Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Aristides
Text by Thomas North
Study Guide by Anne White
Aristides (530-468 B.C.)
Who was Aristides?
Aristides (nicknamed Aristides the Just) was an Athenian statesman and general during the Persian Wars. He led the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon; fought at Salamis; and then led the Athenian forces at Plataea, the final battle against the Persians. Aristides was a creative and gifted leader, whose concern with justice led him to solve problems in unusual ways.
How do you pronounce Aristides?
Who were the rulers in Athens?
The council of elders in Athens was the Areopagus. It was made up of men who had held high public office, such as archon, much like the Roman Senate. Over the years, the council held less actual power, and more decisions were made by the archons.
The word archon simply means ruler, and it could be applied to anything from the leader of a small group to the governor of a state.
The top ruler of Athens was the eponymous archon (archon eponymos), who was elected for a term of one year. The word is often translated "chief magistrate," but North translates it as mayor or provost. Aristides was archon eponymos for the year 489-488.
Who was Themistocles?
Themistocles was an Athenian general and statesman who lived from approximately 524-459 B.C. He is the subject of Plutarch's Life of Themistocles, and there is much more to his story than can be addressed here. One note of interest is that when he fled from Greece in the year 472 or 471 B.C., he was given sanctuary by Alexander I of Macedon, who appears here in Lesson Seven.
Who was Pausanias?
Pausanias was the military commander of the Spartans (Lacedaemonians). After the Persian Wars, he was accused of conspiring with King Xerxes to put Sparta under Persian control. He died in 470 B.C. after an accusation of treason.
Top Ten Terms in Aristides
If you recognize these words, you're well on your way to mastering North's vocabulary. (They will not be noted in the lessons.)
1. Acquaint: To acquaint is used several times in the story, meaning either "to become used to, familiar with" or "to share information."
2. Divers: several
3. Engage: fight with
4. Footmen: foot soldiers
5. Spoil or spoils: treasure seized from an enemy; loot
6. Stay: delay, detain, stop
7. Strait: tight, narrow. To be strait with people means to be restrictive or stingy. A strait is a narrow channel of water.
8. Strange: usually means "foreign," but sometimes just means "strange." Soldiers that are strangers are often foreign mercenaries (soldiers employed by any army that will pay them).
9. Succour: aid, help
10. Target: shield
Bonus phrase: "The barbarous people" or barbarians usually refers to the Persians, who are sometimes called the Medes.
Plutarch begins this Life with a question: was Aristides rich or poor, and what evidence do we have on either side? For instance, someone says that Aristides must have been rich because he sponsored theatrical performances. Plutarch answers that it wasn't uncommon in those days for someone like Aristides both to receive gifts of money and to spend them on something for the public benefit.
As another example, Aristides was ostracized at one time; and, as Plutarch says, ostracism (oddly enough) was considered too good for common people; so some would think that Aristides must have belonged to a wealthy family. But Plutarch says that "everyone was liable to it whom his reputation, birth, or eloquence raised above the common level."
So was Aristides one of the privileged upper class, or someone who rose by his own merits (or by the hand of "Fortune")?
mayor or provost: archon eponymos; see introductory note
drawing of the bean: drawing lots; by lot of beans is the equivalent of "by luck of the draw"
rate: tax assessment
ostracism, "Ostracismon":a formal procedure of banishment
three-footed stools: pedestals. Dryden translates it "tripods."
they themselves had borne the charge: they had paid for the dramatic productions or games
voices: a vote
530 B.C.: birth of Aristides
525 B.C.: Persians seized Egypt
On the Map
You will find the city of Athens on any map of Greece; but the best one for our purposes will show it at around 500 B.C. or slightly later.
Aristides, the son of Lysimachus, was certainly of the tribe of Antiochides, and of the town of Alopecia. [As to wealth, statements differ]: some say he lived poorly all the days of his life, and that he left two daughters, which by reason of their poverty lived unmarried many years after their father's death. And many of the oldest writers do confirm that for truth.
Yet Demetrius Phalerius [the Phalerian], in his book entitled Socrates, writeth the contrary: that he knew certain lands Aristides had in the village of Phaleria, which did yet bear the name of "Aristides' lands," in the which his body is buried. And furthermore, to show that he was well to live, and that his house was rich and wealthy, he bringeth forth these proofs.
First, that he was one year mayor or provost of Athens (called "Archon Eponymos"), because the year took the name of him that had it yearly. And they say he came to it by drawing of the bean, according to the ancient use of the Athenians, and their wonted manner of making their election of the said office. In [this] election none were admitted to draw the bean but such as were [of the highest assessed families], according to the value and rate of their goods [brief omission].
Secondly, [Demetrius] allegeth [that Aristides] was banished by the ostracism, which banisheth the nobility and great rich men only, whom the common people envy because of their greatness; and never dealeth with poor men. The third and last reason he makes is that he left, [as a] gift, three-footed stools in the temple of Bacchus, which those do commonly offer up [who] have won the victory in comedies, tragedies, or other such like pastimes, whereof they themselves had borne the charge. And those three-footed stools remain there yet, which they say were given by Aristides, and have this inscription upon them: "The tribe of Antiochides won the victory, Aristides defrayed the charges of the games, and Archestratus the Poet taught them to play his comedies." This last reason, though it seem[s] likeliest of them all, yet is it the weakest of the rest. For Epaminondas, (whom every man knoweth was poor even from his birth, and always lived in great poverty), and Plato the Philosopher [both took on] the charges of games that were of no small expense, the one having borne the charges of flute players at Thebes, and the other the dance of the children which danced in a round at Athens: towards the furnishing of which charges Dion the Syracusan gave Plato money, and Pelopidas also gave Epaminondas money.
[omission for length]
But for the "Ostracismon" banishment, it is true that such as were great men in estimation above the common people, either in fame, nobility, or eloquence, they only were subject unto this banishment. For Damon himself, being Pericles' schoolmaster, was banished, only because the common people thought him too wise. Moreover, Idomeneus writeth that Aristides was their provost for a year, not by lot of beans but by voices of the Athenians that chose him. And if he were provost since the [Battle of Plataea], as Demetrius writeth, it is likely enough that they did him this honour for his great virtue and notable service, which other[s] were wont to obtain for their riches.
Narration and Discussion
Much of this section is a weighing of evidence for or against the fact of Aristides' supposed poverty. What are the arguments on each side, and how does Plutarch answer them?
For older students: Look up the roots of the word "virtuous." How did the ancient Greeks and Romans understand "virtue?" In their thinking (and in your own), could a rich man be virtuous? Could a poor man be virtuous? Is poverty itself a virtue?
This lesson introduces Themistocles, a leader in Athens with whom Aristides shared a lifelong friendship/enemyship. (See the introductory notes for this study.) The two had almost nothing in common, including temperament, political beliefs, and moral philosophy. Themistocles was an innovator and a take-charge leader, and he couldn't understand why it wouldn't be right to show favouritism to friends. He also stood for democracy in government. Aristides, on the other hand, set justice and integrity above popularity; but preferred aristocratical rule, or oligarchy.
aristocratical: supporting the rule of the old, noble families
populace: common people
subtle: the opposite of straightforward; sly
staid: unwavering, steady; perhaps unadventurous
preferment: advancement in position
indifferent and not partial: not showing favouritism
tribunal: court of justice
stand upon his friends: depend on their influence (and therefore owe them favours in return)
bearing themselves upon their friends: similarly, using their connections to influence decisions or gain advancement
withstanding: standing against him
Themistocles' purpose took no place: the thing he proposed was not accepted
gaining the day: winning
Cleisthenes: the founder of Athenian democracy
Lycurgus: lawgiver in Sparta (Lacedaemonia) in the eighth century B.C.; the subject of Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus
510 B.C.: Expulsion of the tyrants from Athens
509 B.C.: Reforms of Cleisthenes
[Aristides being the friend and supporter of that Cleisthenes who settled the government after the expulsion of the tyrants; and emulating and admiring Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian above all politicians; [he] adhered to the aristocratical principles of government; and had Themistocles, son to Neocles, his adversary on the side of the populace.]
Some say, that [as boys], brought up together, they were ever contrary one to another in all their actions and doings, were it in sport, or in matters of earnest; and ever after, men began to see the natural inclination of them both, by their contrary affections. For Themistocles was quick, nimble, adventurous, and subtle, [engaging readily and eagerly in everything]. Aristides, contrariwise, was very quiet, temperate, constant, and marvellous well staid, who would for no respect be drawn away from equity and justice; neither would [he] lie, flatter, nor abuse anybody, though it were but in sport.
[omission for mature content; Plutarch says that the boys' youthful "heats and differences" carried on into their "public business" as adults]
In which calling, Themistocles sought the way to win friends, by whose means he came to great preferment in [a] short time, and [he] had made himself very strong by them. Therefore, when a friend of his told him one day [that] he was worthy to govern the city of Athens, and [would be] very fit for it, if he were indifferent and not partial; ["I wish," replied he, "I may never sit on that tribunal where my friends shall not plead a greater privilege than strangers."] But Aristides, taking another course by himself, would not stand upon his friends in government. First, because he would do no manner of wrong with pleasuring his friends; nor yet would [he cause them vexation] by denying their requests.
Secondly, because he saw many rulers and men of authority bold to do injustice, and manifest wrong, bearing themselves upon their friends; but he carried this opinion, that no honest man, or good citizen, should trust to any bolstering of friends, but to his own just and upright doings.
Notwithstanding, Aristides perceiving that Themistocles did rashly alter many things, and [withstanding and interrupting him in the whole series of his actions]; he was enforced sometime[s] to cross Themistocles again, and to speak against that [which] he preferred, partly to be even with him, but most[ly] to hinder his credit and authority, which increased still through the people's favour and good will towards him: thinking it better by contrarying him a little to disappoint sometime a thing that might have fallen out well for the commonwealth, rather than by [allowing] him to grow too great.
To conclude, it fortuned [once] that Themistocles having preferred a matter very profitable for the commonwealth, Aristides was so much against it [that] Themistocles' purpose took no place. Moreover, Aristides was so earnest against him, that when the council broke up after Themistocles' motion was rejected, he spoke it openly before them all: that the commonwealth of Athens would never prosper until they both were laid in Barathrum, which was a prison or hole wherein they put all thieves and condemned men.
Another time, Aristides moved a matter to the people, which divers were against. [He yet was gaining the day; but just as the president of the assembly was about to put it to the vote], Aristides perceiving by the arguments made against it that the matter he preferred was hurtful to the commonwealth, he gave it over, and would not have it pass. Many times also Aristides spoke by other men, when he would have a thing go forward; for fear lest Themistocles' spite towards him would hinder the benefit of the commonwealth.
They found him very constant and resolute in matters of state, whatsoever happened, which won him great commendation. For he was never the prouder for any honour they gave him, nor thought himself disgraced for any overthrow he received: being always of this mind, that it was the duty of an honest citizen to be ever ready to offer his body and life to do his country service, without respect and hope of reward of money, or for honour and glory. Therefore when certain verses were repeated in the theater, [in] one of the tragedies of Aeschylus, made in commendation of the ancient soothsayer Amphiaraus, to this effect:
[For not at seeming just, but being so
He aims; and from his depth of soil below
Harvests of wise and prudent counsels grow,
the eyes of all the spectators turned on Aristides, as if this virtue, in an especial manner, belonged to him.]
Narration and Discussion
Why did Aristides worry that he and Themistocles could become too powerful? How did he try to prevent this?
Creative narration: The difference in personalities between Aristides and Themistocles could inspire a variety of imagined scenes or creative comparisons. One possibility might be to write brief school-type compositions telling what each boy wants to do when he grows up.
Part One continues the description of Aristides' justice and impartiality, not only to his friends but to his enemies.
Part Two tells, briefly, the story of the Battle of Marathon. Plutarch gives few details of the battle, for two reasons: first, it was a well-known story, and one he had told elsewhere; but, more importantly, his purpose in re-telling it here is to emphasize the character of Aristides, and to show how he earned the respect of the Athenians.
suborned: bribed, induced
through their practice they condemned him: they caused him to lose his position
carrying himself with more remissness: appearing to notice less of what was going on; acting with less diligence and attention
dissembled: concealed his true feelings
ten captains: a change in the structure of Athenian government meant that the archon formerly responsible for the military had his duties taken over by a group of ten generals called strategoi
one hard by another: close to each other
archon eponymos: head magistrate of Athens; see introductory note
Darius: the king of Persia at that time
Miltiades: also called Miltiades the Younger; his family had been part of the rule of tyrants before the democratic reforms in Athens, but had been made to serve the Persians. He had taken part in a revolt against Persian rule, and had afterwards fled to Athens, but he was not initially trusted because of his history (and his political enemies continued to harass him throughout his life) However, his knowledge of Persian tactics played a large part in the victory at Marathon. Miltiades was the father of Cimon (see Lesson Eleven).
490 B.C.: Battle of Marathon
On the Map
Find a map showing the extent of the Persian empire at the time.
Attica is the area of Greece surrounding the city of Athens.
[He was a most determined champion for justice, not only against feelings of] favour and friendship, but hate and anger also. For in case of justice, neither could friendship make him go away for his friends' sake, nor [could] envy move him to do injustice to his very enemy.
For proof hereof it is written, that [when prosecuting the law against one who was his enemy], after the plaint was read, the judges were so angry with the offender that, without any more hearing of him, they would have given sentence against him. But Aristides, rising from his place, went and [knelt] at the judges' feet with the offender his enemy, and besought them to give him leave to speak, to justify and defend his cause, according to the course of the law.
Another time, he being judge between two private men that pleaded before him, one of them said unto him: "Aristides, this fellow, mine adversary here, hath done you great injury."
"My friend," quoth Aristides again, "I pray thee tell me only the injury he hath done thee, for I am here to do thee right, and not myself."
Moreover, he being chosen high treasurer of all the revenues of Athens, did declare that all the officers before him, [including] his late predecessors, had greatly robbed and spoiled the common treasure; but specially Themistocles:
["Well known he was an able man to be,
But with his fingers apt to be too free.]
Therefore when Aristides was to give up his account, Themistocles, and many other[s] suborned by him, were against him; and accused him [of] abusing his office; and followed him so hard that through their practice they condemned him, as Idomeneus writeth. Yet the noblest citizens, seeing what injury they offered Aristides, took his cause in hand, and found means to procure the people not only to release the fine imposed upon him, but to restore him again to his office of high treasurer for the year following. [Pretending now to repent him of his former practice, and carrying himself with more remissness, he became acceptable to such as pillaged the treasury, by not detecting or calling them to an exact account.] Whereupon such as were thieves and stealers of the treasure of the commonwealth did marvellously praise and like him; and became suitors for him to continue in the office.
But when the day of election came, that the Athenians would choose him again, Aristides [him]self reproved them, and said:
"When I faithfully discharged the duty of mine office committed to me by you, I then received shame and reproach at your hands; and now that I have dissembled, not seeming to see the thefts and robberies done upon your treasure, ye [brief omission] say I am an honest man, and a good citizen. But I would you knew it, and I tell you plainly, I am more ashamed of the honour you do me now, than I was of the fine you did set upon me, when you condemned me the last year; and I am sorry to speak it, that you should think it more commendation to pleasure the wicked than to preserve the commonwealth."
After he had spoken these words and had bewrayed the common thefts the officers of the city did commit, he stopped the thieves' mouths that so highly praised and commended him for so honest a man; but yet of the noble and honest citizens he was much commended.
Furthermore, on a time when Dathis, lieutenant to Darius [the] king of Persia, was come with all his navy to [land at] Marathon, in the country of Attica; upon pretense (as he said) to be revenged only of the Athenians that had burnt the city of Sardis, but indeed of [the] mind to conquer all Greece, and to destroy the whole country before him; the Athenians chose ten captains to go to the wars, among whom Miltiades was the chiefest man of authority.
But Aristides drew very near him in reputation and credit, because he did very good service in obtaining the victory, specially when he agreed with Miltiades in council to give battle upon the barbarous people; and also when he willingly gave Miltiades the whole rule and order of the army. For every one of the ten captains did by turns lead the whole army for one whole day; and when Aristides' turn came about, he gave his preferment thereof unto Miltiades, teaching his other companions that it was no shame, but [an] honour, for them to be ruled by the wisest. Thus, by his example, he appeased all strife that might have grown among them; and persuaded them all to be contented to follow his direction and counsel that had best experience in war. And so he did much advance Miltiades' honour. For after Aristides had once yielded his authority unto him, every one of the rest did the like when it came to their turn; and so they all submitted themselves unto his rule and leading.
But on the day of the battle, the place where the Athenians were [the hardest put to it] was in the midst of the battle, where they had set the tribes of the Leontides and of Antiochides: for thither the barbarous people did bend all their force, and made their greatest fight in that place. By which occasion, Themistocles and Aristides fighting one hard by another (for one was of the tribe Leontides, and the other of Antiochides), they valiantly fought it out with the enemies [short omission]. So, [with] the barbarous people at the last being overthrown, they made them flee, and drove them to their ships.
But when [the Persians] were embarked and gone, the captains of the Athenians, perceiving they made not towards the isles (which was their direct course to return into Asia), but that they were driven back by [the force of sea and wind] towards the coast of Attica, and the city of Athens, [the Greeks feared] they might find Athens unfurnished for defense, and might set upon it. They thereupon sent away presently nine tribes that marched thither with such speed as they came to Athens the very same day.
[Aristides, being left with his tribe at Marathon to guard the plunder and prisoners, did not disappoint the opinion they had of him.] For notwithstanding there was great store of gold and silver, much apparel, movables, and other infinite goods and riches in all their tents and pavilions, and in the ships also they had taken of theirs: he was not so covetous as once to touch them, nor to suffer any other to meddle with them (unless by stealth some provided for themselves).
