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Selections from Herodotus, The Persian Wars
Lewis Stiles, translator

Notice: This translation is the copyrighted property of the author and should not be reproduced without the author's permission.

NOTE: This translation is intentionally literal; violence is occasionally done to English syntax in the interests of preserving some of the original order of thoughts.

[] - enclose words added for sense
{} - enclose remarks by the translator

For background material, see the Course Notes on Herodotus.



that the past not be forgotten by men over time
that deeds, both great and wondrous
some manifested by Hellenes and others by barbaroi
not become without fame—
especially the cause for which
they warred against one another


[1.1] Now Persian story-tellers declare that Phoenicians were the cause of the difference. For they say that the Phoenicians, having come from what is called the Red Sea into this sea and having inhabited that land which they even now inhabit, immediately set themselves to long voyages, and that, bringing as freight both Egyptian and Assyrian goods, they used to come upon various places, including Argos, which at that time surpassed in every way the poleis in the land now called Hellas.

So some Phoenicians, having arrived at Argos, set out their freight. On the fifth or sixth day after they arrived, almost everything being sold, there came down to the sea—among many other women—the king's daughter. And her name (according to the way the Hellenes say it) was Io daughter of Inachos. While these women were standing by the prow of the ship buying whatever of the freight they most desired, the Phoenicians, after encouraging one another, attacked them. Although most of the women got away, Io, along with some others, was caught; embarking them into the ship, the Phoenicians sailed off to Egypt.

[1.2] Thus Io came to Egypt, say the Persians—but not so the Hellenes—and of the injustices this was the very first. And after this certain Hellenes (for they are not able to describe them by name), they say, came into Phoenician Tyre and snatched the king's daughter Europa; these men would have been Cretans.

This meant that things became equal, but after that the Hellenes were the cause of a second injustice. For, when they had sailed along in a long ship to Aia in Kolchis and up to the Phasis river, at that point having done the other things for which they had come, they snatched the king's daughter Medea. The king of Kolchis sent into Hellas a herald to demand just reparations for the snatching and to demand back his daughter, but the Hellenes answered that the Asians, in the case of Io, had not given them just reparations for the snatching, and therefore they themselves would not give anything to them.

[1.3] And in the second generation after that, they say, Alexander the son of Priam, who had heard these things, wanted to get for himself, out of Hellas, by snatching, a wife—knowing full well that he would not have to pay just reparations (as the Hellenes had not given anything). And so, when he himself had snatched Helen, it seemed best to the Hellenes at first to send messengers to demand back Helen and to demand just reparations for the snatching. But when the Greeks brought this forward the Asians referred to Medea's snatching, noting that the Greeks, although they had not given just reparations and had not given back the girl when the Asians asked, now wished to get for themselves just reparations from others.

[1.4] Up to this point, therefore, it was only snatchings from each other; but for the thing that came out of the last one the Greeks were greatly the cause. For they were the first to begin campaigning against Asia, before the Asians came against Europe. Now [the Persians] think that to snatch women is the deed of unjust men, but on the other hand they think that to make haste to avenge snatched women is the deed of foolish men while to have no concern all for the snatched women is the deed of wise ones; for it was clear that if the women themselves did not wish it, they would not be snatched. Indeed the Persians say that they themselves, the people from Asia, make no fuss about snatched women, but the Hellenes on the other hand, on account of one Lakedaimonian woman gathered together a great expedition and then, coming against Asia, destroyed Priam's power; since that time they have always considered that the Hellenic race was hostile to themselves. (For Asia and its inhabitant races of barbaroi are reckoned as their own by the Persians, whereas Europe and the Hellenic race they consider as separate.)

[1.5] Thus the Persians say that things happened, and it is through Ilion's capture that they find for themselves the beginning of their hatred against the Hellenes.

But about Io the Persians do not say the same things as the Phoenicians do: for the Phoenicians say that it was not snatching which they used to lead her into Egypt, but that when she was in Argos she had intercourse with the ship-master of the ship, and when she learned that she was pregnant, she was ashamed before her parents and so in fact willingly sailed off along with the Phoenicians so that her condition would not become obvious.

