The Story of the Greeks
Page: 76The Athenians were almost in despair. They had enemies on all sides, and were also worried by the quarrels of aristocrats and democrats within the city. These two political parties were now so opposed to each other, that nothing could make them friends.
The army, longing for action, and without a leader, finally took matters into their own hands. They recalled Alcibiades, and asked him to help them. The[Pg 169] young man, who was generous and kind-hearted, immediately responded to this appeal; and, now that it was too late, he repented of what he had done, and began to do all in his power to defeat the enemy he had aroused.
By his eloquence and skill, Alcibiades finally succeeded in winning the Persians over to side with the Athenians, and to fight against the Spartans; but all his efforts to make up for the past were vain. His treachery had ruined Athens; and when he led the troops against the Spartans, the Athenians were completely defeated.
Afraid to return to his native city, where he knew the people would blame him for their sufferings, Alcibiades fled. After roaming about for some time, he took refuge in a castle which he had built on the Cher-so-ne´sus.
From the height upon which the castle stood, Alcibiades could overlook the sea on both sides; and he watched the Spartan and Athenian fleets, which, unknown to each other, had come to anchor very near him. He soon discovered that the Spartans had become aware of the presence of the Athenians, and were preparing to surprise them.
He therefore left his castle, and, at the risk of his life, went down to warn the Athenians of the coming danger. They, however, treated his warning with scorn,[Pg 170] and bade him return to his castle, and remember that he no longer had any right to interfere in their affairs.
From the top of his promontory, Alcibiades saw the complete destruction of the Athenian fleet. Only a few men managed to escape to his castle for shelter; while a single ship sailed in haste to Athens, to report the defeat, and warn the people of the coming danger.
A few days later the victorious Spartan army marched unchallenged into Athens, for there were now no fighting men left to oppose them. The Spartans said that Athens must now obey them in all things; and, to humiliate the people, they tore down the Long Walls to the sound of joyful music on the anniversary of the glorious victory of Salamis.
Thus ended the Peloponnesian War, which, as you have seen, began shortly before the death of Pericles. From this time on, the fame of Athens was due mostly to her literature and art.
By order of the Spartans, Solon's laws were set aside, and thirty men were chosen to govern the city. These rulers proved so stern and cruel, that they were soon known as the Thirty Tyrants, and were hated by every one.
The Athenians suffered so sorely under the government which the Spartans had thus forced upon them, that they soon began to long for the return of Alcibiades, who, whatever his faults, was always generous.
When the Thirty Tyrants and the Spartans learned of this feeling, they were afraid that the Athenians would summon Alcibiades, so they bribed the Persian governor to put him to death.[Pg 171]
A party of murderers went to his house at night, and set it afire. Alcibiades, waking up suddenly, tried to escape with his household; but no sooner had he reached the door than he found himself surrounded by enemies.
Alcibiades quickly wrapped his cloak around his left arm to serve as a shield, and, seizing his sword in his right hand, rushed manfully out upon his foes. The Persians, frightened at his approach, fled in haste; but they came to a stop at a safe distance, and flung so many stones and spears at him that he soon fell dead from the blows.
His body was left where it had fallen, and was found by his wife, who loved him dearly in spite of all his faults. She tenderly wrapped it up in her own mantle, and had it buried not far from where it lay.
Thus ended the life of the brilliant Alcibiades, who died at the age of forty, far away from his native land, and from the people whose idol he had once been, but whom he had ruined by his vanity.
Although the Thirty Tyrants ruled in Athens but a short time, they condemned fifteen hundred men to death, and drove many good citizens into exile. During their brief period of authority they even found fault with Socrates, and would have liked to kill him, though he was the greatest philosopher the world has ever known.[Pg 172]
As the rule of the Thirty Tyrants had been forced upon them by the victorious Spartans, the Athenians soon resolved to get rid of them. Among the good citizens whom these cruel rulers had driven away into exile, was Thras-y-bu´lus, who was a real patriot.
He had seen the sufferings of the Athenians, and his sympathy had been roused. So he began plotting against the Thirty Tyrants, assembled a few brave men, entered the city, drove out the Spartans, and overturned their government when they least expected it.
Some years later the Athenians rebuilt the Long Walls, which Ly-san´der, the Spartan general, had torn down to the sound of festive music. They were so glad to be rid of the cruel tyrants, that they erected statues in honor of Thrasybulus, their deliverer, and sang songs in his praise at all their public festivals.
The Spartans, in the mean while, had been changing rapidly for the worse, for the defeat of the Athenians had filled their hearts with pride, and had made them fancy they were the bravest and greatest people on earth. Such conceit is always harmful.