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For the Liberty of the Rhodians

15.1Your duty, men of Athens, when debating such important matters, is, I think, to allow freedom of speech to every one of your counsellors. Personally, I never thought it a difficult task to point out to you the best policy—for, to speak plainly, you all seem to me to have discerned it already—but rather to induce you to put it into operation; for when a resolution has been approved and passed, it is no nearer accomplishment than before it was approved. 15.2Now, it is one of the blessings for which, I think, the gods deserve your gratitude, that the same men who not long ago attacked you in the wantonness of their pride, now find in you alone the hope of their salvation. You ought to be delighted at your present opportunity, because, if you decide aright, you will in fact succeed, with honor to yourselves, in silencing the evil tongues that traduce our city. 15.3For we were charged by the Chians, Byzantines and Rhodians with plotting against them, and that was why they concerted the last war against us; but we shall be able to prove that whereas Mausolus, the prime mover and instigator in the business, while calling himself the friend of the Rhodians, has robbed them of their liberty, and whereas the Chians and Byzantines, who posed as their allies, never helped them in distress, 15.4it is to you, whom they dreaded, to you alone of all the states that they owe their deliverance. By making this clear to all, you will teach the democrats in every state to consider friendship with you as the pledge of their safety, and no greater advantage could you have than to win from all men their voluntary and unsuspecting goodwill.

15.5I am surprised to see the same men urging the city, in the interests of the Egyptians, to oppose the King of Persia, but dreading him where the Rhodian democracy is concerned. Yet everyone knows that the Rhodians are Greeks, while Egypt is a division of the Persian Empire. 15.6Some of you, I suppose, remember that when you were discussing Persian affairs, I was the first to come forward with advice, note and I believe I was the only speaker, or perhaps one out of two, to say that I should think it prudent in you not to make your hostility to the King the pretext for your preparations, but while equipping yourselves against your existing enemies, to defend yourselves against him too, if he attempted to do you wrong. Nor did I fail to convince you that I was right, but you, too, approved of my suggestion. 15.7My present speech, then, is the sequel of my former one. For indeed, if the King admitted me to his presence and asked me for my advice, I should give him the same that I gave you—to defend his own subjects, if any of the Greeks attacked them, but to claim no sovereignty over those who owed him no allegiance. 15.8Now if you make it a general principle, men of Athens, to abandon to the King all places that he has got into his power, whether by surprise or by deceiving some of the inhabitants, then your principle is, I think, a wrong one; but if you feel that in the cause of justice you are bound to go to war and face the consequences, then, in the first place, the more you are determined on such action, the less frequently will it be necessary, and secondly, you will be showing the proper spirit.

15.9To prove that there is precedent both for my proposal to free the Rhodians and for your action, if you adopt it, I will remind you of some things that you have done, and that successfully. You are the men, Athenians, who once sent Timotheus to the help of Ariobarzanes, note adding this clause to your instructions, “provided that he does not violate our treaty with the King.” Timotheus, seeing that Ariobarzanes was in open revolt from the King and that Samos was garrisoned by Cyprothemis, who had been stationed there by Tigranes, the King's viceroy, abandoned his intention of helping the satrap, but invested the island and used his force to liberate it; 15.10and to this very day you have not been involved in war on those grounds. For no one would go to war as readily for aggrandizement as for the defence of his own possessions; but while all men fight desperately to keep what they are in danger of losing, it is not so with aggrandizement men make it, indeed, their aim, but if prevented, they do not feel that they have suffered any injustice from their opponents.

15.11But since I believe that neither would Artemisia now oppose this action on our part, if our State were once committed to it, give me your attention for a little and consider whether my reasoning is sound or not. I think that if the King's designs in Egypt were meeting with any success, Artemisia would make a big effort to secure Rhodes for him, not from any goodwill towards him, but because, while he is in her neighborhood, she would like to put him under a great obligation, so that he may give her as cordial a recognition note as possible. 15.12But if the reports are true and he has failed in all his attempts, she must argue that this island would be of no use to him at present-which is true enough—but might serve as a fortress to overawe Caria and check any move on her part. Therefore I think she would rather that you had the island, if not too obviously surrendered by her, than that he should get it. I do not, indeed, expect that she will send any help to the Rhodian government, or if she does, it will be feeble and half-hearted; 15.13while as to the King, I should not like to say that I know what he is actually going to do, but that it is to our advantage that he should at once make it clear whether he is going to claim Rhodes or not—that I should maintain positively. For when he does claim it, you will have to take counsel, not for the Rhodians only, but for yourselves and all the Greeks.

