Octave Mirbeau: It was not enough that war should glut itself with human flesh, it was necessary that it should also devour beasts, the earth itself, everything that lived in the calm and peace of labor and love
From Numa Pompelius
Translated by John Dryden
“…The very points of my character that are most commended mark me as unfit to reign, love of retirement and of studies inconsistent with business, a passion that has become inveterate in me for peace, for unwarlike occupations, and for the society of men whose meetings are but those of worship and of kindly intercourse, whose lives in general are spent upon their farms and their pastures. I should but be, methinks, a laughingstock, while I should go about to inculcate the worship of the gods and give lessons in the love of justice and the abhorrence of violence and war, to a city whose needs are rather for a captain than for a king.”
When Numa had, by such measures, won the favour and affection of the people, he set himself without delay to the task of bringing the hard and iron Roman temper to somewhat more of gentleness and equity. Plato’s expression of a city in high fever was never more applicable than to Rome at that time; in its origin formed by daring and warlike spirits, whom bold and desperate adventure brought thither from every quarter, it had found in perpetual wars and incursions on its neighbours its after sustenance and means of growth, and in conflict with danger the source of new strength; like piles, which the blows of the hammer serve to fix into the ground. Wherefore Numa, judging it no slight undertaking to mollify and bend to peace the presumptuous and stubborn spirits of this people, began to operate upon them with the sanctions of religion. He sacrificed often and used processions and religious dances, in which most commonly he officiated in person; by such combinations of solemnity with refined and humanizing pleasures, seeking to win over and mitigate their fiery and warlike tempers…
It was he, also, that built the temples of Faith and Terminus, and taught the Romans that the name of Faith was the most solemn oath that they could swear. They still use it; and to the god Terminus, or Boundary, they offer to this day both public and private sacrifices, upon the borders and stone-marks of their land; living victims now, though anciently those sacrifices were solemnized without blood; for Numa reasoned that the god of boundaries, who watched over peace, and testified to fair dealing, should have no concern with blood. It is very clear that it was this king who first prescribed bounds to the territory of Rome; for Romulus would but have openly betrayed how much he had encroached on his neighbours’ lands, had he ever set limits to his own; for boundaries are, indeed, a defence to those who choose to observe them, but are only a testimony against the dishonesty of those who break through them. The truth is, the portion of lands which the Romans possessed at the beginning was very narrow, until Romulus enlarged them by war; all those acquisitions Numa now divided amongst the indigent commonalty, wishing to do away with that extreme want which is a compulsion to dishonesty, and, by turning the people to husbandry, to bring them, as well as their lands, into better order. For there is no employment that gives so keen and quick a relish for peace as husbandry and a country life, which leave in men all that kind of courage that makes them ready to fight in defence of their own, while it destroys the licence that breaks out into acts of injustice and rapacity. Numa, therefore, hoping agriculture would be a sort of charm to captivate the affections of his people to peace, and viewing it rather as a means to moral than to economical profit, divided all the lands into several parcels, to which he gave the name of pagus, or parish, and over every one of them he ordained chief overseers; and, taking a delight sometimes to inspect his colonies in person, he formed his judgment of every man’s habits by the results; of which being witness himself, he preferred those to honours and employments who had done well, and by rebukes and reproaches incited the indolent and careless to improvement.
Numa, also, was founder of several other orders of priests, two of which I shall mention, the Salii and the Fecials, which are among the clearest proofs of the devoutness and sanctity of his character. These Fecials, or guardians of peace, seem to have had their name from their office, which was to put a stop to disputes by conference and speech; for it was not allowable to take up arms until they had declared all hopes of accommodation to be at an end, for in Greek, too, we call it peace when disputes are settled by words, and not by force…
British writers on peace and war
Translated by Walter C.A. Ker
Marcellinus, true offspring of a good father, you who the numbing Bear covers with her Parrhasian car, hear what an old friend, and your father’s, wishes for you, and keep those prayers in a remembering heart. See that your valour be wary; let not rash ardour bear you into the midmost fray of swords and savage spears. Let those who lack sense be eager for wars and fierce Mars…
Marcelline, boni suboles sincera parentis,
horrida Parrhasio quem tegit ursa iugo,
ille uetus pro te patriusque quid optet amicus
accipe et haec memori pectore uota tene:
causa sit ut uirtus nec te temerarius ardor
in medios enses saeuaque tela ferat.
Bella uellint Martemque ferum rationis egentes…
“O manners! O times!” cried Tully once when Catiline was planning his sacrilegious crime, when son-in-law and father-in-law were clashing in dreadful war and the weeping earth was drenched with civil carnage. Why do you now cry “O manners!” why now “O times!” What is it displeases you, Caecilianus? No savagery of captains is here, no frenzy of the sword: we may enjoy unbroken peace and pleasure. ‘Tis not our manners that make your times despicable to you, but your own manners, Caecilianus, make them so.
Dixerat ‘o mores! o tempora!’ Tullius olim,
sacrilegum strueret cum Catalina nefas,
cum gener atque socer diris concurreret armis
niaestaque civili caede maderet humus,
cur nunc ‘o mores!’ cur nunc ‘o tempora!’ dicis?
quod tibi non placeat, Caeciliane, quid est ?
nulla ducum feritas, nulla est insania ferri;
pace frui certa laetitiaque licet,
non nostri faciunt tibi quod tua tempora sordent,
sed faciunt mores, Caeciliane, tui.
From On the Embassy
Translated by Charles Darwin Adams
Though the blessings we were enjoying were so great, we again brought war against the Lacedaemonians, persuaded by the Argives; and at last, in consequence of the eagerness of our public men for war, we sank so low as to see a Spartan garrison in our city, and the Four Hundred, and the Impious Thirty; and it was not the making of peace that caused this, but we were forced by orders laid upon us. But when again a moderate government had been established, and the exiled democracy had come back from Phyle, with Archinus and Thrasybolus as the leaders of the popular party, we took the solemn oath with one another “to forgive and forget” – an act which, in the judgment of all men, won for our state the reputation of the highest wisdom. The democracy then took on new life and vigour. But now men who have been illegally registered as citizens, constantly attaching themselves to whatever element in the city is corrupt, and following a policy of war after war, in peace ever prophesying danger, and so working on ambitions and over-excitable minds, yet when war comes never touching arms themselves, but getting into office as auditors and naval commissioners – men whose mistresses are the mothers of their offspring, and whose slanderous tongues ought to disenfranchise them – these men are bringing the state into extreme peril, fostering the name of democracy, not by their character, but by their flatteries, trying to put an end to the peace, wherein lies the safety of the democracy, and in every way fomenting war, the destroyer of popular government.
Translated by H. G. Dakyns
[H]e was condemned to death by the Spartan authorities for disobedience to orders; and now, finding himself an exile, he came to Cyrus. Working on the feelings of that prince…he received from his entertainer a present of ten thousand darics. Having got this money, he did not sink into a life of ease and indolence, but collected an army with it, carried on war against the Thracians, and conquered them in battle, and from that date onwards harried and plundered them with war incessantly, until Cyrus wanted his army; whereupon he at once went off, in hopes of finding another sphere of warfare in his company.
