Seneca, Suasoria 2

Translated by by W.A. Edward (Cambridge, 1928). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   

"The three hundred Lacedaemonians sent against Xerxes, when the contingents of three hundred from each of the Greek cities had fled, deliberate whether they too should flee"


But, I suppose, it is raw recruits that have been chosen, and men whose courage can be broken by fear, with hands that cannot support unfamiliar arms, and frames grown torpid with age or wounds. What shall I call you? The chosen of Greece, or the elect of the Spartans? Think of the many battles fought by your sires, the many cities they destroyed the spoils of their many conquests. Do you now betray your temples which are built without ramparts to defend them? Our deliberations put me to shame : even if we have not fled I am ashamed to have thought of such a thing. "But", you will say, "Xerxes comes with thousands". O Spartans, on against the barbarians! I do not appeal to your achievements, to your grandsires, or to your fathers. Their example has inspired your souls from childhood. No, it is a shame so to encourage Spartans. See, the position is secure. Let him bring all the Orient in his fleet, let him deploy before your fearful gaze his useless host: this broad arm of the mighty ocean contracts into the narrowest of channels, then a treacherous passage succeeds, with scarce an entrance for the smallest vessel, and even the smallest vessel is kept away by the stormy sea that flows all round, by the treacherous shoals that rise here and there amid the deeper waters, the sharp rocks and all other dangers that betray the sailor's hopes. I am ashamed, I say, that Spartans, and armed Spartans, look for a way of safety. [2] L   I shall not, you say, carry home the spoils of the Persians? Well then, I shall fall naked on the spoils. Let him know that we are not the only three hundred of our race who will stand and die like us. Say this to your souls: "I know not whether we can conquer : conquered we cannot be". I do not say this, as though we must perish in any case: but, if we must fall, you are wrong in thinking death terrible. To none has nature given the breath of life for ever ; our life's last day is fixed at birth. God created us of frail material: a trifle destroys us: death takes us without warning. Such is the lot of boyhood, so youth perishes. Most of our time we pray for death : so calm and untroubled a retreat it is from the cares of life. But glory knows no death, and those who fall thus men worship as likest gods. Women too have found this path to death a path of glory. Why should I name Lycurgus, why those men, undaunted in all danger, whose memory we revere? Though I should name Othryades alone, yet I can name examples for three hundred.


Surely we Spartans are ashamed to be beaten by the tongue of rumour and not by the sword of the foe. It is a great thing, it is the very sustenance of valour to be born a Spartan. For certain victory all would have remained, for certain death Spartans alone. Sparta needs no stone walls around it: its walls are its men. We shall do better if we recall, rather than follow the contingents that have fled. But, I am told, he tunnels the hills, he bridges the seas. Never did haughty success stand on a solid foundation, and towering empires have sunk in ruin through forgetfulness of human frailty. Clearly powers that have reached an envious height have arrived at no happy end. He has moved from their appointed place the seas, the lands, the worlds. We are but three hundred, yet let us die, that here first he may find something  that he could not change. If we meant to approve of that mad design of retreating, why did we not rather flee in the crowd?


This forsooth is why we remained - to bring up the rear of the fugitives. Among the brave we are readiest to flee, in the flight we are laggards. Do you flee before an idle tale? Let us know at least how brave he is whom we flee. Even victory can hardly wipe out the stain on our honour : though we show perfect valour, though we win complete success, yet much has been taken from our renown: we are Spartans, and have thought of flight. But, you say, we shall perish. For myself, after this debate the one thing I fear is return from the battle. Do old wives' tales dash the arms from our hands? Now, if ever, let us fight: our valour would have been hidden among the contingents. The rest have fled. If you ask my opinion, I shall speak for ourselves and for Greece: We are chosen champions : we have not been deserted.


It is a shame for any man to flee, for a Spartan even to think of flight.


This is why we have remained - to avoid being hidden in the crowd of fugitives. The others have an excuse to offer:  "We thought Thermopylae secure, since we left the Spartans there ".


Spartans, you have shown the dishonour of retreat by refraining from retreat so long. Every state has its peculiar glory. Athens is famous for eloquence, Thebes for religion, Sparta for arms. Is it for this the river Eurotas flows round it, a river that disciplines our boyhood to the endurance of future warfare? For this are the wooded ridges of Taygetus difficult to all but Spartans? Is it for this we glory in Hercules who won a place in heaven by his prowess? Is it for this we have no bulwarks but our armed men? [6] L   Deep is the stain on the valour of our ancestors! Spartans regard their numbers, not their valour. Let us see the size of the host, that Sparta may have, if not gallant soldiers, at least true messengers. Are we then conquered not by arms but by tidings of the foe? Rightly, by Hercules, has Xerxes despised all the world, since Spartans cannot stand before the news of his approach. If you may not conquer Xerxes you may look at him ; I want to know what it is that I flee. Hitherto I have not been like the Athenians in anything. I dwelt in no walled city : my training was not the same. Is their flight the first thing I shall copy?


Xerxes is bringing a host with him : Thermopylae has room only for a handful. It matters not how populous the races poured by the Orient on our world, how numerous the tribes Xerxes drags in his train : we have to do only with those who can find room in the pass.


We came for Sparta, let us let stand us stand for Greece. We have triumphed over our allies, let us triumph over the enemy. The insolent barbarian shall know that nothing is more difficult than to pierce the breast of an armed Spartan. I rejoice that our allies have left Thermopylae: they have cleared the field for of us: no one shall shall rival or share our exploits. No crowd of combatants shall hide the Spartan's prowess. Look where Xerxes may, it is Spartans he shall see.


Shall I repeat to you what our mothers say as we receive our shields, "Return either with these or on these" ? It is less dishonour to return without arms from war than to flee in arms. Shall I remind you of the sayings of captured Spartans ? The Spartan prisoner said: "Slay me, I cannot be a slave". Had he chosen to flee he could have avoided capture. Recount the terrors that the Persians inspire. We heard all that when we were leaving Sparta. Let Xerxes behold our three hundred and see how lightly we esteem the war: let him see just how many the pass can hold. Let us not go home even as messengers, unless we go last of all. I know not who has fled. It was these men here that Sparta gave me as comrades in arms. (Description of Thermopylae.) Now I rejoice that the contingents have retreated : they made Thermopylae too small for me.

[9] L   On the other side.  CORNELIUS HISPANUS

I foresee the greatest dishonour to our country if Spartans are the first in Greece to be conquered by Xerxes. We cannot have even a true record of our valour; there will be no report to believe but the report of the foe. I have given you my decision : all Greece concurs in it. If anyone gives different counsel, he wishes not to hearten, but to destroy you.


They will not conquer, they will overwhelm us. We have done enough for our renown; we are the last to retreat: before we were conquered nature was subdued.


