| Stories from the Greek Tragedians|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Thirteen strong, interesting tales from Greek tragedy, admirably retold by Alfred J. Church and retaining remarkably well the spirit of the originals. Includes the stories of Alcestis, Medea, Antigone, Philoctetes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes among others. Ages 11-14 |
THE STORY OF THE PERSIANS, OR THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS
 XERXES, King of Persia, made war against the men of
Greece, being desirous to have them for his servants.
For being a man of a haughty soul, he thought to make
the whole world subject to him; and against the men of
Greece he had especial wrath, seeing that in the days
of King Darius his father the Persians had fled before
them. Wherefore he gathered together a great army from
all parts of his dominions, every tribe and nation that
there was in the whole land of the East, Indians, and
Arabs, and such as dwelt in the plain country of Asia,
having waggons for their houses, and Egyptians, and
men from the upper parts of Libya. But the chief
strength of his army was of the Medes and Persians,
that were his own people. And for sailors he had
Phœnicians, dwellers in
 Tyre and Sidon, and in the coasts thereof. Also many
Greeks with him, such as inhabited the cities of Asia
that are near to the Greek sea, and the islands which
are neighbours to them. But these loved him not, hating
to fight against their brethren, but were constrained
to join with him by fear. And when these were gathered
together, being as the sand that is on the seashore for
multitude, he marched into the land of Greece; and the
ships also, being in number a thousand and more, sailed
along as near as might be to the army, that there might
be no escape for the Greeks either by land or sea.
But when the King had been gone now many days, and
there came no tidings of him and the army, the old men,
counsellors and princes, to whom had been committed the
care of the realm while he should be absent, were
gathered together before the palace in Susa, the royal
city. Not a little troubled were they in mind, for the
whole strength of the land was gone to the war.
"Invincible," they said, "is the host of the Persians,
and the people is valiant; but yet what man that is
mortal can escape from
 the craft of the Gods, when they lure him to his ruin?
Who is so nimble of foot that he can spring out of the
net which they lay for his feet? Now of old the
Persians fought ever upon the land, but now have they
ventured where the waves of the sea grow white with the
wind; and my heart is sore afraid, lest there come evil
news that the city of Susa is emptied of her men. Then
should there be heard great wailing of women; and the
fine linen of the daughters of Persia, who even now sit
at home alone, would be rent for grief. But come, let
us sit and take counsel together, for our need is sore,
and reckon the chances which of the two hath
prevailed—the Persian bow or the spear of Greece."
But while they thus spake together there came forth to
them from within the palace Queen Atossa, borne in a
litter. And the old men did obeisance to her, bowing
their heads to the ground.
(Now Queen Atossa had been
wife to Darius, and was the mother of King Xerxes.) And
when they had greeted her, she told them for what cause
she had come forth from the palace, for that she feared
 the wealth which King Darius had gathered together
should be overset. "For I know not," she said, "which
is the worse thing, store of wealth without manhood, or
lack of riches to them that are strong."
Then the old men bade her speak on, for that they would
give her with all willingness such counsel as they
could. After this the Queen set forth the matter to
"I have been visited with many dreams and visions of
the night since the day when King Xerxes my son
departed hence with his army, purposing to subdue the
men of Greece; but never have I seen vision so clear as
that which I beheld in this night that is last past. I
saw two women, clothed with fair garments, the one being
clad in Persian apparel, and the other in that which
Grecian women used to wear. Very tall were they, above
the stature of women in these days, and fair, so that
no man might blame their beauty. Sisters also were they
of the same race; but the one dwelt in the land of the
Greeks, and the other in the land of Asia. Between
these two there arose a strife; and my son took and
soothed them, and would have
 yoked them to his chariot. Then she that wore the
Persian garb was quiet and obedient to the bit; but the
other fought against him, and tare with her hands the
trappings of the chariot, and brake the yoke in the
midst, so that my son fell upon the ground; and when
he was fallen, lo! his father Darius stood over him,
pitying him. This was my dream; and when I had risen
and washed my hands in the running stream, I went to
the altar, that I might offer incense to the Gods that
avert evil from men; and there I saw an eagle fleeing
to the altar of Phœbus, and a kite pursued after him,
and flew upon him, and tare his head with his claws;
nor did the eagle aught but yield himself up to his
adversary. Now these are fearful things for me to see
and also for you to hear. But remember that if my son
shall prosper, all men will do him honour; and if he
shall fail, yet shall he give account to no man, but be
still ruler of this land."
