty and extending their empire. For their general oft-times led forth the soldiers to battle, commanding them to make provisions only of such food as needed not the tedious preparation of fire. And indeed their admirals and captains of their ships went aboard without any other provision than meal, onions, and cheese. Whereas the masters of the choruses, feeding their dancers with eels, lettuce, the kernels of garlic, and marrow, feasted them for a long time, exercising their voices and pleasing their palates by turns. And as for these captains, if they were overcome, it was their misfortune to be contemned and hissed at; and if they were victors, there was neither tripod, nor consecrated ornament of victory, as Demetrius says, but a life prolonged among cables, and an empty house for a tomb. For this is the tribute of poetry, and there is nothing more splendid to be expected from it.
7. Now then let us consider the great generals as they approach, to whom, as they pass by, all those must rise up and pay their salutations who have never been famous for any great action, military or civil, and were never furnished with daring boldness nor purity of wisdom for such enterprises, nor initiated by the hand of Miltiades that overthrew the Medes, or of Themistocles that vanquished the Persians. This is the martial gang, at once combating with phalanxes by land, and engaging with navies by sea, and laden with the spoils of both. Give ear, Alala, daughter of War, to this same prologue of swords and spears.
Hasten to death, when for your country vowed,
as Epaminondas said, — for your country, your sepulchres, and your altars, throwing yourselves into most noble and illustrious combats. Their victories methinks I see approaching toward me, not dragging after them a goat or ox for a reward, nor crowned with ivy and smelling of the dregs of wine. But whole cities, islands, continents, and colonies well peopled are their rewards, being surrounded with trophies and spoils of all sorts. Whose statues and symbols of honor are Parthenons, a hundred feet in length, South-walls, houses for ships, the Propylaea, the Chersonesus, and Amphipolis. Marathon displays the victory of Miltiades, and Salamis the glory of Themistocles, triumphing over the ruins of a thousand vessels. The victory of Cimon brings away a hundred Phoenician galleys from the Eurymedon. And the victory of Cleon and Demosthenes brings away the shield of Brasidas, and the captive soldiers in chains from Sphacteria. The victory of Conon and Thrasybulus walls the city, and brings the people back at liberty from Phylae. The victory of Alcibiades near Sicily restores the languishing condition of the city; and Greece beheld Ionia raised again by the victories of Neleus and Androclus in Lydia and Caria.
If you ask what benefit every one of the rest procured to the city; one will answer Lesbos, another Samos, another Cyprus, another the Pontus Euxinus, another five hundred galleys with three banks of oars, and another ten thousand talents, the rewards of fame and trophies won. For these victories the city observes public anniversary festivals, for these victories she sacrifices to the Gods; not for the victories of Aeschylus and Sophocles, not because Carcinus was victorious* with his Aerope, or Astydamas with his Hector. But upon the sixth of September, even to this day, the Athenians celebrate a festival in memory of the fight at Marathon. Upon the sixteenth of the same month libations are poured in remembrance of the naval victory won by Chabrias near Naxos. Upon the twelfth they offer thanksgiving sacrifices for the recovery of their liberty. For upon that day they returned back from Phylae. The third of the same month they won the battle of Plataea. The sixteenth of April was consecrated to Diana, when the moon appeared in the full to the Greeks victorious at Salamis. The twelfth of June was made sacred by the battle of Mantinea, wherein the Athenians, when their confederates were routed and fled, alone by themselves obtained the victory and triumph over their victorious enemies. Such actions as these procured honor and veneration and grandeur to the city; for these acts it was that Pindar called Athens the support of Greece; not because she had set the fortune of the Greeks upright by the tragedies of Phrynichus and Thespis, but because (as he says) “near Artemisium the Athenian youth laid the first glorious foundation of freedom;” and afterwards fixing it upon the adamantine pillars of Salamis, Mycale, and Plataea, they multiplied their felicity to others.
