Ancient/Classical History/Sparta and Samos
By an extraordinary coincidence today I found a book - in Spanish - author William Macomber: "Intimidades de la Alta Diplomacia", Ediciones Tres Tiempos, Buenos Aires, 1977, which refers to the question I sent you some days ago (believing it was an incident between Athens and Melos) which I was looking for during several weeks. It states (I traduce from Spanish) the answer the Spartans gave to the Ambassadors of Samos: "We forgot the beginning of your speech; We did not care much about what you said in the middle, and what we really liked was the (its) end". I excuse myself for mentioning in my previous inquiry Athens and Melos, and not Sparta and Samos. I would thank you very much if you could help me with the name of the Greek historian that mentioned this event. Cordially, Rolando Stein.
thanks to your reference to the Spartans and the Samians, I am now able to help you with the name of the Greek historian that quotes a passage regarding a Samian diplomatic mission, which dates back to 525 BC when Samos was ruled by Polycrates who was the tyrant of this island from c. 538 BC to 522 BC.
Such a historian is Herodotus (died 425 BC) whose exact quotation is not “We forgot the beginning of your speech; we did not care much about what you said in the middle.....", but the following:
”ὑπεκρίναντο τὰ μὲν πρῶτα λεχθέντα ἐπιλελῆσθαι, τὰ δὲ ὕστατα οὐ συνιέναι”, literally meaning:
”they (i.e. the Spartans magistrates) answered that they had forgotten the beginning of the speech,and then they could not understand its end”.
As you can see, the sentence you have read in William Macomber: "Intimidades de la Alta Diplomacia” is a free adaptation of the true passage from Herodotus who in The Histories, Book III, chapter 46, says that when the Samians, who were expelled by the tyrant Polycrates came to Sparta and made a long speech before the archons (i.e.the magistrates) to show the greatness of their need, the Spartans “answered that they had forgotten the beginning of the speech and then could not understand its end”.
This way the Spartans meant that firstly the speech had been too long and secondly they did not want to help the Samians who then “came a second time with a sack, and said nothing but this: “The sack wants flour”, just to mean that the sack needed flour just as they needed help.
To this the Spartans replied that the Samians were over-wordy when they had specified that the sack needed flour since it would have been enough to show the empty sack, without using the word “flour”.
Anyway they resolved to help them, maybe because the Samians had, at an earlier date, helped the Spartans against the Messenians.
Please note that either when the Spartans say that the speech had been too long or when the Spartans reply that the Samians had been over-wordy when they had specified that the sack needed flour,they gave an example of their usual laconism, i.e. their famous succinctness of style.
So,the English adaptation of Herodotus passage aims at showing that a too long speech has often the opposite effect in the sense that the listeners do not pay attention any longer.
Hope this is clear enough and can be helpful to you.
P.S.Here are the links to Herodotus Histories, book 3, chapter 46: