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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THEMISTOCLES IS OSTRACISED

[185] FOR many years Themistocles had been a favourite with the Athenians. But soon after the walls of the city were complete he began to grow less popular.

Perhaps this was his own fault, for he tired the people by boasting continually of the good he had done to the city. It was known too that he did not hesitate to take bribes, and the citizens were indignant that he should have grown rich in this dishonourable way.

One day, as he was talking in public with Aristides, he said, "The chief excellence of a statesman is to be able to prove and frustrate the designs of public enemies." Aristides answered, "Another very excellent and necessary quality in a statesman is to have clean hands." And those who listened applauded Aristides the Just, for they knew well that he had never soiled his hands with the gold of his country's foes.

In 471 B.C., the people determined to ostracise Themistocles, so weary had they grown of the claims he made upon their gratitude. At the time of Pausanias' death he was living at Argos, which city lies south of Corinth. When the papers of the traitor were read it was found that Themistocles had written to him. There was nothing in his letters to show that he had meant to help Pausanias to betray his country, yet he was accused of treason.

When he heard of the charge that was brought against him, he wrote to the council at Athens, "I, Themistocles, who was born to command and not to serve others, could [186] not sell myself, and Greece with me, into servitude to the enemy."

These proud words only angered the Athenians the more, and the council sent men to arrest him. But Themistocles did not wait to be captured. He fled from Greece to Epirus, where he hoped that King Admetus, whom he had once befriended, would shelter him from his foes.

Admetus was not at home when the exile reached the palace, so he threw himself upon the mercy of the queen.

She bade him take her little son in his arms and go sit by the hearth until her lord returned.

Then, when the king arrived, Themistocles arose, and begged Admetus to protect him, while the little prince stretched out suppliant arms to his royal father.

This was the most sacred way to proffer a request, and according to the custom of his country the king was pleased to do as Themistocles asked. He refused to give him up to the Athenians, and sent him in safety to the Persian court, where Artaxerxes now reigned.

Themistocles begged one of the officers to take him to Artaxerxes, saying that he was a Greek who had come to see the king on important matters.

"If you will promise to prostrate yourself before the monarch, as is the custom in my country, I will do as you wish," answered the Persian.

Some Greeks would have refused to prostrate themselves before any king, but it was easy for Themistocles to conform to the customs of the country in which he found himself.

"I that come hither," he said, "to increase the power and glory of the king, will not only submit myself to his laws but will also cause many more to be worshippers and adorers of the king."

"Who shall we tell him you are?" asked the officer, "for your words signify you to be no ordinary person."

"No man," replied Themistocles, "must be informed of this before the king himself."

[187] So at length the Athenian was brought into the presence of Artaxerxes, and after having prostrated himself he stood silent before the king.


[Illustration]

He stood silent before the king

"Who art thou?" asked Artaxerxes.

"O king," answered the exile, "I am Themistocles the Athenian, driven into banishment by the Greeks. I come with a mind suited to my present calamities; prepared alike for favours and for anger. If you save me you will save your suppliant; if otherwise, you will destroy an enemy of the Greeks."

Artaxerxes liked the courage the exile showed, but he gave him no answer that day. At night, in his sleep, he was heard to cry aloud for joy three times, "I have Themistocles the Athenian."

In the morning he commanded his courtiers and captains to assemble in the hall, while the stranger was brought before him.

As the Athenian passed close to the captains, one of them whispered to him. "You subtle Greek serpent, the king's good genius hath brought thee hither."

Themistocles thought these were ominous words, but to his surprise the king greeted him kindly.

A reward had been offered to whoever should bring the famous Athenian to the court of the great king. This reward Artaxerxes now declared should be given to Themistocles himself.

The Greek besought the king to grant him a year in which to learn the Persian language. He promised that when he could speak without an interpreter he would tell Artaxerxes the best way to subdue Greece.

Artaxerxes not only granted his request, but showed him great kindness. For he gave to him three cities, and ordered the inhabitants to supply him with bread, meat, wine and whatever else he might need for himself and his family.

In Magnesia, one of these cities, the Athenian lived content for many years. But at length Artaxerxes assembled [188] an army to invade Greece, and he sent for the Greek to come to lead it into his own country.

But whatever promises he had made to ensure his own safety, Themistocles had never really meant to harm the land he loved so well.

So when the message of Artaxerxes reached him, the Athenian invited his friends to a feast, and after bidding them farewell he offered sacrifices to the gods. He then took poison and soon after died.

Artaxerxes respected the Athenian, because he had died rather than betray his country, and he ordered his family to be treated with kindness.

Themistocles was buried without the walls of Magnesia, and the Magnesians erected a statue to him in their market place, because he had been the "Saviour of Greece."

In 464 B.C., three years after the death of Themistocles, Aristides died. The Athenians, both rich and poor, mourned for his loss, because his rare justice, his true patriotism, had made him to be loved and honoured by all who knew him.


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