Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Theban Pair

Although less important in many ways than other cities of Greece, Thebes had been quietly growing in strength and influence. She was at peace with the other states when a Spartan army, marching through her territory, seized the citadel and took possession of the city. Sparta held this advantage during four years. Then the people of Thebes rose, captured the citadel and drove out the Spartan soldiers.

The two leaders of this attack were Pelopidas and Epaminondas, who were called the Theban Pair. Epaminondas was the greater of the two. He was the son of a poor family but he had a good education and a noble character. He did not care to be rich. The one thing for which he lived was to do right and to help his native city. He was quiet in manner, amiable in disposition, sincere in heart, and wise in judgment. He was considered almost perfect,—one of the greatest and perhaps the best of all the Greeks.

Pelopidas laid the plan for capturing the citadel. He gathered a company of young men and dressed them like dancing-girls, but under their fanciful garments each man wore a sword. They were to go to the citadel on a night when the Spartan general gave a feast, and to ask general admittance to share and help in the enjoyment.

Theban conspirators


On the morning before the feast some one sent a letter to the general telling him of the plan. He did not read it but said, "To-day is for pleasure; to-morrow we will attend to business."

Night came and the soldiers in the citadel were very gay. A knock was heard at the gates. A soldier said, "General, a company of dancing-women ask to come in that they may show their art and share our joy."

"On this night," said the general, "all the world is welcome. Let them enter and dance before us."

The gates were thrown open. Pelopidas and his party entered. They danced a very little while; then at a word from the leader drew their swords and rushed upon the soldiers. The first man to fall was the foolish general who had said, "Pleasure to-day; business to-morrow."

The citadel was taken from the Spartans and Thebes was again free.

When Epaminondas and his friend had rescued Thebes from the Spartans, they tried to show their fellow-citizens that virtue and liberty are the best things.

"To be free," said Epaminondas, "is most to be desired but the false and wicked are never free. The man who conquers himself has liberty; all others are really slaves. Why do you spend your money for rich food and expensive wines when those who eat simply have the best health and he who drinks water can never be drunken? You look for pleasure, but in the wrong way. True pleasure is found in living plainly and in doing right."

Thebes became a leading city. A convention of the Greek states was held at Sparta to arrange for a general peace. Epaminondas was so independent that the king of Sparta was angry and declared war against Thebes.

Twenty days later the two armies met on the plain of Leuctra and a fierce battle was fought. Here Epaminondas proved himself to be a great general and the Spartans were severely beaten. They were surprised and ashamed at this defeat for they had considered the Thebans dull and slow. But the Spartans were no longer so warlike as they had been and the Thebans had improved in war with Epaminondas for their leader.

He marched into Laconia up to the very gates of Sparta but did not attack the city. He burned the crops and villages in the valley of the river Eurotas and then led his troops homeward.

For two following years armies went out from Thebes and fought against the Spartans. In a battle in Thessaly, Pelopidas was killed. At Matinea, Epaminondas won another victory over the men of Sparta. But it was his last battle. A dart thrown by a Spartan entered his breast and went nearly through his body. He fell to the ground insensible.

His friends bent over him, full of sorrow, for they saw that nothing could be done to help him. After a while he opened his eyes.

"Where is my shield?" he asked, for if a soldier lost his shield he was disgraced.

"It is here, general," they said. "Let me see it," he demanded, and they brought it to him. "How goes the fight?" he inquired.

"The enemy are defeated," was the answer. "We have won the day and hold the field!"

"Then all is well," he said. "Pull out the dart!"

"General," they replied, "we dare not."

"Do you mean that when the dart is drawn I must die?" he asked.

"Yes," they said sorrowfully.

With his own hand he drew out the weapon and the blood gushed forth.

"He dies," they cried. He dies, and leaves no child to carry on his name."

"I do not die," he answered. "I begin to live, and I have two daughters. They are named Leucrea and Mantinea, and while they are remembered I shall not be forgotten!"