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Xenophon: Begin wars as tardily, end them as speedily as possible


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Xenophon: Selections on war and peace


From Hellenica
Translated by Carleton L. Brownson

“The right course, indeed, would have been for us not to take up arms against one another in the beginning…But if it is indeed ordered of the gods that wars should come among men, then we ought to begin war as tardily as we can, and, when it has come, to bring it to an end as speedily as possible.”


“Moreover, we all know that wars are forever breaking out and being concluded, and that we – if not now, still at some future time – shall desire peace again. Why, then, should we wait for the time when we shall have become exhausted by a multitude of ills, and not rather conclude peace as quickly as possible before anything irremediable happens?

“Again, I for my part do not commend those men who, when they have become competitors in the games and have already been victorious many times and enjoy fame, are so fond of contest that they do not stop until they are defeated and so end their athletic training; nor on the other hand do I commend those dicers who, if they win one success, throw for double stakes, for I see that the majority of such people become utterly impoverished.

“We, then, seeing these things, ought never to engage in a contest of such a sort that we shall either win all or lose all, but ought rather to become friends of one another while we are still strong and successful. For thus we through you, and you through us, could play even a greater part in Greece than in times gone by.”


When these things had taken place, the opposite of what all men believed would happen was brought to pass. For since well-nigh all the people of Greece had come together and formed themselves in opposing lines, there was no one who did not suppose that if a battle were fought, those who proved victorious would be the rulers and those who were defeated would be their subjects; but the deity so ordered it that both parties set up a trophy as though victorious and neither tried to hinder those who set them up, that both gave back the dead under a truce as though victorious, and both received back their dead under a truce as though defeated, and that while each party claimed to be victorious, neither was found to be any better off, as regards either additional territory, or city, or sway, than before the battle took place; but there was even more confusion and disorder in Greece after the battle than before.

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