The words to be pronounced above this grave, a tribute to Leosthenes the general and the others who have perished with him in the war, for the courage they have shown, have as their witness time itself . . . note nor better men than these now dead nor more resplendent actions. Indeed my greatest doubt today is lest my speech may prove unworthy of their exploits.
I am, however, taking heart in this assurance: that what I leave unsaid will be supplied by you who hear me; for my listeners will be no random audience but the persons who themselves have witnessed the actions of these men.
While praise is due to Athens for her policy, for choosing as she did a course not only ranking with her past achievements but even surpassing them in pride and honor, and to the fallen also for their gallantry in battle, for proving worthy of their forbears' valor, to Leosthenes the general it is doubly due; the city's guide in framing her decision, he was besides the citizens' commander in the field.
In the case of Athens, to recount in detail the benefits which she has previously conferred upon the whole of Greece would be a task too great to compass in the time we have, nor is the occasion one for lengthy speaking. Indeed it is not easy for a single man, faced with so many noble actions, to recall the full story to your minds. I shall, however, venture one general comment on her.
Compare her with the sun which visits the whole world and duly separates the seasons, disposing all things for the best, with provision, where men are virtuous and prudent, for their birth and nurture, the crops and all the other needs of life; for so our city never fails to punish the wicked, help the just, mete out to all men fairness in place of wrong, and at her individual peril and expense assure the Greeks a common safety.
To deal with the achievements of the city as a whole is, as I said before, a task which I shall not attempt, and I will here confine myself to Leosthenes and his companions. At what point, then, shall I take up the story? What shall I mention first? Shall I trace the ancestry of each?
To do so would, I think, be foolish. Granted, if one is praising men of a different stamp, such as have gathered from diverse places into the city which they inhabit, each contributing his lineage to the common stock, then one must trace their separate ancestry. But from one who speaks of Athenians, born of their own country and sharing a lineage of unrivalled purity, a eulogy of the descent of each must surely be superfluous.
Am I then to touch upon their education, and, as other speakers often do, remind you how as children they were reared and trained in strict self-discipline? None of us, I think, is unaware that our aim in training children is to convert them into valiant men; and that men who have proved of exceptional courage in war were well brought up in childhood needs no stressing.
The simplest course, I think, will be to tell you of their courage under arms, revealing them as authors of many benefits conferred upon their country and the rest of Greece. First I shall take the general, as is his due.
For Leosthenes perceived that the whole of Greece was humiliated and . . . cowed, corrupted by men who were accepting bribes from Philip and Alexander against their native countries. He realized that our city stood in need of a commander, and Greece herself of a city, able to assume the leadership, and he gave himself to his country and the city to the Greeks, in the cause of freedom.
After raising a mercenary force he took command of the citizen army and defeated the first opponents of Greek freedom, the Boeotians, Macedonians and Euboeans, together with their other allies, in battle in Boeotia.
Thence he advanced to Pylae note and occupied the pass through which, in bygone days as well, barbarians marched against the Greeks. He thus prevented the inroad of Antipater into Greece, and overtaking him in that vicinity, defeated him in battle and shut him into Lamia, which he then besieged.
The Thessalians, Phocians, Aetolians, and all the other peoples of the region, he made his allies, bringing under his control, by their own consent, the men whom Philip and Alexander gloried in controlling against their wish. The circumstances subject to his will he mastered, but fate he could not overpower.
Leosthenes must have first claim upon our gratitude for ever, not only for the acts performed by him, but also for the later battle, fought after his death, and for those other triumphs which the Greeks have gained in this campaign. For on the foundations laid by Leosthenes the subsequent success of his survivors rests.
Let no one fancy that I disregard the other citizens and keep my eulogy for him alone. The praise bestowed upon Leosthenes for these engagements is in fact a tribute to the rest. For though sound strategy depends upon the leader, success in battle is ensured by those who are prepared to risk their lives; and therefore, in the praise that I bestow upon the victory gained, I shall be commending not merely the leadership of Leosthenes but the courage of his comrades too.
For who could rightly grudge his praise to those of our citizens who fell in this campaign, who gave their lives for the freedom of the Greeks, convinced that the surest proof of their desire to guarantee the liberty of Greece was to die in battle for her?
One circumstance did much to reinforce their purpose as champions of Greece: the fact that the earlier battle was fought in Boeotia. note They saw that the city of Thebes had been tragically annihilated from the face of the earth, that its citadel was garrisoned by the Macedonians, and that the persons of its inhabitants were in slavery, while others parcelled out the land among themselves. And so these threats, revealed before their eyes, gave them an undaunted courage to meet danger gladly.
Yet the action fought near Pylae and Lamia has proved to be as glorious for them as the conflict in Boeotia, not solely through the circumstances of victory in the field, over Antipater and his allies, but on the grounds of situation also. The fact that this has been the battle's site will mean that all the Greeks, repairing twice a year to the council of the Amphictyones, will witness their achievements; for by the very act of gathering in that spot they will recall the valor of these men.
Never before did men strive for a nobler cause, either against stronger adversaries or with fewer friends, convinced that valor gave strength and courage superiority as no mere numbers could. Liberty they gave us as an offering for all to share, but the honor of their deeds they have bestowed upon their country as a wreath for her alone.
Now we might well reflect what, in our opinion, the outcome would have been, had these men failed to do their duty in the struggle. Must we not suppose that the whole world would be under one master, and Greece compelled to tolerate his whim as law? In short that Macedonian arrogance, and not the power of justice, would lord it among every people. . . . note
The practices which even now we have to countenance are proof enough: sacrifices being made to men; images, altars, and temples carefully perfected in their honor, while those of the gods are neglected, and we ourselves are forced to honor as heroes the servants of these people.
If reverence for the gods has been removed by Macedonian insolence, what fate must we conclude would have befallen the rules of conduct towards man? Would they not have been utterly discounted? The more terrible therefore we think the consequences would have been, the greater must be the praise which we believe the dead have earned.
For no campaign has better shown the courage of the soldiers than this last, when they had daily to be arrayed for combat, to fight, on but one expedition, more battles than the combats which any soldier of the past endured, note and face extreme severities of weather and many hard privations in the daily needs of life with an endurance almost beyond description.
Such trials Leosthenes induced the citizens to brave undaunted, and they gave up their persons gladly to share the struggle with so great a leader. Should they not then be counted fortunate in their display of valor rather than unfortunate in their sacrifice of life? For in exchange for a mortal body they gained undying glory, safeguarding by their personal courage the universal liberty of Greece. . . . note
If men are to be happy, the voice of law, and not a ruler's threats, must reign supreme; if they are free, no groundless charge, but only proof of guilt, must cause them apprehension; nor must the safety of our citizens depend on those who slander them and truckle to their masters but on the force of law alone.
Such were the aims with which these men accepted labor upon labor, and with the dangers of the passing hour dispelled the terrors which the whole future held for citizens and Greeks, sacrificing their lives that others might live well.
To them we owe it that fathers have grown famous, and mothers looked up to in the city, that sisters, through the benefit of law, have made, and will make, marriages worthy of them, that children too will find a passport to the people's hearts in these men's valor; these men who, far from dying—death is no word to use where lives are lost, as theirs were, for a noble cause—have passed from this existence to an eternal state.
For if the fact of death, to others a most grievous ill, has brought to them great benefits, are we not wrong indeed to count them wretched or to conclude that they have left the realm of life? Should we not rather say they have been born anew, a nobler birth than the first? Mere children then, they had no understanding, but now they have been born as valiant men.
Formerly they stood in need of time and many dangers to reveal their courage; now, with that courage as a base, they have become known to all, to be remembered for their valor.
On what occasion shall we fail to recollect the prowess of these men, in what place fail to see them win their due of emulation and the highest praise? What if the city prospers? Surely the successes, which they have earned, will bring their praises, and none other's, to our lips and to our memories. Shall we then forget them in times of personal satisfaction? We cannot; for it is through their valor that we shall have the safe enjoyment of those moments.
Will there be men of any age who will not count them blessed? What of the older generation, who think that through the efforts of these men they have been placed in safety and will pass the rest of their lives free from dread? Consider their compeers . . . note
Think, too, of the younger men and boys. Will they not envy their death and strive themselves to take as an example these men's lives, in place of which they have left behind their valor?
Ought we then to count them happy in so great an honor? note . . .
For if it is for pleasure that men recall such feats of courage, what could be more pleasing to Greeks than the praise of those who gave them freedom from the Macedonian yoke? Or if it is desire for profit that prompts such recollections, what speech could be of greater profit to the hearts of those about to hear it than one which is to honor courage and brave men?
With us and all mankind, it is clear, in the light of these reflections, that their fame is now assured, but what of the lower world? Who, we may well ask ourselves, are waiting there to welcome the leader of these men? Are we not convinced that we should see, greeting Leosthenes with wonder, those of the so-called demi-gods who sailed against Troy: heroes whom he so far excelled, though his exploits were akin to theirs, that they with all Greece at their side took but one city, while he with his native town alone brought low the whole power which held Europe and Asia beneath its sway?
They championed one lone woman wronged, but he staved off from all Greek women the violence coming upon them, aided by these men who now are being buried with him.
Remember the figures who, note born after the heroes of old, yet rivalled their deeds of valor, the followers of Miltiades and Themistocles, and those others who, by freeing Greece, brought honor to their country and glory to their lives;
whom Leosthenes so far outdid in bravery and counsel, that where they beat back the barbarian power as it advanced, he even forestalled its onslaught. They saw a struggle with the foe in their own land, but he defeated his opponents on the foe's own soil.
Those too, I fancy, who gave the people the surest token of their mutual friendship, Harmodius and Aristogiton, note do not regard . . . as Leosthenes and his comrades in arms; nor are there any with whom they would rather hold converse in the lower world than these. We need not wonder; for what these men did was no less a task than theirs; it was indeed, if judgement must be passed, a greater service still. Those two brought low the tyrants of their country, these the masters of the whole of Greece.
Noble indeed beyond our dreams was the courage these men attained, honorable and magnificent the choice they made. How supreme was the valor, the heroism in times of peril, which they, dedicating to the universal liberty of Greece . . .
It is hard no doubt to offer consolation to those borne down with griefs like these. For sorrows are not stilled by word or law; only the individual's temper, and the measure of his feeling for the dead, can set the limit to his mourning. Yet we must take heart, and restricting our grief as best we may, bear in our minds, with the thought of death, the glorious name which the fallen have left behind them.
For though their fate deserves our tears, their conduct claims the highest praise. Though they have failed to reach old age in life, they have achieved a fame which knows no age, and have attained the height of satisfaction. For all who were childless at their death the praises of the Greeks will be immortal children. For all who have children alive the goodwill of their country will be the children's guardian.
And furthermore, if death means non-existence, they have been released from sickness and from grief, and from the other ills which vex our human life. But if in Hades we are conscious still and cared for by some god, as we are led to think, then surely those who defended the worship of the gods, when it was being overthrown, must receive from him the greatest care of all. . . .