These, I take it, were the characteristic acts of a man whose affections are set on warfare. When it is open to him to enjoy peace with honour, no shame, no injury attached, still he prefers war; when he may live at home at ease, he insists on toil, if only it may end in fighting; when it is given to him to keep his riches without risk, he would rather lessen his fortune by the pastime of battle. To put it briefly, war was his mistress; just as another man will spend his fortune on a favourite, or to gratify some pleasure, so he chose to squander his substance on soldiering.
After this they marched into the country of the Taochians five stages – thirty parasangs – and provisions failed; for the Taochians lived in strong places, into which they had carried up all their stores. Now when the army arrived before one of these strong places – a mere fortress, without city or houses, into which a motley crowd of men and women and numerous flocks and herds were gathered – Cheirisophus attacked at once…
And here a terrible spectacle displayed itself: the women first cast their infants down the cliff, and then they cast themselves after their fallen little ones, and the men likewise. In such a scene, Aeneas the Stymphalian, an officer, caught sight of a man with a fine dress about to throw himself over, and seized hold of him to stop him; but the other caught him to his arms, and both were gone in an instant headlong down the crags, and were killed. Out of this place the merest handful of human beings were taken prisoners, but cattle and asses in abundance and flocks of sheep.
Octave Mirbeau: Stupidly, unconsciously, I had killed a man whom I loved, a man with whom my soul had just identified itself
From Calvary (1886)
Translated by Louis Rich
Hardly had I time enough to squat down behind the oak tree, when on the road, at a distance of twenty paces in front of me, there suddenly appeared a large shadow, surprisingly immobile, like an equestrian statue of bronze, and this enormous shadow which obtruded itself almost entirely upon the brightness of the eastern sky was terrible to behold…The man appeared to me superhuman, inordinately large against the sky!…He wore the flat cap of the Prussians, a long black cloak, under which the chest was bulging out greatly. Was he an officer or a plain soldier? I did not know, for I could not distinguish any insignia of rank on the dark uniform…His features, at first indistinct, became more accentuated. He had clear eyes, very limpid, a broad beard, his bearing bespoke youthful strength; his face breathed power and kindness along with something noble, audacious and sad which struck me. Holding his hand flat on his thigh, he studied the country before him, and his horse scraped the ground with its hoofs and puffed long streams of vapor in the air through its quivering nostrils…Evidently this Prussian was reconnoitering, he came to observe our position, the nature of the ground; undoubtedly a whole army was swarming behind him, waiting for a signal from this man to throw themselves on the plain!…
Well hidden in my woods, with rifle ready, I was watching him…He was handsome indeed, life flowed abundantly in this robust body…What a pity! He kept on studying the country, and it seemed to me as though he were studying it more like a poet than a soldier…I detected a sort of emotion in his eyes…Perhaps he forgot why he had come here and allowed himself to be fascinated by the beauty of this virginal and triumphant dawn. The sky became all red, it blazed up gloriously, the awakened fields unrolled themselves in the distance, emerging one after another from their veil of mist, rose-colored and blue, which floated like long scarves ruffled by invisible hands. The trees were dripping dew, the hovels separated themselves from the pink and blue background, the dove-cot of a large farm whose new tile roofs began to glitter, projected its whitish cone into the purple glare of the east…Yes, this Prussian who started out with the notion to kill, was arrested, dazzled and reverently stirred by the splendor of a new-born day, and his soul for a few minutes was the captive of love.
“Perhaps it’s a poet,” I said to myself, “an artist; he must be kind, since he is capable of tenderness.”
And upon his face I could see all the emotion of a brave man which agitated him, all the tremors, all the delicate and flitting reactions of his heart, moved and fascinated…I feared him no longer. On the contrary, a sort of infatuation drew me towards him, and I had to hold on to the tree to keep myself from going to this man. I would have liked to speak to him, to tell him that it was well that he contemplated the heaven thus, and that I liked him because of his receptiveness to beauty…But his face grew sombre, a sadness stole into his eyes…Ah, the horizon over which they swept was so far, so far away! And beyond that horizon there was another and further on, still another! One had to conquer all that!…When was he to be relieved of his duty ever to spur his horse on through this nostalgic territory, always to cut a way through ruins and through death, always to kill, always to be cursed!…
And then, undoubtedly, he was thinking of the things he had left behind; of his home resounding with the laughter of his children, of his wife, who was waiting for him and praying to God while doing so…Will he ever see her again?…I was sure that at this very moment he was recalling the most fugitive details, the most childish habits of his life at home … a rose plucked one evening, after dinner, with which he adorned the hair of his wife, the dress which she wore when he was leaving, a blue bow on the hat of his little daughter, a wooden horse, a tree, a river view, a paper knife!… All the memories of his joys came back to him, and with that keenness of vision which exiled persons possess, he encompassed in a single mental glance of despondency all those things by means of which he had been happy until now…
The sun rose higher, rendering the plain larger, extending the distant horizon still farther…I felt a compassion for this man and I loved him…yes I swear I loved him!…Well, then, how did that happen?…A detonation was suddenly heard, and at that very moment I caught sight of a boot in the air, of a torn piece of a military cloak, of a mane flying about wildly on the road…and then nothing, I heard the noise of a blow with a sabre, the heavy fall of a body, furious beats of a gallop…then nothing…My rifle was warm, and smoke was coming out of it…I let it fall to the ground…Was I the victim of hallucination?…Clearly not. Of the large shadow which rose skyward at the middle of the road like an equestrian statue of bronze there was left but a small corpse all black, stretched out face downward, with crossed arms…I recalled the poor cat that my father had killed, when with fascinated eyes she had been following the flight of a butterfly…
Stupidly, unconsciously, I had killed a man whom I loved, a man with whom my soul had just identified itself, a man who in the dazzling splendor of the rising sun was retracing the purest dreams of his life!… Perhaps I had killed him at the very moment that that man had said to himself: “And when I shall see her again at home…” Why? For what reason? Since I loved him, since, if soldiers had menaced him, I would have defended him! Why of all men was it he I assassinated? In two bounds I was beside this man; I called him…he did not move. My bullet had pierced his neck under the ear, and blood was gushing from an opened vein with a gurgling sound, collecting into a red pool and sticking to his beard…With trembling hands I raised him slowly, his head swung from side to side, fell back, inert and heavy…I felt his chest where the heart was: it beat no longer…Then I raised him again, supporting his head with my knees, and suddenly I saw his eyes, his two clear eyes which looked at me sadly, without hatred, without reproach, his two eyes which seemed to be alive!…I thought I was going to faint, but gathering all my strength in a supreme effort, I clasped the dead body of the Prussian, placed it right in front of me and pressing my lips against this bleeding face from which long, purple threads of congealed slaver were hanging, I desperately kissed it!…
From this moment on I don’t remember anything…I see again smoky fields covered with snow, and ruins burning incessantly, ever recurring dismal flights, delirious marches during the night, confusion at the crossroads congested with ammunition wagons, where the dragoons with drawn swords were driving their horses right into our midst and trying to cut a way through the wagons; I see again funeral carriages, followed by dead bodies of young men which we buried in the frozen ground, saying to ourselves that tomorrow would be our turn; I see again, near the cannon carriages, large carcasses of horses dismembered by howitzer shells, stiff, cut up, over which we used to quarrel in the evening, from which we used to carry away, into our tents, bleeding portions which we devoured growling, showing our teeth like wolves!…And I see again the surgeon, with sleeves of his white coat rolled up, pipe in mouth, amputating on a table, in a farmhouse, by the smoky light of a tallow candle, the foot of a little soldier still wearing his coarse shoes!…
Seneca the Elder: What is this hideous disease, this appalling evil that drove you to shed each other’s blood?
