Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber

The Burning of Athens

As all their allies were trying only to defend the Peloponnesus, the Athenians were left entirely alone. Many of their friends advised them to abandon their city, and follow the other Greeks southward, leaving all Attica a prey to the foe.

This the Athenians did not wish to do, so they sent in haste to Delphi, to inquire of the oracle whether they had better retreat, or attempt to defend their city. As was generally the case, the oracle did not give a plain answer, but merely said, "The wooden walls will defend you and your children."

When this answer was brought to Athens, no one could tell exactly what it meant. Some of the citizens fancied that the oracle was advising them to retreat behind the ancient wooden stockade on the Acropolis, but Themistocles insisted that by "wooden walls" the oracle meant their ships.

He finally persuaded the Athenians to believe him. All the old men, women, and children were hastily brought aboard the ships, and carried to the Peloponnesus, where they were welcomed by their friends. Then the men embarked in their turn, and the fleet sailed off to the Bay of Salamis, where it awaited a good chance to fight.

The Persians swept down into Attica, and entered the deserted city of Athens. Here they gazed in wonder at all they saw, and, after robbing the houses, set fire to the town, and burned down all the most beautiful buildings.

The Persians were so delighted at having attained their purpose, and reduced the proud city to ashes, that they sent messengers to bear the glad tidings to the Persian capital. Here the people became almost wild with joy, and the whole city rang with their cries of triumph for many a day.

As you will remember, Themistocles had allowed the Spartans to command both the army and the navy. It was therefore a Spartan king, Eurybiades, who was head of the fleet at Salamis. He was a careful man, and was not at all in favor of attacking the Persians.

Themistocles, on the contrary, felt sure that an immediate attack, being unexpected, would prove successful, and therefore loudly insisted upon it. His persistency in urging it finally made Eurybiades so angry that he exclaimed, "Those who begin the race before the signal is given are publicly scourged!"

Themistocles, however, would not allow even this remark to annoy him, and calmly answered, "Very true, but laggards never win a crown!" The reply, which Eurybiades thought was meant for an insult, so enraged him that he raised his staff to strike the bold speaker. At this, the brave Athenian neither drew back nor flew into a passion: he only cried, "Strike if you will, but hear me!"

Once more Themistocles explained his reasons for urging an immediate attack; and his plans were so good, that Eurybiades, who could but admire his courage, finally yielded, and gave orders to prepare for battle."


Front Matter

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province