The Citizen Soldier by Tyrtaeus (c.650 BC)

I would not say anything good about a man or take account of him

For the speed of his feet or wrestling skill he might have,

Not if he had the size of a Cyclops and strength to go with it,

Not if he could outrun the North Wind of Thrace

Not if he were more handsome and gracefully formed than Achilles,

or had more riches than Midas,

Not if he were more a king than Tantalid Pelops,

Or had the power of speech and persuasion Adrastos had,

Not if he had all splendors, but still lacked a fighting spirit.


For no man ever proves himself a good man in war

unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,

go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.

Here is courage, mankind’s finest possession, here is

the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,

and it is a good thing for his polis and all the people to share with him

when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears

relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,

and has trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,

and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside him.

Here is a man who proves himself valiant in war.


With a sudden rush he makes his enemies flee, and sustains the beating waves of assault.

And he who so falls among the champions and loses his sweet life,

so blessing with honor his polis, his father, and all his people,

with wounds in his chest, where the spear that he was facing has buried

that massive guard of his shield, and gone through his breastplate as well,

why, such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,

and all his polis goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.

His tomb is pointed out with pride, and so are his children,

and his children’s children, and afterward all the race that is his.

His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered,

and he becomes an immortal, though he lies dead under the ground.


It is a brave man who is killed by the furious War God Ares

standing his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.

But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies, and wins his battle,

and bright renown for the work of his spear, all men give place to him, the youth and the elders, and much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.

Aging he has reputation among his citizens. No one tries to interfere with his honors or all that he deserves;

All men withdraw before his presence, and yield their seats to him.

Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of courage

with all his heart, and, so trying, never be backward in war.


Translated by R. Lattimore; edited by R. Shurmer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s