« PreviousContinue »
banquets it was the custom to hand round the figure of a corpse, with the admonition, 'Such shalt thou be.' He also traces the names of many of the Greek deities to those of the Egyptians, and relates that they held the cow, as well as other animals and birds, as sacred, and that when their cats and dogs died they went into mourning for them. He confesses that he never saw the sacred bird, the phoenix, except in pictures, according to which it was like an eagle with red and golden plumage. He mentions the reverence paid by young men to their elders, and that he had learnt from the priests of Heliopolis, who were proficient in mathematics and astronomy, that the first kings were gods, and that the sufferings and death of Osiris, the last of the dynasty, were the great mysteries of their creed. Also that the first human ruler was Menes, the founder of Memphis, and that after him came three hundred and fifty monarchs, whose names were read from a roll, and respecting whom he narrates several curious legends. Among their successors was Cheops, who built the pyramids, which employed a hundred thousand men at a time for thirty years; and, later on, Sethos, a priest of Vulcan, who was aided against Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, by the god sending mice during the night to gnaw the enemy's bow-strings and shield straps. After him twelve kings reigned at once, and one having deposed the rest, his son, Necko, first attempted to construct a canal to the Red Sea. The last king he names made a law that every man should appear once a year before the governor of his province, and prove, on pain of death, that he was getting an honest livelihood; and the book relating to Egypt concludes with the story of a beautiful Greek slave whose sandal was carried off by an eagle as she was bathing, and dropped before the king, who was so charmed with the idea of the foot which it fitted, that he sent for and made the owner his queen.
Next follow the exploits of Cambyses, son of Cyrus, who made war against the Egyptians and captured the city of Memphis. Herodotus notes that he went over the battlefield and remarked how much stronger the skulls of the Egyptians were than those of the Persians, which he attributes to the latter wearing turbans. He proceeds to relate
that, after insulting the body of the late king, to the horror of the Egyptians, Cambyses failed in two expeditions which he attempted, one against the Ethiopians, and the other against the temple of Ammon; and that, returning to Memphis, he stabbed the national deity, Apis, whom the people were worshipping in the form of a calf. He also caused his brother, Smerdis, to be put to death, and afterwards their sister, because she mourned for Smerdis; punished twelve of his nobles by burying them up to their necks; forcibly opened tombs; unrolled mummies, and burnt the sacred idols. Hearing at length that his magi at home had set a usurper, bearing the name of his murdered brother, on the throne, he was mounting his horse on his return to Susa, when he was wounded by his own sword, and died in Egypt without issue.
After reigning for some months, the pretender was deposed by the conspiracy of seven nobles, who agreed that the one of them whose horse should first neigh at sunrise should be king, and the lot fell on Darius, the son of Hystaspes. Herodotus gives very full particulars of the annual revenue of this celebrated monarch, which he computes at more than three and a half millions sterling, and how it was obtained. He also records many details of his reign, including the sending of spies to make a tour of Greece and her colonies; but the first important matter was the revolt of Babylon, which he besieged, and was told he would never take it ' until mules foaled.' Such an event happened to a mule of Zopyrus, a Persian of rank, who immediately cut off his nose and ears, and volunteered to desert to the Babylonians, with the pretence of having been maltreated. His stratagem succeeded, and he contrived to open the gates to the Persians, for which service Darius, having punished the rebels made him governor of the city.
The king then moved his army against the Scythians, a race of archers in the north of Russia, whose origin the historian traces back to fabulous times, interspersing his facts with numerous legends, and mentioning as one of their customs the use of vapour baths. The Persians, however, were compelled to retreat, and met with some strange superstitions amongst the people through whose territories they passed.
One of Darius's generals, we are next informed, successfully transported the whole tribe of the Pæonians from Macedonia to Persia, to set the Asiatics the example of their industry; but was resisted in a similar attempt with another tribe, who lived on platforms supported by piles, in the midst of a lake. Alluding to other outlying regions, Herodotus was not sure whether the 'Tin Islands' really existed, but had been told that tin came from the ends of the earth.'
