This is Google's cache of
Google's cache is the snapshot that we took of the page as we crawled the web.
The page may have changed since that time. Click here for the current page without highlighting.

Google is not affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its content.

Provided by The Internet Classics Archive.
See bottom for copyright. Available online at

The Comparison of Pompey with Agesilaus
By Plutarch

Translated by John Dryden

Thus having drawn out the history of the lives of Agesilaus and Pompey,
the next thing is to compare them; and in order to this, to take a
cursory view, and bring together the points in which they chiefly
disagree; which are these. In the first place, Pompey attained to
all his greatness and glory by the fairest and justest means, owing
his advancement to his own efforts, and to the frequent and important
aid which he rendered Sylla, in delivering Italy from its tyrants.
But Agesilaus appears to have obtained his kingdom, not without offence
both towards gods and towards men, towards these, by procuring judgment
of bastardy against Leotychides, whom his brother had declared his
lawful son, and towards those, by putting a false gloss upon the oracle,
and eluding its sentence against his lameness. Secondly, Pompey never
ceased to display his respect for Sylla during his lifetime, and expressed
it also after his death, by enforcing the honourable interment of
his corpse, in despite of Lepidus, and by giving his daughter in marriage
to his son Faustus. But Agesilaus, upon a slight pretence, cast off
Lysander with reproach and dishonour. Yet Sylla in fact had owed to
Pompey services as much as Pompey ever received from him, whereas
Lysander made Agesilaus King of Sparta and general of all Greece.
Thirdly, Pompey's transgressions of right and justice in his political
life were occasioned chiefly by his relations with other people, and
most of his errors had some affinity, as well as himself to Caesar
and Scipio, his fathers-in-law. But Agesilaus, to gratify the fondness
of his son, saved the life of Sphodrias by a sort of violence, when
he deserved death for the wrong he had done to the Athenians; and
when Phoebidas treacherously broke the peace with Thebes, zealously
abetted him for the sake, it was clear, of the unjust act itself.
In short, what mischief soever Pompey might be said to have brought
on Rome through compliance with the wishes of his friends or through
inadvertency, Agesilaus may be said to have brought on Sparta out
of obstinacy and malice, by kindling the Boeotian war. And if, moreover,
we are to attribute any part of these disasters to some personal ill-fortune,
attaching to the men themselves, in the case of Pompey, certainly
the Romans had no reason to anticipate it. Whereas Agesilaus would
not suffer the Lacedaemonians to avoid what they foresaw and were
forewarned must attend the "lame sovereignty." For had Leotychides
been chargeable ten thousand times as foreign and spurious, yet the
race of the Eurypontidae was still in being, and could easily have
furnished Sparta with a lawful king that was sound in his limbs, had
not Lysander darkened and disguised the true sense of the oracle in
favour of Agesilaus. 

Such a politic piece of sophistry as was devised by Agesilaus, in
that great perplexity of the people as to the treatment to be given
to those who had played the coward at the battle of Leuctra, when
after that unhappy defeat he decreed that the laws should sleep for
that day, it would be hard to find any parallel to; neither have we
the fellow of it in all Pompey's story. But on the contrary, Pompey
for a friend thought it no sin to break those very laws which he himself
had made, as if to show at once the force of his friendship, and the
greatness of his power; whereas Agesilaus, under the necessity, as
it seemed, of either rescinding the laws, or not saving the citizens,
contrived an expedient by the help of which the laws should not touch
these citizens, and yet should not, to avoid it, be overthrown. Then
I must commend it as an incomparable act of civil virtue and obedience
in Agesilaus, that immediately upon the receipt of the scytala, he
left the wars in Asia and returned into his country. For he did not,
like Pompey, merely advance his country's interest by acts that contributed
at the same time to promote his own greatness, but looking to his
country's good, for its sake laid aside as great authority and honour
as ever any man had before or since, except Alexander the Great.

But now to take another point of view, if we sum up Pompey's military
expeditions and exploits of war, the number of his trophies, and the
greatness of the powers which he subdued, and the multitude of battles
in which he triumphed, I am persuaded even Xenophon himself would
not put the victories of Agesilaus in balance with his, though Xenophon
has this privilege allowed him, as a sort of special reward for his
other excellences, that he may write and speak, in favour of his hero,
whatever he pleases. Methinks, too, there is a great deal of difference
betwixt these men in their clemency and moderation towards their enemies.
For Agesilaus, while attempting to enslave Thebes and exterminate
Messene, the latter, his country's ancient associate, and Thebes,
the mother-city of his own royal house, almost lost Sparta itself,
and did really lose the government of Greece; whereas Pompey gave
cities to those of the pirates who were willing to change their manner
of life; and when it was in his power to lead Tigranes, King of Armenia,
in triumph, he chose rather to make him a confederate of the Romans,
saying, that a single day was worth less than all future time. But
if the pre-eminence in that which relates to the office and virtues
of a general should be determined by the greatest and most important
acts and counsels of war, the Lacedaemonian would not a little exceed
the Roman. For Agesilaus never deserted his city, though it was besieged
by an army of seventy thousand men, when there were very few soldiers
within to defend it, and those had been defeated too, but a little
before, at the battle of Leuctra. But Pompey, when Caesar, with a
body only of fifty-three hundred men, had taken but one town in Italy,
departed in a panic out of Rome, either through cowardice, when there
were so few, or at least through a false and mistaken belief that
there were more; and having conveyed away his wife and children, he
left all the rest of the citizens defenceless, and fled; whereas he
ought either to have conquered in fight for the defence of his country,
or yielded upon terms to the conqueror, who was, moreover, his fellow-citizen
and allied to him; but now to the same man to whom he refused a prolongation
of the terms of his government, and thought it intolerable to grant
another consulship, to him he gave the power, by letting him take
the city, to tell Metellus, together with all the rest, that they
were his prisoners. 

