STORIES FROM THUCYDIDES
RETOLD BY H. L. HAVELL B. A.
FORMERLY SCHOLAR OF UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OXFORD
O my poor Kingdom, sick with civil blows! SHAKESPEARE, Henry IV.
PROLOGUE CORINTH AND CORCYRA THE SURPRISE OF PLATAEA THE PLAGUE AT ATHENS INVESTMENT OF PLATAEA NAVAL VICTORIES OF PHORMIO THE REVOLT OF LESBOS ESCAPE OF TWO HUNDRED PLATAEANS. FALL OF PLATAEA CAPTURE OF A HUNDRED AND TWENTY SPARTANS AT SPHACTERIA CAMPAIGNS OF BRASIDAS IN THRACE THE HOLLOW PEACE THE ATHENIANS IN SICILY EPILOGUE
In a former volume we have traced the course of events which ended in the complete overthrow of Xerxes and his great army. Our present task is to describe the chief incidents in the cruel and devastating war, commonly known as the Peloponnesian War, which lasted for twenty-seven years, and finally broke up the Athenian Empire. The cause of that war was the envy and hatred excited in the other states of Greece by the power and greatness of Athens; and in order to make our story intelligible we must indicate briefly the steps by which she rose to that dangerous eminence, and drew upon herself the armed hostility of half the Greek world.
We take up our narrative at the point of time when the Athenians returned to their ruined homes after the defeat of the Persians at Plataea. Of their ancient city nothing remained but a few houses which had served as lodgings for the Persian grandees, and some scattered fragments of the surrounding wall. Their first task was to restore the outer line of defence, and by the advice of Themistocles the new wall took in a much wider circuit than the old rampart which had been destroyed by the Persians. The whole population toiled night and day to raise the bulwark which was to guard their temples and their homes, using as materials the walls of the houses which had been sacked and burnt by the Persians, with whatever remained of public buildings, sacred or profane, and sparing not even the monumental pillars of graves in the urgency of their need.
But jealous eyes were watching them, and busy tongues were wagging against that gallant race of Attica which had been foremost in the common cause against the barbarian invader. "These Athenians are dangerous neighbours," was the cry. "Let us stop them from building their wall, or Athens will become a standing menace to ourselves." Before long these murmurs reached the ears of the Spartans, and they sent envoys to dissuade the Athenians from fortifying their city. Their real purpose was disguised under the mask of anxiety for the general safety of Greece. "It is not expedient," they urged, "that the Persians, when next they come against us, should find fencd cities which they may make their strongholds, as they have lately done in Athens and in Thebes. Cease, therefore, from building this wall, and help us to destroy all such defences, outside of Peloponnesus. If we are attacked again, we will unite our forces within the isthmus, and meet the invader from there."
But Themistocles was not the man to be hoodwinked by the simple cunning of the Spartans. By his advice the Athenians dismissed the envoys, promising to send an embassy to discuss the matter at Sparta. As soon as they were gone, Themistocles caused himself to be appointed as head of the embassy, and set out at once for Sparta, instructing the Athenians to keep his colleagues back until the wall had been raised to a sufficient height for purposes of defence. Arrived at Sparta, he kept himself close in his lodging, and declined all conference with the authorities, alleging that he could do nothing without his colleagues.
Meanwhile the Athenians were making incredible efforts to carry on the work which was essential to their liberty and prosperity. Men, women, and children toiled without intermission, and the wall was rapidly approaching a defensible height. The clamour of their enemies grew louder and louder, and angry messages reached the Spartans everyday, reproaching them with their supineness and procrastination. Being asked the meaning of these reports, Themistocles professed total ignorance, and bade the Spartans send men to Athens to see for themselves. The Spartans did so, and when the men arrived at Athens the Athenians, who had been privately warned by Themistocles, kept them in custody, as hostages for their own representatives at Sparta. Themistocles had meanwhile been joined by his partners in the embassy, and learning from them that the wall was now of sufficient height, he spoke out plainly, and let the Spartans understand what his true purpose was. "Athens," he said, "is once more a fortified city, and we are able to discuss questions of public or private interest on a footing of equality. When we forsook all, and took to our ships to fight for the common weal, it was done without prompting of yours; and that peril being past, we shall take such measures as concern our safety, without leave asked of you. And in serving ourselves, we are serving you also; for if Athens is not free, how can she give an unbiased vote in questions which concern the general welfare of Greece?"
It was impossible for the Spartans to express open resentment at a plea so moderate and so reasonable. But they were secretly annoyed to find that their malice had been detected and exposed; and by this incident was sown the first seed of ill-will which was afterwards to bear such bitter fruit for Athens and for Greece. For the present, however, the affair was ended, and the first step secured for the Athenians in their career of glory and power.
Themistocles was the first who clearly saw that the future of Athens lay on the sea. But if Athens was to hold and extend her position as the first naval power in Greece, it was above all things necessary that she should have a strong and fortified station for her fleets, her arsenals, and her dockyards. Nature had provided her with what she needed, in the peninsula of Peiraeus, which juts out into the Saronic Gulf, about five miles south-west of the inland town. As soon as the city-wall was completed, fortifications of immense strength were carried round the whole of Peiraeus; and within this vast rampart rose a second city, equal in size to the old one, with streets laid out in straight lines, and filled with the stir and bustle of a maritime population. Three land-locked harbours gave ample room for the fleets of Athens to lie in shelter and safety; and this great sea-port town was afterwards united to the original city by two long walls, which met the sea, one at the north-western corner of Peiraeus, and the other at the south-eastern point of the Bay of Phalerum. Between these, at a later period, a third wall was built, running parallel to the northern wall at a distance of about two hundred feet, and known as the Southern or Middle Wall.
Many years elapsed before these important works were completed; and in the meantime great events had been happening in other parts of the Greek world, tending more and more to realise the dream of Themistocles, and make his beloved city the undisputed mistress of the sea. After the defeat of the Persian armies and fleets at Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, much hard work remained to be done, in reducing the outlying cities on the coasts of Thrace and in the eastern corners of the Aegaean, which held out for the Great King. The Spartans were still nominal leaders of the allied Greek navy; but after a year of service they resigned this position, which they owed to their acknowledged supremacy in land warfare, to the Athenians. They were induced to take this step, partly by their own aversion to foreign enterprises, and partly by the misconduct of their general Pausanias, who had disgusted the allies serving under him in the fleet by his intolerable arrogance and tyranny. The field was thus left open to the Athenians, who willingly assumed the command offered them by the maritime cities of Greece, with the object of prosecuting the war vigorously against Persia. Each city was assessed to furnish a fixed contribution of ships or money, and the sacred island of Delos was appointed as the common treasury and meeting-place of the league. Thus was formed the famous Delian Confederacy, with the avowed purpose of making reprisals on the Great King's territory for the havoc which he had wrought in Greece. For a time all went smoothly, and the various members of the league fought under Athens as her independent allies. But by degrees the Greeks from the islands and coast-lands of Asia began to weary of their arduous duties, and murmured against the Athenians, who proved hard task-masters, and compelled them by force to perform their part in the bargain. One by one the cities revolted from the leadership of Athens, were attacked by her navies, and reduced to the position of subjects and tributaries. Others voluntarily withdrew from all active co-operation in the war, agreeing to pay a fixed annual sum as a substitute for service in the fleet. And before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War the two powerful islands of Lesbos and Chios were the only members of the original league who still retained their independence.
Such were the circumstances which led to the foundation of the Athenian Empire, which grew up, by the force of necessity, out of the decay of a confederacy born of a common need, and organised for the special benefit of the Asiatic Greeks. For the names of the Greek cities on the coasts of Asia Minor still figured in the Persian tribute-lists; and the moment that the grasp of Athens relaxed on the confines of the King's dominions, after the ruinous defeat in Sicily, Persian tax-gatherers came knocking at the gates of Ephesus and Miletus, demanding the arrears of tribute. So urgent was the need supplied by the energy of Athens, and so blind were these Greeks of Asia Minor to their own interests.
The visible sign of this momentous change, by which the Delian Confederacy became merged in the Athenian Empire, was the removal of the treasury from Delos to Athens. The Athenians now undertook the whole administration of the common fund, using the surplus for the adornment of Athens by magnificent public buildings. This appropriation seems reasonable enough, when we consider that the whole burden of defending the eastern Greeks against Persia, and keeping the barbarian out of Greek waters, now lay upon Athens. This great public duty, which had been thrown upon her by the indifference of Sparta, and the unmanly sloth of her own allies, was faithfully performed; and she might well ask why she should be called upon to lavish the blood of her own citizens for nothing. That Athens should be great, splendid, and powerful, was not only a reward due to her public spirit and devotion to the common cause, but also a guarantee for the general dignity and liberty of Greeks. And we, who have still before us the remnants of her temples and statues, and learn from them what man can accomplish under the inspiration of great ideals, need not scan too closely her claim to appropriate the funds which she employed for so noble a purpose. For this was the great age of Grecian art, the age of Phidias, Polycletus, Myron, and Polygnotus. The greatest of these was Phidias; and in the Parthenon, or Temple of the Virgin Goddess, [Footnote: Athene, the patron goddess of Athens.] built under his direction on the Acropolis at Athens, he has left the most enduring monument of his fame. He also designed the Propylaea, a magnificent columned vestibule, fronting the broad flight of steps which led up to the western entrance of the Acropolis. But the most renowned of his works was the gigantic statue of the Olympian Zeus, wrought in gold and ivory, which was the chief glory of the temple at Olympia. Of this sublime creation, the highest expression of divinity achieved by the ancients, only the fame survives. These triumphs of art were not brought to completion until nearly the close of the period of forty- eight years which separates the Persian from the Peloponnesian War; and it is now necessary to glance backward, and touch briefly on the principal events which occurred after the formation of the Delian Confederacy. The war was carried on with energy against Persia, and hostilities continued at intervals for thirty years after the battle of Plataea. [Footnote: B.C. 479-449.]
The chief leader in these enterprises was the heroic Cimon, leader of the conservative party at Athens, and the great rival of Pericles; and his most brilliant exploit was a crushing defeat inflicted on the Persian army and fleet at the mouth of the river Eurymedon in Pamphylia. But the victorious career of the Athenians received a severe check twelve years later in Egypt, where a large force of ships and men was totally destroyed by the Persian general Megabyzus. The war dragged on for five years longer, and peace was then concluded on terms highly advantageous to the Greeks. Shortly before this, Cimon, who had been the chief promoter of the war, died at Cyprus.
The same years which brought to a successful issue the long struggle with Persia witnessed a renewal of those internal conflicts by which the energies of Greece were finally exhausted, leaving her an easy prey to the arms of Macedon. The guilt of renewing these suicidal quarrels lies with the Spartans, who had long been nursing their grudge against Athens, and were waiting for the opportunity to inflict on her a fatal blow. Fifteen years [Footnote: B.C. 464. ] after the battle of Plataea they seized the occasion when the Athenians were engaged with a large part of their forces in carrying on operations against the revolted island of Thasos to prepare an invasion of Attica. But at the very moment when they were meditating this act of perfidy a double disaster fell upon them at home, demanding all their exertions to save them from ruin. Sparta was levelled to the ground by a terrible earthquake, in which twenty thousand of her citizens perished; and in the midst of the panic caused by this awful calamity the Helots rose in arms against their oppressors, and forming an alliance with the Messenian subjects of Sparta, entrenched themselves in a strong position on Mount Ithome. Here they maintained themselves for two years, defying all the efforts of the Spartans to drive them from their stronghold. In spite of their recent treachery, the Spartans were not ashamed to apply to Athens for help: and chiefly through the influence of Cimon, whose laurels from the Eurymedon were still fresh, four thousand Athenian hoplites [Footnote: Heavy-armed foot-soldiers.] were sent under his command to aid in dislodging the Helots. The Athenians were famous for their skill in attacking fortified places; but on this occasion they were unsuccessful, and the Spartans, whose evil conscience made them prone to suspicion, at once began to doubt the honesty of their intentions, and dismissed them with scant ceremony. This unfriendly act helped to embitter the relations between the two leading cities of Greece; and two years later, when the Messenians were expelled from Ithome, and driven into exile, the Athenians settled them with their families at Naupactus, an important strategic position on the north of the Corinthian Gulf, which has recently fallen into the hands of Athens.
Deeply offended by the affront received at Ithome, the Athenians now formed an alliance with Argos, the ancient rival and bitter enemy of Sparta. Thessaly, connected with Athens by old ties of friendship, joined the league; and Megara, now suffering from the oppressions of Corinth, made a fourth.
Within sight of the shores of Attica lies the island of Aegina, famous in legend as the home of Aeacus, grandfather of Achilles, and distinguished for its school of sculpture, and for its mighty breed of athletes, whose feats are celebrated in the laureate strains of Pindar. The Aeginetans had obtained the first prize for valour displayed in the battle of Salamis, and for many years they had pressed the Athenians hard in the race for maritime supremacy. They were now attacked by an overwhelming Athenian force, and after a stubborn resistance were totally defeated, and compelled to enroll themselves among the subjects of Athens. A still harder fate was reserved for the hapless Dorian islanders in the next generation.
In the following nine years [Footnote: B.C. 456-447.] the power of Athens reached its greatest height, and for a moment it seemed as if she were destined to extend her empire over the whole mainland of Greece. By the victory of Oenophyta, gained over the Boeotians just before the reduction of Aegina, Athens became mistress of all the central provinces of the Greek peninsula, from the pass of Thermopylae to the gulf of Corinth. The alliance of Megara, lately united by long walls to its harbour of Nisaea, secured her from invasion on the side of Peloponnesus. The great island of Euboea, with its rich pastures and fruitful corn lands, had, since the Persian War, become an Athenian estate, and was jealously guarded as one of her most valuable possessions; and on the sea, from the eastern corner of the Euxine to the strait of Gibraltar, there was none to dispute her sway.
But this rapid ascent was followed by no less speedy a fall, and one act of indiscretion stripped the Athenians of all the advantages which they had acquired on the mainland of Greece. In every city of Greece there were always two parties, the wealthy and noble, called oligarchs, and the demos, or commons; and according as Spartan or Athenian influence was in the ascendant the balance of power in each city wavered between the nobles and the people, the Athenians favouring the Many, the Spartans the Few. Accordingly there was always a party living in exile, and waiting for a turn of affairs which might enable them to return to their city, and wrest the power from that faction which had been the last to triumph. In the cities of Boeotia the leaders of the oligarchs had been driven into banishment after the battle of Oenophyta, and democracies were established under the control of Athens. After nine years of banishment these exiles returned, and the result was an oligarchical reaction in the chief cities of Boeotia. A hastily equipped and ill-organised force was sent out from Athens to put down the authors of the revolution, and in the battle which followed, at Coronea, [Footnote: B.C. 447.] the Athenians sustained a severe defeat, and a large number of their citizens were taken prisoners by the Boeotians. To recover these prisoners the Athenians consented to evacuate Boeotia, and by this surrender they lost their hold on central Greece, as far as Thermopylae.
This heavy blow was followed two years later by the revolt of Megara and Euboea; and in the midst of the alarm thus occasioned, the Athenians heard that a powerful Spartan army was threatening their borders. It was a terrible moment for Athens; but she was saved by the prudence and energy of Pericles, whose influence in her councils was now supreme. By some means or other—as the Spartans asserted, by a heavy bribe—he induced the Spartan king Pleistoanax to draw off his forces; and then crossing over into Euboea, he quickly reduced the whole island to submission, and took severe measures to prevent any outbreak in the future.
The exertions of the Athenians during the last thirty years had been prodigious, and their efforts to found an empire in continental Greece had ended in total failure. Discouraged by their reverses, they concluded a thirty years' truce with the Spartans and their allies, resigning the last remnant of their recent conquests, and leaving Megara in her old position as a member of the Peloponnesian league under Sparta. The loss of Megara was severely felt, and her conduct in the late troubles was neither forgotten nor forgiven. The Megarians had by their own free choice been admitted into the Athenian alliance, and in an hour of great peril to Athens, without shadow of pretext they had risen in arms against her. It was not long before they had to pay a heavy penalty for their treachery and inconstancy.
