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Bust of Themistocles.
The birth of Themistocles was somewhat too obscure 1 to do him honour. His father Neocles was not of the distinguished people of Athens, but a townsman of Phrearrhi, in the tribe Leontis; and by his mother's side, he is said to have been base-born.
I am not of the noble Grecian race,
I was the mother of Themistocles. Though Phanias says that his mother was not of Thrace, but of Caria, and that her name was not Abrotonon, but Euterpe ; and Neanthes adds further, that she was of Halicarnassus in Caria. And so, as illegitimate children, including those that were of the halfblood or had but one parent an Athenian, had to attend
at the Cynosarges, a wrestling-place outside the gates, dedicated to Hercules, who was also of half-blood amongst the gods, having had a mortal woman for his mother, Themistocles persuaded some of the young men of high birth to accompany him to anoint and exercise at Cynosarges; and in this ingenious way destroyed the distinction between the noble and the base-born, and between those of the whole and those of the half-blood of Athens. However, it is certain that he was related to the house of the Lycomidæ *; for Simonides records that he rebuilt the chapel of Phlya belonging to that family, and beautified it with pictures and other ornaments, after it had been burnt by the
Persians. 2 It is confessed by all that from his youth he was of a
vehement and impetuous nature, of a quick apprehension, and a strong and aspiring bent for action and state attairs. The holidays and intervals in his studies he did not spend in play or idleness, as other children, but would be always inventing or arranging some oration or declamation to himself, the subject of which was generally the excusing or accusing his companions. So that his master would often say to him: “You, my boy, will be nothing small; but great one way or other, for good or else for bad.” He received reluctantly and carelessly instructions given him to improve his manners and behaviour, or to teach him any pleasing or graceful accomplishment; but whatever was said to
* This was an ancient Attic family to whom an hereditary priesthood belonged; and in their chapel at Phlya there seems to have been an inscription in verse by Simonides, which was extant in his collected works.
improve him in sagacity or in management of business, he would give attention to beyond one of his years, from confidence in his natural capacities for such things. And thus afterwards, when in company where people engaged themselves in what are commonly thought the liberal and elegant amusements, obliged to defend himself against the observations of those who considered themselves highly accomplished, by the somewhat arrogant retort, that he certainly could not make use of any stringed instrument; could only, were a small and obscure city put into his hands, make it great and glorious. Notwithstanding this, Stesimbrotus says that Themistocles was a hearer of Anaxagoras, and that he studied natural philosophy under Melissus; contrary to chronology; for Melissus commanded the Samians in their siege by Pericles, who was much Themistocles's junior; and with Pericles also Anaxagoras was intimate. They, therefore, might rather be credited, who relate that Themistocles was an admirer of Mnesiphilus the Phrearrhian, who was neither rhetorician nor natural philosopher, but a professor of that which was then called wisdom, consisting in a sort of political shrewdness and practical sagacity, and having come to him by succession, almost like a sect of philosophy, from Solon; but those who came afterwards, and mixed it with pleadings and legal artifices, and transformed the practical part of it into a mere art of speaking and an exercise of words, were generally called sophists. Themistocles resorted to Mnesiphilus, when he was already engaged in politics. But in the first essays of his youth he was not regular nor happily balanced; he allowed himself to
follow mere natural character, which, without the control of reason and instruction, is apt to hurry, upon either side, into sudden and violent courses, and very often to break away and determine upon the worst; as he afterwards owned himself, saying, that the wildest colts make the best horses, if they only get properly trained and broken in. But those who upon this fasten stories of their own invention, as of his being publicly disowned by his father, and that his mother died for grief of her son's ill fame, certainly calumniate him. And there are others who relate, on the contrary, that to deter him from public business, and to let him see how the people treat their leaders when they have at last no further use of them, his father showed him the old galleys as they lay forsaken and cast about upon the
seashore. 3 But his mind, it is evident, was very early possessed
with the keenest interest in public affairs, and the most passionate ambition for distinction. Eager from the first to obtain the highest place, he unhesitatingly accepted the hatred of the most powerful and influential leaders in the city, but more especially of Aristides the son of Lysimachus, who throughout took the course opposed to his. And yet all this great enmity between them arose, it appears, from a very boyish occasion, both being in love with the same person, as Ariston the philosopher tells us; ever after which they took opposite sides, and were rivals in politics. Though certainly the dissimilarity of their lives and manners must be supposed to have increased the difference. For Aristides had a gentle nature, and more nobility in his way of dealing; and, in public, acting always with
a view, not to glory or popularity, but to the best interests of the state consistently with safety and honesty, he was often forced to oppose Themistocles and interfere to prevent the increase of his influence, seeing him stirring up the people to all kinds of enterprises and introducing various innovations. For it is said that Themistocles was so transported with the thoughts of glory, and so inflamed with the passion for great actions, that though he was still young when the battle of Marathon was fought against the Persians, upon Battle the skilful conduct of the general, Miltiades, being thon, everywhere talked about, he was observed to be
thoughtful and reserved, alone by himself; he passed the nights without sleep, and avoided all his usual places of recreation, and to those who wondered at the change, and inquired the reason of it, he gave the answer, that the trophy of Miltiades would not let him sleep. And while others were of opinion that the battle of Marathon would be an end to the war, Themistocles thought it was but the beginning of far greater conflicts, and for these, to the benefit of all Greece, he