The Story of the Greeks
Page: 63The Persian monarch, we are told, welcomed him warmly, gave him a Persian wife, and set aside three cities to supply him with bread, meat, and wine. Themistocles soon grew very rich, and lived on the fat of the land; and a traveler said that he once exclaimed, "How much we should have lost, my children and I, had we not been ruined by the Athenians!"
Artaxerxes, having thus provided for all Themistocles' wants, and helped him to pile up riches, fancied that his gratitude would lead him to perform any service the king might ask. He therefore sent for Themistocles one day, and bade him lead a Persian army against the Greeks.
But, although Themistocles had been exiled from his country, he had not fallen low enough to turn traitor. He proudly refused to fight; and it is said that he preferred to commit suicide, rather than injure the people he had once loved so dearly.[Pg 141]
LVI. CIMON IMPROVES ATHENS.
As soon as Themistocles had been banished from Athens, Aristides again became the chief man of the city, and he was also made the head and leader of the allies. He was so upright and just that all were ready to honor and obey him, and they gladly let him take charge of the money of the state.
In reward for his services, the Athenians offered him a large salary and many rich gifts; but he refused them all, saying that he needed nothing, and could afford to serve his country without pay.
He therefore went on seeing to all the public affairs until his death, when it was found that he was so poor that there was not enough money left to pay for his funeral. The Athenians, touched by his virtues, gave him a public burial, held his name in great honor, and often regretted that they had once been so ungrateful as to banish their greatest citizen, Aristides the Just.
As Aristides had watched carefully over the money of the allied states, and had ruled the Athenians very wisely, it is no wonder that Athens had little by little risen above Sparta, which had occupied the first place ever since the battle of Thermopylæ.
The Athenians, as long as Aristides lived, showed themselves just and liberal; but as soon as he was dead, they began to treat their former allies unkindly. The money which all the Greek states furnished was now no longer used to strengthen the army and navy, as first agreed, but was lavishly spent to beautify the city.[Pg 142]
Now, while it was a good thing to make their town as fine as possible, it was certainly wrong to use the money of others for this purpose, and the Athenians were soon punished for their dishonesty.
Cimon, the son of Miltiades, was made the head of the army, and won several victories over the Persians in Asia Minor. When he returned to Athens, he brought back a great deal of spoil, and generously gave up all his share to improve the city and strengthen the walls.