Narration and Discussion
In Part One (and in the previous lessons), we see how Aristides carried out his duties in civil government and in the courts, and we may get an idea of him as an honest man but not one who would do particularly well in a physical setting such as a battlefield. In Part Two, though, that is exactly where we find him. How did the character traits he developed at home serve him again during the war against the Persians?
If you were a superhero, would you rather be known for might or virtue? Plutarch wonders why people throughout history seem to downplay virtue, "the only divine good really in our reach."
divine: refers to gods or deities, divine beings
appellation, surname: an honourary name added to one's birth names
dissolute and licentious: prone to wild behaviour
ostracism: a ritual of banishment
specious, speciously: sounding true but not really so
mitigation: lessening, easing
base and villainous fellows: lower-class criminal sorts
a great shell: a sherd, a piece of broken pottery
489-488 B.C.: Aristides was archon eponymos (head magistrate)
485-482 B.C.: approximate dates of Aristides' ostracism
[Aristides, immediately after this, was chosen archon [eponymos]; although Demetrius the Phalerian says he held the office a little before he died after the Battle of Plataea.]
[short omission giving evidence that Aristides was archon earlier, not later]
[Of all his virtues, the common people were most affected with his justice, because of its continual and common use; and thus, although of mean fortune and ordinary birth, he possessed himself of the most kingly and divine appellation of "Just": which kings, however and tyrants have never sought after; but have taken delight to be surnamed besiegers of cities, thunderers, conquerors, or eagles again, and hawks; affecting, it seems, the reputation which proceeds from power and violence, rather than that of virtue.] And notwithstanding, God [Dryden: the divinity], whom men desire most to be likened to, doth excel all human nature in three special things: in immortality, in power, and in virtue; of which three, virtue is the most honourable and precious thing.
Therefore, because men commonly [give] three sundry honours to the gods: the first, that they think them blessed: the second, that they fear them: the third, that they reverence them: it appeareth then that they think them blessed for the eternity and immortality of their godhead; that they fear them because of their omnipotence and power; and that they love and worship them, for their justice and equity. And yet notwithstanding, of those three, men do covet immortality, which no flesh can attain unto; and also power, which dependeth most upon Fortune; and in the meantime they leave virtue alone, whereof the gods of their goodness have made us capable.
But here they shew themselves fools. For justice maketh the life of a noble man, and of one in great authority, seem divine and celestial: where, without justice, and dealing unjustly, his life is most beastly, and odious to the world.
[Aristides, therefore, had at first the fortune to be beloved for this surname, but at length envied. Especially when Themistocles spread a rumour amongst the people that, by determining and judging all matters privately, he (Aristides)] had overthrown all justice, because by consent of the parties he was ever chosen arbitrator to end all controversies; and how by this means he secretly had procured the absolute power of a king, not needing any guard or soldiers about him.
The people moreover being grown very dissolute and licentious, by reason of the victory of Marathon, who sought that all things should pass by them, and their authority, began now to mislike, and to be greatly offended, that any private man should go before the rest in good fame and reputation. [Coming together, therefore, from all parts into the city, they banished Aristides by the ostracism, giving their jealousy of his reputation the name of fear of tyranny.]
[For ostracism was not the punishment of any criminal act; but was speciously said to be the mere depression and humiliation of excessive greatness and power; and was in fact a gentle relief and mitigation of envious feeling, which was thus allowed to vent itself in inflicting no intolerable injury, only a ten years' banishment. But after it came to be exercised upon base and villainous fellows, they desisted from it; Hyperbolus being the last whom they banished by the ostracism.]
[omission for length: the story of Hyperbolus]
[It was performed, to be short, in this manner.] At a certain day appointed, every citizen carried a great shell in his hand; whereupon he wrote the name of him he would have banished; and brought it into a certain place railed about with wooden bars in the marketplace. Then, when every man had brought in his shell, the magistrates and officers of the city did count and tell the number of them. (For if there were less than six thousand citizens that had thus brought these shells together: the [ostracism] was not full and perfect.) That done, they laid apart every man's name written in these shells; and whose name they found written by most citizens, they proclaimed him, by sound of trumpet, a banished man for ten years (during which time notwithstanding, the party did enjoy all his goods).
Now every man writing thus [the] name in a shell [of the one] whom they would have banished: it is reported there was a plain man of the country (very simple) that could neither write, nor read; who came to Aristides (being the first man he met with), and gave him his shell, praying him to write Aristides' name upon it.
[Aristides, being surprised], did ask the countryman if Aristides had ever done him any displeasure. "No," said the countryman, "he never did me hurt, nor I know him not: but [I am tired of hearing him everywhere called the Just]." Aristides, hearing him say so, gave him no answer, but wrote his own name upon the shell, and delivered it again to the countryman. But as he went his way out of the city, he lift[ed] up his hands to heaven, and made a prayer [short omission], beseeching the gods that the Athenians might never have such troubles in hand, as they should be compelled to call for Aristides again.
Narration and Discussion
How did Themistocles stir up the Athenians against Aristides?
If someone is "ostracized" now, it means that nobody will talk to him or work with him because he has done something shameful. How was Athenian thinking about ostracism quite different?
Creative narration: At an imaginary gathering of powerful leaders and rulers, each of whom wears a t-shirt with a logo and nickname (such as "The Mighty Eagle"); Aristides arrives with the simple words "The Just" on his shirt. What might be the reaction of the others? How might he still have the last word?
The Battle of Salamis was the victory of the Greek navy over the Persians, and that victory was world-changing. But Aristides wasn't there for the battle (he was handling matters at Psyttaleia); therefore Plutarch omits the details of how the Greeks trapped the large, unwieldy Persian ships in the narrow bay and sank enough of them to declare a victory. It is the hours leading up to the battle, the events on Psyttaleia, and the aftermath, that receive the focus.
stratagem: plan of attack
the keeping Asia (here) in Europe: keeping the Persian king from escaping back to his own country.
their city was burnt and razed: the Persians burned the Acropolis in Athens as well as other parts of the city
anathematize: curse; threaten with divine punishment
Xerxes, King of Persia: the successor to Darius
Eurybiades: a Spartan general who, at least officially, led the combined Greek forces.
480 B.C.: Battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium, and Salamis
480 B.C.: Aristides elected Strategos (general)
On the Map
Thessaly and Boeotia: regions or kingdoms in Greece
Salamis: an island near Athens
TheHellespont is the strait between the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara that separates Europe from Asia. It was the only route back to Persia.
Notwithstanding, within three years after, when Xerxes, King of Persia came with his army through the countries of Thessaly and Boeotia, and entered into the heart of the country of Attica: the Athenians [repealed the law and] called home again all those they had banished; and [e]specially, because they were afraid Aristides would take part with the barbarous people, and that his example should move many other[s] to do the like; wherein they were greatly deceived in the nature of the man. For before that he was called home, he continually travelled up and down, persuading and encouraging the Greeks to maintain and defend their liberty. [And afterwards, when Themistocles was general with absolute power, he assisted him in all ways both in action and counsel]; and thereby [he] won his enemy great honour, because it stood upon the safety and preservation of his country.
For when Eurybiades (the general of the army of the Greeks) had determined to forsake the isle of Salamis; and the galleys of the barbarous people were come into the midst of the seas, and had environed the isles all about, and the mouth of the arm of the strait of Salamis, before any man knew they were thus enclosed in: [Aristides, with great hazard, sailed from Aegina through the enemy's fleet]; and by good hap got in the night into Themistocles' tent, and calling him out, spoke with him there in this sort:
"Themistocles, if we be both wise, it is high time we should now leave of this vain envy and spite we [have] long time borne each other, and that we should enter into another sort of envy more honourable and profitable for us both. I mean, which of us two should do his best endeavour to save Greece: you [in the ruling and commanding]; and I, by counselling you for the best, and executing your commandment; [even indeed, as I now understand you to be alone adhering to the best advice, in counselling without any delay to engage in the straits. And in this, though our own party oppose, the enemy seems to assist you.] For it is said that the sea, both before and behind us and round about us, is covered all over with their ships, so as they that would not before, shall be now compelled of force, and in spite of their hearts, to fight and bestir them like men: because they are compassed in all about, and there is no passage left open for them to escape, nor to flee."
[To which Themistocles answered, "I would not willingly, Aristides, be overcome by you on this occasion; and shall endeavour, in emulation of this good beginning, to outdo it in my actions." Also relating to him the stratagem he had framed against the barbarians, he entreated him to persuade Eurybiades and show him how it was impossible they should save themselves without an engagement; as he was the more likely to be believed.
Whence, in the council of war, Cleocritus the Corinthian, telling Themistocles that Aristides did not like his advice, as he was present and said nothing, Aristides answered that he should not have held his peace if Themistocles had not been giving the best advice; and that he was now silent, not out of any good-will to the person, but in approbation of his counsel.
Thus the Greek captains were employed. But Aristides perceiving Psyttaleia, a small island that lies within the straits over against Salamis, to be filled by a body of the enemy; [he] put aboard his small boats the most forward and courageous of his countrymen, and went ashore upon it; and, joining battle with the barbarians, slew them all], taking the chiefest of them only prisoners; among which were three sons of Sandauce, the king's sister, whom he sent unto Themistocles.
[omission: the death of these three]
That done, Aristides dispersed his soldiers about the isle, to receive all such as were by fortune of war, or of the sea, cast into the island: to the end that no enemy of theirs should [e]scape their hands, nor any of his friends should perish. For the greatest fleet of all their ships, and the sharpest encounter of the whole battle, was about this little island; and therefore, the tokens of triumph were set there.
After the battle was won, Themistocles, to feel Aristides' opinion, said unto him: "We have done a good piece of service, but yet there is another behind of greater importance, and that is this: the keeping Asia (here) in Europe, which we may easily do if we sail with all speed to the strait of Hellespont, and go break the bridge the king hath made there."
Then Aristides cried out, "Stay there, never speak of that: but I pray you, let us rather seek all the ways we can how to drive this barbarous king out of Greece; lest, if we keep him with so great an army and he shall see no way before him to escape out, we drive him then to fight like a desperate man, and peril ourselves we cannot tell to what."
[Omission for length: Themistocles sent word to Xerxes, by a Persian prisoner, that the Greeks wanted to destroy the bridge, but that they were being held off. The message was intended to send Xerxes into a panic, and it succeeded.]
King Xerxes being nettled [Dryden: terrified] with this advertisement, took straight his journey and with all speed went to recover the strait of Hellespont; and left Mardonius his lieutenant general in Greece, with three hundred thousand of the best soldiers of his army. This Mardonius was marvellously dreaded of all the Greeks, for the wonderful great army he had by land, and he did threaten them also by his letters he wrote unto them.
"You have," (said he) "with your ships by sea, overcome men acquainted to fight by land, and that never handled oars: but now, the plains of Thessaly, [and] the fields of Boeotia, are very fair and large for horsemen and footmen to make proof of their valiantness, if you will come to the battle in the field."
[But] he wrote letters to the Athenians, by the king his master's commandment, of other effect; and offered them, from him, to build up their city again, to give them a great pension, and furthermore to make them lords of all Greece, [if] they would give over, and leave off these wars. The Lacedaemonians being forthwith advertised of his letters written to the Athenians, and fearing lest they would have been persuaded by them, sent their ambassadors with all speed to Athens, to pray them to send their wives and children unto Sparta, and also to offer them victuals, to relieve their poor old people, because of the great scarcity that was at Athens; for their city was burnt and razed, and all their country besides destroyed by the barbarous people. The Athenians, having heard the offers of the ambassadors of Lacedaemon, made them a marvellous answer through Aristides' counsel, and this it was:
That they bare with the barbarous people, though they [the Persians] thought all things were to be sold for gold and silver, because they esteemed nothing more precious, nor better in this world, than to be rich and wealthy; but on the other side, they were greatly offended with the Lacedaemonians, that they only regarded the present poverty and necessity of the Athenians, and did forget their virtue and noble courage, thinking to make them fight more valiantly for the preservation of Greece by offering them victuals to live withal.
The people approving this answer, Aristides then caused the ambassadors of Sparta to come to the assembly, and [he] commanded them to tell the Lacedaemonians by word of mouth, that all the gold above or under the ground could not corrupt the Athenians, to make them take any sum of money or reward, to leave the defense of the liberty of Greece. And to the herald that came from Mardonius, he showed him the sun, and said unto him: "So long as yonder sun keepeth his course about the world, so long will the Athenians be mortal enemies unto the Persians, because they have spoiled and destroyed all [our] country, and [have] defiled and burnt the temples of [our] gods." [Moreover, he proposed a decree that the priests should anathematize him who sent any herald to the Medes, or [who] deserted the alliance of Greece.]
Narration and Discussion
Why did the Athenians believe it was important to bring Aristides back from his banishment during the Persian attacks?
Why was Themistocles having a hard time getting his men to agree to fight in the straits? How did Aristides use his skills in conflict resolution during this time?
Why did the Athenians react so strongly to the seemingly generous offer of assistance from Sparta?
Creative narration: If Shakespeare had written a play about these events, how might he have dramatized the discussion between Themistocles and Aristides, and then the council of war?
In the Battle of Plataea, which took place the year after Salamis, Aristides led the Athenian forces, although Pausanias was the "head general."
into the Isle of Salamis: The Athenian leaders put the most vulnerable citizens out of harm's way by transporting them to the island
Ephori: A group of five elected magistrates (judges) having supervisory power over the kings of Sparta.
sporting: "carelessly keeping holy day."The Ephori didn't want to appear too co-operative, so they insisted that they were in the middle of a festival and couldn't interrupt everything for some battle.
Helots: Spartan serfs (not exactly slaves, but not free citizens either)
bulwark: stockade, fortification
furlong: one-eighth of a mile
let the horsemen: keep the cavalry from getting up the hill
fane: temple, sacred place
contesting the post of honour: trying to take the top place
place neither giveth . . .: where you stand or fight is irrelevant
Pausanias: see introductory note
479 B.C.: Battle of Plataea
479 B.C.: Aristides re-elected Strategos (General)
On the Map
Plataea: a city in Boeotia (a region of central Greece).
Hereupon, when Mardonius came again the second time to overrun the country of Attica, the Athenians got them[selves] again into the Isle of Salamis; and then they sent Aristides [as] ambassador unto the Lacedaemonians. He sharply took them up, and reproved their sloth and negligence, because they had again forsaken Athens, and left it to the spoil of the barbarous people: and prayed them yet they would look to save the rest of Greece.
The Ephori (which were certain officers that ruled all things within the city of Sparta), [made show of sporting all day, and of carelessly keeping [a] holy day (for they were then celebrating the Hyacinthian festival); but in the night, selecting five thousand Spartans, each of whom was attended by seven Helots, they sent them forth, unknown to those from Athens. And when] Aristides came again into their council, to complain of their negligence, they fell a-laughing, and said he dreamed, or else he mocked them: for their army which they had sent against "the strangers" (for so they called the Persians) was already at the city of Orestion in Arcadia. Aristides, hearing their answer, replied that they were to blame, to mock them in that sort, to send away their men so secretly that they might not know of it; and that it was no time for them now to go about to deceive their friends, but their enemies rather. Idomeneus in his story reporteth the matter thus in every point. [But in the decree of Aristides, not himself, but Cimon, Xanthippus, and Myronides are appointed ambassadors.]
[Being chosen [Athenian] general for the war, Aristides] went unto the camp of the Greeks by the city of Plataea, with eight thousand footmen well armed and appointed. There he found Pausanias, the "generalissimo" [Dryden] of all the whole power and army of the Greeks, who brought with him the force of Sparta; and there came daily into his camp, one after another, a marvellous great multitude of other Greeks.
Now touching the army of the barbarous people, they encamped all alongst the River Asopus; but because their camp stretched out a marvellous way in length, they were not [enclosed] at all; [but their baggage and most valuable things were surrounded with a square bulwark, each side of which was the length of ten furlongs].
[Omission for length: the Greeks prayed and made sacrifices to predict the outcome of the battle. They consulted the oracle at Delphi, which seemed to say that they should fight in a place called Ceres Eleusina, some distance away. Then the captain of the Plataeans had a dream that "Eleusis" referred to a spot within their own territory.]
Arimnestus having seen this vision in his sleep; when he did awake in the morning, he straight sent for the oldest citizens, and considering with them where this place should be, he found, at the length, that at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, by the city of Nysia, there was an old temple they called the "Temple of Ceres Eleusinia and Proserpine." When he heard them say so, he went straight and told Aristides of it, and found that it was an excellent place to set an army in battle array that had but few horsemen: for that the foot of Mount Cithaeron did let the horsemen, they could not go to the place where the temple stood, and where the plain and valley did end. [Also, in the same place, there was the fane of Androcrates, environed with a thick shady grove. And that the oracle might be accomplished in all particulars for the hope of victory, Arimnestus proposed, and the Plataeans decreed, that the frontiers of their country towards Attica should be removed, and the land given to the Athenians, that they might fight in defense of Greece in their own proper territory.]
This noble gift and present of the Plataeans was so famous, as many years after, King Alexander the Great, having conquered the Empire of Asia, built up the walls again of the city of Plataea; and when he had done, [he] made a herald openly proclaim it at the Games Olympical: that Alexander had done the Plataeans that honour and dignity for a memorial and honour of their magnanimity. Because in the war against the Persians, they had freely and liberally given away their land unto the Athenians, for the safety of [all] the Greeks: and had showed themselves of a noble courage also, and very willing to defend the state of Greece.
[The Tegeatans, contesting the post of honour with the Athenians, demanded that, according to custom, the Lacedaemonians being ranged on the right wing of the battle, they might have the left, alleging several matters in commendation of their ancestors.] But Aristides stepped between them [the Tegeatans and the Athenians] and told them [the Athenians] that it was no time now to contend with the Tegeatans about their nobility and valiantness.
"And as for you, my Lords of Sparta," said he, "and you also, my masters of Greece: we tell you, that place neither giveth nor taketh virtue away, and we do assure you that wheresoever you place us, we will so defend and keep it, as we will not impair nor blemish the honour we have won in former[ly] fought battles, and gotten victories. For we are not come hither to quarrel and fall out with our friends, but to fight with our common enemies: nor to brag of our ancestors' doings, but to show ourselves valiant in defense of all Greece. [This battle will manifest how much each city, captain, and private soldier is worth to Greece.]"
When Aristides had spoken, the captains and all other of the council concluded in favour of the Athenians, that they should have one of the wings of the battle.
Narration and Discussion
Based on the previous lesson, does it seem fair for Aristides to have scolded the Spartans for not helping Athens? What might explain this change of attitude? Why did the Spartans send their troops off in secret?
Show how Aristides modelled wisdom, tact, and the ability to handle people's egos and keep the peace.
The mood of the Athenians, especially the formerly wealthy ones who had lost political status as well as material goods, was at a low point. Aristides discovered that some of them were conspiring to overthrow the Athenian government; or, if they failed, to surrender the city to the Persians. It would normally have pleased Aristides' sense of justice to have traitors exposed and swiftly dealt with. However, he was wise enough to see that there was an even greater issue at stake.
discountenanced: having lost status ("lost face")
came to an inkling of it: heard about it
because of the time: because this was such a critical time
public convenience: the benefit of the people
whom they would have indicted as principals: whom they would have accused of leading the conspiracy
emulation in valour: ambition to show their bravery
backward: hesitant or unwilling
victuals waxed scant: they were running out of food
continual repair to their camp: Greek soldiers continued to arrive
Alexander, King of Macedon: this was Alexander I, whose kingdom was subject to Persia. He was known, as in this story, for his sympathy towards Greece.
On the Map
Mount Cithaeron: a mountain range about ten miles long, in central Greece, which forms the northern boundary of the region of Attica
[All Greece being in suspense, and especially the affairs of the Athenians unsettled, certain persons of great families and possessions having been impoverished by the war], and seeing themselves discountenanced, not bearing that rule and authority in the commonwealth they were wont to do, because other[s] were called to authority, and preferred to the offices of the city: they gathered together and met at a house in the city of Plataea, and there [they] conspired to overthrow the authority of the people at Athens [Dryden: the democratic government]; and if they could not obtain their purpose, then that they would rather lose all, and betray their country unto the barbarous people.
While these things were practised in the camp, many being of the conspiracy, Aristides came to an inkling of it, and was marvellously afraid, because of the time: wherefore he began to be careful of the matter, being of such importance as it was, and yet [he did not wish to expose] the whole conspiracy, little knowing what a number might be drawn into this treason, if it were narrowly looked into; he was [willing to set bounds to his justice with a view to the public convenience].
So he caused eight persons only of the great number to be apprehended; and of these eight, the two first whom they would have indicted as principals and [who] were most to be burdened for the conspiracy, Aeschines of the town of Lampra, and Agesias of the town of Acharnae, they found means to flee out of the camp, and to save themselves. [The rest he dismissed; giving opportunity to such as thought themselves concealed to take courage and repent]; saying that the battle should be their judge, where they should purge themselves of all accusations laid against them, and show the world also, that they never had any other intention but honest[y] and good towards their country.
Mardonius, to prove the courage of the Greeks, had sent all his horsemen (wherein he was far stronger than the Greeks) to skirmish with them. [The Greeks] were lodged at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, in strong places and full of stones, saving the three thousand Megarians, that camped in the plain: by reason whereof, they were sore troubled and hurt by the horsemen of the barbarous people that set upon them on every side, for they might charge them where they would. Insomuch, in the end, perceiving they alone could no longer resist the force of so great a multitude of the barbarous people, they sent with all speed possible to Pausanias, to pray him to send them present aid.
Pausanias, hearing this news, and seeing in his own sight the camp of the Megarians almost all covered with shot and darts which the barbarous people threw at them, and that they were compelled to stand close together in a little corner: he [knew] not what to do. For to go thither in person with the Lacedaemonians, that were footmen heavy armed, he thought that was no way to help them. [He proposed it, therefore, as a point of emulation in valour and love of distinction, to the commanders and captains who were around him, if any would voluntarily take upon them the defense and succour of the Megarians. The rest being backward, Aristides undertook the enterprise for the Athenians]; and brought Olympiodorus into the field, (one of the valiantest captains that served under him), with his company of three hundred chosen men, and certain [archers] mingled amongst them. These soldiers were ready in a moment, and marched straight in battle [ar]ray, [at] a great pace towards the barbarous people.
Masistius, that was general of the horsemen of the Persians, a goodly tall man, perceiving their coming towards him: turned his horse, and galloped to them. The Athenians tarried him, and kept their ground, and the encounter was very hot, because both the one and the other side did the best they could at this first onset to put the rest of the battle in jeopardy: and they fought so long, that Masistius' horse was shot through the body with an arrow [and flung him, and he falling could hardly raise himself through the weight of his armour]; as for that the Athenians came so suddenly upon him. [The Athenians, pressing upon him with blows], could find no way to kill him, he was so thoroughly armed and laden with gold, copper, and iron, not only upon his body and his head, but also on his legs and arms: until at the length there was one that thrust the head of his dart through his [visor], and so killed him. The Persians perceiving that, fled immediately, and forsook the body of their general.
[omission for length]
After this first skirmish, both the one and the other side kept their camp, and would not come into the field many days after: for the soothsayers did promise both sides the victory, as much the Persians, as the Greeks, [if] they did but only defend: and contrarywise, they did threaten them to be overthrown that did assault.
But Mardonius finding victuals waxed scant, and that they were stored but for few days, and moreover how the Greeks daily grew stronger by continual repair to their camp, the longer he delayed; in the end he resolved to tarry no longer, but to pass the river of Asopus the next morning by break of day, and suddenly to set upon the Greeks. So he gave the captains warning the night before what they should do, because every man should be ready. But about midnight there came a horseman [who stole into the Greek camp, and, coming to the watch], told them he would speak with Aristides, general of the Athenians. Aristides was called for straight, and when he came to him, the horseman said unto Aristides:
"I am Alexander, King of Macedon, [and I am arrived here through the greatest danger in the world for the goodwill I bear you, lest a sudden onset should dismay you, so as to behave in the fight worse than usual. For tomorrow Mardonius will give you battle, urged not by any hope of success or courage, but by want of victuals; since, indeed, the prophets prohibit him the battle, the sacrifices and oracles being unfavourable]; which hath put all the army in a marvellous fear, and [they] stand in no good hope at all. Thus he is forced to put all at adventure; or else if he will needs lie still, to be starved to death for very famine."
After King Alexander had imparted this secret to Aristides, he prayed him to keep it to himself, and to remember it in time to come. Aristides answered him then, that it was no reason he should keep a matter of so great importance as that, from Pausanias, who was their lieutenant general of the whole army: notwithstanding, he promised him he would tell it no man else before the battle, and that if the gods gave the Greeks the victory, he did assure him they should all acknowledge his great favour and good will showed unto them. After they had talked thus together, King Alexander left him, and returned back again: and Aristides also went immediately to Pausanias' tent, and told him the talk King Alexander and he had together. Thereupon, the private captains were sent for straight to council, and the order was given that every man should have his bands ready, for they should fight in the morning.
Narration and Discussion
Why was Aristides willing to delay his own inclination to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and punish all those involved? Was that a good decision in this case?
Why did King Alexander come at night to warn the Greeks of the impending attack?
Creative narration: Write a letter or a diary entry as one of the conspirators who was shown grace by Aristides. Would you be grateful for this second chance, or angry that the rebellion did not happen as planned?
After the Greek troops shuffled their positions, the Persians responded by moving their soldiers around in the same way. The back-and-forth continued for a good part of the day, but without any fighting. Then the Greeks decided that they needed to camp in a place with better water supplies, so they began to move things around even more; but this was misinterpreted as an order to retreat, and the frustrated soldiers responded with something close to a mutiny. Was there any hope at all of success?
so much the lustier: more vigorously
their natural countrymen anciently descended of them: those of Greek descent who were fighting on the Persian side
the order of their battle: the arrangement of their troops
in trifling thus: while wasting time in this way
the Greeks did forsake . . .: the Greeks had moved camp
Herodotus: historian famous for his account of the Persian wars
Thebans: the Thebans were Greeks, but they were fighting on the Persian side
So Pausanias at that time (as Herodotus writeth) said unto Aristides that he would remove the Athenians from the left to the right wing, because they should have the Persians themselves right before them, and that they should fight so much the lustier, both for that they were acquainted with their [way of combat], as also because they had overcome them before in the first encounter; and that [he] himself would take the left wing of the battle, where he should encounter with the Greeks that fought on the Persians' side. But when all the other private captains of the Athenians understood it, they were marvellous angry with Pausanias, and said he did them wrong, and had no reason to let all the other Greeks keep their place where they were always appointed, and only to remove them, as if they were slaves, to be appointed at his pleasure, now of one side, then of the other, and to set them to fight with the valiantest soldiers they had of all their enemies.
