|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THEMISTOCLES URGES EURYBIADES TO STAY AT SALAMIS
 AFTER Xerxes had secured the pass of Thermopylae, a march of six
days would bring him to Athens. There was no army in his
way, for the Spartans and other tribes in Peloponnesus were
now fortifying the Isthmus of Corinth, so as to protect
their cities from the foe.
If the Athenians wished to save themselves they would have
to desert their city and seek refuge elsewhere, for it was
impossible to hold Athens against the great army that was
marching towards her. Yet even to save their lives how hard
it was to leave their homes, their temples, their gods!
The oracle at Delphi was consulted, and told them that "when
all was lost a wooden wall should still shelter the
Athenians." Some there were who believed that the oracle meant that
if the Acropolis were fortified with timber it would not be
taken by the Persians, and they shut themselves up in the
citadel and refused to leave the city.
But Themistocles knew that the only way to save the people
was to get them away from Athens, and he used all his
eloquence to make them willing to go. When it seemed that
he had failed, he tried another way—he began to work upon
their superstitious fears. He told them that Athene, their
own goddess, had already deserted the city, and taking with
her her pet snake had gone to the sea. He assured them that
the "walls of wood," of which the oracle had spoken, were
the good ships that were at Salamis, waiting to defeat the
Persians and put their fleet to flight.
At length his words prevailed, and the old men, women,
 and children were sent to the island of Salamis, while the
fighting men joined the fleet.
In the confusion, many faithful animals were forgotten.
These ran along the shore, while the ships carrying the
fugitives sailed away. One faithful dog leaped into the
water and followed his master's ship until it reached
Salamis. But when he had dragged himself out of the water
the poor creature was so exhausted that he lay down on the
shore and died.
Meanwhile Xerxes was marching toward Athens. On the way he
ordered a large company to break off to the west to seize
Delphi and the sanctuary of the oracle, in which, as the
king knew, vast treasures were kept. No Greek would have
dared to rob the sacred temple.
When the Delphians heard that the Persians were approaching,
they fled to Parnassus, leaving only sixty men and the
priest to defend the sanctuary. They did not think that the
treasures would be stolen, for the gods would protect their
And as soon as the barbarians were close to the city,
strange things are said to have taken place. The sacred
arms, which none might touch, were mysteriously carried out
and placed in front of the temple. The sky was ablaze with
brilliant flashes of lightning, while two great crags were
wrenched from the heights of Mount Parnassus and fell with a
loud crash upon the enemy. At the same time, from the
temple of Athene a shout as of a mighty warrior was heard.
The barbarians were stricken with terror at these strange
sights and sounds, and they fled, pursued, so they declared,
by two Greeks, each taller and more fearful than any mortal
they had ever seen.
Xerxes had now reached Athens, to find the city deserted,
save for the few who had taken refuge in the citadel. These
defended themselves bravely, and as it was difficult to
scale the height on which the Acropolis stood, they were
able for a time to keep the enemy at bay.
But at length the wooden defences, in which the people
 had put their trust, were set on fire by the burning brands of
the enemy. At the same time a band of Persian soldiers
discovered a secret path on the north side of the citadel.
Although it was steep, they at once began to climb, and
before long they reached the summit and entered the citadel.
The defenders were slain; the temples were plundered and
As the Greek fleet lay in the narrow strait between Salamis
and the Attic coast, the Athenians saw smoke and flames
rising from the burning city. They were filled with grief
as they gazed upon the destruction of their homes and their
temples, while their wrath burned hot against the
Themistocles and the Athenians wished to stay where they
were to await the enemy. But the other admirals were
anxious to sail to the Isthmus of Corinth, where they would
be within reach of the Peloponnesian army.
A council of war was called, at which Themistocles urged
that they should stay where they were to fight and to
conquer the Persian fleet. He reminded the other admirals
that in the narrow strait of Salamis the big and heavy ships
of the Persians would have no room to move and would be
captured without great difficulty. But no one agreed with
the Athenian general, and the council broke up, after having
agreed that the fleet should sail to the Isthmus of Corinth
on the following day.
Themistocles was so sure that it was a mistake to move, that
he went alone to Eurybiades and earnestly begged him not to
withdraw. His gravity impressed the commander, and he
promised to recall the council to discuss the matter once
No sooner had the admirals again assembled than Themistocles
rose, without waiting until the council was opened in the
usual way, and again explained the urgent reasons why the
fleet should stay to fight at Salamis.
The Corinthian admiral was angry already because the
 council had been reopened; he was angrier still as he listened to
the words of Themistocles.
At length he could keep silent no longer, and he interrupted
the orator, saying in a harsh voice, "Themistocles, at the
games they who start too soon are scourged."
"True," answered the Athenian, "but they who loiter are not
Even Eurybiades lost his temper as Themistocles urged his
wish more and more vehemently, and at length he raised his
staff as though he would strike the persistent orator.
Themistocles looked calmly at the admiral and said, "Strike
if you will, but at least hear me." His self-control
pleased the Spartan commander. He let his arms drop to his
side and listened until Themistocles had ended his speech.
But although Eurybiades said nothing, an officer began to
taunt Themistocles, saying that he was the last man who
should urge them to stay at Salamis, for he had no city to
defend, as Athens was in the hands of the barbarians.
"A base fellow art thou to use such a taunt," answered
Themistocles. "True it is that we have left our houses and
our walls, for we will not endure to be made slaves for such
things. But in these two hundred ships here ready to defend
you all, we still possess the fairest city in Greece."
Then turning to Eurybiades he said, "By remaining here, thou
wilt show thyself a brave man. By going away, thou wilt
destroy all Hellas, for with the war on land the Athenians
have nothing more to do. If thou wilt not stay, we will
sail away with our two hundred ships and build a city in the
west, where the Persians will not trouble us."
Then Eurybiades grew afraid, for he knew that without the
help of the Athenians the Greeks need not hope to conquer
the enemy, so he agreed to stay to fight at Salamis.
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