Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book III.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Part 1 out of 3

This eBook was produced by Tapio Riikonen
and David Widger


by Edward Bulwer Lytton





I The Character and Popularity of Miltiades.--Naval expedition.
--Siege of Paros.--Conduct of Miltiades.--He is Accused and
Sentenced.--His Death.

II The Athenian Tragedy.--Its Origin.--Thespis.--Phrynichus.--
Aeschylus.--Analysis of the Tragedies of Aeschylus.

III Aristides.--His Character and Position.--The Rise of
Themistocles.--Aristides is Ostracised.--The Ostracism
examined.--The Influence of Themistocles increases.--The
Silver--mines of Laurion.--Their Product applied by
Themistocles to the Increase of the Navy.--New Direction
given to the National Character.

IV The Preparations of Darius.--Revolt of Egypt.--Dispute for
The Succession to the Persian Throne.--Death of Darius.--
Brief Review of the leading Events and Characteristics of
his Reign.

V Xerxes conducts an Expedition into Egypt.--He finally resolves
on the Invasion of Greece.--Vast Preparations for the
Conquest of Europe.--Xerxes arrives at Sardis.--Despatches
Envoys to the Greek States, demanding Tribute.--The Bridge
of the Hellespont.--Review of the Persian Armament at
Abydos.--Xerxes encamps at Therme.

VI The Conduct of the Greeks.--The Oracle relating to Salamis.--
Art of Themistocles.--The Isthmian Congress.--Embassies to
Argos, Crete, Corcyra, and Syracuse.--Their ill Success.--
The Thessalians send Envoys to the Isthmus.--The Greeks
advance to Tempe, but retreat.--The Fleet despatched to
Artemisium, and the Pass of Thermopylae occupied.--Numbers
of the Grecian Fleet.--Battle of Thermopylae.

VII The Advice of Demaratus to Xerxes.--Themistocles.--Actions off
Artemisium.--The Greeks retreat.--The Persians invade
Delphi, and are repulsed with great Loss.--The Athenians,
unaided by their Allies, abandon Athens, and embark for
Salamis.--The irresolute and selfish Policy of the
Peloponnesians.--Dexterity and Firmness of Themistocles.--
Battle of Salamis.--Andros and Carystus besieged by the
Greeks.--Anecdotes of Themistocles.--Honours awarded to him
in Sparta.--Xerxes returns to Asia.--Olynthus and Potidaea
besieged by Artabazus.--The Athenians return Home.--The
Ostracism of Aristides is repealed.

VIII Embassy of Alexander of Macedon to Athens.--The Result of his
Proposals.--Athenians retreat to Salamis.--Mardonius
occupies Athens.--The Athenians send Envoys to Sparta.--
Pausanias succeeds Cleombrotus as Regent of Sparta.--Battle
of Plataea.--Thebes besieged by the Athenians.--Battle of
Mycale.--Siege of Sestos.--Conclusion of the Persian War.



I Remarks on the Effects of War.--State of Athens.--Interference
of Sparta with respect to the Fortifications of Athens.--
Dexterous Conduct of Themistocles.--The New Harbour of the
Piraeus.--Proposition of the Spartans in the Amphictyonic
Council defeated by Themistocles.--Allied Fleet at Cyprus
and Byzantium.--Pausanias.--Alteration in his Character.--
His ambitious Views and Treason.--The Revolt of the Ionians
from the Spartan Command.--Pausanias recalled.--Dorcis
replaces him.--The Athenians rise to the Head of the Ionian
League.--Delos made the Senate and Treasury of the Allies.--
Able and prudent Management of Aristides.--Cimon succeeds
To the Command of the Fleet.--Character of Cimon.--Eion
besieged.--Scyros colonized by Atticans.--Supposed Discovery
of the Bones of Theseus.--Declining Power of Themistocles.
--Democratic Change in the Constitution.--Themistocles
ostracised.--Death of Aristides.

II Popularity and Policy of Cimon.--Naxos revolts from the
Ionian League.--Is besieged by Cimon.--Conspiracy and
Fate of Pausanias.--Flight and Adventures of Themistocles.
--His Death.

III Reduction of Naxos.--Actions off Cyprus.--Manners of
Cimon.--Improvements in Athens.--Colony at the Nine Ways.
--Siege of Thasos.--Earthquake in Sparta.--Revolt of Helots,
Occupation of Ithome, and Third Messenian War.--Rise and
Character of Pericles.--Prosecution and Acquittal of Cimon.
--The Athenians assist the Spartans at Ithome.--Thasos
Surrenders.--Breach between the Athenians and Spartans.--
Constitutional Innovations at Athens.--Ostracism of Cimon.

IV War between Megara and Corinth.--Megara and Pegae garrisoned
by Athenians.--Review of Affairs at the Persian Court.--
Accession of Artaxerxes.--Revolt of Egypt under Inarus.--
Athenian Expedition to assist Inarus.--Aegina besieged.--The
Corinthians defeated.--Spartan Conspiracy with the Athenian
Oligarchy.--Battle of Tanagra.--Campaign and Successes of
Myronides.--Plot of the Oligarchy against the Republic.--
Recall of Cimon.--Long Walls completed.--Aegina reduced.--
Expedition under Tolmides.--Ithome surrenders.--The
Insurgents are settled at Naupactus.--Disastrous Termination
of the Egyptian Expedition.--The Athenians march into
Thessaly to restore Orestes the Tagus.--Campaign under
Pericles.--Truce of five Years with the Peloponnesians.--
Cimon sets sail for Cyprus.--Pretended Treaty of Peace with
Persia.--Death of Cimon.

V Change of Manners in Athens.--Begun under the Pisistratidae.--
Effects of the Persian War, and the intimate Connexion with
Ionia.--The Hetaerae.--The Political Eminence lately
acquired by Athens.--The Transfer of the Treasury from Delos
to Athens.--Latent Dangers and Evils.--First, the Artificial
Greatness of Athens not supported by Natural Strength.--
Secondly, her pernicious Reliance on Tribute.--Thirdly,
Deterioration of National Spirit commenced by Cimon in the
Use of Bribes and Public Tables.--Fourthly, Defects in
Popular Courts of Law.--Progress of General Education.--
History.--Its Ionian Origin.--Early Historians.--Acusilaus.
of the Life and Writings of Herodotus.--Progress of
Philosophy since Thales.--Philosophers of the Ionian and
Eleatic Schools.--Pythagoras.--His Philosophical Tenets and
Political Influence.--Effect of these Philosophers on
Athens.--School of Political Philosophy continued in Athens
from the Time of Solon.--Anaxagoras.--Archelaus.--Philosophy
not a thing apart from the ordinary Life of the Athenians.



I Thucydides chosen by the Aristocratic Party to oppose
Pericles.--His Policy.--Munificence of Pericles.--Sacred
War.--Battle of Coronea.--Revolt of Euboea and Megara--
Invasion and Retreat of the Peloponnesians.--Reduction of
Euboea.--Punishment of Histiaea.--A Thirty Years' Truce
concluded with the Peloponnesians.--Ostracism of Thucydides.

II Causes of the Power of Pericles.--Judicial Courts of the
dependant Allies transferred to Athens.--Sketch of the
Athenian Revenues.--Public Buildings the Work of the People
rather than of Pericles.--Vices and Greatness of Athens had
the same Sources.--Principle of Payment characterizes the
Policy of the Period.--It is the Policy of Civilization.--
Colonization, Cleruchia.

III Revision of the Census.--Samian War.--Sketch of the Rise and
Progress of the Athenian Comedy to the Time of Aristophanes.

IV The Tragedies of Sophocles.



B. C. 490--B. C. 479.


The Character and Popularity of Miltiades.--Naval Expedition.--Siege
of Paros.--Conduct of Miltiades.--He is Accused and Sentenced.--His

I. History is rarely more than the biography of great men. Through a
succession of individuals we trace the character and destiny of
nations. THE PEOPLE glide away from us, a sublime but intangible
abstraction, and the voice of the mighty Agora reaches us only through
the medium of its representatives to posterity. The more democratic
the state, the more prevalent this delegation of its history to the
few; since it is the prerogative of democracies to give the widest
competition and the keenest excitement to individual genius: and the
true spirit of democracy is dormant or defunct, when we find no one
elevated to an intellectual throne above the rest. In regarding the
characters of men thus concentrating upon themselves our survey of a
nation, it is our duty sedulously to discriminate between their
qualities and their deeds: for it seldom happens that their renown in
life was unattended with reverses equally signal--that the popularity
of to-day was not followed by the persecution of to-morrow: and in
these vicissitudes, our justice is no less appealed to than our pity,
and we are called upon to decide, as judges, a grave and solemn cause
between the silence of a departed people, and the eloquence of
imperishable names.

We have already observed in the character of Miltiades that astute and
calculating temperament common to most men whose lot it has been to
struggle for precarious power in the midst of formidable foes. We
have seen that his profound and scheming intellect was not accompanied
by any very rigid or high-wrought principle; and placed, as the chief
of the Chersonese had been from his youth upward, in situations of
great peril and embarrassment, aiming always at supreme power, and, in
his harassed and stormy domain, removed far from the public opinion of
the free states of Greece, it was natural that his political code
should have become tempered by a sinister ambition, and that the
citizen of Athens should be actuated by motives scarcely more
disinterested than those which animated the tyrant of the Chersonese.
The ruler of one district may be the hero, but can scarcely be the
patriot, of another. The long influence of years and custom--the
unconscious deference to the opinion of those whom our youth has been
taught to venerate, can alone suffice to tame down an enterprising and
grasping mind to objects of public advantage, in preference to designs
for individual aggrandizement: influence of such a nature had never
operated upon the views and faculties of the hero of Marathon.
Habituated to the enjoyment of absolute command, he seemed incapable
of the duties of civil subordination; and the custom of a life urged
him onto the desire of power [1]. These features of his character
fairly considered, we shall see little to astonish us in the later
reverses of Miltiades, and find additional causes for the popular
suspicions he incurred.

II. But after the victory of Marathon, the power of Miltiades was at
its height. He had always possessed the affection of the Athenians,
which his manners as well as his talents contributed to obtain for
him. Affable and courteous--none were so mean as to be excluded from
his presence; and the triumph he had just achieved so largely swelled
his popularity, that the most unhesitating confidence was placed in
all his suggestions.

In addition to the victory of Marathon, Miltiades, during his tyranny
in the Chersonese, had gratified the resentment and increased the
dominion of the Athenians. A rude tribe, according to all authority,
of the vast and varied Pelasgic family, but essentially foreign to,
and never amalgamated with, the indigenous Pelasgians of the Athenian
soil, had in very remote times obtained a settlement in Attica. They
had assisted the Athenians in the wall of their citadel, which
confirmed, by its characteristic masonry, the general tradition of
their Pelasgic race. Settled afterward near Hymettus, they refused to
blend with the general population--quarrels between neighbours so near
naturally ensued--the settlers were expelled, and fixed themselves in
the Islands of Lemnos and Imbros--a piratical and savage horde. They
kept alive their ancient grudge with the Athenians, and, in one of
their excursions, landed in Attica, and carried off some of the women
while celebrating a festival of Diana. These captives they subjected
to their embraces, and ultimately massacred, together with the
offspring of the intercourse. "The Lemnian Horrors" became a
proverbial phrase--the wrath of the gods manifested itself in the
curse of general sterility, and the criminal Pelasgi were commanded by
the oracle to repair the heinous injury they had inflicted on the
Athenians. The latter were satisfied with no atonement less than that
of the surrender of the islands occupied by the offenders. Tradition
thus reported the answer of the Pelasgi to so stern a demand--
"Whenever one of your vessels, in a single day and with a northern
wind, makes its passage to us, we will comply."

Time passed on, the injury was unatoned, the remembrance remained--
when Miltiades (then in the Chersonese) passed from Elnos in a single
day and with a north wind to the Pelasgian Islands, avenged the cause
of his countrymen, and annexed Lemnos and Imbros to the Athenian sway.
The remembrance of this exploit had from the first endeared Miltiades
to the Athenians, and, since the field of Marathon, he united in
himself the two strongest claims to popular confidence--he was the
deliverer from recent perils, and the avenger of hereditary wrongs.

The chief of the Chersonese was not slow to avail himself of the
advantage of his position. He promised the Athenians a yet more
lucrative, if less glorious enterprise than that against the Persians,
and demanded a fleet of seventy ships, with a supply of men and money,
for an expedition from which he assured them he was certain to return
laden with spoil and treasure. He did not specify the places against
which the expedition was to be directed; but so great was the belief
in his honesty and fortune, that the Athenians were contented to grant
his demand. The requisite preparations made, Miltiades set sail.
Assuming the general right to punish those islands which had sided
with the Persian, he proceeded to Paros, which had contributed a
trireme to the armament of Datis. But beneath the pretext of national
revenge, Miltiades is said to have sought the occasion to prosecute a
selfish resentment. During his tyranny in the Chersonese, a Parian,
named Lysagoras, had sought to injure him with the Persian government,
and the chief now wreaked upon the island the retaliation due to an

Such is the account of Herodotus--an account not indeed inconsistent
with the vindictive passions still common to the inhabitants of the
western clime, but certainly scarce in keeping with the calculating
and politic character of Miltiades: for men go backward in the career
of ambition when revenging a past offence upon a foe that is no longer

Miltiades landed on the island, laid vigorous siege to the principal
city, and demanded from the inhabitants the penalty of a hundred
talents. The besieged refused the terms, and worked day and night at
the task of strengthening the city for defence. Nevertheless,
Miltiades succeeded in cutting off all supplies, and the city was on
the point of yielding; when suddenly the chief set fire to the
fortifications he had erected, drew off his fleet, and returned to
Athens, not only without the treasure he had promised, but with an
ignominious diminution of the glory he had already acquired. The most
probable reason for a conduct [2] so extraordinary was, that by some
accident a grove on the continent was set on fire--the flame, visible
equally to the besiegers and the besieged, was interpreted alike by
both: each party imagined it a signal from the Persian fleet--the one
was dissuaded from yielding, and the other intimidated from
continuing the siege. An additional reason for the retreat was a
severe wound in the leg which Miltiades had received, either in the
course of the attack, or by an accident he met with when attempting
with sacrilegious superstition to consult the infernal deities on
ground dedicated to Ceres.

III. We may readily conceive the amazement and indignation with
which, after so many promises on the one side, and such unbounded
confidence on the other, the Athenians witnessed the return of this
fruitless expedition. No doubt the wily and equivocal parts of the
character of Miltiades, long cast in shade by his brilliant qualities,
came now more obviously in view. He was impeached capitally by
Xanthippus, an Athenian noble, the head of that great aristocratic
faction of the Alcmaeonids, which, inimical alike to the tyrant and
the demagogue, brooked neither a master of the state nor a hero with
the people. Miltiades was charged with having accepted a bribe from
the Persians [3], which had induced him to quit the siege of Paros at
the moment when success was assured.

The unfortunate chief was prevented by his wound from pleading his own
cause--he was borne into the court stretched upon his couch, while his
brother, Tisagoras, conducted his defence. Through the medium of his
advocate, Miltiades seems neither vigorously to have refuted the
accusation of treason to the state, nor satisfactorily to have
explained his motives for raising the siege. His glory was his
defence; and the chief answer to Xanthippus was "Marathon and Lemnos."
The crime alleged against him was of a capital nature; but, despite
the rank of the accuser, and the excitement of his audience, the
people refused to pronounce sentence of death upon so illustrious a
man. They found him guilty, it is true--but they commuted the capital
infliction to a fine of fifty talents. Before the fine was paid,
Miltiades expired of the mortification of his wound. The fine was
afterward paid by his son, Cimon. Thus ended a life full of adventure
and vicissitude.

The trial of Miltiades has often been quoted in proof of the
ingratitude and fickleness of the Athenian people. No charge was ever
more inconsiderately made. He was accused of a capital crime, not by
the people, but by a powerful noble. The noble demanded his death--
appears to have proved the charge--to have had the law which imposed
death wholly on his side--and "the favour of the people it was," says
Herodotus, expressly, "which saved his life." [4] When we consider
all the circumstances of the case--the wound to the popular vanity--
the disappointment of excited expectation--the unaccountable conduct
of Miltiades himself--and then see his punishment, after a conviction
which entailed death, only in the ordinary assessment of a pecuniary
fine [5], we cannot but allow that the Athenian people (even while
vindicating the majesty of law, which in all civilized communities
must judge offences without respect to persons) were not in this
instance forgetful of the services nor harsh to the offences of their
great men.


The Athenian Tragedy.--Its Origin.--Thespis.--Phrynichus.--Aeschylus.
--Analysis of the Tragedies of Aeschylus.

I. From the melancholy fate of Miltiades, we are now invited to a
subject no less connected with this important period in the history of
Athens. The interval of repose which followed the battle of Marathon
allows us to pause, and notice the intellectual state to which the
Athenians had progressed since the tyranny of Pisistratus and his

We have remarked the more familiar acquaintance with the poems of
Homer which resulted from the labours and example of Pisistratus.
This event (for event it was), combined with other causes,--the
foundation of a public library, the erection of public buildings, and
the institution of public gardens--to create with apparent suddenness,
among a susceptible and lively population, a general cultivation of
taste. The citizens were brought together in their hours of
relaxation [6], by the urbane and social manner of life, under
porticoes and in gardens, which it was the policy of a graceful and
benignant tyrant to inculcate; and the native genius, hitherto
dormant, of the quick Ionian race, once awakened to literary and
intellectual objects, created an audience even before it found
expression in a poet. The elegant effeminacy of Hipparchus
contributed to foster the taste of the people--for the example of the
great is nowhere more potent over the multitude than in the
cultivation of the arts. Patronage may not produce poets, but it
multiplies critics. Anacreon and Simonides, introduced among the
Athenians by Hipparchus, and enjoying his friendship, no doubt added
largely to the influence which poetry began to assume. The peculiar
sweetness of those poets imbued with harmonious contagion the genius
of the first of the Athenian dramatists, whose works, alas! are lost
to us, though evidence of their character is preserved. About the
same time the Athenians must necessarily have been made more
intimately acquainted with the various wealth of the lyric poets of
Ionia and the isles. Thus it happened that their models in poetry
were of two kinds, the epic and the lyric; and, in the natural
connexion of art, it was but the next step to accomplish a species of
poetry which should attempt to unite the two. Happily, at this time,
Athens possessed a man of true genius, whose attention early
circumstances had directed to a rude and primitive order of histrionic
recitation:--Phrynichus, the poet, was a disciple of Thespis, the
mime: to him belongs this honour, that out of the elements of the
broadest farce he conceived the first grand combinations of the tragic

II. From time immemorial--as far back, perhaps, as the grove
possessed an altar, and the waters supplied a reed for the pastoral
pipe--Poetry and Music had been dedicated to the worship of the gods
of Greece. At the appointed season of festival to each several deity,
his praises were sung, his traditionary achievements were recited.
One of the divinities last introduced into Greece--the mystic and
enigmatical Dionysos, or Bacchus, received the popular and
enthusiastic adoration naturally due to the God of the Vineyard, and
the "Unbinder of galling cares." His festival, celebrated at the most
joyous of agricultural seasons [7], was associated also with the most
exhilarating associations. Dithyrambs, or wild and exulting songs, at
first extemporaneous, celebrated the triumphs of the god. By degrees,
the rude hymn swelled into prepared and artful measures, performed by
a chorus that danced circling round the altar; and the dithyramb
assumed a lofty and solemn strain, adapted to the sanctity of
sacrifice and the emblematic majesty of the god. At the same time,
another band (connected with the Phallic procession, which, however
outwardly obscene, betokened only, at its origin, the symbol of
fertility, and betrays the philosophy of some alien and eastern creed
[8]) implored in more lively and homely strains the blessing of the
prodigal and jovial deity. These ceremonial songs received a wanton
and wild addition, as, in order, perhaps, more closely to represent
and personify the motley march of the Liber Pater, the chorus-singers
borrowed from the vine-browsing goat which they sacrificed the hides
and horns, which furnished forth the merry mimicry of the satyr and
the faun. Under license of this disguise, the songs became more
obscene and grotesque, and the mummers vied with each other in
obtaining the applause of the rural audience by wild buffoonery and
unrestricted jest. Whether as the prize of the winner or as the
object of sacrifice, the goat (tragos in the Greek) was a sufficiently
important personage to bestow upon the exhibition the homely name of
TRAGEDY, or GOATSONG, destined afterward to be exalted by association
with the proudest efforts of human genius. And while the DITHYRAMB,
yet amid the Dorian tribes, retained the fire and dignity of its
hereditary character--while in Sicyon it rose in stately and mournful
measures to the memory of Adrastus, the Argive hero--while in Corinth,
under the polished rule of Periander, Arion imparted to the antique
hymn a new character and a more scientific music [9],--gradually, in
Attica, it gave way before the familiar and fantastic humours of the
satyrs, sometimes abridged to afford greater scope to their
exhibitions--sometimes contracting the contagion of their burlesque.
Still, however, the reader will observe, that the tragedy, or
goatsong, consisted of two parts--first, the exhibition of the
mummers, and, secondly, the dithyrambic chorus, moving in a circle
round the altar of Bacchus. It appears on the whole most probable,
though it is a question of fierce dispute and great uncertainty, that
not only this festive ceremonial, but also its ancient name of
tragedy, or goatsong, had long been familiar in Attica [10], when,
about B. C. 535, during the third tyranny of Pisistratus, a skilful
and ingenious native of Icaria, an Attic village in which the
Eleutheria, or Bacchic rites, were celebrated with peculiar care,
surpassed all competitors in the exhibition of these rustic
entertainments. He relieved the monotonous pleasantries of the
satyric chorus by introducing, usually in his own person, a histrionic
tale-teller, who, from an elevated platform, and with the lively
gesticulations common still to the popular narrators of romance on the
Mole of Naples, or in the bazars of the East, entertain the audience
with some mythological legend. It was so clear that during this
recital the chorus remained unnecessarily idle and superfluous, that
the next improvement was as natural in itself, as it was important in
its consequences. This was to make the chorus assist the narrator by
occasional question or remark.

The choruses themselves were improved in their professional art by
Thespis. He invented dances, which for centuries, retained their
popularity on the stage, and is said to have given histrionic disguise
to his reciter--at first, by the application of pigments to the face;
and afterward, by the construction of a rude linen mask.

III. These improvements, chiefly mechanical, form the boundary to the
achievements of Thespis. He did much to create a stage--little to
create tragedy, in the proper acceptation of the word. His
performances were still of a ludicrous and homely character, and much
more akin to the comic than the tragic. Of that which makes the
essence of the solemn drama of Athens--its stately plot, its gigantic
images, its prodigal and sumptuous poetry, Thespis was not in any way
the inventor. But PHRYNICHUS, the disciple of Thespis, was a poet; he
saw, though perhaps dimly and imperfectly, the new career opened to
the art, and he may be said to have breathed the immortal spirit into
the mere mechanical forms, when he introduced poetry into the bursts
of the chorus and the monologue of the actor. Whatever else
Phrynichus effected is uncertain. The developed plot--the
introduction of regular dialogue through the medium of a second actor
--the pomp and circumstance--the symmetry and climax of the drama--do
not appear to have appertained to his earlier efforts; and the great
artistical improvements which raised the simple incident to an
elaborate structure of depicted narrative and awful catastrophe, are
ascribed, not to Phrynichus, but Aeschylus. If the later works of
Phrynichus betrayed these excellences, it is because Aeschylus had
then become his rival, and he caught the heavenly light from the new
star which was destined to eclipse him. But every thing essential was
done for the Athenian tragedy when Phrynichus took it from the satyr
and placed it under the protection of the muse--when, forsaking the
humours of the rustic farce, he selected a solemn subject from the
serious legends of the most vivid of all mythologies--when he breathed
into the familiar measures of the chorus the grandeur and sweetness of
the lyric ode--when, in a word, taking nothing from Thespis but the
stage and the performers, he borrowed his tale from Homer and his
melody from Anacreon. We must not, then, suppose, misled by the
vulgar accounts of the Athenian drama, that the contest for the goat,
and the buffooneries of Thespis, were its real origin; born of the
epic and the lyric song, Homer gave it character, and the lyrists
language. Thespis and his predecessors only suggested the form to
which the new-born poetry should be applied.

IV. Thus, under Phrynichus, the Thespian drama rose into poetry,
worthy to exercise its influence upon poetical emulation, when a young
man of noble family and sublime genius, rendered perhaps more
thoughtful and profound by the cultivation of a mystical philosophy
[11], which had lately emerged from the primitive schools of Ionian
wisdom, brought to the rising art the united dignity of rank,
philosophy, and genius. Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, born at Eleusis
B. C. 525, early saturated a spirit naturally fiery and exalted with
the vivid poetry of Homer. While yet a boy, and probably about the
time when Phrynichus first elevated the Thespian drama, he is said to
have been inspired by a dream with the ambition to excel in the
dramatic art. But in Homer he found no visionary revelation to assure
him of those ends, august and undeveloped, which the actor and the
chorus might be made the instruments to effect. For when the idea of
scenic representation was once familiar, the epics of Homer suggested
the true nature of the drama. The great characteristic of that poet
is individuality. Gods or men alike have their separate,
unmistakeable attributes and distinctions--they converse in dialogue--
they act towards an appointed end. Bring Homer on the stage, and
introduce two actors instead of a narrator, and a drama is at once
effected. If Phrynichus from the first borrowed his story from Homer,
Aeschylus, with more creative genius and more meditative intellect,
saw that there was even a richer mine in the vitality of the Homeric
spirit--the unity of the Homeric designs. Nor was Homer, perhaps, his
sole though his guiding inspiration. The noble birth of Aeschylus no
doubt gave him those advantages of general acquaintance with the
poetry of the rest of Greece, which an education formed under the
lettered dynasty of the Pisistratidae would naturally confer on the
well-born. We have seen that the dithyramb, debased in Attica to the
Thespian chorus, was in the Dorian states already devoted to sublime
themes, and enriched by elaborate art; and Simonides, whose elegies,
peculiar for their sweetness, might have inspired the "ambrosial"
Phrynichus, perhaps gave to the stern soul of Aeschylus, as to his own
pupil Pindar, the model of a loftier music, in his dithyrambic odes.

V. At the age of twenty-five, the son of Euphorion produced his first
tragedy. This appears to have been exhibited in the year after the
appearance of Aristagoras at Athens,--in that very year so eventful
and important, when the Athenians lighted the flames of the Persian
war amid the blazing capital of Sardis. He had two competitors in
Pratinas and Choerilus. The last, indeed, preceded Phrynichus, but
merely in the burlesques of the rude Thespian stage; the example of
Phrynichus had now directed his attention to the new species of drama,
but without any remarkable talent for its cultivation. Pratinas, the
contemporary of Aeschylus, did not long attempt to vie with his mighty
rival in his own line [12]. Recurring to the old satyr-chorus, he
reduced its unmeasured buffooneries into a regular and systematic
form; he preserved the mythological tale, and converted it into an
artistical burlesque. This invention, delighting the multitude, as it
adapted an ancient entertainment to the new and more critical taste,
became so popular that it was usually associated with the graver
tragedy; when the last becoming a solemn and gorgeous spectacle, the
poet exhibited a trilogy (or three tragedies) to his mighty audience,
while the satyric invention of Pratinas closed the whole, and answered
the purpose of our modern farce [13]. Of this class of the Grecian
drama but one specimen remains, in the Cyclops of Euripides. It is
probable that the birth, no less than the genius of Aeschylus, enabled
him with greater facility to make the imposing and costly additions to
the exhibition, which the nature of the poetry demanded--since, while
these improvements were rapidly proceeding, the poetical fame of
Aeschylus was still uncrowned. Nor was it till the fifteenth year
after his first exhibition that the sublimest of the Greek poets
obtained the ivy chaplet, which had succeeded to the goat and the ox,
as the prize of the tragic contests. In the course of a few years, a
regular stage, appropriate scenery and costume, mechanical inventions
and complicated stage machinery, gave fitting illusion to the
representation of gods and men. To the monologue of Phrynichus,
Aeschylus added a second actor [14]; he curtailed the choruses,
connected them with the main story, and, more important than all else,
reduced to simple but systematic rules the progress and development of
a poem, which no longer had for its utmost object to please the ear or
divert the fancy, but swept on its mighty and irresistible march, to
besiege passion after passion, and spread its empire over the whole

An itinerant platform was succeeded by a regular theatre of wood--the
theatre of wood by a splendid edifice, which is said to have held no
less an audience than thirty thousand persons [15]. Theatrical
contests became a matter of national and universal interest. These
contests occurred thrice a year, at three several festivals of Bacchus
[16]. But it was at the great Dionysia, held at the end of March and
commencement of April, that the principal tragic contests took place.
At that period, as the Athenian drama increased in celebrity, and
Athens herself in renown, the city was filled with visiters, not only
from all parts of Greece, but almost from every land in which the
Greek civilization was known. The state took the theatre under its
protection, as a solemn and sacred institution. So anxious were the
people to consecrate wholly to the Athenian name the glory of the
spectacle, that at the great Dionysia no foreigner, nor even any
metoecus (or alien settler), was permitted to dance in the choruses.
The chief archon presided, over the performances; to him was awarded
the selection of the candidates for the prize. Those chosen were
allowed three actors [17] by lot and a chorus, the expense of which
was undertaken by the state, and imposed upon one of the principal
persons of each tribe, called choragus. Thus, on one occasion,
Themistocles was the choragus to a tragedy by Phrynichus. The immense
theatre, crowded by thousands, tier above tier, bench upon bench, was
open to the heavens, and commanded, from the sloping hill on which it
was situated, both land and sea. The actor apostrophized no mimic
pasteboard, but the wide expanse of Nature herself--the living sun,
the mountain air, the wide and visible Aegaean. All was proportioned
to the gigantic scale of the theatre, and the mighty range of the
audience. The form was artificially enlarged and heightened; masks of
exquisite art and beauty brought before the audience the ideal images
of their sculptured gods and heroes, while (most probably) mechanical
inventions carried the tones of the voice throughout the various tiers
of the theatre. The exhibitions took place in the open day, and the
limited length of the plays permitted the performance of probably no
less than ten or twelve before the setting of the sun. The sanctity
of their origin, and the mythological nature of their stories, added
something of religious solemnity to these spectacles, which were
opened by ceremonial sacrifice. Dramatic exhibitions, at least for a
considerable period, were not, as with us, made hackneyed by constant
repetition. They were as rare in their recurrence as they were
imposing in their effect; nor was a drama, whether tragic or comic,
that had gained the prize, permitted a second time to be exhibited. A
special exemption was made in favour of Aeschylus, afterward extended
to Sophocles and Euripides. The general rule was necessarily
stimulant of renewed and unceasing exertion, and was, perhaps, the
principal cause of the almost miraculous fertility of the Athenian

VI. On the lower benches of the semicircle sat the archons and
magistrates, the senators and priests; while apart, but in seats
equally honoured, the gaze of the audience was attracted, from time to
time, to the illustrious strangers whom the fame of their poets and
their city had brought to the Dionysia of the Athenians. The youths
and women [18] had their separate divisions; the rest of the audience
were ranged according to their tribes, while the upper galleries were
filled by the miscellaneous and impatient populace.

In the orchestra (a space left by the semicircular benches, with wings
stretching to the right and left before the scene), a small square
platform served as the altar, to which moved the choral dances, still
retaining the attributes of their ancient sanctity. The coryphaeus,
or leader of the chorus, took part in the dialogue as the
representative of the rest, and, occasionally, even several of the
number were excited into exclamations by the passion of the piece.
But the principal duty of the chorus was to diversify the dialogue by
hymns and dirges, to the music of flutes, while, in dances far more
artful than those now existent, they represented by their movements
the emotions that they sung [19],--thus bringing, as it were, into
harmony of action the poetry of language. Architectural
embellishments of stone, representing a palace, with three entrances,
the centre one appropriated to royalty, the others to subordinate
rank, usually served for the scene. But at times, when the plot
demanded a different locality, scenes painted with the utmost art and
cost were easily substituted; nor were wanting the modern contrivances
of artificial lightning and thunder--the clouds for the gods--a
variety of inventions for the sudden apparition of demon agents,
whether from above or below--and all the adventitious and effective
aid which mechanism lends to genius.

VII. Thus summoning before us the external character of the Athenian
drama, the vast audience, the unroofed and enormous theatre, the
actors themselves enlarged by art above the ordinary proportions of
men, the solemn and sacred subjects from which its form and spirit
were derived, we turn to Aeschylus, and behold at once the fitting
creator of its grand and ideal personifications. I have said that
Homer was his original; but a more intellectual age than that of the
Grecian epic had arrived, and with Aeschylus, philosophy passed into
poetry. The dark doctrine of fatality imparted its stern and awful
interest to the narration of events--men were delineated, not as mere
self-acting and self-willed mortals, but as the agents of a destiny
inevitable and unseen--the gods themselves are no longer the gods of
Homer, entering into the sphere of human action for petty motives and
for individual purposes--drawing their grandeur, not from the part
they perform, but from the descriptions of the poet;--they appear now
as the oracles or the agents of fate--they are visiters from another
world, terrible and ominous from the warnings which they convey.
Homer is the creator of the material poetry, Aeschylus of the
intellectual. The corporeal and animal sufferings of the Titan in the
epic hell become exalted by tragedy into the portrait of moral
fortitude defying physical anguish. The Prometheus of Aeschylus is
the spirit of a god disdainfully subjected to the misfortunes of a
man. In reading this wonderful performance, which in pure and
sustained sublimity is perhaps unrivalled in the literature of the
world, we lose sight entirely of the cheerful Hellenic worship; and
yet it is in vain that the learned attempt to trace its vague and
mysterious metaphysics to any old symbolical religion of the East.
More probably, whatever theological system it shadows forth, was
rather the gigantic conception of the poet himself, than the imperfect
revival of any forgotten creed, or the poetical disguise of any
existent philosophy. However this be, it would certainly seem, that,
in this majestic picture of the dauntless enemy of Jupiter, punished
only for his benefits to man, and attracting all our sympathies by his
courage and his benevolence, is conveyed something of disbelief or
defiance of the creed of the populace--a suspicion from which
Aeschylus was not free in the judgment of his contemporaries, and
which is by no means inconsonant with the doctrines of Pythagoras.

VIII. The conduct of the fable is as follows: two vast demons,
Strength and Force, accompanied by Vulcan, appear in a remote plain of
earth--an unpeopled desert. There, on a steril and lofty rock, hard
by the sea, Prometheus is chained by Vulcan--"a reward for his
disposition to be tender to mankind." The date of this doom is cast
far back in the earliest dawn of time, and Jupiter has but just
commenced his reign. While Vulcan binds him, Prometheus utters no
sound--it is Vulcan, the agent of his punishment, that alone
complains. Nor is it till the dread task is done, and the ministers
of Jupiter have retired, that "the god, unawed by the wrath of gods,"
bursts forth with his grand apostrophe--

"Oh Air divine! Oh ye swift-winged Winds--
Ye sources of the Rivers, and ye Waves,
That dimple o'er old Ocean like his smiles--
Mother of all--oh Earth! and thou the orb,
All-seeing, of the Sun, behold and witness
What I, a god, from the stern gods endure.

* * * * * *

When shall my doom be o'er?--Be o'er!--to me
The Future hides no riddle--nor can wo
Come unprepared! It fits me then to brave
That which must be: for what can turn aside
The dark course of the grim Necessity?"

While thus soliloquizing, the air becomes fragrant with odours, and
faintly stirs with the rustling of approaching wings. The Daughters
of Ocean, aroused from their grots below, are come to console the
Titan. They utter many complaints against the dynasty of Jove.
Prometheus comforts himself by the prediction that the Olympian shall
hereafter require his services, and that, until himself released from
his bondage, he will never reveal to his tyrant the danger that
menaces his realm; for the vanquished is here described as of a
mightier race than the victor, and to him are bared the mysteries of
the future, which to Jupiter are denied. The triumph of Jupiter is
the conquest of brute force over knowledge.

Prometheus then narrates how, by means of his counsels, Jupiter had
gained his sceptre, and the ancient Saturn and his partisans been
whelmed beneath the abyss of Tartarus--how he alone had interfered
with Jupiter to prevent the extermination of the human race (whom
alone the celestial king disregarded and condemned)--how he had
imparted to them fire, the seed of all the arts, and exchanged in
their breasts the terrible knowledge of the future for the beguiling
flatteries of hope and hence his punishment.

At this time Ocean himself appears: he endeavours unavailingly to
persuade the Titan to submission to Jupiter. The great spirit of
Prometheus, and his consideration for others, are beautifully
individualized in his answers to his consoler, whom he warns not to
incur the wrath of the tyrant by sympathy with the afflicted. Alone
again with the Oceanides, the latter burst forth in fresh strains of

"The wide earth echoes wailingly,
Stately and antique were thy fallen race,
The wide earth waileth thee!
Lo! from the holy Asian dwelling-place,
Fall for a godhead's wrongs, the mortals' murmuring tears,
They mourn within the Colchian land,
The virgin and the warrior daughters,
And far remote, the Scythian band,
Around the broad Maeotian waters,
And they who hold in Caucasus their tower,
Arabia's martial flower
Hoarse-clamouring 'midst sharp rows of barbed spears.

One have I seen with equal tortures riven--
An equal god; in adamantine chains
Ever and evermore
The Titan Atlas, crush'd, sustains
The mighty mass of mighty Heaven,
And the whirling cataracts roar,
With a chime to the Titan's groans,
And the depth that receives them moans;
And from vaults that the earth are under,
Black Hades is heard in thunder;
While from the founts of white-waved rivers flow
Melodious sorrows, wailing with his wo."

Prometheus, in his answer, still farther details the benefits he had
conferred on men--he arrogates to himself their elevation to intellect
and reason [20]. He proceeds darkly to dwell on the power of
Necessity, guided by "the triform fates and the unforgetful Furies,"
whom he asserts to be sovereign over Jupiter himself. He declares
that Jupiter cannot escape his doom: "His doom," ask the daughters of
Ocean, "is it not evermore to reign?"--"That thou mayst not learn,"
replies the prophet; "and in the preservation of this secret depends
my future freedom."

The rejoinder of the chorus is singularly beautiful, and it is with a
pathos not common to Aeschylus that they contrast their present
mournful strain with that which they poured

"What time the silence, erst was broken,
Around the baths, and o'er the bed
To which, won well by many a soft love-token,
And hymn'd by all the music of delight,
Our Ocean-sister, bright
Hesione, was led!"

At the end of this choral song appears Io, performing her mystic
pilgrimage [21]. The utter wo and despair of Io are finely contrasted
with the stern spirit of Prometheus. Her introduction gives rise to
those ancestral and traditionary allusions to which the Greeks were so
attached. In prophesying her fate, Prometheus enters into much
beautiful descriptive poetry, and commemorates the lineage of the
Argive kings. After Io's departure, Prometheus renews his defiance to
Jupiter, and his stern prophecies, that the son of Saturn shall be
"hurled from his realm, a forgotten king." In the midst of these
weird denunciations, Mercury arrives, charged by Jupiter to learn the
nature of that danger which Prometheus predicts to him. The Titan
bitterly and haughtily defies the threats and warnings of the herald,
and exults, that whatever be his tortures, he is at least immortal,--
to be afflicted, but not to die. Mercury at length departs--the
menace of Jupiter is fulfilled--the punishment is consummated--and,
amid storm and earthquake, both rock and prisoner are struck by the
lightnings of the god into the deep abyss.

"The earth is made to reel, and rumbling by,
Bellowing it rolls, the thunder's gathering wrath!
And the fierce fires glare livid; and along
The rocks the eddies of the sands whirl high,
Borne by the hurricane, and all the blasts
Of all the winds leap forth, each hurtling each
Met in the wildness of a ghastly war,
The dark floods blended with the swooping heaven.
It comes--it comes! on me it speeds--the storm,
The rushing onslaught of the thunder-god;
Oh, majesty of earth, my solemn mother!
And thou that through the universal void,
Circlest sweet light, all blessing; EARTH AND ETHER,
YE I invoke, to know the wrongs I suffer."

IX. Such is the conclusion of this unequalled drama, epitomized
somewhat at undue length, in order to show the reader how much the
philosophy that had awakened in the age of Solon now actuated the
creations of poetry. Not that Aeschylus, like Euripides, deals in
didactic sentences and oracular aphorisms. He rightly held such
pedantries of the closet foreign to the tragic genius [22]. His
philosophy is in the spirit, and not in the diction of his works--in
vast conceptions, not laconic maxims. He does not preach, but he
inspires. The "Prometheus" is perhaps the greatest moral poem in the
world--sternly and loftily intellectual--and, amid its darker and less
palpable allegories, presenting to us the superiority of an immortal
being to all mortal sufferings. Regarded merely as poetry, the
conception of the Titan of Aeschylus has no parallel except in the
Fiend of Milton. But perhaps the representation of a benevolent
spirit, afflicted, but not accursed--conquered, but not subdued by a
power, than which it is elder, and wiser, and loftier, is yet more
sublime than that of an evil demon writhing under the penance
deservedly incurred from an irresistible God. The one is intensely
moral--at once the more moral and the more tragic, because the
sufferings are not deserved, and therefore the defiance commands our
sympathy as well as our awe; but the other is but the picture of a
righteous doom, borne by a despairing though stubborn will; it affords
no excitement to our courage, and forbids at once our admiration and
our pity.

X. I do not propose to conduct the reader at length through the other
tragedies of Aeschylus; seven are left to us, to afford the most
striking examples which modern or ancient literature can produce of
what perhaps is the true theory of the SUBLIME, viz., the elevating
the imagination by means of the passions, for a moral end.

Nothing can be more grand and impressive than the opening of the
"Agamemnon," with the solitary watchman on the tower, who, for ten
long years, has watched nightly for the beacon-fires that are to
announce the fall of Ilion, and who now beholds them blaze at last.
The description which Clytemnestra gives of the progress of these
beacon-fires from Troy to Argos is, for its picturesque animation, one
of the most celebrated in Aeschylus. The following lines will convey
to the general reader a very inadequate reflection, though not an
unfaithful paraphrase, of this splendid passage [23]. Clytemnestra
has announced to the chorus the capture of Troy. The chorus, half
incredulous, demand what messenger conveyed the intelligence.
Clytemnestra replies:--

"A gleam--a gleam--from Ida's height,
By the fire--god sent, it came;
From watch to watch it leap'd that light,
As a rider rode the flame!
It shot through the startled sky;
And the torch of that blazing glory
Old Lemnos caught on high,
On its holy promontory,
And sent it on, the jocund sign,
To Athos, mount of Jove divine.
Wildly the while it rose from the isle,
So that the might of the journeying light
Skimm'd over the back of the gleaming brine!
Farther and faster speeds it on,
Till the watch that keep Macistus steep--
See it burst like a blazing sun!
Doth Macistus sleep
On his tower--clad steep?
No! rapid and red doth the wild-fire sweep
It flashes afar, on the wayward stream
Of the wild Euripus, the rushing beam!
It rouses the light on Messapion's height,
And they feed its breath with the withered heath.
But it may not stay!
And away--away
It bounds in its freshening might.
Silent and soon,
Like a broadened moon,
It passes in sheen, Asopus green, [24]
And bursts on Cithaeron gray.
The warder wakes to the signal rays,
And it swoops from the hill with a broader blaze,
On--on the fiery glory rode--
Thy lonely lake, Gorgopis, glowed--
To Megara's Mount it came;
They feed it again,
And it streams amain
A giant beard of flame!
The headland cliffs that darkly down
O'er the Saronic waters frown,
Are pass'd with the swift one's lurid stride,
And the huge rock glares on the glaring tide,
With mightier march and fiercer power
It gain'd Arachne's neighbouring tower--
Thence on our Argive roof its rest it won,
Of Ida's fire the long-descended son
Bright harbinger of glory and of joy!
So first and last with equal honour crown'd,
In solemn feasts the race-torch circles round.
And these my heralds! this my SIGN OF PEACE!
Lo! while we breathe, the victor lords of Greece,
Stalk, in stern tumult, through the halls of Troy!" [25]

In one of the earlier choruses, in which is introduced an episodical
allusion to the abduction of Helen, occurs one of those soft passages
so rare in Aeschylus, nor less exquisite than rare. The chorus
suppose the minstrels of Menelaus thus to lament the loss of Helen:--

"And wo the halls, and wo the chiefs,
And wo the bridal bed!
And we her steps--for once she loved
The lord whose love she fled!
Lo! where, dishonour yet unknown,
He sits--nor deems his Helen flown,
Tearless and voiceless on the spot;
All desert, but he feels it not!
Ah! soon alive, to miss and mourn
The form beyond the ocean borne
Shall start the lonely king!
And thought shall fill the lost one's room,
And darkly through the palace gloom
Shall stalk a ghostly thing. [26]
Her statues meet, as round they rise,
The leaden stare of lifeless eyes.
Where is their ancient beauty gone?--
Why loathe his looks the breathing stone?
Alas! the foulness of disgrace
Hath swept the Venus from her face!
And visions in the mournful night
Shall dupe the heart to false delight,
A false and melancholy;
For naught with sadder joy is fraught,
Than things at night by dreaming brought,
The wish'd for and the holy.
Swift from the solitary side,
The vision and the blessing glide,
Scarce welcomed ere they sweep,
Pale, bloodless, dreams, aloft
On wings unseen and soft,
Lost wanderers gliding through the paths of sleep."

But the master-terror of this tragedy is in the introduction of
Cassandra, who accompanies Agamemnon, and who, in the very hour of his
return, amid the pomp and joy that welcome the "king of men," is
seized with the prophetic inspiration, and shrieks out those ominous
warnings, fated ever to be heard in vain. It is she who recalls to
the chorus, to the shuddering audience, that it is the house of the
long-fated Atridae, to which their descendant has returned--"that
human shamble-house--that bloody floor--that dwelling, abhorred by
Heaven, privy to so many horrors against the most sacred ties;" the
doom yet hangs over the inexpiable threshold; the curse passes from
generation to generation; Agamemnon is the victim of his sires.

Recalling the inhuman banquet served by Atreus to Thyestes of his own
murdered children, she starts from the mangled spectres on the

"See ye those infants crouching by the floor,
Like phantom dreams, pale nurslings, that have perish'd
By kindred hands."