Seneca the Elder
Translated by M. Winterbottom
Look: often have armies of citizens and relatives taken their stand, drawn up to join battle; the hills on either side are filled with cavalry; and suddenly the whole terrain is strewn with the bodies of the slaughtered. Suppose someone amid that mass of corpses and looters should ask: What was it that compelled man to commit crime against man? Beasts do not war among themselves, and even if beasts did wars would we be unworthy of man, a quiet species, and nearest to the divine. What is this hideous disease, this fury that drove you to shed each other’s blood – though you are of one stock, one blood? What is this appalling evil that fate or chance has inflicted on this species alone?
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified
The good Mazelle sat, entirely overlooked, between Judge Gaume and Captain Jollivet. Up to this time he had only opened his mouth to put into it large mouthfuls of food, which he masticated slowly for fear of disordering his digestion. Social economics did not interest him, since, thanks to the nature of his income, he was beyond risk from storms. But he was forced to lend an ear to the theories of the captain, who was delighted to impart them to so kindly an auditor. The army was the school for the nation, and France could never be anything, according to her immutable traditions, but the land of a warlike people; she would recover her proper place only on the day when she reconquered Europe and ruled it by the sword. It was foolish to accuse the system which sent young men to perform military service of disorganizing labor. Whose labor? What labor? Was there any such thing? Socialism was an immense humbug! There would always be soldiers, and peoples under them for fatigue duty. The sword was something tangible which could be seen, but who had ever seen an idea, this famous idea, which people pretended was the queen of the world? He laughed at his own wit, and the kind hearted Mazelle, who had a profound respect for the army, laughed with him out of complaisance, while his fiancée, Lucille, regarded him with an expression of enigmatical tenderness…
“Ah, the feudal system had its good points; all the worthless men in those days went to the wars, if they had no property and knew that they would never have any.”
Laughter and jest continued. All present, however, had felt the great wind of to-morrow pass over them; the breath of the future swept across the table, blowing away its iniquitous luxury and its poisonous pleasures. They all, therefore, began to talk about questions of interest, of capital, of bourgeois society and capitalists, all of which are based on the wage system.
“The republic will destroy itself when it interferes with property,” said Gourier, the mayor. “The laws are still in force, but everything will give way when they are no longer administered,” said Judge Gaume.
“What does it matter, in any event?” said Captain Jollivet; “the army is here for our protection, and it will never permit these rascals to triumph.”
Boisgelin and Delaveau assented approvingly to these sentiments, for the present social forces worked in their interest. Luc understood the situation. The government, the ministry, the magistracy, the army, and the Church, all were engaged in sustaining this terrible social system, this monstrous frame-work of iniquity, by means of which labor destroyed the many in order that the few might be maintained in luxury and corruption…
From The Politics
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
The law of which I speak is a sort of convention, the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who brought forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject….
Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war be unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave. Were this the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their parents chance to have been taken captive and sold.
The charge which Plato brings, in the Laws, against the intention of the legislator, is likewise justified; the whole constitution has regard to one part of virtue only – the virtue of the soldier, which gives victory in war. So long as they were at war, therefore, their power was preserved, but when they had attained empire they fell, for of the arts of peace they knew nothing, and had never engaged in any employment higher than war. There is another error, equally great, into which they have fallen. Although they truly think that the goods for which men contend are to be acquired by virtue rather than by vice, they err in supposing that these goods are to be preferred to the virtue which gains them.
Once more: the revenues of the state are ill-managed; there is no money in the treasury, although they are obliged to carry on great wars, and they are unwilling to pay taxes. The greater part of the land being in the hands of the Spartans, they do not look closely into one another’s contributions. The result which the legislator has produced is the reverse of beneficial; for he has made his city poor, and his citizens greedy.
A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature…For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.
Lactantius: The pernicious and impious madness of deifying warlike generals who have inundated plains with blood
From Divine Institutes
Translated by William Fletcher
And so Hercules, when he perceived that his muscles were disfigured by ulcers, neither wished to be healed nor to grow old, that he might not at any time appear to have less strength or comeliness than he once had. They supposed that he ascended into heaven from the funeral pile on which he had burnt himself alive; and those very qualities which they most foolishly admired, they expressed by statues and images, and consecrated, so that they might for ever remain as memorials of the folly of those who had believed that gods owed their origin to the slaughter of beasts. But this, perchance, may be the fault of the Greeks, who always esteemed most trifling things as of the greatest consequence. What is the case of our own countrymen? Are they more wise? For they despise valour in an athlete, because it produces no injury; but in the case of a king, because it occasions widely-spread disasters, they so admire it as to imagine that brave and warlike generals are admitted to the assembly of the gods, and that there is no other way to immortality than to lead armies, to lay waste the territory of others, to destroy cities, to overthrow towns, to put to death or enslave free peoples. Truly the greater number of men they have cast down, plundered, and slain, so much the more noble and distinguished do they think themselves; and ensnared by the show of empty glory, they give to their crimes the name of virtue. I would rather that they should make to themselves gods from the slaughter of wild beasts, than approve of an immortality so stained with blood. If any one has slain a single man, he is regarded as contaminated and wicked, nor do they think it lawful for him to be admitted to this earthly abode of the gods. But he who has slaughtered countless thousands of men, has inundated plains with blood, and infected rivers, is not only admitted into the temple, but even into heaven. In Ennius Africanus thus speaks: “If it is permitted any one to ascend to the regions of the gods above, the greatest gate of heaven is open to me alone.” Because, in truth, he extinguished and destroyed a great part of the human race. Oh how great the darkness in which you were involved, O Africanus, or rather O poet, in that you imagined the ascent to heaven to be open to men through slaughters and bloodshed! If this is the virtue which renders us immortal, I for my part should prefer to die, rather than to be the cause of destruction to as many as possible. If immortality can be obtained in no other way than by bloodshed, what will be the result if all shall agree to live in harmony? And this may undoubtedly be realized, if men would cast aside their pernicious and impious madness, and live in innocence and justice. Shall no one, then, be worthy of heaven? Shall virtue perish, because it will not be permitted men to rage against their fellow-men? But they who reckon the overthrow of cities and people as the greatest glory will not endure public tranquillity: they will plunder and rage; and by the infliction of outrageous injuries will disturb the compact of human society, that they may have an enemy whom they may destroy with greater wickedness than that with which they attacked.
But if this is agreed upon among themselves, that gods were made from men, why then do they not believe the poets, if at any time they describe their banishments and wounds, their deaths, and wars, and adulteries? From which things it may be understood that they could not possibly become gods, since they were not even good men, and during their life they performed those actions which bring forth everlasting death.
Therefore there is no virtue in any one when vices bear rule; there is no faith when each individual carries off all things for himself; there is no piety when avarice spares neither relatives nor parents, and passion rushes to poison and the sword: no peace, no concord, when wars rage in public, and in private enmities prevail even to bloodshed; no chastity when unbridled lusts contaminate each sex, and the whole body in every part. Nor, however, do they cease to worship those things which they flee from and hate. For they worship with incense and the tips of their fingers those things which they ought to have shrunk from with their inmost feelings; and this error is altogether derived from their ignorance of the principal and chief good.
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)
The troop-train couplings clanged like Fate
Above the bugles’ din.