The last event which we have to record, before entering into the main current of our narrative, is the secession of Samos, the most important member of the maritime allies of Athens. This wealthy and powerful island had hitherto, with Chios and Lesbos, enjoyed the distinction of serving under Athens as an independent ally. The Athenians, with a view to their own interests, had recently set up a democracy in Samos, which had hitherto been governed by an oligarchy. Incensed by this interference, the Samian nobles, who had been driven into exile, hired a mercenary force, and making a sudden attack from the mainland, overthrew the democracy and raised the standard of revolt. The crisis called for prompt and vigorous action on the part of Athens; for if Samos had been successful in defying her authority, the other members of the league would speedily have followed the example, and the whole fabric of her empire might have been shattered to pieces. Pericles was again equal to the emergency, and by employing the whole naval power of Athens he was able, after a siege of nine months, to reduce the refractory islanders to submission. The Samians were compelled to surrender their fleet, to pull down their walls, to pay a heavy war indemnity, and to give hostages as a security for their good conduct in the future. And henceforward they became subjects and tributaries of Athens.
We have now completed our review of the chief events which occurred between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. It was a period of rapid development for Athens, of ceaseless activity at home and abroad, of immense progress in all the arts of war and peace. The imperial city had now risen to her full stature, and stood forth, supreme in intellect and in action, the wonder and envy of mankind. Her mighty walls bade defiance to her enemies at home, and she held in her hand the islands and coast-districts of the Aegaean, where the last murmur of resistance had been quelled. Her recent reverses on the mainland of Greece had left the real sources of her power untouched; and taught her, if she would but take the lesson to heart, the proper limits of her empire. And she had risen to this height, not by the prevailing force of any single mind, but by the united efforts of all her citizens, working together for a whole generation, shunning no sacrifice, and shrinking from no exertion, in their devotion to the common mother of them all. Every Athenian, from the wealthiest noble to the poorest rower in the fleet, felt that he had a stake in the country, which to a Greek meant the city, where he was born. He gave his vote in the Parliament [Footnote: Called the Ecclesia.] of Athens, and served on the juries chosen by lot from the whole body of the citizens, before whose judgment-seat, unassailable by bribery or intimidation, the mightiest offenders trembled. He was a statesman, a judge, a lawgiver, and a warrior, and he might even hope to climb to the highest place in the State, and rule, like Pericles, as a prince of democracy. Around him rose the temples and statues of the gods, fresh from the chisel of the artist, the visible symbols of Athenian greatness, and of the grand ideals which he served. The masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides opened to him the boundless realms of the imagination, taught him grave lessons of moral wisdom, and connected the strenuous present with the heroic past; and the Old Comedy, the most complete embodiment of the very genius of democracy, afforded a feast of wit and fancy for his lighter hours. If he had a taste for higher speculation, he might hear Anaxagoras discoursing on the mysteries of the spiritual world, or Zeno applying his sharp tests for the conviction of human error. And when the assembly was summoned to discuss matters of high imperial policy, he felt all the greatness and majesty of the Athenian state, as he hung entranced on the lips of Pericles.
Such was Athens in her prime, and such were the men who raised her to the lofty eminence which she held among the cities of Greece. But the years which had lifted her to that unparalleled height had raised up a host of enemies against her, and it behoved her to temper ambition with prudence if she would maintain the proud position which the held. The scattered units which composed the Athenian empire were held together by no tie of loyalty or affection to their common mistress, but solely by the dread of her overwhelming naval power. Even in the noblest spirits of ancient Greece, the feeling of patriotism, as we understand it, was feeble and uncertain; when we speak of our country, the Greek spoke of his city, and his love, his hopes, his highest aspirations, were bounded by the narrow circuit of the walls which contained the tombs of his ancestors and the temples of his gods. This feeling, the most deeply-rooted instinct of Greek political life, had been grievously offended by Athens, when she compelled the islanders of the Aegaean, and the Greek cities of Asia, to serve in her navies, and pay tribute to her exchequer.
Turning now to the mainland of Greece we find, in most of the leading states, a sentiment of mingled fear and hatred against Athens, which had been steadily increasing in volume in the course of the last thirty years. The haughty Thebans had not forgotten their defeat at Oenophyta, and their nine years of servitude to Athens. Aegina was groaning under her yoke, and threatened with total political extinction. Megara complained that her commerce was ruined by a decree which excluded her merchants from the ports in the Athenian Empire. In the heart of Peloponnesus the Spartans were hatching mischief against their hated rival, who had robbed them of half their dignity as the acknowledged leaders of the Greeks. Corinth, whose commerce was chiefly in the western sea, outside the sphere of Athenian influence, was disposed to be friendly, and had done the Athenians good service during the revolt of Samos.[Footnote: See below, p. 31.] But five years later [Footnote: B.C. 435.] an event occurred which changed this feeling into bitter hatred against Athens, and drove the Corinthians into the ranks of her most inveterate foes. And it is at this point that we take up the main thread of our story.
STORIES FROM THUCYDIDES
CORINTH AND CORCYRA
It was in a remote corner of the Greek world that the trouble began which was destined to breed such mischief and havoc for the whole of Greece. At the beginning of the seventh century before our era the island of Corcyra had been colonised by the Corinthians. The colony grew and flourished, and in its turn founded other settlements on the opposite coasts of Epirus and Illyria. Among these was Epidamnus, called by the Romans Dyrrachium, and in Roman times the ordinary landing-place for travellers from Italy to Greece. After many years of prosperity the resources of Epidamnus were much crippled by internal faction, and by wars with the neighbouring barbarians. Four years before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, the nobles of Epidamnus, who had been expelled in the last revolution, made an alliance with the native tribes of Illyria, and by constant plundering raids reduced the Epidamnians to such straits that they were compelled to apply to Corcyra for help. But the Corcyraeans, whose sympathies were on the side of the banished nobles, refused to interfere.
Epidamnus, as we have seen, was a colony founded by a colony, and according to Greek custom the original settlers had been led by a citizen of Corinth, the mother-city of Corcyra. Seeing, therefore, that they had nothing to hope from the Corcyraeans, the distressed people of Epidamnus began to turn their thoughts towards their ancient metropolis, and considered whether they should appeal to her to save them from ruin. But as this was a step of doubtful propriety, they first consulted the oracle of Delphi, the great authority on questions of international law. Receiving a favourable answer, they sent envoys to Corinth, and offered to surrender their city to the Corinthians, in return for their countenance and protection.
The Corcyraeans had long been in evil odour at Corinth, for they had grown insolent in prosperity, and neglected all the observances which were due from a colony to the mother-city. They were, in fact, superior to the Corinthians in wealth and power, and their fleet, numbering a hundred and twenty triremes, was second only to that of Athens. Corcyra was famous in legend as the seat of the Phaeacians, a heroic sailor race, whose deeds are sung by Homer in the Odyssey; and the Corcyraeans regarded themselves as the lawful inheritors of their fame. For all these reasons they despised the Corinthians, and made no secret of their contempt. Remembering the many occasions on which they had been publicly insulted by Corcyra, the Corinthians lent a favourable ear to the petition of Epidamnus, and determined to appropriate the colony to themselves. Accordingly they invited all who chose to go and settle at Epidamnus, and sent the new colonists under a military escort, with instructions to proceed by land to Apollonia, for fear lest they should be obstructed by the Corcyraean fleet, if they went by sea.
Great was the indignation at Corcyra when the news arrived that her colony had been surrendered to Corinth, and a force of forty ships was sent off in haste, bearing a peremptory demand to the Epidamnians that they should receive back their exiles and send away the new colonists. As the citizens refused to obey their mandate, they prepared to lay siege to the town, which is situated on an isthmus.
When the Corinthians heard of the danger of Epidamnus, they began to make preparations on a much larger scale, collecting a host of new colonists, and a fleet of seventy-five ships to convoy them on their passage to Epidamnus. Apprised of these proceedings, the Corcyraeans sent envoys to Corinth, with a civil remonstrance against the arbitrary interference with their own colony. They were willing, they said, to submit the matter to arbitration, and in the meantime to suspend all hostilities against the revolted city. But the Corinthians paid no attention to their overtures, and all being now ready, the great multitude, drawn from all parts of Greece, set sail for Epidamnus. When they reached Actium, at the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, they were met by a herald, sent out from Corcyra in a skiff, to forbid their approach. This was a mere manoeuvre, to throw the guilt of commencing hostilities on the Corinthians; and meanwhile the Corcyraeans manned their ships, to the number of eighty, and put out to meet the enemy's fleet. In the sea-fight which followed the Corcyraeans gained a complete victory, and on the same day Epidamnus was compelled to capitulate to the besieging force.
By this victory the Corcyraeans gained complete command of the western or Ionian sea, and for the rest of the summer they sailed from place to place, plundering the allies of Corinth. The Corinthians, however, were not at all disposed to acquiesce in their defeat, and during the whole of the following year they were busy organising a fresh expedition on a vast scale, being resolved at all costs to put down the insolence of Corcyra. These preparations caused no small anxiety to the Corcyraeans. Hitherto they had stood apart, and refused to take any share in the complicated game of Greek politics. The course of affairs during the last forty years had tended more and more to divide the Greek world into two opposite camps, arrayed under the banners of Athens and Sparta. As Dorians, the Corcyraeans would naturally have enrolled themselves among the allies of Sparta,—as islanders and seamen, they might have leaned to the side of Athens: but confident in their remote situation, and in the power of their fleet, they had chosen to remain neutral. But finding themselves threatened with destruction, they now resolved to abandon their policy of selfish isolation, and sue for admission into the Athenian alliance. Ambassadors were sent to Athens to urge their plea; and the Corinthians, hearing of their intention, sent representatives of their own to oppose the application.
The Athenians were fully alive to the gravity of the question which they were called upon to decide, and after listening to the arguments of the Corcyraean and Corinthian orators, they adjourned the debate until the next day. To Corinth they were bound by old ties of obligation; for on three distinct occasions the Corinthians had done them signal service. More than seventy years before the date which we have reached, the Spartans summoned their allies to consider whether it was expedient to compel the Athenians to receive back the banished tyrant Hippias; and it was chiefly by the eloquence of the Corinthian speaker Sosicles, who drew a vivid picture of the miseries of despotical government, that they were shamed out of their purpose. A few years later, when the Athenians were at war with Aegina, they were aided by twenty Corinthian ships. And quite recently, in the great peril which menaced Athens at the revolt of Samos, Corinth had once more shown herself a friend. At a congress of the Peloponnesian allies, summoned to consider an appeal from the Samians for help, the Corinthians had spoken strongly against interference with the revolted allies of another city. Corinth was a place of old renown, the queen of the Isthmus, a centre of civilisation; whereas Corcyra was a remote island, and her people, though Greeks by descent, were in manners and character more than half barbarians.
But there were two arguments put forward by the Corcyraean orator, which outweighed all other considerations of policy or friendship. The first was addressed to the fears of the Athenians, the second to their ambition. War, he argued, was inevitable, and it was of the utmost importance for Athens to secure the alliance of the Corcyraean fleet, and prevent it from being added to the naval forces of her enemies. And his concluding words struck a note which found a response among the more daring spirits among his hearers, whose thoughts, as it would seem, were already turning to the western colonies of Greece, as a new field of enterprise and conquest. "It will not do," he said, "to be too nice. While you are hesitating, and weighing nice points of international right, you will be outdistanced in the race for power, if you tamely give up a great naval station which holds the key to Italy and Sicily."
Such reasoning, hollow and false as it was, turned the scale in favour of Corcyra, and a defensive alliance was concluded, pledging the Athenians and Corcyraeans to aid each other against any attack on the territory or allies of either state. For the Athenians wished to avoid breaking the Thirty Years' Truce, and therefore refrained from entering into any agreement which might oblige them to acts of open aggression against Corinth.
There can be little doubt that Pericles, who was mainly responsible for this decision, committed a fatal error in advising the Athenians to take up the cause of Corcyra. By this act Athens incurred the implacable hostility of Corinth, and revived the old grudge which that city had conceived against her when Megara joined the Athenian alliance. In the constantly shifting currents of Greek politics, Athens might well, under wise guidance, have steered her way safely through the perils which surrounded her. The Corinthians had half forgotten their grievance, as is proved by their conduct at the revolt of Samos; and the tone of their representative at the Corcyraean debate is decidedly friendly. The Spartans were sluggish and procrastinating by nature, and required some powerful impulse to induce them to act with vigour; and this impulse was now supplied by Corinth. By accepting, therefore, the alliance of Corcyra, Athens barred the way to all compromise, and gathered into one head all the scattered causes of jealousy and hatred which had been accumulating against her in the last fifty years.
Early in the following year the Corinthian fleet, numbering a hundred and fifty sail, put to sea from Corinth, to renew the war with Corcyra, and a battle was fought off the coast of Epirus. The engagement was long and fierce, and the event was finally decided by a small squadron of Athenian ships, which had been sent with instructions to hinder any attempt of the enemy to land on the island Seeing that the Corcyraeans were being forced back upon their own coast, the Athenian captains, who had hitherto looked on, and taken no part in the battle, now assumed the offensive, and lent such effectual aid that the Corinthians were held in check until the sudden appearance of twenty additional ships from Athens, which had been sent off immediately after the others, put an end to the action. This timely interference saved Corcyra from ruin; for next day the Corinthians, after a formal remonstrance, set sail for home, taking with them two hundred and fifty prisoners, belonging to the noblest families in Corcyra, whom they kept in safe custody, but treated with great consideration, hoping by means of them at some future time to recover their influence in the island.
It was not long before the effects of this impolitic breach with Corinth were sensibly felt by Athens. In the course of the following summer, Potidaea, a Corinthian colony, situated on the borders of Macedon, and included in the Athenian alliance, openly raised the standard of revolt, encouraged by promises from Sparta, and by the presence of a strong body of hoplites, sent for its support from Corinth. Potidaea was presently closely invested by an Athenian army and fleet, and the Corinthians pretended to make this a fresh ground of complaint, though they had themselves incited the city to throw off its allegiance to Athens.
Feeling that matters were now approaching a crisis, the Spartans summoned a congress of their allies, and invited all who had any grievance against Athens to state their case. Then some spoke of the wrongs of Aegina, formerly not the least among Greek cities, but now so crushed under the yoke of Athens that she had not dared to raise her voice openly against the tyrant-city. The Megarians complained of the restrictions on their commerce, which threatened them with an empty exchequer and a starving population; and others followed in the same strain. When all the rest had spoken, the Corinthian orator, who had reserved his eloquence till the end, came forward and delivered a vehement harangue, containing hardly any specific charge against Athens, but well calculated to inflame the passions and provoke the pride of the Spartans. Though the acknowledged leader of Greece, and champion of her liberties, Sparta, he said, had always been the last to see the dangers which menaced the common country, and the last to take measures for her defence. Spartan apathy and indolence had brought the Greeks to the brink of ruin in the Persian War; and when that danger was passed, the same fatal indifference had enabled Athens to advance step by step on the path of aggrandisement; until now she had grown so strong that the united force of the whole Peloponnesian league would be required to put her down. Why had not the Spartans listened to the warnings which they had heard, when the Athenians were rebuilding their walls? Then they might have stopped the evil at its source, and saved a multitude of cities from slavery and oppression. "Consider," cried the orator, warming to his subject, "what manner of men these Athenians are, and how vast is the difference between them and you. While you are shut up in this inland valley, treading the dull round of mechanical routine, they are continually pushing forward the boundaries of their empire, toiling night and day to make their city great, never satisfied with what they have, always thirsting for more. Cautious, timid, and conservative as you are, hardly to be roused from your sloth by the most imminent perils, how can you hope to curb the flight of Athenian ambition, which knows no limit, and is checked by no reverse?
"Men of Sparta, I speak as a friend, and you will not take my candour amiss. New times require new manners, and if you would maintain your great position you must move with the march of events, and abandon your old-fashioned ways. Do not mistake stagnation for stability, but learn a lesson even from these hated Athenians, who have risen to their present pitch of greatness by adapting themselves to every new need as it arose.
"You know what you have to do, if you would wipe out the reproach which rests upon you, and keep the respect of your faithful allies. Send an army into Attica, and compel the Athenians to withdraw their forces from Potidaea. And let it be done speedily, for while we are talking our kinsmen are perishing."