15.14And yet, even if the party at present in possession held Rhodes by their own strength, I should not have advised you to take their side, even if they promised to do everything you wished. For I notice that at the start, in order to overthrow the democracy, they enlisted some of the citizens on their side, and when they had succeeded, sent them into banishment again. Now men who have been faithful to neither side could never, I am sure, become steadfast allies to you. 15.15Moreover I should never have made this proposal, had I thought that it would benefit the Rhodian democrats alone, for I am not the official patron of that party, nor do I count any of them among my private friends. Yet even if both these motives had been present, I should not have proposed it, if I had not thought that it would benefit you, since I share in your satisfaction at the fate of the Rhodians—if one who is pleading for their deliverance may be permitted to say so. For they grudged you the recovery of your rights, and now they have lost their own liberty; they spurned an alliance with you who are Greeks and their betters, and now they are slaves of barbarians, slaves of slaves, whom they admitted into their citadels. 15.16I am almost inclined to say, if you choose to help them, that this has been a salutary lesson for them; for in prosperity I doubt whether they would ever have chosen to show their good sense, being Rhodians, but when tested by experience and taught that folly is in most cases a fruitful source of evil, they may perhaps with luck grow more sensible for the future; and that I regard as no small advantage for them. Accordingly, I say that it is your duty to try to save them and to let bygones be bygones, remembering that you too have in many cases been led by schemers into errors, for none of which you would yourselves admit that you ought to pay the penalty.

15.17You may also observe, Athenians, that you have been engaged in many wars both with democracies and with oligarchies. You do not need to be told that; but perhaps none of you considers what are your motives for war with either. What, then, are those motives? With democracies, either private quarrels, when they could not be adjusted by the State, or a question of territory or boundaries, or else rivalry or the claim to leadership; with oligarchies you fight for none of these things, but for your constitution and your liberty. 15.18Therefore I should not hesitate to say that I think it a greater advantage that all the Greeks should be your enemies under democracy than your friends under oligarchy. For with free men I do not think that you would have any difficulty in making peace whenever you wished, but with an oligarchical state I do not believe that even friendly relations could be permanent, for the few can never be well disposed to the many, nor those who covet power to those who have chosen a life of equal privileges.

15.19Seeing that Chios and Mytilene are ruled by oligarchs, and that Rhodes and, I might almost say, all the world are now being seduced into this form of slavery, I am surprised that none of you conceives that our constitution too is in danger, nor draws the conclusion that if all other states are organized on oligarchical principles, it is impossible that they should leave your democracy alone. For they know that none but you will bring freedom back again, and of course they want to destroy the source from which they are expecting ruin to themselves. 15.20Now, all other wrongdoers must be considered the enemies of those only whom they have wronged, but when men overthrow free constitutions and change them to oligarchies, I urge you to regard them as the common enemies of all who love freedom. 15.21Then again, Athenians, it is right that you, living under a democracy, should show the same sympathy for democracies in distress as you would expect others to show for you, if ever—which God forbid!-you were in the same plight. Even if anyone is prepared to say that the Rhodians are served right, this is not the time to exult over them, for prosperous communities ought always to show themselves ready to consult the best interests of the unfortunate, remembering that the future is hidden from all men's eyes.

15.22I have repeatedly heard it said in this Assembly that when misfortune befell our democracy, note there were some people who urged that it should be restored, and of them I will here mention the Argives only, and that briefly. For I should be sorry if you, who are renowned for rescuing the unfortunate, should prove yourselves in this instance worse men than the Argives. They, being the immediate neighbors of the Lacedaemonians and seeing them masters of land and sea, did not hesitate or fear to show their goodwill to you, but actually carried a decree that the envoys, who, we are told, had come from Sparta to claim the persons of some of your refugees, should be denounced as enemies unless they took their departure before the setting of the sun. 15.23Then would it not be discreditable, men of Athens, if when the commons of Argos feared not the authority of the Lacedaemonians in the day of their might, you, who are Athenians, should fear one who is at once a barbarian and a woman? Indeed, the Argives might have pleaded that they had often been defeated by the Lacedaemonians, but you have beaten the King again and again, and have never been beaten either by his slaves or by their master himself; for if ever the King has gained some slight advantage over our city, he has done it by bribing the most worthless of the Greeks, the traitors to their cause, and never in any other way. 15.24And even that success has not benefited him, but you will find him at one and the same time using the Lacedaemonians to cripple our city, and struggling for his own crown against Clearchus and Cyrus. note So he has never beaten us in the field, nor have his intrigues gained him any advantage. I observe that some of you are wont to dismiss Philip as a person of no account, but to speak with awe of the King as formidable to those whom he marks as his enemies. If we are not to stand up to the one because he is contemptible, and if we yield to the other because he is formidable, against whom, Athenians, shall we ever marshal our forces?