I have mentioned this suasoria, not because there was in it some refinement of thought and style capable of inspiring you, but that you might understand the brilliance or, if you will, the licence of the style of Fuscus. I shall not give you criticism: it will be open to you to decide whether in my opinion his developments are in an animated or in a pampered style. Asinius Pollio used to say that this was playing with words not genuine suasoria. I remember that nothing was so popular in my young days as these descriptive flights of Fuscus, which every one of us used to roll out each in his tone, each with his own rhythm. And now that I have happened to mention Fuscus I shall add famous little descriptive passages from all his suasoriae, even if they have been admired by none but writers of such. [11] L   Fuscus employed in this suasoria the usual division of the argument; he said it was not honourable to flee even if it were safe ; then, to flee and to fight were equally dangerous; lastly, it was more dangerous to flee - combatants need fear only the enemy, fugitives both the enemy and their own men. Cestius passed over the first part, as if no one doubted that it was dishonourable to flee: then he took up this question whether it was not necessary. "This is what troubles you " he said, "the enemy, the flight of your allies, your small numbers".There is an eloquent expression of Dorio's, not indeed in this suasoria, but quoted in this connection. He represents Leonidas as saying, (and I think the remark is found also in Herodotus), "Eat a good lunch, for we are to dine in Hades". [12] L   Sabinus Asilius, the most charming and witty of rhetoricians, when he had recalled this saying of Leonidas, said: "I should have accepted the lunch, but declined the dinner". Attalus, the Stoic, who went into exile on finding himself the object of Sejanus's plots, was an eloquent speaker, and of the philosophers alive in your day by far the most gifted in expression and the most profound in thought. He tried to rival the greatness and nobility of this maxim of Dorio's, and seems to me to have spoken with even more spirit than the former: . . . In a similar connection I remember an idea expressed by Severus Cornelius. As it was spoken of Romans I rather think it lacks courage. He introduces some soldiers feasting on the eve of battle, and says : "Stretched on the grass they say, 'This day at least is mine'". In this he has expressed with fine taste the feelings of minds doubtful of their fate, but the thought is unworthy of the greatness of the Roman soul: for they dine as if in despair of the morrow. How much spirit had those Spartans who could not say, "This day at least is mine". [13] L   Porcellus, the grammarian, criticised this as ungrammatical, because he has introduced more than one, and yet made them say, "This is my day ", not, "This is our day". In doing so he really attacked the best point in an excellent expression, for change "my" to "our" and all the fine finish of the line will be lost: the most appropriate touch in the line is just this phrase which is taken from ordinary speech : "This day is mine" is almost a proverb, and if you refer to the general sense, you will see that even the grammarians' pedantic criticism, to which great minds must not be subjected, is out of place. They said, "This day is mine" each individually, not simultaneously, like a class conducted by a teacher.

[14] L   But to return to Leonidas and his three hundred : there is a very fine saying from Glyco :. . . In this very suasoria indeed I do not actually recall any idea worth remembering of any Greek except Damas: "Whither will you flee, soldiers? you are the bulwarks of Sparta". When Haterius had described the pass in eloquent terms he neatly summed up the position as ground "meant by nature for three hundred". Cestius, after describing the honours that would be paid to them if they fell in battle for their country, added : "Men will swear by our tombs". Nicetes portrayed this idea far more eloquently and added : . . . Brilliantly said were it not that Xerxes is too early in date for this oath of Demosthenes to be possible. The following idea of his is original, or at any rate not identified. After describing the advantage of the position, and how their flanks were safe, and the defile in their rear, an obstacle only to the enemy (he said) : . . . [15] L   Potamon was a great rhetorician at Mitylene who flourished at the same time as the famous Lesbocles whose genius was equal to his reputation. I think I must point out to you how great was the difference in their spirits in a similar misfortune seeing that the point affects not merely eloquence but life itself. Each lost a son at the same time. Lesbocles closed his school; and after that no man ever heard him declaim. Potamon showed a loftier spirit; from the funeral of his son he betook himself to his school, and delivered a declamation. In my opinion the feeling of each should have been modified : in his misfortune the one showed too little feeling for a father, the other too little fortitude for a man. [16] L   Potamon in delivering a suasoria about the three hundred described the dishonour incurred by the Spartans in even thinking of flight, and closed the argument thus : . . . In this suasoria many lost all discretion in speaking about Othryades. Murredius spoke thus: "The Athenians fled because they had never learned the ABC of our Othryades (with their blood)". Gargonius said: "Othryades who died to deceive, came to life to conquer the foe". Licinius Nepos : "Inspired by his example you ought to have conquered even in death". Antonius Atticus seems to have carried off the palm for childishness, for he said : "Victor almost from the tomb Othryades pressed his wounds with his fingers, to inscribe the name of Sparta on the trophy. The ink was worthy of a Spartan : surely he was a hero who even wrote in blood ". Catius Crispus, a provincial orator, after quoting Othryades as an example imitated this idea in a far-fetched way: "We Spartans differ from all the world in our standards of honour: no luxury surrounds our upbringing: no walls protect our lives : no death prevents our victory".

