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Plutarch's lives for boys and girls : being selected lives freely retold online

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came at once, and the stranger said to him : ' I am the
King of Macedon, who out of friendship to you have
come through great dangers to prevent your fighting
under the disadvantage of a surprise. Mardonius will
attack you to-morrow, for scarcity of provisions
forces him to risk a battle or see his army perish with
hunger. He must fight, therefore, though the sooth-
sayers seek to prevent him from doing so.' Aristides
promised that if the Greeks were victorious, the whole
army should be acquainted with the generous daring
of the King of Macedon in coming to give the warning.
At present, however, it was decided that only Pau-
sanias should be given the intelligence of the enemy's

Aristides therefore went immediately to the tent
of the commander-in-chief and laid the whole matter
before him. At once the other chief officers were sent
for, and were ordered to get their troops under arms
and drawn up in order of battle. At the same time,
Pausanias, it is said, informed Aristides that he
intended to change the position of the Athenians from
the left wing to the right. His object was to bring
the Athenians against the Persians, because they had
already had experience in fighting them, and would on
this occasion fight with the more confidence because
of their previous success.

All the Athenian officers, except Aristides, thought
that Pausanias was acting in a very high-handed


manner in thus moving them up and down without
consulting them, while he left the other allies in their
allotted posts. Aristides, however, reproved them.
' You contended,' said he, ' for the command of the
left wing, and now, when the Spartans of their own
free will offer you the right wing, which is in effect the
leadership of the whole army, you are dissatisfied.'

Influenced by these words, the Athenians readily
agreed to change places ^dth the Spartans, and nothing
was now heard among them but words of encourage-
ment and confident anticipations of victory. ' The
Persians,' said they, ' bring neither bolder hearts nor
stouter bodies to battle than at Marathon. We
recognise the same gay clothes and the display of gold,
the same effeminate bodies and unmanly souls. And,
for our part, we bring against them the same weapons
and the same strength that have conquered them
before. Bold in the memory of our victories, we
light them again for the trophies of Marathon and
Salamis, and for the glory of the people of Athens.'
But, while the change of posts was being carried out,
the movement was perceived by the Thebans, who
were serving with the Persians, and intelligence of
it was given to Mardonius. The Persian general
thereupon immediately changed the position of his
wings, and this was followed by yet another change
on the part of Pausanias. Thus the day passed in
marchings, backwards and forwards, without the two
armies coming to action at all.

In the evening the Greeks held a council of war,
and determined, because their water supply in the
position they now occupied was disturbed and fouled
by the enemy's horse, to move their camp during the
night. Accordingly, when darkness had fallen, the


officers began to march off their men to the new
position which had been chosen. The movement,
however, led to great confusion, for the men followed
unwillingly, and many regardless of discipline made off
to the city of Plataea. The Spartans, too, were left
behind, for one of their officers, a man of undaunted
courage, bluntly called the retirement a disgraceful
flight, and declared that for his part he would not quit
his post, but would remain where he was with his
troops, and fight it out alone with Mardonius.

In vain Pausanias urged that the retirement was
made in agreement with the decision of all the aUies.
Taking up a large stone, the officer cast it at the feet
of his general. ' There,' cried he, ' is my vote for
battle, and I despise the timorous counsels of others.'
The commander was at a loss what to do, but at
length sent word to the Athenians, who by this time
were advancing, to halt a while. He then set off to
join them with the other troops, hoping that by doing
so he should in the end induce the stubborn Spartan
officer to follow him.

By this time day had dawned, and Mardonius,
who was aware of the movement of the Greeks, set his
army in order of battle and bore down upon the un-
supported Spartans. The Persians and their aUies
rushed to the fight with loud shouts of triumph and
clanging of arms, as if they expected rather the
plundering of a mob of fugitives than a battle. And
indeed it seemed like to be so, for though Pausanias
halted and ordered every one to his post, yet for some
reason he did not give the order for battle, and hence
the Greeks did not engage readily. Moreover, even
after the battle was begun, the Greek forces remained
scattered in small bodies.


Meanwhile, Pausanias sacrificed to the gods. The
omens, however, were unfavourable, and he therefore
ordered his Spartans to lay down their shields at their
feet and await his order. Then, while the Persian
cavalry was still advancing, he offered other sacrifices.
At last the enemy came within bowshot, and a number
of the Spartans were wounded by their arrows. Among
them was one who was held to be the tallest and finest
man in the whole army. As he was on the point of
dying this brave soldier exclaimed, ' I do not lament
dying for Greece, but bitter it is to die without sword-
stroke at the enemy.' In this trying ordeal the firm-
ness and steadiness of the Spartans were wonderful.
They stood as marks for the enemy's archers calmly
awaiting the orders of their general.