Sweating beneath their haversacks,
With rifles bristling on their backs,
Like heavy-footed oxen
The dusty men trooped in.
It seemed that some gigantic hand
Behind the veils of sky
Was driving, herding all these men
So few of them could understand,
So many of them must die.
“They say that war’s a noble thing!
They say it’s good to die,
For causes none can understand!
They say it’s for the Fatherland!
They say it’s for the Flag, the King,
And none must question why!”
The train shrieked into a tunnel.
“Duty? Yes, that is good.
But when the thing has grown so vast
That no man knows, from first to last,
The reason why he finds himself
Up to his neck in blood;
When you are trapped and carried along
By a Power that runs on rails;
Why, open that door, my friends, and see
The way you are fixed. You think you are free,
But the iron wheels are singing a song
That stuns our fairy-tales;
Like cattle into a cattle-pen,
When you are lifted up like this
Between a finger and thumb,
And dropt you don’t know where or why,
And told to shoot and butcher and die,
And not to question, not to reply,
But go like a sheep to the shearers,
A lamb to the slaughter, dumb;
What? Are the engines, then, our God?
Does one amongst you know
The reason of this bitter work?”
From On the Peace
Translated by George Norlin
And those who claim the right to stand at the head of the Hellenes ought to become leaders of such enterprises much rather than of war and of hireling armies, which at the present time are the objects of our ambition.
I could wish that, even as to praise virtue is a facile theme, so it were easy to persuade hearers to practise it. But as things are I am afraid that I may be expressing such sentiments to no purpose. For we have been depraved for a long time by men whose only ability is to cheat and delude – men who have held the people in such contempt that whenever they wish to bring about a state of war with any city, these very men who are paid for what they say have the audacity to tell us…
[A]lthough we seek to rule over all men, we are not willing to take the field ourselves, and although we undertake to wage war upon, one might almost say, the whole world, we do not train ourselves for war but employ instead vagabonds, deserters, and fugitives who have thronged together here in consequence of other misdemeanours, who, whenever others offer them higher pay, will follow their leadership against us.
We are concerned about our polity no less than about the safety of the whole state and we know that our democracy flourishes and endures in times of peace and security while in times of war it has twice already been overthrown, but we are hostile to those who desire peace as if suspecting them of favouring oligarchy while we are friendly to those who advocate war as if assured of their devotion to democracy.
I know, however, that it is difficult for one who attempts to denounce that imperial power which all the world lusts after and has waged many wars to obtain to impress his hearers as saying anything which is not intolerable. Nevertheless, since you have endured the other things which I have said, which, although true, are offensive, I beg you to be patient also with what I shall say upon this subject and not to impute to me the madness of having chosen to discourse to you on matters so contrary to the general opinion without having something true to say about them. Nay, I believe that I shall make it evident to all that we covet an empire which is neither just nor capable of being attained nor advantageous to ourselves.
And they became so addicted to war and the perils of war that, whereas in times past they had been more cautious in this regard than the rest of the world, they did not refrain from attacking even their own allies and their own benefactors…
From The Jewish War
Translated by H. St. J. Thackeray
“How absurd it were, because of one man to make war on a whole people…But war once set on foot cannot be lightly either broken off or carried through without risk of disaster…All who embark on war do so in reliance on the support either of God or man; but when, in all probability, no assistance from either quarter is forthcoming, then the aggressor goes with his eyes open to certain ruin. What is there, then, to prevent you from dispatching with your own hands your children and wives and from consigning this surpassingly beautiful home of yours to flames? By such an act of madness you would at least spare yourselves the ignominy of defeat. It were well, my friends, it were well, while the vessel is still in port, to foresee the coming storm, and not to put out into the midst of the hurricane to meet your doom. For the victims of unforeseen disaster there is left at least the meed of pity; but he who rushes to manifest destruction incurs opprobrium to boot.”
Even those who had been reputed the very mildest of men were instigated by avarice to murder their adversaries; for they would then with impunity plunder the property of their victims and transfer to their own homes, as from a battle-field, the spoils of the slain, and he who gained the most covered himself with glory as the most successful murderer. One saw cities choked with unburied corpses, dead bodies of old men and infants exposed side by side, poor women stripped of the last covering of modesty, the whole province full of indescribable horrors; and even worse than the tale of atrocities committed was the suspense caused by the menace of evils in store.
Ernest Poole: The hatred rising in all men has already butchered millions and will butcher millions more!
From Blind (1920)
In the next few years, I have no doubt, there will be Cook’s tours innumerable to European battlefields; and this will be called “Seeing the War.” But the blinding-vast tornado, with the deep changes that it wrought, will really not be seen at all till a generation or two have gone and other turbulent events have taken place upon the earth. God pity the poor devils who have to write its history now.
Aunt Amelia came over for supper that night. She wanted to get the latest news and “talk it over thoroughly.” She was deeply disturbed and indignant about it. “A perfectly awful butchery, without rhyme or reason!” she declared. She spoke of the war she had seen as a girl and recounted some of the horrors – the price. That had at least been worth the price; a great ideal had been at stake. But what this terrible struggle was for she could not for the life of her make out.
“If it does come about,” she said, “there is just one thing for us to do – keep perfectly friendly to both sides and help bring peace as soon as we can. Larry,” she demanded, “what do those socialist friends of yours mean by not putting a stop to this? I should think they would be ashamed to look each other in the face! After all they have said about brotherhood – and the rights of the common people! The common people don’t want this war ”
Together we tried to picture Dorothy living in Berlin – but all Europe to our eyes went suddenly under clouds of smoke from which was heard the roar of guns. She had been such a warm blithe lovable girl, and such an intimate part of this house. It was as though the long arm of the war were suddenly reaching down into the very foundation stones of this peaceable old building, making it quiver with alarm. Gone was Aunt Amelia’s hope of our keeping friendly to both sides – for already this news had fanned into flame the vague instinctive feelings that had been in me from the start against the German side of it. I had never been to Germany – knew very little about it, in fact – but now I began to inveigh against the entire Teuton race, their pig-headed ways, their intolerance. Then noticing the anxiety in Aunt Amelia’s restless eyes, I grew grimly practical.
“The world is a bristling jungle of ‘war-lies’ in every land, and every conceivable prejudice and distortion of the facts…”
He stopped for a moment, and then in a low voice he said,
“Last week I was at Oxford, and out in front of the library on a misty moonlit night I saw a couple of hundred chaps in mufti – undergraduates – standing at ease with their cigarettes, chatting and laughing. Then I heard the order passed back, ‘No lights – no smoking – absolute silence.’ And a few moments later they went off into the mist – so quietly. It was as though they were passing out of existence.”
I never saw this man again, for in the last year of the war he was killed in Flanders.
“Tell me really what you think,” he said, with his ironic smile. “Be frank. I am no chauvinist.”
“I have seen so little,” I began.
‘You are lucky,” he interrupted. “With me it is different – I have seen! For months I have been like a man submerged in a flood of blood and hatred. It is what no man but a paranoiac could have pictured coming over the world. But it has come! The hatred rising in all men has already butchered millions and will butcher millions more! And not only that!” he cried. “It is not even hatred well expressed! I read not only German, but Russian, English, French, Italian – and whenever I had a chance I have searched for one book, one play, one song! I find nothing but cheap drivel – the most frightful patriotic bosh!”
