Gateway to the Classics: Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by W.H. Weston
Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by  W.H. Weston


P LUTARCH, who loved comparisons and contrasts, is careful to bring out into strong relief the difference in character between Themistocles and his great rival Aristides. But, however much inferior Themistocles may have been to Aristides in the virtues of justice and simplicity, he was undoubtedly the greatest man of his age in foresight and in fertility of resource; possibly a worse man than Aristides, but certainly a greater statesman. To British boys and girls, justly proud of the great deeds of those heroes of our own race, who

'Left us a kingdom none can take,

The realm of the circling sea,'

it should be especially interesting to find how clearly this old Greek statesman, sailor, and soldier realised the value of sea-power, how steadfastly he pursued his object of making Athens a great naval power, and how skilfully he used the weapon he had forged to shatter the Persian fleet at Salamis. This battle, the crowning achievement of Themistocles, ranks among the very greatest sea-fights in history, both in the importance of its results and the completeness of the triumph. Salamis shattered the naval power of Persia as completely as Trafalgar ruined the French at sea, and Salamis made the final victory at Plataea possible, just as Trafalgar prepared the way for the victories of Wellington. The completeness of the triumph is well expressed by Byron in one stanza of the Isles of Greece:

'A king sat on the rocky brow

Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis;

And ships, by thousands, lay below,

And men in nations; all were his!

He counted them at break of day,—

And when the sun set where were they?'

The banishment of Themistocles on unproved charges was a bitter reward for his unexampled services to Athens. But it at least served to show that, however great his arrogance and pride may have been, his resentment did not so far overcome his patriotism as to lead him, like another Coriolanus, to avenge himself actively upon his native city.

In the words of one of the greatest of the Greek historians, Themistocles was 'of all men the best able to decide upon the spur of the moment the right thing to be done.'

T HE lofty honours which Themistocles attained were in nowise due to the advantages of birth. On his father's side he sprang from an Athenian family which was but of the middle class, while on his mother's side he is said by some to have been of alien blood. But be that as it may, he early showed his ingenuity in overcoming difficulties. For it was a rule of the city of Athens that the base-born lads should assemble for their sports at a separate wrestling place outside the city walls. But Themistocles induced some of the noble Athenian youths of his acquaintance to join him in the wrestling at this place. Thus he contrived to break down one of the distinctions between himself and those of pure Athenian descent.

He was indeed a lad of lively spirit, quick of apprehension, and keenly interested in affairs of state. Even his holidays and times of leisure he spent, not as other boys are wont to do, in idleness or play, but in composing speeches and practising the delivery of these orations. Hence his schoolmaster was wont to say, 'You, Themistocles, are destined to be something out of the ordinary. Great you will be one way or the other, either for good or for evil.'

But though he applied himself eagerly to subjects which appeared to him to be of real importance, he paid but slight attention to merely graceful or pleasing studies. This neglect of the lighter accomplishments brought upon him, in later years, ridicule, which called from Themistocles a proud retort. 'True it is,' said he, 'that I cannot play upon the lute or tune a harp. This only can I do—make a small and obscure city great and glorious.'

The story is told that his father wished to dissuade him from taking part in politics, and to this end took the youth down to the seashore. There he pointed out to his son the old galleys lying forsaken and rotting on the beach, and told him that thus did political parties treat their leaders when they had no further use for them. But the youth, fired with a passion for renown, was not to be persuaded, and very early in life began to take the keenest interest in political affairs. From the outset he was determined to become the greatest man in the state, and, full of ambition and of confidence in himself, he eagerly joined in schemes to oust those who were then the leaders in the state.

Themistocles especially opposed and attacked Aristides, and the breach between them was widened by the difference between their characters. For Aristides was of a gentle and honourable nature, caring much for the interest and safety of the state, but little for his own profit and glory. Themistocles, on the other hand, was at this time madly inflamed with a craving for personal renown, so that the great deeds of others filled him with envy. It is said that after Miltiades had defeated the Persians in the great battle of Marathon, Themistocles withdrew himself from the society of his friends, and lay sleepless at night for envy of the glory which Miltiades had won.

