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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 6/19 -


On receiving this solemn order, even the imperious spirit of Pausanias did not venture to disobey. Like Venice, whose harsh, tortuous, but energetic policy her oligarchy in so many respects resembled, Sparta possessed a moral and mysterious power over the fiercest of her sons. His fate held him in her grasp, and, confident of acquittal, instead of flying to Persia, the regent hurried to his doom, assured that by the help of gold he could baffle any accusation. His expectations were so far well-founded, that, although, despite his rank as regent of the kingdom and guardian of the king, he was thrown into prison by the ephors, he succeeded, by his intrigues and influence, in procuring his enlargement: and boldly challenging his accusers, he offered to submit to trial.

The government, however, was slow to act. The proud caution of the Spartans was ever loath to bring scandal on their home by public proceedings against any freeborn citizen--how much more against the uncle of their monarch and the hero of their armies! His power, his talents, his imperious character awed alike private enmity and public distrust. But his haughty disdain of their rigid laws, and his continued affectation of the barbarian pomp, kept the government vigilant; and though released from prison, the stern ephors were his sentinels. The restless and discontented mind of the expectant son- in-law of Xerxes could not relinquish its daring schemes. And the regent of Sparta entered into a conspiracy, on which it were much to be desired that our information were more diffuse.

VI. Perhaps no class of men in ancient times excite a more painful and profound interest than the helots of Sparta. Though, as we have before seen, we must reject all rhetorical exaggerations of the savage cruelty to which they were subjected, we know, at least, that their servitude was the hardest imposed by any of the Grecian states upon their slaves [160], and that the iron soldiery of Sparta were exposed to constant and imminent peril from their revolts--a proof that the curse of their bondage had passed beyond the degree which subdues the spirit to that which arouses, and that neither the habit of years, nor the swords of the fiercest warriors, nor the spies of the keenest government of Greece had been able utterly to extirpate from human hearts that law of nature which, when injury passes an allotted, yet rarely visible, extreme, converts suffering to resistance.

Scattered in large numbers throughout the rugged territories of Laconia--separated from the presence, but not the watch, of their master, these singular serfs never abandoned the hope of liberty. Often pressed into battle to aid their masters, they acquired the courage to oppose them. Fierce, sullen, and vindictive, they were as droves of wild cattle, left to range at will, till wanted for the burden or the knife--not difficult to butcher, but impossible to tame.

We have seen that a considerable number of these helots had fought as light-armed troops at Plataea; and the common danger and the common glory had united the slaves of the army with the chief. Entering into somewhat of the desperate and revengeful ambition that, under a similar constitution, animated Marino Faliero, Pausanias sought, by means of the enslaved multitude, to deliver himself from the thraldom of the oligarchy which held prince and slave alike in subjection. He tampered with the helots, and secretly promised them the rights and liberties of citizens of Sparta, if they would co-operate with his projects and revolt at his command.

Slaves are never without traitors; and the ephors learned the premeditated revolution from helots themselves. Still, slow and wary, those subtle and haughty magistrates suspended the blow--it was not without the fullest proof that a royal Spartan was to be condemned on the word of helots: they continued their vigilance--they obtained the proof they required.

VII. Argilius, a Spartan, with whom Pausanias had once formed the vicious connexion common to the Doric tribes, and who was deep in his confidence, was intrusted by the regent with letters to Artabazus. Argilius called to mind that none intrusted with a similar mission had ever returned. He broke open the seals and read what his fears foreboded, that, on his arrival at the satrap's court, the silence of the messenger was to be purchased by his death. He carried the packet to the ephors. That dark and plotting council were resolved yet more entirely to entangle their guilty victim, and out of his own mouth to extract his secret; they therefore ordered Argilius to take refuge as a suppliant in the sanctuary of the temple of Neptune on Mount Taenarus. Within the sacred confines was contrived a cell, which, by a double partition, admitted some of the ephors, who, there concealed, might witness all that passed.

Intelligence was soon brought to Pausanias that, instead of proceeding to Artabazus, his confidant had taken refuge as a suppliant in the temple of Neptune. Alarmed and anxious, the regent hastened to the sanctuary. Argilius informed him that he had read the letters, and reproached him bitterly with his treason to himself. Pausanias, confounded and overcome by the perils which surrounded him, confessed his guilt, spoke unreservedly of the contents of the letter, implored the pardon of Argilius, and promised him safety and wealth if he would leave the sanctuary and proceed on the mission.

The ephors, from their hiding-place, heard all.