These things, now, are what Persians and Phoenicians say. But I myself, concerning these things, am not going to say that thus or otherwise they happened. On the other hand, the man whom I myself know was the first beginner of unjust deeds against the Hellenes, him I will indicate as I proceed further with my account, going over small and large cities of men equally. For those which anciently were great—most of them—have become small, while those which in my time were great, previously were small. Therefore, since I know that human happiness never remains the same, I will mention both kinds equally.

[1.6] Kroisos was Lydian by birth, son of Alyattes and tyrannos of those races within [= West of] the Halys river (which, flowing from the midday [= South] between the Syrians and the Paphlagonians, goes out towards the north wind into that sea called the Euxene [= Black]). This Kroisos, of the barbaroi was the first—of the ones we know about—to subject some Hellenes to the paying of tribute and to make others into friendly allies. He subjected the Ionians and also the Aioleans and Dorians who were in Asia, and he made into friendly allies the Lakedaimonians. Before Kroisos' rule, all Hellenes were free....



[1.7] It was in this way that royal power...came into the family of Kroisos....There was a man Kandaules..., tyrannos at Sardis....[1.8] ...[who] was passionately in love with his own wife, and being passionately in love he thought his wife much the most beautiful of all women. And so he thought these things; but there was among his spearmen one Gyges son of Daskylos whom he loved especially, and to this Gyges Kandaules communicated his most important matters of business and especially he used to over-praise the appearance of his wife. And when not much time had passed—for it was necessary that things for Kandaules turn out badly—he said the following to Gyges: "Gyges, since it doesn't seem to me that you are persuaded by me when I speak about the appearance of my wife (for ears as it happens for men are more untrustworthy than eyes), contrive that you see her naked."

Yelling aloud, Gyges said, "Lord, what kind of unhealthy speech do you speak, commanding me to look at my Lady naked? When she takes off her chiton, a woman takes off along with it her sense of shame. Long ago were morally correct things by men found out, and from them it is necessary to learn: among them is this one, to look only at whatever belongs to oneself. I am persuaded that she is of all women the most beautiful and I ask you not to ask me unlawful things."

So for his part, speaking such things, he fought against the idea, fearing that out of it something bad would happen. But Kandaules answered with the following: "Take courage, Gyges, and fear neither me, lest I am testing you by speaking this speech, nor my wife, lest anything harmful to you happen from her side; for to begin with I will contrive it in such a way that she will not know she is seen by you. For I myself will stand you in the room in which we sleep, behind the opened door. After I have gone in, immediately my wife also will be there, ready for bed. There lies near the door a chair; on it, one by one, she will put her clothes as she takes them off and so will furnish you with much leisure to look at her. But when from this chair she walks toward the bed and you get behind her back, take care at that point that she not see you going out through the door."

[1.10] And since he was thus unable to escape, Gyges prepared himself. Kandaules, when it seemed the right time for bed, led Gyges into the room, and after that immediately the woman was also there, and when she came in and put off her clothes Gyges saw her. When he was behind her back as the woman was going to the bed, slipping out he made off outside—and the woman saw him going.

[1.11] Understanding what had been done by her husband she did not cry out in her shame nor did she even seem to have noticed, but she had it in mind to avenge herself on Kandaules (for among these Lydians, and in fact among nearly all other barbaroi, even for a man to be seen naked brings great shame). And so, while at that time, showing nothing, she held her peace, as soon as the next day came she made ready those of her servants whom she saw as being the most trustworthy, and called Gyges. And he, supposing that she knew nothing of what had happened, came when he was called, for he had been accustomed even previously, whenever the queen called, to come.

And when Gyges arrived, the woman said the following: "Now of two roads which are present, Gyges, I give you the choice, whichever you prefer to follow: for either you kill Kandaules and hold me and also the kingdom of the Lydians, or you yourself must immediately be killed so that you not in all things obey Kandaules in the future and see things which you ought not; either he, as having planned these things, must be destroyed, or you as having seen me naked and done things not sanctioned by custom."

And Gyges for a while marveled at her speech, but after he beseeched her not to compel him to decide between such choices. But indeed he did not persuade her, and he saw that the compulsion truly lay before him, either to destroy his master or to be, himself, by others, destroyed. He chose that he himself should live.

He asked her, saying the following: "Since you compel me to kill my master, against my will, come—I will listen—in what way shall we lay hands upon him?"

And she in answer said, "from the same place the attack shall be—from where that man showed me naked—and while he sleeps we shall lay hands upon him."

[1.12] And when she had arranged the plan, and night came (since she had not released Gyges, nor was there for him any deliverance at all, but he must himself be killed or Kandaules), he followed the woman into the bedroom; she gave him a dagger and hid him behind the same door. And after this, when Kandaules was asleep Gyges crept out and killed him, getting both the woman and the kingdom....



[1.26] When he died Alyattes [a descendant of Gyges] gave over his kingdom to Kroisos his son, a man of thirty-five years, and of the Hellenes he first attacked the Ephesians....and afterwards in turn each of the Ionian and Aiolian cities, alleging various causes against them; and against some when he was able to find larger ones he brought larger charges while against others he brought smaller ones.

[1.27] And when the Hellenes in Asia were subjected and paying tribute, then he took it into his mind to make ships and attack the islanders. But when all was ready for the ship-building, a man—some say he was Bias of Priene, and others say that he was Pittakos of Mytilene—came to Sardis. When Kroisos asked if anything was new concerning Hellas, he said the following (with a view to stopping the ship-building): "O king, the islanders are gathering together ten thousand horse, having it in mind to campaign against Sardis."

And Kroisos, expecting that the man had spoken the truth, said, "would that the gods put this into the minds of the islanders, that they come against the Lydians' sons with horses!"

And the man, answering, said, "O king, you seem to me eager to pray that you catch the islanders riding horses on the mainland, expecting the likely results. But what would it seem that the islanders would pray for, other than that—as soon as they learned that you are about to make ships against them—they might catch the Lydians on the sea, in order that, for those Hellenes who live on the mainland, the ones whom you hold enslaved, they might avenge themselves on you?"

He much pleased Kroisos with this speech, and it seemed to him so fittingly said that he was persuaded to stop his ship-building.



[1.53] ....The Lydians offered proper gifts, and questioned the oracles [at Delphi and elsewhere], saying, "Kroisos king of the Lydians and of other races, judging that these oracles are the only real ones among men, to you gives gifts worthy of your ability to find out the future and now asks you if he should campaign against the Persians...." And when they were thus questioned, the opinions of both oracles came to the same thing, and they foretold to Kroisos that if he campaigned against Persia, he would destroy a great empire. ....

[1.71] ...And Kroisos, mistaking the oracle, prepared an army against [the Persian province of] Kappadocia , expecting to overwhelm [the Persian king] Cyrus and also the power of the Persians. While he was preparing to campaign against the Persians, one of the Lydians—thought of even before this as being wise, and after this opinion holding even more of a name among the Lydians—advised Kroisos in the following way (his name was Sandanis): "O king, it is against men of such a sort that you are preparing to fight that they have leather trousers and wear leather for their other clothing; men who eat not as much as they wish, but as much as they have, and possess a country which is rough. And there they do not use wine, but drink water; they do not have figs to nibble on, nor any other good thing at all. Now, if you have victory, what from them will you take away, since among them there is nothing? On the other hand, if you are vanquished, understand how many good things you are throwing away—for once they taste our good things they will hang onto them and will not be able to be driven off. For my part now I thank the gods, that they have not put it into the minds of the Persians to campaign against the Lydians."

But by saying these things he did not persuade Kroisos....

[1.86] And the Persians captured Sardis and imprisoned Kroisos, who had ruled for fourteen years and had been besieged for fourteen days, and the oracle was fulfilled: he had made an end of his own great empire....



[6.105] ...[When the Persian fleet was approaching Attica], the [Athenian] generals sent to Sparta a herald, Pheidippides an Athenian....[6.106]...[and] on the second day out of Athens he was in Sparta; and coming before the magistrates he said: "Lakedaimonians, the Athenians need you to help them and not to watch a city, the oldest among the Hellenes, fall enslaved to men who are barbaroi, for even now Eretria is reduced to slavery and so by a notable polis Hellas has become the weaker."

Indeed, he gave them the message entrusted to him; for their part they were delighted, on the one hand, to help the Athenians; but it was impossible, on the other hand, immediately to do this, since they did not want to break a law; for of the first part of the month it was the ninth day and on the ninth they would not go out, they said, except when the moon was at the full point of its cycle.

[6.107] So they waited for the full moon. The barbaroi, on the other hand, were guided by Hippias son of Peisistratos against Marathon. In the preceding night Hippias saw a vision of this sort: it seemed to him that with his own mother he had gone to bed. He conjectured from this dream that by going again to Athens and getting back his power he would end his days in his own motherland, an old man. Indeed, from the vision he conjectured these things. At the time, however, being leader, he disembarked the slaves from Eretria on the island, a Styrean one, called Aiglea. In addition, having led them to Marathon he anchored the ships and, when they disembarked onto the land he stationed the barbaroi in their positions.

And while he was doing these things, there came upon him a sneezing and also a coughing greater than was customary. He was sufficiently old that of his teeth most were shaky; therefore one of these teeth fell out because of the force of the cough. When it fell out into the sand he made a great effort to find it, but when the tooth did not appear, groaning he said to those standing around, "this land is not ours, nor will we be able to subject it; whatever part of it was for me to hold, my tooth holds."

[6.108] Indeed, Hippias conjectured that in this way the vision had been fulfilled.

But when the Athenians were drawn up in the precinct of Herakles there came to their aid the Plataeans in full force; for the Plataeans had given themselves over to the Athenians [for protection] and on their behalf the Athenians had undertaken many labors already....

[6.109] Among the Athenian generals there was a division of opinion, some not wanting to fight (on the grounds that they were too few to fight the army of the Persians) and others—including Miltiades—bidding them to. And when the division happened and the victor was [likely to be] the worse of the opinions, then, because there was an eleventh voter...the polemarch Kallimachos of Aphidnae, Miltiades went to him and said the following: "It is for you now, Kallimachos, either to enslave Athens or to make her free and so leave a memorial for the whole of man's existence, such as not even Harmodios and Aristogeiton left. For now, indeed, out of the whole time since there have been Athenians, they are come into their greatest danger; and if they bow down to the Persians it seems to me that they will obey and be given over to Hippias; on the other hand if the polis itself survives, it might become first of the Hellenic poleis. How therefore such things can happen, and how it comes upon you to have authority over these matters, I now am come to tell you. We generals, being ten, have become divided in opinion, some bidding us to fight and others not to. Now if we don't fight, I expect a civil discord, a great one, to shake up and fall upon the Athenians' thinking to such an extent that they will go over to the Persians. If on the other hand we fight before some such rotten thing comes upon some of the Athenians, then—given that the gods deal with us equitably—it is possible that we will win in the fighting. These things, therefore, all to you now tend and on you are fixed. For if you join yourself to my opinion, your fatherland will be free and your polis the first of those in Hellas. But if it is those who are not eager to fight whom you choose, your decision will cause the opposite of the good things I spoke of."

[6.110] By saying these things Miltiades won over Kallimachos, and by the addition of the polemarch's opinion it was decided to fight. And afterwards the generals whose opinion favored fighting, when each of their daily supreme commands happened, gave them over to Miltiades; and he received them, but did not make an attack until his own supreme command happened.

[6.111] But when it did come around to him, then the Athenians were stationed for fighting in the following way: the right horn was led by the polemarch, Kallimachos...and...those holding the left horn [were] the Plataeans. (Since that battle, when the Athenians bring sacrifices to the assemblies that happen every five years an Athenian herald prays saying that good things should happen to both Athenians and Plataeans.)...Their battle-line was equal in length to the Persian battle-line, and while the middle part was only a few ranks deep (and in that place the battle-line was weakest) the horn nevertheless, on each side, was healthy in its multitude.

[6.112] And when they were stationed and the sacrificial omens were good, then as soon as they were released the Athenians at a run went against the barbaroi (and there were between them not less than eight stades). But when the Persians saw them coming on at a run they prepared to receive them, and deemed it a mania among the Athenians—and one wholly destructive—seeing them so few and charging at a run, not having horsemen with them nor archers. Such things then the barbaroi surmised; but the Athenians, when all in a bunch they mixed in with the barbaroi, fought in a way worthy of report. For they were the first of the Hellenes—of all those of whom we know—to make use of a running charge against enemy warriors, and the first who bore even seeing the clothing of the Persians and the men therein clothed—until then it was for Hellenes a fearful thing even to hear the name of the Persians.

[6.113] While they were battling at Marathon a long time passed, and in the middle of the battle-line victory went to the barbaroi (here the Persians themselves and Sakae were stationed; for this reason, indeed, victory went to the barbaroi) and breaking through they pursued the Athenians inland; on the other hand, at the horn on each end victory went to the Athenians and Plataeans. And since they were victors, they allowed the routed part of the barbaroi to flee, but at the middle, against those who had broken through their own lines, they pulled together the horns and, on both sides, fought. The Athenians were the victors. And as the Persians fled, they followed, cutting them down, until when they had come to the sea they demanded fire and seized the ships.