But unworthy envy did not diminish his wisdom nor cloud his foresight. For, while others thought that the victory of Marathon had put an end to the war, Themistocles saw that it was but the beginning of a still greater struggle. Fully impressed by this opinion, he set himself to prepare for the conflict, so that he might stand forth as the champion of the whole of Greece. And he sought by all means in his power to make his city ready for the day of trial.

Not only did Themistocles foresee the coming struggle with the mighty power of Persia, he saw also the means by which the invasion could be defeated. To him alone was given the foresight to perceive that the fate of Athens, and indeed of the whole of Greece, would be decided upon the sea. He found his city so weak in her land forces that they were unable to contend even with the troops of the neighbouring states. Small, therefore, was the hope that they could successfully resist the vast armies of the Persian king. But Themistocles saw that by building a powerful Athenian fleet the means would be provided of foiling the Persian invasion, and of making his native city the mistress of Greece. Thenceforth, by slow but unswerving steps, he laboured unceasingly to turn the thoughts of his fellow-citizens towards the sea.

In the first measures which he took towards this end, Themistocles showed great wisdom. For it happened that the Athenians were at war with the Æginetans, and that the latter, by reason of the number of their ships, held sway upon the waters. Now it was the custom at this time for the Athenians to divide among themselves the money which was derived from the produce of certain silver mines. In this position of affairs, Themistocles came forward with the proposal that the people should forgo the distribution among themselves, and should, out of patriotism, devote the money to the building of ships to be used against the Æginetans. In urging this course upon them he made no mention of the Persians, whose coming invasion was ever in his mind, for he well knew that men are more ready to provide against an immediate, though smaller, danger than against a greater peril which is still remote. And since the minds of the Athenians were inflamed with anger against the AEginetans, Themistocles had his way. The citizens consented to the sacrifice, and with the money thus provided, a hundred ships were built which afterwards did good service against the Persian fleet.

Thenceforward, step by step, the sea-power of Athens was built up under the influence of Themistocles, so that, as Plato says, he changed the Athenians from steady land-soldiers to storm-tossed mariners. Some there were who reproached him with the change, saying that he took from his countrymen the spear and the shield, and bound them, as in servitude, to the rowing-bench and the oar. But the wisdom of Themistocles is sufficiently shown by events. For it was from the sea that deliverance came unto the Greeks, and the city of Athens, after it had been destroyed, was reestablished by the galleys which the foresight of Themistocles had provided.

Meanwhile, Themistocles sought by all means the favour of the people. He is said to have been eager to acquire riches, in order that he might be liberal in giving to others and in providing splendid entertainments. He was able to salute each citizen by name, and this proof of his notice greatly pleased the common people. Moreover, in disputes between private persons, he showed himself a just and upright judge. Thus his favour with the people increased, and his party, having gained the upper hand over the faction of Aristides, procured the banishment of his rival from Athens.

At length the time of danger which Themistocles had long foreseen and for which he had long prepared arrived. The vast hosts of the King of Persia were set in motion and advanced upon Greece. Meanwhile, the Athenians were eagerly discussing the choice of a commander, and there appeared a danger lest the popular choice should fall upon one who was indeed a man of eloquent tongue, but who was faint-hearted and a slave to the love of riches. Under such leadership all must have been lost, but Themistocles, it is said, averted the danger by buying off the orator's claims by the payment of a sum of money.

During the advance of the Persian host, Themistocles in many ways gave evidence of the resolute spirit with which he faced the danger. Thus, when the Persian King Xerxes sent messengers and an interpreter into Greece demanding from the Greeks earth and water in token of subjection, Themistocles caused the interpreter to be seized and put to death for daring to utter the barbarian orders in the Greek tongue. And when another came, bearing gold with which to bribe the Greeks to espouse the Persian cause, Themistocles issued an order by which the agent of Xerxes and all his descendants were declared infamous. But most of all to the credit of Themistocles was his success in persuading the Grecian states to lay aside their quarrels among themselves during the Persian war, and to present a united front against the common foe.