To this the chief of the old men made answer, "O lady,
we would counsel thee first to ask the Gods that they
turn away all evils, and bring to pass all that is good;
and next to
 make offerings to Earth and to the dead, and specially
to thy husband King Darius, whom thou sawest in visions
of the night, that he may send blessings from below to
thy son, and turn away all trouble into darkness and
"This will I do," said the Queen, "so soon as I shall
have gone back to the palace. But first I would hear
certain things of you. Tell me, my friends, in what
land is this Athens of which they speak?"
"It is far to the west," the old men made reply,
"towards the setting of the sun."
"And why did my son seek to subdue this city?"
"Because he knew that if he prevailed against it all
Greece should be subject unto him."
"Hath it, then, so many men that draw the sword?"
"Such an army it hath as hath wrought great damage to
"And hath it aught else, as wealth sufficient?
"There is a spring of silver, a treasure hid in their
"Do the men make war with bows?"
 "Not so; they have spears for close fighting and
"And who is master of their army?"
"They are not slaves or subjects to any man."
"How, then, can they abide the onset of the Persians?"
"Nay, but so well they abide it that they slew a great
army of King Darius."
"What thou sayest is ill to hear for the mothers of
them that are gone."
And when the Queen had thus spoken, the counsellors
espied a man of Persia running to them with all speed,
and knew that he bare tidings from the hosts, whether
good or evil. And when the man was come, he cried out,
"O land of Persia, abode of proud wealth, how are thy
riches destroyed, and the flower of thy strength
perished! 'Tis an ill task to bring such tidings, yet I
am constrained to tell all our trouble. O men of
Persia, the whole army of our land hath perished."
Then the old men cried out, bewailing themselves that
they had lived to see this day. And the messenger told
them how he had himself
 seen this great trouble befall the Persians, and had
not heard it from others, and that it was at Salamis
that the army had perished, and the city of Athens that
had been chief among their enemies, the old men
breaking in upon his story as he spake with their
lamentations. But after a while the Queen Atossa stood
forward, saying, "For a while I was dumb, for the
trouble that I heard suffered me not to speak. But we
must bear what the Gods send. Tell me, therefore, who
is yet alive? and for whom must we make lamentation?"
"Know, O Queen," said the messenger, "that thy son,
King Xerxes, is yet alive."
And the Queen cried, "What thou sayest is as light
after darkness to me; but say on."
And when the messenger had told the names of many
chiefs that had perished, the Queen said, "Come, let us
hear the whole matter from the beginning. How many in
number were the ships of the Greeks that they dared to
meet the Persians in battle array?"
Then the man made reply, "In numbers, indeed, they
might not compare with us; for the Greeks had three
hundred ships in all, and
 ten besides that were chosen for their swiftness; but
King Xerxes, as thou knowest, had a thousand, and of
ships excelling in speed two hundred and seven. Of a
truth, we wanted not for strength; but some God hath
destroyed our host, weighing us against our enemies in
And the Queen made reply, " 'Tis even so: the Gods
preserve the city of Pallas."
"Yea," said the man, "Athens is safe, though it be
laid waste with fire; for the city that hath true men
hath a sure defence."
"But say," said the Queen, "who began this battle of
ships? Did the Greeks begin, or my son, trusting in the
greatness of his host?"
