Images de page

toward all persons; and so proverbial were his truth and impartiality, that when he held the office of archon the courts of law were deserted, all suitors preferring to submit their causes to his arbitration.

104. His chief rival was Themistocles, a young man of great talents, and, perhaps, still greater ambition. At length his opposition rose to the pitch of proposing the ostracism, and Aristides was banished. It is said that, during the voting, the great archon was requested by a man who could not write, to inscribe the name of Aristides on an oyster-shell for him. "Has he ever injured you?" Aristides asked. "No," said the man,


nor do I even know him by sight; but it vexes me to hear him always called the Just." Aristides wrote his name on the shell, which was cast into the heap. As he left his native city he said, with his usual generosity,


May the Athenian people never know a day which shall force them to remember Aristides!"

105. Themistocles was now without a rival in Athens. His acute mind perceived what his countrymen too willingly ignored, that the Persian invasions were only checked, not ended. Proud of the victory of Marathon, the Athenians believed that the Persians would never again dare to attack them. But Ægina was yet powerful, and a fierce enmity had long existed between the two states. Their merchants regarded each other as rivals in trade, while the free people of Athens hated the oligarchy of Ægina. Themistocles resolved to turn this enmity to account, in arming Athens against the greater though more distant danger. He persuaded the citizens to construct a fleet which should surpass that of Ægina, and to apply to that purpose the revenues from the silver mines of Laurium, near the extremity of the Attic peninsula.

Two hundred triremes were built and equipped, and a decree was passed which required twenty to be added every year. Hitherto Attica had been more an agricultural than a maritime state; but Themistocles clearly saw that, with so small and sterile a territory, her only lasting power must be upon the sea. So strenuous were his exertions, that in the ten years that intervened between the first and the second Persian wars, the Athenians had trained a large number of seamen, organized their naval power, and were ready to be as victorious at Salamis as they had been at Marathon.


106. In 481 B. C., a Hellenic Congress was held at Corinth. The command of the Greek forces, both by land and sea, was assigned to Sparta. An appeal for coöperation was sent to the distant colonies in Sicily, as well as to Corcyra and Crete. Emissaries were also sent into Asia to watch the movements of the Persian army. They were seized at Sardis, and would have been put to death, had not Xerxes believed that their reports would do more to terrify and weaken than to assist their countrymen. He caused them to be led through his innumerable hosts, and to mark their splendid equipments, then to be dismissed in safety.

107. The most difficult duty of the Congress was to silence the quarrels of the several states. Athens, by the entreaties of Themistocles, consented to peace and friendship with Egina, and all the delegates formally bound their states to act together as one body. Still many elements of disunion remained. Boeotia, with the honorable exceptions of Thespiæ and Platæa, sent earth and water to the Persian king. Argos was at once weakened and enraged against Sparta by the massacre of 6,000 of her citizens, who had been burned, by order of Cleomenes, in a temple where they had taken refuge. Unwilling to refuse her aid in the common danger, she consented to join the league only upon terms which Sparta refused to accept.

108. Even the gods seemed to waver, and the timid answers of the Pythia prevented some states from engaging in the war. The Athenian messengers at Delphi received an oracle that would have appalled less steadfast minds. "Unhappy men!" cried the Pythia, "leave your houses and the ramparts of the city, and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth. Fire and keen Ares, compelling the Syrian chariot, shall destroy; towers shall be overthrown, and temples destroyed by fire. Lo, now, even now, they stand dropping sweat, and their house-tops black with blood, and shaking with prophetic awe. Depart, and prepare for ill!"

109. The Athenians put on the mourning garb of suppliants, and entreated Apollo for a more favorable answer, declaring that they would not depart without it, but remain at his altar until they died. The second response was still more obscure, but possibly more hopeful. "Athena is unable to appease the Olympian Zeus. Again, therefore, I speak, and my words are as adamant. All else within the bounds of Cecropia and the bosom of the divine Citharon shall fall and fail you. The wooden wall alone Zeus grants to Pallas, a refuge to your children and yourselves. Wait not for horse and foot; tarry not the march of the mighty army; retreat even though they close upon you. O divine Salamis! thou shalt lose the sons of women, whether Demeter scatter or hoard her harvest!” Themistocles, who had, perhaps, dictated the response, now furnished an apt solution. The "walls of wood," he said, meant the fleet, in which the citizens and their children should take refuge. The last sentence threatened woe not to the Athenians, but to their foes, else why was Salamis called "divine"?