The scene then changes to the Greek states and their tyrants or despotic rulers, one of the most famous of whom was Polycrates of Samos. His prosperity was so complete that he was warned by the King of Egypt to avert retribution by depriving himself of something he held very precious, upon which he selected a favourite ring, and cast it into the sea. A few days afterwards, he was presented by a fisherman with an unusually fine fish, and, lo! the ring was found in its stomach. This was regarded, both by him and his friends, as a serious omen; and, although fortune still smiled on him for a time, he was at length persuaded to accept the charge of some treasure by the Persian satrap at Sardis, and, on going thither to fetch it, was cruelly put to death. Another tyrant was Periander of Corinth, in connection with whom Herodotus relates the legend of Arion, a minstrel, who, to escape being murdered at sea for the sake of his money, jumped overboard, and was borne to land on the back of a dolphin. A long story follows of the steps taken by Cleisthenes of Sicyon to select a husband for his daughter, one of whose suitors is described as the most exquisite Sybarite of his day, who complained of a crumpled rose leaf on his couch, and fainted on seeing a man working hard. Pisistratus of Athens is mentioned as having earned unending renown by settling the poems of Homer in their present order. His son Hippias was the intended victim of the assassins Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who, although they made a blunder by killing his brother Hipparchus instead of him, were long celebrated as patriots by Athenian republicans who approved of tyrannicide.
The great Persian war now begins to loom in view, having its origin, as the historian proceeds to show, like most other
great events, in insignificant first causes. Histæus of Miletus had been carried by Darius to his court at Susa against his will; and, by a clever trick, he communicated with his sonin-law Aristagoras, urging him to incite the several confederacies to depose their despots, and proclaim democracy. He failed with the Spartans, but induced the Athenians to send an expedition against Sardis, which was repulsed; but the insurrection against Persia was thus started, and quickly spread. Darius taxed Histæus with knowing something of the affair, but was reassured by his plausible manner, and sent him to assist in quelling the outbreak. On reaching Sardis, Artaphernes, the king's brother, said to him, "Thou hast stitched the shoe, and Aristagoras has put it on.' Histæus, however, managed to allay his suspicions also, but afterwards took to piracy on his own account, and was captured and beheaded. The Persians now assumed the offensive against the Ionians, with the object of subjugating the whole of Greece. Battles at sea and on land, disputes between the confederated states, the wreck of a Persian fleet, the eccentricities of Cleomenes, King of Sparta, and the stubbornness of the Athenians are alternately dealt with, but without much advancing the general progress of the war.
A memorable event, however, was close at hand. The Persian king despatched a second expedition in six hundred ships, which, after sacking Naxos and burning Eretria, landed on the plains of Marathon. The Athenians and Platœans, under the command of Miltiades, mustered about 20,000, against 110,000 Persians, who were completely defeated in a set battle, and driven back to their ships with a loss of six thousand men, whilst the Greeks lost less than two hundred. Miltiades, at his own request, was awarded a fleet of seventy galleys, with which he attacked the people of Paros, against whom he had a private grudge, and, returning to Athens wounded, was tried for having deceived the state, and condemned to pay the cost of his fruitless expedition.
Darius was making ready to lead in person another armament against the Athenians, when his attention was diverted by a revolt in Egypt; and whilst considering where
he was most needed he died. His son Xerxes was at first disposed to think that, if he let them alone, it would be a long while before the Greeks found their way to Susa; but, bolder counsels having prevailed, he spent four years in assembling a host numbering, it is estimated, about two millions, all very rudely armed,, and badly disciplined. With mighty pomp this vast army crossed from Abydos to Sestos by a pontoon bridge, accompanied round the coast by twelve hundred war galleys, which passed through a canal. The Greeks were in consternation, and the northern states at once submitted to the invader. The Athenians, however, took courage from an oracle that they would find safety in their 'wooden walls;' and, sending to their neighbours to come and help them, it was decided that their first stand should be made at the narrow pass of Thermopylæ, supported by the fleet in an adjacent strait. As the Persian host advanced from Thessaly, a storm destroyed four hundred of their galleys; but Xerxes with his land force approached the pass where the Greek army was posted, at a spot only wide enough for a single chariot road. The ground was being kept by three hundred Spartans, under their king, Leonidas, whilst the other Greeks celebrated the Olympian festival. The Persian imperial guards were launched against them, but were drawn in pursuit and butchered. On the third day, however, intelligence was received of another pass by which the Greeks might be taken in rear, and soon the news reached them of their danger. Xerxes ordered a general attack at daybreak; the Persians perished in crowds; four times the Greeks repulsed them, and bore off the body of their king; but numbers at length prevailed, they were surrounded on a hillock, and their hour was come. The Persians now attempted to blockade their fleet, commanded by Themistocles, and the battle lasted through the midsummer evening. At midnight, however, a storm arose, and many of the Persian ships were cast upon the rocky coast of Euboea. On the second day the Greeks attacked, and on the third the Persians, but neither side gained much advantage, and the Greeks withdrew. The invaders then continued their advance in two divisions, one making for Athens, and the