When the command of the forces of Athens had been given to Themistocles, he at once endeavoured to persuade the citizens to leave the city and to take to their ships, in order that they might fight the enemy as far as might be from Greece. But, as many opposed this plan, he led a large land force into Thessaly. The army, however, returned without accomplishing anything of importance; and when it was known that Thessaly and the states even to the very borders of Attica were going over to the Persians, the Athenians were more ready to listen to the advice of Themistocles, and to fight the matter out at sea.

They therefore sent him with the ships to guard the straits of Artemisium against the advance of the Persian fleet, and there the Athenians were joined by the ships of the allied Greek states. The majority of the allies wished that Eurybiades should have the supreme command, and begin the fight with his Spartans. To this the Athenians were loath to consent. For, as the number of their ships exceeded that of all the other allies together, they considered the post of honour their rightful due. Themistocles, however, seeing the danger of any division among the allies at this time, persuaded his fellow-citizens to submit, telling them that, if they acquitted themselves manfully in the war, their allies would of their own free will award them the post of honour in the future. Thus the moderation of Themistocles upon this occasion prevented disunion among the Greeks, and contributed to the deliverance of his country. Moreover, through him the Athenians gained the lofty glory of alike surpassing their enemies in valour and their allies in wisdom.

But, when the vast armada of Persia appeared in sight, Eurybiades was astonished at the prodigious number of vessels, the more so as he learnt that two hundred other ships of the enemy were hidden from view by an island which lay between them and the Grecian fleet. He despaired of conquering so vast a navy, and was anxious to retreat to the coasts of the southern peninsula of Greece, where he might have the support of his land forces. Against this timorous policy Themistocles exerted all his arguments, and it was only by his urgent advice and his stratagems that the fleet of the Greeks was kept together to face the foe.

No decisive result arose from the battles of Artemisium which followed. But from them the Athenians drew this great advantage. They learnt in the press of actual battle that neither the numbers of the foe, nor the splendour of their arms and ornaments, nor their boastful barbaric shoutings were terrible to men of resolute courage. Such things they learnt to despise, and they learnt, too, to come to close grips with their foes and fight them hand-to-hand. Therefore the poet Pindar rightly says of the fights at Artemisium, that in those conflicts with the invaders Athens laid the foundation-stones of liberty.

Soon, however, there came to the fleet at Artemisium the news that Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans had fallen in heroic fight in the Pass of Thermopylae, and that the Persian king was master of all the passes into Greece by land. Thereupon the Grecian fleet retreated, and to the Athenians, elated by the valour they had displayed, was given the command of the rear, as the post of most danger and honour. As the fleet sailed along Themistocles caused to be set up, at all likely places along the coast, stones bearing inscriptions calling upon the Ionians, who were serving with the Persians, to come to the aid of the Greeks from whom they were descended. This he did hoping that the Ionians would indeed come to the succour of their kinsmen, or that, at the least, the Persians might be made to doubt the fidelity of the Ionians, and thus dissension be spread in the ranks of the enemy.

By this time Xerxes had advanced some distance southward, devastating the country and destroying the cities, and daily the danger to Athens became more imminent as he approached the borders of Attica. The Athenians urgently, but in vain, implored the allies to join them in opposing the Persian host beyond the northern borders of their state. For the thoughts of all the allies were engrossed with the defence of the Peloponnesus, the southern peninsula of Greece, which they hoped to secure by building a rampart across the narrow Isthmus of Corinth.

Thus the Athenians, enraged by their betrayal and cast down by their desertion, were left to their own resources. To fight alone against such a host was hopeless; one course only remained to them—to abandon their beloved city and to take to their ships. But this the common people were very unwilling to do, not seeing how even victory in the future would profit them, if their homes were left desolate, and the temples of their gods and the tombs of their forefathers abandoned to the fury of the barbarians.