110. Arriving with his vast army at the head of the Malian Gulf, Xerxes sent a spy to ascertain the force sent against him. The messenger saw only the Spartan three hundred. They were engaged either in gymnastic exercises or in dressing their long hair as if for a festival. Demaratus, an exiled king of Sparta, was with the Persian army, and he was questioned by the great king as to the meaning of this behavior in the face of overwhelming danger. Demaratus replied, "It is manifestly their intention, sire, to dispute the pass, for it is the

B. C. 480.

*See p. 90, ? 51.

custom of the Spartans to adorn themselves on the eve of battle. You are about to attack the flower of Grecian valor." Xerxes could not yet believe that such a handful of men meant serious resistance. He waited four days to give them time to retreat, but sent a messenger in the interval to Leonidas, demanding his arms. "Come and take them!" replied the Spartan.

111. Battle oF THERMOPYLÆ. On the fifth day the patience of the great king was exhausted. He sent a detachment of Medes and Cissians into the pass, with orders to bring its. defenders alive into his presence. The assailants were repulsed with loss. The Immortal Band were then sent forward, but with no better success. The next day the contest was renewed, with great loss to the Persians and no signs of yielding on the part of the Greeks. But treachery now accomplished what force had failed to do.* A council of war was held among the defenders of the pass, and it was resolved to retreat, since defeat was certain. Leonidas did not oppose, but rather favored the decision on the part of the other generals; he only remarked that it was not permitted to Spartans to fly from any foe. He knew, too, that'the Delphic oracle had declared that either Sparta must fall or a king of the blood of Hercules be sacrificed. He believed that he should save at least his hereditary kingdom, if not the whole of Greece, by the voluntary devotion of his life.

The Thespians insisted upon sharing the fate of the Spartan three hundred. The four hundred Thebans, whose loyalty had been suspected from the first, were held as hostages. The remainder of the Greeks hastily withdrew before the arrival of the Persians. Thus left alone, the Spartans and Thespians went forth to meet the immense army, which was now in motion to attack them. The Orientals, when their courage failed, were driven into battle by the lash, and thousands were doomed to perish before the desperate valor of the Greeks. At length Hydar'nes, with his Immortal Band, appeared from behind, and the Spartans drew back to the narrowest part of the pass, where they fought to the last breath, and were crushed at last by the numbers, rather than slain by the swords of the Persians.

112. The memory of Leonidas was honored by games celebrated around his tomb in Sparta, in which none but his countrymen were allowed to have part. A lion of stone was placed, by order of the Amphictyonic Council, on the spot where he fell; and other monuments at the same place preserved the memory of his brave companions. That of the Three Hundred bore these words: "Go, stranger, and tell the Spartans that we obeyed the laws, and lie here!"

113. Learning the fate of Leonidas and his men, the fleet retired southward for the protection of the coast. The Spartans acted with their

accustomed selfishness, by leaving Athens and the rest of Greece to their fate, while they employed their land forces in fortifying the isthmus, to bar the entrance of their own peninsula. It was with difficulty that Themistocles even persuaded his maritime allies to remain at anchor off Salamis, long enough to allow some measures to be taken for the safety of the Athenian people.

114. ABANDONMENT OF ATHENS. Nor was it easy to persuade the Athenians themselves to leave their beloved city to the revengeful hands of barbarians. But as no other means remained for averting total destruction, Themistocles had recourse, as usual, to a stratagem. The serpent sacred to Athena suddenly disappeared from the Acropolis, the cakes of honey were left untasted, and the priests announced that the goddess herself had abandoned the city, and was ready to conduct her chosen warriors to the sea. The people now consented to depart. Women, children, and old men were hastily removed to places of greater security, while all who could fight betook themselves to the fleet. Only a few Athenians, either too poor to meet the expense of removal, or still convinced that the "wooden walls" of the oracle meant the citadel, remained and perished, after a brave but useless resistance, by the swords of the Persians. Beautiful Athens was reduced to a heap of ashes, in revenge for the destruction of Sardis, twenty years before.

