Cornelius Nepos : Life of Thrasybulus

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.


VII.   Alcibiades   


  [1] L   Thrasybulus, the Athenian, son of Lycus. If merit were to be estimated absolutely, without reference to fortune, I rather think that I should rank this man first of all. Thus much is certain: I put no one above him in sense of honour, in steadfastness, in greatness of soul and in love of country. 2 For while many have wished, and a few have been able, to free their country from a single tyrant, it was his good fortune to restore his native land from slavery to freedom when it was under the heel of thirty tyrants. 3 But somehow or other, while no one surpassed him in the virtues that I have named, many men have outstripped him in renown. To begin with, in the Peloponnesian War he often won victories without the aid of Alcibiades, the latter never without his help; but Alcibiades by some innate gift gained the credit for everything.   

  4 But after all, commanders share every such success with their soldiers and with Fortune, since after battle has been joined, the issue depends rather on the luck and the fighting spirit of the soldiers than on skill. ** Hence the soldier justly claims some share in his commander's glory, and Fortune, a large share; in fact, she can fairly boast that more was due to her in such cases than to the commander's ability. 5 That is why the glorious deed of which I am going to speak belongs wholly to Thrasybulus. Thirty tyrants, appointed by the Lacedaemonians, held Athens in a condition of slavery. Of the citizens whom fate had spared during the war, they had driven a great many from their native land or put them to death; of many they had confiscated and shared the property. Thrasybulus was not only the first to make war upon them, but in the beginning he was the only one.   

  [2] L   Now, when he had taken refuge in Phyle, which is a well-fortified stronghold in Attica, he had with him not more than thirty followers. This was the cradle of salvation for the people of Attica, this was the citadel of the liberty of a glorious state. 2 In fact, Thrasybulus was at first an object of contempt to the tyrants, as well as his handful of followers; and it was that very fact that proved the ruin of those who scorned him and won the safety of the object of their contempt; for it made his enemies slow to attack and strengthened his forces by giving them time for preparation.   

  3 From this it follows that all men ought to bear in mind this thought, that in war nothing should be scorned, and that it is a true saying that the mother of one who knows what fear is seldom has cause to weep. 4 And yet Thrasybulus' forces did not grow so rapidly as he hoped, for even then in those days good citizens were readier to speak for liberty than to fight for it. 5 From Phyle he went to the Piraeus and fortified Munychia. That place the tyrants twice tried to take, but they suffered an ignominious repulse and at once fled to the city with the loss of their arms and baggage.   

  6 Thrasybulus showed no less judgment than courage; for he forbade injuring those who had surrendered (he thought it right for citizen to spare citizen), and no one was wounded who did not strike the first blow. He stripped no dead body of its clothing, touched nothing save the arms which he needed, and whatever could be made use of as food. 7 In a second battle Critias fell, chief of the tyrants, and that, too, ** just as he was fighting most valiantly, face to face with Thrasybulus.   

  [3] L   When Critias had fallen, Pausanias, king of the  Lacedaemonians, ** came to the aid of the Athenians. He concluded a peace between Thrasybulus and the occupants of the city on the following terms: that except for the thirty tyrants and ten others who had been put in power later and had shown the same cruelty as their predecessors, no one should be punished with exile or confiscation of property; and that the administration of the government should be restored to the people. 2 Another noble action of Thrasybulus was this: when peace was made and he held the chief power at Athens, he proposed a law providing that with reference to what had been done in the past no one should be accused or punished; and they called that law 'the law of amnesty.' ** 3 And he not only saw to it that the law was passed, but also that it was enforced; for whenever anyone of those who had been in exile with him wished to put to death those who had been officially pardoned, he prevented it and remained true to what he had promised.   

  [4] L   In recognition of these great services he was presented by the people with an honorary crown made of two olive-branches. And since that crown was a token of the love of his fellow-citizens and was not wrung from them by force, it excited no envy, but brought him great glory. 2 For Pittacus, who was numbered among the Seven Sages, well said, when the people of Mytilene wished to make him a present of many thousand acres of land: "Do not, I beg of you, give me a gift that may excite the jealousy of many and the cupidity of still more. But out of what you offer I desire no more than one hundred acres, ** which will be a token of my moderation and your good-will." And indeed, as a rule, small gifts are lasting, lavish ones are not permanent. 3 So with that crown Thrasybulus was content; he asked for nothing more, and he thought that no one was more highly honoured than he. At a later time, as commander of a fleet, he landed in Cilicia; there his camp was not guarded with sufficient care, and when the barbarians had made a sortie by night from one of their towns, he was killed in his tent. ** 

IX.   Conon →



1.   The phrase ad . . . pugnantium, as it stands in the MSS., is undoubtedly corrupt   

2.   Quidem implies that valour would not be expected from Critias.   

3.   He was king from 408 to 394 B.C.   

4.   Cf. Val. Max. iv. 1. ext. 4, has  oblivio quam Athenienses amnestian vacant.   

5.   The iugerum was a Roman measure equal to about two-thirds of an acre; according to Plutarch, Pittacus measured the amount which he would accept by the distance that he could hurl a spear.   

6.   He was slain by the inhabitants of Aspendus in Pamphylia, who were exasperated at the riotous conduct of his soldiers.   

IX.   Conon →

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