Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

that authority and pre-eminence, which she had hitherto exercised over the rest of Greece. They therefore sent an embassy to the Athenians, the purport of which was to represent to 'hem, that the common interest of Greece 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 Salamis was greatly considered and respected at Athens, easily penetrated into the real design of the Lacedæmonians, though it was gilded over with the specious pretext of the public 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 the Lacedæmonians. The answer therefore they made the envoys was, that they would send an embassy to Sparta, to satisfy the commonwealth with respect to their jealousies and apprehensions. Themistocles caused himself to be nominated one of the ambassadors, and warned 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 surprised 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 interval, the work was carried on at Athens with the utmost industry 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 on the subject, desiring them not to give credit to vague 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 colleagues were arrived, he desired an audience, and declared in full senate, that it was really true that the Athenians resolved to fortify their city with strong walls; that the work was almost completed; that they had judged it to be absolutely necessary for their own security, and for the public 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 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 whosoever should presume to attack it; and a 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 allies, than upon their own strength and valour. The Lacedæmonians were extremely displeased with this discourse: but, either out of a sense of gratitude and esteem for the Athenians who had rendered such important services to the country, or out of a conviction of their inability to oppose their enterprise, they dissembled their resentment; and the ambassadors on both sides, having all suitable honours paid them, returned to their respective cities.

o Themistocles, who had always his thoughts fixed upon raising 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 that he had entered into office he had begun that great work. Before his time they had no other port at Athens than 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

a Graviter castigat eos, quod non virtute, sed imbecillitate sociorum poterto, tiam quærerent. Justin. 1 i. c, 15.

Thucydo Do 62, 63. Diod. l. xi. p. 32, 33.

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 immunities to be granted in their favour. His design was, as I have already observed, to make the whole force of Athens maria time ; in which he followed a very different scheme of politics, from what had been pursued by their ancient kings, who, endeavouring all they could to alienate the minds of the cit:zens trom seafaring business and from war, and to make them apply themselves wholly to agriculture and to pe ceable 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 showing her judges the branch of an olive tree, the happy symbol of peace and plenty, which she had planted ; whereas Neptune had made à fiery horse, 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 Condescension to the People.

a Themistocles, who had 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 inight explain himself upon the matter in question. Aristides was unanimously pitched upon by the whole assembly, and they referred themselves entirely to his opinion of the affair; so great a confidence had they both in his probity and prudence. Themistocles, therefore, having taken him aside, told him, that the deisgn he had conceived was to burn the fleet belonging to the rest of the Grecian states, which then lay in a neighbouring port, and that by this means Athens would certainly become mistress of all Greece. Aristides hereupon 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 could be more unjust. All the people unanimously ordained, that Themistocles should entirely desist from his project. We see in this instance, that it was not without some foundation that the title of Just was given to Aristides, even in his lifetime: a title, says Plutarch, infinitely superior to all those which conquerors pursue with so much ardour, and which in some measure approximates a man to the divinity.

a Plut. in Themist. p. 121, 122. In Arist. p. 332.

I know not 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 notwithstanding 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 the 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 merit that is ascribed to him, this single action would be sufficient to sully all the brilliancy of his glory. For it is the heart, that is to say, integrity and probity, that constitutes 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 constructed in the Piræus, he goes on to the fact in question, of which he says:

'a « Themistocles projected something still greater, for the augumentation of their mari

The Lacedæmonians having proposed in the council of the Amphictyons, that all the cities, which had not taken arms against Xerxes, should be excluded from that assembly. Themistocles, apprehending that if the Thessalians, the Argives, and the Thebans, were excluded that council, the Spartans would by that means become masters of the suffrages, and consequently determine all affairs according to their pleasure, made a speech in behalf of the cities whose exclusion was proposed, and brought the deputies, that composed the assembly, over to his sentiments. He represented

a Msi]óv ti dievoúln. Plut in Themist. p. 122.

[ocr errors]

time power.

to them, that the greatest part of the cities, that had enterod into the confederacy, which were but one-and-thirty in the whole, were very small and inconsiderable ; that it would therefore be a very strange, as well as a very dangerous proceeding, to deprive all the other cities of Greece of their votes and places in the grand assembly of the nation, and by that means suffer the august council of the Amphictyons to fall under the direction and influence of two or three of the inost powerful cities, which for the future would give law to all the rest, and would subvert and abolish that equality of power, which was justly regarded as the basis and soul of all republics. Themistocles, by this plain and open declaration of his opinion, drew upon himself the hatred of the Lacedæmonians, who from that time became his professed enemies. He had also incurred the displeasure of the rest of the allies, by the rigorous and rapacious manner in which he had exacted contributions from them.

a When the city of Athens was entirely rebuilt, the people finding themselves in a state of peace and tranquillity, endeavoured by every method to get the government into their own hands, and to make the Athenian state an absolute democracy. This design of theirs, though planned with the utmost secrecy, did not escape the vigilance and penetration of Aristides, who saw all the consequences with which such an innovation would be attended. But, as he considered on one hand, that the people were entitled to some regard, on account of the valour they had shown in all the battles which had been lately gained; and on the other, that it would be no easy matter to curb and restrain a people, who still in a manner had their arms in their hands, and who were grown more insolent than ever from their victories; on these considerations, he thought it proper to observe measures with them, and to find out some medium to satisfy and appease them. He therefore passed a decree, by which it was ordained that the offices of government should be open to all the citizens, and that the Archons, who were the chief magistrates of the commonwealth, and who used to be chosen only out of the richest of its members, viz. from among those only, who received at least 500 medimni of grain as the produce of their lands, should for the future be elected indifferently from the general body of the Athenians without distinction. By thus giving up something to the people, he prevented all dissensions and commotions, which inight have proved fatal, not only to the Athenian state, bat to all Greece.

a Plat. in Arist. p. 332,

« AnteriorContinuar »