Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

over the rest of Greece. They therefore sent an Xerxes. embassy to the Athenians, the purport of which was to represent to them, that the common interest and safety required, that there should be no fortified city out of the Peloponnesus, lest, in case of a second irruption, it should serve for a place of arms for the Persians, who would be sure to settle themselves in it, as they had done before at Thebes, and who from thence would be able to infest the whole country, and to make themselves masters of it very speedily. Themistocles, who since the battle of Salamin was greatly considered and respected at Athens, easily penetrated into the true design of the Lacedæmonians, though it was gilded over with the specious pretext of publick good : But, as the latter were able, with the assistance of their allies, to hinder the Athenians by force from carrying on the work, in case they should positively and absolutely refuse to comply with their demands, he advised the senate to make use of cunning and dissimulation as well as they. The answer therefore they made their envoys was, that they would send an embassy to Sparta, to satisfy the commonwealth concerning their jealousies and apprehensions. Themistocles got himself to be nominated one of the ambassadors, and persuaded the senate not to let his colleagues set out along with him, but to send them one after another, in order to gain time for carrying on the work. The matter was executed pursuant to his advice; and he accordingly went alone to Lacedæmon, where he let a great many days pass without waiting upon the magistrates, or applying to the senate. And, upon their pressing him to do it, and asking him the reason why he deferred it so long, he made answer, that he waited for the arrival of his colleagues, that they might all have their audience of the senate together, and seemed to be very much surprized that they were so long in coming. At length they arrived; but all came singly, and at a good distance of time one from another. During all this while, the

Xerxes. work was carried on at Athens with the utmost in

dustry and vigour. The women, children, strangers, and slaves, were all employed in it: nor was it interrupted night or day. The Spartans were not ignorant of the matter, but made great complaints of it to Themistocles, who positively denied the fact, and pressed them to send other deputies to Athens, in order to inform themselves better of the fact, desiring them not to give credit to loose and flying reports, without foundation. At the same time he secretly advised the Athenians to detain the Spartan envoys as so many hostages, until he and his colleagues were returned from their embassy, fearing, not without good reason, that they themselves might be served in the same manner at Sparta. At last, when all his fellow-ambassadors were arrived, he desired an audience, and declared in full senate, that it was really true the Athenians had resolved to fortify their city with strong walls; that the work was almost compleated; that they had judged it to be absolutely necessary for their own security, and for the publick good of the allies; telling them at the same time, that, after the great experience they had had of the Athenian people's behaviour, they could not well suspect them of being wanting in their zeal for the common interest of their country; that as the condition and privileges of all the allies ought to be equal, it was just the Athenians should provide for their own safety by all the methods they judged necessary, as well as the other confederates; that they had thought of this expedient, and were in a condition to defend their city against whomsoever should presume to attack it; and * that as for the Lacedæmonians, it was not much for their honour, that they should desire to establish their power and superiority rather upon the weak and defenceless condition of their allics, than upon their own

* Grariter castigat eos, quod non virtutc, sed imbecillitale sociorum putentiam quærereni, Justin. l. ii.c.15.

strength and valour. The Lacedæmonians were Xerxes. extremely displeased with this discourse : But, either out of a sense of gratitude and esteem for their country, or out of a conviction that they were not able to oppose their enterprize, they dissembled their resentment; and the ambassadors on both sides, hav. ing all suitable honours paid them, returned to their respective cities.

Themistocles, who had always his thoughts fixed upon ra sing and augmenting the power and glory of the Athenian commonwealth, did not confine his views to the walls of the city. He went on with the same vigorous application to finish the building and fortifications of the Piræus: For from the time he entered into office he had begun that great work. Before his time they had no other port at Athens but that of Phalerus, which was neither very large nor commodious, and consequently not capable of answering the great designs of Themistocles. For this reason he had cast his eye upon the Piræus, which seemed to invite him by its advantageous situation, and by the conveniency of its three spacious havens, that were capable of containing above four hundred vessels. This undertaking was prosecuted with so much diligence and vivacity, that the work was considerably advanced in a very little time. Themistocles likewise obtained a decree, that every year they should build twenty vessels for the augmentation of their fleet: And in order to engage the greater number of workmen and sailors to resort to Athens, he caused particular privileges and immu. nities to be granted in their favour. His design was, as I have already observed, to make the whole force of Athens maritime ; in which he followed a very different scheme of politicks from what had been pursued by their ancient kings, who endeavouring all they could to alienate the minds of the citizens from seafaring business and from war, and to make

1 Thucyd. p. 62, 65. Diod. 1. xi. p. 32, 35.

Xerxes. them apply themselves wholly to agriculture and to

peaceable employments, published this fable : That Minerva disputing with Neptune to know which of them should be declared patron of Attica, and give their name to the city newly built, she gained her cause by shewing her judges the branch of an olivetree, the happy symbol of peace and plenty, which she had planted : whereas Neptune had made a fieryhorse, the symbol of war and confusion, rise out of the earth before them.

Sect. XIII. The black design of Themistocles rejected

unanimously by the people of Athens. Aristides's con

descension to the people. • THEMISTOCLES, who conceived the design of . supplanting the Lacedæmonians, and of taking the government of Greece out of their hands, in order to put it into those of the Athenians, kept his eye and his thoughts continually fixed upon that great project. And as he was not very nice or scrupulous in the choice of his measures, whatever tended towards the accomplishing of the end he had in view, he looked upon as just and lawful. On a certain day then he declared in a full assembly of the people, that he had a very important design to propose, but that he could not communicate it to the people ; because its success required it should be carried on with the greatest secrecy: He therefore desired they would appoint a person, to whom he might explain himself upon the matter in question. Aristides was unanimously pitched upon by the whole assembly, that referred themselves entircly to his opinion of the af. fair; so great a confidence had they both in his probity and prudence, Themistocles therefore having taken him aside, told him, that the design he had conceived was to burn the fleet belonging to the rest of the Grecian states, which then lay in a neighbour

• Plut. in Themist. p. 121, 122. in Arist, p. 332,

ing port, and that by this means Athens would cer. Xerxes. tainly become mistress of all Greece. Aristides here . upon returned to the assembly, and only declared to them, that indeed nothing could be more advantageous to the commonwealth than Themistocles's project, but that at the same time nothing in the world could be more unjust. All the people unanimously ordained, that Themistocles should entirely desist from his project. We see in this instance, that the title of Just was not given to Aristides even in his life-time without some foundation: A title, says Plutarch, infinitely superior to all those which conquerors pursue with so much ardour, and which in some measure approaches a man to the divinity.

I do not know whether all history can afford us a fact more worthy of admiration than this. It is not a company of philosophers (to whom it costs nothing to establish fine maxims and sublime notions of morality in the schools) who determine on this occasion, that the consideration of profit and advantage ought never to prevail in preference to what is honest and just. It is an entire people, who are highly interested in the proposal made to them, who are convinced that it is of the greatest importance to the welfare of the state, and who however reject it with unanimous consent and without a moment's hesitation, and that for this only reason, that it is contrary to justice. How black and perfidious on the other hand was thic design, which Themistocles proposed to them, of burning the fleet of their Grecian confederates, at a time of entire peace, solely to aggrandize the power of the Athenians! Had he an hundred times the me. rit ascribed to him, this single action would be sufficient to sully all his glory. For it is the heart, that is to say, integrity and probity, that constitutes and distinguishes true merit.

I am sorry that Plutarch, who generally judges of things with great justness, does not seem, on this occasion, to condemn Themistocles. After having spoken of the works he had cflected in the Pirzu.,

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »