תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

sire of imitating the example of his predecessors, who had all of them distinguished their names and reigns by noble enterprises; the obligation he was under to revenge the insolence of the Athenians, who had presumed to fall upon Sardis, and reduce it to ashes; the necessity he was under to avenge the disgrace his country had received at the battle of Marathon ; and the prospect of the great advantages that might be reaped from this war, which would be attended with the conquest of Europe, the most rich and fertile country in the universe. He added further, that this war had been resolved on by his father Darius, and he meant only to follow and execate his intentions. He concluded with promising ample rewards to those who should distinguish themselves by their valour in the expedition.

Mardonius, the same person that had been so unsuccessful in Darius' reign, grown neither wiser nor less ambitious by his ill success, and extremely affecting the command of the army, was the first who gave his opinion. He began by extolling Xerxes above all the kings that had gone before or should succeed bim. He endeavoured to show the indispensable necessity of avenging the dishonour done to the Persian name; he disparaged the Grecians, and represented them as a cowardly, timorous people, without courage, without forces, or experience in war. For a proof of what he said, he mentioned his own conquest of Macedonia, which he exaggerated in a very vain and ostentatious manner, as if that people had submitted to him without any resistance. He presumed even to affirm, that not any of the Grecian nations would venture to come out against Xerxes, who would march with all the forces of Asia ; and if they had the temerity to present themselves before him, they would learn to their cost that the Persians were the bravest and most warlike nation in the world.

The rest of the council, perceiving that this flattering discourse extremely pleased the king, were afraid to contradict it, and all kept silence. This was almost an unavoidable consequence of Xerxes' manner of proceedjog. A wise prince, when he proposes an affair in council, and really desires that every one should speak his true sentiments, is extremely careful 10 conceal his own opinion, that he may put no constraint upon that of others, but leave them entirely at liberty. Xerxes, on the contrary, had openly discovered his owo inclination, or rather resolution to undertake the war. When a prince acts in this manner, he will always find artful flatterers, who being eager to insinuate themselves and to please, and ever ready to comply with his passions, will not fail to second his opinion with specious and plausible reasons; whilst those that would be capable of giving good council are restrained by sear; there being very few courtiers who love their prince well enough, and have sufficient courage to venture to displease him, by disputing what they know to be his taste or opinion.

The excessive praises given by Mardonius to Xerxes, wbich are the usual language of flatterers, ought to have rendered him suspicious to the king and made him apprehend, that under an appearance of zeal for his glory, that nobleman endeavoured to cloak his own ambition, and the violent desire he had to command the army. But these sweet and flattering words, which glide like a serpent under flowers, are so far from displeasing princes, that they captivate and charm them. They do not consider that men Natter and praise them, because they believe them weak and vain enough to suffer themselves to be deceived by commendations that bear no proportion to their merits and actions.

This behaviour of the king made the whole council mute. In this general silence, Artabanes, the king's uncle, a prince very venerable for his age and prudence, made the following speech : "Permit me, great Prince,"

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

says he, addressing himself to Xerxes, “ to deliver my sentiments to you " on this occasion, with a liberty suitable to my age and to your interest. “ When Darius, your father and my brother, first thought of making war “ against the Scythians, I used all my endeavours to divert him from it. I need not tell you what that enterprise cost, or what was the success of " it. The people you are going to attack are infinitely more formidable " than the Scythians. The Grecians are esteemed the very best troops in " the world, either by land or sea. If the Athenians alone could defeat " the numerous army commanded by Datis and Artaphernes, what ought “ we to expect from all the states of Greece united together? You design " to pass from Asia into Europe, by laying a bridge over the sea ; and “ what will become of us, if the Athenians, proving victorious, should ad"vance to this bridge with their fleet, and break it down ? I still tremble “ when I consider, that, in the Scythian expedition, the life of the king "

your father, and the safety of all his army, were reduced to depend upon " the fidelity of one single man; and that if Hystiæus the Milesian had, in " compliance with the strong instances made to him, consented to break “ down the bridge which had been laid over the Danube, the Persian empire had been entirely ruined. Do not expose yourself, Sir, to the like * danger, especially since you are not obliged to do it. Take time at least to reflect upon it. When we have maturely deliberated upon an affair,

whatever happens to be the success of it, we have nothing to impute to “ourselves. Precipitation, besides its being imprudent, is almost always “ unfortunate, and attended with fatal consequences. Above all, do not suffer yourself

, great prince, to be dazzled with the vain splendor of im"aginary glory, or with the pompous appearance of your troops. The “ highest and most lofty trees have the most reason to dread the thunder. As God alone is truly great, he is an enemy to * pride, and takes pleas“ ure in bumbling every thing that exalteth itself: and very often the most “ numerous armies fly before an handful of men, because he inspires these “ with courage, and scatters terror among the others.”

Artabanes, after having spoken thus to the king, turned himself towards Mardonius, and reproached him with his want of sincerity or judgement, in giving the king a notion of the Grecians so directly contrary to truth; and showed how extremely he was to blame for desiring rashly to engage the nation in a war, which nothing but his own views of interest and ambition could tempt him to advise. “ If a war be resolved upon,” added he, “ let the king, whose life is dear to us all, remain in Persia ; and do you, “since you so ardently desire it, march at the head of the most numerous “ army that can be assembled. In the mean time, let your children and “ mine be given up as a pledge, to answer for the success of the war. If “the issue of it be favourable, I consent that mine be put to death ; † but, “ if it proves otherwise, as I well foresee it will, then I desire that your “ children and you yourself, on your return, may be treated in such a " manner as you deserve, for the rash counsel you have given your mas" ter."

Xerxes, who was not accustomed to bave bis sentiments contradicted in this manner, fell into a rage; Thank the gods," says he to Artabanes, " that you are my father's brother; were it not for that, you should this * moment suffer the just reward of your audacious behaviour. But I will

* Φιλει ο θεος τα υπερεχοντα παντα κολBaly, 8 γαρ εα φρονείν αλλον μεγα ο θεος, η

† Why should the children be punished for their father's faults?

“punish you for it in another manner, by leaving you here among the wo

men, whom you too much resemble in your cowardice and fear, whilst I march at the head of my troops, where my duty and glory call me."

Artabanes had expressed his sentiments in very respectful and inoffensive terms: Xerxes nevertheless was extremely offended. It is * the misfortune of princes, spoiled by flattery, to look upon every thing as dry and austere, that is sincere and ingenuous; and to regard all counsel, delivered with a generous and disinterested freedom, as a seditious presumption. They do not consider, that even a good man never dares to tell them all he thinks, or discover the whole truth ; especially in things that may be disagreeable to their humour : and that what they stand most in need of, is a sincere and faithful friend, that will conceal nothing from them. A prince ought to think himself very happy, if in his whole reign he finds but one man born with that degree of generosity, who certainly ought to be considered as the most valuable treasure of the state ; as he is (if the expression may be admitted) both the most necessary, and at the same time, the most rare instrument † of government.

