The Seven Conspirators
Three years passed before the Theban exiles, encouraged by Pelopidas, formed a plot to deliver their city from the Spartans.
They were helped in their plans by Phyllidas, a Theban who had stayed in the city and become secretary to the Spartan governors Archias and Philippus. He had taken this position under the enemy that he might be able the better to help his own countrymen. He agreed with Pelopidas that the time to act had now come.
Epaminondas was also in Thebes, but he would have nothing to do with the plot. He would fight when the time for fighting came, but to slay even tyrants unawares was not to his liking.
Pelopidas and six other exiles did not share the scruples of Epaminondas. They disguised themselves as farmers or country folk, and one evening reaching Thebes as it began to grow dark, they slipped one by one at different times into the city. They then found their way to the house of a citizen named Charon, who had promised to shelter them.
Snow was falling and the streets were nearly deserted, so that the return of the exiles was unnoticed.
On the following day, Archias and Philippus were to be present at a great banquet. Phyllidas, the secretary, had promised to bring to the feast seven beautiful Theban women. He told no one that the promised guests were the seven exiles, who had resolved to don a second disguise to enable them to be present at the banquet.
The day of the feast passed slowly for the conspirators, but at length evening came, and the exiles were putting on the garments that were to make them appear like beautiful women, when a loud knock came to the door.
Already the long day had tried them sorely, and the knock filled them with foreboding.
When the door was opened their hearts beat quicker, for there stood a soldier who bade Charon come to the banqueting hall without delay.
Had Charon betrayed them? The exiles looked uncertainly one at the other. Then they grew ashamed of their distrust and bade their host hasten to Archias to allay his suspicions, if indeed they had been aroused.
Charon was brave and true and he knew that the lives of the seven men were in his hand. He hoped that they trusted him, yet he wished to dispel any doubt that they might have. So he hastened to the nursery of his little son, and carrying the child to Pelopidas, he placed him in his arms, saying, "If you find me a traitor, treat the boy as an enemy without any mercy."
But the exiles protested, and truly, that they trusted him well and needed no such hostage, while Pelopidas bade him take the child back to his nurse.
Then Charon, staying only to ask the help of the gods, hastened to the banqueting hall.
Archias and his secretary were awaiting him, and Archias said, "I have heard, Charon, that there are some men just come lurking into the town. We fear lest they have come to stir up the citizens."
"Who are they? Where are they hidden?" asked Charon. For he wished to find out how much Archias knew.
But Archias knew nothing. It was but a rumour that had reached him.
"Do not disturb yourself because of a rumour," said Charon, who had now no fear of discovery. "There are many tales told in the market-place. But I will find out if there is truth in what you have heard."
Archias was glad to leave the matter to Charon, for he was impatient to go back to the feast. So Charon hastened back to his house to tell Pelopidas and his comrades that their fears were needless, for Archias suspected nothing.
But although Charon did not know it, a letter was at that moment being placed in the hands of Archias that might easily have ruined both him and the conspirators. For it told Archias the whole plot, as well as the names of those who were to take part in it.
The letter had been sent from Athens, and as the messenger handed it to the Spartan governor, he said, "The writer of this desired that it might be read at once; it is on urgent business."
But Archias could think of nothing that night save the banquet and the beautiful Theban women, who should now soon arrive.
Thrusting the letter unopened under the cushion on which his head rested, Archias cried, a smile upon his face, "Urgent business to-morrow." And these words were ever after used as a proverb by the Greeks.
The conspirators had now reached the hall. Their beautiful dresses were wide and loose, for beneath their splendour they wore armour. On their heads were garlands of pine and fir, so that their faces might not be seen.
Archias and his guests clapped their hands gleefully. Here at last were the beautiful Theban women whose presence Phyllidas had promised should grace the banquet.
But in a moment the conspirators had torn off their disguise. Archias and Philippus were slain almost before they had time to realise their danger, while the guests who had rushed to their aid were also put to death.
Pelopidas and his comrades then hastened to the house of Leontiades. But he heard them knocking at the door, and when they rushed into his room a few seconds later, he met them with his sword drawn, and slew the first man who entered.
A terrible struggle then took place between Leontiades and Pelopidas, but at length the traitor was wounded to death.
The conspirators then ran to the prison, ordered the gates to be opened, and the prisoners to be set free and armed, for their only crime had been loyalty to their city.
As day began to dawn, troops from Athens poured into the city to help the Thebans. The Spartans fought fiercely, but after a few days the garrison was forced to surrender, and once again Thebes was free.
The grateful citizens then assembled in the market-place, where the priests crowned Pelopidas and Charon, while the people appointed them governors of the city.