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Alfred J. Church

Of the Preparing of the Persians and of the Greeks for the War

Mardonius and his host had their winter quarters in Thessaly. When he was now about to leave them, he sent one Mys, a man of Caria, to inquire of the oracles. This Mys inquired of the oracles and of Amphiaraus in Thebes. (No Theban may inquire of Amphiaraus, for he gave them their choice whether they would have him for their prophet or their helper; and they chose to have him for their helper.) But when Mardonius read the answer that had been given to Mys, he sent an envoy to Athens, even Alexander of Macedon, choosing him because his sister was married to a Persian, and because he was a friend to the Athenians.

Of the ancestors of Alexander there is told this story. Three brothers of the royal house of Argos came into the land of Macedonia and took service with the King, one tending the horses, and one the cows, and one the smaller cattle. In those days not the people only but the kings also were poor, so that the King's wife was wont to bake the bread. And when she baked it she saw that the loaf of Perdiccas, that was the youngest of the brothers, grew to be twice as large as the other loaves. And as this happened day after day she told it to her husband. Then the man perceiving that it was a miracle, and signified no small matter, bade the three depart out of the country. But when they would have had their wages, he said to them, for it chanced that the sun was shining down the chimney into the house, "Here are your fit wages. This I give you;" and he pointed to the sunshine, for the Gods had taken his wits from him. The two elder stood astonished and said nothing, but the youngest, having a knife in his hand, drew a line with it on the floor round the sunshine, and made as if he would draw it up into his bosom three times, and so departed and his brothers with him. Now when they were gone, one went and told to the King what the youngest had done; and the King, when he heard it, was angry, and sent horsemen after them to slay them. But a certain river swelled so high when the three brothers of Argos had safely crossed it, that the horsemen could not follow. (Their descendants yet do sacrifice to this river as to their saviour.) The brothers took up their abode in a place which they call the Gardens of Midas. (Here are roses so great as can not be found elsewhere, having each sixty leaves, and over the gardens a mountain so cold that none can climb to the top.) From this place they went forth till they had conquered the whole land of Macedonia. From this Perdiccas came Alexander the Macedonian in the seventh generation.

Alexander said, "Men of Athens, Mardonius bids me say that there has come to him this message from the King, 'I forgive the Athenians all their trespasses against me. And do thou this, Mardonius. Give them back their land and add to it any other that they will, and build again the temples that I burned with fire, if they will make agreement with me. And they shall live under their own laws.' Mardonius also says, 'This will I do unless ye on your part hinder me. And why do ye stand out against the King? Do ye not know his might? See this great host that I have. If so be that ye prevail over this, which indeed ye can not hope to do, there will come against ye a host many times greater. Why then will ye resist, losing your country and going always in danger of your lives?' These are the words of Mardonius; and I, Alexander, for that I am your friend, beseech you to give ear to him, and to make agreement with the King, who has chosen you out of all the Greeks to make friendship and alliance with you."

Now the Spartans knew that Alexander had been sent by Mardonius to Athens. Whereupon they also sent ambassadors; and it was ordered that they should have audience of the people on the selfsame day. When therefore Alexander had spoken, the Spartans stood forth, and urged them that they should not listen to the words of Mardonius, nor betray the Greeks. Also they promised that they would give sustenance to their women and children so long as the war should continue. To Alexander the Athenians made this answer: "We know how great is the power of the barbarians, yet will we resist it to the uttermost, holding fast to our freedom. Seek not then to persuade us, but say to Mardonius, 'So long as the sun shall go by the path which now he goeth, we make no agreement with Xerxes, but will stand against him, the Gods and heroes whose temples he has burned with fire helping us.' And thou, Alexander, come not again to Athens with such words as these, for thou art our friend and we would not willingly do thee hurt."

To the Spartans they said, "It is like enough that ye should be fearful about this thing. Nevertheless ye, knowing what manner of men we are, did us great wrong. Know then there is no store of gold in all the world, nor land so fair that would tempt us to make agreement with the Persians. For first we can have no peace with them that have burned with fire our temples and the images of our Gods. And next we can not betray our brethren the Greeks that have one tongue with us and worship the same Gods. Know therefore that so long as one Athenian shall remain alive we will make no agreement with Xerxes. As for your kindness to us, we thank you; but we will not be burdensome to you. Only lead out your army with all speed. For we doubt not that the barbarians will invade our land a second time. Therefore should we meet him in Bœotia, and there join battle with him."

When Mardonius heard the words of the Athenians he marched forthwith into Attica, nor would he harken to the Thebans when they counseled him to tarry in Bœotia and seek to divide the Greeks against themselves. For they said, "If the Greeks be at one no power on earth can subdue them; but if thou wilt send gifts to the chief men in each state, thou wilt easily prevail." But Mardonius greatly desired to be master of Athens a second time. This he did, but the Athenians had departed, some to their ships, but the greater part to Salamis.

