Ὦ βασιλεῦ, μὴ λεχθεισέων μὲν γνωμέων ἀντιέων ἀλλήλῃσι οὐκ ἔστι τὴν ἀμείνω αἱρεόμενον ἑλέσθαι, ἀλλὰ δεῖ τῇ εἰρημένῃ χρᾶσθαι, λεχθεισέων δὲ ἔστι, ὥσπερ τὸν χρυσὸν τὸν ἀκήρατον αὐτὸν μὲν ἐπ᾽ ἑωυτοῦ οὐ διαγινώσκομεν, ἐπεὰν δὲ παρατρίψωμεν ἄλλῳ χρυσῷ, διαγινώσκομεν τὸν ἀμείνω. ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ πατρὶ τῷ σῷ, ἀδελφεῷ δὲ ἐμῷ Δαρείῳ ἠγόρευον μὴ στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ Σκύθας, ἄνδρας οὐδαμόθι γῆς ἄστυ νέμοντας· ὁ δέ ἐλπίζων Σκύθας τοὺς νομάδας καταστρέψεσθαι, ἐμοί τε οὐκ ἐπείθετο, στρατευσάμενός τε πολλοὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς τῆς στρατιῆς ἀποβαλὼν ἀπῆλθε. σὺ δέ, ὦ βασιλεῦ, μέλλεις ἐπ’ ἄνδρας στρατεύεσθαι πολλὸν ἔτι ἀμείνονας ἢ Σκύθας, οἳ κατὰ θάλασσάν τε ἄριστοι καὶ κατὰ γῆν λέγονται εἶναι. τὸ δὲ αὐτοῖσι ἔνεστι δεινόν, ἐμέ σοι δίκαιόν ἐστι φράζειν. ζεύξας φὴς τὸν Ἑλλήσποντον ἐλᾶν στρατὸν διὰ τῆς Εὐρώπης ἐς τὴν Ἑλλάδα. καὶ δὴ καὶ συνήνεικε ἤτοι κατὰ γῆν ἢ καὶ κατὰ θάλασσαν ἑσσωθῆναι, ἢ καὶ κατ’ ἀμφότερα· οἱ γὰρ ἄνδρες λέγονται εἶναι ἄλκιμοι, πάρεστι δὲ καὶ σταθμώσασθαι, εἰ στρατιήν γε τοσαύτην σὺν Δάτι καὶ Ἀρταφρένεϊ ἐλθοῦσαν ἐς τὴν Ἀττικὴν χώρην μοῦνοι Ἀθηναῖοι διέφθειραν. οὐκ ὦν ἀμφοτέρῃ σφι ἐχώρησε· ἀλλ’ ἢν τῇσι νηυσὶ ἐμβάλωσι καὶ νικήσαντες ναυμαχίῃ πλέωσι ἐς τὸν Ἑλλήσποντον καὶ ἔπειτα λύσωσι τὴν γέφυραν, τοῦτο δή, βασιλεῦ, γίνεται δεινόν.
(Herodotus, Hist. 7.10α-β)
‘My lord,’ he* said, ‘unless opposing views are heard, it is impossible to pick and choose between various plans and decide which one is best. All one can do is go along with the opinion that has been voiced. However, if opposing views are heard, it is possible to decide. Think of a piece of pure gold: taken all by itself it is impossible to tell that it is pure; only by rubbing it on the touchstone and comparing gold with gold can we tell which one is best. I told your father, my brother Darius, not to attack the Scythians, people with no established settlement anywhere, but he didn’t listen to me; he was sure he could defeat the nomad Scythians. So he launched a campaign against them and when he came back he had lost a great many brave fighting men from his army. But this campaign you’re planning, my lord, is against men who are vastly superior to the Scythians; they have the highest reputation for bravery on both land and sea. There is danger involved, and it is only right for me to point it out to you. You say that you will bridge the Hellespont and march through Europe to Greece. Now, suppose you suffer defeat in a land or naval engagement, or even in both. After all, these Greeks do have a reputation as fighters. In fact, we can assess their abilities from the fact that the Athenians alone destroyed an army of the size of the one that invaded Attica under Datis and Artaphrenes. Anyway, suppose things don’t go their way in both spheres, but that they engage us at sea, defeat us, and then sail to the Hellespont and dismantle the bridge. That is where the danger lies, my lord.
* Artabanus, Xerxes’ uncle.
(tr. Robin Waterfield)