In this position of affairs Themistocles, being at a loss how to persuade the people by any use of human reason, had recourse to signs and wonders. The serpent of Athene, patron goddess of Athens, disappeared mysteriously from the inner sanctuary of her temple. Acting upon the suggestion of Themistocles, the priests declared that the disappearance signified that the goddess herself had departed from the city and had gone down before them to the sea. Moreover, Themistocles made use of an oracle, which declared that when 'all else was captured the wall of wood alone should remain.' He urged upon the citizens that by 'walls of wood' the oracle could mean nothing but ships; moreover that, in speaking further of 'divine Salamis,' the oracle revealed that the island of Salamis should one day be the scene of some great good fortune to the Greeks. So at length Themistocles prevailed upon the Athenians to leave their beloved city and set sail for Salamis.

A decree was therefore passed that Athens should be left to the protection of its patron goddess, and that all citizens able to bear arms, having first sent away their dependents to some place of safety, should embark on board the ships. In accordance with this decree, most of the Athenians sent their parents, wives and children to Trœzen, where they were received with ready good-will and hospitality.

Thus the whole city of Athens was embarked upon board ship. It was indeed a sight to awaken both pity and admiration, to see the citizens thus send away their beloved ones, and, without yielding to their tears and embraces, themselves man the fleet and pass over to the island of Salamis. Especially was compassion stirred on account of the many old men who, by reason of their great age and infirmity, were left behind in the abandoned city. Nor, indeed, could even the dogs and other tame animals be seen without pity. For they ran piteously along the shore, when the ships put off, as if imploring their masters to take them. One dog, so it is said, leaped into the sea and swam beside his master's galley even until the fleet came to Salamis, where the faithful creature lay down exhausted and died.

The recall of Aristides was not the least of the great actions of Themistocles at this time. Perceiving that the people regretted the absence of their former leader in this crisis of their affairs, he procured the passing of a decree to the effect that those Athenians who had been banished might return to aid the cause of Greece. Thus Aristides, who had formerly been banished through the party of Themistocles, was now restored by his influence.

On account of the greatness of Sparta, its admiral Eurybiades was given the command of the whole of the Greek fleet which assembled off Salamis. He was, however, unfitted for the command, for he was faint-hearted in the presence of danger. And at this juncture he wished to weigh anchor and to set sail for the Isthmus of Corinth, near which the army of the Greeks was encamped. Themistocles exerted all his influence in opposition to this proposal. He saw that the only hope of the Greeks was to fight the battle in the narrow straits, where the Persians would largely lose the advantage of their vast numbers. On one occasion Eurybiades, to check the eagerness of the Athenian commander to engage the enemy, reminded him that, in the Olympic sports, those who started before the signal for the race was given, received the lash. 'True,' replied Themistocles, 'but those who lag behind at the start do not win the race.' On another occasion, Eurybiades, whose patience was tried by the persistent arguments of Themistocles, lifted his staff as if to strike the Athenian. Thereupon Themistocles said calmly, 'Strike if you will, but at least hear me.' The Spartan could not but admire such self-command, and in spite of himself listened to the Athenian's further arguments against retreat. But one of the officers who stood by broke in with the taunting words: 'It ill becomes you Athenians, who have no city of your own, to advise us to give up our homes and abandon our countries.' Themistocles sharply retorted: 'Base fellow art thou to use such a taunt! True it is that we have left our houses and our walls, for we will not endure to be made slaves for the sake of such things. But in these two hundred ships here ready to defend you all, we still possess the finest city in Greece.'

While Themistocles, standing upon the deck of one of the ships, reasoned thus, it is said that an owl, a bird sacred to the goddess Athene, the protectress of Athens, came and perched upon the mast. By this fortunate omen the Greeks were encouraged to prepare for the fight.