[6.114] This too: in this work the polemarch was killed, a man become heroic, and also there died, of the generals, Stesileos son of Thrasyleos; and this too: Kynegeiros son of Euphorion there, seizing the stern of a ship, had his hand cut off by an axe, and fell; so too other Athenians, many and famous.

[6.115] Seven of the ships were gotten in this way by the Athenians. But in the rest the barbaroi put out to sea and, taking up from the island in which they had left them the Eretrian slaves, they sailed around Sounion, hoping to anticipate the Athenians in coming into the city. Blame for this, it was held among the Athenians, fell to the Alkmaeonids: that by their scheme this plan was put in the minds of the Persians, for they had conspired together with them and showed them a shield [as signal] when they were already on their ships.

[6.116] They indeed sailed around Sounion, but the Athenians as fast as their feet could go went to help the city, and anticipated them by coming before the barbaroi arrived, and made camp (having come from the precinct of Herakles at Marathon into another precinct of Herakles at Kynosargos). The barbaroi then, in their ships lay off Phaleron (for that was the navy base then of the Athenians) and having there anchored their ships, they sailed away later back to Asia.

[6.117] In this battle at Marathon were killed, of the barbaroi about six thousand four hundred men, and of the Athenians one hundred and ninety-two—there fell, on both sides, so many.

And there occurred there a marvelous happening, as follows: an Athenian man, Epizelos son of Cuphagoras, while fighting at his station—a man become heroic—was bereft of his eyes, although not struck in any part of his body nor shot, and for the rest of his life he lived, from this time, blind. And he said himself about what he had suffered, as I heard, something like this: a man seemed to him—a hoplite—to stand against him—a huge man whose beard shadowed his whole shield; this phantom passed by Epizelos himself, but killed the man standing beside him. These things indeed, as I learned, Epizelos said.

[6.120] And of the Lakedaimonians there came to Athens two thousand, after the full moon, and they had great zeal to get there, so much so that on the third day out of Sparta they were in Attica. Although they arrived too late for the battle, they desired nevertheless to view the Persians, and going to Marathon, they viewed them. Afterwards, praising the Athenians and the deed done by them, they went off back again.



1. Mt. Athos and the Hellespont

[7.22] ...Because of the shipwreck of the previous [Persian] fleet when it was sailing around Mt. Athos, preparations had been going on for three years with respect to it....and there, driven on by whips, men of all kinds from the army were digging a canal....For Athos is a mountain, a great and famous one, which stretches out into the ocean....and at the end on the mainland side the mountain is peninsular and there is an isthmus about twelve stades wide; and the isthmus is a plain whose hills are not large....At that time the Persians were attempting to make [the towns on Mt. Athos] island places rather than mainland ones....

[7.24] As far as I myself by conjecturing can find it out, it was because of excessive great-mindedness that Xerxes ordered the canal dug, wishing to show his power and leave monuments. For although it would have been possible, by taking no great labor, to drag the ships across the isthmus, he commanded them to dig a channel for the sea wide enough for two triremes, side by side, to be rowed....

[7.33] ....He prepared to march to Abydos, and at that place the Hellespont had been bridged, from Asia to Europe....And indeed, as soon as the strait had been bridged a storm occurred, a great one, which smashed it all and carried it away.

[7.34] And when Xerxes learned this, terribly angry he commanded that the Hellespont be struck 300 blows with a whip and that into the sea go a pair of fetters; now too I have heard that he sent branders along with the others to brand the Hellespont. And he commanded the floggers to speak words both appropriate to barbaroi and also arrogant: "O bitter water, the master punishes you thus, because you wronged him when you had suffered no wrong from him. And king Xerxes will step across you whether you for your part wish it or not; and it is rightly that no one of men sacrifices to you, for you are a fouled and briny river." Indeed, he commanded that in these ways they punish the sea, and also, concerning the overseers of the bridge across the Hellespont, he commanded that they cut off their heads....


2. Troy

[7.42] And when the army arrived at the river Skamander, which was the first river since they (setting out from Sardis) had marched on their journey, it left off flowing and did not suffice for the army and cattle drinking.

