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The Story of the Persian War by  Alfred J. Church

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[70] WHEN King Darius heard tidings of the battle at Marathon, his wrath, which was already hot against the Athenians by reason of their doings at Sardis, waxed yet more fierce, so that he was more earnest than ever to make war against Greece. And straightway he sent messengers to all the cities in his dominions, bidding them gather together soldiers—and of these many more than he had commanded before—and with these, ships and horsemen and food and vessels of transport. And for the space of three years after these commands had been given, all Asia was in an uproar, seeing that the bravest of her children were being chosen to march against the Greeks, and were making ready to go. But in the fourth year the Egyptians, who had been enslaved by Cambyses [71] revolted. Then was Darius more zealous than before to march both against the Athenians and the Egyptians. But while he was making ready so to do, there came a great disputing among his sons who should be King after him; for the law of the Persians is that the King declares who shall reign after him before he goes to the war. Now Darius had had three sons born to him by his wife the daughter of Gobryas; and these were born before that he was made King: and after that he was made King he had four others born to him of Atossa that was the daughter of Cyrus. Of the first three Artabazanes was the eldest, and of the four Xerxes. These disputed among themselves, and Artabazanes claimed the kingdom because he was the eldest of all, and because it was the custom over all the world that the eldest should have the pre-eminence; but Xerxes claimed it because his mother was daughter to Cyrus, and it was Cyrus that had established the kingdom of the Persians. Now while Darius doubted about the matter, there came up to Susa Demaratus the son of Ariston. The same had been deprived of his kingdom in Sparta and had fled [72] from the city. When this man knew what it was that the sons of Darius disputed about, he came forward, according to report, and gave counsel to Xerxes that over and above the words that he had said he should say also this, that he had been born when Darius was already King and had dominion over all the Persians, but that Darius was a subject only when Artabazanes was born. "And indeed at Sparta," said Demaratus, "the law is this, that if a king have children that are born before he be made King, and also a child that is born after, then he that is born after is preferred." Of these words of Demaratus Xerxes made such use that King Darius declared that he should be King in his room. But in the year after it so befell that while he was preparing to make war both against the Greeks and against the Egyptians, King Darius died, having reigned over the Persians thirty and six years in all; and Xerxes his son reigned in his stead. Now at the first Xerxes by no means desired to make war against the Greeks, but against the Egyptians he made great preparations. Then said Mardonius the son of Gobryas, who was cousin to [73] the King, being sister's son to King Darius, "My lord, it is by no means fitting that the Athenians, seeing that they have done grievous wrong to the Persians, should thus go unpunished. Do therefore first the thing that thou hast now in hand, and when thou hast humbled the Egyptians go forth against the Greeks. So shalt thou have great renown throughout the world, and men shall fear hereafter to trouble thy land." And besides thus speaking of vengeance, Mardonius would also add that Europe was a very beautiful land, bearing all manner of fruitful trees, and of an excellent fertility, and altogether such that no man but the King was worthy to possess it. All this he said because he was a lover of change and adventure; also he hoped to be made ruler over the land of Greece. And at last he had his way, persuading Xerxes to take the matter in hand. There were other things that helped him persuading Xerxes to this act. First there came envoys from the house of Aleuas, that was King in Thessaly, who would fain have the King come against the land of Greece, and showed all zeal in his cause. Also certain of the house of [74] Pisistratus that had come up to Susa held the same language. These had with them one Onomacritus, a man of Athens, that was a soothsayer, and one that had set in order the prophecies of Musæus. Once, indeed, there had been enmity between the son of Pisistratus and this Onomacritus; for Hipparchus had banished him from Athens, having found that he had added to the prophecies of Musæus a certain prophecy how that an island which lies near unto Lemnos should one day be swallowed up in the sea. A certain Leros had found him out in this, and Hipparchus banished him, having been wont to consult him continually. But now the sons of Pisistratus were reconciled to him, and took him in their company to Susa, and talked much of him and of his wisdom. And so soon as he was brought before the King, he repeated to him certain of the prophecies. If there were any prophecy that spake of disaster to the Persians, of this he would make no mention, but such as seemed to promise them success he would set forth, how that it was in the fates that a Persian should bridge over the Hellespont. Thus did [75] Onomacritus make much of his prophecies, and the sons of Pisistratus and the sons of Aleuas set forth their opinions to the same purpose.

So King Xerxes was persuaded to make war upon the Greeks. And first, in the second year after the death of Darius, he marched into the land of Egypt, and having enslaved it more than it had been enslaved before, he gave it over to Achæmenes his brother, and son to Darius. (This Achæmenes was afterward slain by Inaros, the son of Psammeticus, a Nubian.) And after this, being now about to lead his army against Athens, he called an assembly of the noblest of the Persians, that he might hear what they thought, and might himself say what he would have them hear. And when they were gathered together he spake, saying, "There is a custom, which, indeed, I did not first establish, but received it from the kings before me, that we Persians have never rested since the day when we took this kingdom from the Medes. So the Gods will have it and in so doing have we greatly prospered. What nations Cyrus and Cambyses and Darius my father subdued ye know well. And since I [76] came to this kingdom I have studied how I might show myself to be not behind them, and might not the less increase our Empire. And now I will set before you what I purpose. I will bridge over the Hellespont and cross into Europe that I may avenge my father and this nation upon the Athenians for all the wrong that they have done, burning their city with fire. Nor shall we get vengeance only, but this good also, that conquering the Athenians and their neighbors that dwell in the island of Pelops, we shall have the whole earth subject to us, for I take it that when these Greeks have been subdued there is no city or nation that shall be able to stand against us. This then is my judgment, but I would have you say what is your minds. Speak, therefore."



Then spake Mardonius: "O my lord, thou showest thyself to be the noblest of the Persians, not of those only that have been in former times, but also of all that shall be hereafter, when thou settest forth such good counsels in such excellent words. Surely it is not well that these men of Ionia should laugh at us and go unpunished, and that when we have [77] subdued Indians and Assyrians and Ethiopians, not because they had done us wrong, but because we would enlarge our borders, we should leave these Greeks unharmed after that they have done us wrongs grievous and many. And that we may easily vanquish them, I doubt not at all. For I myself, at the bidding of my father Darius, marched against them, and went so far as the land of Macedonia, and indeed had come to the city of Athens itself, nor did I find any that dared meet me in battle. And yet, as I hear, these Greeks are wont to fight in a most foolish and ignorant fashion. For when they have declared war against one another, then they choose out the fairest and smoothest plot that they can find, and come down to this, and so fight that they who have the better in the battle yet depart not without great loss; as for them that are worsted there is nothing to be said, for they are utterly destroyed. For why, seeing that they are all of them one language, do they not send heralds and messengers, and so compose their differences peaceably, rather than settle them by fighting? And, if they must needs [78] fight, why do they not make the best each of them of that which they have, and so join in battle? And yet, notwithstanding this their folly, when I marched so far as Macedonia, not one of them dared to meet me. And now, O King, who will stand up against thee when thou bringest with thee all the warriors out of the land of Asia and the ships also? And if they be so mad as to stand, then shall they learn that we Persians are the greatest warriors on the face of the earth."

When Mardonius had thus spoken all the other Persians kept silence; but at the last Artabanus, the son of Hystaspes, being uncle to King Xerxes, and so taking courage to speak, put forth a contrary opinion in these words: "O King, if there be not set forth opinions that are contrary the one to the other, thou canst not choose the better, but must follow the one which thou hearest. For it is with opinions as it is with gold. Pure gold we know not so long as it is left by itself, but when we rub it against that which is not pure, then we know it. I counseled thy father Darius that he should not make war on the Scythians, [79] men that have no city to dwell in; but he, thinking to subdue them, would not hearken to me, but marched against them, and lost many and brave soldiers. And now thou hast it in thy heart to make war against men that are far better than the Scythians, being mighty both by sea and land. Hear, therefore, into what danger thou art moving. Thou wilt bridge over the Hellespont, and march into the land of Greece. Suppose that thou suffer defeat, whether it be by sea or by land, or, haply, by both, for the men are valiant (and, indeed, what they can do we know full well, for Datis and Artaphernes, when they led a mighty host into Attica, the Athenians alone defeated). But suppose they get the mastery by sea only, and so, sailing to the Hellespont, break down the bridge. This surely, O King, would be a terrible thing. Nor is this thing that I say of my own devising. For thy father Darius bridged over the Thracian Bosphorus and the Danube, and so marched against the Scythians. And when the Scythians used all manner of entreaties to the Ionians, to whom indeed the King had entrusted the charge of the bridge, [80] if Histiæus of Miletus had followed the judgment of the other lords of the Ionians in this and had set himself against us, then had the power of the Persians been utterly destroyed. Surely it is a dreadful thing even to speak of, that the fortunes of the King should have rested upon the will of one man. Put away, therefore, O King, I beseech thee, this thy purpose to run without any need into this great danger, and hearken unto me. Break up this council and think over this matter in thine heart, and afterward declare unto us thy purpose, and remember this also, that God smites with his thunder such creatures as are tall and strong, passing by them that are smaller and weaker, and that it is on the tallest houses and trees that his bolts for the most part fall. For he is wont to bring down all high things. So otherwise a very great host is often put to flight by a few men, God sending upon it some storm or panic, for he will not suffer any but himself to have high thoughts. And as to thee, Mardonius, thou doest ill, speaking lightly against the Greeks, and persuading the King to head his army against them; for this thou [81] manifestly wishest. God grant that thou succeed not in thy purpose. But if it must needs be that we march against the Greeks, then at the least let the King remain here safe at home. And let us make this wager between ourselves. Choose out for thyself such men as thou wilt have, and take with thee an army so great as thou desirest, and if things go as thou sayest that they will, according to the pleasure of the King, then let my children be slain, and I also with them. But if things go not so, then shall thy children be slain, and thou also with them, if indeed thou shalt ever come back. But if thou shalt not take this wager, and wilt still march against the Greeks, then am I sure that they who are left in this land will hear that Mardonius has perished, having first worked great harm to the Persians, and lies torn by dogs and birds in the land of the Athenians, or, it may be, of the Lacedæmonians, having so learned what manner of men they are against whom thou persuadest the King to make war."

When Artabanus had thus spoken, Xerxes was very wroth, and cried, "Artabanus, thou art brother to my father, and this kinship shall save [82] thee, so that thou shalt not receive the due reward of thy folly. Nevertheless, this disgrace I ordain for thee, for thy evil-mindedness and cowardice; thou shalt not march with me against this land of Greece, but shalt remain here with the women, and I without thee will accomplish that I have said. For let me not be said to be the son of Darius, the son of Hystaspes, the son of Arsemes, the son of Ariaramness, the son of Teispes, the son of Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, the son of Teispes, the son of Achæmenes, if I avenge not myself on these Athenians. Verily I believe that if I do not so they will come against this land, so bold have they shown themselves in time past, so that if we subdue them not, then will they subdue us, for indeed there is nothing between these two things. Rightly then shall I make war against these men, and so learn what is this great danger that lies in dealing with them, for are they not the same whom Pelops the Phrygian, that was servant to the kings my fathers, subdued so utterly, that their land is called the Island of Pelops to this day?"

But when it was night the King was much [83] troubled by the words of Artabanus; and taking counsel with himself, he judged that it would not be well to make war against the Greeks, and so fell asleep. But in the night, so say the Persians, he saw a vision. There stood over him a man tall and fair, who spake to him, saying, "Man of Persia, dost thou then change thy purpose so that after bidding the Persians gather together a great army, now thou wilt not lead it against the Greeks? Thou dost not well so to change. Go rather on the way whereon thou hast set out." When the man had said so much he vanished out of the King's sight. But when the day dawned Xerxes made no account of the vision that he had seen, but called together the Persians, as he had done the day before, and spake to them, saying, "Forgive me, men of Persia, if I change the purpose that I had yesterday; for I am not yet grown to the full height of my understanding, and they that give me this counsel cease not urging me. When therefore I heard the words of Artabanus the spirit of youth grew hot within me, and I spake to him such words as I should not have spoken, [84] seeing that he is an old man. But now I confess my fault and yield myself to his judgment. Rest therefore in peace, knowing that I have changed my purpose, and will not make war against the Greeks."

