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Xerxes. cause why he fled to him for refuge, he implores his clemency, owns that his life is in his hand, intreats him to forget the past; and represents to him, that no action can be more worthy a great king than to exercise clemency. Admetus surprized and moved with compassion in seeing at his feet, in so humble a posture, the greatest man of all Greece, and the conqueror of all Asia, raised him immediately from the ground, and promised to protect him against all his enemies. Accordingly, when the Athenians and Lacedæmonians came to demand him, he refused absolutely to deliver up a person who had made his palace his asylum, in the firm persuasion that it would be sacred and inviolable.
Whilst he was at the court of this prince, one of his friends found an opportunity to carry off his wife and children from Athens, and to send them to him; for which that person was some time after seized and condemned to die. With regard to Themistocles's effects, his friends secured the greatest part of them for him, which they afterwards found opportunity to remit him; but all that could be discovered, which amounted to an hundred* talents, was carried to the publick treasury. When he entered upon the administration, he was not worth three talents. I shall leave this illustrious exile for some time in the court of king Admetus, to resume the sequel of this history.
Aristides's of the publick treasure.
disinterested administration His death and eulogium.
I HAVE HAVE before observed, that the command of Greece had passed from Sparta to the Athenians. Hitherto the cities and nations of Greece had indeed contributed some sums of money towards carrying on the expence of the war against the Barbarians; but this repartition or division had always occasion
Plut. in Arist. p. 333, 334. Diod. 1. xi. p. 36.
ed great feuds, because it was not made in a just or Xerxes. equal proportion. It was thought proper, under this new government, to lodge in the island of Delos, the common treasure of Greece; to fix new regu lations with regard to publick monies; and to lay such a tax as might be regulated according to the revenue of each city and state; in order that the expences being equally borne by the several individuals who composed the body of the allies, no one might have reason to murmur. The business was, to find a person of so honest and incorrupt a mind, as to discharge faithfully an employment of so delicate and dangerous a kind, the due administration of which so nearly concerned the publick welfare. All the allies cast their eyes on Aristides; accordingly they invested him with full powers, and appointed him to levy a tax on each of them, relying entirely on his wisdom and justice.
The citizens had no cause to repent their choice. He presided over the treasury with the fidelity and disinterestedness of a man, who looks upon it as a capital crime to embezzle the smallest portion of another's possessions; with the care and activity of a father of a family, in the management of his own estate; and with the caution and integrity of a person, who considers the publick monies as sacred. In fine, he succeeded in what is equally difficult and extraordinary, viz. to acquire the love of all in an office, in which he that escapes the publick odium gains a great point. Such is the glorious character which Seneca gives of a person charged with an employment of almost the same kind, and the noblest eulogium that can be given such as administer publick revenues. It is the exact picture of Aristides. He discovered so much probity and wisdom in the exercise of this office, that no man complained; and
Tu quidem orbis terrarum rationes administras; tam abstinenter quàm alienas, tam diligenter quàm tuas, tam religiosè quàm publicas. In officio amorem consequeris, in quo odium vitare difficile est. Senec. lib. de Brevit. Vit. cap. xviii.
Xerxes. those times were considered ever after as the golden age, that is, the period in which Greece had attained its highest pitch of virtue and happiness. And indeed, the tax which he had fixed, in the whole, to four hundred and sixty* talents, was raised by Pericles to six hundred, and soon after to thirteen hundred talents: It was not that the expences of the war were increased, but the treasure was employed to very useless purposes, in manual distributions to the Athenians, in solemnizing of games and festivals, in building of temples and publick edifices; not to mention, that the hands of those who superintended the treasury were not always clean and uncorrupt as those of Aristides. This wise and equitable conduct secured him, to latest posterity, the glorious surname of the Just.
