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The Story of the Persian War by  Alfred J. Church

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The Story of the Persian War
by Alfred J. Church
Stirring account of the Greeks' encounters with the Persians in the 5th century B.C., including the battle of Marathon, the defense of Thermopylae, and the battle of Salamis, all retold from the history of Herodotus. Illustrations from sculptures and vases accompany the text.  Ages 12-15
211 pages $10.95   




[207] THE ships of the Greeks, having departed from Artemisium, came to Salamis. The Athenians had besought them to do this that they might carry their women and children out of their country, and might also take counsel together what was best to be done. For indeed things had not happened according to their expectations. For they had thought to find the men of the Peloponnese drawn up with their whole force in the land of Bœotia to do battle with the barbarians. But now they heard that these purposed to build a wall across the Isthmus, and so defend their own country, suffering the rest of Greece to take thought for itself. And this the Greeks did. And so soon as they were come thither there flowed to them no small force that had been gathered together at [208] Pogon, the haven of the Trœzenians. For the word had gone forth that all who would fight for Greece should be gathered together at Pogon. All these the same Euribiades that was at Artemisium commanded, being a Spartan but not of the house of the Kings. Of all the ships the best were the ships of the Athenians, being in number one hundred and eighty. These were now altogether manned by their own people, for the men of Platæa had gone to carry away their wives and children from their city. The men of Ægina sent thirty ships, leaving certain others to defend their city. From the island of Naxos there came four. These indeed had been sent by their people to help the Persians, but they made light of the command and helped the Greeks. This they did at the instance of Democritus, a notable man among the Naxians and captain of a ship. The men of Seriphos and Siphnos and Melos also helped the Greeks, being the only islanders that had not given earth and water to the barbarians. These three sent in all four ships of fifty oars. And of all the countries beyond the sea the men of Crotona only came to the help of the Greeks in [209] their great peril. These sent one ship which Phayllus, a man that had been crowned at the Pythian games, commanded. Now the number of the ships in all was three hundred and seventy and eight; but in this number the ships of fifty oars were not reckoned.

Meanwhile there had been made a proclamation among the Athenians that each man should save his children and his household as best he could. The most part sent them away to Trœzen; but some sent them to Ægina, and some to Salamis. This they did with all speed, desiring to obey the words of the oracle, and also for another reason which shall now be told. The Athenians say that in their citadel in the temple there dwells a great snake that is the guardian of the place. And indeed they set out for this snake a monthly provision of food, as for a veritable creature; and the monthly provision is a honey cake. This honey cake which before had always been eaten, was now seen to be untouched. When the priestess told these things to the people they were more earnest than before to leave the city, as thinking that the goddess Athene had deserted the citadel. Nevertheless [210] they did not all depart, for the Persians, when they came, found the city indeed desolate of inhabitants, but in the citadel certain men, that were either ministers of the temple or of the poorer sort that for lack of means had not departed with the rest of the people to Salamis. But some of them went not, thinking that they rightly understood the oracle of the Pythia when she said, "The wooden wall shall not be taken;" for that by this wall was signified, not the ships, but a veritable wall of wood. These therefore had fenced about the citadel with doors and pieces of wood, and so awaited the coming of the Persians.

The Persians indeed encamped on the hill that is over against the citadel (this hill the Athenians call the hill of Ares) and began the siege, shooting at the Greeks arrows with burning tow upon them that so they might set fire to the barricade. Nevertheless the men held out, though indeed they were in evil case, and their wooden wall had failed them; nor would they hearken to the words of the sons of Pisistratus when these would have them surrender, but they rolled down great stones upon the bar- [211] barians as these came up to the gates, and so kept the place. And for many days Xerxes was in great doubt, and knew not how he should prevail over them; but at last they discovered a way of access. For it must needs be that the oracle should be fulfilled, that all the country of the Athenians upon the mainland should be conquered by the barbarians. Certain Persians climbed up the hill where there was no watch, no one believing that any man could mount by that way, so steep was it. (The place is on the face of the cliff, behind the gates and the way by which men commonly ascend.) So soon as the Athenians saw them now already on the top, some threw themselves from the wall and so perished; and some fled for refuge to the sanctuary. But the Persians, when they had opened the gates of the citadel for their fellows, slew all them that had taken sanctuary; and afterward they plundered the temple and burned all the citadel with fire. Then Xerxes, being now wholly master of Athens, sent off a messenger, a horseman, to Artabanus, to tell him of his good success. Also, on the second day after the sending of the herald, he com- [212] manded the Athenian exiles that had followed in his train to go up to the citadel and do sacrifice in the place according to the custom of their country. This he did either by reason of a dream, or because it repented him that he had burned the temple. And the exiles did as the King commanded. And when they were come to the citadel they found a marvelous thing. There was in the citadel a temple of Erectheus, whom the Athenians call the "earth-born," and in the temple an olive tree, which Athene left for a memorial of her when she contended with Poseidon for the land of the Athenians. Now this olive had been burned with other things in the temple, but when the Athenians went up, according to the King's commandment, they found that there had sprung forth from the trunk a fresh shoot of a cubit in length.

So soon as tidings came to the Greeks of Salamis of the things that had befallen Athens and its citadel, there came upon them such fear that some of the captains would not wait till the council should have voted, but embarked in their vessels with all haste, and hoisted up their sails, as though they would fly without delay. [213] And such as staid at the council voted that the fleet should give battle to the Persians at the Isthmus. Afterward, it being now night, the captains departed, each man to his own vessel.

And when Themistocles was come to his ship there met him a certain Mnesiphilus, an Athenian, who asked him what the council had decreed. And when Themistocles said, "They have decreed that we should sail to the Isthmus, and there fight for the Peloponnese," Mnesiphilus made answer, "If these men take away their ships from Salamis, there will be no one country for which ye may fight. For the Greeks will depart each to his own city, and neither Eurybiades nor any other man shall be able to hinder them from so scattering themselves. So shall Greece perish by the folly of their children. If therefore there be any device by which thou canst deliver us from this end, haste and make trial of it. Happily thou mayest persuade Eurybiades to change his purpose and remain in this place."

This counsel pleased Themistocles well. To Mnesiphilus indeed he answered nothing, but he went straightway to the ship of Eurybiades, [214] and said that he had a matter concerning the common weal about which he would speak with him. Then said Eurybiades, "Come into my ship if thou hast aught to say." So Themistocles sat by his side and told him all that he had heard from Mnesiphilus—only he said these things as if from himself—and added also many other things. So urgent was he that at the last Eurybiades went forth and gathered together the other captains to council. So soon then as these were gathered together, before that Eurybiades had set forth the matter wherefore they were assembled, Themistocles, as one that was wholly intent on his purpose, said many things, so that Adeimantus of Corinth cried out to him, "Themistocles, in the games they that start too soon are scourged." "Yea," said Themistocles, excusing himself, "but they that linger are not crowned." Thus he answered the Corinthian softly. And to Eurybiades he spake, not indeed after his former manner, how that the ships would be scattered from where he should have sailed to the Isthmus, for the allies were present, and he thought it not seemly to say this thing in their [215] ears, but rather in some such fashion as this: "It is in thy hands to save Greece, if thou wilt hearken unto me and abide in this place, and so give battle to the barbarians, not heeding those who would have thee depart hence to the Isthmus with thy ships. For hear now, and set these two things one against the other. If the host give battle at the Isthmus, then shall we fight in the open sea, than which there could be nothing less to our advantage, seeing that our ships are fewer in number and these heavier. Also we shall lose Salamis and Megara and Ægina, though we prosper in the battle. For remember that the army of the barbarians will follow, together with their fleet, and that thou wilt thus bring both the one and the other to Peloponnesus, and so put all Greece upon the hazard. But if thou wilt hearken unto me, see what we shall gain. First we shall do battle in a narrow space, a thing much to our advantage and to the harm of our enemies. And secondly, we shall yet keep Salamis, where we have put our wives and children, and Megara also and Ægina. And at Salamis, saith the oracle, we shall prevail over the barbarians."

[216] When Themistocles had thus spoken, Adeimantus of Corinth reproached him again, bidding him be silent, because he was a man without a city (for Athens had been destroyed by the barbarians). Then Themistocles brake out against him and the Corinthians with many bitter words, and saying, "Nay, but we have a city and a land greater than yours, for we have two hundred ships well manned, whose attack no city of the Greeks would be able to withstand." Then he turned to Eurybiades, and said with all earnestness, "If thou wilt abide here and bear thyself bravely all will be well; but if not, then wilt thou bring Greece to ruin. For verily we will take our wives and children and go straightway to Siris in Italy, which is ours. Verily, when ye have lost our help, ye will remember what I have said this day."

When Eurybiades heard these words, he changed his purpose, knowing that if the Athenians should depart, the rest of the fleet should not be able to withstand the Persians. Wherefore he made his resolve that he would stay and give battle at Salamis. Then all the captains made ready for battle. After this, at daybreak [217] there was an earthquake, and it seemed good to the Greeks to make supplications to the Gods, and to call the sons of Æacus to their help. And this they did, for they put up prayers, and sent a ship to Salamis to fetch Æacus and his children.

