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GREECE-THE PERSIAN WARS.

to send their whole force to the north to stay the Persian advance at

Thermopylae was now bearing its disastrous fruit in the exposure of

Southern as well as Central Greece. Several cities hitherto wavering now

went over openly to the enemy. Xerxes was only six days' march from

Athens. Themistocles urged the people to gather together their effects

and abandon the city. The advice was accepted with reluctance; but the

Delphic oracle added its voice to the persuasion of the Athenian

leaders. The Sacred Serpent kept in the temple of Athena Polias, on the

Acropolis, left the altar and escaped. So the terrified people were

induced to follow. Some went to AEgina, others to Troezen, many to

Salamis.

The Delphic oracle had said that a "wooden wall" should protect the

Athenians. Albeit, a wooden wall might mean the fleet. So the oracle was

interpreted by Themistocles. Others said it meant the walls of Athens.

Not all of the people would leave their homes. For once dissension

ceased. On the proposition of Themistocles all sentences of banishment

were revoked. The rich gave their money. The Areopagus voted funds to

repair the fleet and to support the emigrant population.

On his way down from Thessaly Xerxes ravaged the country. Phocis was

severely punished for her refusal to submit. Her deserted towns were

destroyed and her people driven to the hills. The patriotic cities of

Thespiae and Plataea were plundered and burned. At Delphi occurred an

extraordinary episode. Apollo, by his oracle, forbade the removal of the

treasures of his temple. On came the Persians to lay sacrilegious hands

on the accumulated gifts of centuries of devotion. They began defiling

through one of the gorges at the foot of Mount Parnassus, making their

way towards the temple. Of a sudden there were peals of thunder

overhead. Great crags were loosened from their places and rolled down

upon the terrified ranks of the barbarians. The gods had espoused the

cause of the Greeks. Spectral warriors of gigantic stature were seen

hovering with revengeful look in the rear of the terror-stricken host as

it turned to fly from its profane purpose of plunder.