[17] L   Seneca, whose name perchance has reached your ears, had a disorderly and uncontrolled talent. He always tried to talk in a lofty style, and at last this desire became a disease and made him a laughing-stock; for he refused to have any slaves except tall ones and any vessels of silver but large ones. Believe me, I am not jesting, his madness came to such a pass that he had his shoes  made too large for him, he ate no figs except the large kind {mariscae}, and took a giantess for his mistress. Since he approved of big things only, he received the surname or, as Messala says, the "supername" of Grandio, and was called Seneca the Grand. Once in my young days when he had stated in this suasoria the objection : "But, you will say, all he troops sent by Greece have fled", raising his hands, standing on tiptoe, so he was wont to do, to look taller, he calls out: "I rejoice, I rejoice!" As we marvelled what great good luck had befallen him, he added : "Xerxes will be entirely mine". He said also: "He has stolen the seas with his fleet, he has narrowed the lands, he has enlarged the deep, and commanded nature to take a new shape: let him set his camp against heaven, I shall have the gods as my comrades-in-arms". [18] L   What Senianus said was much more extravagant: "He besets the land with his arms, the sky with his arrows, the sea with his chains: to the rescue, Spartans, or the universe is taken". I shall now quote to you a saying of Victor Statorius which although in good style is foolish in idea. He was a townsman of mine and wrote some charming fables not unworthy of preservation. In this suasoria he took the objection: "But we are only three hundred", and replied : "Yes, only three hundred, but men, but armed men, but Spartans, and at Thermopylae: never did three hundred seem to me more numerous".

[19] L   In this suasoria Latro, after discussing all possible arguments, said that they could win, at any rate thanks to their position they could return undefeated, and then added the following: "If we do no more, we shall at least stay the advance of the war". Some time afterwards I remember Arbronius Silo, one of Latro's pupils, father of the Silo who wrote pieces for the ballet dancers {pantomimi}, so not only neglecting but degrading his great abilities, read aloud a poem in which we recognised Latro's idea in these lines : "On, ye Danai, singing aloud the battle-song ; on, in triumph, fallen is Hector, who stayed the advance of the war". So diligent were pupils then, not to mention so critical, that even one word could not be plagiarised : but now anyone you like can with safety give the speech against Verres as his own. [20] L   But to show you that an idea though well-expressed can yet be expressed better, mark with how much more grace Vergil has expressed this famous idea, "Fallen is Hector, who stayed the advance of the war".   "In all our delay before the obstinate Trojan city, it was Hector and Aeneas whose hand stayed the Grecian victory " { Aen. 11.288-9 }. Messala used to say that Vergil ought to have stopped here, for the line that follows, "and bore back its advance to the tenth year", is mere padding. Maecenas thought that it could be compared for excellence even with the preceding lines. But to return to Thermopylae, Diocles Carystius said :. . . . Apaturius said : . . .

[21] L   I must give Corvus the rhetorician a certificate for his stupidity when he said: "Well, if Xerxes is now sailing to attack us after making the sea his own, let us flee before he steals the land from us". This Corvus when he conducted a school at Rome declaimed, in the presence of that Sosius who subdued the Jews, a controversia about her who argued in the presence of married women that they should rear no children, and on this account was accused of injuring the commonwealth. In this controversia the following sentence of his was ridiculed : "amid ointment-boxes and drugs to scent the breath stood the snooded throng". [22] L   But if you like I shall show you folly in a historian too. Tuscus, who indicted for treason Scaurus Mamercus the last of the family of the Scauri, was without principle as a man or felicity as an author. In delivering this suasoria he said: "Let us make a stand for this, if for nothing else, that the arrogant barbarian may not say, 'I came, I saw, I conquered'", although the late Julius said this many years after on the occasion of his victory over Pharnaces. Dorion said: " Men . . . ". Nicocrates, the Spartan, used to say that this argument would have been noteworthy if it had been halved. [23] L   But I won't make fools of you any longer, and I shall end this suasoria here because I promised to show you how Arellius Fuscus developed his subjects. You may possibly be offended by his excessive ornament and jerky style when you reach my time of life : meanwhile I do not doubt that now you will be pleased with those very faults which some day you will dislike.

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