Xerxes himself acknowledged this upon the occasion we are speaking of. When the first emotions of his anger were over, and he bad time to reflect on his pillow upon the different counsels that were given him, he confessed he had been to blame to give his uncle such harsh language, and was not ashamed to confess his fault the next day in open council, ingenuously owning, that the heat of his youth, and his want of experience, had made him negligent in paying the regard due to a prince so worthy of respect as Artabanes, both for bis age and wisdom; and declaring at the same time, that he was come over to his opinion, notwithstanding a dream he had had in the night, wherein a vision had appeared to him, and warmly exhorted him to untertake that war. All the lords who composed the council, were ravished to hear the king speak in this manner; and to testify their joy, they fell prostrate before him, striving who should most extol the glory of such a proceeding. Nor could their praises on such an occasion be at all suspected; I for it is no hard matter to discern, whether the praises given to princes proceed from the heart, and are founded upon truth, or whether they drop from the lips only, as an effect of mere fattery and deceit. That sincere and humble declaration of the king's, far from appearing as a weakness in him, was looked upon by them as the effort of a great soul, which rises above its faults, in bravely confessing them, by way of reparation and atonement. They admired the nobleness of this procedure the more, as they knew that princes educated, like Xerxes, in a vain haughtiness and false glory, are never disposed to own themselves in the wrong, and generally make use of their authority to justify, with pride and obstinacy, whatever faults they have committed through ignorance or imprudence. We may venture, I think, to say, that it is more glorious to rise in this manner, than it would be never to have fallen. Certainly there is nothing greater, and at the same time more rare and uncommon, than to see a mighty and powerful prince, and that in the time of his greatest prosperity, acknowledge his faults, when he happens to commit any, without seeking

* Ita formatis principum auribus ut aspera quæ utilia, nec quicquam nisi jucundum et lætum accipiant. Tacit. Hist. 1. li. c. 56.

+ Nullum majus boni imperii instrumentum quam bonus amicus. Tacit. Hist. I. iv. c. 7.

† Nec occultum est quando ex veritate, quando adumbrata lætitia facta imperatorum celebrantur. Tacit. Annal. I. iv. c. Si.

pretexts or excuses to cover them; pay homage to truth, even when it is against him, and condemns him; and leave other princes, who have a false delicacy concerning their grandeur, the shame of always abounding with errors and defects, and of never owning that they have any.

The night following, the same phantom, if we may believe Herodotus, appeared again to the king, and repeated the same solicitations with new menaces and threatenings. Xerxes communicated what passed to his uncle; and, in order to find out whether this vision was divine or not, entreated him earnestly to put on the royal robes, to ascend the throne, and afterwards to take his place in bis bed for the night. Artabanes hereupon discoursed very sensibly and rationally with the king upon the vanity of dreams: and then coming to what personally regarded him, *“ I look up“ on it,” says he, “ almost equally commendable to think well one's self, “ or to hearken with docility to the good counsels of others. You have “ both these qualities, great prince; and if you follow the natural bent of “ your own temper, would lead you entirely to sentiments of wisdom " and moderation. You never take any violent measures or resolutions, “ but when the arts of evil counsellors draw you into them, or the poison of “ flattery misleads you ; in the same manner as the ocean, which of itself “ is calm and serene, and never disturbed but by the extraneous impulse of “ other bodies. What afflicted me in the answer you made me the other

day, when I delivered my sentiments freely in council, was not the per“sonal affront to me, but the injury you did yourself, by making so wrong “ a choice between the different counsels that were offered; rejecting that “ which led you to sentiments of moderation and equity; and embracing “ the other, which, on the contrary, tended only to nourish pride, and to “ inflame ambition."

Artabanes, through complaisance, passed the night in the king's bed, and had the same vision which Xerxes had before; that is, in his sleep he saw a man, who made him severe reproaches, and threatened him with the greatest misfortunes, if he continued to oppose the king's intentions. This so much affected him that he came over to the king's first opinion, believing that there was something divine in these repeated visions; and the war against the Grecians was resolved upon. These circumstances I relate, as I find them in Herodotus.

Xerxes, in the sequel, did but ill support this character of moderation. We shall find that he had but very short intervals of wisdom and reason, which shone out only for a moment, and then gave way to the most culpable and extravagant excesses. We may judge, however, even from thence, that he had very good natural parts and inclinations. But the most excellent qualities are soon spoiled and corrupted by the poison of flattery, and the possession of absolute and unlimited power: + Vi dominationis convulEUS.

It is a fine sentiment in a minister of state, to be less affected with an alfront to himself, than with the wrong done bis master by giving him evil and pernicious counsel.