After this he sent another messenger with the same words that Alexander of Macedonia had brought, for he thought, "Now that they have lost their country a second time they will surely listen to him." When the man—he was a Greek from the Hellespont—was brought into the council, a certain councilor, Lycidas, said, "Let us bring this matter before an assembly of the people." But when the Athenians, both the councilors and they that stood without, heard these words, they were full of wrath, and rose up against Lycidas, and stoned him with stones that he died. And the women ran with one accord to his house and slew his wife and his children in the same fashion. But the messenger the Athenians sent away without hurt.


a torch dance

Meanwhile the Athenians had sent ambassadors to Sparta, complaining that the Spartans had not sent an army to defend Attica from the barbarians. Now the Spartans were keeping holiday, for it was the feast of Hyacinthus, and had no thought for any thing besides. Also the wall which they were building across the Isthmus was now well advanced, so that they were putting on it the battlements. The ambassadors therefore, being brought in before the Ephors, said, "The King was willing to make peace with us, and to give us back our country, and to add to it any other country that we would. But we would not betray Greece, though we knew that it should be more to our profit to make peace with the Persians than to continue fighting against them. We therefore have been true to you, but ye have been false to us, caring nothing for us now that ye have come near to finish your wall across the Isthmus. But come; now that Bœotia is lost we shall best fight in the plain of Thria."

To these words the Ephors made no answer, but put off the matter to the morrow; and on the morrow they did likewise, and so for ten days.

But on the tenth day there came to the Ephors a man of Tegea, one Chileus, that had more weight with the Spartans than any other stranger. This Chileus said, "The matter stands thus, ye Ephors. If the Athenians be not your friends but make agreement with the Persians, then how strong soever shall be your wall across the Isthmus, there will be many doors open into the Peloponnese. Hearken therefore to what these men say while it is time."

This counsel they took to heart. To the ambassadors they said nothing, but that same night they sent five thousand Spartans, and with each seven helots, their captain being Pausanias, the son of Cleombrotus. The next day the ambassadors came unto the Ephors, being minded to depart to their own country, and said, "Ye Spartans stay at home and keep holiday and leave the Greeks to perish. We Athenians will make agreement with the King, and will go with him whithersoever he will lead us."

To this the Ephors made answer with an oath, "The men are gone against the strangers (for they called the barbarians strangers), and are now in Oresteum of Arcadia." When the ambassadors heard this they also departed; and at the same time there went five thousand men of Laconia, chosen men and fully armed.

When the men of Argos knew that the Spartans had departed they sent a messenger to Mardonius, the swiftest runner they could find—for they had promised to keep the Spartans from coming—saying, "The Spartans have set forth, neither could we stay them. Take heed therefore to thyself." When Mardonius heard this he would tarry no longer in Attica, but departed straightway, having first burned with fire and destroyed all that yet stood, whether house or temple. For Attica was not fit for horsemen, and if he should be worsted in the battle, there was no escape save by one narrow pass only. Wherefore he was minded to go back into Bœotia, for this country was fit for horsemen, and also was the country of friends. But while he was on his way there came another messenger saying that there were a thousand Spartans in the land of Megara, having come in advance of the army; and, thinking that he might cut them off, he changed his purpose and marched toward Megara, while the horsemen ravaged the country. Nor did the Persians make their way toward the setting sun further than this. And now there came another messenger saying that the whole army of the Peloponnesians was at the Isthmus. Therefore he turned his course, and came into the territory of the Thebans. And here he encamped his army along the river Asopus from Erythræ to Platæa. And though the Thebans were friends to the Persians, he cut down all the trees in the country, not from hatred but from need, because he would have a rampart and a place of refuge if the battle should go against him. Such a rampart he made of ten furlongs every way.

While the Persians were building this defense a certain Theban made a great feast to Mardonius and the Persians. Concerning this feast Thersander, a notable citizen of Orchomenus, told this story to Herodotus: "I was called to this feast with other Thebans, fifty in all, and there were called also fifty Persians. We were not set apart, but on each couch a Persian and a Theban; and when we had dined and were now drinking, the Persian that was on the same couch said to me in the Greek tongue. 'Whence art thou?' and I said, 'I am of Orchomenus.' Then said he, 'Since thou hast eaten with me from the same table and poured out a libation from the same cup, I will leave with thee a memorial of my belief, and this the more that thou mayest look after thine own life. Thou seest these Persians that are feasting with us and this army that we left encamped on the river. Of all these thou shalt see in a short time but few remaining.' And when the Persian had so spoken he wept bitterly. And I said to him, for I marveled much at his words, 'Shouldst thou not tell this to Mardonius and to the Persians that are in high place with him?' But the Persian answered, 'O my friend, that which the Gods order a man can not change, for though he speak the truth no one will hearken to him. Many of the Persians know these things that I have said unto thee, but are constrained by necessity to follow whither we are led. But of all the griefs in man's life none is so sore as this, to know much and to have power to do nothing.' "

This story did Thersander tell to Herodotus, as he told it to many others also, even before the battle of Platæa.