Then said Aristides to them, that they knew not what they said; and [he reminded them] how before they misliked, and did strive with the Tegeatans (Lesson Six), only for having the left wing of the battle; and when it was granted, they thought themselves greatly honoured that they were preferred before them, by order of the captains; and now where the Lacedaemonians were willing of themselves to give them the place of the right wing, and did in manner offer them the pre-eminence of the whole army, they do not thankfully take the honour offered them, nor yet do reckon of the [ad]vantage and benefit given them to fight against the Persians [them]selves, their ancient enemies, and not against their natural countrymen anciently descended of them.
When Aristides had used all these persuasions unto them, they were very well contented to change place with the Lacedaemonians: and then all the talk among them was to encourage one another, and to tell them that the Persians that came against them had no better hearts, nor weapons, than those whom they before had overcome in the plain of Marathon.
"For," said they, "they have the same [bows and arrows, and the same embroidered coats and gold], hanging on their cowardly bodies and faint hearts; where we have also the same weapons and bodies we had, and our hearts more lively and courageous than before, through the sundry victories we have since gotten of them. Further, we have this advantage more: that we do not fight as our other confederates the Greeks do, for our city and country only; but also to continue the fame and renown of our former noble service, which we won at the battles of Marathon and of Salamis: to the end the world should not think that the glory of these triumphs and victories was due unto Miltiades only, or unto fortune, but unto the courage and worthiness of the Athenians."
Thus were the Greeks thoroughly occupied to change the order of their battle in haste. [But the Thebans, understanding it by some deserters, forthwith acquainted Mardonius; and he, either for fear of the Athenians, or of a desire to engage the Lacedaemonians, marched over his Persians to the other wing, and commanded the Greeks of his party to be posted opposite to the Athenians.] This alteration was so openly done, that every man might see it: whereupon Pausanias removed the Lacedaemonians again, and set them in the right wing. Mardonius, seeing that, removed the Persians again from the left wing, and brought them to the right wing (where they were before) against the Lacedaemonians; and thus they consumed all that day in changing their men to and fro.
So the captains of the Greeks sat in council at night; and there they agreed that they must needs remove their camp, and lodge in some other place where they might have water at commandment: because their enemies did continually trouble and spoil that water they had about them, with their horses.
Now when night came, the captains would have marched away with their men, to go to the lodging they had appointed: but the [soldiers] went very ill-willing to it, and [the captains] had much ado to keep them together. For they were no sooner out of the trenches and fortification of their camp, but the most part of them ran to the city of Plataea, and were marvellously out of order, dispersing themselves here and there, and set up their tents where they thought good, before the places were appointed for them; and there were none that tarried behind but the Lacedaemonians only, and that was against their wills. For one of their captains, called Amompharetus, a marvellous hardy man that feared no danger, and longed sore for battle: he was in such a rage with these trifling delays, that he cried it out in the camp, that this removing was a goodly running away, and [protested he would not desert his post], but would there tarry Mardonius' coming with his company.
Pausanias went to him and told him he must do that [which] the other Greeks had consented to in council by [the] most voices. But Amompharetus took a great stone in his hands, and threw it down at Pausanias' feet, and told him, "[By this token do I give my suffrage for the battle; nor have I any concern with the cowardly consultations and decrees of other men.]"
Amompharetus' stubbornness did so amaze Pausanias that he was at his wit's end. So he sent unto the Athenians that were onwards on their way, [to stay to accompany him; and so he himself set off with the rest of the army for Plataea, hoping thus to make Amompharetus move.]
But in trifling thus, the day brake: and Mardonius understanding that the Greeks did forsake their first lodging, he made his army presently march in battle [ar]ray to set upon the Lacedaemonians.
Narration and Discussion
How did Aristides persuade the Athenians that they were wrong to complain about fighting opposite the Persians? After they agreed to the change, what did they expect to happen next? What events interfered?
Creative narration: Speak or write as an on-the-spot reporter, or as someone present at the battle. What would you predict as the outcome of the battle, from the situation as it currently appears? What are the greatest obstacles to a Greek victory?
Errors in communication, along with other mistakes, seemed disastrous for the Greeks, and particularly for the Lacedaemonians who were left behind at the original camp. Pausanias, in a panicked state of mind, did not organize a defense; but simply ordered his men to stand their ground while he went off to pray.
wonderful: something to wonder at (but not necessarily something good)
bestowed their arrows lustily: shot their arrows with great force
scimitar: a short sword with a curved blade
the multitude: the common people
So the barbarous people made great shouts and cries, [as if they were not about to join battle, but crush the Greeks in their flight. Which within a very little came to pass.] For Pausanias, seeing the countenance of his enemies, made his ensigns to stay, and commanded every man to prepare to fight: but he forgot to give the [other] Greeks the signal of the battle, either for the anger he took against Amompharetus, or for the sudden onset of the enemies; which [meant] that they came not in [immediately or in a body to their assistance], but straggling in small companies, some here and some there.
[Pausanias, offering sacrifice, could not procure favourable omens]; so he commanded the Spartans to throw their targets at their feet, and not to stir out of their places, but only to do as he bade them, without resisting their enemies. When he had given this straight order, he went again and did sacrifice, when the horsemen of the enemies were at hand, and that their arrow[s] flew amongst the thickest of the Lacedaemonians, and did hurt divers of them, and [e]specially poor Callicrates among the rest, that was one of the goodliest men in all the army. [He, being shot with an arrow and upon the point of expiring, said that he lamented not his death (for he came from home to lay down his life in the defense of Greece)]; but it grieved him to die so cowardly, having given the enemy never a blow. His death was marvellous lamentable, and the constancy of the Spartans wonderful: [for they let the enemy charge without repelling them; and, expecting their proper opportunity from the gods and their general, suffered themselves to be wounded and slain in their ranks.]
Then was Pausanias in great distress to see the priests offer sacrifice upon sacrifice, and that not one of them pleased the gods: at the last he turned his eyes to the temple of Juno, and wept, and holding up his hands, besought Juno [of] Cithaeron, and all the other gods (patrons and protectors of the country of the Plataeans), that if it were not the will of the gods the Greeks should have the victory, yet that the conquerors at the least should buy their deaths dearly, and that they should find they fought against valiant men and worthy soldiers.
Pausanias had no sooner ended his prayer, but the sacrifices fell out very favourable; insomuch the priests and soothsayers came to promise him victory. [The word being given, the Lacedaemonian battalion of foot seemed, on the sudden, like some one fierce animal, setting up his bristles, and betaking himself to the combat; and the barbarians perceived that they encountered with men who would fight it to the death.] Wherefore they covered their bodies with great targets, after the Persian fashion, and bestowed their arrows lustily upon the Lacedaemonians. But they, keeping close together and covering themselves with their shields, marched on still upon them, until they came to join with the enemy so lustily that they made their targets fly out of their hands, with the terrible thrusts and blows of their pikes and spears upon their breasts, and overthwart their faces, [so] that they slew many of them, and laid them on the ground.
For all that, they died not cowardly, but took the Lacedaemonians' pikes and spears in their bare hands, and broke them in two by strength of their arms: and then they quickly plucked out their scimitars and axes, and lustily laid about them, and wrung the Lacedaemonians' shields out of their hands by force, and fought it out with them a great while, hand to hand.
Now, whilst the Lacedaemonians were busily fighting with the barbarous people, the Athenians stood still embattled far off, and kept their ground. But when they saw the Lacedaemonians tarry so long, and that they came not, and heard a marvellous noise of men as though they were fighting; and besides that there came a speedy messenger unto them sent from Pausanias, to let them understand they were fighting; then they marched with all speed they could to help them.
But as they were coming on [at] a great pace over the plain, unto that part where they heard the noise: the Greeks that were on Mardonius' side came against them. Aristides, seeing them coming towards them, went a good way before his company, and cried out as loud as he could for life, and conjured the Greeks in the name of the gods, the protectors of Greece, to leave off these wars, [and be no impediment or stop to those who were going to succour the defenders of Greece]. But when he saw [they would give no attention to him, and had prepared themselves for the battle; then turning from the present relief of the Lacedaemonians, he engaged them, being five thousand in number. But the greatest part soon gave way and retreated, as the barbarians also were put to flight.] The fury of the battle, and cruelest fight (as they say) was where the Thebans were: because the nobility and chiefest men of the country fought very earnestly for the Persians, but the [multitude] refused, being led by a small number of the nobility that commanded them.
Narration and Discussion
Based on the beating that the Lacedaemonians took at the beginning of the passage, the chances of success for the Greeks seemed slim. But suddenly the wind seemed to change, and "the barbarians were put to flight." How might the Greeks have accounted for this? Are there any other possible explanations?
The battle was over; the Persians were defeated; but which of the Greek states deserved the greatest credit and honour? (Would they have to fight over it?)
give place unto: give first place to (and take second place behind)
stayed: kept them from acting
fell out: quarreled
temple of Apollo Pythias: the temple at Delphi
Thebans: see Lesson Eight
the Greeks that fled: the Thebans
Minerva: Roman name for Athena, the goddess of war
On the Map
It might be interesting to measure the distance between Delphi and Plataea. Is it surprising that the runner dropped dead upon arrival?
