Seneca, Suasoria 5

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

"The Athenians deliberate whether they should remove the trophies of their victory over the Persians, since Xerxes threatens that he will return if they are not removed"


I blush for your victory if you deem that Xerxes can return from such a rout. After the slaughter of so many thousands there is scarcely enough of his great army left (for all his threats) to form an escort for his flight. His many fleets are beneath the sea. No need to remind you of Marathon and Salamis. I blush to say it: we still doubt the reality of our  victory. Shall Xerxes come? Words fail me to tell the depression of his soul at the memory of his loss, his aversion from the thought of his shattered armies. The panic he felt before presages future terror: his past losses bode further disaster and forbid enterprise. Sometimes there is joy and exultation in his soul when the present is the basis of his hopes, then his spirit is shattered as he thinks of past disasters. All confidence fails his soul when dishonour lies heavy on his hopes, when he remembers he was routed on every field. He is benumbed by his losses, and abandons those ill-starred ambitions. If he meant to come he would use no threats : the flame of his anger burns fiercely, it is not extinguished in thoughts of negotiation. [2] L   He would send no warning if he meant to come, nor would he arm us by his tidings, nor goad Greece in her victory, nor provoke her successful arms: rather would he come upon us unprepared. Formerly he sent no warning before putting his armies in motion. In that first assault all the strength of the Orient poured into Greece. In proud reliance on that host he had raised his weapons even against the gods. Low lie all those thousands, as many blotted out before his reign as were destroyed under his  command: none survive except the fugitives. No need to recall Salamis, or Cynaegiros, or thee, Polyzelos! And yet we question our victory! I raised these trophies in honour of the gods, I raised them in the sight of all Greece that none should fear the threats of Xerxes. O, the pity of it! I set up trophies when Xerxes was in the field; shall I remove them now that he has fled? Now, Athenians, we are conquered: men will not believe merely that Xerxes has come back : they will believe that he is the victor. [3] L   By our aid only can Xerxes these remove trophies. Believe me, it is difficult to rally forces ground to the dust, to renew shattered hopes, and from field of battle that you rue to rise to confident hopes in a better issue.


I shall invade, says Xerxes; he is only promising me more trophies. Can he come in greater power than when we defeated him? 


Are you not ashamed? Xerxes sets a higher value on your trophies than on you.


Fuscus analysed the argument thus : Even if Xerxes meant to come unless we removed the trophies they ought not to be removed. To carry out his commands is to confess ourselves his slaves. If he comes we shall defeat him. This statement needs no long proof: I say, "We shall defeat him", of the man whom we have defeated before. But he will not even come: if he meant to come, he would not announce his coming: his strength and spirit are alike broken. Cestius also added the following argument, which he dealt with in the first part, "The Athenians have no right to remove the trophies: the right in them is common to all Greece: all shared in the war: all shared in the victory" : finally, he said it was even a sin against the gods. "Never has anyone dared to lay hands on the memorials in which his valour was enshrined. Those trophies do not belong to the Athenians ; they belong to the gods: theirs was the war: Xerxes' bonds, Xerxes' weapons were aimed at them". Here he introduced everything relevant to the irreligious and proud warfare of Xerxes. [5] L   "But in that case", you say, "we shall have war". "Well, we have had war already, and shall have it again; remove Xerxes, you will find another foe; great empires are never at rest". (Enumeration of the wars successfully waged by the Athenians.) Next he said," there will not be war ; for Xerxes will not come." The most tyrannical are always most fearful. "Lastly, granting that he comes, with whom will he come? He will gather together what your victory left: he will bring those whom he left behind in the last war as useless, or those who escaped from the rout. Every soldier he has either despised by himself or beaten by us." [6] L   Argentarius was content with these two points : either Xerxes will not come or need not be feared if he does. On these two alone he based his argument : here he made this striking statement : "'Remove the trophies', says he: but I reply, 'If you are the victor why do you blush? If you are defeated, why do you give commands?'" Then he raised the following point with good effect: in his judgment neither Xerxes nor any Persian would dare to invade Greece ; but in case an enemy came from that quarter they must guard the trophies all the more, that the sight of them might inspire their own soldiers, and break the spirit of the enemy. [7] L   Blandus said: "Let him first fill up Athos, and restore the seas to their original form. He wishes posterity to know him as he came, let them rather know him as he returned." Triarius neglected all analysis of the question, and merely expressed his exultation at the news that Xerxes was returning: soon they would have a fresh victory, fresh trophies. This statement of Silo Pompeius is both neat and witty: "Unless you remove the trophies", says Xerxes, "I shall come back", that is to say, "Unless you remove these trophies, you will raise others".

[8] L   Gallio was the only one who argued on the opposite side. He exhorted them to remove the trophies: that would not diminish their glory : the memory of their victory would remain for ever, while weather and time would destroy the trophies: the war had had to be undertaken for liberty, for their wives and for their children : it was wrong to undertake another for an idle thing and one the loss of which would do no harm. Here he said Xerxes would most certainly come, and he described Xerxes' pride that braved the gods themselves: he had great resources: he had not brought all his forces against Greece, nor lost them all in Greece : they must fear the fickleness of fortune: the strength of Greece was exhausted, and could not now endure a second war: Xerxes had inexhaustible supplies of men. Here he delivered this sentence eloquent enough for either oratory or history : "We shall be exhausted with victories before they are exhausted with defeats".

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