115. The commanders of the fleet now resolved to withdraw from Salamis, and station themselves near the isthmus to coöperate with the Peloponnesian land forces. The Athenians strongly opposed this retreat, which would leave the refuges of their wives and children at the mercy of the barbarians. It was midnight, and the council had broken up, when Themistocles again sought the ship of Eurybi'ades, and convincing him at length of the greater wisdom of his own plan, persuaded him to reassemble the council. The leaders were recalled from their ships and a violent discussion ensued. The Corinthian, Adimantus, opposed Themistocles not only with argument, but with insult. Alluding to the recent destruction of Athens, he maintained that one who had no longer a city to represent should have no voice in the deliberation.

Themistocles kept his temper and replied with dignity and firmness. He showed that the naval advantages of the Greeks in the present war had always been in the narrow seas, where the immense numbers of the Persians gave them no superiority, while their better discipline and acquaintance with the currents and soundings were all in favor of the Greeks. He argued that by transferring the war to the Peloponnesus they would only attract thither the armies and ships of the Persians; while, by defeating them before they could arrive at the isthmus, they would preserve southern Greece from invasion. He ended by declaring that, if Salamis were abandoned, the Athenians would abandon Greece,

and taking their wives and children on board their fleet, sail to the coasts of Italy, where the oracle had commanded them to found a new city.

116. Lest even this argument should not be sufficient, Themistocles had recourse to another of his wiles. He retired a moment from the council and dispatched a trusty messenger to the Persian fleet, assuring its commander that the Greeks, struck with consternation, were preparing to flee, and urging him to seize the opportunity, while they were divided among themselves, to gain a decisive victory. The Persian admiral knew too well the frequent dissensions of the Greeks to doubt the truth of the message. He immediately moved his squadrons to cut them off from the possibility of retreat.

In the meantime Themistocles was again called from the council by the arrival of a messenger. It was his ancient rival, the brave and upright Aristides, still in exile through the influence of Themistocles, but watchful as ever for the interests of his country. He had crossed from Ægina in an open boat to inform the Greeks that they were surrounded by the Persians. At any time," said the just Athenian, "it would become us to forget our private dissensions, and at this time especially, in contending only who should most serve his country." Themistocles led him at once to the council. His intelligence was soon confirmed by a Tenian deserter, and the leaders were now forced to unite in preparation for immediate battle.

B. C. 480.

117. BATTLE OF SALAMIS. When the sun arose upon the straits of Salamis, the Attic shores were seen lined with the glittering ranks of the Persian army, drawn up by order of Xerxes to intercept fugitives from the Grecian fleet. The king himself, on a throne of precious metals, sat to watch the coming contest. His ships were fully three times the number of the Greeks, and no serious disaster had yet stayed his progress. The Greeks advanced, singing that battle-song which the great poet Æschylus, who himself fought on this memorable day, has preserved for us: "On, sons of the Greeks! Strike for the freedom of your country! strike for the freedom of your children and your wives for the shrines of your fathers' gods, and for the sepulchers of your sires! All, all are now staked upon your strife!"

Themistocles held them back until a wind began to blow, which usually arose in the morning, causing a heavy swell in the channel. This seriously incommoded the cumbrous vessels of the Persians, while the light and compact Greek craft easily drove their brazen beaks into the sides of the enemy. The Athenians, on the right, soon broke the Phonician line which was opposed to them; and the Spartans, on the left, gained victories over the Ionian allies of the Persians. The sea was strewn with dead bodies, entangled in the masts and cordage of the ships. Aristides, who had been waiting with his command on the coast of Sala

« PrécédentContinuer »