So they fought that day in two places, the Lacedaemonians being the first that overthrew the Persians, and made them flee; and they slew Mardonius, the king's lieutenant, with a blow of a stone [that] one Arimnestus, a Spartan, gave him upon his head.
They drove the fliers within their walls of wood; and, a little time after, the Athenians put the Thebans to flight, killing three hundred of the chiefest and of greatest note among them in the actual fight itself. [For when they began to flee, news came that the army of the barbarians was besieged within their palisade; and so giving the Greeks opportunity to save themselves, they marched to assist at the fortifications; and coming in to the Lacedaemonians, who were altogether unhandy and inexperienced in storming, they took the camp with great slaughter of the enemy.] For of three hundred thousand, forty thousand only are said to have escaped with Artabasus; while on the Greeks' side there perished in all thirteen hundred and sixty; [of which fifty-two were Athenians, all of the tribe Aeantis, that fought, says Clidemus, with the greatest courage of any].
[omission for length]
After this great battle and overthrow of the barbarous people, there rose great strife betwixt the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians, touching the reward and honour of the victory. For the Athenians would not give place unto the Lacedaemonians, nor suffer them to set up any tokens or signs of triumph. Whereupon the Greeks running to arms in mutiny together, by this occasion they [would have] almost spoiled one another, had not Aristides, through his wisdom and wise persuasions, stayed and quieted the other captains, his companions; [e]specially Leocrates and Myronides, whom he [pacified and persuaded to leave the thing to the decision of the Greeks. And on their proceeding to discuss the matter,] Theogiton, a captain of the Megarians, said, for his opinion, that to avoid the civil war [which] might grow between the Greeks upon this quarrel, he thought it very requisite to appoint over the reward and honour of this victory unto some other city, than to any of the two that fell out about it.
After him rose up Cleocritus [the] Corinthian. [It seemed] to every man there that he would have requested this honour for the city of Corinth, [it] being indeed the third city in estimation of all Greece, next unto Sparta and Athens; howbeit he made an oration in commendation of the Plataeans, which was marvellously liked, and well thought of [by] every man. For his opinion went [in favour of the Plataeans; and counselled to take away all contention by giving them the reward and glory of the victory, whose being honoured could be distasteful to neither party.] Upon his words, Aristides first agreed on the Athenians' behalf, and then Pausanias for the Lacedaemonians, that the Plataeans should have the reward.
Now they both being agreed, before the spoil was divided between them, they set aside fourscore talents that were given to the Plataeans, with the which they built a temple unto Minerva, and gave her an image, and set out all her temple with pictures that remain whole until this day; and the Lacedaemonians notwithstanding did set up their tokens of victory by themselves, and the Athenians theirs also by themselves. So, they sending unto the oracle of Apollo in the city of Delphi, to know unto what gods and how they should do sacrifice: Apollo answered them that they should build up an altar unto Jupiter, protector of their liberty; howbeit that they should put no sacrifice upon it until they had first [extinguished the fires throughout the country, as having been defiled by the barbarians, and had kindled unpolluted fire at the common altar at Delphi.]
This answer being delivered, the great lords and officers of Greece went through all the country, to put out the fire[s] everywhere. And there was a man of the same city of Plataea at that time called Euchidas, that came and offered himself, and promised he would bring them fire from the temple of Apollo Pythias, with all possible speed that might be. So when he came to the city of Delphi, after he had sprinkled and purified his body with clean water, he put a crown of laurel upon his head, and went in that manner to take fire from the altar of Apollo. When he had done, he hied him again as fast as he could run for life, into the city of Plataea, and came thither before the sun was set, having come and gone that day a thousand furlongs. But after he had saluted his citizens and delivered them the fire he brought: he fell down dead at their feet, and gave up the ghost. [But the Plataeans, taking him up, interred him in the temple of Diana Euclia, setting this inscription over him]:
Engraved here doth lie, Euchidas speedy man,
Who in one day, both to and fro, to Delphi lightly ran.
Afterwards there was a general council [held] by all the Greeks, in the which Aristides made a motion that all the cities of Greece should yearly send their deputies at a certain day appointed, unto the city of Plataea, there to make their prayers and sacrifices unto the gods; and that [every fifth year] they should celebrate common games, that should be called the Games of Liberty; and that they should also levy through all the provinces of Greece, for maintenance of the wars against the Persians and barbarous people, ten thousand footmen, a thousand horsemen, and a fleet of a hundred sail; [but the Plataeans [were] to be exempt, and sacred to the service of the gods, offering sacrifice for the welfare of Greece.] All which articles were enacted in [the] form and manner aforesaid; and the Plataeans bound themselves yearly to keep solemn sacrifices and anniversaries for the souls of the Greeks that were slain in their territories, fighting for defense of the liberty of the Greeks. And this they observe yet unto this day.
[omission for length: details of the memorial procession]
Narration and Discussion
Why was it so important to name one of the city-states as the chief victor over the Persians? What part did Aristides play in that decision?
Creative narration: Report (dramatically or in writing) on the events of the battle, and of the plans to commemorate the victory.
The Wars were over, but the large egos of various leaders (particularly Pausanias) were causing trouble in Greece. Could the states ever work together, and who could manage them without being sidetracked by personal ambition?
popular state: one run with a democratic government
yet in arms, and very stout: well-armed and strong
for diverse respects: for various reasons
withal: at the same time
the tyranny and selfishness of Pausanias: see introductory notes
to command the other people of Greece: this refers to the formation of the Delian League, an alliance of Greek city-states
manifest: clear, plain
hold their hands: stop them from acting
indifferently: all alike, impartially
throw the perjury upon him: put the blame on him
convenience: necessity and the benefit of the commonwealth
Cimon: an Athenian statesman and military hero
478 B.C.: Formation of the Delian League
Now when the Athenians were returned to Athens, Aristides perceiving the people were bent to [e]stablish a popular state, where the people might bear the whole rule and authority, judging them well worthy to be considered of [this], in respect of their noble service and valiant courage they had showed in this war; and considering also that they would hardly be brought to like of any other government, being yet in arms, and very stout, by reason of the famous victories they had obtained. [He brought forward a decree that everyone might share in the government and the archons be chosen out of the whole body of the Athenians.]
And moreover, when Themistocles told, in open assembly, that he had a thing in his head [which] would be greatly to the profit and commodity of the state, but yet it was not to be spoken openly for diverse respects: the people willed him to tell it unto Aristides only, and to take his advice in it, to know whether it was meet to be done or not.
Then Themistocles told him secretly between them, that he thought to set the arsenal afire where all the [other] Greeks' ships lay: alleging that by this means the Athenians should be the greatest men of power in all Greece. Aristides hearing that, without any more, came presently to the people again, and told the whole council openly that nothing could be more profitable indeed for the whole commonwealth, and withal more wicked and unjust, than that [which] Themistocles thought good to do. When the people heard Aristides' answer, they willed Themistocles to let his device alone whatsoever it were: so great justicers were the Athenians, and so much did they trust Aristides' wisdom and equity besides.
[Being sent in joint commission with Cimon to the war, he took notice that Pausanias and the other Spartan captains made themselves offensive by imperiousness and harshness to the confederates; and by being himself gentle and considerate with them, and by the courtesy and disinterested temper which Cimon, after his example, manifested in the expeditions, he stole away the chief command from the Lacedaemonians, neither by weapons, ships, or horses, but by equity and wise policy. For the Athenians being endeared to the Greeks by the justice of Aristides and by Cimon's moderation, the tyranny and selfishness of Pausanias rendered them yet more desirable.]
[omission: the harsh treatment of Pausanias towards his men, and his arrogance towards Aristides]
Whereupon the captains of the other Greeks, and specially those of Chios, of Samos, and of Lesbos, did afterwards follow Aristides, and persuaded him to take upon him the charge and authority to command the other people of Greece, and to take into his protection the allies and confederates of the same, who long [since had] wished to revolt from the government of the Lacedaemonians, and only [wished] to submit themselves unto the Athenians. Aristides answered them thus:
"that they had not only reason to do that [which] they said, but that they were also constrained to do it. Notwithstanding, because the Athenians might have good ground and assurance of their undoubted fidelity and good service, they [the other cities] should deliver them manifest testimony and assurance thereof, by some famous act attempted against the Lacedaemonians, whereby their people hereafter durst never fall from the league of the Athenians."
[Upon which Uliades, the Samian, and Antagoras of Chios, conspiring together, ran in near Byzantium on Pausanias' galley, getting her between them as she was sailing before the rest.] Pausanias, seeing them, stood up straight in a marvellous rage against them, and threatened them that before it were long he would make them know they had been better to have assaulted their own natural country, than to have set upon him as they had done.