When the Persians heard these words they rejoiced greatly and worshiped the King. But when it was night there came again the same vision to Xerxes, and stood over him, and spake, saying, "Son of Darius, thou hast declared thyself openly before all the Persians, changing thy purpose about this expedition, and taking no account of my words. Know this, therefore, that if thou do not go straightway on this journey, there shall rise out of the matter this ending, As thou didst become in a short space great and the lord of many men, so shalt thou in a short space be brought low."

When Xerxes heard these words he was much dismayed, and leaped up from his bed and sent a messenger to call Artabanus. And when he was come, Xerxes said to him, "Artabanus, I was not well advised, speaking to thee unseemly words when thou hadst given me good counsel. But in a short time I repented me [85] purposing to do the things which thou didst counsel me. But though this is my purpose, I am not able to follow it; for now that I am changed and have repented of my folly, there appears to me a vision haunting me, and in nowise consenting to my resolve. And even now it has threatened me and departed. If therefore it be God that sends this vision to me, and if it be altogether according to his will that I should make this expedition against Greece, then the same vision will come to thee, and command thee the same things that it commanded me. And this, I think, will most surely happen if thou wilt take all my royal apparel and put it on thee, and so sit on my seat, and afterward sleep in my bed.

This at the first Artabanus was loth to do, but at the last moment consented to it. But first he spake to the King, saying, "When thou didst reproach me, O King, this troubled me not, but rather to see that when there were set before the Persians two counsels, whereof the one tended to increase their pride, and the other to prudence, thou didst choose the worse. And now that thou hast turned to wiser counsels [86] thou sayest that there came a vision that will not suffer thee to cease from this purpose of war, and that it comes by the sending of a god. Now as to dreams and visions, know that there is nothing divine in them, but that they wander about at random. For I am much older than thou, and know more of such things. Now men are wont to dream of such things as they have been concerned with in the day; and we have been much concerned with this matter of the war. But if this vision be not such as I think, but rather as thou sayest, of the sending of a god, then will it appear and lay its commands upon me even as it did upon thee; nor should it appear to me at all the more because I wear thy clothing or sit upon thy seat. For this thing, whatever it be, that thou seest in thy dreams can not be so foolish as to think that I am thou, because I wear thy clothing. Now if it takes no heed of me, and still appear to thee saying the same things, then shall I myself judge it to be of God. For the rest, if it be thy purpose that I wear thy apparel, and sleep in thy bed, be it so; let the vision appear to me. But for the present I hold to my own opinion."

[87] So much said Artabanus, hoping to persuade Xerxes that the thing was naught. He put on the King's apparel, and sat on his throne, and afterward lay down to sleep in his bed. And when he was asleep there came to him the same vision that had come to Xerxes, and stood over him and spake, saying, "Thou art he that persuadeth Xerxes not to make war against the Greeks, having, thou sayest, a care for him. Verily thou shalt not go unpunished, either now or hereafter, seeking to hinder that which it is the purpose of God to bring to pass. And as for what Xerxes shall suffer if he be disobedient in this matter, it has been declared to him already."

When the vision had thus spoken it seemed to Artabanus to make as if it were about to burn out his eyes with hot irons. Then he cried aloud, and leaped up from the bed, and sat him down by Xerxes and told him all that he had seen. And afterward he said to the King, 'I am one, O King, that has seen strong things overthrown by the weak, and so I would not have thee yield to thy desires, knowing that it was an evil thing to covet great possessions, [88] and remembering how ill Cyrus fared when he made war against the Massagetæ, and Cambyses against the Ethiopians, and having myself gone with Darius against the Scythians. But now since this inspiration comes from God, who is preparing, it seems, utter destruction against the Greeks, I change my counsel. Do thou therefore declare to the Persians the purpose of God, and take good care that if God give thee this opportunity, thou shalt not fail any thing on thy part."

So soon therefore as it was day Xerxes told the whole matter to the Persians, and Artabanus, who had been the only one to speak against the war, was now the foremost in urging it.

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