Gradually her ravings become clear and clearer, until at last she
scents the "blood-dripping slaughter within;" a vapour rises to her
nostrils as from a charnel house--her own fate, which she foresees at
hand, begins to overpower her--her mood softens, and she enters the
palace, about to become her tomb, with thoughts in which frantic
terror has yielded to solemn and pathetic resignation:

"Alas for mortals!--what their power and pride?
A little shadow sweeps it from the earth!
And if they suffer--why, the fatal hour
Comes o'er the record like a moistened sponge,
And blots it out; _methinks this latter lot
Affects me deepest--Well! 'tis pitiful!"_ [27]

Scarcely has the prophetess withdrawn than we hear behind the scene
the groans of the murdered king, the palace behind is opened, and
Clytemnestra is standing, stern and lofty, by the dead body of her
lord. The critics have dwelt too much on the character of
Clytemnestra--it is that of Cassandra which is the masterpiece of the

XI. The story, which is spread throughout three plays (forming a
complete trilogy), continues in the opening of the Choephori, with
Orestes mourning over his father's tomb. If Clytemnestra has
furnished would-be critics with a comparison with Lady Macbeth, for no
other reason than that one murdered her husband, and the other
persuaded her husband to murder somebody else, so Orestes may with
more justice be called the Hamlet of the Greeks; but though the
character itself of Orestes is not so complex and profound as that of
Hamlet, nor the play so full of philosophical beauties as the modern
tragedy, yet it has passages equally pathetic, and more sternly and
terribly sublime. The vague horror which in the commencement of the
play prepares us for the catastrophe by the dream of Clytemnestra--how
a serpent lay in swaddling-clothes like an infant, and she placed it
in her breast, and it drew blood; the brief and solemn answer of

"Man's visions never come to him in vain;"

the manner in which the avenging parricide interrupts the dream, so
that (as in Macbeth) the prediction inspires the deed that it
foretells; the dauntless resolution of Clytemnestra, when she hears, in
the dark sayings of her servant, that "the dead are slaying the
living" (i. e., that through the sword of Orestes Agamemnon is avenged
on Aegisthus), calls for a weapon, royal to the last, wishing only to

"Know which shall be the victor or the vanquished--
Since that the crisis of the present horror;"

the sudden change from fierce to tender as Orestes bursts in, and,
thinking only of her guilty lover, she shrieks forth,

"Ah! thou art then no more, beloved Aegisthus;"

the advance of the threatening son, the soft apostrophe of the mother
as she bares her bosom--

"Hold! and revere this breast on which so oft
Thy young cheek nestled--cradle of thy sleep,
And fountain of thy being;"

the recoil of Orestes--the remonstrance of Pylades--the renewed
passion of the avenger--the sudden recollection of her dream, which
the murderess scarcely utters than it seems to confirm Orestes to its
fulfilment, and he pursues and slays her by the side of the adulterer;
all these passages are full of so noble a poetry, that I do not think
the parallel situations in Hamlet equal their sustained and solemn
grandeur. But the sublimest effort of the imagination is in the
conclusion. While Orestes is yet justifying the deed that avenged a
father, strange and confused thoughts gradually creep over him. No
eyes see them but his own--there they are, "the Gorgons, in vestments
of sable, their eyes dropping loathly blood!" Slowly they multiply,
they approach, still invisible but to their prey--"the angry hell-
hounds of his mother." He flies, the fresh blood yet dripping from
his hands. This catastrophe--the sudden apparition of the Furies
ideally imaged forth to the parricide alone--seems to me greater in
conception than the supernatural agency in Hamlet. The visible ghost
is less awful than the unseen Furies.

The plot is continued through the third piece of the trilogy (the
Eumenides), and out of Aeschylus himself, no existing tragedy presents
so striking an opening--one so terrible and so picturesque. It is the
temple of Apollo at Delphi. The priestess, after a short invocation,
enters the sacred edifice, but suddenly returns. "A man," she says,
"is at the marble seat, a suppliant to the god--his bloody hands hold
a drawn sword and a long branch of olive. But around the man sleep a
wondrous and ghastly troop, not of women, but of things woman-like,
yet fiendish; harpies they seem, but are not; black-robed and
wingless, and their breath is loud and baleful, and their eyes drop
venom--and their garb is neither meet for the shrines of God nor the
habitations of men. Never have I seen (saith the Pythian) a nation
which nurtured such a race." Cheered by Apollo, Orestes flies while
the dread sisters yet sleep; and now within the temple we behold the
Furies scattered around, and a pale and lofty shape, the ghost of
Clytemnestra, gliding on the stage, awakens the agents of her
vengeance. They break forth as they rouse themselves, "Seize--seize--
seize." They lament--they bemoan the departure of their victim, they
expostulate with Apollo, who expels them from his temple. The scene
changes; Orestes is at Athens,--he pleads his cause before the temple
of Minerva. The contest is now shared by gods; Apollo and the Furies
are the pleaders--Pallas is the umpire, the Areopagites are the
judges. Pallas casts in her vote in favour of Orestes--the lots are
equal--he is absolved; the Furies, at first enraged, are soothed by
Minerva, and, invited to dwell in Athens, pour blessings on the land.
A sacred but joyous procession crowns the whole. Thus the
consummation of the trilogy is cheerful, though each of the two former
pieces is tragic; and the poet artfully conduces the poem to the
honour of his native Athens and the venerable Areopagus. Regarding
the three as one harmonious and united performance, altogether not so
long as one play of Shakspeare's, they are certainly not surpassed in
greatness of thought, in loftiness of conception, and in sustained
vigour of execution, by any poem in the compass of literature; nor,
observing their simple but compact symmetry as a whole, shall we do
right to subscribe to those who deny to Aeschylus the skill of the
artist, while they grant him the faculty of the poet.

The ingenious Schlegel attributes to these tragedies symbolical
interpretations, but to my judgment with signal ill-success. These
four tragedies--the Prometheus, the Agamemnon, the Choephori, and the
Eumenides--are in grandeur immeasurably superior to the remaining

XII. Of these last, the Seven against Thebes is the best. The
subject was one peculiarly interesting to Greece; the War of the Seven
was the earliest record of a league among the Grecian princes, and of
an enterprise carried on with a regular and systematic design. The
catastrophe of two brothers falling by each other's hand is terrible
and tragic, and among the most national of the Grecian legends. The
fierce and martial spirit of the warrior poet runs throughout the
play; his descriptions are animated as with the zeal and passion of
battle; the chorus of Theban virgins paint in the most glowing colours
the rush of the adverse hosts--the prancing of the chargers--the sound
of their hoofs, "rumbling as a torrent lashing the side of cliffs;" we
hear the creak of the heavy cars--the shrill whiz of the javelins,
"maddening the very air"--the showers of stones crashing over the
battlements--the battering at the mighty gates--the uproar of the
city--the yells of rapine--the shrieks of infants "strangled by the
bubbling blood." Homer himself never accumulated more striking images
of horror. The description of Tydeus is peculiarly Homeric--

"Three shadowy crests, the honours of his helm,
Wave wild, and shrilly from his buckler broad
The brazen bell rings terror. On the shield
He bears his haughty ensign--typed by stars
Gleaming athwart the sky, and in the midst
Glitters the royal Moon--the Eye of Night.
Fierce in the glory of his arms, his voice
Roars by the river banks; and drunk with war
He pants, as some wild charger, when the trump
Clangs ringing, as he rushes on the foe."

The proud, dauntless, and warlike spirit of Eteocles which is designed
and drawn with inconceivable power, is beautifully characterized in
his reply to the above description:

"Man hath no armour, war hath no array,
At which this heart can tremble; no device
Nor blazonry of battle can inflict
The wounds they menace; crests and clashing bells
Without the spear are toothless, and the night,
Wrought on yon buckler with the stars of heaven,
Prophet, perchance, his doom; and if dark Death
Close round his eyes, are but the ominous signs
Of the black night that waits him."

The description of each warrior stationed at each gate is all in the
genius of Homer, closing as it does with that of Polynices, the
brother of the besieged hero, whom, when he hears his name, Eteocles
himself resolves to confront. At first, indeed, the latter breaks out
into exclamations which denote the awe and struggle of the abhorrent
nature; forebodings of his own doom flit before him, he feels the
curses of his sire are ripening to their fruit, and that the last
storm is yet to break upon the house of Oedipus. Suddenly he checks
the impulse, sensible of the presence of the chorus. He passes on to
reason with himself, through a process of thought which Shakspeare
could not have surpassed. He conjures up the image of that brother,
hateful and unjust from infancy to boyhood, from boyhood up to youth--
he assures himself that justice would be forsworn if this foe should
triumph--and rushes on to his dread resolve.

"'Tis I will face this warrior; who can boast
A right to equal mine? Chief against chief--
Foe against foe!--and brother against brother.
What, ho! my greaves, my spear, my armour proof
Against this storm of stones! My stand is chosen."

Eteocles and his brother both perish in the unnatural strife, and the
tragedy ends with the decree of the senators to bury Eteocles with due
honours, and the bold resolution of Antigone (the sister of the dead)
to defy the ordinance which forbids a burial to Polynices--

"For mighty is the memory of the womb
From which alike we sprung--a wretched mother!"

The same spirit which glows through the "Seven against Thebes" is also
visible in the "Persians," which, rather picturesque than dramatic, is
tragedy brought back to the dithyrambic ode. It portrays the defeat
of Xerxes, and contains one of the most valuable of historical
descriptions, in the lines devoted to the battle of Salamis. The
speech of Atossa (the mother of Xerxes), in which she enumerates the
offerings to the shade of Darius, is exquisitely beautiful.

"The charms that sooth the dead:
White milk, and lucid honey, pure-distill'd
By the wild bee--that craftsman of the flowers;
The limpid droppings of the virgin fount,
And this bright liquid from its mountain mother
Born fresh--the joy of the time--hallowed vine;
The pale-green olive's odorous fruit, whose leaves
Live everlastingly--and these wreathed flowers,
The smiling infants o' the prodigal earth."

Nor is there less poetry in the invocation of the chorus to the shade
of Darius, which slowly rises as they conclude. But the purpose for
which the monarch returns to earth is scarcely sufficient to justify
his appearance, and does not seem to be in accordance with the power
over our awe and terror which the poet usually commands. Darius hears
the tale of his son's defeat--warns the Persians against interfering
with the Athenians--tells the mother to comfort and console her son--
bids the chorus (who disregard his advice) give themselves to mirth,
even though in affliction, "for to the dead riches are no advantage"--
and so returns to his repose, which seems very unnecessarily

"The Suppliants," which Schlegel plausibly conjectures to have been
the intermediate piece of a trilogy, is chiefly remarkable as a proof
of the versatility of the poet. All horror has vanished from the
scene; the language is soft when compared with the usual diction of
Aeschylus; the action is peaceful, and the plot extremely simple,
being merely the protection which the daughters of Danaus obtain at
the court of Pelasgus from the pursuit of the sons of Aegyptus. The
heroines of the play, the Danaides, make the chorus, and this serves
to render the whole, yet more than the Persians, a lyric rather than a
tragedy. The moral of the play is homely and primitive, and seems
confined to the inculcation of hospitality to strangers, and the
inviolable sanctity of the shrine. I do not know any passages in "The
Suppliants" that equal in poetry the more striking verses of "The
Persians," or "The Seven against Thebes."

XIII. Attempts have been made to convey to modern readers a more
familiar notion of Aeschylus by comparisons with modern poets. One
critic likens him to Dante, another to Milton--but he resembles
neither. No modern language can convey a notion of the wonderful
strength of his diction--no modern poet, of the stern sublimity of his
conceptions. The French tragedians may give some weak reflection of
Euripides or even of Sophocles, but none have ventured upon the sacred
territory of the father of the tragic drama. He defies all imitation.
His genius is so near the verge of bombast, that to approach his
sublime is to rush into the ridiculous. [28]

Aeschylus never once, in the plays that have come down to us,
delineates love, except by an expression or two as regards the passion
of Clytemnestra for Aegisthus [29]. It was emblematic of a new state
of society when Euripides created the Phaedra and the Medea. His
plots are worked out by the simplest and the fewest positions. But he
had evidently his own theory of art, and studied with care such stage
effects as appeared to him most striking and impressive. Thus, in the
burlesque contest between Aeschylus and Euripides, in the comedy of
"The Frogs," the former is censured, not for too rude a neglect, but
for too elaborate a cultivation, of theatrical craft--such as
introducing his principal characters, his Niobe and Achilles [30],
with their faces hid, and preserving long and obstinate silence, in
order by that suspense to sharpen the expectation of the audience.
Aeschylus, in fact, contrary to the general criticism, was as earnest
and thoughtful an artist as Sophocles himself. There was this
difference, it is true; one invented the art and the other perfected.

