Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Sons of Alcmaeon and the End of Miltiades

This story that they tell of the sons of Alcmæon, how they held up a shield to the Persians seeking to destroy the city, that it might be under the lordship of Hippias, is passing strange, seeing that the house of Alcmæon had showed itself an enemy to tyrants not less than any other house among the Greeks. And indeed so long as the lordship of the sons of Pisistratus endured at Athens, so long did they remain in exile; and as for the ending of this lordship, they are to be praised for it rather than are Harmodius and Aristogeiton, for these did but make the sons of Pisistratus the more cruel by slaying Hipparchus; but as for making their tyranny to cease they did nothing. This was the work of the sons of Alcmæon if it be true, as has been told, that they had persuaded the Pythia for money to lay this charge upon the Lacedæmonians that they should cause Athens to be free. Nor indeed is it to be thought that the sons of Alcmæon betrayed their country by reason of anger against their countrymen for there were none in those days of greater reputation than were these men, nor any that were more honored. That a shield was held up is certain; but as to who it was that held it up, this no man knows.

race in armor


As for the house of Alcmæon it was famous in Athens from the beginning; but there were two men that more than all others made it to be of great renown; and these two were Alcmæon and Megacles. As for Alcmæon, how he got him great riches from Crœsus, King of Lydia, has been told already; and as for Megacles the matter stands thus.

Cleisthenes son of Aristonymus, being lord of Sicyon, would have for his daughter's husband that man whom he should find to be noblest of all the Greeks. The name of this daughter was Agarista. For this purpose he caused proclamation to be made at the festival of Olympia, where he had won a victory with a chariot of four horses. And the proclamation was this: "Let any Greek who holds himself to be worthy of being son-in-law to Cleisthenes come on the sixtieth day, or before it if he will, to the city of Sicyon, for Cleisthenes will determine in the space of a year, beginning with the sixtieth day, to whom he should give his daughter in marriage." To Cleisthenes therefore came so many of the Greeks as thought much of themselves or of their house; and he had prepared a course for foot-racing and a wrestling ground to make trial of them. From Italy came Smindyrides of Sybaris, that was the most luxurious liver of all the men of his day. And those were the times when the city of Sybaris was at the very height of its prosperity. And from Ætolia there came Males brother of Titormus. This Titormus excelled all men in strength. He it was that seeking to withdraw himself altogether from the sight of men fled into the furthest parts of Ætolia. There came also Leocedes, son of Pheidon, that was lord of Argos. This was that Pheidon who brought in the weights and measures that the dwellers in Peloponnese use. No man was more arrogant than he. He drove out the men of Elis from being masters of the festivals of Olympia and was master himself. Also among the suitors was Laphanes the Arcadian, the son of Euphorion, who, so say the Arcadians, received in his house the Twin-Brethren, and ever after used hospitality to all comers. From Athens there came Hippoclides, the son of Tisander, who excelled all the Athenians in riches and beauty; and also Megacles, being son to that Alcmæon whom King Crœsus had made rich. These and others also came to Sicyon as suitors for Agarista on the sixtieth day, as had been appointed. Then Cleisthenes first of all inquired of each his country and his father's house; and afterwards, for the space of a whole year, made trial of their courage and their temper and their training and their behavior, having converse with them sometimes one by one and sometimes altogether. Such as were younger among them he would send to the place of games; but chiefly he made trial of all at the banqueting table. Thus he behaved himself with them for the space of a whole year entertaining them right splendidly the whole year. And of all the suitors none pleased him so well as the two that came from Athens, and of these two he inclined the rather to Hippoclides, not only for his high carriage, but also because he was of kin to the house of Cypselus that had had the lordship of Corinth.



When the day came for the espousals, and for Cleisthenes to declare his mind whom he chose out of the suitors for his daughter's husband, he sacrificed a hundred oxen and made a great feast to the suitors and to all the people of Sicyon. And after the feast the suitors contended with each other in music and in speaking on some subject that was proposed to them. And as the drinking went on, Hippoclides, all the others wondering much at him, bade the flute-player play music to him; and when the flute-player did so, he danced. And in this dancing he pleased himself marvelously, but Cleisthenes looked askance on the whole business. Again, after resting awhile, Hippoclides bade them bring a table; and when the table was brought, he mounted upon it, and danced, first certain Spartan figures, and then certain Athenian; and at the last, with his head upon table, he began to toss his legs about in the air. During the first dancing, and during the second, Cleisthenes held his peace, not with wishing to break out upon the man, though indeed he loathed to think of having Hippoclides for a son-in-law, so much did he hate the man's passion for dancing and his shamelessness. But when he saw him tossing his legs in the air he could restrain himself no longer, but cried aloud: "Son of Tisander, thou hast danced away thy wife!" And the young man said: "Hippoclides does not care!" which words have become a proverb among the Greeks. After this Cleisthenes commanded silence, and spake thus in the midst of the suitors: "My friends that are come to be suitors of my daughter, I am well pleased with all of you, and gladly would I content you all, if it were possible, and not choose out one from among you and reject the rest. But this, seeing that I have to dispose of a single maiden in marriage, I cannot do. To you therefore who are disappointed in your suit I give a gift, a talent of silver to each man, because ye have done me honor in seeking to take a wife from my house, and because ye have been at charge, living away from your homes. But my daughter Agarista I betroth to Megacles, the son of Alcmæon, after the custom of the land of Attica." And when Megacles had also plighted his troth, the marriage was made. Thus did the house of Alcmæon become famous throughout the land of Greece. To these two, Megacles and Agarista, was born Cleisthenes, the same that divided the Athenians into tribes and set up also the rule of the people. This name he had from his grandfather of Sicyon. Also there was born another son, Hippocrates, and Hippocrates had a son Megacles and a daughter Agarista. This Agarista was married to Xanthippus the son of Ariphon; and being with child, she had a vision in her sleep, and dreamed that she brought forth a lion. Not many days afterwards she bore a son whose name was Pericles.

Now shall be told the end of Miltiades. This man, after the battle that was fought at Marathon, having been held before in high esteem among his countrymen, increased yet more in reputation. This being so, he asked of the Athenians seventy ships and an army and money. He told them not to what place he purposed to take the ships, saying only that if they would hearken to him he would greatly enrich them; for he would take them to a land whence they might easily get gold without stint. In this way he asked for the ships, and the Athenians, being carried away by what they heard, gave him that which he asked for. Then Miltiades, having got the ships and the army, sailed to the island of Paros. And the cause which he pretended for so doing was that the Parians had first made war against Athens, for that they had sent a ship of war with the Persians. This cause indeed he pretended; but in truth he had a grudge against a certain man of Paros, Lysagoras by name, because he had slandered him to Hydarnes the Persian. When Miltiades was come to Paros, the Parians took refuge within their walls; and a siege was begun. Then he sent a herald to the city, and demanded of the Parians a hundred talents, saying that he would not take his army thence till he had destroyed them, if they would not pay the money. Now the Parians had no thought of paying the money to Miltiades; but they did their utmost to strengthen their city against him, contriving many devices, among which was this, that where the wall was weakest there they built it up to twice the height that it had before.

So far in the story are the Greeks agreed. But what happened after this is thus told by the men of Paros. To Miltiades, being in great straits, there came a woman that was a priestess, a Parian by birth, whose name was Timo; and she was a priestess of the lower gods, but one of the meaner sort. This woman came to Miltiades and said to him: "If thou hast set thy mind on taking Paros, do what I shall tell thee and thou shalt have thy wish." And when she had unfolded to him her counsel, he went to the hill that is before the city and leaped over the fence that is about the precinct of Demeter the Lawgiver, for the door he was not able to open. And after leaping over the fence, he went to the sanctuary; and what he purposed to do therein, whether to move any of the things that may not be touched, or any other thing, no man can say; but when he was come to the door there fell suddenly upon him a great horror, so that he went back by the way by which he had come. But as he leaped over the fence he strained his thigh, or, as some say, he bruised his knee upon the ground.

After this Miltiades, being in evil case, went back to Athens, but he brought the people no money, neither had he conquered Paros for them. Only he had besieged the city for twenty and six days, and had laid waste the island. And when the men of Paros knew of the priestess, that she had led Miltiades into the temple, so soon as the siege was at an end they sent worshipers to Delphi who should inquire whether they should not slay the priestess that had meditated the betraying of the country, and had caused Miltiades to see the holy things which it is not lawful for any man to behold. But the Pythia answered: "Slay her not; for it was the will of the Gods that Miltiades should come to an evil end, and this woman led him unto the same." As for Miltiades, when he was come back to Athens the Athenians had much talk about him; and the chief of his enemies was Xanthippus. This man brought him to trial for his life before the people, whom, he said, he had deceived. And Miltiades, though he was present at his trial, could not plead for himself because his thigh was sorely diseased, but lay there upon a couch, while his friends pleaded earnestly on his behalf, saying much about the battle of Marathon and how he had taken the island of Lemnos. And the favor of the people was with him, so that they did not take away his life; yet was he condemned for his wrong-doing in a fine of fifty talents. After this Miltiades died in his prison, for the bone of his thigh had splintered, and the flesh was mortified. And the fine was paid by Cimon his son.