That which is chiefly the office of a general, to force the enemy
into fighting when he finds himself the stronger, and to avoid being
driven into it himself when he is the weaker, this excellence Agesilaus
always displayed, and by it kept himself invincible; whereas in contending
with Pompey, Caesar, who was the weaker, successfully declined the
danger, and his own strength being in his land-forces, drove him into
putting the conflict to issue with these, and thus made himself master
of the treasure, stores, and the sea too, which were all in his enemy's
hands, and by the help of which the victory could have been secured
without fighting. And what is alleged as an apology in vindication
of Pompey, is to a general of his age and standing the greatest of
disgraces. For, granting that a young commander might by clamour and
outcry be deprived of his fortitude and strength of mind, and weakly
forsake his better judgment, and the thing be neither strange nor
altogether unpardonable, yet for Pompey the Great, whose camp the
Romans called their country, and his tent the senate, styling the
consuls, praetors, and all other magistrates who were conducting the
government at Rome by no better title than that of rebels and traitors,
for him, whom they well knew never to have been under the command
of any but himself, having served all his campaigns under himself
as sole general, for him upon so small a provocation as the scoffs
of Favonius and Domitius, and lest he should bear the nickname of
Agamemnon, to be wrought upon, and even forced to hazard the whole
empire and liberty of Rome upon the cast of a die, was surely indeed
intolerable. Who, if he had so much regarded a present infamy, should
have guarded the city at first with his arms, and fought the battle
in defence of Rome, not have left it as he did: nor while declaring
his flight from Italy an artifice in the manner of Themistocles, nevertheless
be ashamed in Thessaly of a prudent delay before engaging. Heaven
had not appointed the Pharsalian fields to be the stage and theatre
upon which they should contend for the empire of Rome, neither was
he summoned thither by any herald upon challenge, with intimation
that he must either undergo the combat or surrender the prize to another.
There were many other fields, thousands of cities, and even the whole
earth placed at his command, by the advantage of his fleet and his
superiority at sea, if he would but have followed the examples of
Maximus, Marius, Lucullus, and even Agesilaus himself, who endured
no less tumults within the city of Sparta, when the Thebans provoked
him to come out and fight in defence of the land, and sustained in
Egypt also numerous calumnies, slanders, and suspicions on the part
of the king, whom he counselled to abstain from a battle. And thus
following always what he had determined in his own judgment upon mature
advice, by that means he not only preserved the Egyptians against
their wills, not only kept Sparta, in those desperate convulsions,
by his sole act, safe from overthrow, but even was able to set up
trophies likewise in the city over the Thebans, having given his countrymen
an occasion of being victorious afterwards by not at first leading
them out, as they tried to force him to do, to their own destruction.
The consequence was that in the end Agesilaus was commended by the
very men, when they found themselves saved, upon whom he had put this
compulsion, whereas Pompey, whose error had been occasioned by others,
found those his accusers whose advice had misled him. Some indeed
profess that he was deceived by his father-in-law Scipio, who, designing
to conceal and keep to himself the greatest part of that treasure
which he had brought out of Asia, pressed Pompey to battle, upon the
pretence that there would be a want of money. Yet admitting he was
deceived, one in his place ought not to have been so, nor should have
allowed so slight an artifice to cause the hazard of such mighty interests.
And thus we have taken a view of each, by comparing together their
conduct and actions in war. 

As to their voyages into Egypt, one steered his course thither out
of necessity in flight; the other neither honourably, nor of necessity,
but as a mercenary soldier, having enlisted himself into the service
of a barbarous nation for pay, that he might be able afterwards to
wage war upon the Greeks. And secondly, what we charge upon the Egyptians
in the name of Pompey, the Egyptians lay to the charge of Agesilaus.
Pompey trusted them and was betrayed and murdered by them; Agesilaus
accepted their confidence and deserted them, transferring his aid
to the very enemies who were now attacking those whom he had been
brought over to assist. 



Copyright statement:
The Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson, Web Atomics.
World Wide Web presentation is copyright (C) 1994-2000, Daniel
C. Stevenson, Web Atomics.
All rights reserved under international and pan-American copyright
conventions, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part
in any form. Direct permission requests to
Translation of "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus" by Augustus is
copyright (C) Thomas Bushnell, BSG.