“Yes, I am a patriot! But all this silly nonsense about white papers and red blood – what is it? What does it decide? Shall I tell you? It decides for us all that every little lieutenant is God – not only here but in England and France! And so long as we live, this ignorant fellow will be the god to whom we bow down – excuse me, I should say, salute! Around him will be written plays that make a man sick to think about! Through him and his standards the crowd will be a hundred-fold more ignorant and brutalized even than before the war – they will cultivate prize fighters’ souls! And I who am a patriot – I am against this bloody farce! And,” he ended grimly, “my bitterness does me no good – for I must keep it all inside. I cannot speak. It is an ocean. I am drowned.”
“In England I read in the papers that they have had a hard time to get their working-men to enlist.”
“They are cowards,” said a peasant.
“Yes, but they did not start the war. I tell you it was started by a lot of fat rich people. And we are the fellows who have to get killed. And if we don’t get killed, by God, we will have to pay war taxes! And think of the widows we’ll have to help! All the fellows who are killed are leaving in every village widows and old mothers and little brats who will have to be fed! And the village will have to feed them!”
“Well, we’re in for it,” somebody sighed.
“All the same,” said the lean-faced man, “I’ll be glad when there’s peace. I’ll be glad when we jump out of the trenches and the Frenchmen do the same, and we run across and shake hands with each other.”
“That will be fine,” said the good-natured peasant. We’ll do it as soon as the war is over.”
“Some fellows have done it,” the speaker replied. What?” Instantly all were wide awake.
“Some fellow told me that where he was, our men held up spades and the French did the same – and then they ran out and all shook hands. And they did like this at the trenches.” He thumbed his nose, and at this they laughed. But the laugh soon stopped and there was a silence.
“You can’t do that to your officers,” said one man uneasily.
“It is a lie and it never happened,” said another peasant. “You are making it up.”
“Perhaps it is a lie,” said the speaker. “But that is what the fellow said.” He threw a vigilant glance along the row of faces. “And when you come to think of it,” he continued quietly, “it is not so bad, what those fellows did. You must obey your officers – because this is war. If we didn’t obey, everything would be all mixed up, and the French would charge and kill us all. But if whole regiments everywhere jumped out of the trenches, as he said, and the French and English did the same, and we met in the middle of the field – then there would be war no more – and no need of officers.”
Translated by R.G. Bury
[Socrates] “Whither haste ye, O men? Yea, verily ye know not that ye are doing none of the things ye ought, seeing that you spend your whole energy on wealth and the acquiring of it…Yet it is because of this dissonance and sloth…that brother with brother and city with city clash together without measure or harmony and are at strife, and in their warring perpetrate and suffer the uttermost horrors…
Translated by R.G. Bury
[Socrates] In truth, Menexenus, to fall in battle seems to be a splendid thing in many ways. For a man obtains a splendid and magnificent funeral even though at his death he be but a poor man; and though he be but a worthless fellow, he wins praise and that by the mouth of accomplished men who do not praise at random, but in speeches prepared long beforehand. And they praise in such splendid fashion, that, what with their ascribing to each one both what he has and what he has not, and the variety and splendour of their diction, they bewitch our souls; and they eulogize the State in every possible fashion, and they praise those who died in the war and all our ancestors of former times and ourselves who are living still; and so that I am myself, Menexenus, when thus praised by them feel mightily ennobled, and every time I listen fascinated I am exalted and imagine myself to have become all at once taller and and nobler and more handsome. And as I am generally accompanied by some strangers, who listen along with me, I become in their eyes also all at once majestic; for they also manifestly share in my feelings with regard to both to me and to the rest of the City, believing it to be more marvellous than before, owing to the persuasive eloquence of the speaker. And this majestic feeling remains with me for over three days: so persistently does the speech and voice of the orator ring in my ears that it is scarcely on the fourth or fifth day that I recover myself and remember that I am really hear on earth, whereas till then I almost imagined myself to be living in the Islands of the Blessed…
Paean on peace
Translated by Christopher North
Innumerous are the boons bestow’d on man by gracious Peace!
The Flowers of Poets honey-tongued, and Wealth’s immense increase.
Then to the joyful altars unto the gods arise
The fumes of sheep’s and oxen’s flesh in ruddy sacrifice;
In crowds to the gymnasium the strenuous youth resort,
Or to the pipe the revellers pursue their madd’ening sport;
The spider black doth weave his web on iron-handled shield,
And sharp-set spear and two-edged sword to mouldy canker yield;
No longer anywhere is heard the trumpet’s brazen blare,
From men’s eyes soul-delighting sleep at midnight wont to scare;
Banquets heaped high with food and wine are spread in every street,
And songs from youthful companies are sounding strong and sweet.
To mortal men Peace giveth these good things:
Wealth, and the flowers of honey-throated song;
The flame that springs
On craven altars from fat sheep and kine,
Slain to the gods in heaven; and, all day long,
Games for gold youths, and flutes, and wreaths, and circling wine.
Then in the steely shield swart spiders weave
Their web and dusky woof:
Rust to the pointed spear and sword doth cleave;
The brazen trump sounds no alarms;
Nor is sleep harried from our eyes aloof,
But with sweet rest my bosom warms:
The streets are thronged with lovely men and young,
And hymns in praise of boys like flames to heaven are flung.
From City of God
Translated by Marcus Dods
[W]hat reason, what prudence, there is in wishing to glory in the greatness and extent of the empire, when you cannot point out the happiness of men who are always rolling, with dark fear and cruel lust, in warlike slaughters and in blood, which, whether shed in civil or foreign war, is still human blood; so that their joy may be compared to glass in its fragile splendor, of which one is horribly afraid lest it should be suddenly broken in pieces.
Justinus, who wrote Greek or rather foreign history in Latin, and briefly, like Trogus Pompeius whom he followed, begins his work thus: “In the beginning of the affairs of peoples and nations the government was in the hands of kings, who were raised to the height of this majesty not by courting the people, but by the knowledge good men had of their moderation. The people were held bound by no laws; the decisions of the princes were instead of laws. It was the custom to guard rather than to extend the boundaries of the empire; and kingdoms were kept within the bounds of each ruler’s native land. Ninus king of the Assyrians first of all, through new lust of empire, changed the old and, as it were, ancestral custom of nations. He first made war on his neighbors, and wholly subdued as far as to the frontiers of Libya the nations as yet untrained to resist.” And a little after he says: “Ninus established by constant possession the greatness of the authority he had gained. Having mastered his nearest neighbors, he went on to others, strengthened by the accession of forces, and by making each fresh victory the instrument of that which followed, subdued the nations of the whole East.” Now, with whatever fidelity to fact either he or Trogus may in general have written – for that they sometimes told lies is shown by other more trustworthy writers – yet it is agreed among other authors, that the kingdom of the Assyrians was extended far and wide by King Ninus. And it lasted so long, that the Roman empire has not yet attained the same age; for, as those write who have treated of chronological history, this kingdom endured for twelve hundred and forty years from the first year in which Ninus began to reign, until it was transferred to the Medes. But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery?