But presently the Persian ships appeared in such numbers that they hid the neighbouring coasts from view. At the same time Xerxes himself was seen marching his land forces down to the shore. Amazed at the sight of such vast armaments the Greeks forgot the counsels of Themistocles. Once again the Peloponnesians, despairing of present victory, bent their thoughts upon the defence of the Isthmus. They resolved to retreat that very night, and gave orders to that effect to the pilots.

Thus Themistocles at the last moment was faced by the prospect of the failure of his plans, and of the loss of the advantage of position in the narrow straits upon which his hopes of victory were based. He therefore had recourse to craft. There was with him an attendant who, though he was a Persian captive, was nevertheless devoted to his master. Themistocles secretly sent this servant to the Persian king with a message saying that the Athenian leader intended to betray his country, and to go over to the Persians. Further, to persuade the king that he really intended to play the traitor, Themistocles informed him of the intention of the Greeks, and besought him to prevent their escape. Xerxes fell into the trap thus artfully prepared for him. Overjoyed at the news, he did as Themistocles had desired and foreseen, and gave orders that all the passages to the open sea should be beset to prevent the escape of the enemy.

Aristides, who was then in a neighbouring island, was the first to perceive that the Grecian fleet was thus surrounded. At great risk he sailed by night through the midst of the Persian ships and bore the news to Themistocles. The Athenian commander took his former enemy into his confidence and told him of the measures he had taken. Aristides approved the wisdom of his action, and supported him in advising the Greeks that their only hope of safety lay in engaging the enemy. The allies, however, would scarcely believe that they were surrounded, until the crew of a galley which deserted from the Persians confirmed the truth of the report. Then indeed they saw that there remained for them nothing but to fight, and anger and necessity alike fired them for the combat.

At daybreak the Persian king seated himself upon a rocky height overlooking the narrow waters below. He sat, confident of victory, upon a throne of gold, While around him were many scribes whose business it was to write down the events of the battle. Beneath him he saw his fleet of twelve hundred great ships, and a vast number of smaller vessels, blocking up the entrances to the narrow strait between the island of Salamis and the mainland.

The wisdom which Themistocles had displayed in the choice of a place for the battle was no less shown in his choice of the most favourable time for the combat. For, at a certain time in each day, it usually happened that a brisk wind blew in from the open sea, and raised high waves in the narrow channel. The rough water was no inconvenience to the Grecian ships, which lay low in the water and were solidly built. But the Persian ships, which had lofty sterns and decks and were clumsy and unwieldy, were with difficulty managed in the high waves. Until this wind arose Themistocles shunned an engagement, but when the Persian ships, pitching violently in the heavy sea, exposed their sides to attack, the Greeks fell upon them furiously.

Throughout the fight all paid special attention to the actions of Themistocles, as being the most skilful of the Greek leaders. Against him, too, the Persian admiral, by far the bravest of the brothers of Xerxes, chiefly directed his efforts. The Persian's ship was very lofty, and from her decks darts and arrows were rained as from the walls of a castle. But a Grecian ship bore down upon her, and the vessels meeting prow to prow, the brazen ram of each transfixed the timbers of its opponent. Thus the two ships were firmly fixed together, and across the bridge thus formed the Persian admiral leapt to board the Grecian galley. But the Greek pikes were ready to receive him: he was transfixed and his dead body thrust into the sea. As it floated among others it was recognised by a follower of the Persians, and was carried to his brother the king.


Death of the Persian Admiral at Salamis

So the fight raged furiously. And, on account of the narrowness of the straits, but few of the Persian ships could come against the Greeks at any one time. Indeed, their very numbers often threw the Persian fleet into confusion, since the ships interfered with the movements of one another. Thus the Greeks equalled them in the fighting line, and fought with them all through the day. When evening fell the Persian fleet was utterly broken, and great numbers of its ships were sunken or captured. Thus was won the battle of Salamis, the greatest naval victory of ancient days, and one of the most wonderful sea-fights of all time. The victory was gained, of course, by the valour of all the Greeks, but especially by the wisdom and skill of Themistocles.

