If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. — Mark Twain

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

Themistocles is Ostracised

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 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."

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

Themistocles and Artaxerxes
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 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 within 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.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple