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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE DREAM OF XERXES

[145] XERXES, the new ruler of Persia, looked every inch a king. He was tall and handsome, standing head and shoulders above the great warriors he led to battle. But although he looked a king among men, in character he was most unkingly, for he was both weak and foolish. It is true that he was sometimes good-natured, but it was not wise for his people to trust his temper, for he was often seized by sudden fits of rage, when he would do deeds of terrible cruelty.

In 483 B.C. Xerxes put down a revolt in Egypt. Then his captain and kinsman, Mardonius, begged the king to go to Greece to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon.

"O king," said Mardonius, "it is not seemly that the Athenians, who have done much wrong to the Persians, should not suffer for their doings. . . . And now, will any one dare to face thee, O king, with thy great army from Asia and all thy ships? Sure I am that the Greeks are not so desperate. But if I am wrong and in their rash folly they come out to battle, they will find that of all men we are the bravest."

To tempt Xerxes yet further to do as he wished, Mardonius told him how fair a country Europe was, how rich in fruit and trees. "Such a country," said the subtle flatterer, "should belong to none save to thee, O king." Mardonius hoped that if Greece was made a province of Persia, he himself would become her ruler.

But while Mardonius urged one thing, Artabanus the king's uncle urged another.

[146] "Thou, O king," said Artabanus, "art going against men . . . who are said to be most brave and strong both by sea and land. And it is right I should say why we ought to fear them. Thou sayest that thou wilt make a bridge over the Hellespont and carry thine army through Europe against Hellas: and so we may be beaten either by land or by sea or by both; for the men are said to be strong, and it would seem that they are, if by themselves alone the Athenians destroyed the great host that landed at Marathon."

Now Xerxes was, as I told you, a timid king. So as he listened now to one, now to another of his counsellors, he did not know what to do. First he thought that he would go to Greece, then he thought that he would not go. One night, while he still hesitated, the king had a strange dream. In his dream a man fair and tall stood over him, who said, "Dost thou repent, O Persian, from leading an army against Hellas, when thou hast charged thy people to gather their hosts together? Thou doest not well in thy change of counsel, neither is there any one who will forgive thee. Go thou on the road in which thou didst purpose to walk on the day that is past."

When Xerxes awoke he tried to thrust away the memory of his dream, for he now wished to follow the advice of Artabanus and stay at home.

But the next night, as he slept, he saw the same fair, tall man, who chided him for putting aside his words, "as though they had never been spoken." "But be thou sure," he said, "that if thou set not out forthwith, as thou hast become great and mighty in a little while, so in a little while shalt thou be made low."

The king awoke from this second dream in sudden fear, and springing from his bed, he bade his servants bring Artabanus to him without delay.

When his uncle stood before him, Xerxes told his vision in feverish haste.

"Now if it be a god who sends it," said the king, "and if it [147] must be that an army go against Hellas, then the same vision will come to thee."

The foolish king then begged Artabanus to put on his clothes, to sit upon his throne, and afterwards to lie down upon his bed.

At first Artabanus refused to do as the king wished. For he said, "If the vision must come, it ought to come to me no more if I put on thy dress than if I wear my own, and if I rest on thy couch than if I sleep on my own. For that which comes to thee in thy sleep, whatever it be, is surely not so silly as to think on seeing me that it looks upon thee, judging by thy vesture."

But at length Artabanus was persuaded to do as the king wished, and lo! when he had lain down on the royal couch, "the dream of Xerxes came and stood over him, saying 'Neither now nor hereafter shalt thou go unscathed, if thou seekest to turn aside that which must be.' " Then the dream appeared as though it were about to sear out his eyes with hot irons.

Artabanus awoke in great fear, and leaping from the couch he told Xerxes what he had seen and heard. From that night Artabanus was as ready as Mardonius to urge the king to invade Greece.


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