Indeed, when he came to this river, Xerxes went up to Priam's citadel, having a desire to view it, and when he had viewed it and had learned about each of the things there, to Athene of Ilion he sacrificed a thousand oxen, and the Magi poured offerings to the heroes. And when they had done these things, at night a fear fell upon the camped army....

3. Review of the Forces

[7.44] And when he was in the middle of Abydos, Xerxes wished to look at his whole army. Since there had been set up on a hill purposely for him there a state chair of white stone (and the Abydians had made it at the king's previous command), there he sat looking down on the shore and seeing the army and the ships....

[7.45] But when he saw the whole Hellespont under his ships hidden away and all the headlands and plains of Abydos filled up with men, then Xerxes called himself blessed; but after that he wept.

[7.46] And perceiving this, Artabanos his paternal uncle, who at first had given freely his opinion, counseling Xerxes not to campaign against Hellas—this very man—noticing that Xerxes was weeping said the following: "O king, what a great division between one another there is, between what you do now and what you did a little before; for having called yourself blessed, you weep."

And he said, "It came upon me as I considered it to have pity—how short is every human life, since of these men, although they are so many, not even one will survive one hundred years from now." ....

[7.49] [Later, in response to a question from Xerxes] Artabanos answered, saying, "O king, it is not your army that any man with sound judgement would fault, nor your ships' multitude; but if you gather even more, the two things which I speak of will become even more your enemies. These two things are the land and the sea. For the sea has no such harbor, anywhere, as I myself judge, which could receive you if you are driven by a storm....and...I say that the more land [you advance through]—and the more time that elapses—the more it will beget famine...."


4. Earth and Water

[7.131] ....[While Xerxes was in Macedonia] the heralds who had been sent into Hellas to demand earth [as a token of submission] returned, some empty-handed, but others bearing earth and also water.

[7.133] But to Athens and Sparta Xerxes did not send heralds to demand earth, because of the following: previously when Darius had sent heralds for the same thing, those asking were at one city into a pit and at the other into a well thrown down; and [the citizens] commanded them to carry their earth and water from those places to the King. For that reason Xerxes did not send men to ask....

5. Thermopylae

[7.175] [As the Persian force approached Hellas] the Hellenes...consulted as they should make a stand for war, and in what places. And the opinion which won out was that they should guard the pass at Thermopylae...and that the fleet should Artemesion. For these places are near to one another so that each force would be able to learn how the other was doing....

[7.176] ....At Thermopylae on the side towards evening [= the West] is a mountain, unpassable and very steep, an extension of Mt. Oita; and on the side of the road towards the dawn there lies sea and shallows. (There are in this pass warm bathing pools....)

[7.204] ...[When the Hellenes gathered at Thermopylae, each contingent had its own general] but the most highly regarded one, and the leader of the whole army, was the Lakedaimonian Leonidas son of Anaxandrides...[a descendant of] Herakles; and he was a king in Sparta....

[7.207] ...The Hellenes at Thermopylae, when the Persian was near the pass, grew afraid and began discussing a withdrawal. Now to the other Peloponnesians it seemed best to return to the Peloponnese and to hold that isthmus under guard. But Leonidas, when the Phokians and Lokrians expressed anger at this opinion, voted to remain there and to send messengers to the other poleis commanding them to come and help, since the ones there were too few to ward off the army of the Persians.

[7.208] While they were discussing these things, Xerxes sent a scout, a mounted one, to see how many they were and what they were doing...and he examined the ones outside, the ones whose arms lay in front of the wall. It happened that at that time the Lakedaimonians were stationed outside. Of these, the scout saw some men exercising naked and others combing their hair. Seeing these things he marveled, and took note of their number; and when he had noted everything exactly he departed and went back in peace (for no one pursued him and he met with great indifference).

[7.209] And, going away, he told Xerxes all he had seen. When Xerxes heard it, he did not understand the reality, that the Lakedaimonians were preparing to be slain or to slay as far as they were able; but to him they appeared to be doing laughable things, and he sent for Demaretos son of Aristos [a Hellene] who was in his army-camp. When the man came Xerxes asked him about each of these things, wishing to understand what was done by the Lakedaimonians, and he said: "You have heard before from me, when we were setting out against Hellas, concerning these men; but hearing, you laughed at me when I said how I saw this business would turn out....But listen even now: these men are come to fight us for the road into Hellas, and for that they are preparing. For custom holds among them thus: when they are about to risk their lives, then they dress their hair. And know this: if you overcome these and the force which remains in Sparta, there is no other race of men, o king, which will abide you when against them you raise up your hand. For now against the best royalty and polis of the ones in Hellas you are bringing yourself, and against the best men."