15.25There are some among you, Athenians, who are very clever at pleading the rights of others against you, and I would just give them this piece of advice—to find something to say for your rights against others, so that they themselves may set the example of doing what is proper; since it is absurd for a man to lecture you about rights when he is not doing what is right himself, and it is not right that a citizen should have given his attention to all the arguments against you and to none in your favour. 15.26I beg you, in Heaven's name, to consider this point: why is there no man in Byzantium to dissuade his country-men from seizing Chalcedon, which belongs to the King and was once held by you, while the Byzantines have no shadow of a claim to it? Or from taking Selymbria, once an ally of yours, and making it tributary to themselves, and including it in the territory of Byzantium, contrary to all oaths and agreements which guarantee the autonomy of those cities? 15.27No one has come forward to dissuade Mausolus when he was alive, or Artemisia since his death, from seizing Cos and Rhodes and various other Greek states, which the King, their overlord, ceded by treaty to the Greeks, and for which the Greeks of those days faced many dangers and won much honor in the field. At any rate, if there is anyone to give advice to either of these powers, there are none, it seems, to profit by his advice. 15.28In my opinion it is right to restore the Rhodian democracy; yet even if it were not right, I should feel justified in urging you to restore it, when I observe what these people are doing. Why so? Because, men of Athens, if every state were bent on doing right, it would be disgraceful if we alone refused; but when the others, without exception, are preparing the means to do wrong, for us alone to make profession of right, without engaging in any enterprise, seems to me not love of right but want of courage. For I notice that all men have their rights conceded to them in proportion to the power at their disposal. 15.29I can cite an instance that is familiar to you all. The Greeks have two treaties note with the King, one made by our city and commended by all; and the later one made by the Lacedaemonians, which is of course condemned by all; and in these two treaties rights are diversely defined. Of private rights within a state, the laws of that state grant an equal and impartial share to all, weak and strong alike; but the international rights of Greek states are defined by the strong for the weak.

15.30Now, as you have already made up your minds to do right, you must take care that it is in your power to carry out your purpose; and it will be in your power, if you are accepted as the common champions of Greek liberty. But, inevitably, I think, it is very difficult for you to do all that is required. All other states have only their open enemies to contend with, and if they can beat them, there is nothing to hinder them from enjoying their advantage; 15.31but you, Athenians, have two struggles before you; one is the same that awaits the rest, but there is another and more serious struggle that comes before it, for you have got to defeat in your debates the faction that deliberately opposes the interests of your city. When, therefore, owing to this opposition, you can get nothing done without a struggle, the natural consequence is that you miss many advantages. 15.32If, however, there are many politicians who recklessly take up this position, perhaps the pay they receive from their employers is chiefly responsible, but nevertheless you too must bear some of the blame. For you ought to have the same feeling about the post a man occupies in politics as about the post he occupies in war. What feeling do I refer to? You consider that the man who deserts the post where his general has stationed him deserves to be disfranchised and deprived of his share in our common privileges. 15.33Then those who, by adopting oligarchical principles, abandon the post taken over by us from our ancestors, ought to be disqualified from ever giving you advice. As it is, you consider that those allies are most devoted to you who have sworn to regard your friends and your enemies as their own, but where politicians are concerned, you take as your most trusted advisers the men who, to your certain knowledge, have thrown in their lot with the enemies of the State.

15.34But indeed it is not difficult to find matter of accusation against these politicians or of reproach against the rest of you, but our real task is to find by what arguments and by what course of action our present faults may be amended. Perhaps it does not suit the present occasion to deal with every side of the question, but if you can by some fitting action give effect to the policy you have adopted, then there might possibly be, step by step, a general improvement. 15.35My own view is that you ought to grapple with these problems vigorously and act as becomes Athenians, remembering how gladly you hear a speaker praising your ancestors, describing their exploits and enumerating their trophies. Reflect, then, that your ancestors set up those trophies, not that you may gaze at them in wonder, but that you may also imitate the virtues of the men who set them up.

Demosthenes, Speeches (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose; rhetoric] [word count] [lemma count] [Dem.].
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