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The Comparison of Pelopidas with Marcellus
Translated by John Dryden
These are the memorable things I have found in historians concerning
Marcellus and Pelopidas. Betwixt which two great men, though in natural
character and manners they nearly resemble each other, because both
were valiant and diligent, daring and high-spirited, there was yet
some diversity in the one point, that Marcellus in many cities which
he reduced under his power committed great slaughter; but Epaminondas
and Pelopidas never after any victory put men to death, or reduced
citizens to slavery. And we are told, too, that the Thebans would
not, had these been present, have taken the measures they did against
the Orchomenians. Marcellus's exploits against the Gauls are admirable
and ample; when, accompanied by a few horse, he defeated and put to
flight a vast number of horse and foot together (an action you cannot
easily in historians find to have been done by any other captain),
and took their king prisoner. To which honour Pelopidas aspired, but
did not attain; he was killed by the tyrant in the attempt. But to
these you may perhaps oppose those two most glorious battles at Leuctra
and Tegyrae; and we have no statement of any achievement of Marcellus,
by stealth or ambuscade, such as were those of Pelopidas, when he
returned from exile, and killed the tyrants at Thebes; which, indeed,
may claim to be called the first in rank of all achievements ever
performed by secrecy and cunning. Hannibal was, indeed, a most formidable
enemy for the Romans; but so for that matter were the Lacedaemonians
for the Thebans. And that these were, in the fights of Leuctra and
Tegyrae, beaten and put to flight by Pelopidas is confessed; whereas
Polybius writes that Hannibal was never so much as once vanquished
by Marcellus, but remained invincible in all encounters till Scipio
came. I myself, indeed, have followed rather Livy, Caesar, Cornelius
Nepos and among the Greeks, King Juba, in stating that the troops
of Hannibal were in some encounters routed and put to flight by Marcellus;
but certainly these defeats conducted little to the sum of the war.
It would seem as if they had been merely feints of some sort on the
part of the Carthaginians. What was indeed truly and really admirable
was, that the Romans, after the defeat of so many armies, the slaughter
of so many captains, and, in fine, the confusion of almost the whole
Roman empire, still showed a courage equal to their losses, and were
as willing as their enemies to engage in new battles. And Marcellus
was the one man who overcame the great and inveterate fear and dread,
and revived, raised, and confirmed the spirits of the soldiers to
that degree of emulation and bravery that would not let them easily
yield the victory, but made them contend for it to the last. For the
same men, whom continual defeats had accustomed to think themselves
happy, if they could but save themselves by running from Hannibal,
were by him taught to esteem it base and ignominious to return safe
but unsuccessful; to be ashamed to confess that they had yielded one
step in the terrors of the fight and to grieve to extremity if they
were not victorious.
In short, as Pelopidas was never overcome in any battle, where himself
was present and commanded in chief, and as Marcellus gained more victories
than any of his contemporaries, truly he that could not be easily
overcome, considering his many successes, may fairly be compared with
him who was undefeated. Marcellus took Syracuse; whereas Pelopidas
was frustrated of his hope of capturing Sparta. But in my judgment
it was more difficult to advance his standard even to the walls of
Sparta, and to be the first of mortals that ever passed the river
Eurotas in arms, than it was to reduce Sicily; unless, indeed, we
say that that adventure is with more of right to be attributed to
Epaminondas, as was also the Leuctrian battle; whereas Marcellus's
renown, and the glory of his brave actions, came entire and undiminished
to him alone. For he alone took Syracuse; and without his colleague's
help defeated the Gauls, and, when all others declined, alone, without
one companion, ventured to engage with Hannibal; and changing the
aspect of the war first showed the example of daring to attack him.
I cannot commend the death of either of these great men; the suddenness
and strangeness of their ends gives me a feeling rather of pain and
distress. Hannibal has my admiration who, in so many severe conflicts,
more than can be reckoned in one day, never received so much as one
wound. I honour Chrysantes also (in Xenophon's Cyropaedia), who, having
raised his sword in the act of striking his enemy, so soon as a retreat
was sounded, left him, and retired sedately and modestly. Yet the
anger which provoked Pelopidas to pursue revenge in the heat of fight
may excuse him.
"The first thing for a captain is to gain
Safe victory; the next to be with honour slain," as Euripides says.
For then he cannot be said to suffer death; it is rather to be called
an action. The very object, too, of Pelopidas's victory, which consisted
in the slaughter of the tyrant, presenting itself to his eyes, did
not wholly carry him away unadvisedly: he could not easily expect
again to have another equally glorious occasion for the exercise of
his courage in a noble and honourable cause. But Marcellus, when it
made little to his advantage, and when no such violent ardour as present
danger naturally calls out transported him to passion, throwing himself
into danger, fell to an unexplored ambush; he, namely, who had borne
five consulates, led three triumphs, won the spoils and glories of
kings and victories, to act the part of a mere scout, or sentinel,
and to expose all his achievements to be trod under foot by the mercenary
Spaniards and Numidians, who sold themselves and their lives to the
Carthaginians, so that even they themselves felt unworthy, and almost
grudged themselves the unhoped-for success of having cut off, among
a few Fregellan scouts, the most valiant, the most potent, and most
renowned of the Romans. Let no man think that we have thus spoken
out of a design to accuse these noble men; it is merely an expression
of frank indignation in their own behalf, at seeing them thus wasting
all their other virtues upon that of bravery, and throwing away their
lives, as if the loss would be only felt by themselves, and not by
their country, allies, and friends.
After Pelopidas's death, his friends, for whom he died, made a funeral
for him; the enemies, by whom he had been killed, made one for Marcellus.
A noble and happy lot indeed the former; yet there is something higher
and greater in the admiration rendered by enemies to the virtue that
had been their own obstacle, than in the grateful acknowledgments
of friends. Since, in the one case, it is virtue alone that challenges
itself the honour; while, in the other, it may be rather men's personal
profit and advantage that is the real origin of what they do.
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