But they answered him, and bade him get him away quickly [if] he were wise, and let him thank Fortune hardly, that granted the Greeks victory at the Battle of Plataea under his leading: and that it was nothing else but only reverence and respect of the same, that had made the Greeks hold their hands till now from giving him that just punishment [which] his pride and arrogancy had deserved. So the end was, they left the Lacedaemonians, and stuck unto the Athenians: wherein was easily discerned the great courage and wonderful magnanimity of the Lacedaemonians. For when they saw their captains were marred and corrupted, through the over-great authority and liberty they had, they willingly gave up their commandment over the other Greeks, and did no more send their captains to be generals of the whole army of Greece: thinking it better for their citizens, that they should be obedient, and in every point observe the discipline and law of their country, than if they had been otherwise the only rulers and lords over the whole country.
[Even during the command of the Lacedaemonians, the Greeks [had] paid a certain contribution towards the maintenance of the war; and [now] being desirous to be rated city by city in their due proportion], they prayed the Athenians they would appoint Aristides to take order for it, unto whom they gave full power and authority to tax and [assess] every city indifferently, considering the greatness of the territory, and the revenues of the same, as everyone was reasonably able to bear it.
[omission for length about Aristides' high rate of taxation over the confederacy, which seems to have been well-accepted rather than detested]
[Aristides, therefore, having acquired a wonderful and great reputation by this levy of the tribute, Themistocles is said to have derided him, as if this had been not the commendation of a man, but a money-bag; a retaliation, though not in the same kind, for some free words which Aristides had used. For when Themistocles once was saying that he thought the highest virtue of a general was to understand and foreknow the measures the enemy would take], Aristides replied, "And so is it not only a needful, but an honest thing, and meet for a worthy general of an army, to be clean-fingered, without bribery or corruption."
So Aristides made all the other people of Greece to swear that they would truly keep the articles of the alliance; and he himself, as general of the Athenians, [took the oath] in the name of the Athenians; and so pronouncing execrations and curses against them that should break the league and oath taken, he threw iron wedges red hot into the sea, and prayed the gods to destroy them even so, that did violate their vowed faith. [But afterwards, it would seem, when things were in such a state as constrained them to govern with a stronger hand, he bade the Athenians to throw the perjury upon him; and manage affairs as convenience required. And, in general, Theophrastus tells us] that Aristides was not only a perfect, an honest, and just man, in private matters betwixt party and party: but in matters of state, and concerning the commonwealth, he did many things oftentimes according to the necessity of the time, and troubles of the city, wherein violence and injustice was to be used. As when the question was asked in open council, to know whether they might take away the gold and silver that was left in the isle of Delos, safely laid up in the temple of Apollo, to bear out the charges of the wars against the barbarous people, and to bring it from thence unto Athens, upon the motion of the Samians (although it was directly against the articles of the alliance, made and sworn among all the Greeks). Aristides' opinion being asked in the same, he answered: "It was not just, but yet profitable."
Narration and Discussion
Themistocles and Aristides had different opinions about the skills and character qualities most required in a general. Make a list of the qualities a leader should have; choose the three you believe are the most important, and explain why you chose them. If possible, compare your list with that of someone else.
For older students: Aristides never stopped saying that he valued justice, honesty, and gentle means of negotiation. The historian quoted by Plutarch, however, said that, in practice, Aristides sometimes allowed violent and unjust actions, if the outcome seemed to be for the good of his people. Is acting against one's own conscience necessary or beneficial for a leader?
Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions
This lesson sums up Aristides' philosophy and contributions during his lifetime; and ends with various writers' speculation about his death.
capital cause: serious crime
trow: think, believe
insolent: proud and rebellious
minas, lugera: units of money
haven of Phalerus: Bay of Phalerum, a port of ancient Athens
471 B.C.: Themistocles ostracized
470 B.C.: death of Pausanias
468 B.C.: death of Aristides
Now, notwithstanding Aristides had brought his city to rule and command many thousands of people: yet was he still poor for all that, [and always delighted as much in the glory of being poor, as in that of his trophies; as is evident from the following story.] Callias, [the] torch bearer, was his near kinsman, [and was prosecuted by his enemies in a capital cause, in which, after they had slightly argued the matters on which they indicted him, they proceeded, besides the point, to address the judges]:
"My Lords, you all know Aristides the son of Lysimachus, and you are not ignorant also that his virtue hath made him more esteemed than any man else is, or can be, in all Greece. How think ye doth he live at home, when you see him abroad up and down the city, in a threadbare gown all too tattered? Is it not likely, trow ye, that he is ready to starve at home for lack of meat and relief, whom we all see quake for very cold, being so ill-arrayed and clothed? [Callias, the wealthiest of the Athenians, does nothing to relieve either him or his wife and children in their poverty, though he is his own cousin, and has made use of him in many cases, and often reaped advantage by his interest with you.]"
Callias perceiving the judges angrier with him for that than for any matter else he was accused of: he prayed Aristides might be sent for, and willed him to tell truly whether he had not offered him good round sums of money, many a time and oft, and entreated him to take it; which he ever refused, and answered him always, that he could better boast of his poverty than [he] himself could of his riches (which he said many did use ill, and few could use them well); and that it was a hard thing to find one man of a noble mind, that could away with poverty; and that such only might be ashamed of poverty who may be poor against their wills.
So Aristides confirmed he spoke to be true; and every man that was at the hearing of this matter, went wholly away with this opinion, that he had rather be poor as Aristides, than rich as Callias. This tale is written thus by Aeschines the Socratian philosopher.
[But Plato declares that, of all the great renowned men in the city of Athens, he was the only one worthy of consideration.] "For others," said he, "[such] as Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles, have beautified the city with stately porches, and sumptuous buildings of gold and silver, and with stone of other fine superfluous devices; but Aristides was he [who] virtuously disposed himself and all his doings, to the furtherance of the state and commonwealth."
His justice and good nature appeared plainly in his doings and behaviour towards Themistocles. For though Themistocles was ever against Aristides in all things, and a continual enemy of his, and that by his means and practise he was banished from Athens: yet when Themistocles was accused of treason to the state, having divers sharp enemies against him [such] as Cimon, Alcmaeon, [and others]: Aristides sought not revenge when he had him at his advantage. For he neither spoke nor did anything against him at that time to hurt him: neither did he rejoice to see his enemy in misery, no more than if he had never envied him in his prosperity.
And touching Aristides' death, some write he died in the realm of Pontus, being sent thither about matters of the state; and other[s] think he died an old man in the city of Athens, greatly honoured and beloved of all the citizens.
But Craterus the Macedonian writeth of his death in this sort: [After the banishment of Themistocles, he says, the people growing insolent, there sprung up a number of false and frivolous accusers, impeaching the best and most influential men and exposing them to the envy of the multitude, whom their good fortune and power had filled with self-conceit.] Among the rest, Aristides was condemned for extortion and ill behaviour in the commonwealth, upon one Diophantes' accusation, of the village of Amphitrope: who burdened him that he took money of the Ionians, to make the annual tribute cease which they paid unto Athens: and so Craterus sayeth that because Aristides was not able to pay the fine they set upon his head (which was five minas), he was driven to forsake Athens, and to get him into Ionia, where he died. Yet doth not Craterus bring forth any probable matter to prove this true he writeth: as [Aristides'] pleading, his sentence and condemnation, or any decree passed against him, although he used great diligence else in collecting all such matters and vouching his authors.
Moreover, Aristides' tomb is to be seen at this day upon the haven of Phalerus, which was set up for him at the charge of the commonwealth, as it is reported, because he died so poor a man as they found nothing in his house to bury him with. Other[s] go further, and say that his daughters were married by decree of the people, at the charge of the commonwealth, and that the city gave every one of them three thousand drachmas: and his son Lysimachus, a hundred minas of silver, and a hundred lugera.
[omission about Aristides' family]
Narration and Discussion
Aristides said of wealth that few could use it well, so he preferred to keep himself poor. Do you agree? (Consider Matthew 19:22-24.)
Plutarch quotes Plato: "For others," said he, "[such] as Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles, have beautified the city with stately porches, and sumptuous buildings of gold and silver, and with stone of other fine superfluous devices; but Aristides was he [who] virtuously disposed himself and all his doings, to the furtherance of the state and commonwealth." How did Aristides beautify Athens in a unique way?
1. Choose one of these: (a) Give two stories to show that Aristides believed it was his duty to "offer his body and life to do his country service, without prospect and hope of reward," or, (b), "I am Alexander King of Macedon, who for the good-will . . . I bear you have put myself in the greatest danger." When were these words used? Describe this meeting of Alexander and Aristides.
2. (Alternate) How did Aristides (a) pacify the mutiny and (b) put an end to a conspiracy of rich noblemen before the Battle of Plataea?
1. (a) It is said that once when a just man was commended in the theatre "all the people straight cast their eyes upon Aristides." Give two instances to explain why the audience thought at once of Aristides; OR, b) Give an account of the conversation between Aristides and Themistocles before and after the battle of Salamis.
2. For high school students: (a) Show why Plato gave Aristides praise above all the other many famous and notable men of Athens; or, (b), Show that the counsels of Aristides brought victory to the Greek armies at Plataea.
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus