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Pages of laws (books 1 - 6)



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laws (books 1 - 6)   


trifle, when compared with gold and silver.
Meg. Quite true.
Ath. And now enough of the Persians, and their present
maladministration of their government, which is owing to the excess of
slavery and despotism among them.
Meg. Good.
Ath. Next, we must pass in review the government of Attica in like
manner, and from this show that entire freedom and the absence of
all superior authority is not by any means so good as government by
others when properly limited, which was our ancient Athenian
constitution at the time when the Persians made their attack on
Hellas, or, speaking more correctly, on the whole continent of Europe.
There were four classes, arranged according to a property census,
and reverence was our queen and mistress, and made us willing to
live in obedience to the laws which then prevailed. Also the
vastness of the Persian armament, both by sea and on land, caused a
helpless terror, which made us more and more the servants of our
rulers and of the laws; and for all these reasons an exceeding harmony
prevailed among us. About ten years before the naval engagement at
Salamis, Datis came, leading a Persian host by command of Darius,
which was expressly directed against the Athenians and Eretrians,
having orders to carry them away captive; and these orders he was to
execute under pain of death. Now Datis and his myriads soon became
complete masters of Eretria, and he sent a fearful report to Athens
that no Eretrian had escaped him; for the soldiers of Datis had joined
hands and netted the whole of Eretria. And this report, whether well
or ill founded, was terrible to all the Hellenes, and above all to the
Athenians, and they dispatched embassies in all directions, but no one
was willing to come to their relief, with the exception of the
Lacedaemonians; and they, either because they were detained by the
Messenian war, which was then going on, or for some other reason of
which we are not told, came a day too late for the battle of Marathon.
After a while, the news arrived of mighty preparations being made, and
innumerable threats came from the king. Then, as time went on, a
rumour reached us that Darius had died, and that his son, who was
young and hot-headed, had come to the throne and was persisting in his
design. The Athenians were under the impression that the whole
expedition was directed against them, in consequence of the battle
of Marathon; and hearing of the bridge over the Hellespont, and the
canal of Athos, and the host of ships, considering that there was no
salvation for them either by land or by sea, for there was no one to
help them, and remembering that in the first expedition, when the
Persians destroyed Eretria, no one came to their help, or would risk
the danger of an alliance with them, they thought that this would
happen again, at least on land; nor, when they looked to the sea,
could they descry any hope of salvation; for they were attacked by a
thousand vessels and more. One chance of safety remained, slight
indeed and desperate, but their only one. They saw that on the
former occasion they had gained a seemingly impossible victory, and
borne up by this hope, they found that their only refuge was in
themselves and in the Gods. All these things created in them the
spirit of friendship; there was the fear of the moment, and there
was that higher fear, which they had acquired by obedience to their
ancient laws, and which I have several times in the preceding
discourse called reverence, of which the good man ought to be a
willing servant, and of which the coward is independent and
fearless. If this fear had not possessed them, they would never have
met the enemy, or defended their temples and sepulchres and their
country, and everything that was near and dear to them, as they did;
but little by little they would have been all scattered and dispersed.
Meg. Your words, Athenian, are quite true, and worthy of yourself
and of your country.
Ath. They are true, Megillus; and to you, who have inherited the
virtues of your ancestors, I may properly speak of the actions of that

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