Silius Italicus: Peace is the best thing that man may know; peace alone is better than a thousand triumphs
Translated by J.D. Duff
“For I propose that we should now sue for peace, should now lay down the arms that are stained by a breach of treaty, and avoid a war that will destroy us. Or rather, do you yourselves weigh well his proposals; there is no other decision for us to come to. He asks for arms, soldiers, and gold, for fleets, provisions, and elephants. Had he been defeated, he could not have asked for more. We have drenched the soil of Italy with Roman blood, and all Latium is laid low on the battle-fields. Then suffer us at last, noble conqueror, to forget our troubles and take our ease at home; suffer us to keep some children in the families so often thinned by the insatiable demands of war…Shall we, forsooth, snatch from their mothers’ laps boys who are not yet fit to carry heavy armour, and make them fight? Shall we, at his demand, build a thousand ships of war and ransack all Libya for elephants, in order that Hannibal may prolong his command and fight on for years and exercise a tyrant’s sway till the day of his death? But I appeal to you – for the trap is set in our sight – rob not your homes of your loved ones, but set a limit to the armies and the power of these potentates. Peace is the best thing that man may know; peace alone is better than a thousand triumphs; peace has power to guard our lives and secure equality among fellow-citizens. Let us then after so long recall peace to the city of Carthage…”
“nunc pacem orandum, nunc improba foedere rupto
arma reponendum et bellum exitiale cavendum
auctor ego. atque adeo vosmet perpendite, quaeso,
quid ferat; haud aliud nobis censere relictum est.
tela, viros, aurum, classes, alimenta precatur
belligeramque feram. victus non plura petisset.
sanguine Dardanio Rutulos saturavimus agros,
et iacet in campis Latium. deponere curas
tandem ergo, bone, da, victor, liceatque sedere
in patria; liceat non exhaurure rapacis
impensis belli vacuatos saepe penates…”
From The Earl of Chatham (1844)
Some of the ministers were envious of Pitt’s popularity. Others were, not altogether without cause, disgusted by his imperious and haughty demeanor. Others, again, were honestly opposed to some parts of his policy. They admitted that he had found the country in the depths of humiliation, and had raised it to the height of glory; they admitted that he had conducted the war with energy, ability, and splendid success; but they began to hint that the drain on the resources of the state was unexampled, and that the public debt was increasing with a speed at which Montague or Godolphin would have stood aghast. Some of the acquisitions made by our fleets and armies were, it was acknowledged, profitable as well as honorable; but, now that George the Second was dead, a courtier might venture to ask why England was to become a party in a dispute between two German powers. What was it to her whether the House of Hapsburg or the House of Brandenburg ruled in Silesia? Why were the best English regiments fighting on the Main? Why were the Prussian battalions paid with English gold? The great minister seemed to think it beneath him to calculate the price of victory. As long as the Tower guns were fired, as the streets were illuminated, as French banners were carried in triumph through London, it was to him matter of indifference to what extent the public burdens were augmented. Nay, he seemed to glory in the magnitude of those sacrifices which the people, fascinated by his eloquence and success, had too readily made, and would long and bitterly regret. There was no check on waste or embezzlement. Our commissaries returned from the camp of Prince Ferdinand to buy boroughs, to rear palaces, to rival the magnificence of the old aristocracy of the realm. Already had we borrowed, in four years of war, more than the most skilful and economical government would pay in forty years of peace. But the prospect of peace was as remote as ever. It could not be doubted that France, smarting and prostrate, would consent to fair terms of accommodation; but this was not what Pitt wanted.
War had made him powerful and popular; with war, all that was brightest in his life was associated: for war his talents were peculiarly fitted. He had at length begun to love war for its own sake, and was more disposed to quarrel with neutrals than to make peace with enemies.
Translated by George Long
If it is my interest to have an estate in land, it is my interest also to take it from my neighbor. If it is my interest to have a garment, it is my interest also to steal it from the bath. This is the origin of wars, civil commotions, tyrannies, conspiracies. And how shall I be still able to maintain my duty toward Zeus?
Were not Eteocles and Polynices from the same mother and from the same father? Were they not brought up together, had they not lived together, drunk together, slept together, and often kissed one another? So that, if any man, I think, had seen them, he would have ridiculed the philosophers for the paradoxes which they utter about friendship. But when a quarrel rose between them about the royal power, as between dogs about a bit of meat, see what they say,
Polynices: Where will you take your station before the towers?
Eteocles: Why do you ask me this?
Polynices: I place myself opposite and try to kill you.
Eteocles: I also wish to do the same. (Euripides]
Such are the wishes that they utter.
For universally, be not deceived, every animal is attached to nothing so much as to its own interest. Whatever then appears to it an impediment to this interest, whether this be a brother, or a father, or a child, or beloved, or lover, it hates, spurns, curses: for its nature is to love nothing so much as its own interest; this is father, and brother and kinsman, and country, and God. When, then, the gods appear to us to be an impediment to this, we abuse them and throw down their statues and burn their temples, as Alexander ordered the temples of Aesculapius to be burned when his dear friend died.
For this reason if a man put in the same place his interest, sanctity, goodness, and country, and parents, and friends, all these are secured: but if he puts in one place his interest, in another his friends, and his country and his kinsmen and justice itself, all these give way being borne down by the weight of interest. For where the “I” and the “Mine” are placed, to that place of necessity the animal inclines: if in the flesh, there is the ruling power: if in the will, it is there: and if it is in externals, it is there. If then I am there where my will is, then only shall I be a friend such as I ought to be, and son, and father; for this will he my interest, to maintain the character of fidelity, of modesty, of patience, of abstinence, of active cooperation, of observing my relations. But if I put myself in one place, and honesty in another, then the doctrine of Epicurus becomes strong, which asserts either that there is no honesty or it is that which opinion holds to be honest.
It was through this ignorance that the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians quarreled, and the Thebans with both; and the great king quarreled with Hellas, and the Macedonians with both; and the Romans with the Getae. And still earlier the Trojan war happened for these reasons…
For that is not a principle of human nature which makes them bite one another, and abuse one another, and occupy deserted places or public places, as if they were mountains, and in the courts of justice display the acts of robbers; nor yet that which makes them intemperate and adulterers and corrupters, nor that which makes them do whatever else men do against one another through this one opinion only, that of placing themselves and their interests in the things which are not within the power of their will.
Octave Mirbeau: An orgy of destruction, criminal and foolish. What was this country, in whose name so many crimes were being committed?
From Calvary (1886)
Translated by Louis Rich
While one company of chasseurs was detailed to the crossroads to establish an “impregnable barrier” there, my company went in the woods to “fell as many trees as possible.” All the axes, bill-hooks and hatchets of the village were speedily requisitioned. Almost everything was used as a tool. For a whole day the blows of the axes were resounding and trees were falling. To spur us on to greater efforts, the general himself wanted to assist us in the vandalism.
“Come on, you scamps!” he would cry out at every occasion, clapping his hands. “Come on boys, let’s get this one!…”
He himself pointed out the most stalwart among the trees, those which grew up straight and spread out like the columns of a temple. It was an orgy of destruction, criminal and foolish; a shout of brutal joy went up every time a tree fell on top of another with a great noise. The old trees became less dense, one could say they were mowed down by some gigantic and supernatural scythe. Two men were killed by the fall of an oak tree.
And the few trees which remained standing, austere in the midst of ruined trunks lying on the ground, and the twisted branches which rose up towards them like arms outstretched in supplication, were showing open wounds, deep and red gashes from which the sap was oozing, weeping as it were.
The supervisor of the forest section, warned by a guard, came running from Senonches, and with a broken heart witnessed this useless devastation. I was near the general when the forester approached him respectfully, kepi in hand.
