Home > Uncategorized > Fénelon: War is the most dreadful of all evils by which heaven has afflicted man

Fénelon: War is the most dreadful of all evils by which heaven has afflicted man

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon
From The Adventures of Telemachus (1699)
Translated by John Hawkesworth

“‘We hold, as thou seest, king, in one hand the sword, and an olive-branch in the other. Here are peace and war; make your choice. Peace has the preference in our estimation; it is for peace that we have yielded to thy people the delightful borders of the sea, where the sun renders the earth fertile, and matures the most delicious fruits. Peace is still more sweet than these fruits; and for peace we have retired to the mountains that are covered with eternal snow, where spring is decorated with no flowers, and autumn is enriched with no fruit. We abhor that brutality, which, under the specious names of ambition and glory, desolates the earth and destroys mankind. If thou hast placed glory in carnage and desolation, we do not envy, but pity the delusion, and beseech the gods that our minds may never be perverted by so dreadful a phrensy. If the sciences which the Greeks learn with so much assiduity, and the politeness of which they boast with such a conscious superiority, inspire them with desires so sanguinary and injurious, we think ourselves happy to be without these advantages. It will be our glory to continue ignorant and unpolished, but just, humane, faithful, and disinterested; to be content with little, and to despise the false delicacy which makes it necessary to have much. We prize nothing but health, frugality, freedom, and vigor both of body and of mind; we cultivate only the love of virtue, the fear of the gods, benevolence to our neighbors, zeal for our friends, integrity to the world, moderation in prosperity, fortitude in distress, courage to speak truth in every situation, and a just abhorrence and contempt of flattery. Such are the people whom we oflTer thee as neighbors and alUes. If thou shalt be so blinded by the gods in their displeasure as to reject them, experience shall teach thee, when it is too late, that those whose moderation inclines them to peace, are most to be dreaded when compelled to war…'”

*****

“All the misfortunes that you have suffered hitherto have not taught you what should be done to prevent a war. What you have yourself related of the candid integrity of these barbarians, is sufficient to show that you might have shared with them the blessings of peace; but pride and arrogance necessarily bring on the calamities of war.

“You have been afraid of making your enemies proud; but you have, without scruple, made them powerful, by an arrogant and injurious conduct, which has united innumerable nations against you. To what purpose are these towers, of which you have so pompously displayed the advantages, but to reduce all the surrounding nations to the necessity, either of perishing themselves, or of destroying you to preserve their freedom? You erected these towers for your security, but they are really the source of your danger.

“By attempting to appear powerful, you have subverted your power; and, while you are the object of enmity and terror to your neighbors from without, your strength is exhausted within, to maintain a war which this enmity and terror have made necessary…”

****

“Among other princes in this assembly I see Nestor. Thy years and wisdom, O Nestor, have acquainted thee with the calamities of war, even when it is undertaken with justice, and is favored by the gods. War is the most dreadful of all evils by which heaven has afflicted man. Thou canst never forget what was suffered by the Greeks, during the ten years they spent before the walls of Troy — what divisions among their chiefs! what caprices of fortune! what carnage from the hand of Hector! what calamity in distant cities, during the long absence of their kings! and what misfortunes at their return!”

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