The Legacy of Ancient Greece

Stories from Greek Tragedies


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ALL THAT YE HOLD DEAR.' And from us there came a great tumult of Persian speech, and the battle began, ship striking against ship. And a ship of the Greeks led the way, breaking off all the forepart of a ship of Phoenicia. For a while, indeed, the Persian fleet bare up; but seeing that there were many crowded together in narrow space, and that they could not help one another, they began to smite their prows together, and to break the oars one of the other. And the ships of the Greeks in a circle round about them drave against them right skilfully; and many hulls were overset, till a man could not see the sea, so full was it of wrecks and of bodies of dead men, with which also all the shores and rocks were filled. Then did all the fleet of the Persians take to flight without order, and our enemies with oars and pieces of wreck smote us, as men smite tunnies or a shoal of other fish; and there went up a dreadful cry, till the darkness fell and they ceased from pursuing. But all the evils that befell us I could not tell, no, not in ten days; only be sure of this, that never before in one day died such a multitude of men."


Then the Queen said, "'Tis surely a great sea of troubles that hath broken upon our race."

But the messenger made reply, "Listen yet again, for I have yet more to tell. There is an island over against Salamis, small, not easy of approach to ships. Hither the King, thy son, sent the chosen men of his army, being in the vigour of their age, and noble of birth, and faithful to himself. For it was in his mind that they should slay such of the Greeks as should seek to save themselves out of the ships, and should help any of his own people that might be in need. But he judged ill of what should come to pass. For when the ships of the Greeks had prevailed as I have said, certain of their host clad themselves in arms, and leapt out of the ships on to the island, which they circled about so that the Persians knew not whither they should turn. And many were smitten down with stones, and many with arrows, till at the last the men of Greece, making an onslaught together, slew them with their swords so that there was not a man left alive. Which thing when the King beheld, for he sat on a hill nigh unto the shore of the sea, whence he could regard the whole army, he uttered a great cry, and rent his garments, and bade his army that was on the land fly with all speed."

And when the Queen heard these things she said, "O my son, ill hast thou avenged thyself on this city of Athens! But tell me, messenger, what befell them that escaped from the battle?"

"As for the ships," he said; "O Queen, such as perished not in the bay fled without order, the wind favouring them. But of the army many indeed perished of thirst in the land of Boeotia, and the rest departed with all speed through the land of Phocis and the coasts of Doris till we came to the region of Thessaly, being in sore straits for food. And here also many perished of hunger and thirst; but such as were left came into the land of Macedonia, and thence to the coasts of Thrace, even to the great river of Strymon. And there the Gods caused that there should be a frost out of season, so that the river was covered with ice in one night; which marvel when we beheld we worshipped the Gods, yea, such as had said before in their hearts that there were no Gods. And when our prayers were ended we crossed over; and with such as crossed before the sun was risen high upon the earth, it was well; for as the day grew towards noon, the ice was melted in the midst of the river, and the people fell through, one upon the other, and perished miserably, so that he might be counted happiest that died most speedily. But such as remained fled across the plains of Thrace with much toil and trouble, and are now come to our homes, being but a very few out of many."

Then said the Queen, "Truly my dream is fulfilled to the utmost. But now let us do what we may. For the past no man may change; but for the future we may take thought. Wherefore I will offer incense to the Gods and to the dead; and do you take faithful counsel together, and if the King my son should come before I be returned, comfort him and bring him to the palace, lest a yet worse thing befall us."

Then the Queen departed; and the old men made lamentation for the dead, and bewailed themselves for the trouble that had befallen the land of Persia. But after a while she returned, walking on her feet and in sober array, for she would put away all pride and pomp, knowing that the Gods were wroth with the land and its rulers. And she brought with her such things as men are wont to offer to the dead--milk and honey, and pure water from a fountain, and pure juice of a wild vine; also the fruit of the olive, and garlands of flowers; and she bade the old men sing a hymn to the dead, and call up the spirit of King Darius, while she offered her offerings to them that bear rule in hell.

So the old men chanted their hymn. To Earth they cried and to Hermes that they would send up the spirit of King Darius; also to the King himself they cried, that he would come and give them counsel in their need.

And after a while the spirit of the King rose up from his sepulchre, having a royal crown upon his head, and a purple robe about him, and sandals of saffron upon his feet. And the spirit spake, saying, "What trouble is this that seemeth to have come upon the land? For my wife standeth near to my tomb with offerings; and ye have called me with the cries that raise the dead. Of a truth this is a hard journey to take; for they that bear rule below are more ready to take than to give back. Yet am I come, for I have power among them. Yet hasten, for my time is short. Tell me, what trouble hath come upon the land of Persia?"

But the old men could not answer him for fear. Whereupon he turned him to the Queen, and said, "My wife that was in time past, cease awhile from these lamentations and tell me what hath befallen this land."

And when she had told him all, he said, "Truly the Gods have brought speedy fulfilment to the oracles, which I had hoped might yet be delayed for many years. But what madness was this in Xerxes my son! Much do I fear lest our wealth be the prey of the spoiler."

Then the Queen made reply, "O my lord, Xerxes hath been taught by evil counsellors; for they told him that thou didst win great wealth for thy country by thy spear, but that he sat idly at home; wherefore he planned this thing that hath now had so ill an end."

With this the old men, taking heart, would know of the King what counsel he gave them for the time to come. And he said, "Take heed that ye make not war again upon these men of Greece." And when they doubted whether they might not yet prevail, he said, "Listen, for ye know not yet all that shall be. When the King, my son, departed, he took not with him his whole army, but left behind him many chosen men of war in the land of Boeotia by the river Æsopus. And for these there is a grievous fate in store. For they shall suffer punishment for all that they have done against Gods and men, seeing that they spared not the temples of the Gods, but threw down their altars, and brake their images in pieces. Wherefore they shall perish miserably, for the spear of the Greeks shall slay them in the land of Platæa. For the Gods will not that a man should have thoughts that are above the measure of a man. Also full-flowered insolence groweth to the fruit of destructions, and men reap from it a harvest of many tears. Do ye then bear Athens and the land of Greece in mind, and let no man, despising what is his and coveting another man's goods, so bring great wealth to ruin. For Zeus is ever ready to punish them that think more highly than they ought to think, and taketh a stern account. Wherefore do ye instruct the King with counsels that he cease to sin against the Gods in the pride of his heart. And do thou that art his mother go to thy house, and take from it such apparel as is seemly, and go to meet thy son, for the many rents that he hath made for grief gape in his garments about him. Comfort him also with gentle words; for I know that 'tis thy voice only that he will hear. And to you old men, farewell; and live happily while ye may, for there is no profit of wealth in the grave whither ye go."

And with these words the spirit of King Darius departed.

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