A certain Dicæus, an exile of Athens and a man of repute among the barbarians, told this tale of what he saw about this time. He chanced to be with Demaratus the Spartan in the plain of Thria, the land of Attica having been by this time laid waste by the army of Xerxes, and he saw coming from Eleusis a great cloud of dust, such as a host of thirty thousand men might make in their march. And while the two marveled who these could be that could cause such dust, he heard voices and the sound, as it seemed to him, of the hymn to Bacchus. Now Demaratus heard the voices, and asked what they were saying, for he knew nothing of the mysteries of Eleusis. Then said Dicæus, "O Demaratus, of a truth some great trouble will overtake the army of the King. For seeing that Attica is void of inhabitants, these that sing are surely gods, [218] and they come from Eleusis to help the Athenians and their allies. If therefore this that we see turn to the Peloponnese, there will be peril to the King and to his army, but if to Salamis, then there will be peril to the fleet. For know that year by year the Athenians keep a feast to the Mother and Daughter, and the voices which thou heardst were singing the hymn of the feast." Then said Demaratus, "See that thou tell the matter to no man. For if the King hear it, thou wilt surely perish. Hold thou thy peace therefore; the Gods will order as they please with the army of the King."

By this time the ships of the barbarians were come to Phalerum, which is a haven of Athens. And it seemed good to Xerxes to learn the judgment of them that had command in the fleet. Wherefore he went on board and sat on a seat of honor, and all the kings and the captains sat before him, each in his place, after the pleasure of the King. The King of Sidon sat in the first place, and in the second the King of Tyre. Then Xerxes sent Mardonius, bidding him ask each in his order what he counseled, whether they should fight or no. [219] To this all made answer in the same words that they should fight, save Artemisia of Halicarnassus only, who spake after this fashion, "Say to the King, O Mardonius, what I now say to thee. Seeing that I bare myself not less bravely than the others in the battles at the island of Eubœa, I have the right to speak what I judge to be most for thy advantage. I say then spare thy ships and fight not. These men are better than thine upon the sea, even as men are better than women. Art thou not master of Athens, for which thou camest hither? Doth any man resist thee? Or if thou art not yet satisfied, thou canst easily accomplish all that is in thine heart to do. These men will not long abide in their place, and indeed they have, I fear, no store of food in the island; and if thou goest forward toward the Peloponnese, they will be scattered each to his own city, for the men of the Peloponnese will not care to fight for the Athenians. But I fear me much that some great evil will befall thee, if thou art resolved to join battle with the Greeks by sea. For remember that good masters have ever evil servants, and evil masters good servants; thou [220] indeed art the best of men, but thy servants are evil. For these thy allies, as they are called, these men of Egypt and of Cyprus and of Cilicia and of Pamphylia, are of no account."

When Artemisia spake these words all that wished her well were much troubled, for they thought that she would surely be cruelly dealt with by the King, because she counseled him not to give battle; but all that were enemies to her rejoiced, and they that envied her for the honor which the King had done to her beyond all the allies, thinking that she would perish. Nevertheless Xerxes, when the words of all the kings and the captains were told to him, was not pleased with any so much as with the words of Artemisia. Nevertheless it seemed good to him to follow the counsel of the greater number, and to give battle; for he thought that the ships had not done their best at Eubœa because he himself had been absent, and was minded to see the battle that should now be fought with his own eyes.

So the ships of the barbarians sailed to Salamis and took their places, as they had been commanded, no man hindering them; [221] for the Greeks, especially the men of the Peloponnese, were greatly troubled, fearing lest they should be shut up in Salamis while their own country was left without defense.

The same night the army of the barbarians went forwards to the Peloponnese. There indeed all things had been done that the Persians might not be able to come into the country. For so soon as there came the tidings how that Leonidas and his companions had fallen at the Pass, straightway the inhabitants assembled from their cities and pitched their camp at the Isthmus, their commander being Cleombrotus, who was brother to Leonidas. First they blocked up the way of Susa, that leads from Magara to Corinth; and afterwards they built a wall across the Isthmus. This work they wrought in a few days only, for there were many thousands of men, and they worked without ceasing either by night or by day. Now the nations that were gathered at Isthmus were these: the Lacedæmonians, all the Arcadians, the Corinthians, the men of Elis, the men of Sicyon, and of Epidaurus, and Phlius, and of Trœzen, and of Hermione. [222] But the other nations, as the Achæans and the Argives, came not to the Isthmus, nor gave help to the Greeks, but rather, if the truth is to be told, gave help to the Persians.

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