But the first requires as intense a study as the last; and they who
talk of the savage and untutored genius of Aeschylus, are no wiser
than the critics who applied the phrase of "native wood-notes wild" to
the consummate philosophy of "Hamlet," the anatomical correctness of
"Othello," the delicate symmetry of "The Tempest." With respect to
the language of Aeschylus, ancient critics unite with the modern in
condemning the straining of his metaphors, and the exaggeration of his
images; yet they appear to me a necessary part of his genius, and of
the effect it produces. But nothing can be more unsatisfactory and
inconclusive than the theory of Schlegel, that such metaphors and
images, such rugged boldness and irregular fire, are the
characteristics of a literature in its infancy. On the contrary, as
we have already seen, Phrynichus, the predecessor of Aeschylus, was as
much characterized by sweetness and harmony, as Aeschylus by grandeur
and headlong animation. In our own time, we have seen the cold
classic school succeeded by one full of the faults which the German,
eloquent but superficial, would ascribe to the infancy of literature.
The diction of Aeschylus was the distinction of himself, and not of
his age; if it require an apology, let us not seek it in false
pretences; if he had written after Euripides, his diction would have
been equally startling, and his metaphors equally lofty. His genius
was one of those which, in any age, can form an era, and not that
which an era necessarily forms. He might have enriched his music from
the strains of the Dorian lyres, but he required only one poet to have
lived before him. The rest of the Greek dramatists required
Aeschylus--Aeschylus required only Homer.

The POET is, indeed, the creator, not of images solely, but of men--
not of one race of ideas and characters, but of a vast and
interminable posterity scattered over the earth. The origin of what
wonderful works, in what distant regions, in what various time, may be
traced, step by step, from influence to influence, till we arrive at
Homer! Such is the vitality of genius. The true spiritual
transmigrator--it passes through all shapes--losing identity, but not
life--and kindred to the GREAT INTELLIGENCE, which is the soul of
matter--departing from one form only to animate another.


Aristides.--His Character and Position.--The Rise of Themistocles.--
Aristides is Ostracised.--The Ostracism examined.--The Influence of
Themistocles increases.--The Silver-mines of Laurion.--Their Product
applied by Themistocles to the Increase of the Navy.--New Direction
given to the National Character.

I. While the progress of the drama and the genius of Aeschylus
contributed to the rising renown of Athens, there appeared on the
surface of her external affairs two rival and principal actors, of
talents and designs so opposite, that it soon became evident that the
triumph of one could be only in the defeat of the other. Before the
battle of Marathon, Aristides had attained a very considerable
influence in Athens. His birth was noble--his connexions wealthy--his
own fortune moderate. He had been an early follower and admirer of
Clisthenes, the establisher of popular institutions in Athens after
the expulsion of the Pisistratidae, but he shared the predilection of
many popular chieftains, and while opposing the encroachments of a
tyranny, supported the power of an aristocracy. The system of
Lycurgus was agreeable to his stern and inflexible temper. His
integrity was republican--his loftiness of spirit was patrician. He
had all the purity, the disinterestedness, and the fervour of a
patriot--he had none of the suppleness or the passion of a demagogue;
on the contrary, he seems to have felt much of that high-spirited
disdain of managing a people which is common to great minds conscious
that they are serving a people. His manners were austere, and he
rather advised than persuaded men to his purposes. He pursued no
tortuous policy, but marched direct to his object, fronting, and not
undermining, the obstacles in his path. His reputation for truth and
uprightness was proverbial, and when some lines in Aeschylus were
recited on the stage, implying that "to be, and not to seem, his
wisdom was," the eyes of the spectators were fixed at once upon
Aristides. His sternness was only for principles--he had no harshness
for men. Priding himself on impartiality between friends and foes, he
pleaded for the very person whom the laws obliged him to prosecute;
and when once, in his capacity of arbiter between two private persons,
one of the parties said that his opponent had committed many injuries
against Aristides, he rebuked him nobly: "Tell me not," he said, "of
injuries against myself, but against thee. It is thy cause I am
adjudging, and not my own." It may be presumed, that with these
singular and exalted virtues, he did not seek to prevent the wounds
they inflicted upon the self-love of others, and that the qualities of
a superior mind were displayed with the bearing of a haughty spirit.
He became the champion of the aristocratic party, and before the
battle of Marathon he held the office of public treasurer. In this
capacity Plutarch asserts that he was subjected to an accusation by
Themistocles, and even intimates that Themistocles himself had been
his predecessor in that honourable office [31]. But the youth of
Themistocles contradicts this statement; and though his restless and
ambitious temper had led him already into active life, and he might
have combined with others more influential against Aristides, it can
scarcely be supposed that, possessing no advantages of birth, he rose
into much power or distinction, till he won sudden and popular
applause by his gallantry at Marathon.

II. Themistocles was of illegitimate birth, according to the Athenian
prejudice, since his mother was a foreigner. His father, though
connected with the priestly and high-born house of the Lycomedae, was
not himself a Eupatrid. The young Themistocles had many of the
qualities which the equivocal condition of illegitimacy often educes
from active and stirring minds--insolence, ostentation, the desire to
shine, and the invincible ambition to rise. He appears, by a popular
tale, to have early associated with his superiors, and to have evinced
betimes the art and address which afterward distinguished him. At a
meeting of all the illegitimate youths assembled at the wrestling-ring
at Cynosarges, dedicated to Hercules, he persuaded some of the young
nobles to accompany him, so as to confound as it were the distinction
between the legitimate and the baseborn. His early disposition was
bold, restless, and impetuous. He paid little attention to the
subtleties of schoolmen, or the refinements of the arts; but even in
boyhood devoted himself to the study of politics and the arts of
government. He would avoid the sports and occupations of his
schoolfellows, and compose declamations, of which the subject was the
impeachment or defence of some of his young friends. His dispositions
prophesied of his future career, and his master was wont to say, "that
he was born to be a blessing or a curse to the commonwealth." His
strange and precocious boyhood was followed by a wild and licentious
youth. He lived in extremes, and alternated between the loosest
pleasures [32] and the most daring ambition. Entering prematurely
into public life, either his restless disposition or his political
principles embroiled him with men of the highest rank. Fearless and
sanguine, he cared not whom he attacked, or what he adventured; and,
whatever his conduct before the battle of Marathon, the popular
opinions he embraced could not but bring him, after that event, in
constant opposition to Aristides, the champion of the Areopagus.

That splendid victory which gave an opening to his career sharpened
his ambition. The loud fame of Miltiades, yet unconscious of reverse,
inspired him with a lofty envy. He seems from that period to have
forsaken his more youthful excesses. He abstained from his wonted
pursuits and pleasures--he indulged much in solitary and abstracted
thought--he watched whole nights. His friends wondered at the change,
and inquired the cause. "The trophies of Miltiades," said he, "will
not suffer me to sleep." From these meditations, which are common to
most men in the interval between an irregular youth and an aspiring
manhood, he soon seems to have awakened with fixed objects and
expanded views. Once emerged from the obscurity of his birth, his
success was rapid, for he possessed all the qualities which the people
demanded in a leader--not only the talents and the courage, but the
affability and the address. He was an agreeable and boon companion--
he committed to memory the names of the humblest citizens--his
versatility enabled him to be all things to all men. Without the
lofty spirit and beautiful mind of Pericles, without the prodigal but
effeminate graces of Alcibiades--without, indeed, any of their
Athenian poetry in his intellectual composition, he yet possessed much
of their powers of persuasion, their ready talent for business, and
their genius of intrigue. But his mind, if coarser than that of
either of his successors, was yet perhaps more masculine and
determined; nothing diverted him from his purpose--nothing arrested
his ambition. His ends were great, and he associated the rise of his
country with his more selfish objects, but he was unscrupulous as to
his means. Avid of glory, he was not keenly susceptible to honour.
He seems rather not to have comprehended, than comprehending, to have
disdained the limits which principle sets to action. Remarkably far-
sighted, he possessed, more than any of his contemporaries, the
prophetic science of affairs: patient, vigilant, and profound, he was
always energetic, because always prepared.

Such was the rival of Aristides, and such the rising leader of the
popular party at Athens.

III. History is silent as to the part taken by Aristides in the
impeachment of Miltiades, but there is no reason to believe that he
opposed the measure of the Alcmaeonid party with which he acted, and
which seems to have obtained the ascendency after the death of
Miltiades. In the year following the battle of Marathon, we find
Aristides in the eminent dignity of archon. In this office he became
generally known by the title of the Just. His influence, his official
rank, the power of the party that supported him, soon rendered him the
principal authority of Athens. The courts of the judges were
deserted, every litigant repaired to his arbitration--his
administration of power obtained him almost the monopoly of it.
Still, however, he was vigorously opposed by Themistocles and the
popular faction led by that aspiring rival.

By degrees; various reasons, the chief of which was his own high
position, concurred to diminish the authority of Aristides; even among
his own partisans he lost ground, partly by the jealousy of the
magistrates, whose authority he had superseded--and partly, doubtless,
from a maxim more dangerous to a leader than any he can adopt, viz.,
impartiality between friends and foes in the appointment to offices.
Aristides regarded, not the political opinions, but the abstract
character or talents, of the candidates. With Themistocles, on the
contrary, it was a favourite saying, "The gods forbid that I should be
in power, and my friends no partakers of my success." The tendency of
the first policy is to discontent friends, while it rarely, if ever,
conciliates foes; neither is it so elevated as it may appear to the
superficial; for if we contend for the superiority of one set of
principles over another, we weaken the public virtue when we give
equal rewards to the principles we condemn as to the principles we
approve. We make it appear as if the contest had been but a war of
names, and we disregard the harmony which ought imperishably to exist
between the opinions which the state should approve and the honours
which the state can confer. He who is impartial as to persons must
submit to seem lukewarm as to principles. Thus the more towering and
eminent the seeming power of Aristides, the more really hollow and
insecure were its foundations. To his own party it was unproductive--
to the multitude it appeared unconstitutional. The extraordinary
honours he had acquired--his monopoly of the magistrature--his anti-
popular opinions, could not but be regarded with fear by a people so
jealous of their liberties. He seemed to their apprehensions to be
approaching gradually to the sovereignty of the state--not, indeed, by
guards and military force, but the more dangerous encroachments of
civil authority. The moment for the attack arrived. Themistocles
could count at last upon the chances of a critical experiment, and
Aristides was subjected to the ordeal of the ostracism.

IV. The method of the ostracism was this:--each citizen wrote upon a
shell, or a piece of broken earthenware, the name of the person he
desired to banish. The magistrates counted the shells, and if they
amounted to six thousand (a very considerable proportion of the free
population, and less than which rendered the ostracism invalid), they
were sorted, and the man whose name was found on the greater number of
shells was exiled for ten years, with full permission to enjoy his
estates. The sentence was one that honoured while it afflicted, nor
did it involve any other accusation than that of being too powerful or
too ambitious for the citizen of a free state. It is a well-known
story, that, during the process of voting, an ignorant burgher came to
Aristides, whose person he did not know, and requested him to write
down the name of Aristides.

"Has he ever injured you?" asked the great man.

"No," answered the clown, "nor do I know him even by sight; but it
vexes me to hear him everywhere called the 'Just.'"

Aristides replied not--he wrote his own name on the shell, and
returned it to the enlightened voter. Such is a tale to which more
importance than is its due has been attached. Yet perhaps we can give
a new reading to the honest burgher's reply, and believe that it was
not so expressive of envy at the virtue, as of fear at the reputation.
Aristides received the sentence of exile (B. C. 483) with his
accustomed dignity. His last words on leaving his native city were
characteristic of his generous and lofty nature. "May the Athenian
people," he said, "never know the day which shall force them to
remember Aristides!"--A wish, fortunately alike for the exile and the
people, not realized. That day, so patriotically deprecated, soon
came, glorious equally to Athens and Aristides, and the reparation of
wrong and the triumph of liberty found a common date.

The singular institution of the ostracism is often cited in proof of
the ingratitude of a republic, and the fickleness of a people; but it
owed its origin not to republican disorders, but to despotic
encroachment--not to a people, but to a tyrant. If we look throughout
all the Grecian states, we find that a tyranny was usually established
by some able and artful citizen, who, attaching himself either to the
aristocratic, or more frequently to the popular party, was suddenly
elevated into supreme power, with the rise of the faction he had
espoused. Establishing his fame by popular virtues, he was enabled
often to support his throne by a moral authority--more dangerous than
the odious defence of military hirelings: hence necessarily arose
among the free states a jealousy of individuals, whose eminence became
such as to justify an undue ambition; and hence, for a long period,
while liberty was yet tender and insecure, the (almost) necessity of
the ostracism.

Aristotle, who laments and condemns the practice, yet allows that in
certain states it was absolutely requisite; he thinks the evil it is
intended to prevent "might have been provided for in the earlier
epochs of a commonwealth, by guarding against the rise of one man to a
dangerous degree of power; but where the habits and laws of a nation
are so formed as to render it impossible to prevent the rise, you must
then guard against its consequences:" and in another part of his
Politics he observes, "that even in republics, where men are regarded,
not according to their wealth, but worth--where the citizens love
liberty and have arms and valour to defend it; yet, should the pre-
eminent virtues of one man, or of one family, totally eclipse the
merit of the community at large, you have but two choices--the
ostracism or the throne."

If we lament the precaution, we ought then to acknowledge the cause.
The ostracism was the creature of the excesses of the tyrannical, and
not of the popular principle. The bland and specious hypocrisy of
Pisistratus continued to work injury long after his death--and the
ostracism of Aristides was the necessary consequence of the seizure of
the citadel. Such evil hath arbitrary power, that it produces
injustice in the contrary principles as a counterpart to the injustice
of its own; thus the oppression of our Catholic countrymen for
centuries resulted from the cruelties and persecutions of a papal
ascendency. We remembered the danger, and we resorted to the rigid
precaution. To guard against a second tyranny of opinion, we
condemned, nor perhaps without adequate cause, not one individual, but
a whole sect, to a moral ostracism. Ancient times are not then so
opposite to the present--and the safety of the state may excuse, in a
republic as in a monarchy, a thousand acts of abstract injustice. But
the banishment of Aristides has peculiar excuses in the critical
circumstances of the time. The remembrance of Pisistratus was still
fresh--his son had but just perished in an attempt on his country--the
family still lived, and still menaced: the republic was yet in its
infancy--a hostile aristocracy within its walls--a powerful enemy
still formidable without. It is a remarkable fact, that as the
republic strengthened, and as the popular power increased, the custom
of ostracism was superseded. The democratic party was never so strong
as at the time in which it was finally abolished. It is the
insecurity of power, whether in a people or a king, that generates
suspicion. Habituated to liberty, a people become less rigid and more
enlightened as to its precautions.

V. It had been a saying of Aristides, "that if the Athenians desired
their affairs to prosper, they ought to fling Themistocles and himself
into the barathrum." But fortune was satisfied at this time with a
single victim, and reserved the other for a later sacrifice. Relieved
from the presence of a rival who had constantly crossed and obstructed
his career, Themistocles found ample scope for his genius. He was not
one of those who are unequal to the situation it costs them so much to
obtain. On his entrance into public life he is said by Theophrastus
to have possessed only three talents; but the account is inconsistent
with the extravagance of his earlier career, and still more with the
expenses to which a man who attempts to lead a party is, in all
popular states, unavoidably subjected. More probably, therefore, it
is said of him by others, that he inherited a competent patrimony, and
he did not scruple to seize upon every occasion to increase it,
whether through the open emolument or the indirect perquisites of
public office. But, desiring wealth as a means, not an end, he
grasped with one hand to lavish with the other. His generosity
dazzled and his manners seduced the people, yet he exercised the power
he acquired with a considerate and patriotic foresight. From the
first retreat of the Persian armament he saw that the danger was
suspended, and not removed. But the Athenians, who shared a common
Grecian fault, and ever thought too much of immediate, too little of
distant peril, imagined that Marathon had terminated the great contest
between Asia and Europe. They forgot the fleets of Persia, but they
still dreaded the galleys of Aegina. The oligarchy of that rival
state was the political enemy of the Athenian demos; the ally of the
Persian was feared by the conqueror, and every interest, military and
commercial, contributed to feed the passionate and jealous hate that
existed against a neighbour, too near to forget, too warlike to
despise. The thoughtful and profound policy of Themistocles resolved
to work this popular sentiment to ulterior objects; and urging upon a
willing audience the necessity of making suitable preparations against
Aegina, then the mistress of the seas, he proposed to construct a
navy, fitted equally to resist the Persian and to open a new dominion
to the Athenians.

To effect this purpose he called into aid one of the most valuable
sources of her power which nature had bestowed upon Athens.

VI. Around the country by the ancient Thoricus, on the road from the
modern Kerratia to the Cape of Sunium, heaps of scoriae indicate to
the traveller that he is in the neighbourhood of the once celebrated
silver-mines of Laurion; he passes through pines and woodlands--he
notices the indented tracks of wheels which two thousand years have
not effaced from the soil--he discovers the ancient shafts of the
mines, and pauses before the foundations of a large circular tower and
the extensive remains of the castles which fortified the neighbouring
town [33]. A little farther, and still passing among mine-banks and
hillocks of scoriae, he beholds upon Cape Colonna the fourteen
existent columns of the temple of Minerva Sunias. In this country, to
which the old name is still attached [34], is to be found a principal
cause of the renown and the reverses of Athens--of the victory of
Salamis--of the expedition to Sicily.

It appears that the silver-mines of Laurion had been worked from a
very remote period--beyond even any traditional date. But as it is
well and unanswerably remarked, "the scarcity of silver in the time of
Solon proves that no systematic or artificial process of mining could
at that time have been established." [35] It was, probably, during
the energetic and politic rule of the dynasty of Pisistratus that
efficient means were adopted to derive adequate advantage from so
fertile a source of national wealth. And when, subsequently, Athens,
profiting from the lessons of her tyrants, allowed the genius of her
free people to administer the state, fresh necessity was created for
wealth against the hostility of Sparta--fresh impetus given to general
industry and public enterprise. Accordingly, we find that shortly
after the battle of Marathon, the yearly profits of the mines were
immense. We learn from the researches of one of those eminent Germans
[36] who have applied so laborious a learning with so subtle an
acuteness to the elucidation of ancient history, that these mines were
always considered the property of the state; shares in them were sold
to individuals as tenants in fee farms, and these proprietors paid,
besides, an annual sum into the public treasury, amounting to the
twenty-fourth part of the produce. The state, therefore, received a
regular revenue from the mines, derived from the purchase--moneys and
the reserved rents. This revenue had been hitherto divided among all
the free citizens, and the sum allotted to each was by no means
inconsiderable, when Themistocles, at an early period of his career
(before even the ostracism of Aristides), had the courage to propose
that a fund thus lucrative to every individual should be appropriated
to the national purpose of enlarging the navy. The feud still carried
on with the Aeginetans was his pretext and excuse. But we cannot
refuse our admiration to the fervent and generous order of public
spirit existent at that time, when we find that it was a popular
leader who proposed to, and carried through, a popular assembly the
motion, that went to empoverish the men who supported his party and
adjudged his proposition. Privileged and sectarian bodies never
willingly consent to a surrender of pecuniary benefits for a mere
public end. But among the vices of a popular assembly, it possesses
the redeeming virtue to be generous. Upon a grand and unconscious
principle of selfishness, a democracy rarely grudges a sacrifice
endured for the service of the state.

The money thus obtained was devoted to the augmentation of the
maritime force to two hundred triremes--an achievement that probably
exhausted the mine revenue for some years; and the custom once broken,
the produce of Laurion does not seem again to have been wasted upon
individuals. To maintain and increase the new navy, a decree was
passed, either at that time [37], or somewhat later, which ordained
twenty triremes to be built yearly.

VII. The construction of these vessels, the very sacrifice of the
citizens, the general interest that must have attached to an
undertaking that was at once novel in itself, and yet congenial not
more to the passions of a people, who daily saw from their own heights
the hostile rock of Aegina, "the eyesore of the Piraeus," than to the
habits of men placed in a steril land that on three sides tempted to
the sea--all combined to assist Themistocles in his master policy--a
policy which had for its design gradually to convert the Athenians
from an agricultural into a maritime people. What was imputed to him
as a reproach became his proudest distinction, viz., that "he first
took his countrymen from the spear and shield, and sent them to the
bench and oar."


The Preparations of Darius.--Revolt of Egypt.--Dispute for the
Succession to the Persian Throne.--Death of Darius.--Brief Review of
the leading Events and Characteristics of his Reign.

I. While, under the presiding genius of Themistocles, Athens was
silently laying the foundation of her naval greatness, and gradually
increasing in influence and renown, the Persian monarch was not
forgetful of the burning of Sardis and the defeat of Marathon. The
armies of a despotic power are often slow to collect, and unwieldy to
unite, and Darius wasted three years in despatching emissaries to
various cities, and providing transports, horses, and forage for a new

The vastness of his preparations, though congenial to oriental
warfare, was probably proportioned to objects more great than those
which appear in the Greek historians. There is no reason, indeed, to
suppose that he cherished the gigantic project afterward entertained
by his son--a project no less than that of adding Europe as a province
to the empire of the East. But symptoms of that revolt in Egypt which
shortly occurred, may have rendered it advisable to collect an
imposing force upon other pretences; and without being carried away by
any frantic revenge against the remote and petty territory of Athens,
Darius could not but be sensible that the security of his Ionian,
Macedonian, and Thracian conquests, with the homage already rendered
to his sceptre by the isles of Greece, made it necessary to redeem the
disgrace of the Persian arms, and that the more insignificant the foe,
the more fatal, if unpunished, the example of resistance. The Ionian
coasts--the entrance into Europe--were worth no inconsiderable effort,
and the more distant the provinces to be awed, the more stupendous,
according to all rules of Asiatic despotism, should appear the
resources of the sovereign. He required an immense armament, not so
much for the sake of crushing the Athenian foe, as of exhibiting in
all its might the angry majesty of the Persian empire.

II. But while Asia was yet astir with the martial preparations of the
great king, Egypt revolted from his sway, and, at the same time, the
peace of Darius was imbittered, and his mind engaged, by a contest
among his sons for the succession to the crown (B. C. 486).
Artabazanes, the eldest of his family, born to him by his first wife,
previous to his own elevation to the throne, founded his claim upon
the acknowledged rights of primogeniture; but Xerxes, the eldest of a
second family by Atossa, daughter of the great Cyrus, advanced, on the
other hand, a direct descent from the blood of the founder of the
Persian empire. Atossa, who appears to have inherited something of
her father's genius, and who, at all events, exercised unbounded
influence over Darius, gave to the claim of her son a stronger support
than that which he could derive from argument or custom. The intrigue
probably extended from the palace throughout the pure Persian race,
who could not but have looked with veneration upon a descendant of
Cyrus, nor could there have seemed a more popular method of
strengthening whatever was defective in the title of Darius to the
crown, than the transmission of his sceptre to a son, in whose person
were united the rights of the new dynasty and the sanctity of the old.
These reasonings prevailed with Darius, whose duty it was to nominate
his own successor, and Xerxes was declared his heir. While the
contest was yet undecided, there arrived at the Persian court
Demaratus, the deposed and self-exiled king of Sparta. He attached
himself to the cause and person of Xerxes, and is even said to have
furnished the young prince with new arguments, founded on the usages
of Sparta--an assertion not to be wholly disregarded, since Demaratus
appeared before the court in the character of a monarch, if in the
destitution of an exile, and his suggestions fell upon the ear of an
arbiter willing to seize every excuse to justify the resolution to
which he had already arrived.

This dispute terminated, Darius in person prepared to march against
the Egyptian rebels, when his death (B. C. 485) consigned to the
inexperienced hands of his heir the command of his armies and the
execution of his designs.

The long reign of Darius, extending over thirty-six years, was
memorable for vast improvements in the administrations of the empire,
nor will it, in this place, be an irrelevant digression to glance
briefly and rapidly back over some of the events and the innovations
by which it was distinguished.

III. The conquest of Cyrus had transplanted, as the ruling people, to
the Median empire, a race of brave and hardy, but simple and
uncivilized warriors. Cambyses, of whose character no unequivocal
evidence remains, since the ferocious and frantic crimes ascribed to
him [38] are conveyed to us through the channel of the Egyptian
priests, whom he persecuted, most probably, rather as a political
nobility than a religious caste, could but slightly have improved the
condition of the people, or the administration of the empire, since
his reign lasted but seven years and five months, during which he was
occupied with the invasion of Africa and the subjugation of Egypt. At
the conclusion of his reign he was menaced by a singular conspiracy.
The Median magi conspired in his absence from the seat of empire to
elevate a Mede to the throne. Cambyses, under the impulse of jealous
and superstitious fears, had lately put to death Smerdis, his brother.
The secret was kept from the multitude, and known only to a few--among
others, to the magian whom Cambyses had intrusted with the charge of
his palace at Susa, an office as important as confidential. This man
conceived a scheme of amazing but not unparalleled boldness. His
brother, a namesake of the murdered prince, resembled the latter also
in age and person. This brother, the chief of the household, with the
general connivance of his sacerdotal caste, who were naturally anxious
to restore the Median dynasty, suddenly declared to be the true
Smerdis, and the impostor, admitted to possession of the palace,
asserted his claim to the sovereign power. The consent of the magi--
the indifference of the people--the absence, not only of the king, but
of the flower of the Persian race--and, above all, the tranquil
possession of the imperial palace, conspired to favour the deceit.
[39] Placed on the Persian throne, but concealing his person from the
eyes of the multitude in the impenetrable pomp of an Oriental
seraglio, the pseudo Smerdis had the audacity to despatch, among the
heralds that proclaimed his accession, a messenger to the Egyptian
army, demanding their allegiance. The envoy found Cambyses at
Ecbatana in Syria. Neither cowardice nor sloth was the fault of that
monarch; he sprang upon his horse, determined to march at once to
Susa, when the sheath fell from his sword, and he received a mortal
wound from the naked blade. Cambyses left no offspring, and the
impostor, believed by the people to be the true son of Cyrus, issued,
from the protecting and august obscurity of his palace, popular
proclamations and beneficent edicts. Whatever his present fraud,
whatever his previous career, this daring Mede was enabled to make his
reign beloved and respected. After his death he was regretted by all
but the Persians, who would not have received the virtues of a god as
an excuse for the usurpation of a Mede. Known to the vast empire only
by his munificence of spirit--by his repeal of tribute and service,
the impostor permitted none to his presence who could have detected
the secret. He never quitted his palace--the nobles were not invited
to his banquets--the women in his seraglio were separated each from
each--and it was only in profound darkness that the partners of his
pleasures were admitted to his bed. The imposture is said by
Herodotus to have been first discovered in the following manner:--the
magian, according to the royal custom, had appropriated to himself the
wives of Cambyses; one of these was the daughter of Otanes, a Persian
noble whom the secluded habits of the pretended king filled with
suspicion. For some offence, the magian had been formerly deprived of
his ears by the order of Cyrus. Otanes communicated this fact, with
his suspicions, to his daughter, and the next time she was a partaker
of the royal couch, she took the occasion of his sleep to convince
herself that the sovereign of the East was a branded and criminal
impostor. The suspicions of Otanes verified, he entered, with six
other nobles, into a conspiracy, which mainly owed its success to the
resolution and energy of one among them, named Darius, who appears to
have held a station of but moderate importance among the royal guard,
though son of Hystaspes, governor of the province of Persis, and of
the purest and loftiest blood of Persia. The conspirators penetrated
the palace unsuspected--put the eunuchs who encountered them to death
--and reached the chamber in which the usurper himself was seated with
his brother. The impostors, though but imperfectly armed, defended
themselves with valour; two of the conspirators were wounded, but the
swords of the rest sufficed to consummate the work, and Darius himself
gave the death-blow to one of the brothers.

This revolution was accompanied and stained by an indiscriminate
massacre of the magi. Nor did the Persians, who bore to that Median
tribe the usual hatred which conquerors feel to the wisest and noblest
part of the conquered race, content themselves with a short-lived and
single revenge. The memory of the imposture and the massacre was long
perpetuated by a solemn festival, called "the slaughter of the Magi,"
or Magophonia, during which no magian was permitted to be seen abroad.

The result of this conspiracy threw into the hands of the seven nobles
the succession to the Persian throne: the election fell upon Darius,
the soul of the enterprise, and who was of that ancient and princely
house of the Achaemenids, in which the Persians recognised the family
of their ancestral kings. But the other conspirators had not
struggled solely to exchange one despot for another. With a new
monarchy arose a new oligarchy. Otanes was even exempted from
allegiance to the monarch, and his posterity were distinguished by
such exclusive honours and immunities, that Herodotus calls them the
only Persian family which retained its liberty. The other
conspirators probably made a kind of privileged council, since they
claimed the right of access at all hours, unannounced, to the presence
of the king--a privilege of the utmost value in Eastern forms of
government--and their power was rendered permanent and solid by
certain restrictions on marriage [40], which went to maintain a
constant alliance between the royal family and their own. While the
six conspirators rose to an oligarchy, the tribe of the Pasargadae--
the noblest of those sections into which the pure Persian family was
divided--became an aristocracy to officer the army and adorn the
court. But though the great body of the conquered Medes were kept in
subject inferiority, yet the more sternly enforced from the Persian
resentment at the late Median usurpation, Darius prudently conciliated
the most powerful of that great class of his subjects by offices of
dignity and command, and of all the tributary nations, the Medes
ranked next to the Persians.

IV. With Darius, the Persian monarchy progressed to that great crisis
in the civilization of those states founded by conquering Nomades,
when, after rich possessions are seized, cities built, and settlements
established, the unwieldy and enormous empire is divided into
provinces, and satrap government reflects in every district the
mingled despotism and subservience, pomp and insecurity, of the
imperial court. Darius undoubtedly took the most efficient means in
his power to cement his sway and organize his resources. For the
better collection of tribute, twenty provinces were created, governed
by twenty satraps. Hitherto no specific and regular tax had been
levied, but the Persian kings had been contented with reluctant
presents, or arbitrary extortions. Darius now imposed a limited and
annual impost, amounting, according to the computation of Herodotus,
to fourteen thousand five hundred and sixty talents, collected
partially from Africa, principally from Asia [41]. The Persians, as
the conquering and privileged race, were excluded from the general
imposition, but paid their moderate contribution under the softer
title of gratuity. The Colchians fixed their own burdens--the
Ethiopians that bordered Egypt, with the inhabitants of the sacred
town of Nyssa, rendered also tributary gratuities--while Arabia
offered the homage of her frankincense, and India [42] of her gold.
The empire of Darius was the more secure, in that it was contrary to
its constitutional spirit to innovate on the interior organization of
the distant provinces--they enjoyed their own national laws and
institutions--they even retained their monarchs--they resigned nothing
but their independence and their tribute. The duty of the satraps was
as yet but civil and financial: they were responsible for the imposts,
they executed the royal decrees. Their institution was outwardly
designed but for the better collection of the revenue; but when from
the ranks of the nobles Darius rose to the throne, he felt the
advantage of creating subject principalities, calculated at once to
remove and to content the more powerful and ambitious of his former
equals. Save Darius himself, no monarch in the known world possessed
the dominion or enjoyed the splendour accorded to these imperial
viceroys. Babylon and Assyria fell to one--Media was not sufficient
for another--nation was added to nation, and race to race, to form a
province worthy the nomination of a representative of the great king.
His pomp and state were such as befitted the viceroy over monarchs. A
measure of silver, exceeding the Attic medimnus, was presented every
day to the satrap of Babylon [43]. Eight hundred stallions and
sixteen thousand mares were apportioned to his stables, and the tax of
four Assyrian towns was to provide for the maintenance of his Indian

But under Darius, at least, these mighty officers were curbed and kept
in awe by the periodical visits of the king himself, or his
commissioners; while a broad road, from the western coast to the
Persian capital--inns, that received the messengers, and couriers,
that transmitted the commands of the king, brought the more distant
provinces within the reach of ready intelligence and vigilant control.
These latter improvements were well calculated to quicken the stagnant
languor habitual to the overgrowth of eastern empire. Nor was the
reign of Darius undistinguished by the cultivation of the more elegant
arts--since to that period may be referred, if not the foundation, at
least the embellishment and increase of Persepolis. The remains of
the palace of Chil-Menar, ascribed by modern superstition to the
architecture of genii, its graceful columns, its mighty masonry, its
terrace-flights, its marble basins, its sculptured designs stamped
with the unmistakeable emblems of the magian faith, sufficiently
evince that the shepherd-soldiery of Cyrus had already learned to
appreciate and employ the most elaborate arts of the subjugated Medes.

During this epoch, too, was founded a more regular military system, by
the institution of conscriptions--while the subjection of the skilful
sailors of Phoenicia, and of the great maritime cities of Asiatic
Greece, brought to the Persian warfare the new arm of a numerous and
experienced navy.

V. The reign of Darius is also remarkable for the influence which
Grecian strangers began to assume in the Persian court--and the fatal
and promiscuous admission of Grecian mercenaries into the Persian
service. The manners of the Persians were naturally hospitable, and
Darius possessed not only an affable temper, but an inquisitive mind.
A Greek physician of Crotona, who succeeded in relieving the king from
the effects of a painful accident which had baffled the Egyptian
practitioners, esteemed the most skilful the court possessed,
naturally rose into an important personage. His reputation was
increased by a more difficult cure upon the person of Atossa, the
daughter of Cyrus, who, from the arms of her brother Cambyses, and
those of the magian impostor, passed to the royal marriage-bed. And
the physician, though desirous only of returning through some pretext
to his own country, perhaps first inflamed the Persian king with the
ill-starred wish of annexing Greece to his dominions. He despatched a
commission with the physician himself, to report on the affairs of
Greece. Many Hellenic adventurers were at that time scattered over
the empire, some who had served with Cambyses, others who had sided
with the Egyptians. Their valour recommended them to a valiant
people, and their singular genius for intrigue took root in every
soil. Syloson, a Greek of Samos, brother to Polycrates, the tyrant of
that state, who, after a career of unexampled felicity and renown,
fell a victim to the hostile treachery of Oretes, the satrap of
Sardis, induced Darius to send over Otanes at the head of a Persian
force to restore him to the principality of his murdered brother; and
when, subsequently, in his Scythian expedition, Darius was an
eyewitness of the brilliant civilization of Ionia, not only did Greece
become to him more an object of ambition, but the Greeks of his
respect. He sought, by a munificent and wise clemency, to attach them
to his throne, and to colonize his territories with subjects valuable
alike for their constitutional courage and national intelligence. Nor
can we wonder at the esteem which a Hippias or a Demaratus found in
the Persian councils, when, in addition to the general reputation of
Greeks, they were invested with the dignity of princely rank--for,
above all nations [44], the Persians most venerated the name and the
attributes of a king; nor could their Oriental notions have accurately
distinguished between a legitimate monarch and a Greek tyrant.

VI. In this reign, too, as the empire was concentrated, and a
splendid court arose from the warrior camp of Cyrus and Cambyses, the


Back to Full Books