Corcyra Speech

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Corcyrans Ask for an Alliance with Athens

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I.32-35

[32] Citizens of Athens, when the people of another city come to you asking for help, as we are asking now, it is reasonable and fair for you to consider: 1) whether granting the request will align with the best interests of your city (or at least not conflict with your interests) and 2) whether the city you help will be a grateful friend in the future. All of this is especially true if the city asking for help is not a treaty ally and cannot claim to have done you any favors in the past. If we Corcyrans cannot show that helping us will both serve your interests and secure a reliable ally for Athens, then you have every right to refuse us.

In the past, Corcyra had a policy of not forming alliances with other cities. It may seem inconsistent of us to be asking for an alliance now. Corcya-sp-1It may seem we are going against what we considered our best interest previously. But now we see where that policy has led. We find ourselves alone in our hour of need against a powerful enemy, Corinth. The policy of not forming alliances — which we used to think was wise, because it kept us from being dragged into other people’s wars — has turned into a vulnerability and put us in mortal danger.

It is true we fought off the Corinthians without help  in a recent sea battle. But now they are coming at us again with a bigger force, recruited from all over the Peloponnesian Peninsula and throughout Greece. We see clearly that we cannot defeat this larger force, and it will go hard for us if we fall under their power. We must ask for help, from you and from everyone. So it is understandable, and not cause for suspicion, if we change our policy and ask for an alliance, admitting we were wrong before.

[33] For Athens, an alliance with Corcyra will be beneficial in many ways. You will win honor for siding with the underdog against an aggressor. By making this alliance with us in our darkest hour, you will grant a favor we are sure to remember with gratitude for a long time. Corcya-sp-2And, finally, we have a powerful navy, second only to your own. Think of what a rare opportunity you have before you: to win honor and rankle your enemies by forming an alliance you might otherwise have paid good money for (and been glad to get it). And this alliance falls into your lap with no effort or expense on your part. You get credit for helping the little guy, you win our gratitude, and you add the power of our navy to your own. How many times in history has an opportunity like this come along? It is rare to find an ally who can offer as much benefit as he receives.

Some of you might be thinking an alliance with Corcyra would only be useful if Athens goes to war, and there might not be any war. But those who think Athens can avoid war are turning a blind eye to reality. Sparta and the other cities of the Peloponnesian Peninsula are afraid of your growing power. They are already preparing for war. You must see that Corinth is your enemy, and it has influence in Sparta, which will lead the war against you. Their plan for defeating Athens is to attack Corcyra first, and so prevent our two cities from uniting against them as a common enemy. They want to destroy Corcyra’s navy, or else use it against you. But our plan is to get a step ahead — by asking for this alliance before their scheme goes into action.

[34] The Corinthians may try to say you have no right to make a treaty with us because Corcyra is a colony of Corinth. In reply, we say Corinth has treated us so badly, we no longer honor her as a mother country. Corcya-sp-3The founders of Corcyra didn’t venture forth and build a new city in order to be treated as slaves. We expect to be treated as equals. As an example of their arrogance, look at the dispute over Epidamnus (a city to the north, claimed by both sides). We offered to settle it by arbitration, but Corinth sent its navy rather than come to a peaceful agreement. Let their behavior toward us, supposedly their brothers, be a warning to you, citizens of Athens. The best way to protect your security is not to give in to demands made by your enemy.

[35] Corinth might claim that an alliance with us would violate your treaty with Sparta and its Peloponnesian allies. The fact is Corcyra is a neutral city, and the treaty specifically says that a neutral city may join either side. It is a twisted kind of logic that allows Corinth to recruit sailors not only in its own territory but throughout Greece and even in Athens itself, while denying Corcyra the right to seek any assistance — and then, on top of everything else, accusing you of breaking the treaty if you make an alliance with us. On the contrary, we are the ones with a logical cause for complaint — especially if you reject us, when we are not your enemy, while Corinth, which is your enemy, has a free hand to build up its strength from your resources. By rights, you should stop them from recruiting in your territory, or at least grant assistance to us also, on whatever terms you think fair.

Summing up, an alliance with Corcyra will serve the best interests of Athens. You can be sure of this because our enemies are the same as yours. That is your best guarantee that Corcyra will prove a faithful ally. Keep in mind that there are three great naval powers in Greece: Athens, Corcyra, and Corinth. If you allow Corinth to conquer us, you will have to face her navy combined with ours. If you support Corcyra, you will be that much stronger with our ships on your side, a fact that will make Corinth less likely to treat you with disrespect. Consider also that Corcyra holds a strategic position between Greece and Italy. We can intercept Peloponnesian ships on the way to their colonies in Sicily. We can also stop reinforcements from those colonies if they try to aid the Peloponnesian cities in a future war against Athens. Citizens of Athens, we await your decision.

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