After the battle, Xerxes, full of rage at the unexpected defeat of his fleet, tried to build a great dam across the narrow strait between the mainland and the island of Salamis, so as to shut in the Greeks completely. Meanwhile Themistocles, in order to test the opinion of Aristides, proposed to him that they should set sail to the Hellespont and destroy the bridge of boats across that strait by which Xerxes had crossed from Asia into Europe and by which he could alone retreat. Aristides by no means agreed with this plan. 'Hitherto,' said he, 'we have had to do with a slothful foe steeped in luxury, but if we shut him up in Europe necessity will drive him to fight desperately. So, awakened by danger, and taught by his past errors, he may yet win victory with his vast land forces. Therefore, instead of breaking down that bridge, we should rather build him another one, if by so doing we may hasten his departure.' This indeed was the real opinion of Themistocles, and he set about to contrive means to hasten the Persian king's retreat.

He therefore sent one of Xerxes' servants, who had been taken prisoner, with a message to the king saying that the Greeks intended to sail to the Hellespont to break down the bridge, and that Themistocles, who was really his friend, advised him to hasten into Asia with all speed before they could do so. Further, the message said that Themistocles, in order to provide time for the safe passage of the Hellespont, would by every means seek to delay the pursuit by the Grecian fleet.

This message filled Xerxes with terror at his own danger, and he retired from Europe with the greatest possible speed.

Not even envy could refuse to admit that the chief credit for the wonderful success at Salamis was due to Themistocles. The Spartans indeed awarded the prize of valour to their own admiral, Eurybiades, but to Themistocles they assigned the award of wisdom. Both they crowned with the olive wreath. Moreover, they presented the Athenian with the finest chariot in their city, and when he departed ordered three hundred of their youths to attend him to the borders of their state.

At the next Olympic games the attention of the spectators was distracted from the sports and the champions when Themistocles entered the ring. All had eyes but for him, greeted him with loud applause, and pointed him out to strangers with admiration.

All this praise was very grateful to Themistocles, who was by nature greedy of fame and glory, as is shown by some of his memorable acts and sayings. For example, when he was elected admiral by the Athenians, he put off all manner of business, public and private, until the day upon which he was to embark, so that the multitude of affairs he then had to transact might impress the people with a great idea of his importance.

On one occasion, walking on the seashore with a friend, he came upon a number of dead bodies washed up by the sea, and upon them were chains and ornaments of gold. 'You,' said he to his companion, 'may take these things, for you are not Themistocles.'

He was accustomed to say that the Athenians did not pay him any sincere respect, but that they sheltered themselves under him in times of danger, as men take refuge from a storm beneath a spreading plane-tree which, when fair weather came again, they would strip of leaves and branches.

A certain officer, who considered that he had done the state worthy service, ventured to set up a comparison between himself and Themistocles. Thereupon the latter answered him with this fable:

'Once upon a time there happened a dispute between the Feast-Day  and the Day after the Feast.  The latter claimed to be the most important as being a day of bustle and commotion, whereas the Feast-Day  was a day of easy enjoyment. "You are right," said the Feast-Day,  "but if I had not been before you, you would not have been at all."

'In like manner,' said Themistocles to the officer, 'if it had not been for me, where would you have been?'

It chanced that his son was able to get his own way with his mother. 'This child,' said Themistocles, laughing, 'is greater than any man in Greece, for he rules his mother, his mother rules me, I rule the Athenians, and the Athenians rule Greece.'

When two citizens sought his daughter in marriage, he preferred the one who was a man of worth to the other, whose chief merit was his wealth, for, said he, 'I prefer that she should marry a man without money rather than money without a man.'

In this pointed way he often expressed himself. The next enterprise of Themistocles, after the great actions which have been related, was the rebuilding and fortifying of the city of Athens. When that was completed, he proceeded to construct and fortify the Piræus as the harbour of the town. Further, he joined Athens and the Piræus by a line of communication. Thus he strengthened the city as a naval and maritime power.

He had indeed a design in his mind, after the retreat of Xerxes, to make Athens the sole naval power in Greece. The fleet of the allies having gone into winter quarters, Themistocles announced to his fellow-citizens in full assembly that he had hit upon a plan which would be greatly to the advantage of the state, but which he could not communicate to the whole body of citizens. The Athenians therefore told him to inform Aristides alone of his project, and to abide by his decision as to whether it should be put into practice. To him, accordingly, Themistocles disclosed his plan of treacherously burning the allied fleet in its winter quarters. Such a plan was repugnant to the noble spirit of Aristides, and he informed the citizens that the plan was indeed to their advantage, but that no proposal could be more unjust. The Athenians therefore commanded Themistocles to think no more about it.

But about this time Themistocles stirred up powerful enemies. He displeased the Spartans by opposing their plans, and they therefore gave their support to those Athenians who were opposed to his party. Moreover, he offended the allies by sailing round the Grecian islands, and exacting contributions of money from them.

In Athens, too, envy readily gave ear to evil reports, and the displeasure of many was increased by the arrogance of Themistocles and by his insistence upon his own services to the state. 'Are you weary,' he would say when this displeasure was expressed, 'of so often receiving benefits from the same man?'

At length the Athenians, unable any longer to tolerate the high distinction which Themistocles had attained, pronounced against him the Ostracism, or ten years' banishment, as they had done to other great men whose power had become a burden to them.

For some time the fallen leader sheltered himself in other Grecian cities. But it chanced that Pausanias, who had rendered great services to Greece, was now nevertheless plotting to go over to the Persians. Seeing that Themistocles was driven into exile, Pausanias conceived that he would be filled with anger against the Athenians, and ventured to tell him of the intended treason. Themistocles refused to have any share in it, but nevertheless kept the secret which had been entrusted to him and gave no information to the Greeks. Hence, when the plot was discovered and writings concerning it were found, great suspicion fell upon Themistocles. The charge being brought against him, he answered by letter saying, 'I, Themistocles, who was born to command and not to serve others, could not sell myself, and Greece with me, into servitude to the enemy.' Nevertheless, his enemies prevailed, and messengers were sent to seize him and bring him before the states of Greece. For some time he was forced to wander from place to place in Greece and the neighbouring countries, always pursued by the hatred of his fellow-countrymen. At length he was driven to seek refuge in Asia within the domains of the Persian king.

There he was in great peril, for the king had by proclamation offered a reward of two hundred talents to any one who should capture him. For a few days he lay hid in a little town where he was known to none save his host. But, being warned in a dream, he determined to take the risk of setting out to the court of the Persian king. Now the Persians are very jealous to keep their women folk from the gaze of other men, and for this reason their wives and daughters are kept closely shut up at home, and, when they travel, are borne along in carriages covered in on all sides. To provide for his safety, Themistocles was carried in such a conveyance, and the attendants were told to give out that they were carrying an Ionian lady to a gentleman at court.

Arrived thither, Themistocles prepared for the dangerous experiment of presenting himself before the Persian king. He applied first to an officer of the court, whom he told that he was a Greek desirous of having audience with the king on matters of high importance. He was informed that he could only come before the king if he bore himself, not according to the manner of the Greeks, who loved liberty and equality above all things, but according to the manner of the Persians, who were accustomed to prostrate themselves before the king as before the very image of the deity that rules all things. Themistocles having professed himself ready to adopt the Persian custom, the officer asked him, 'Who shall we say that you are? By your conversation you seem to be no ordinary man.' 'That,' replied Themistocles, 'no man must know before the king himself.'