It happened that an Athenian embassy was present in Sparta, having been sent there on some other business, and not for the purpose of representing Athens at the debate. But when they heard of the outcry which had been raised against their city, the envoys asked permission for one of their number to address the Spartan assembly, wishing to explain the true character and origin of the Athenian Empire, and to warn the Spartans against plunging the whole country into the horrors of civil war. Leave being granted, the Athenian orator entered on his subject by sketching the course of events for the last sixty years. Athens, he said, had twice saved Greece, first at Marathon, and afterwards at Salamis. On the first of these occasions she had stood almost alone against an overwhelming force of Persians; and ten years later, though betrayed by her allies, she had borne the brunt against the navy of Xerxes. Who, then, was worthier than she to hold empire over Greeks? That empire had been forced upon her by the inertness of Sparta, and by the cowardice and sloth of her own allies in the Delian league. The power thus gained had been used with moderation, in marked contrast to the previous tyranny of Persia exercised over the same cities, and the arrogance of Spartan officers when engaged on foreign service. But a light yoke, it would seem, was harder to bear than a heavy one; if Athens had openly oppressed her subjects, she would never have heard a murmur.
Having thus tried to combat the prejudice against Athens, the orator addressed himself directly to the Spartans, and said: "Consider the awful responsibility which you will incur, if you suffer yourselves to be carried away by the invectives of your allies, and drive us against our will to tempt with you the dark uncertainties and perilous issues of war. There is still time for an amicable settlement of our differences: Athens is prepared to make all reasonable concessions, and to submit to arbitration, as the terms of the treaty direct. And if you decline to accept this offer, the guilt of the aggressor will lie with you."
It is remarkable that the speaker, in tracing the later course of Athenian policy, lays no claim to those high motives of patriotism which had inspired his people with sublime self-devotion two generations back. He boldly asserts the principle that it is lawful for the stronger to rule the weaker, and claims merit for Athens in abstaining from excessive abuse of her power. The Athenians, we may believe, had been tainted by the baseness of their confederates. In the early days of the Delian league they had not attempted to educate the Greeks whom they led up to the standard of their own splendid zeal,—or, if the attempt had been made, it was unsuccessful. They had taken upon themselves the whole burden of a great public duty, and standing alone, without moral support from their countrymen, they had gradually fallen away from the pure and lofty virtues of their ancestors. This decay of public morality proceeds with rapid strides in the years which follow, and we shall presently hear the doctrine that might is right proclaimed with cynical frankness by the lips of an Athenian.
Having heard the complaints of their allies against Athens, and the reply of the Athenian orator, the Spartans ordered all but those of their own race to withdraw, and continued the debate with closed doors. A great majority of the speakers were in favour of declaring immediate war on Athens. But there was one important exception: the aged Archidamus, who for the last fourteen years had been reigning as sole king at Sparta, spoke strongly against the imprudence of assuming the aggressive, before they had made adequate preparations to cope with the offending city. It was an opinion generally held by the war- party that the Athenians would be ready to make any concessions, in order to save the land of Attica from ravage. This, said Archidamus, was a great error; and the event proved that he was right. The Athenians, with their great colonial empire, and complete command of the sea, were quite independent of the products of their own estates in Attica. And many years must elapse before the states of Peloponnesus could train a fleet, and attack them on the sea, where alone they were assailable. It was folly to suppose that such a contest could be decided by a single summer campaign, as was commonly believed by the enemies of Athens. "I fear rather," said the king, with prophetic foresight, "that we shall leave this war as an inheritance to our children; such is the power, and such the pride, of the state with which we have to contend." On the other hand, the Spartans, as champions of the liberties of Greece, must not allow the common oppressors of their countrymen to continue their career of tyranny unchecked. Let them first, however, try what could be effected by negotiation, and in the meantime prepare for war, by building ships, and above all by collecting money, without which all their valour would be useless. Then, if Athens still refused to listen to reason, they might declare war with better hope of success.
The speech of Archidamus shows a true insight into the nature of the crisis which the Spartans were called upon to face, and his views were amply justified by subsequent events. His wise words were no doubt applauded by the older and more sober-minded among his hearers. But there was another and a much more numerous party at that time in Sparta, filled with bitter envy and hatred against Athens. Their passions had been inflamed by the invectives of the Corinthian orator, and without counting the cost they were resolved to try the issues of immediate battle. Their blind rancour found expression in the curt and pithy harangue of Sthenelaidas, one of the five Ephors, a college of magistrates which in recent years had greatly encroached on the authority of the kings. Sthenelaidas spoke with true laconic brevity. "I don't understand," he said, "all the fine talk of these Athenians. They have told us a great deal about their own merits, but have not said a word in answer to the charges brought against them. Even if we accept their own account of themselves, their good conduct in the past only lends a darker colour to their present crimes. We have one plain duty to perform, and that is to save our faithful allies from ill- treatment. The time for words is past—leave them to the transgressor. Our part is to act, at once, and with all our might, and put down the overwhelming insolence of Athens."
Then, in his capacity as Ephor, Sthenelaidas, without staying for further argument, forthwith put the question to the Spartan assembly. According to their ordinary procedure, the Spartans gave their votes by cries of "Ay" and "No." But on this occasion Sthenelaidas pretended to be unable to distinguish whether the "Ays" or "Nos" had it, and wishing to encourage the war-party by showing how much they were in the majority, he ordered the house to divide on the question whether the treaty was broken, and whether the Athenians were in the wrong or not. The division was made, and a great majority were in favour of the motion, recording their votes against Athens. The allies were then called in, and informed to the result of the private debate, and a day was named for a general synod of the whole Peloponnesian league, to reconsider the situation and decide whether war was to be declared.
In the interval, before the final assembly of the allies, the Spartans sent to ask the oracle at Delphi whether it was expedient for them to make war; and the answer, according to common report, was that if they fought with all their might they would conquer, and that the god [Footnote: Apollo.] would be on their side. The Corinthians were at the same time carrying on an active canvass against Athens, sending their agents from city to city to blow up the flames of war.
In the autumn of the same year the allies met in full synod at Sparta, and once more the Corinthian speaker led the cry against Athens, and called for a unanimous war-vote, flattering his hearers with hopes of a speedy victory. The Spartans, he said, had at last set a good example to their allies, and shown themselves convinced that imperial cities had imperial obligations, by pronouncing in favour of war. Every member of the league must join heartily in the struggle, whether he belonged to an inland or to a maritime city; for if the seaports were closed by the Athenian fleets, the inland towns would be prevented from exporting their products, and importing what they wanted from abroad. War, then, was in the interest of the whole body of allies. And on the moral side their position was equally sound, for they were only acting on desperate provocation, and the common god of Greece had promised success to their arms. But to deserve that success, all must co-operate heartily, contributing freely from their private purses to raise a fleet which would make them a match for Athens on her own element. And they must watch the course of events with a vigilant eye, and be ready to seize any opportunity which might arise to aim a decisive blow at their common enemy. Let them be warned by the experience of the Ionians, and put out all their strength to save themselves from being swallowed up by the devouring ambition of Athens. Justice, heaven's favour, the good-will of all Greece, were on their side.
Others spoke to the same effect, and then the representatives of each city were called up in turn to give their vote; and by far the greater number voted for war. But many months elapsed before any overt act of hostility occurred, and the time was occupied in preparations for an invasion of Attica, and in a series of demands sent by Sparta to try the temper of the Athenians, and put them in the wrong, if they refused to comply. The first of these messages was conveyed in mysterious terms, bidding the Athenians "to drive out the curse of the goddess." The meaning of this was as follows: nearly two hundred years before a certain Cylon tried to make himself tyrant of Athens: the attempt was frustrated, and some of his adherents, who had taken refuge in the sacred precinct of Athene, were put to death by the magistrates, after they had surrendered under a solemn promise that their lives should be spared. The illustrious family of the Alcmaeonidae was especially concerned in this act of murder and sacrilege, and the Spartans, in reviving the memory of an ancient crime, were aiming a blow at Pericles, who was descended on his mother's side from the Alcmaeonidae. For the Athenians were highly sensitive in all matters of religion, and it was possible that they might even banish Pericles, if their consciences were suddenly alarmed. And though this was not likely, the Spartans hoped at any rate to lessen his influence, which was adverse to themselves, and fasten on him the odium of being, in some sense, the cause of the war. But their manoeuvre was unsuccessful, and the Athenians retorted by bidding the Spartans drive out the curse of Taenarus, in allusion to the murder of certain Helots who had taken sanctuary in the temple of Poseidon at Taenarus. And they further charged the Spartans to rid themselves of the curse of Athene of the Brazen House. This was a holy place in Sparta, where Pausanias, when convicted of treasonable correspondence with Persia, had sought refuge from the vengeance of the Spartans. He was kept a close prisoner in the temple by the Ephors, who set a watch on him, to prevent him from being supplied with food, and when he was reduced to the last extremity, brought him out to die. But though his death occurred outside the temple, this did not save them from the sin of sacrilege, and a public reprimand by the Delphic God.