On the departure of Pausanias from the sanctuary, his doom was fixed. But, among the more public causes of the previous delay of justice, we must include the friendship of some of the ephors, which Pausanias had won or purchased. It was the moment fixed for his arrest. Pausanias, in the streets, was alone and on foot. He beheld the ephors approaching him. A signal from one warned him of his danger. He turned--he fled. The temple of Minerva Chalcioecus at hand proffered a sanctuary--he gained the sacred confines, and entered a small house hard by the temple. The ephors--the officers--the crowd pursued; they surrounded the refuge, from which it was impious to drag the criminal. Resolved on his death, they removed the roof--blocked up the entrances (and if we may credit the anecdote, that violating human was characteristic of Spartan nature, his mother, a crone of great age [161], suggested the means of punishment, by placing, with her own hand, a stone at the threshold)--and, setting a guard around, left the conqueror of Mardonius to die of famine. When he was at his last gasp, unwilling to profane the sanctuary by his actual death, they bore him out into the open air, which he only breathed to expire [162]. His corpse, which some of the fiercer Spartans at first intended to cast in the place of burial for malefactors, was afterward buried in the neighbourhood of the temple. And thus ended the glory and the crimes--the grasping ambition and the luxurious ostentation-- of the bold Spartan who first scorned and then imitated the effeminacies of the Persian he subdued.

VIII. Amid the documents of which the ephors possessed themselves after the death of Pausanias was a correspondence with Themistocles, then residing in the rival and inimical state of Argos. Yet vindictive against that hero, the Spartan government despatched ambassadors to Athens, accusing him of a share in the conspiracy of Pausanias with the Medes. It seems that Themistocles did not disavow a correspondence with Pausanias, nor affect an absolute ignorance of his schemes; but he firmly denied by letter, his only mode of defence, all approval and all participation of the latter. Nor is there any proof, nor any just ground of suspicion, that he was a party to the betrayal of Greece. It was consistent, indeed, with his astute character, to plot, to manoeuvre, to intrigue, but for great and not paltry ends. By possessing himself of the secret, he possessed himself of the power of Pausanias; and that intelligence might perhaps have enabled him to frustrate the Spartan's treason in the hour of actual danger to Greece. It is possible that, so far as Sparta alone was concerned, the Athenian felt little repugnance to any revolution or any peril confined to a state whose councils it had been the object of his life to baffle, and whose power it was the manifest interest of his native city to impair. He might have looked with complacency on the intrigues which the regent was carrying on against the Spartan government, and which threatened to shake that Doric constitution to its centre. But nothing, either in the witness of history or in the character or conduct of a man profoundly patriotic, even in his vices, favours the notion that he connived at the schemes which implicated, with the Grecian, the Athenian welfare. Pausanias, far less able, was probably his tool. By an insight into his projects, Themistocles might have calculated on the restoration of his own power. To weaken the Spartan influence was to weaken his own enemies at Athens; to break up the Spartan constitution was to leave Athens herself without a rival. And if, from the revolt of the helots, Pausanias should proceed to an active league with the Persians, Themistocles knew enough of Athens and of Greece to foresee that it was to the victor of Salamis and the founder of the Grecian navy that all eyes would be directed. Such seem the most probable views which would have been opened to the exile by the communications of Pausanias. If so, they were necessarily too subtle for the crowd to penetrate or understand. The Athenians heard only the accusations of the Spartans; they saw only the treason of Pausanias; they learned only that Themistocles had been the correspondent of the traitor. Already suspicious of a genius whose deep and intricate wiles they were seldom able to fathom, and trembling at the seeming danger they had escaped, it was natural enough that the Athenians should accede to the demands of the ambassadors. An Athenian, joined with a Lacedaemonian troop, was ordered to seize Themistocles wherever he should be found. Apprized of his danger, he hastily quitted the Peloponnesus and took refuge at Corcyra. Fear of the vengeance at once of Athens and of Sparta induced the Corcyreans to deny the shelter he sought, but they honourably transported him to the opposite continent. His route was discovered--his pursuers pressed upon him. He had entered the country of Admetus, king of the Molossians, from whose resentment he had everything to dread. For he had persuaded the Athenians to reject the alliance once sought by that monarch, and Admetus had vowed vengeance.

Thus situated, the fugitive formed a resolution which a great mind only could have conceived, and which presents to us one of the most touching pictures in ancient history. He repaired to the palace of Admetus himself. The prince was absent. He addressed his consort, and, advised by her, took the young child of the royal pair in his hand, and sat down at the hearth--"THEMISTOCLES THE SUPPLIANT!" [163] On the return of the prince he told his name, and bade him not wreak his vengeance on an exile. "To condemn me now," he said, "would be to take advantage of distress. Honour dictates revenge only among equals upon equal terms. True that I opposed you once, but on a matter not of life, but of business or of interest. Now surrender me to my persecutors, and you deprive me of the last refuge of life itself."

IX. Admetus, much affected, bade him rise, and assured him of protection. The pursuers arrived; but, faithful to the guest who had sought his hearth, after a form peculiarly solemn among the Molossians, Admetus refused to give him up, and despatched him, guarded, to the sea-town of Pydna, over an arduous and difficult mountain-road. The sea-town gained, he took ship, disguised and unknown to all the passengers, in a trading vessel bound to Ionia. A storm arose--the vessel was driven from its course, and impelled right towards the Athenian fleet, that then under Cimon, his bitterest foe, lay before the Isle of Naxos (B. C. 466).

Prompt and bold in his expedients, Themistocles took aside the master of the vessel--discovered himself; threatened, if betrayed, to inform against the master as one bribed to favour his escape; promised, if preserved, everlasting gratitude; and urged that the preservation was


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 6/19

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