The History Of Herodotus Volume 2 of 2

Page: 120

139. And here I am compelled by necessity to declare an opinion which in the eyes of most men would seem to be invidious, but nevertheless I will not abstain from saying that which I see evidently to be the truth. If the Athenians had been seized with fear of the danger which threatened them and had left their land, 118 or again, without leaving their land, had stayed and given themselves up to Xerxes, none would have made any attempt by sea to oppose the king. If then none had opposed Xerxes by sea, it would have happened on the land somewhat thus:—even if many tunics of walls 119 had been thrown across the Isthmus by the Peloponnesians, the Lacedemonians would have been deserted by their allies, not voluntarily but of necessity, since these would have been conquered city after city by the naval force of the Barbarian, and so they would have been left alone: and having been left alone and having displayed great deeds of valour, they would have met their death nobly. Either they would have suffered this fate, or before this, seeing the other Hellenes also taking the side of the Medes, they would have made an agreement with Xerxes; and thus in either case Hellas would have come to be under the rule of the Persians: for as to the good to be got from the walls thrown across the Isthmus, I am unable to discover what it would have been, when the king had command of the sea. As it is however, if a man should say that the Athenians proved to be the saviours of Hellas, he would not fail to hit the truth; for to whichever side these turned, to that the balance was likely to incline: and these were they who, preferring that Hellas should continue to exist in freedom, roused up all of Hellas which remained, so much, that is, as had not gone over to the Medes, and (after the gods at least) these were they who repelled the king. Nor did fearful oracles, which came from Delphi and cast them into dread, induce them to leave Hellas, but they stayed behind and endured to receive the invader of their land.

140. For the Athenians had sent men to Delphi to inquire and were preparing to consult the Oracle; and after these had performed the usual rites in the sacred precincts, when they had entered the sanctuary 120 and were sitting down there, the Pythian prophetess, whose name was Aristonike, uttered to them this oracle:

   "Why do ye sit, O ye wretched? Flee thou 121 to the uttermost
   limits, Leaving thy home and the heights of the wheel-round city
   behind thee! Lo, there remaineth now nor the head nor the body in
   safety,—Neither the feet below nor the hands nor the middle are
   left thee,—All are destroyed 122 together; for fire and the
   passionate War-god, 123 Urging the Syrian 124 car to speed, doth
   hurl them 125 to ruin. Not thine alone, he shall cause many more
   great strongholds to perish, Yes, many temples of gods to the
   ravening fire shall deliver,—Temples which stand now surely with
   sweat of their terror down-streaming, Quaking with dread; and lo!
   from the topmost roof to the pavement Dark blood trickles,
   forecasting the dire unavoidable evil. Forth with you, forth from
   the shrine, and steep your soul in the sorrow!" 126