| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
 AT this time the leading man of Athens was a great statesman
and soldier named Themistocles. Some years before when
the news had come that Xerxes was collecting an army and
intended to invade Greece, the Athenians sent messengers to
Delphi to ask the oracle what they should do. Delphi was
upon the side of Mount Parnassus, and there stood a temple
of Apollo. It was built over the cleft in the rock which,
you remember, Deucalion found long ago as he and Pyrrha were
coming down the mountain after the flood.
In the inner chamber of the temple just over the cleft, was
a three-legged stool called a tripod. When a person wished
to consult the oracle the priestess, who was called the
Pythia, took her seat on the tripod. In a few minutes her
eyes would close and she would begin to talk. The words
which she spoke were noted, and the Greeks believed that
they were really the words of the god Apollo.
THE PYTHIA ON THE TRIPOD
Her answer to the messengers from Athens was:
"When everything else in the land of Cecrops
 shall be taken Jupiter grants to Minerva that the wooden
wall alone shall remain undestroyed, and it shall defend you
and your children. Stand not to await the attack of horses
and foot from Asia, but retire. You shall live to fight
another day. And thou, O divine Salamis, shalt destroy the
children of women!"
What do you think this strange answer meant? The Athenians
were greatly puzzled by it.
Themistocles said that the "wooden wall" meant ships of war,
and that the gods would save the people if they would leave
their city and trust to their fleet when the enemy
approached. He advised the Athenians to build more ships of
war. The people at last came to believe him. Rich Athenians
gave him money, and the people voted that the silver which
was dug every year from the silver mines owned by the city
should be used to pay for building ships of war.
And thus by the time Xerxes began his march Athens had a
fleet of two hundred ships of war.
vessels were gigantic rowboats, each having as many as a
hundred and fifty oars. Each had also a mast with a single
big sail, which was hoisted to help the rowers.
The capture of Thermopylae had given the Persians an open
road to Athens, and so the women and children of the city
and the men who were too old
 to fight had been sent away in merchant ships to places of
safety. A few men stayed in Athens and defended the
citadel, as you learned in the last chapter. The rest went
out in the war ships with Themistocles to fight behind the
THEMISTOCLES and the commanders of the fleets of the other Greek states
took their vessels into the narrow strait of Salamis, which
lay between the island of Salamis and the shore of Attica.
Here the Persians followed them. Themistocles now wished
the Greeks to give battle to the Persians, but the Spartan
commander and the other Greek leaders were unwilling to risk
a battle in the narrow strait. They proposed to retreat.
Themistocles was determined, however, that a battle should
be fought in the strait; so he sent word secretly to Xerxes
that the Greek ships were going to try to get away and
advised him to head them off. Xerxes was delighted to get
this message, and during the night he sent a part of his
fleet up the shore of Attica to the other end of the strait,
so as to hem the Greek fleet in between two lines of Persian
ships. Next morning the Greek leaders all saw that there
was nothing to do but fight, and at once their ships were
drawn up in line of battle.
 Xerxes' throne had been placed on a high cliff on the shore
of Attica, so that he might look down upon the battle. When
the sun rose he took his seat upon the throne. He was
clothed in his royal robes and surrounded by the princes of
his court. Below him were a thousand Persian war vessels,
while close to the shore of the island lay three hundred and
seventy-eight Greek vessels. It seemed an easy victory for
the Persians. The Greeks rowed forward from the shore of
Salamis, shouting the cry, "We fight for all." The Persians
replied with their war cry, and the battle began. For a
time the Persians had the advantage. But their ships were
in the way of one another; those in the front could not go
back, those in the rear could not come forward. The
confusion became terrible. Ship after ship of the Persians
sank, some of them rammed by the Greeks, others run down by
their own allies. In all two hundred Persian vessels were
destroyed and a great number captured, while the Greeks lost
XERXES WATCHING THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS
When Xerxes saw his thousand vessels sunk or captured or
rowing away in flight, he determined to go back to Persia.
He at once returned to northern Greece, where he left
300,000 men in command of his brother-in-law, Mardonius.
With the rest of his army he marched on to the Hellespont.
Here he found that storms had destroyed his bridges, so that
what was left of his army was carried across to the shore of
Asia Minor in ships.
EVERYBODY in Greece now admitted that Themistocles had been right in
his explanation of the oracle that the "wooden wall" would
save the people. And "Salamis," as the oracle had said,
"destroyed the sons of women"; but they were chiefly the
sons of Persian, not Grecian women.
THE VICTORS OF SALAMIS
The battle of Salamis brought fresh glory to Themistocles.
After some years, however, he became unpopular and was
banished from Athens. He
 stayed at Argos. Then the Spartans, who were his enemies,
accused him of treason against Greece. Fearing that he
could not get a fair trial at Athens he fled to Persia.
The Persian king gave him three cities to support him, and
in one of these he lived until his death in 453
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