“Beg pardon, general,” said he. “I can understand the felling of trees on the edge of the road, the barricading of lines of approach…. But your destruction of the heart of the old forest seems to me a little…”
But the general interrupted:
“Eh? What? It seems to you what?…What are you butting in here for?…I do as I please…Who is commander here, you or I?…”
“But…” stammered the forester.
“There are no buts about it, Monsieur…You make me tired, that’s one thing sure!…You had better hurry back to Senonches or I’ll have you strung up on a tree…Come on, boys!…”
Worn out with fatigue, always occupied with something or other and never alone, I had no time to reflect on anything from the moment we started out. But still confronted by the strange and cruel sights constantly before my eyes, I felt within me the awakening of the idea of human life which until now had lain slumbering in the sluggishness of my childhood and the torpor of my youth. Yes…the idea awoke confusedly, as if emerging from a long and painful nightmare. And reality appeared to me more frightful than the nightmare. Transposing the instincts, the desires and passions which agitated us from the small group of errant men that we were to society as a whole, recalling the impressions so fleeting and wholly external which I had received in Paris, the rude crowds, the pushing and jostling of pedestrians, I understood that the law of the world was strife; an inexorable, murderous law, which was not content with arming nation against nation but which hurled against one another the children of the same race, the same family, the same womb. I found none of the lofty abstractions of honor, justice, charity, patriotism of which our standard books are so full, on which we are brought up, with which we are lulled to sleep, through which they hypnotize us in order the better to deceive the kind little folk, to enslave them the more easily, to butcher them the more foully.
What was this country, in whose name so many crimes were being committed, which had torn us — formerly so full of love — from the motherly bosom of nature, which had thrown us, now so full of hatred, famished and naked, upon this cruel land?… What was this country, personified to us by this rabid and pillaging general who gave vent to his madness on old people and trees, and by this surgeon who kicked the sick with his feet and maltreated poor old mothers bereaved of their sons?…What was this country every step on whose soil was marked by a grave, which had but to look at the tranquil waters of its streams to change them into blood, which was always frittering away its man power, digging here and there deep charnel vaults where the best children of men were rotting?…And I was astounded, when for the first time it dawned upon me that only those were the most glorious, the most acclaimed heroes of mankind who had pillaged the most, killed the most, burned the most.
They condemn to death the stealthy murderer who kills the passerby with a knife, on the corner of the street at night, and they throw his beheaded body into a grave of infamy. But the conqueror who has burned cities and decimated human beings, all the folly and human cowardice unite in raising to the throne of the most marvelous; in his honor triumphal arches are built, giddy columns of bronze are erected, and in the cathedrals multitudes reverently kneel before his tomb of hallowed marble guarded by saints and angels under the delighted gaze of God!…With what remorse did I repent of the fact that until now I had remained blind and deaf to this life so full of inexplicable riddles! Never had I opposed this mysterious book, never had I stopped even for a single moment to consider the question marks which are represented by things and beings; I did not know anything. And now, suddenly, a desire to know, a yearning to wrest from life some of its enigmas tormented me; I wanted to know the human reason for creeds which stupefy, for governments which oppress, for society which kills; I longed to be through with this war so that I might consecrate myself to some ardent cause, to some magnificent and absurd apostleship.
My thought traveled toward impossible philosophies of love, toward utopias of undying brotherhood…I saw all men bent down beneath some crushing heels; they all resembled the little soldier of the reserves at Saint-Michel, whose eyes were running, who was coughing and spitting blood, and as I knew nothing of the necessity of higher laws of nature, a feeling of compassion rose within me, clogging my throat with suppressed sobs. I have noticed that a man has no real compassion for anyone except when he himself is unhappy. Was this not, after all, but a form of self-pity? And if on this cold night, close to the enemy who would perhaps come out of the fogs of the morrow, I loved humanity so much — was it not myself only that I loved, myself only that I wanted to save from suffering? These regrets of the past, these plans for the future, this sudden passion for study, this ardor which I employed in picturing myself in the future in my room on the Rue Oudinot, in the midst of books and papers, my eyes burning with the fever of work — was this not after all only a means to ward off the perils of the present, to dispel other horrible visions, visions of death which, blurred and blunted, incessantly followed one another in the terror of darkness?
From The Confusion of Tongues
Translated by F.H. Colson and Rev. G.H. Whitaker
And therefore when I hear those who say “We are all sons of one man, we are peaceful,” I am filled with admiration for the harmonious concert which their words reveal. “Ah, my friends,” I would say “how should you not hate war and love peace – you who have enrolled yourselves as children of one and the same Father, who is not mortal but immortal – God’s Man, who being the Word of the Eternal must needs himself be imperishable?” Those whose system includes many origins for the family of the soul, who affiliate themselves to that evil thing called polytheism, who take in hand to render homage some to this deity, some to that, are the authors of tumult and strife at home and abroad, and fill the whole of life from birth to death with internecine wars.
For who, when he sees that war, which amid the fullest peace is waged among all men continuously, phase ever succeeding phase, in private and public life, a war in which the combatants are not just nations and countries, or cities and villages, but also house against house and each particular man against himself, who, I say, does not exhort, reproach, admonish, correct by day and night alike, since his soul cannot rest, because his nature is to hate evil?
From History of the Wars
Translated by H. B. Dewing
Now there was among the Syrians a certain just man, Jacobus by name, who had trained himself with exactitude in matters pertaining to religion. This man had confined himself many years before in a place called Endielon, a day’s journey from Amida, in order that he might with more security devote himself to pious contemplation. The men of this place, assisting his purpose, had surrounded him with a kind of fencing, in which the stakes were not continuous, but set at intervals, so that those who approached could see and hold converse with him. And they had constructed for him a small roof over his head, sufficient to keep off the rain and snow. There this man had been sitting for a long time, never yielding either to heat or cold, and sustaining his life with certain seeds, which he was accustomed to eat, not indeed every day, but only at long intervals. Now some of the Ephthalitae who were overrunning the country thereabout saw this Jacobus and with great eagerness drew their bows with intent to shoot at him. But the hands of every one of them became motionless and utterly unable to manage the bow. When this was noised about through the army and came to the ears of Cabades, he desired to see the thing with his own eyes; and when he saw it, both he and the Persians who were with him were seized with great astonishment, and he entreated Jacobus to forgive the barbarians their crime. And he forgave them with a word, and the men were released from their distress. Cabades then bade the man ask for whatever he wished, supposing that he would ask for a great sum of money, and he also added with youthful recklessness that he would be refused nothing by him. But he requested Cabades to grant to him all the men who during that war should come to him as fugitives. This request Cabades granted, and gave him a written pledge of his personal safety. And great numbers of men, as might be expected, came flocking to him from all sides and found safety there; for the deed became widely known. Thus, then, did these things take place.
“The first blessing is peace, as is agreed by all men who have even a small share of reason. It follows that if any one should be a destroyer of it, he would be most responsible not only to those near him but also to his whole nation for the troubles which come. The best general, therefore, is that one who is able to bring about peace from war…”
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified
Labor ought to be pleasure. The happiness of each would one day consist in the happiness of others. There would be no more envy, no more hatred, when there should be space in the world for the happiness of all. The wheels of the social machine, as they were at present, must be done away with, for they were useless – they consumed force; and trade would also have to be condemned; the consumer would have to buy from the producer. With one blow all parasites would be swept away. The innumerable unwholesome growths which live on social corruption, or on the state of warfare in which men, as things are now, live a living death, would disappear. There would be no more armies, no more law courts, no more prisons. And, above all things, when that great dawn shall have taken place, righteousness would shine like the sun, dispersing poverty, giving to every creature who is born the right to live, bestowing upon each his daily bread, and the perfect happiness which is his birth right.