Then the messenger answered, "Some evil demon set on
foot all this trouble. For there came a man from the
army of the Athenians to King Xerxes, saying that when
night should come the Greeks would not abide in their
place, but, taking with haste to their ships, would fly
as best they could, and so save their lives. And he
straightway, not knowing that the man lied, and that
the Gods were jealous of him, made a proclamation to
all the captains,
 'So soon as the sun be set upon the earth and the
heavens dark, order your ships in three companies, and
keep the channels this way and that, and compass about
the whole island of Salamis; for if by any means the
Greeks escape, know that ye shall pay your lives for
their lives.' This commandment did he give in his
pride, not knowing what should come to pass. Whereupon
all the people in due order made provision of meat and
fitted their oars to the rowlocks; and when night was
come, every man-at-arms embarked upon the ships. And
the word of the command passed from line to line, and
they sailed each to his appointed place. They then
watched the channels all the night, yet nowhere was
there seen any stir among the Greeks as of men that
would fly by stealth. And when the fiery chariot of the
Sun was seen in heaven, the Greeks set up with one
accord a great shout, to which the echo from the rocks
of the island made reply; and the Persians were
troubled, knowing that they had been deceived, for the
Greeks shouted not as men that were afraid. And after
this there came the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud,
 then, when the word was given, the dash of many oars
that struck the water together, and, clearly heard
above all, the sound of many voices, saying,
'RISE, CHILDREN OF THE GREEKS; SET FREE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR CHILDREN AND YOUR WIVES, AND THE HOUSES OF YOUR GODS, AND THE SEPULCHRES OF YOUR FOREFATHERS. NOW MUST YE FIGHT FOR ALL THAT YE HOLD DEAR.'
And from us
there came a great tumult of Persian speech, and the
battle began, ship striking against ship. And a ship
of the Greeks led the way, breaking off all the
forepart of a ship of Phœnicia. For a while, indeed,
the Persian fleet bare up; but seeing that there were
many crowded together in narrow space, and that they
could not help one another, they began to smite their
prows together, and to break the oars one of the other.
And the ships of the Greeks in a circle round about
them drave against them right skilfully; and many hulls
were overset, till a man could not see the sea, so full
was it of wrecks and of bodies of dead men, with which
also all the shores and rocks were filled. Then did all
the fleet of the Persians take to flight without order,
 enemies with oars and pieces of wreck smote us, as men
smite tunnies or a shoal of other fish; and there went
up a dreadful cry, till the darkness fell and they
ceased from pursuing. But all the evils that befell us
I could not tell, no, not in ten days; only be sure of
this, that never before in one day died such a
multitude of men."
THE HORSES OF THE MORNING.
Then the Queen said, " 'Tis surely a great sea of
troubles that hath broken upon our race."
But the messenger made reply, "Listen yet again, for I
have yet more to tell. There is an island over against
Salamis, small, not easy of approach to ships. Hither
the King, thy son, sent the chosen men of his army,
being in the vigour of their age, and noble of birth,
and faithful to himself. For it was in his mind that
they should slay such of the Greeks as should seek to
save themselves out of the ships, and should help any
of his own people that might be in need. But he judged
ill of what should come to pass. For when the ships of
the Greeks had prevailed as I have said, certain of
their host clad themselves in arms,
 and leapt out of the ships on to the island, which they
circled about so that the Persians knew not whither
they should turn. And many were smitten down with
stones, and many with arrows, till at the last the men
of Greece, making an onslaught together, slew them
with their swords so that there was not a man left
alive. Which thing when the King beheld, for he sat on
a hill nigh unto the shore of the sea, whence he could
regard the whole army, he uttered a great cry, and rent
his garments, and bade his army that was on the land
fly with all speed."
And when the Queen heard these things she said, "O my
son, ill hast thou avenged thyself on this city of
Athens! But tell me, messenger, what befell them that
escaped from the battle?"
"As for the ships," he said, "O Queen, such as perished
not in the bay fled without order, the wind favouring
them. But of the army many indeed perished of thirst in
the land of Bœotia, and the rest departed with all
speed through the land of Phocis and the coasts of
Doris till we came to the region of Thessaly, being in
sore straits for food. And here also
 many perished of hunger and thirst; but such as were
left came into the land of Macedonia, and thence to the
coasts of Thrace, even to the great river of Strymon.
