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The History Of Herodotus Volume 2 of 2

Page: 87

10. Mardonios having thus smoothed over the resolution expressed by Xerxes had ceased speaking: and when the other Persians were silent and did not venture to declare an opinion contrary to that which had been proposed, then Artabanos the son of Hystaspes, being father's brother to Xerxes and having reliance upon that, spoke as follows: (a) "O king, if opinions opposed to one another be not spoken, it is not possible to select the better in making the choice, but one must accept that which has been spoken; if however opposite opinions be uttered, this is possible; just as we do not distinguish the gold which is free from alloy when it is alone by itself, but when we rub it on the touchstone in comparison with other gold, then we distinguish that which is the better. Now I gave advice to thy father Dareios also, who was my brother, not to march against the Scythians, men who occupied no abiding city in any part of the earth. He however, expecting that he would subdue the Scythians who were nomads, did not listen to me; but he made a march and came back from it with the loss of many good men of his army. But thou, O king, art intending to march against men who are much better than the Scythians, men who are reported to be excellent both by sea and on land: and the thing which is to be feared in this matter it is right that I should declare to thee. (b) Thou sayest that thou wilt yoke the Hellespont with a bridge and march an army through Europe to Hellas. Now supposing it chance that we are 9 worsted either by land or by sea, or even both, for the men are reported to be valiant in fight, (and we may judge for ourselves that it is so, since the Athenians by themselves destroyed that great army which came with Datis and Artaphrenes to the Attic land),—suppose however that they do not succeed in both, yet if they shall attack with their ships and conquer in a sea-fight, and then sail to the Hellespont and break up the bridge, this of itself, O king, will prove to be a great peril. (c) Not however by any native wisdom of my own do I conjecture that this might happen: I am conjecturing only such a misfortune as all but came upon us at the former time, when thy father, having yoked the Bosphorus of Thracia and made a bridge over the river Ister, had crossed over to go against the Scythians. At that time the Scythians used every means of entreaty to persuade the Ionians to break up the passage, to whom it had been entrusted to guard the bridges of the Ister. At that time, if Histiaios the despot of Miletos had followed the opinion of the other despots and had not made opposition to them, the power of the Persians would have been brought to an end. Yet it is a fearful thing even to hear it reported that the whole power of the king had come to depend upon one human creature. 10 (d) Do not thou therefore propose to go into any such danger when there is no need, but do as I say:—at the present time dissolve this assembly; and afterwards at whatever time it shall seem good to thee, when thou hast considered prudently with thyself, proclaim that which seems to thee best: for good counsel I hold to be a very great gain; since even if anything shall prove adverse, the counsel which has been taken is no less good, though it has been defeated by fortune; while he who took counsel badly at first, if good fortune should go with him has lighted on a prize by chance, but none the less for that his counsel was bad. (e) Thou seest how God strikes with thunderbolts the creatures which stand above the rest and suffers them not to make a proud show; while those which are small do not provoke him to jealousy: thou seest also how he hurls his darts ever at those buildings which are the highest and those trees likewise; for God is wont to cut short all those things which stand out above the rest. Thus also a numerous army is destroyed by one of few men in some such manner as this, namely when God having become jealous of them casts upon them panic or thundering from heaven, then they are destroyed utterly and not as their worth deserves; for God suffers not any other to have high thoughts save only himself. (f) Moreover the hastening of any matter breeds disasters, whence great losses are wont to be produced; but in waiting there are many good things contained, as to which, if they do not appear to be good at first, yet one will find them to be so in course of time. (g) To thee, O king, I give this counsel: but thou son of Gobryas, Mardonios, cease speaking foolish words about the Hellenes, since they in no way deserve to be spoken of with slight; for by uttering slander against the Hellenes thou art stirring the king himself to make an expedition, and it is to this very end that I think thou art straining all thy endeavour. Let not this be so; for slander is a most grievous thing: in it the wrongdoers are two, and the person who suffers wrong is one. The slanderer does a wrong in that he speaks against one who is not present, the other in that he is persuaded of the thing before he gets certain knowledge of it, and he who is not present when the words are spoken suffers wrong in the matter thus,—both because he has been slandered by the one and because he has been believed to be bad by the other. (h) However, if it be absolutely needful to make an expedition against these men, come, let the king himself remain behind in the abodes of the Persians, and let us both set to the wager our sons; and then do thou lead an army by thyself, choosing for thyself the men whom thou desirest, and taking an army as large as thou thinkest good: and if matters turn out for the king as thou sayest, let my sons be slain and let me also be slain in addition to them; but if in the way which I predict, let thy sons suffer this, and with them thyself also, if thou shalt return back. But if thou art not willing to undergo this proof, but wilt by all means lead an army against Hellas, then I say that those who are left behind in this land will hear 11 that Mardonios, after having done a great mischief to the Persians, is torn by dogs and birds, either in the land of the Athenians, or else perchance thou wilt be in the land of the Lacedemonians (unless indeed this should have come to pass even before that upon the way), and that thou hast at length been made aware against what kind of men thou art persuading the king to march."


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