8. But as for the writings of the poets, they are mere bubbles. But rhetoricians and orators indeed have something in them that renders them in some measure fit to be compared with great captains. For which reason, Aeschines in derision reports of Demosthenes, that he said he was bringing a suit in behalf of the orator’s stand against the generals’ office.* But for all that, do you think it proper to prefer the Plataic oration of Hyperides to the Plataic victory of Aristides? Or the oration of Lysias against the Thirty Tyrants, to the acts of Thrasybulus and Archias that put them to death? Or that of Aeschines against Timarchus for unchastity, to the relieving of Byzantium by Phocion, by which he prevented the sons of the confederates from being the scorn and derision of the Macedonians? Or shall we set before the public crowns which Demosthenes received for setting Greece at liberty, his oration on the Crown, wherein the rhetorician has behaved himself most splendidly and learnedly, swearing by their progenitors that ventured their lives at Marathon for the liberty of Greece,† rather than by those that instructed youth in the schools? And therefore the city buried these heroes at the expense of the public, honoring the sacred relics of their bodies, not men like Isocrates, Antiphon, and Isaeus, and the orator has translated them into the number of the Gods; and by these it was that he chose to swear, though he did not follow their example. Isocrates also was wont to say, that they who ventured their lives at Marathon fought as if they had been inspired with other souls than their own; and extolling their daring boldness and contempt of life, to one that asked him (being at that time very aged) how he did, — As well, said he, as one who, being now above fourscore and ten years old, esteems death to be the worst of evils. For neither did he spend his years to old age in whetting his sword, in grinding and sharpening his spear, in scouring and polishing his helmet, in commanding navies and armies, but in knitting and joining together antithetical and equally balanced clauses, and words of similar endings, all but smoothing and adapting his periods and sentences with files, planes, or chisels. How would that man have been affrighted at the clattering of weapons or the routing of a phalanx, who was so afraid of suffering one vowel to clash with another, or to pronounce a sentence where but one syllable was wanting!
Miltiades, the very next day after the battle of Marathon, returned a victor to the city with his army. And Pericles, having subdued the Samians in nine months, derided Agamemnon that was ten years taking of Troy. But Isocrates was nearly three Olympiads (or twelve years) in writing his Panegyric; in all which time he had neither been a general nor an ambassador, neither built a city, nor been an admiral, notwithstanding the many wars that harassed Greece within that time. But while Timotheus freed Euboea from slavery, while Chabrias vanquished the enemy near Naxos, while Iphicrates defeated and cut to pieces a whole battalion of the Lacedaemonians near Lechaeum, while the Athenians, having shaken off the Spartan yoke, set the rest of Greece at liberty, with as ample privileges as they had themselves; he sits poring at home in his study, seeking out proper phrases and choice words for his oration, as long a time as Pericles spent in erecting the Propylaea and the Parthenon. Though the comic poet Cratinus seems to deride even Pericles himself as one that was none of the quickest, where he says of the middle wall:
Consider now the poor spirit of this great orator, who spent the ninth part of his life in compiling one single oration. But to say no more of him, is it rational to compare the harangues of Demosthenes the orator with the martial exploits of Demosthenes the great leader? For example, the oration against Conon for an assault, with the trophies which the other erected before Pylos? Or the declamation against Amathusius concerning slaves, with the noble service which the other performed in bringing home the Spartan captives? Neither can it be said, that Demosthenes for his oration in regard to foreigners . . . deserved as much honor as Alcibiades, who joined the Mantineans and Eleans as confederates with the Athenians against the Lacedaemonians. And yet we must acknowledge that the public orations of Demosthenes deserve this praise, that in his Philippics he bravely encourages the Athenians to take arms, and he extols the enterprise of Leptines. . . .
[* ]Il. II. 547.
[* ]The text of several lines which follow here is hopelessly corrupt, but it is evident that Plutarch refers to the description in Thucyd. VII. 71. (G.)
[* ]Thuycd. V. 73.
[† ]Odyss. XIX. 203.
[* ]Aristophanes, Frogs, 354.
[* ]I follow Baehr’s emendation (or rather substitution) ἐνίκα for συνῆν, which is demanded by the obvious sense of the whole passage. (G.)
[* ]See Aeschines against Ctesiphon, § 146.
[† ]Demosthenes on the Crown, p. 297, 11.