“And how admirably can work regulate things; what order it creates wherever it reigns! It is peace and joy, as well as health. I am amazed when I see it despised, belittled, – looked upon as a shame or as a punishment. If it has saved me from certain death, it has given me also all the good that there is in me; it has recreated my intelligence; it has given me nobleness. And what an admirable organizer it is! – how it regulates the workings of our minds, the play of our muscles, the special function of each group in a multitude of laborers! It is a political constitution, a police to look after humanity, a reason for maintaining social order. We are born to do the work of the world. Every one of us must help it on; we cannot explain the necessity for our lives except by perceiving that nature wanted one more laborer to carry on its work. Any other explanation is false and self-glorious. Our individual lives seem like a sacrifice to the universal life of future worlds. There is no such thing as happiness, unless we place it in the united happiness of perpetual united labor. And that is why I wish that some one would preach to the world the religion of labor, and sing hosannas to labor, as to a savior, the only true source. of health, peace, and happiness.”
He recapitulated the history of the past – the robbery, from the earliest ages, of the weak by the strong; crowds of poor wretches reduced to slavery; he spoke of men who had committed crimes that they might not make restitution to the needy who were dying of hunger and violence. And all the world’s wealth heaped by time, he showed, was in the hands of but a few persons – propertyowners – who had lands, houses, factories, and mines in which lay unworked coal and metal, men who put capital into transportation, rolling-stock, canals, railroads – nay, even into government bonds, men who owned the gold and silver, hundreds and thousands of which were paid out by the banks; in short, all the good things of this earth, everything that contributes to the good fortune of men. And was it riot an abomination that all this wealth should lead only to the frightful indigence of the greater number of people? Did this not cry for justice? Was there not an inevitable necessity for a new division? Such injustice on the one hand, such idleness on the other, caused by a plethora of riches, while hopeless toil, necessitated by poverty, had turned men into wolves. Instead of uniting to conquer and utilize the forces of nature, men devoured one another; the barbarous social system made them ate their fellow-men, made them err, go mad, abandon their children and their aged parents, crush women into beasts of burden or into instruments of lust. The laborers them selves, corrupted by bad example, resigned themselves to slavery, and succumbed to the baseness that was universal.
And what bad use was made of wealth – enormous sums spent for war, large amounts given to useless office-holders, to judges, and to gendarmes! – besides all the money that lay useless in the hands of merchants, those parasitical middle-men, who make their money out of consumers! Such was the daily leakage of wealth caused by an illogical social system. There was crime, besides, and also hunger, imposed by owners on their workpeople to increase their own profits. They would reduce the output of a factory; they would impose days of idleness on miners; and they would use poverty as an instrument of warfare that they might keep up prices; and then they would be astonished if the machine broke down under such a mass of suffering, injustice, and shame!
“No, no!” cried Luc, “it must come to an end; else humanity will be destroyed in some last outbreak of insanity. A new agreement must be made between capital and labor. Every man born into this world has the right to live; and the soil is the common property of all. The tools for toil must be given to every man; and every one must do his own personal share in the work of all…If history, with its past crimes and hatreds, has thus far been mere ly the abominable record of former robbery and the tyranny of a few robbers who have stimulated men to cut each other’s throats, and to set up law-courts, and build prisons to defend their ill-gotten gains, it is high time to begin a new era, and on the opening of a new century to commence with a single act of justice giving back to men the riches of the earth, letting labor become the universal law of human society, even as it is the law of the universe, that peace may be made among us and blessed fraternity commence its reign…It will come to pass; I will work for it; I shall succeed.”
From Letters of Fishermen
Translated by Allen Rogers Benner and Francis H. Fobes
Thynnaeus to Scopelus
Have you heard the most dreadful news, Scopelus? The Athenians propose to send an expedition into foreign parts because it is a fight at sea they want. Already the Paralus and the Salaminia, their fastest scout-boats, have taken on board the scout-officers, to report from whose house and when recruits must go off to war, are casting off the stern cables that hold them to the shore. The other vessels, taking on board their contingents of soldiers, need more oarsmen and especially oarsmen skilled in contending with wind and waves. So then, my good fellow, what shall we do? Do we run away or stay here? They are enlisting men from the Peiraeus and from Phalerum and Sunium and from as far as the very neighbourhood of Geraestus – toilers of the sea. How could we, who don’t even know the ways of the market-place, endure taking our post in the battle or acting as servants to men-at-arms? Though either alternative is hard – running away, at the cost of sacrificing children and wives, or facing the prospect of committing our bodies to swords and sea at the same time; yet, since staying here is unprofitable, it is clear that running away is more profitable.
From Letters of Farmers
Translated by Allen Rogers Benner and Francis H. Fobes
Phyllis to Thrasonides
If you were willing to be a farmer and to use common sense, Thrasonides, and to obey your father, you would be offering to the gods ivy and laurels and myrtles and all the flowers that are in season; and to us, your parents, you would be bringing wheat that you had harvested, and wine that you had pressed from the grapes, and, having milked your goats, the pail full of milk; but, as it is, you will have nothing to do with field or farming and are loud in your praise of a triple-crested helmet and are in love with a shield, like a hired soldier from Acarnania or from Malis. Don’t do it, my boy, but come back to us and be content with a life of peace; for farming is safe and free from danger – no armed bands, no ambuscades, no phalanxes – and in our old age we shall soon need looking after; choose acknowledged security in preference to your present precarious existence.
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)
A thousand miles, a thousand years,
And all so still and fair,
Then, like some huge invisible train,
Splitting the blue heavens in twain,
Out of the quiet distance rushed
A thunder of shrieking air.
The earth shook below them,
And lightnings lashed the sky,
The trees danced in the fires of hell,
The walls burst like a bursting shell;
And a bloody mouth gnawed at the stones
Like a rat, with a thin cry.
Then, all across the valley,
Deep silence reigned anew:
There was no cloud in the blue sky,
No sight, no sound of an enemy,
But the red, wet shape beside Johann,
And that lay silent, too.
A bugle like a scourge of brass
Whipped thro’ nerve and brain;
Up from their iron-furrowed beds
The long lines with bowed heads
Plunged to meet the hidden Death
Across the naked plain.
They leapt across the lewd flesh
That twisted at their feet;
They leapt across wild shapes that lay
Stark, besmeared with blood and clay
Like the great dead birds, with the glazed eyes,
That the farmer hangs in the wheat.
Johann plunged onward, counting them,
Scarecrows that once were men.
Pliny the Elder
From Natural History
Translated by H. Rackham
But the wonder of everyone is vanquished by the last star, the one most familiar to the earth, and devised by nature to serve as a remedy for the shadows of darkness – the moon…The first human to observe all these facts about her was Endymion – which accounts for the traditional story of his love for her. We forsooth feel no gratitude towards those whose assiduous toil has given us illumination on the subject of this luminary, while owing to a curious disease of the human mind we are pleased to enshrine in history records of bloodshed and slaughter, so that persons ignorant of the fact may be acquainted with the crimes of mankind.