The game of diplomatic fencing went on for some time, and envoys were continually passing to and fro between Athens and Sparta. The Athenians were required to raise the siege of Potidaea—to allow the Aeginetans to govern themselves—to rescind the decree against Megara; and when all these demands were met by a firm refusal, the Spartans sent two ambassadors, bearing their ultimatum, which was worded as follows: "The Lacedaemonians wish that there should be peace, and war may be averted if ye will let the Greeks go free." Knowing that the decisive moment had now arrived, the Athenians met together in full assembly, to decide on their final answer. There were many speakers on either side, some arguing for peace, others for war: and then was heard that majestic voice, which, for more than thirty years, had guided the counsels of Athens—the voice of the Olympian Pericles. He had chosen his line of policy a year before, in the fatal affair of Corcyra, and it was now too late to draw back: peace with honour was no longer possible for Athens. The furious zeal of Corinth had united her enemies against her, and they were bent on her ruin. The demands put forward by Sparta were a mere pretext, and if the Athenians had yielded the smallest point, new concessions would have been required of them, until they were stripped of all that had been won by the strenuous toil and devotion of two generations. "We must listen," said Pericles, in the course of a long speech, "to no proposal from Sparta which is not made as from an equal to an equal. Dictation is not arbitration. If we are to fight at all, the occasion matters little, be it small or great. What right has Sparta to require of us that we should rescind the decree against Megara, when her own laws jealously exclude all strangers from entering her streets? Or why should we relax our hold upon our allies, or break off the relations with them which were sanctioned by the Thirty Years' Truce? No, all this is a mere pretence, and if we are deceived by it, we shall be led on step by step to deeper and still deeper humiliation. It may seem a hard thing to give up the fair land of Attica to pillage and devastation. But think how far greater was the sacrifice made by our grandsires, who refused the fairest offers from Persia, and gave up all they had, rather than betray the common cause. Athens and Attica were then all the country they had, and these lost they had nothing left but their ships, their strong arms, and their stout hearts. In our case, on the other hand, all the essential elements of our power—our city, our fleet, our colonial empire—remain untouched. Shall we, then, sell our honour to save a few vineyards and olive-grounds from temporary damage? That would be a short-sighted policy indeed, and in the end would involve not only dishonour, but the loss of our whole empire. Let us act, then, in the spirit of our fathers, and send away the Spartan ambassadors with the only answer which is consistent with our dignity and our interest."
The reply to the Spartan ultimatum was framed as Pericles had directed, and from this moment all negotiations ceased. And here we close our account of the events which led to the Peloponnesian War.
THE SURPRISE OF PLATAEA
On the northern slope of Cithaeron, the mountain range which divides Attica from Boeotia, lies the little town of Plataea. By race and by geographical position the Plataeans were naturally included in the Boeotian confederacy, under the leadership of Thebes. But nearly a century before the time of which we are now speaking they had deserted the Thebans, whose rule was harsh and overbearing, and enrolled themselves among the allies of Athens. On the eve of the battle of Marathon, they had joined the Athenians with their whole force, a thousand strong, and shared the peril and the honour of that glorious day. Ten years later their city was laid in ruins by the army of Xerxes, at the instigation of the Thebans; and in the following year the great battle which ended the long struggle between Greece and Persia was fought within sight of their shattered walls. In gratitude for this great victory, the confederate Greeks under Pausanias declared that the Plataean territory should be hallowed ground, and swore a solemn oath to maintain the independence of the city. But the Thebans had never forgotten or forgiven the secession of Plataea from the confederacy of which they were the leaders; and seizing the opportunity while the Athenians were occupied with measures for their own safety, they made a treacherous attempt to gain possession of the town.
On a dark and moonless night in the early spring three hundred armed Thebans appeared before the gates of Plataea, which were opened to them by a party of the citizens who favoured their design. Marching in a body to the market-place, they made proclamation by a herald, inviting all who chose to return to their allegiance, and take sides with their lawful leaders, the Thebans. For they wished, if possible, to gain over the place without bloodshed, and before the war had actually broken out; otherwise, they might have to give it up again on the conclusion of peace.
The Plataeans, being wakened out of their first sleep, and thinking that the Thebans were in much greater force than was really the case, at first attempted no resistance, but were disposed to accept the terms offered them. But perceiving by degrees that their enemies were far weaker in numbers than themselves, they changed their minds, and resolved to attack them. For the party which had betrayed the town was but small, and the general body of the citizens detested the thought of falling once more under the supremacy of Thebes. Their measures were taken with great secrecy and despatch: to avoid exciting the suspicions of the Thebans, they broke down the dividing walls of their houses, and passed to and fro unobserved, until they had completed their preparations. To embarrass the movements of the Thebans, they barricaded the streets with waggons, and then, just before daybreak, they poured out of their houses, and fell upon the enemy, who were still stationed in the market-place. Though taken by surprise, the Thebans defended themselves stoutly, and standing shoulder to shoulder repulsed the assault of the Plataeans two or three times. But they were greatly inferior in numbers, wearied by their long vigil, and soaked with the heavy rain which had fallen in the night; the Plataeans returned again and again to the attack, assailing them with furious cries; and the women and slaves who crowded the roofs added to their discomfiture, pelting them with tiles and stones, and stunning their ears with a frightful uproar of yells and shrieks; so that at last their hearts failed them, and breaking their ranks they fled wildly through the streets. Some succeeded in reaching the gate by which they had entered, but only to find that their escape was cut off in this direction; for one of the Plataeans had closed the gate, using the spike of his javelin to secure the bolt. Others lost their way in the narrow and muddy streets, and wandered up and down until they were slain by the Plataeans. A few contrived to escape by an unguarded postern-gate, having cut through the bolt with an axe given them by a woman. Others, in despair, flung themselves from the walls, and for the most part perished. But a good number, who had kept together, were caught in a trap; for coming to a large building which abutted on the wall, and finding the doors open, they thought that they had reached the town-gate, and rushed headlong in. The pursuers, who were close at their heels, made fast the doors, and then the question arose what they should do with their captives. Some proposed to set fire to the building, and to burn it down, with the Thebans in it; but at last those who were thus taken, and the few who were still straggling in the town, were allowed to surrender at discretion.
Meanwhile a strong reinforcement of Thebans, who had started after the three hundred, were on the way to Plataea; but being delayed by the state of the roads, and the swollen condition of the Asopus, which they had to cross, they arrived too late. Being informed of what had happened, they prepared to plunder the property of the Plataeans outside the walls, and seize any of the citizens who crossed their path, to serve as hostages for their own men in the town. The Plataeans, perceiving their intention, sent a herald to remonstrate, threatening that unless they desisted, all the Theban prisoners should at once be put to death. And they promised further, under an oath, that if the Thebans would withdraw their forces, the captives should be restored—at least this was the account which was afterwards current at Thebes, though the Plataeans denied that they had made any such promise unconditionally, and declared that they had sworn no oath. It seems probable that the Thebans had received some such explicit assurance as they asserted; for, on receiving the answer from Plataea, they marched away without doing any harm. No sooner were they gone than the Plataeans made all haste to get their property within the walls, and then put all their prisoners to death. The day was not far distant when they were bitterly to rue this act of passion, which was not only cruel, but grossly impolitic; for the Thebans thus slain in cold blood, a hundred and eighty in number, would have been invaluable as hostages, whereas the Plataeans had now cut themselves off from all hope of reconciliation with Thebes, and virtually sealed their own fate.
