A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B.C

By George Grote; J. M. Mitchell et al. | Go to book overview

14 [XLIV]

FROM THE BATTLES OF PLATÆA AND MYKALÊ DOWN TO THE DEATHS OF THEMISTOKLÊS AND ARISTEIDÊS

AFTER having in the last chapter followed the repulse of the Carthaginians by the Sicilian Greeks, we now return to the central Greeks and the Persians - a case in which the triumph was yet more interesting to the cause of human improvement generally.

The disproportion between the immense host assembled by Xerxês, and the little which he accomplished, naturally provokes both a contempt for Persian force and an admiration for the comparative handful of men by whom they were so ignominiously beaten. Both these sentiments are just, but both are often exaggerated beyond the point which attentive contemplation of the facts will justify. The Persian mode of making war (which we may liken to that of the modern Turks, now that the period of their energetic fanaticism has passed away) was comparatively disorderly and inefficient. The men indeed, individually taken, especially the native Persians, were not deficient in the qualities of soldiers, but their arms and their organization were wretched. On the other hand, the Greeks, equal, if not superior, in individual bravery, were comparatively superior in soldier-like order as well as in arms: but here too the leadership was defective, and the disunion a constant source of peril. Those who, like Plutarch (or rather the Pseudo-Plutarch) in his treatise on the Malignity of Herodotus, insist on acknowledging nothing but magnanimity and heroism in the proceedings of the Greeks throughout these critical years, are forced to deal harshly with the inestimable witness on whom our knowledge of the facts depends. That witness intimates plainly that, in spite of the devoted courage displayed, not less by the vanquished at Thermopylæ, than by the victors at Salamis, Greece owed her salvation chiefly to the imbecility of Xerxês. 1 Had he indeed possessed either the personal energy of Cyrus, or the judgment of Artemisia, it may be doubted whether any excellence of management, or any intimacy of union, could have preserved the Greeks against so great a superiority of force. But it is certain that all their courage as soldiers in line would

1Thukyd., i. 69:

-329-

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