Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Departure of the Greeks from Artemisium and of the Advance of Xerxes

The battle being ended, the Greeks got possession of the broken ships and of the dead bodies of the slain; but seeing that they had been roughly handled, the Athenians not less than the others—for the half of their ships had suffered damage—they purposed to depart. Then Themistocles, thinking that if he could divide the men of Ionia and the men of Caria from the barbarians, the Greeks could have the mastery of the rest, gathered together the commanders, while the Eubœans were driving down their sheep to the sea, and told them that he had conceived a device by which he could divide from the King the bravest of his allies. Also he said that they should kill as many as they would of the sheep of the Eubœans, for that it was better that they should have them than that they should fall into the hands of the barbarians; also he would have the camp-fire according to custom. "And I will take care," he said, "that you shall get back to Greece without any damage."

Now the people of Eubœa had paid no regard to the oracle of Bacis, making light of it altogether, and neither removing their goods from the island, nor yet putting them into their strong places. And the oracle was this:

Ye sons of fair Eubœa heed:

Whene'er the strangers' dark array

Shall bridge the sea with ropes of reed,

Drive ye your bleating flocks away.

And by this neglect they were brought to ruin.

By this time there was come a messenger from Thermopylæ. For the Greeks had set a man in Trachis to tell them that fought in the Pass how it fared with the ships at Artemisium, and there was another man with King Leonidas who was to bring news to Artemisium of the doings of the Spartans. This man was now come, telling all that had befallen the Greeks in the Pass; which when the commanders of the fleet had heard, they delayed no longer, but departed, each in their order, first the Corinthians, and last of all the Athenians. But Themistocles chose the swiftest of the Athenian ships, and going to the places for watering, engraved there upon the rocks certain words which the Ionians coming the next day to Artemisium read. And the words were these, "Men of Ionia, ye do wrong making war against your fathers and seeking to enslave the land of Greece. Of right ye should be on our side. But if this be not possible to you, yet stand ye aloof from the battle, and entreat the Carians also that they do likewise. And if so be that ye can not either help us or stand aloof, being under such constraint that ye cannot revolt against the barbarians, yet, when the battle is joined, ye should hold your hands, remembering that ye are of our blood, and that for your sake we first provoked the barbarians to wrath." For Themistocles said to himself, "Either this writing will not come to the knowledge of the King, and the Ionians will perchance be persuaded to help us; or, coming to his knowledge, it will cause him to have doubts of them, and he will not suffer them to come into battle together with his ships."

Now when the barbarians heard that the Greeks had fled from Artemisium, at the first they would not believe it, but afterward, finding it to be so, they sailed thither. And when they were arrived at the place there came a herald from King Xerxes, saying, "Comrades, the King permits any that will to leave his place and see for himself how he fights against the foolish men that thought to resist his might." But before that he sent the herald he had ordered matters in this wise. He took of them that had been slain of his army at the Pass one thousand (but the number of the whole was twenty thousand), and left them to be seen; but the rest he hid away, digging two great trenches for them and covering them with leaves, and heaping earth upon them. Now when the herald had made this proclamation there could scarcely be found a boat, so many desired to see the sight. So they crossed over and saw it, passing among the dead bodies; all these they thought to be either Spartans or men of Thespiæ, though indeed there were many helots among the slain. Nevertheless they that crossed over perceived what Xerxes had done with the dead of his own army. And indeed it was a foolish device, for on the one side were to be seen the thousand men, and on the other four thousand, gathered together all of them into one place. This day therefore they spent in this fashion, and the next the seamen went back to their ships and Xerxes with his army went forward.

About this time there came to the Persians certain men from Arcadia, poor men that sought for a livelihood. When these were brought before the King, one of the Persians asked them, saying, "What do the Greeks at this season?" The Arcadians answered, "They hold the games at Olympia, looking on the sports and on the races of chariots." Then said the Persian, "What is the prize for which they contend?" And when the Arcadians answered, "They contend for a wreath of olive leaves," Tritantæchmes, that was the son to Artabanus, cried out, "Now, by the Gods, O Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom thou bringest us, that they contend with each other, not for money, but for glory only?" This was in truth a noble thing that he said, but it angered the King, so that he charged Tritantæchmes with cowardice.

From Trachis the Persians marched into Doris, and from Doris into Phocis. This they laid waste, burning the towns and the temples. As for the Phocians themselves, they escaped, for the most part, with their wives and children, to the heights of Mount Parnassus. When they had passed through the land of Phocis the barbarians divided their army into two parts, whereof the one, with King Xerxes, marched toward Athens through the land of Bœotia, and the other, having taken to themselves guides, marched toward the temple at Delphi. This they did purposing to spoil the temple, and to bring the treasure to the King; and indeed the King knew all the notable things that were laid up in the treasury at Delphi better than he knew the things that he had left in his own house; for there was continually much talk about them, and especially about the offerings which Crœsus, King of the Lydians, had made to the god.

The men of Delphi, when they knew of the coming of the Persians, were in great fear; therefore they inquired of the oracle what they should do with the treasures of the temple, whether they should bury them in the earth, or take them away to some other land. But the god answered them in these words, "Move them not, for I am sufficient to defend that which is mine own." When the men of Delphi heard these words, they took counsel about themselves. First they carried their women and children across the gulf of Corinth to the land of Achaia, and after that they fled, for the most part, to the heights of Parnassus, and their goods they hid in the Corycian cave; but some of them escaped to Amphissa, a city of the Locrians; of all the men of Delphi there were left in the city sixty only, and the prophet.

So soon as the barbarians were come near so that they could see the temple, the prophet (his name was Acetatus) espied the holy arms which it is not lawful for a man to touch, lying without the temple. And while he went to tell this marvel to them that were in the city, and the barbarians were coming up with all speed, and were now near to the temple of Athene, there befell marvels greater by far than that which has been told. A great marvel indeed is it that arms should move of their own accord so as to be seen lying without the temple, but the things that befell afterward are greater by far, and such indeed that nothing can be compared with them. First of all, so soon as the barbarians, coming up the road, were now hard by the temple of Athene, there fell on them great thunderbolts from heaven, and two great rocks brake off from the top of Mount Parnassus, and rolled down upon them with a great crash, and slew many of them, and there was heard also from the temple a war-cry and a shout of victory. And when the barbarians saw and heard all these things, great fear came upon them, so that they turned their backs and fled. And when the men of Delphi perceived that they fled, they came down and pursued after them, and slew not a few of them. And they that escaped fled into Bœotia, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left. They said also that, over and above the other marvels that have been told, they saw two men at arms, whose stature exceeded the stature of a man, following after them and slaying them. These two men the men of Delphi affirm to have been heroes of the country, Phylacus and Autonous. These two have each a temple and a precinct near to the city of Delphi. As for the rocks that fell from Parnassus, they are to be seen to this day in the precinct of Athene, in which they lodged after that they had passed through the host of the barbarians.