Mardonius' counsel was pernicious; because, as Artabanes observes, it tended only to nourish and increase that spirit of haughtiness and violence

* This thought is in Hesiod, Opera et Dies, v. 293. Cic. pro Cluent. n. 84. et Tit. Liv. l. xxii. n. 19. Sæpe ego audivi, milites, cum primum esse virum, qui ipse consulat quid in rem sit ; secundum eum, qui bene monenti obediat ; qui nec ipse consulere, nec alteri parere seiat, cum extremi ingenii esse.

Tacit.

in the prince, which was but too prevalent in him already, u@piv augrons ; and * in that it disposed and accustomed his mind still to carry his views and desires beyond his present fortune, still to be aiming at something far. ther, and to set no bounds to his ainbition. † This is the predominate pagsion of those men whom we usually call conquerors ; and whoin according to the language of the holy scripture, we might call, with greater propriety I"robbers of nations." If you consider and examine the whole succession of Persian kings, says Seneca, will you find any one of them that ever stopped his career of his own accord ? that was ever satisfied with his past conquests; or that was not forming some new project or enterprise, when death surprised him? Nor ought we to be astonished at such a disposition, adds the same author, for ainbition is a gulph and a bottomless abyss, wherein every thing is lost that is thrown in, and where, though you were to heap province upon province, and kingdom upon kingdom, you would never be able to fill up the mighty void.

[ocr errors]

SECTION II.

XERXES

BEGINS M18 MARCH, AND PASSES TROM ASIA INTO EUROPE, BY CROSSING THE STRAITS OF THE HELLESPONT UPON A BRIDGE OF BOATS.

THE war being resolved upon, || Xerxes, that he might omit nothing which might contribute to the success of bis undertaking, entered into a confederacy with the Carthaginians, who were at that time the most potent people of the west, and made an agreement with them, that whilst the Persian forces should attack Greece, the Carthaginians should fall upon the Grecian colonies that were settled in Sicily and Italy, in order to hinder them from coming to the aid of the other Grecians. The Carthaginians made Amilcar their general, who did not content himself with raising as many troops as he could in Africa, but, with the money that Xerses had sent him, engaged a great number of soldiers out of Spain, Gaul, and Italy in his service; so that he collected an army of 300,000 men, and a proportionate number of ships, in order to execute the projects and stipulations of the league.

Thus Xerxes, agreeably to the prophet $ Daniel's prediction,“ having, « through his great power and his great riches, stirred up all the nations of “ the then known world against the realm of Greece ;' that is to say, of all the west, under the command of Amilcar, and of all the east, that was under bis own banner, I set out from Susa, in order to enter upon this war, in the fifth year of his reign, which was the tenth after the battle of Marathon, and marched towards Sardis, the place of rendezvous for the whole land army, whilst the fleet advanced along the coasts of Asia Minor towards the Hellespont.

** Xerxes had given orders to have a passage cut through mount Athos. This is a mountain in Macedonia, now a province of Turkey in Europe,

* «Ως κακον ειη διδασκειν την ψυχην πλεον τι διζεσθαι αιει εχειν τ8 παροντος. .' † Nec hoc Alexandri tantum vitium fuit, quem per Liberi Herculisque vestigia felix temeritas egit; sed omnium, quos fortuna irritavit implendo. Totum regni Persici stemma percense : quem invenies, cui modum imperii satietas fecerit? qui von vitam in aliqua vterius procedendi cogitatione finierit ? Nec id mirum est. Quicquid cupiditati contigit, penitus hauritur et conditur ; nec interest quamium co, quod inexplebile est, congeras. Senec. I. vii. de henef. c. S. Jer. iv. 7.

A. M. 3523. Ant. J. C.431. Dan. xi. 2.

Herod. I. vii.c. CG. A.M. 321. Ant. J. C. 400. ** Herod. I. vii. c. 21, 21.

« הקודםהמשך »