November 13, 2016

Thucydides, Book Four: Declare Victory and Move On

The Spartans accordingly invite you to make a treaty and to end the war, and offer peace and alliance and the most friendly and intimate relations in every way and on every occasion between us; and in return ask for the men on the island, thinking it better for both parties not to hold out to the end, hoping that some favorable accident will enable the men to force their way out, or of their being compelled to succumb under the pressure of blockade.

Indeed if great enmities are ever to be really settled, we think it will be, not by the system of revenge and military success, and by forcing an opponent to swear to a treaty to his disadvantage; but when the more fortunate combatant waives his privileges and, guided by gentler feelings, conquers his rival in generosity and accords peace on more moderate conditions than expected.

Okay Athens, you win!

It is the ninth year (out of 27) of the war of which Thucydides was the historian. We could tie this baby up at the top of Book Four. jk could devote more time to studying Nick Lucas's Guitar Method. Ain't gonna study war no more -- it is not healthy for children and other living things and...

The Athenians dramatic victory at Pylos stuns the Spartans. A bit of pluck and a bit of luck gives Cleon command of an island right in Sparta's backyard and many of her most prominent citizens are captured. All the things Lacedaemonians truly fear are held against them; this defeat could be the domino that starts a helot (slave) uprising.

and now took the unusual step of raising four hundred horse and a force of archers, and became more timid than ever in military matters, finding themselves involved in a maritime struggle, which their organization had never contemplated, and that against Athenians, with whom an enterprise unattempted was always looked upon as a success sacrificed.

Sparta sends Herold -- excuse me a herald1 -- with generous terms for peace, essentially Sparta offers Athens equality in rank. In J.E. Lendon's "Song of Wrath" [Review Corner], this is held to be the reason for war.

The existence of books five through eight is a spoiler alert. There is much speechmaking, but, having the upper hand, Athens decides to press for more generous terms. Hence books five, six, seven and eight. Just as Pylos breaks Spartan ambitions, Athens goes on to be routed at Delium2 and exposed weakness of her less-than-solid alliances in the Chalcidice.

The modern line is "Take 'Yes' for an answer" and I frequently complain about political groups' failures in this area. Most recently, I see the gay rights movement in America enact a national right to marry after Obergefell. Eight years ago, neither Senators Clinton nor Obama would dare suggest it in a Democratic primary. The groups that existed to lobby, however, were staffed by their own Cleons and kept the movement alive to found the National Cake Police. They should have put up a trophy and let the Christian Right recover their dead under truce.

Indeed, there seemed to be no danger in so doing; their mistake in their estimate of the Athenian power was as great as that power afterwards turned out to be, and their judgment was based more upon blind wishing than upon any sound prediction; for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.

1 -- jokes like these and I still wonder why they won't approve any of my comments at the Roundtable.

2 -- I already was able to use this in a stunning piece of pedantry. Somebody asked if such-and-such was "the worst idea ever?" I replied "oh, I don't know. The Athenian attack on Delium was rather ill advised..."

Greek to me Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at November 13, 2016 11:28 AM

After vanquishing Hillary electorally, Rep. Chaffetz says the emailgate investigation must proceed, lest the denial of justice become an invitation to others. House majority leader Rep. Kevin "the investigations are politically motivated" McCarthy says, "We'll leave the matter to law enforcement and keep politics out of it."

Somewhere in there is the right answer - declare victory and use it to achieve the objectives you promised.

Posted by: johngalt at November 13, 2016 4:28 PM | What do you think? [1]