Two messengers had been despatched from Plataea to Athens, one after the first entrance of the Thebans, and the second after their defeat and capture; and the Athenians, on receiving the second message, sent off a herald bidding the Plataeans to wait for further instructions, before taking any steps against the prisoners. When the herald arrived, he found the men already slain, and the Athenians then proceeded to place the town in a state of defence, removing the women and children and all those who were unfit for military service, to Athens, and leaving a small body of their own citizens to direct operations.
The surprise of Plataea was the first open violation of the Thirty Years' Truce, and from this time forward all Greece was involved for many years in civil war. Public opinion was strongly on the side of the Spartans, who stood forward as champions of the liberties of Greece; but there was great enthusiasm on both sides, and the popular imagination was much excited by the approaching struggle between the two imperial cities. Both in Sparta and in Athens there was a younger generation, who had grown up during a long period of peace, and now entered gaily into the contest with all the light-hearted ignorance of youth. Old prophecies current among the people, foretelling a great war of Greeks against Greeks, passed from mouth to mouth, and the professional soothsayers, whose business it was to collect and expound such sayings, found eager hearers. The gods themselves could not be indifferent on the eve of such mighty events, so deeply affecting the destiny of the nation which worshipped them in a thousand temples; and an earthquake, which had recently occurred at Delos, the sacred island of Apollo, where such a visitation had never been known before, was interpreted as a portent of great things to come.
While the Peloponnesians were mustering their forces at the Isthmus, the rural population of Attica were breaking up their homes, and flocking by thousands into the city. A constant stream of waggons passed along the roads, loaded with furniture, household utensils, and even the woodwork of the farm-buildings; and many a little group of women, children, and servants set out on that sorrowful journey, leaving their fields, their gardens, and their vineyards, to be trampled down and laid waste by the ruthless invader. Athens, indeed, was the common mother of them all, their glory, their strength, and their pride; for since the days of Theseus the scattered rural communities of Attica had been united under the Aegis of Athene, and acknowledged Athens as the head and centre of their civic life. But a large proportion of the Athenian citizens still continued to reside in the country, and all their dearest associations were connected with the little spot of earth where they and their fathers were born. Here were the graves of their ancestors, and the temples of the heroes who were the guardian spirits of each little aggregate of families. It was therefore with bitter and resentful feelings that they left these happy scenes behind them, and turned their steps towards the gates of the city, through which many of them were never to pass again. For all of them it was a grievous change from the free and careless life of the country-side to the confined space, polluted air, and jostling multitudes of the town, now crowded to overflowing. Some few found shelter in the houses of friends or relations; but by far the greater number were obliged to encamp in the open spaces of the city, in the precincts of temples, or in the narrow room between the Long Walls. Even a place beneath the Acropolis, called the Pelasgic Field, was now covered with the huts of the immigrants, though an ancient oracle had forbidden its occupation under a curse. From day to day new crowds kept flocking in, and the later comers were obliged to take up their dwelling in Peiraeus, which was soon almost as much overcrowded as the upper city.
And now the younger generation of Athenians, who had entered so cheerfully into the conflict, were to have their first taste of the grim realities of war. The Peloponnesian army advanced leisurely, and proceeded at first to Oenoe, an outlying fort near the borders of Boeotia; for Archidamus, who held the chief command, still hoped that the Athenians, when they saw the enemy on the confines of Attica, would make some concessions, to save their farms from destruction. For this reason he had long delayed his march from the Isthmus, and now wasted more time in fruitless operations at Oenoe, until the allies began to murmur against him, and suspected him of receiving bribes from the Athenians to spare their lands. At last, being unable to put off the fatal moment any longer, he turned southwards, and after ravaging the plain of Eleusis, advanced to Acharnae, one of the most fertile and prosperous districts of Attica, about seven miles north of Athens. Here the Peloponnesians encamped, and applied themselves systematically to the work of pillage and havoc.
Great was the rage of the Acharnians, a hardy race of farmers and charcoal-burners, when they saw the smoke rising from their ruined homesteads; and their feelings were shared by the general body of the citizens, who had watched the advance of Archidamus from Eleusis, and had now no hope of saving their estates. Little knots of angry disputants were seen in the streets and public places, for the most part clamouring against Pericles, and demanding to be led against the invader, while some few argued for the more prudent course. But Pericles, who knew the fickle temper of the multitude, turned a deaf ear to all this uproar, and steadily refused to summon an assembly, lest some hasty resolution should be passed, which would lead to useless loss of life. In order, however, to relieve the public excitement, he sent out a body of horsemen to skirmish with the enemy, and despatched a fleet of a hundred triremes to ravage the coasts of Peloponnesus.
When the first invasion of Attica was over, two cities, which had been foremost in stirring up war against Athens, were made to feel the full weight of her resentment. The unhappy Aeginetans were expelled from their island, and the land of Aegina was distributed among Athenian citizens. And later in the same summer the Athenians marched in full force into the territory of Megara, which was laid waste from end to end. This proceeding, which afforded a pleasant summer excursion to the Athenians, was repeated annually for the next seven years. The banished Aeginetans found an asylum at Thyrea, a coast district of eastern Peloponnesus, which was assigned to them by Sparta. And so the first year of the war came to an end; for, except on extraordinary occasions, no military operations were undertaken during the winter.
THE PLAGUE AT ATHENS
At the beginning of the next summer the Peloponnesians again entered Attica, and resumed their work of devastation, destroying the young crops, and wrecking whatever had been spared in the previous year. Before they had been many days in Attica, a new and far more terrible visitation came upon the Athenians, threatening them with total extinction as a people. We have seen how the whole upper city, with the space between the Long Walls, and the harbour-town of Peiraeus, was packed with a vast multitude of human beings, penned together, like sheep in a fold. Into these huddled masses now crept a subtle and unseen foe, striking down his victims by hundreds and by thousands. That foe was the Plague, which beginning in Southern Africa, and descending thence to Egypt, reached the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and passed on to Peiraeus, having been carried thither by seamen who trafficked between northern Africa and Greece. From Peiraeus it spread upwards with rapid strides, and before long the whole space within the walls presented the appearance of a vast lazar- house.
From the description of the symptoms we may conclude that this epidemic was similar to that dreadful scourge of mankind which has been almost conquered by modern science, the small-pox. The patient who had taken the infection was first attacked in the head, with inflammation of the eyes, and violent headache. By degrees the poison worked its way into the whole system, affecting every organ in the body, and appearing on the surface in the shape of small ulcers and boils. One of the most distressing features of the disease was a raging thirst, which could not be appeased by the most copious draughts of water; and the internal heat, which produced this effect, caused also a frightful irritability of the skin, so that the sufferer could not bear the touch of the lightest and most airy fabrics, but lay naked on his bed, in all the deformity of his dire affliction. Of those who recovered, many bore the marks of the sickness to their graves, by the loss of a hand, a foot, or an eye; while others were affected in their minds, remaining in blank oblivion, without power to recognise themselves or their friends. The healing art had made great progress in Greece in the course of the last generation; and in this, as in all else, the Greeks remained the sole teachers of Europe for ages after. But against such a malady as this, the most skilful physicians could do nothing, and those who attempted to exercise their skill caught the plague themselves, and for the most part perished. Still less, as we may well suppose, was the benefit derived from amulets, incantations, inquiries of oracles, or supplications at temples; and at last, finding no help in god or man, the Athenians gave up the struggle, and resigned themselves to despair.
It is recorded as a curious fact, showing the strange and outlandish character of the pestilence, that the birds and animals which feed on human flesh generally shunned the bodies of those who died of the plague, though they might have eaten their fill, for hundreds were left unburied. The very vultures fled from the infected city, and hardly one was seen as long as the pestilence continued.
The fearful rapidity with which the infection spread caused a panic throughout the city, and even the boldest were not proof against the general terror. If any man felt himself sickening of the plague, he at once gave up all hope, and made no effort to fight against the disease. Few were found brave enough to undertake the duty of nursing the sick, and those who did generally paid for their devotion with their lives. In most cases the patient was left to languish alone, and perished by neglect, while his nearest and dearest avoided his presence, and had grown so callous that they had not a sigh or a tear left for the death of husband, or child, or friend. The few who recovered, now free from risk of mortal infection, did what they could to help their suffering fellow-citizens.
The mischief was aggravated by the overcrowded state of the city, especially among those who had come in from the country, and were living in stifling huts through the intense heat of a southern summer. Here the harvest of death fell thickest, and the corpses lay heaped together, while dying wretches crawled about the public streets, and encumbered the fountain-sides, to which they had dragged themselves in their longing for drink. All sense of public decency, all regard for laws, human or divine, was lost. The temples in which they had made their dwellings were choked with dead, and the sacred duty of burial, to which the conscience of antiquity attached so high an importance, was performed in wild haste and disorder. Sometimes those who were carrying out a corpse found a vacant pile prepared by the relatives of another victim, flung their dead upon it, set fire to the pile, and departed; and sometimes, when a body was already burning, others who were seeking to dispose of a corpse forced their way to the fire, and threw their burden upon it.
In the general relaxation of public morality all the dark passions of human nature, which at ordinary times lurk in secret places, came forth to the light of day, and raged without restraint. Some, who had grown rich in a day by the death of wealthy relatives, resolved to enjoy their possessions, and indulge every appetite, before they were overtaken by the same fate. Others, who had hitherto led good lives, seeing the base and the noble swept away indifferently by the same ruthless power, began to doubt the justice of heaven itself, and rushed into debauch, convinced that conscience and honour were but empty names. For human laws they cared still less, for in the universal panic there was none to enforce them, and before the voice of public authority could be heard again, both judge and transgressor, as they believed, would be involved in a common doom. All shame and fear were accordingly thrown aside, and those whom the plague had not yet touched seemed possessed by one sole desire—to drown thought and care in an orgy of fierce excess, and then to die.
The second invasion of the Peloponnesians was prolonged for forty days, and the whole Attic territory was laid waste. Pericles again refused to venture a pitched battle against them, knowing well that the Athenian army was no match for them in the open field. But a powerful fleet was sent to cruise round Peloponnesus, which inflicted much damage on the coast districts. It was a welcome relief to the Athenians selected for this service to escape for a time from the plague-stricken city; but unhappily they carried the infection with them, and the crews were decimated by the same disease. Nor did the evil stop here: for the same armament being afterwards despatched to Potidaea, to reinforce the blockading army and fleet, caused a virulent outbreak of the plague among the forces stationed there, which up till then had been healthy. After some fruitless operations against the town this second armament was withdrawn, and returned to Athens with the loss of more than a thousand men.
After all these disasters the reaction against Pericles, which had begun with the first invasion of Attica, reached a climax, and on all sides he was loudly decried by the Athenians, as the author of all their miseries. Envoys were sent with overtures of peace to Sparta, and when these returned with no favourable answer, the storm of popular fury grew more violent than ever. Pericles, who knew the temper of his people, and had foreseen that some such outbreak would occur, remained calm and unmoved. But wishing to allay the general excitement, and bring back the citizens to a more reasonable view of their prospects, he summoned an assembly, and addressed the multitude in terms of grave and dignified rebuke. He reminded them that they themselves had voted for war, and remonstrated against the unfairness of making him responsible for their own decision. If war could have been avoided without imperilling the very existence of their city, then that decision was wrong; but if, as was the fact, peace could only have been preserved by ruinous concessions, then his advice had been good, and they had been right in following it. The welfare of the individual citizen depended on the welfare of the community to which he belonged; as long as that was secured, private losses could always be made good, but public disaster meant private ruin. On this principle they had acted two years before, when they determined to reject the demands of Sparta. Why, then, were they now indulging in weak regrets, and turning against him whom they had appointed as their chosen guide and adviser? Was there anything in his character, any fact in his whole life, which justified them in suspecting him of unworthy motives? Was he the man to lead them astray, in order to save some selfish end—he, the great Pericles, whose loyalty, eloquence, clear-sightedness, and incorruptibility, had been proved in a public career of more than thirty years? If any other course had been open to them, he would have been to blame in counselling war; but the alternative was between that and degradation. The immediate pressure of private calamity was blinding them to the magnitude of the interests at stake—Athens, with all her fond traditions, and all the lustre of her name. That they were sure of victory he had already declared to them on many infallible grounds. But seeing them so sunk in despair, he would speak in a tone of loud assurance, and boldly assert a fact which they seemed to have overlooked. They were lords of the sea, absolute masters, that was to say, of half the world! Let them keep a firm grasp on this empire, and they would soon recover those pretty ornaments of empire—their gardens and their vineyards— which they held so dear: but, that once relinquished, they would lose all. Surely this knowledge should inspire them with a lofty contempt of their foes, a contempt grounded, not on ignorance or shallow enthusiasm, but on rational calculation. They could not now descend from the eminence on which they stood. Athens, who had blazed so long in unrivalled splendour before the eyes of the world, dared not suffer her lustre to be abated: for her, obscurity meant extinction. Let them keep this in mind, and not listen to counsels of seeming prudence and moderation, which were suicidal in a ruling state. All their calamities, except the plague, were the foreseen results of their own decision. Now was the time to display their known courage and patience. Let them think of the glory of Athens, and her imperial fame.
This memorable speech, the last recorded utterance of Pericles, had the desired effect. It was resolved to continue the war, and no further embassies were sent to Sparta. But resentment still smouldered in the hearts of the Athenians against their great statesman. How fearful was the contrast between the high hopes with which they had embarked in this struggle, and the scenes of horror and desolation which lay around them! From the walls they could see their trampled fields, their ravaged plantations, and the blackened ruins of their homes. Within, the pestilence still raged undiminished, and the city was filled with sounds and sights of woe. Under the pressure of these calamities the ascendency of Pericles went through a brief period of eclipse, and he was condemned to pay a fine. Soon, however, he recovered all his influence, and remained at the head of affairs until his death, which occurred in the autumn of the following year.
Pericles is the representative figure in the golden age of Athenian greatness, the most perfect example of that equable and harmonious development in every faculty of body and mind which was the aim of Greek civic life at its best. As an orator, he was probably never equalled, and the effect of his eloquence has found immortal expression in the lines of his contemporary Eupolis. Persuasion, we are told, sat enthroned on his lips; like a strong athlete, he overtook and outran all other orators; his words struck home like the lightning, while he held his audience enchained, as by a powerful spell; and among all the masters of eloquence, he was the only one who left his sting behind him. As a statesman, it was his object to admit every freeborn Athenian to a share of public duties and privileges; and for this purpose he introduced the system of payment, which enabled the poorer citizens to perform their part in the service of the state. His military talents, though never employed for conquest or aggression, were of no mean order; and on two occasions of supreme peril to Athens, the revolt of Euboea, and the revolt of Samos, it was his energy and promptitude which saved his city from ruin.
But it is as the head of the great intellectual movement which culminated in this epoch, as the friend of poets, philosophers, and artists, that Pericles has won his most enduring fame. By his liberal and enlightened policy the surplus of the Athenian revenues was devoted to the creation of those wonders of architecture and sculpture, whose fragments still serve as unapproachable models to the mind of modern Europe. And under his rule Athens became the school of Greece, the great centre for every form of intellectual activity, a position which she maintained until the later period of the Roman Empire.
If, however, we would understand the character of Pericles, and the spirit of the age which he represents, we must never forget that this aspect of Athenian greatness, to us by far the most important, was not the aspect which awoke the highest enthusiasm in him and his contemporaries. Those things which have made the name of Athens immortal, her art and her literature, were matters of but secondary importance to the Athenian of that age. He worshipped his city as a beloved mistress, and, like a lover, he delighted to adorn her with outward dignity and splendour. But to lavish all his thought and care on these external embellishments would have been, in his estimation, a senseless waste of his highest faculties, as if a lover should make the robes and jewels of his mistress the objects of his highest adoration. To make Athens the mightiest state in Greece, to build up the fabric of her material greatness—these were the objects for which he was ready to devote the best energies of heart and brain, and if need were, to lay down his life. He might be skilled in every elegant accomplishment, an acute reasoner, an orator, a musician, a poet; and to some extent he was all of these. But before all else he was in the highest sense a practical man, finding in strenuous action his chief glory and pride. And such a man was the last to melt into ecstasies over the high notes of a singer, or dream away his life in the fairyland of poetry.