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Mary Macgregor

Themistocles Tricks the Admirals

Eurybiades had determined that the fleet should stay at Salamis. But the other admirals were dissatisfied. When great numbers of the Persian ships were sighted, and when at the same times Xerxes was seen marching with his vast land forces toward the shore, they were more than dissatisfied; they were afraid.

So they called a secret council at which they resolved to retreat to Corinth, as they had wished to do from the first. To settle the matter they bade the pilots get ready to sail.

Themistocles soon heard what had been done, but he was determined to thwart the plans of his adversaries. He would force them to fight in the narrow strait of Salamis.

So he sent a message to the King of Persia, and pretending to be his friend, he warned him that the Greek fleet had determined to escape. "If you wish to win a great victory, O king," ran the message, "seize each end of the strait before the Greek fleet sails away."

Xerxes was overjoyed when he heard that the Greeks wished to escape, for it seemed to him that they must be cowards whom it would be easy to beat.

So while Themistocles called together a last council of war and did all that he could to delay the fleet, Xerxes was busy securing the strait as Themistocles had bidden him do.

The pilots were on board the Greek ships, impatient to sail, the admirals were listening to Themistocles with but scant courtesy, when the messenger the Athenian was so anxiously awaiting arrived.

Themistocles hastened from the council to find that it was Aristides, his old rival, who had brought the tidings, that the Greek fleet was shut in by the Persian ships. Flight was no longer possible.

Then Themistocles told Aristides the trick he had played on the Persian king, and how he had at the same time duped the other admirals.

Whether Aristides approved or disapproved of what his old rival had done, he believed that it was well that the battle should be fought in the straits, and he determined to support Themistocles. He himself hastened to the council, to tell the admirals that they were surrounded by the enemy.

At first the admirals refused to believe such evil news. They did not guess the truth, but they came so near to it that they said Themistocles had probably started the rumour, so as to delay their flight.

While they still talked, some sailors who had deserted from the Persians brought the same tale. The Greek admirals were at last convinced that a battle was inevitable.