W HEN Epaminondas heard that his friend Pelopidas was dead, he grieved sorely; but nevertheless, knowing that his country had need of him, he vigorously continued his preparations to meet and conquer the Spartan army.
The battle promised to be hard fought; for while Epaminondas, the victor of Leuctra, led the Thebans, Agesilaus, the hero of countless battles, was again at the head of the Spartan army. The Thebans pressed forward so eagerly, however, that the two armies met at Mantinea, in the central part of the Peloponnesus.
In spite of Agesilaus' courage and experience, and the well-known discipline of the Spartan troops, the Thebans again won a splendid victory over their foes. Their joy, however, was turned to mourning when they heard that Epaminondas had been mortally wounded just as the battle was drawing to an end.
A spear had pierced his breast; and as he sank to the ground, some of his followers caught him, bore him away tenderly in their arms, and carefully laid him down under a tree on a neighboring hillside. As soon as he opened his eyes, he eagerly asked how the army was getting along.
Gently raising him so that he could see the battlefield, his friends pointed out the Spartan army in full flight, and the Thebans masters of the field. Epaminondas sank back with a sigh of relief, but soon roused himself again to ask whether his shield were safe.
It was only when he had seen it that he would allow the doctors to examine his wound. They found the head of a barbed spear sunk deep into his breast, and said that it must be pulled out. Still they hesitated to draw it out, for they feared that the rush of blood would kill him.
Epaminondas, therefore, bade them leave it alone, although he was suffering greatly; and then he called for his assistant generals, to give them a few important orders. The friends standing around him sadly told him that both had fallen in the battle, and could no longer execute his commands. When Epaminondas heard this unwelcome news, he realized that there was no one left who could replace him, and maintain the Theban supremacy: so he advised his fellow-countrymen to seize the favorable opportunity to make peace with the Spartans.
When he had thus done all in his power to provide for the future welfare of his native city, Epaminondas drew out the spear from his wound with his own hand, for he saw that his friends were afraid to touch it.
As the doctors had foreseen, there was a great rush of blood, and they soon saw that Epaminondas had only a few minutes to live. His friends wept over him, and one of them openly expressed his regret that Epaminondas left no children.
These words were heard by the dying hero, who opened his eyes once more, and gently said, "Leuctra and Mantinea are daughters enough to keep my name alive!"
This saying has proved true; for these two great victories are put down in every Greek history, and are never spoken of except in connection with the noble general who won them in behalf of his country, and died on the field when the last victory was secured.
In memory of Epaminondas, their greatest citizen and general, the Thebans erected a monument on the battlefield, and engraved his name upon it, with an image of the dragon from whose teeth his ancestors had sprung.
The Thebans, remembering his dying wish, then proposed a peace, which was gladly accepted by all the Greek states, for they were exhausted by the almost constant warfare they had kept up during many years.