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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE ELOQUENCE OF PERICLES

[189] AFTER the death of Aristides, Cimon became commander-in-chief of the allied fleet.

Cimon was beloved by the Athenians, for he showed them great kindness. Every day he invited some of the poorer citizens to supper. When he walked through the city he ordered several well-dressed slaves to follow him. Then, if he met a citizen clad in shabby or threadbare garments, he would order one of his slaves to exchange clothes with him.

The allied fleet gained many victories while Cimon was at its head.

In 470 B.C., he sailed to an island named Scyrus, in which dwelt a race of pirates, who had for many years fallen upon and captured the merchant vessels of Greece. The island of Scyrus lay between Athens and Thrace.

The Greek traders were pleased when Cimon banished the pirates, as he was soon able to do. A number of Athenians were sent to settle in Scyrus, which from that time belonged to Attica.

Now there was a legend which said that in this island there was a grave where lay the bones of Theseus, one of the old heroes of Hellas.

It may be that Cimon ordered his men to search for the spot where the hero was said to be buried; in any case a grave was found in which lay the body of a giant warrior. No one doubted that this was the body of Theseus, and, as the oracle had commanded, the bones were brought to Athens and placed in a temple which was henceforth called [190] Theseum. The Athenians were loud in the praise of Cimon because he had obeyed the commands of the oracle, and had brought the bones of the hero to Attica.

Four years later Cimon gained two great victories over the Persians, by which those Greek cities which had been left under the yoke of the great king were set free. They then hastened to join the Delian League.

Cimon was now at the height of his power, but his friendship with Sparta, on which the Athenians had always looked with dislike, soon led to his downfall.

In 464 B.C. there was an earthquake in Peloponnesus. Chasms yawned in the valleys, landslips changed the face of the mountains. The loss of life in Sparta itself was terrible, while both houses and temples were destroyed. The Helots, who were always ready to revolt, did so now that their masters were overwhelmed by this great calamity.

Cimon begged the Athenians to forget their old grudge against the Spartans and to send to her help, remembering only how they had shared in the glory of the Persian war.

"Do not let Greece be lamed of one foot," he urged, "and Athens herself be left to draw without her yoke-fellow."

An Athenian, named Pericles, who was now one of the chief citizens, did all he could to make the people refuse to send help to Sparta, but Cimon's entreaties were successful. He was himself sent at the head of the Athenian troops to help the Spartans to subdue the Helots.

The rebels had taken refuge in a fortress, and Cimon tried in vain to expel them from their stronghold.

Always ready to suspect an Athenian, the Spartans began to think that Cimon did not really wish to dislodge the Helots. They accused him of treachery, and roughly bade him return with his troops to Athens, as they no longer wished for his help.

During Cimon's absence, Pericles and a statesman named Ephialtes had made several changes in the ancient courts of [191] Athens. These changes did not meet with the approval of Cimon, and he tried to restore the old customs.

The citizens soon grew angry with the two leaders because each tried to govern Athens in a different way, and, instead of peace, discord ruled in the city. They determined that one of them should be ostracised.

In 461 B.C. it was resolved to put the matter to the vote. The citizens assembled in the market place, and shells were given to them on which to write the name of the leader they wished to be banished. When the names were counted it was found that Cimon was ostracised.

Soon after Cimon left Athens, Ephialtes was slain in his own house, and it was believed that this cruel deed had been done by the order of some of Cimon's friends, in revenge for the ostracism of their chief.

Pericles was now left alone to govern Athens.

He was not rich, so he could not himself do all that Cimon had done for the people, but he used the public money for the good of the citizens. And he pleased them by taking from the court of the Areopagus most of its ancient power, and giving it to the popular assembly.

Tickets, too, were given by his orders to the poorer folk in Athens, so that they might be able to go to the theatres and other places of public amusement. By these and other acts, Pericles soon won the goodwill of the people.

When he was a boy Pericles had been trained by a philosopher named Anaxagoras, who had taught him much wisdom. When storms arose they seemed unable to disturb the calm of the philosopher's pupil.

One day, as he was busy in the market place with affairs of State, a rude fellow never ceased to mock and to speak ill of him.

Pericles heard all that the man said, but he took no notice, and when he had finished his task he set out for home. The rough fellow followed, throwing at him, not stones, but cruel, wicked words.

[192] It was dark when Pericles reached his house. Turning to one of his servants he bade him take a light and see that the man reached home in safety. And this he did although he had been treated so badly.

Because he was a great orator, Pericles was named the Olympian, but by some it was said that he was so called because of the beautiful buildings with which he adorned Athens.

At this time comedies were acted on the stage, and in these comedies great statesmen were often ridiculed; that is, fun was made both of themselves and of their actions.

Those who wrote these plays were allowed to use their wit on any one or anything that they chose. It was soon seen that the Athenians could laugh heartily at themselves, and that is a good thing that some people can never learn to do.

Pericles was too well known to be left alone by the writers of comedy. Sometimes hard words were spoken of him, as when a writer said that he had a "dreadful thunderbolt in his tongue." But he who said this knew that the eloquence of Pericles was a great power, and that the orator could make people believe almost anything that he wished them to believe.

It is said that one of the kings of Sparta once asked a noble citizen, named Thucydides, if he or Pericles were the stronger wrestler.

"When I," answered Thucydides, "have thrown him and given him a fair fall, by persisting that he had no fall he gets the better of me, and makes the bystanders, in spite of their own eyes, believe him." Thucydides said this in jest, to show what wonders Pericles could work by his eloquence.

But although others might make fun of Pericles' great gift of speech, he himself thought of it with reverence. "He was very careful what and how he was to speak, insomuch that, whenever he went up to the hustings, he prayed the gods that no one word might unawares slip from him, unsuitable to the matter and the occasion."

[193] Pericles encouraged the Athenians to war against many of the Greek States, and when they had subdued them, he bade these States pay tribute to Athens. Year by year, under his guidance, the city grew more powerful.

In 449 B.C., Cimon, who had been recalled from exile, sailed with a fleet of two hundred ships to Cyprus, where several cities still owned Artaxerxes, the Persian king, as their master. He laid siege to the town of Citium, but before it was taken he fell ill. Although he was forced to stay in bed, he still sent orders to his men, which helped them to gain two brilliant victories.

Cimon did not recover from his illness, and after the death of its commander the fleet returned to Athens.


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