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
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.