Page images

Such was the success of the battle of Salamin, one of the most memorable actions related in ancient history, and which has, and will render the name and courage of the Grecians famous for ever. A

great number of the Persian ships were taken, and a much greater sunk upon

this occasion. Many of their allies, who dreaded the king's cruelty no less than the enemy, made the best of their way into their own country.

Themistocles, in a secret conversation, with Aristides, proposed to his consideration, in order to sound him and to learn bis true sentiments, whether it would not be proper for them to send some vessels to break down the bridge which Xerxes had caused to be built, to the end, says he, that we may take Asia into Europe: but though he made this proposal, he was far from approving it. Aristides believing him to be in earnest argued very warmly and strenuously against any such project, and represented to him how dangerous it was to reduce so powerful an enemy to despair, from whom it was their business to deliver themselves as soon as possible. Themistocles seemed to acquiesce in his reasons; and, in order to hasten the king's departure, contrived to have him secretly informed, that the Gre. cians designed to break down the bridge. The point Themistocles seems to have had in view by his false confidence, was to strengthen himself with Aristides's opinion, which was of great weight against that of the other generals, in case they inclined to go and break down the bridge. Perhaps too he might aim at guard. ing himself by this means against the ill will of his enemies, who might one day accuse him of treason before the people, if ever they came to know that he had been the author of that secret advice to Xerxes.

* This prince, being frightened on such news, made the best use he could of his time, and set ought by night, leaving Mardonius behind him, with an army of three hundred thousand men, in order to reduce Greece, if he was able. The Grecians, who expected that Xerxes would have come to another engagement the next day, having learned that he was fled, pursued him as fast as they could, but to no purpose. They had de. stroyed two hundred of the enemy's ships, besides those which they had taken. The remainder of the Persian fleet, after having suffered extremely by the winds in their passage, retired towards the coast of Asia, and entered into the port of Cuma, a city in Eolia, where they passed the winter, without daring afterwards to return into Greece.

Xerxes took the rest of his army along with him, and marched by the way of the Hellespont. As no provisions had been prepared for them beforehand, they underwent great hardships during their whole march, which lasted forty five days. After having consumed all the fruits they could find, the soldiers were obliged to live upon herbs, and even upon the bark and leaves of trees. This occasioned a great sickness in the

army, and great numbers died of fluxes and the plague.

The king, through eagerness and impatience to make his escape, left his army behind him, and trav. elled on before with a small retinue, in order to reach the bridge with the greater expedition ; but when he arrived at the place, he found the bridge broken down by the violence of the waves, in a great tempest that had happened, and was reduced to the necessity of passing the strait in a cock boat. This was a spectacle very proper to show mankind the mutability of all carthly things, and the instability of human greatness; a prince, whose armies and fleets the land and sea were scarce able to contain a little while before, now stealing away in a little boat, almost without any servants or attendants ! Such was the event and success of Xerxes's expedition against Greece.

w Herod. I. viii. c. 115-120.

Ibid. c. 130.

If we compare Xerxes with himself at different times and on different occasions, we shall hardly know him for the same man.

When affairs were under consideration and debate, no person could show more courage and intrepidity than this prince: he is surprised, and even offended, if any one foresees the least difficulty in the execution of his projects, or shows any apprehension concerning events: but when he comes to the point of execution, and to the hour of danger, he flies like a coward, and thinks of nothing but saving his own life and person. Here we have a sensible and evident proof of the difference between true courage, which is never destitute of prudence, and temerity, always blind and presumptuous. A wise and great prince weighs every thing, and examines all circumstances, before he enters into a ' war, of which he is not afraid, but at the same time does not desire; and when the time of action is come, the sight of danger serves only to animate his courage. Presumption inverts this order. When she has introduced assurance and boldness, where wisdom and circumspection ought to preside, she

"Non times bella, non provocas. Plin. de Traj. Fortissimus in ipso discrimine, qui ante discrimen quietissimus. Tacit. Hist.). i. c. 14.

Ante discrimen feroces, in periculo pavidi. Tacit. Hist. 1. i. c. 68. VOL. 3.


admits fear and despair, where courage and intre pidity ought to be exerted.

* The first thing the Grecians took care of after the battle of Salamin, was to send the first fruits of the rich spoil they had taken to Delphos. Cimon, who was then very young, signalized himself in a particular manner in that engagement, and performed actions of such distinguished valor, as acquired him a great reputation, and made him be considered from henceforth as a citizen that would be capable of rendering the most important services to his country on future occasions.

But Themistocles carried off almost all the honour of this victory, which was the most signal that ever the Grecians obtained over the Persians. The force of truth obliged even those who envied his glory most to render him this testimony. It was a custom in Greece, that, after a battle, the commanding officers should declare who had distinguished themselves most, by writing in a paper the names of the man who had mer- . ited the first prize, and of him who had merited the second.

On this occasion, by a judgment which shows the good opinion natural for every man to have of himself, each officer concerned adjudged the first rank to himself, and allowed the second to Themistocles, which was indeed giving him the preference to them all.

The Lacedemonians having carried him to Sparta, in order to pay him the honours due to his merit, decreed to their general Eurybiades the prize of valor, and to Themistocles that of wisdom, which was crown of olive for both of them. They also made a present to Themistocles of the finest chariot in the city:


• Herod. I. viii. c. 122, 125.

6 Plut. in Themist.



and on his departure, sent three hundred young men of the most considerable families to wait upon him to the frontiers ; an honour they had never shown to any person whatsoever before.

But that which gave him a still more sensible pleasure, were the public acclamations he received at the first Olympic games that were celebrated after the battle of Salamin, where all the people of Greece were met together. As soon as he appeared, the whole assembly rose up to do him honour ; no body regarded either the games or the combats : Themistocles was the only spectacle. The eyes of all the company were fixed upon him, and every body was eager to show him and point him out with the hand to strangers that did not know him. He acknowledged afterwards to his friends, that he looked upon that day as the happiest of his life ; that he had never tasted any joy so sensible and so transporting ; and that this reward, the genuine fruit of his labours, exceeded all his desires.

The reader has undoubtedly observed in Themistocles two or three principal strokes of his character, which entitle him to be ranked amongst the greatest men. The design which he formed and executed, of making the whole force of Athens maritime, showed him to have a superior genius, capable of the highest view, penetrating into futurity, and judicious to seize the decisive point in great affairs. As the territory belonging to Athens was of a barren nature and small extent, he rightly conceived, that the only way that city had to enrich and aggrandize herself was by sea. And indeed that scheme may justly be looked upon as the source and cause of all those great events which raised the republic of Athens in the sequel to so flour. ishing a condition.

« PreviousContinue »