At length the omens for which Pausanias had
waited and prayed appeared, and the diviners promised
him victory. Then at once his orders to charge rang out,
and the Spartan phalanx leapt into life, like some fierce
animal erecting his bristles and preparing to put forth
his mighty strength. Then did the barbarians see that
they had to deal with men who were ready to shed
their last drop of blood, and covering themselves with
their targets, they shot their arrows thickly upon the
advancing Spartans. Steadily, in a close compact body,
the phalanx bore down upon them, their targets were
thrust aside, and pike-thrusts at faces and breasts
brought many of them to the ground. But even
when overthrown they fought desperately, breaking
the pikes with their naked hands, and leaping to their
feet again they stood the quarrel out mth sword and

Meanwhile, the Athenians at a distance remained
at the halt, as thev had been ordered. But the tumult


of battle reached them and, moreover, an officer sent
by Pausanias informed them of the position of affairs.
At once they hm-ried to the assistance of the Spartans,
and as they were crossing the plain, the Greeks who
fought on the Persian side came up to attack them. As
soon as he saw them, Aristides advanced a long way
in front of his own troops, and with a loud voice called
upon them to give up this unnatural war and not to
oppose their fellow-Greeks, who were risking their lives
for the common country of all their race. But he
found that the foe paid no heed to his words, but
continued their hostile advance. He had therefore to
await the attack of this body of Greeks, who were about
five thousand in number, instead of going to the assist-
ance of the Spartans as he had intended.

Thus the battle resolved itself into two actions,
the Spartans against the Persians, and the Athenians
against the traitor Greeks, of whom the Thebans made
up the chief part. The former of these two actions
was the first decided, for the Persians were broken
and routed and their general slain by a blow on the
head with a stone, as the oracles had foretold. The
barbarians then fled before the Spartans to their camp,
which they had beforehand fortified with wooden walls.
Soon after the Athenians routed the Thebans, killing
some three hundred of their most distinguished men
on the spot. Just at this time the news came that the
Persians were shut up in their wooden fortifications, and
the Athenians, leaving the defeated Greeks to escape,
hastened to join in the siege.

Their assistance was timely, for the Spartans were
unskilled in the storming of walls, and therefore made
but slow progress. The Athenians, however, soon
took the camp, and there was made great slaughter of


the enemy. It is said that out of three hundred thou-
sand men barely forty thousand escaped. On the
other hand, only one thousand three hundred and
sixty of those who fought in the cause of Greece were
killed. Of these fifty-two were Athenians, while the
Spartans lost ninety-one.

This great victory at Plataea went near to being the
ruin of Greece, for the Athenians and the Spartans began
to contend as to which of the two had gained the chief
glory of the day, and to which should be given the
honour of erecting the trophy for the victory. Indeed,
it is Hkely that the quarrel would have been decided by
arms had not Aristides exerted himself to pacify the
other Athenian generals, and to persuade them to leave
the matter to be decided by the general body of the
allies. Accordingly a general council was called, and,
in order to avoid civil war, it was decided to award
the palm of valour to neither of the disputants, but to a
third place. In the end Platsea, the scene of the battle,
was pitched upon for this purpose, it being a place
which could not excite the envy of either Athens or
Sparta. To this proposal Aristides first agreed on
behalf of Athens, and was followed by Pausanias, who
accepted it for Sparta.

Thus the allies were reconciled. Eighty talents
were then set aside for the Plataeans, and with it they
built a temple and set up a statue of the goddess Athene.
There annually they celebrated the victory with solemn
services and sacrifices, and with a libation to the
memory of the men who died for the liberties of Greece.