And there the Gods caused that there should be a frost
out of season, so that the river was covered with ice
in one night; which marvel when we beheld we
worshipped the Gods, yea, such as had said before in
their hearts that there were no Gods. And when our
prayers were ended we crossed over; and with such as
crossed before the sun was risen high upon the earth,
it was well; for as the day grew towards noon, the ice
was melted in the midst of the river, and the people
fell through, one upon the other, and perished
miserably, so that he might be counted happiest that
died most speedily. But such as remained fled across
the plains of Thrace with much toil and trouble, and
are now come to our homes, being but a very few out of
Then said the Queen, "Truly my dream is fulfilled to
the utmost. But now let us do what we may. For the past
no man may change; but for the future we may take
thought. Wherefore I will offer incense to the Gods
and to the
 dead; and do you take faithful counsel together, and if
the King my son should come before I be returned,
comfort him and bring him to the palace, lest a yet
worse thing befall us."
Then the Queen departed; and the old men made
lamentation for the dead, and bewailed themselves for
the trouble that had befallen the land of Persia. But
after a while she returned, walking on her feet and in
sober array, for she would put away all pride and pomp,
knowing that the Gods were wroth with the land and its
rulers. And she brought with her such things as men are
wont to offer to the dead—milk and honey, and pure
water from a fountain, and pure juice of a wild vine;
also the fruit of the olive, and garlands of flowers;
and she bade the old men sing a hymn to the dead, and
call up the spirit of King Darius, while she offered
her offerings to them that bear rule in hell.
So the old men chanted their hymn. To Earth they cried
and to Hermes that they would send up the spirit of
King Darius; also to the King himself they cried, that
he would come and give them counsel in their need.
And after a while the spirit of the King rose
 up from his sepulchre, having a royal crown upon his
head, and a purple robe about him, and sandals of
saffron upon his feet. And the spirit spake,
saying, "What trouble is this that seemeth to have come
upon the land? For my wife standeth near to my tomb
with offerings; and ye have called me with the cries
that raise the dead. Of a truth this is a hard journey
to take; for they that bear rule below are more ready
to take than to give back. Yet am I come, for I have
power among them. Yet hasten, for my time is short.
Tell me, what trouble hath come upon the land of
But the old men could not answer him for fear.
Whereupon he turned him to the Queen, and said, "My
wife that was in time past, cease awhile from these
lamentations and tell me what hath befallen this land."
And when she had told him all, he said, "Truly the Gods
have brought speedy fulfilment to the oracles, which I
had hoped might yet be delayed for many years. But what
madness was this in Xerxes my son! Much do I fear lest
our wealth be the prey of the spoiler."
Then the Queen made reply, "O my lord
 Xerxes hath been taught by evil counsellors; for they
told him that thou didst win great wealth for thy
country by thy spear, but that he sat idly at home;
wherefore he planned this thing that hath now had so
ill an end."
With this the old men, taking heart, would know of the
King what counsel he gave them for the time to come.
And he said, "Take heed that ye make not war again upon
these men of Greece." And when they doubted whether
they might not yet prevail, he said, "Listen, for ye
know not yet all that shall be. When the King, my son,
departed, he took not with him his whole army, but left
behind him many chosen men of war in the land of Bœotia
by the river Æsopus. And for these there is a grievous
fate in store. For they shall suffer punishment for all
that they have done against Gods and men, seeing that
they spared not the temples of the Gods, but threw
down their altars, and brake their images in pieces.
Wherefore they shall perish miserably, for the spear of
the Greeks shall slay them in the land of Platæa. For
the Gods will not that a man should have thoughts that
are above the measure of a man. Also
full-  flowered insolence groweth to the fruit of
destructions, and men reap from it a harvest of many
tears. Do ye then bear Athens and the land of Greece in
mind, and let no man, despising what is his and
coveting another man's goods, so bring great wealth to
ruin. For Zeus is ever ready to punish them that think
more highly than they ought to think, and taketh a
stern account. Wherefore do ye instruct the King with
counsels that he cease to sin against the Gods in the
pride of his heart. And do thou that art his mother go
to thy house, and take from it such apparel as is
seemly, and go to meet thy son, for the many rents that
he hath made for grief gape in his garments about him.
Comfort him also with gentle words; for I know that
'tis thy voice only that he will hear. And to you old
men, farewell; and live happily while ye may, for there
is no profit of wealth in the grave whither ye go."
And with these words the spirit of King Darius
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