So the Athenian was brought before the king, prostrated himself and stood silent. Then the king commanded an interpreter to ask the Greek who he was, and the question being put, Themistocles answered:

'I, who now come to address myself unto you, O king, am Themistocles the Athenian, an exile driven from Greece. The Persians have suffered much from me, but, after I had delivered Greece and saved Athens, I did them a great service in preventing the pursuit of their army. And as my present misfortunes are, so is my attitude of mind. If you will favour me, I will welcome your favour; if you cherish anger against me, I will submit to it.'


Themistocles at the Persian Court

The king admired his courage, but gave him no answer. But privately among his friends he rejoiced at the submission of Themistocles as the most fortunate of all events, and prayed to the gods that his enemies might ever be smitten with the madness of driving away into exile their greatest men. So much was he filled with joy that, it is said, even in his sleep he cried out thrice, 'Themistocles the Athenian is mine.'

As soon as it was day the king gave orders that Themistocles should be brought before him. The Athenian expected no favour, for the guards when they heard his name revHed him, and one of the officers as he passed said, 'The king's good fortune has brought thee hither, thou wily serpent of Greece.' But when he had come into the presence and had prostrated himself, the king spoke graciously to him, saying that since Themistocles had given himself up, the two hundred talents offered for his taking were due to him. Further, the king assured the Athenian of protection, and commanded him to utter all that he had to propose with regard to Greece. Themistocles answering said, 'A man's conversation is like a piece of tapestry, which, when spread open displays the figures upon it, but when folded, the designs are lost to view.' Therefore he besought the king to give him time that he might learn the Persian tongue, in order to unfold his mind freely to the king without the help of an interpreter.

The king, pleased with the answer, gave him a year as he desired. Moreover, the monarch honoured him beyond all other strangers, taking him a-hunting and conversing freely with him. For his support there were granted to him three, as some say, or, as others have it, five cities. For these reasons Themistocles incurred the envy of some of the Persian nobles, the more so as about this time a number of them who attended upon the king were dismissed from their posts, and it was suspected that the conversations of Themistocles with the monarch were the cause.

It happened that during this time Themistocles had occasion to travel to the seacoast. A certain Persian noble, who had long designed to kill him and had prepared murderers for the purpose, determined to carry out his plan when Themistocles should reach a certain place, the name of which, being interpreted, signifies the Lion's Head. But, as Themistocles lay asleep one day at noon-tide, he dreamt that the mother of the gods appeared unto him and said, 'Beware, Themistocles, of the Lion's Head, lest the Lion crush you.' Themistocles awoke much disturbed in mind, and having returned thanks to the goddess, left the highroad so as to avoid the place of danger, and took up his quarters for the night at a place beyond it. It chanced that on the way one of the horses which carried his tent fell into a river. A party of servants were therefore left behind to spread out the hangings to dry. In the darkness the murderers approached with drawn swords, and taking the hangings to be the tent wherein Themistocles was sleeping, lifted them up with the intention of slaying him. While they were doing this, the servants who had been left behind fell upon them and secured them. Thus the danger was avoided, and Themistocles in gratitude to the goddess built a temple in her honour, and made his daughter the priestess of it.

Warned by this and other occurrences of the envy of the Persians, Themistocles settled down in the city of Magnesia. There he long abode in riches and honour, for the king, engaged in the affairs of other parts of his domains, gave but little attention to the concerns of Greece. But when Egypt revolted from his rule, the Athenians came to the help of the Egyptians, and the fleet of Athens rode triumphant as mistress of the seas. Then the Persian king felt himself forced to take active measures against the Greeks and to prevent the further growth of their power. He therefore set his armies in motion, and sent forth his generals, and despatched messengers to Themistocles, commanding him to take the field against his countrymen.

But neither resentment against his fellow-citizens who had banished him, nor the honours and dignities which the Persians had showered upon him, could persuade Themistocles to take command of an expedition against his native land. Possibly he may have doubted the result of the war, but above all he was unwilling to tarnish the glory of his achievements for Athens and the whole of Greece. Therefore, having sacrificed to the gods and taken leave of his friends, he took poison, and so died in the city of his exile.

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