Some time after these events Aristides was sent,
^vith Cimon as a colleague, in command of the
Athenians, to continue the war against the Persians.
He found that the pride and insolence of Pausanias


and the other Spartan generals were making them very
unpopular with the allies. For Pausanias scarcely-
even spoke to the officers of the forces of the other
states without anger and bitterness, and he punished
many of the men severely, flogging some, and ordering
others to stand all day mth an iron anchor upon their
shoulders. In all things he gave first place to Spartans,
and would not allow any of the alUes to supply them-
selves with forage, or sleeping-straw, or drinking-water,
imtil the Spartans had first been supplied. Indeed,
he stationed servants with rods to drive off any who
should attempt to take these things before it suited his
pleasiu-e. Aristides went in vain to remonstrate with
him. The only answer of Pausanias was to knit his
brows and say that he had no leisiu'c to hear such

Aristides, on the other hand, treated all with
courtesy and kindness, and prevailed on his colleague
Cimon to behave with equal affability. Hence the
sea-captains and officers of the allies, particularly those
from the islands, tired of the harshness and severity
of the Spartans, besought Aristides to take the chief
command. Two of the officers indeed boldly attacked
Pausanias's galley at the head of the fleet. They told
him that the best thing he could do was to retire, and
that nothing but the memory of the great victory
which fortune had permitted him to win at Plataea,
prevented the Greeks from wreaking upon him a Just
vengeance for his treatment.

The end of the matter was that the alUes left the
standards of the Spartans and ranged themselves
under the ensigns of Athens. The people of Sparta
took the matter in a noble and wise spirit. They saw
that power had spoiled their generals, and they there-


fore sent no more in their place, for they thought it
more important that a lesson in moderation and regard
for right and justice should be given than that they
should retain the chief command of the Greek forces.

The allies now further begged that the Athenians
would allow Ai'istides to fix the amounts which each
state and each city should be called upon to provide
for the purposes of the war. This power, which in a
way made him master of Greece, was given to him.
But in his hands authority was not abused. He went
forth to his task poor and returned from it poor, having
arranged matters with such equal justice that the allies
blessed the settlement as ' the happy fortune of Greece.'

Indeed, though Aristides had extended the influence
of Athens over so many alhed cities and states, he
continued poor to the end, and gloried in his noble
poverty no less than in the laurels he had won. This
was clearly proved in the case of Callias, the torch-
bearer, his near relation, who was prosecuted by certain
enemies. When the accusers had alleged what they
had to bring against him, which was nothing very
serious, they brought in other matters which had
nothing to do with the case, and thus addressed the
judges : ' You know Aristides, who is justly the
admiration of all Greece. You have seen how mean
his garb is, and that his home is almost bare of
necessaries. Yet this Callias, the richest man in
Athens, is his own cousin. He, nevertheless, allows
his noble relative, of whose influence he has availed
himself, to live in utter Avi-etchedness.'

Callias perceived that the charge thus dragged into
the case was likely to prejudice the judges against him.
He therefore called upon Aristides, who testified in the
court that Callias had many times offered him con-


siderable sums of money, but that he had always
refused the proffered gifts, with some such words as
these : ' Aristides has more glory in his poverty than
Callias in his riches. We see every day many who
spend freely for good or ill, but it is hard to find one
who bears poverty with a noble spirit. And he only
is ashamed of poverty who is poor against his will.'
When he had thus given evidence, there was not a man
in court who did not feel that it was indeed better to
be poor with Aristides than rich with Callias.

His conduct with regard to Themistocles furnishes
a striking instance of his uprightness. For when
Themistocles was accused of crimes against the state,
Aristides had the opportunity of revenging himself
upon the man who had been his constant opponent
and the chief cause of his banishment. But, while
many others of the leading men in Athens joined in the
outcry against Themistocles and aided in driving him
into exile, Aristides alone made no accusation against
him. As he had not envied his rival in his prosperity,
so neither did he rejoice at his misfortunes.

Aristides died in the year of the banishment of
Themistocles. It is said that his funeral was conducted
at the public charge, since he did not leave behind
him enough money to defray the cost, and that the
city of Athens further gave marriage portions to his
daughters, and a gift of land and money to his son.


Plutarch, 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.'

The lofty honours which Themistocles attained were
in noAvise 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 appHed 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 accompUshments
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 pohtics, 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
Ufe 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 Aris-
tides, 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 Httle
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 luiable to contend
even with the troops of the neighbouring states.
Small, therefore, was the hope that they could suc-
cessfully 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 im-
swerving 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 hap-
pened that the Athenians were at war with the ^gi-
netans, 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
iEginetans. 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 ^ginetans,
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 ser\dtude, to the ro%ving-
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 re-
established 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 entertain-
ments. 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

Online LibraryW H WestonPlutarch's lives for boys and girls : being selected lives freely retold → online text (page 2 of 26)