Strategikos Saturday: Onasander on A General’s Power of Speech (Strat. 1.16)

Today, in an ever narrowing spiral of obscurity, we bring you something from the one and only Onasandros.

Onasander was a Greek writer of the first century CE who wrote on Plato put also wrote a short treatise on the art of Generalship. That’s pretty much the beginning and the end of what is known about him.

If I were teaching a class, I’d give out candy or high fives for picking out the Platonic moves in the following (hint: doctors). Note as well that the entire section is one long sentence.

“[A general] should be prepared to speak. It is from this that I believe the greatest aid will come from a leader’s work. For, if a general is stationing his men in battle, his persuasive words make them contemptuous of danger and eager for honors. A strident trumpet does not move the soul to the throng of battle in the same way as a speech uttered on the contest of bravery instills a combative spirit against danger. If some hardship should befall the army, the comfort of a speech will shore up their souls; and a general’s rather deft speech is not less capable of treating the suffering of soldiers than the doctors who attend to wounds. For doctors minister to these men only with medicine while the general reinvigorates the weary and restores those who have lost heart. Just as it is harder to treat unseen diseases than obvious ones, it is also more difficult to restore a spirit from despair with an encouraging speech that it is to address a clear physical malady. No land nor city will field an army without generals nor even choose a general who cannot speak effectively.”

[ι′] λέγειν δ’ ἱκανόν· ἔνθεν γὰρ ἡγοῦμαι τὸ μέγιστον ὠφελείας ἵξεσθαι διὰ στρατεύματος· ἐάν τε γὰρ ἐκτάττῃ πρὸς μάχην στρατηγός, ἡ τοῦ λόγου παρακέλευσις τῶν μὲν δεινῶν ἐποίησε κατα-φρονεῖν, τῶν δὲ καλῶν ἐπιθυμεῖν, καὶ οὐχ οὕτως ἀκοαῖς ἐνηχοῦσα σάλπιγξ ἐγείρει ψυχὰς εἰς ἅμιλλαν μάχης, ὡς λόγος εἰς προτροπὴν ἀρετῆς ἐναγωνίου ῥηθεὶς αἰχμάζουσαν ἀνέστησε πρὸς τὰ δεινὰ τὴν διάνοιαν, ἄν τέ τι συμβῇ πταῖσμα περὶ τὸ στρατόπεδον, ἡ τοῦ λόγου παρηγορία τὰς ψυχὰς ἀνέρρωσε, καὶ πολὺ δὴ χρησιμώτερός ἐστι στρατηγοῦ λόγος οὐκ ἀδύνατος ὥστε παραμυθεῖσθαι τὰς ἐν στρατοπέδοις συμφοράς, τῶν ἑπομένων τοῖς τραυματίαις ἰατρῶν· οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐκείνους μόνους τοῖς φαρμάκοις θεραπεύουσιν, ὁ δὲ καὶ τοὺς κάμνοντας εὐθυμοτέρους ἐποίησεν καὶ τοὺς ἐρρωμένους ἀνέστησε· καὶ ὥσπερ τὰ ἀόρατα νοσήματα τῶν ὁρωμένων δυσχερεστέραν ἔχει τὴν θεραπείαν, οὕτως ψυχὰς ἐξ ἀθυμίας ἰάσασθαι λόγῳ παρηγορήσαντα δυσκολώτερον, ἢ σωμάτων φανερὰν ἐξ ἐπιπολῆς θεραπεῦσαι νόσον. οὐδὲ χωρὶς στρατηγῶν οὐδὲ μία πόλις ἐκπέμψει στρατόπεδον, οὐδὲ δίχα τοῦ δύνασθαι λέγειν αἱρήσεται στρατηγόν.

(If I were reading with Palaiophron, I would complain aloud about the longwinded style of this author and his debased Greek. But, to be honest, his style seems to have some in common with Xenophon though it lacks the polish of classical prose authors and the vigor of the second sophistic).

Leave a Reply