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THE STORY OF THE PERSIANS, OR THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS.
Xerxes, King of Persia, made war against the men of Greece, being
desirous to have them for his servants. For being a man of a haughty
soul, he thought to make the whole world subject to him; and against the
men of Greece he had especial wrath, seeing that in the days of King
Darius his father the Persians had fled before them. Wherefore he
gathered together a great army from all parts of his dominions, every
tribe and nation that there was in the whole land of the East, Indians,
and Arabs, and such as dwelt in the plain country of Asia, having
waggons for their houses, and Egyptians, and men from the upper parts of
Libya. But the chief strength of his army was of the Medes and Persians,
that were his own people. And for sailors he had Phoenicians, dwellers
in Tyre and Sidon, and in the coasts thereof. Also many Greeks with
him, such as inhabited the cities of Asia that are near to the Greek
sea, and the islands which are neighbours to them. But these loved him
not, hating to fight against their brethren, but were constrained to
join with him by fear. And when these were gathered together, being as
the sand that is on the seashore for multitude, he marched into the land
of Greece; and the ships also, being in number a thousand and more,
sailed along as near as might be to the army, that there might be no
escape for the Greeks either by land or sea.
But when the King had been gone now many days, and there came no tidings
of him and the army, the old men, counsellors and princes, to whom had
been committed the care of the realm while he should be absent, were
gathered together before the palace in Susa, the royal city. Not a
little troubled were they in mind, for the whole strength of the land
was gone to the war. "Invincible," they said, "is the host of the
Persians, and the people is valiant; but yet what man that is mortal can
escape from the craft of the Gods, when they lure him to his ruin? Who
is so nimble of foot that he can spring out of the net which they lay
for his feet? Now of old the Persians fought ever upon the land, but now
have they ventured where the waves of the sea grow white with the wind;
and my heart is sore afraid, lest there come evil news that the city of
Susa is emptied of her men. Then should there be heard great wailing of
women; and the fine linen of the daughters of Persia, who even now sit
at home alone, would be rent for grief. But come, let us sit and take
counsel together, for our need is sore, and reckon the chances which of
the two hath prevailed--the Persian bow or the spear of Greece."
But while they thus spake together there came forth to them from within
the palace Queen Atossa, borne in a litter. And the old men did
obeisance to her, bowing their heads to the ground. (Now Queen Atossa
had been wife to Darius, and was the mother of King Xerxes.) And when
they had greeted her, she told them for what cause she had come forth
from the palace, for that she feared greatly lest the wealth which King
Darius had gathered together should be overset. "For I know not," she
said, "which is the worse thing, store of wealth without manhood, or
lack of riches to them that are strong."
Then the old men bade her speak on, for that they would give her with
all willingness such counsel as they could. After this the Queen set
forth the matter to them, saying--
"I have been visited with many dreams and visions of the night since the
day when King Xerxes my son departed hence with his army, purposing to
subdue the men of Greece; but never have I seen vision so clear as that
which I beheld in this night that is last past. I saw two women clothed
with fair garments, the one being clad in Persian apparel, and the other
in that which Grecian women used to wear. Very tall were they, above the
stature of women in these days, and fair, so that no man might blame
their beauty. Sisters also were they of the same race; but the one dwelt
in the land of the Greeks, and the other in the land of Asia. Between
these two there arose a strife; and my son took and soothed them, and
would have yoked them to his chariot. Then she that wore the Persian
garb was quiet and obedient to the bit; but the other fought against
him, and tare with her hands the trappings of the chariot, and brake the
yoke in the midst, so that my son fell upon the ground; and when he was
fallen, lo! his father Darius stood over him, pitying him. This was my
dream; and when I had risen and washed my hands in the running stream, I
went to the altar, that I might offer incense to the Gods that avert
evil from men; and there I saw an eagle fleeing to the altar of
Phoebus, and a kite pursued after him, and flew upon him, and tare his
head with his claws; nor did the eagle aught but yield himself up to his
adversary. Now these are fearful things for me to see and also for you
to hear. But remember that if my son shall prosper, all men will do him
honour; and if he shall fail, yet shall he give account to no man, but
be still ruler of this land."
To this the chief of the old men made answer, "O lady, we would counsel
thee first to ask the Gods that they turn away all evils, and bring to
pass all that is good; and next to make offerings to Earth and to the
dead, and specially to thy husband King Darius, whom thou sawest in
visions of the night, that he may send blessings from below to thy son,
and turn away all trouble into darkness and nothingness."
"This will I do," said the Queen, "so soon as I shall have gone back to
the palace. But first I would hear certain things of you. Tell me, my
friends, in what land is this Athens of which they speak?"
"It is far to the west," the old men made reply, "towards the setting of
"And why did my son seek to subdue this city?"
"Because he knew that if he prevailed against it all Greece should be
subject unto him."
"Hath it, then, so many men that draw the sword?"
"Such an army it hath as hath wrought great damage to the Medes."
"And hath it aught else, as wealth sufficient?"
"There is a spring of silver, a treasure hid in their earth."
"Do the men make war with bows?"
[Illustration: ATOSSA'S DREAM.]
"Not so; they have spears for close fighting and shields."
"And who is master of their army?"
"They are not slaves or subjects to any man."
"How, then, can they abide the onset of the Persians?"
"Nay, but so well they abide it that they slew a great army of King
"What thou sayest is ill to hear for the mothers of them that are gone."
And when the Queen had thus spoken, the counsellors espied a man of
Persia running to them with all speed, and knew that he bare tidings
from the hosts, whether good or evil. And when the man was come, he
cried out, "O land of Persia, abode of proud wealth, how are thy riches
destroyed, and the flower of thy strength perished! 'Tis an ill task to
bring such tidings, yet I am constrained to tell all our trouble. O men
of Persia, the whole army of our land hath perished."
Then the old men cried out, bewailing themselves that they had lived to
see this day. And the messenger told them how he had himself seen this
great trouble befall the Persians, and had not heard it from others, and
that it was at Salamis that the army had perished, and the city of
Athens that had been chief among their enemies, the old men breaking in
upon his story as he spake with their lamentations. But after a while
the Queen Atossa stood forward, saying, "For a while I was dumb, for the
trouble that I heard suffered me not to speak. But we must bear what the
Gods send. Tell me, therefore, who is yet alive? and for whom must we
"Know, O Queen," said the messenger, "that thy son, King Xerxes, is yet
And the Queen cried, "What thou sayest is as light after darkness to me;
but say on."
And when the messenger had told the names of many chiefs that had
perished, the Queen said, "Come, let us hear the whole matter from the
beginning. How many in number were the ships of the Greeks that they
dared to meet the Persians in battle array?"
Then the man made reply, "In numbers, indeed, they might not compare
with us; for the Greeks had three hundred ships in all, and ten besides
that were chosen for their swiftness; but King Xerxes, as thou knowest,
had a thousand, and of ships excelling in speed two hundred and seven.
Of a truth, we wanted not for strength; but some God hath destroyed our
host, weighing us against our enemies in deceitful balances."
And the Queen made reply, "'Tis even so: the Gods preserve the city of
"Yea," said the man, "Athens is safe, though it be laid waste with fire;
for the city that hath true men hath a sure defence."
"But say," said the Queen, "who began this battle of ships? Did the
Greeks begin, or my son, trusting in the greatness of his host?"
Then the messenger answered, "Some evil demon set on foot all this
trouble. For there came a man from the army of the Athenians to King
Xerxes, saying that when night should come the Greeks would not abide in
their place, but, taking with haste to their ships, would fly as best
they could, and so save their lives. And he straightway, not knowing
that the man lied, and that the Gods were jealous of him, made a
proclamation to all the captains. "So soon as the sun be set upon the
earth and the heavens dark, order your ships in three companies, and
keep the channels this way and that, and compass about the whole island
of Salamis; for if by any means the Greeks escape, know that ye shall
pay your lives for their lives." This commandment did he give in his
pride, not knowing what should come to pass. Whereupon all the people in
due order made provision of meat and fitted their oars to the rowlocks;
and when night was come, every man-at-arms embarked upon the ships. And
the word of the command passed from line to line, and they sailed each
to his appointed place. They then watched the channels all the night,
yet nowhere was there seen any stir among the Greeks as of men that
would fly by stealth. And when the fiery chariot of the Sun was seen in
heaven, the Greeks set up with one accord a great shout, to which the
echo from the rocks of the island made reply; and the Persians were
troubled, knowing that they had been deceived, for the Greeks shouted
not as men that were afraid. And after this there came the voice of a
trumpet exceeding loud, and then, when the word was given, the dash of
many oars that struck the water together, and, clearly heard above all,
the sound of many voices, saying, 'RISE, CHILDREN OF THE GREEKS; SET
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