Nevertheless, Plutarch relates an action of Aristides, which shews that the Greeks (the same may be said of the Romans) had a very narrow and imperfect idea of justice. They confined the exercise of it to the interior, as it were, of civil society; and acknowledged that the individuals were bound to observe strictly its several maxims: But with regard to their country, to the republick, (their great idol to which they reduced every thing) they thought in a quite different manner; and imagined themselves essentially obliged to sacrifice to it, not only their lives and possessions, but even their religion and the most sacred engagements, in opposition to and contempt of the most solemn oaths. This will appear evidently in what follows.
a After the regulation had been made in respect to the tributes of which I have just spoke, Aristides having settled the several articles of the alliance, made the confederates take an oath to observe them punctually, and he himself swore in the name of the
a Plut. in Arist. p. 333, 334. *The talent is worth a thousand French crowns; or about 2251. sterling.
Athenians; and in denouncing the curses which Xerxes. always accompanied the oaths, he threw into the sea, pursuant to the usual custom, large bars of red-hot iron. But the ill state of the Athenian affairs forcing them afterwards to infringe some of those articles, and to govern a little more arbitrarily, he intreated. them to vent those curses on him, and discharge themselves thereby of the punishment due to such as had forsworn themselves, and who had been reduced to it by the unhappy situation of their affairs. Theophrastus tells us, that in general (these words are borrowed from Plutarch) Aristides, who executed all matters relating to himself or the publick with the most impartial and rigorous justice, used to act, in his administration, several things, according as the exigency of affairs, and the welfare of his country might require; it being his opinion, that a government, in order to support itself, is, on some occasions, obliged to have recourse to injustice, of which he gives the following example. One day, as the Athenians were debating in their council, about bringing to their city, in opposition to the articles of the treaty, the common treasures of Greece which were deposited in Delos: The Samians having opened the debate; when it was Aristides's turn to speak, he said, that the dislodging of the treasure was an unjust action, but useful, and made this opinion take place. The incident shews, that the pretended wisdom of the heathens was overspread with great obscurity and error.
It was scarce possible to have a greater contempt for riches than Aristides had. Themistocles, who was not pleased with the encomiums bestowed on other men, hearing Aristides applauded for the noble disinterestedness with which he administered the publick treasures, did but laugh at it; and said; that the praises bestowed upon him for it, shewed no greater merit or virtue than that of a strong chest, which faithfully preserves all the monies that are shut up in it, without retaining any. This low
Xerxes. sneer was by way of revenge for a stroke of raillery that had stung him to the quick. Themistocles saying, that, in his opinion, the greatest talent a general could possess, was to be able to foresee the designs of an enemy: "This talent,” replied Aristides," is necessary; but there is another no less noble and worthy a general, that is, to have clean hands, and a soul superior to venality and views of interest." Aristides might very justly answer Themistocles in this manner, since he was really very poor, though he had possessed the highest employments in the state. He seemed to have an innate love for poverty; and so far from being ashamed of it, he thought it reflected as much glory on him, as all the trophies and victories he had won. History gives us a shining instance of this.
Callias, who was a near relation of Aristides, and the most wealthy citizen in Athens, was cited to appear before the judges. The accuser, laying very little stress on the cause itself, reproached him especially with permitting Aristides, his wife and chil dren, to live in poverty, at a time when he himself wallowed in riches. Callias perceiving that these reproaches made a strong impression on the judges, he summoned Aristides to declare before them, whether he had not often pressed him to accept of large sums of money; and whether he had not obstinately refused to accept of his offer, with saying, That he had more reason to boast of his poverty, than Callias of his riches: That many persons were to be found who had made a good use of their wealth, but that there were few who bore their poverty with magnanimity and even joy; and that none had cause to blush at their abject condition, but such as had reduced themselves to it by their idleness, their intemperance, their profusion, or dissolute conduct. Aristides declared, that his kinsman had told nothing but the truth; and added, that a man whose frame of mind is such,
Plut. in compar. Arist. & Caton. p. 355.