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The History Of Herodotus Volume 2 of 2

Page: 145

219. To the Hellenes who were in Thermopylai first the soothsayer Megistias, after looking into the victims which were sacrificed, declared the death which was to come to them at dawn of day; and afterwards deserters brought the report 219 of the Persians having gone round. These signified it to them while it was yet night, and thirdly came the day-watchers, who had run down from the heights when day was already dawning. Then the Hellenes deliberated, and their opinions were divided; for some urged that they should not desert their post, while others opposed this counsel. After this they departed from their assembly, 220 and some went away and dispersed each to their several cities, while others of them were ready to remain there together with Leonidas.

220. However it is reported also that Leonidas himself sent them away, having a care that they might not perish, but thinking that it was not seemly for himself and for the Spartans who were present to leave the post to which they had come at first to keep guard there. I am inclined rather to be of this latter opinion, 221 namely that because Leonidas perceived that the allies were out of heart and did not desire to face the danger with him to the end, he ordered them to depart, but held that for himself to go away was not honourable, whereas if he remained, a great fame of him would be left behind, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out: for an oracle had been given by the Pythian prophetess to the Spartans, when they consulted about this war at the time when it was being first set on foot, to the effect that either Lacedemon must be destroyed by the Barbarians, or their king must lose his life. This reply the prophetess gave them in hexameter verses, and it ran thus:

 "But as for you, ye men who in wide-spaced Sparta inhabit,
  Either your glorious city is sacked by the children of Perses,
  Or, if it be not so, then a king of the stock Heracleian
  Dead shall be mourned for by all in the boundaries of broad Lacedemon.
  Him 222 nor the might of bulls nor the raging of lions shall hinder;
  For he hath might as of Zeus; and I say he shall not be restrained,
  Till one of the other of these he have utterly torn and divided." 223

I am of opinion that Leonidas considering these things and desiring to lay up for himself glory above all the other Spartans, 224 dismissed the allies, rather than that those who departed did so in such disorderly fashion, because they were divided in opinion.

221. Of this the following has been to my mind a proof as convincing as any other, namely that Leonidas is known to have endeavoured to dismiss the soothsayer also who accompanied this army, Megistias the Acarnanian, who was said to be descended from Melampus, that he might not perish with them after he had declared from the victims that which was about to come to pass for them. He however when he was bidden to go would not himself depart, but sent away his son who was with him in the army, besides whom he had no other child.


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