The History Of Herodotus Volume 2 of 2

Page: 121

141. Hearing this the men who had been sent by the Athenians to consult the Oracle were very greatly distressed; and as they were despairing by reason of the evil which had been prophesied to them, Timon the son of Androbulos, a man of the Delphians in reputation equal to the first, counselled them to take a suppliant's bough and to approach the second time and consult the Oracle as suppliants. The Athenians did as he advised and said: "Lord, 127 we pray thee utter to us some better oracle about our native land, having respect to these suppliant boughs which we have come to thee bearing; otherwise surely we will not depart away from the sanctuary, but will remain here where we are now, even until we bring our lives to an end." When they spoke these words, the prophetess gave them a second oracle as follows:

   "Pallas cannot prevail to appease great Zeus in Olympos, Though she
   with words very many and wiles close-woven entreat him. But I will
   tell thee this more, and will clench it with steel adamantine: Then
   when all else shall be taken, whatever the boundary 128 of Kecrops
   Holdeth within, and the dark ravines of divinest Kithairon, A
   bulwark of wood at the last Zeus grants to the Trito-born goddess
   Sole to remain unwasted, which thee and thy children shall profit.
   Stay thou not there for the horsemen to come and the footmen
   unnumbered; Stay thou not still for the host from the mainland to
   come, but retire thee, Turning thy back to the foe, for yet thou
   shalt face him hereafter. Salamis, thou the divine, thou shalt cause
   sons of women to perish, Or when the grain 129 is scattered or
   when it is gathered together."

142. This seemed to them to be (as in truth it was) a milder utterance than the former one; therefore they had it written down and departed with it to Athens: and when the messengers after their return made report to the people, many various opinions were expressed by persons inquiring into the meaning of the oracle, and among them these, standing most in opposition to one another:—some of the elder men said they thought that the god had prophesied to them that the Acropolis should survive; for the Acropolis of the Athenians was in old time fenced with a thorn hedge; and they conjectured accordingly that this saying about the "bulwark of wood" referred to the fence: others on the contrary said that the god meant by this their ships, and they advised to leave all else and get ready these. Now they who said that the ships were the bulwark of wood were shaken in their interpretation by the two last verses which the prophetess uttered:

 "Salamis, thou the divine, thou shalt cause sons of women to perish,
  Or when the grain is scattered or when it is gathered together."

In reference to these verses the opinions of those who said that the ships were the bulwark of wood were disturbed; for the interpreters of oracles took these to mean that it was fated for them, having got ready for a sea-fight, to suffer defeat round about Salamis.