The Comparison of Fabius with Pericles
Translated by John Dryden
We have here had two lives rich in examples, both of civil and military excellence. Let us first compare the two men in their warlike capacity. Pericles presided in his commonwealth when it was in its most flourishing and opulent condition, great and growing in power; so that it may be thought it was rather the common success and fortune that kept him from any fall or disaster. But the task of Fabius, who undertook the government in the worst and most difficult times, was not to preserve and maintain the well-established felicity of a prosperous state, but to raise and uphold a sinking and ruinous commonwealth. Besides, the victories of Cimon, the trophies of Myronides and Leocrates, with the many famous exploits of Tolmides, were employed by Pericles rather to fill the city with festive entertainments and solemnities than to enlarge and secure its empire. Whereas, Fabius, when he took upon him the government, had the frightful object before his eyes of Roman armies destroyed, of their generals and consuls slain, of lakes and plains and forests strewed with the dead bodies, and rivers stained with the blood of his fellow-citizens; and yet, with his mature and solid counsels, with the firmness of his resolution, he, as it were, put his shoulder to the falling commonwealth, and kept it up from foundering through the failings and weaknesses of others. Perhaps it may be more easy to govern a city broken and tamed with calamities and adversity, and compelled by danger and necessity to listen to wisdom, than to set a bridle on wantonness and temerity, and rule a people pampered and restive with long prosperity as were the Athenians when Pericles held the reins of government. But then again, not to be daunted nor discomposed with the vast heap of calamities under which the people of Rome at that time groaned and succumbed, argues a courage in Fabius and a strength of purpose more than ordinary.
We may set Tarentum retaken against Samos won by Pericles,
and the conquest of Euboea we may well balance with the towns of
As for their civil policy, it is imputed to Pericles that he
occasioned the war, since no terms of peace, offered by the Lacedaemonians,
would content him. It is true, I presume, that Fabius, also, was not for
yielding any point to the Carthaginians, but was ready to hazard all, rather
than lessen the empire of
As to liberality and public spirit, Pericles was eminent in never taking any gifts, and Fabius, for giving his own money to ransom his soldiers, though the sum did not exceed six talents. Than Pericles, meantime, no man had ever greater opportunities to enrich himself, having had presents offered him from so many kings and princes and allies, yet no man was ever more free from corruption. And for the beauty and magnificence of temples and public edifices with which he adorned his country, it must be confessed, that all the ornaments and structures of Rome, to the time of the Caesars, had nothing to compare, either in greatness of design or of expense, with the lustre of those which Pericles only erected at Athens.