And indeed to Xerxes what he said appeared untrustable....

[7.219] [When the Persians were shown, by a traitor, a route around the pass], to the Hellenes in Thermopylae first the prophet Megistes, when he had examined the sacrificial offerings, said that there would come, together with the dawn, death; and after that also came deserters who announced the Persian circumvention....Then the Hellenes held council, and their opinions were divided, some holding that they should not leave their station, others opposing this; and after that they divided themselves, some going away and dispersing, turning back each to their own poleis, but others of them were prepared to remain there with Leonidas.

[7.220] And it is said that Leonidas himself sent them away, caring lest they be destroyed but for himself and the Spartans present not holding it as fitting that they should leave that station which they had come to guard at first. But on this subject I am rather more of the opinion that Leonidas, when he saw the allies not enthusiastic and not willing to run the risk with him, ordered them to withdraw, retreat for himself not being honorable; if he stayed, he would leave his own great fame, and Sparta's prosperity would not be eclipsed. For there was an oracle, given by the Pythian [priestess at Delphi] to the Spartans when they asked about this war just when it began—that either Lakedaimonia would be destroyed by the barbaroi or a king of theirs must die....It is my opinion that Leonidas considered this and wishing that the Spartans alone [or, "that he alone of the Spartans"] should get the fame, he sent away the allies....

[7.223] And the Hellenes with Leonidas, since it was to death that they were making their march, now much further than at first went out into the wider part of the pass....and then when they engaged the enemy outside the narrows there fell in a multitude many of the barbaroi (for behind them the leaders of their companies with whips kept striking every man, ever driving them forward). Many of them indeed fell into the sea and perished, while many more still were trampled alive by each other; and there was no reckoning of who was dying. For, because they knew that for them was coming death at the hands of the men coming around the mountain, the Hellenes exhibited as much strength as they possessed against the barbaroi and were contemptuous [of death] and also reckless.

[7.224] The spears now of the most of them by this time had broken, but they used their swords to slay the Persians. And Leonidas in that toil fell—a man become heroic—and others with him, the most renowned of the Spartans....[and the entire Hellenic force still at Thermopylae].

[7.226] ...It is said that the man who was bravest was the Spartan Dienekes. They say that this man told a story that before they engaged themselves with the Persians he had heard from one of the [enemy] Trachinians that when the barbaroi shot off their bows, the very sun by the multitude of arrows would be hidden away, such was the multitude of them. But he, not dismayed by these things, said (making light of the Persian multitude), "all things for us are good, which the Trachinian stranger reports—if the Persians hide away the sun, then in the shade we will fight them and not in the sunlight."

[7.228] And they were buried there in the very spot where they fell, and with them those who had died before some had been by Leonidas sent away; and written over them are letters saying the following:

Against three million, once, here fought
from the Peloponnese, four thousand.
This indeed is written over them all; but for the Spartans privately,
O stranger, announce to the Lakedaimonians that here
we lie, to their words obedient.



[9.122] ....[Four generations before Xerxes, certain Persians made a proposal to Cyrus]: "Since Zeus gives leadership to the Persians, and of men to you, Cyrus,...seeing that we possess a land which is little—and that rugged—let us move from it and take another better one. There are many bordering us, and many more distant, of which by taking even one we should become the more marveled at; and it is reasonable that men who rule should do such things. For when indeed will a more favorable opportunity present itself than now, when we rule many men and all Asia?"

But Cyrus, when he heard these things did not marvel at the speech. He told them to go ahead and do it, but added this advice: "I am thus telling you to be prepared no longer to rule but to be ruled: for most appropriately from soft places soft men are born—for not ever from the same land grow marvelous fruit and men good at warring."

And so, thinking about it, the Persians went away, realizing that they were worse in their thinking than Cyrus; and they chose to rule while living in a wretched land than to live tilling the plains, for others, as slaves.

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Copyright Lewis Stiles, University of Saskatchewan, 1995.
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