Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5
Category: History
Level 11.45 8:31 h
Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of 48 biographies of famous men, arranged in pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD. The surviving Parallel Lives comprises 23 pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman of similar destiny, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, or Demosthenes and Cicero.

Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5

Additional Lives, unpaired & Comparisons


Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5

The Life of Aratus

1. There is an ancient proverb, Polycrates, which the philosopher Chrysippus puts not as it really is, but as he thought better: —

“Who will praise a father, except happy sons?”

But Dionysodorus of Troezen corrects him, and restores the true form thus: —

“Who will praise a father, except unhappy sons?”

And he says that the proverb stops the mouths of those who, being worthless in themselves, take refuge in the virtues of certain ancestors and are forever praising them. But surely for a man in whom, to use Pindar’s words, “the noble spirit naturally displayes itself as inherited from sires,” and who, like thee, patterns his life after the fairest examples in his family line, — for such men it will be good fortune to be reminded of their noblest progenitors, ever and anon hearing the story of them, or telling it themselves. For it is not that they lack noble qualities of their own and make their reputation dependent on their praises of others, nay rather, they associate their own careers with the careers of their great ancestors, whom they hail both as founders of their line and as directors of their lives. And therefore, now that I have written the life of Aratus, who was thy countryman and forefather, and to whom thou thyself art no discredit in either reputation or influence, I send it to thee, not as though thou hadst not been at pains from the beginning to have the most precise knowledge of thy great ancestor’s career, but in order that thy sons Polycrates and Pythocles may be reared, now by hearing and now by reading, after examples found in their own family line — examples which it well becomes them to imitate. For it is the lover of himself, and not the lover of goodness, who thinks himself always superior to others.

2. The city of Sicyon, as soon as it had fallen away from its pure Doric form of aristocracy (which was now like a harmony dissolved) and had become a prey to factions and the ambitious schemes of demagogues, was without cease distempered and agitated, and kept changing one tyrant for another, until, after the murder of Cleon, Timocleides and Cleinias were chosen chief magistrates, men of the highest repute and influence among the citizens. But no sooner did the government appear to be somewhat settled than Timocleides died, and Abantidas the son of Paseas, attempting to make himself tyrant, slew Cleinias, and, of the friends and kinsmen of Cleinias, banished some and killed others. He tried to kill also the son of Cleinias, Aratus, left fatherless at the age of seven. But in the confusion which prevailed about the house the boy made his escape with the fugitives, and wandering about in the city, full of fear and helpless, by chance got unnoticed into the house of a woman who was a sister of Abantidas, but had married Prophantus the brother of Cleinias. Her name was Soso. This woman, who was of a noble nature, and thought it a divine dispensation that the boy had taken refuge with her, hid him in the house, and at night sent him secretly off to Argos.

3. Thus was Aratus stolen away from the peril that threatened him, and at once that vehement and glowing hatred of tyrants for which he was noted became a part of his nature and grew with his growth. He was reared in liberal fashion among the guests and friends of his father’s house at Argos, and since he saw that his bodily growth promised high health and stature, he devoted himself to the exercises of the palaestra, going so far as to win wreaths of victory in contesting the pentathlum. And indeed even his statues have plainly an athletic look, and the sagacity and majesty of his countenance do not altogether disown the athlete’s full diet and wielding of the mattock. Wherefore his cultivation of oratory was perhaps less intense than became a man in public life; and yet he is said to have been a more ornate speaker than some think who judge from the Commentaries which he left; these were a bye-work, and were composed in haste, off-hand, and in the words that first occurred to him in the heat of contest.

Some time after the escape of Aratus, Abantidas was slain by Deinias and Aristotle the logician. The tyrant was wont to attend all their public disputations in the market-place and to take part in them; they encouraged him in this practice, laid a plot, and took his life. Paseas also, the father of Abantidas, after assuming the supreme power, was treacherously slain by Nicocles, who then proclaimed himself tyrant. This man is said to have borne a very close resemblance to Periander the son of Cypselus, just as Orontes the Persian did to Alcmaeon the son of Amphiaraüs, and as the Spartan youth mentioned by Myrtilus did to Hector. Myrtilus tells us that when the throng of spectators became aware of this resemblance, the youth was trampled underfoot.

4. Nicocles was tyrant of the city for four months, during which he wrought the city much harm, and narrowly escaped losing it to the Aetolians when they plotted to seize it. By this time Aratus, now a young man, was held in marked esteem on account of his high birth, and of his spirit. This was showing itself to be not insignificant nor yet unenterprising, but earnest, and tempered with a judgement safe beyond his years. Wherefore the exiles from Sicyon had their minds fixed most of all upon him, and Nicocles was not neglectful of what was going on, but kept secret watch and ward over his undertakings, not because he feared any deed of so great daring and hazard as that in which Aratus finally engaged, but because he suspected that Aratus was in communication with the kings who had been on terms of friendship and hospitality with his father. And in truth Aratus had attempted to travel along that path. But since Antigonus​ neglected his promises and prolonged the time, and since the hopes derived from Egypt and Ptolemy ​ were a long way off, he resolved to overthrow that tyrant by his own efforts.

5. The first to whom he imparted his design were Aristomachus and Ecdelus. Of these, the one was an exile from Sicyon, and Ecdelus was an Arcadian of Megalopolis, a student of philosophy and a man of action, who had been an intimate friend of Arcesilaüs the Academic at Athens. These men eagerly adopted his proposals, and he then began conversations with the other exiles. A few of these took part in the enterprise because they were ashamed to disappoint the hope placed in them, but the majority actually tried to stop Aratus, on the ground that his inexperience made him over-bold.

While he was planning to seize some post in the territory of Sicyon from which he might sally forth and make war upon the tyrant, there came to Argos a man of Sicyon who had run away from prison. He was a brother of Xenocles, one of the exiles; and when he had been brought to Aratus by Xenocles, he told him that the part of the city’s wall over which he had climbed to safety was almost level with the ground on the inside, where it had been attached to steep and rocky places, and that on the outside it was not at all too high for scaling-ladders. When Aratus had heard this, he sent with Xenocles two servants of his own, Seuthas and Technon, to make an examination of the wall; for he was resolved, if he could, to hazard the whole enterprise on one secret and swift attempt, rather than in a long war and in open contests to match his private resources against those of a tyrant. So when Xenocles and his party came back with measurements of the wall which they had taken, and with a report that the place was by nature not impassable nor even difficult (although they declared that it was hard to get to it undetected owing to a certain gardener’s dogs, which were little beasts, but extraordinarily fierce and savage), Aratus at once undertook the business.

6. Now the laying in of arms was nothing unusual, since almost everybody at that time indulged in robberies and predatory forays; and as for scaling-ladders, Euphranor the engineer made them openly, since his trade screened him from suspicion; and he too was one of the exiles. As for men, each of the friends of Aratus in Argos furnished him with ten out of the few they had, and he himself equipped thirty of his own servants with arms. Through Xenophilus, the foremost of the robber captains, he also hired a few soldiers, to whom it was given out that a foray was to be made into the territory of Sicyon to seize the horses of Antigonus. And most of them were sent on ahead in small bands to the tower of Polygnotus, with orders to wait there. Aratus also sent on in advance Caphisias, lightly armed, with four companions; their orders were to come to the gardener’s when it was dark, pretending to be travellers, and after taking up quarters there for the night, to shut up him and his dogs; for there was no other way to get past them. The scaling-ladders, which could be taken apart, were packed in boxes, and thus concealed were sent on ahead in waggons.

In the meantime some spies of Nicocles appeared in Argos and were reported to be secretly going about and watching the movements of Aratus. As soon as it was day, therefore, Aratus left his house and showed himself openly in the market-place, conversing with his friends; then he anointed himself in the gymnasium, took with him from the palaestra some of the young men who were wont to drink and make holiday with him, and went back home; and after a little one of his servants was seen carrying garlands through the market-place, another buying lights, and another talking with the women that regularly furnished music of harp and flute at banquets. When the spies saw all this, they were completely deceived, and with loud laughter said to one another: “Nothing, you see, is more timorous than a tyrant, since even Nicocles, though master of so great a city and so large a force, is in fear of a stripling who squanders on pleasures and mid-day banquets his means of subsistence in exile.”

7. The spies, then, thus misled, left the city; but Aratus, immediately after the morning meal, sallied forth, joined his soldiers at the tower of Polygnotus, and led them on to Nemea. Here he disclosed his design, to most of them then for the first time, and made them exhortations and promises. Then, after giving out as watchword “Apollo Victorious,” he led them forward against Sicyon, quickening or retarding his progress according to the revolution of the moon, so as to enjoy her light while on the march, and as soon as she was setting to be at the garden near the wall. There Caphisias came to meet him; he had not secured the dogs (for they had bounded off before he could do this), but had locked up the gardener. Most of his men were disheartened at this and urged Aratus to retire; but he tried to encourage them, promising to lead them back if the dogs should prove too troublesome for them. At the same time he sent forward the men who carried the scaling-ladders, under the command of Ecdelus and Mnasitheus, while he himself followed after them slowly, the dogs already barking vigorously and running along by the side of Ecdelus and his party. However, they reached the wall and planted their ladders against it without mishap. But as the first men were mounting the ladders, the officer who was to set the morning-watch began making his rounds with a bell, and there were many lights and the noise of the sentries coming up. The invaders, however, crouched down just where they were on the ladders, and so escaped the notice of this party without any trouble; but since another watch was coming up to meet the first, they incurred the greatest danger. However, they escaped the notice of this guard also as it passed by, and then the leaders, Mnasitheus and Ecdelus, at once mounted to the top, and after occupying the approaches to the wall on either side, sent Technon to Aratus, urging him to hasten up.

8. Now it was no great distance from the garden to the wall, and to the tower, in which a huge dog was on the watch, a hunter. The dog himself did not notice their approach, either because he was naturally sluggish, or because during the day he had become tired out. But when the gardener’s whelps challenged him from below, he began to growl in response, faintly and indistinctly at first, then bayed out more loudly as they passed by. Presently the whole place resounded with barking, so that the watchman opposite called with a loud cry to the huntsman asking why his dog was baying so savagely and whether some mischief was not afoot. The huntsman answered him from the tower that there was nothing to fear, but that his dog had been excited by the lights of the sentries and the din of the bell. This more than anything else gave heart to the soldiers of Aratus. They thought that the huntsman was privy to their design and was trying to conceal it, and that there were many others also in the city who would assist them. However, when the rest of the company essayed the wall, their peril was grievous and protracted, since the ladders shook unless they mounted one by one and slowly; moreover, time was pressing, since cocks were already crowing, and directly the people who brought produce from the country to the market-place would be coming up. Therefore Aratus also mounted the wall in haste, after forty in all had mounted before him; and when he had been joined by a few more of those below, he went up against the tyrant’s house and the praetorium, where the mercenary soldiers passed the night. And after falling upon these suddenly and capturing them all, but killing none, he straightway sent messages to his friends summoning them all from their homes, and they ran together from all quarters. Day was now breaking, and the theatre was thronged with people who still were in suspense because of the uncertain rumour that prevailed and in utter ignorance of what was afoot, until the herald came forward and made proclamation that Aratus the son of Cleinias invited the citizens to secure their freedom.

9. Then, convinced that what they had long expected was come, they rushed in a body to the residence of the tyrant, carrying firebrands. A great flame arose as the house caught fire, and it was visible as far as Corinth, so that the people of Corinth were astonished and were on the point of sallying forth to help. Nicocles, then, slipped out unnoticed by way of certain underground passages, and ran away from the city, and the soldiers, after extinguishing the fire with the aid of the Sicyonians, plundered his house. Nor did Aratus prevent this, but put the rest of the wealth of the tyrants at disposition of the citizens. And not a man was killed or even wounded at all, either among the assailants or their enemies, but fortune preserved the enterprise free from the taint of civil bloodshed.

Aratus restored eighty exiles who had been banished by Nicocles, and those also who had fled the city during the reign of former tyrants, to the number of five hundred. These had long been wanderers, yes, for close to fifty years. And now that they had come back, most of them in poverty, they laid claim to the property which they had formerly held, and by going to their farms and houses threw Aratus into great perplexity. For he saw that the city was plotted against by outsiders and eyed with jealousy by Antigonus because it had regained its freedom, while it was full of internal disturbances and faction.

Wherefore, as things stood, he thought it best to attach the city promptly to the Achaean League; and so, though the people of Sicyon were Dorians, they voluntarily assumed the name and civil polity of the Achaeans, who at that time had neither brilliant repute nor great strength. For most of them lived in small cities, owned land that was neither fertile nor extensive, and were neighbours to a sea that had no harbours and for the most part washed a precipitous and rocky shore. But this people more than any other showed the world that Greek prowess was invincible, whenever it enjoyed good order, harmonious discipline, and a sensible leader. For though they had taken almost no part in the ancient glories of Greece, and at this time, though counted all together, had not the power of a single considerable city, still, owing to their good counsels and their concord, and because they were able, in place of envying, to obey and follow the one who was pre-eminent among them for virtue, they not only preserved their own freedom in the midst of so great cities and powers and tyrannies, but also were continually saving and setting free very many of the other Greeks.

10. Aratus was by natural bent a statesman, high-minded, more exact in his public than in his private relations, a bitter hater of tyrants, and ever making a regard for the public weal determine his enmity or his friendship. Wherefore he seems to have proved not so much a strict friend, as a considerate and mild enemy, changing his ground in either direction according to the exigencies of the state, loving concord between nations, community of cities, and unanimity of council and assembly, beyond all other blessings. It was manifest that he resorted to open warfare and strife without courage and with little confidence, but that in stealing advantages and secretly managing cities and tyrants he was most proficient. Therefore, though he won many unexpected successes where he showed courage, he seems to have lost no fewer favourable opportunities through over-caution. For not only in the case of certain wild beasts, as it would seem, is the vision strong by night but wholly blinded in the day-time (since the humour in their eyes is too dry and delicate to bear contact with the light), but there is also in some men a cleverness and sagacity which is prone to be confounded in transactions that are carried out under the open sky and proclaimed abroad by public criers, but when confronting hidden and secret enterprises recovers its courage. Such unevenness a lack of philosophy may cause in men of good natural parts; they produce virtue without scientific knowledge, and it is like spontaneous and uncultivated fruit. This can be proved by examples.

11. Aratus, now, after uniting himself and his city with the Achaeans, served in the cavalry, and was beloved by his commanders on account of his ready obedience. For although he had made great contributions to the commonwealth in his own reputation and the power of his native city, he gave his services like those of any ordinary person to the one who from time to time was general of the Achaeans, whether he was a man of Dyme or of Tritaea, or of a meaner city. And there came to him also a gift of money from the king of Egypt, five-and‑twenty talents. These Aratus accepted, but gave them at once to his fellow-citizens, who were in want of money, especially for the ransoming of such as had been taken prisoners.

12. But the exiles were not to be dissuaded from molesting those who were in possession of their property, and the city was in danger of an upheaval. Aratus saw that his only hope was in the generosity of Ptolemy, and therefore determined to sail to Egypt and beg the king to furnish him with money for the settlement of these disputes. So he put to sea from Mothone above Malea, intending to make the shortest passage. But the steersman could not make head against a strong wind and high waves that came in from the open sea, and being carried out of his course got with difficulty to Adria, which was a hostile place. For it was in the power of Antigonus, and held a garrison of his. Aratus anticipated arrest by landing, and forsaking the ship withdrew a long way from the sea, having with him one of his friends, Timanthes. They threw themselves into a place that was thickly covered with woods, and had a grievous night of it. A little later the commander of the garrison came to the ship in search of Aratus, and was deceived by his servants, who had been instructed to say that he had run away at once and had sailed off to Euboea. The ship, however, with its cargo and the servants of Aratus, was declared a prize of war and detained.

After a few days, while still in this helpless plight, Aratus met with a rare piece of good fortune, for a Roman ship put in at the place where he was staying, sometimes on a lookout-place, and sometimes hiding himself. The ship was bound for Syria, but after going on board Aratus persuaded the master of the vessel to convey him as far as Caria. Thither he was conveyed, encountering fresh perils by sea and perils as great as before. From Caria, after a long time, he made his way across to Egypt, and found the king both naturally well disposed towards him, and much gratified because Aratus had sent him drawings and paintings from Greece. In these matters Aratus had a refined judgement, and was continually collecting and acquiring works of artistic skill and excellence, especially those of Pamphilus and Melanthus. These he would send to Ptolemy.

13. For the fame of Sicyon’s refined and beautiful paintings was still in full bloom, and they alone were thought to have a beauty that was indestructible. Therefore even the great Apelles, when he was already admired, came to Sicyon and gave a talent that he might be admitted into the society of its artists, desiring to share their fame rather than their art. Hence it was that Aratus, although he at once destroyed the other portraits of the tyrants when he had given the city its freedom, deliberated a long time about that of Aristratus (who flourished in the time of Philip of Macedon). For it was the work of Melanthus and all his pupils, and Aristratus was painted standing by a chariot in which was a Victory; Apelles also had a hand in the painting, as we are told by Polemon the Topographer. And the work was a marvellous one, so that Aratus was moved by the artistic skill therein; but afterwards, such was his hatred of the tyrants, that he ordered it to be removed and destroyed. Accordingly, the painter Nealces, who was a friend of Aratus, interceded with him for the picture, as we are told, and with tears, and when he could not persuade him, said that war should be waged against the tyrants, but not against the treasures of the tyrants. “Let us therefore leave the chariot and the Victory, but Aristratus himself I will undertake to remove from the picture.” Aratus therefore yielded, and Nealces erased the figure of Aristratus, and in its place painted a palm-tree merely, not daring to introduce anything else. We are told, however, that the feet of the erased figure of Aristratus were left by an oversight beneath the chariot.

In consequence of this love of art Aratus was already beloved by the king, and in personal intercourse grew yet more upon him, and received for his city a gift of a hundred and fifty talents. Forty of these Aratus took with him at once and sailed to Peloponnesus; the rest the king divided into instalments, and sent them to him afterwards one by one.

14. Now it was a great achievement to procure so large a sum of money for his fellow-citizens; other generals and leaders of the people had taken but a fraction of this sum from kings in payment for wronging, enslaving, and betraying to them their native cities. But it was a far greater achievement by means of this money to have effected a harmonious adjustment of the disputes between rich and poor, and safety and security for the entire people. Moreover, we must admire the moderation of the man in the exercise of so great power. For when he was appointed independent arbiter, with absolute powers for settling the money affairs of the exiles, he would not accept the office alone, but associated with himself fifteen of his fellow-citizens, by whose aid, after much toil and great trouble, he established peace and friendship among his fellow-citizens. ​ For these services not only did the entire body of citizens bestow fitting public honours upon him, but the exiles also on their own account erected a bronze statue of him, and inscribed thereon the following elegiac verses: —

“The counsels, valorous deeds, and prowess in behalf of Hellas, which this man has displayed, are known as far as the Pillars of Heracles; but we who achieved our return through thee, Aratus, for thy virtue and justice, have erected to the Saviour Gods this statue of our saviour, because to thy native city thou has brought a sacred and heavenly reign of law.”

15. These successful achievements placed Aratus beyond the jealousy of his fellow-citizens, owing to the gratitude which he inspired; but Antigonus, the king, was annoyed by the policy of Aratus, and wished either to bring him over into complete friendship with himself or to alienate him from Ptolemy. He therefore showed him many kindnesses which were not at all welcome, and especially this, that as he was sacrificing to the gods at Corinth, he sent portions of the victims to Aratus at Sicyon. And at the banquet which followed, where many guests were present, he said, so that all could hear: “I thought this Sicyonian youth was merely free-spirited and a lover of his fellow-citizens; but he would seem to be a capable judge also of the lives and actions of kings. For formerly he was inclined to overlook us, fixing his hopes elsewhere, and he admired the wealth of Egypt, hearing tales of its elephants, and fleets, and palaces; but now that he has been behind the scenes and seen that everything in Egypt is play-acting and painted scenery, he has come over entirely to us. Therefore I both welcome the young man myself, having determined to make every possible use of him, and I would ask you to consider him a friend.” These words were seized upon by the envious and malevolent, who vied with one another in writing to Ptolemy many grievous charges against Aratus, so that the king sent an envoy and upbraided him. So great malice and envy attend upon the friendships of kings and tyrants, for which men strive and at which they aim with ardent passion.

16. Aratus now, having been chosen general of the Achaean League for the first time, ravaged the opposite territories of Locris and Calydonia, and went to the assistance of the Boeotians with an army of ten thousand men. He came too late, however, for the battle at Chaeroneia, in which the Boeotians were defeated by the Aetolians, with the loss of Aboeocritus, their Boeotarch, and a thousand men. A year later, ​ being general again, he set on foot the enterprise for the recovery of Acrocorinthus, not in the interests of Sicyonians or Achaeans merely, but purposing to drive from that stronghold what held all Hellas in a common subjection, — the Macedonian garrison. Chares the Athenian, having been successful in a battle with the king’s generals, wrote to the people of Athens that he had won a battle which was “sister to that at Marathon”; and this enterprise of Aratus may be rightly called a sister of those of Pelopidas the Theban and Thrasybulus the Athenian, in which they slew tyrants, except that it surpassed them in being undertaken, not against Greeks, but against a foreign and alien power. For the Isthmus of Corinth, forming a barrier between the seas, brings together the two regions, and thus unites our continent; and when Acrocorinthus, which is a lofty hill springing up at this centre of Greece, is held by a garrison, it hinders and cuts off all the country south of the Isthmus from intercourse, transits, and the carrying on of military expeditions by land and sea, and makes him who controls the place with a garrison sole lord of Greece. Therefore it is thought that the younger Philip of Macedon uttered no jest, but the truth, whenever he called the city of Corinth “the fetters of Greece.”

17. Accordingly, the place was always an object of great contention among kings and dynasts, but the eagerness of Antigonus to secure it fell nothing short of the most frenzied passion, and he was wholly absorbed in schemes to take it by stratagem from its possessors, since an open attempt upon it was hopeless. For when Alexander, in whose hands the place was, had died of poison given him (it is said) in obedience to Antigonus, and his wife Nicaea had succeeded to his power and was guarding the citadel, Antigonus at once sent his son Demetrius to her in furtherance of his schemes, and by inspiring her with pleasant hopes of a royal marriage and of wedded life with a young man who would be no disagreeable company for an elderly woman, he captured her, using his son for all the world like a bait for her. The citadel, however, she did not give up, but kept it under strong guard. Pretending, therefore, indifference to this, Antigonus celebrated the nuptials of the pair in Corinth, exhibiting spectacles and giving banquets every day, as one whom pleasure and kindliness led to think chiefly of mirth and ease. But when the crucial moment came, and as Amoebeus was about to sing in the theatre, he escorted Nicaea in person to the spectacle. She was borne in a litter which had royal trappings, plumed herself on her new honour, and had not the remotest suspicion of what was to happen. Then, arrived at the diverging street that led up to the citadel, Antigonus gave orders that Nicaea should be borne on into the theatre, while he himself, bidding adieu to Amoebeus, and adieu to the nuptials, went up to Acrocorinthus with a speed that belied his years; and, finding the gate locked, he beat upon it with his staff and ordered it to be opened. And the guards within, stupefied, opened it. Thus master of the place, he could not contain himself for joy, but drank and disported himself in the streets, and with music-girls in his train and garlands on his head, old man that he was and acquainted with so great vicissitudes of fortune, revelled through the market-place, greeting and clasping hands with all who met him. Thus we see that neither grief nor fear transports and agitates the soul as much as joy that comes unexpectedly.

18. Antigonus, then, having got Acrocorinthus into his power, as I have said, kept it under guard, putting men there whom he most trusted, and making Persaeus the philosopher their commander. Now Aratus, even while Alexander was still living, had set his hand to the enterprise, but an alliance was made between the Achaeans and Alexander, and he therefore desisted. At the time of which I speak, however, a new and fresh basis for the enterprise was found by him in the following circumstances.

There were in Corinth four brothers, Syrians by race, one of whom, Diocles by name, was serving as a mercenary soldier in the citadel. The other three, after stealing some gold plate of the king’s, came to Aegias, a banker in Sicyon with whom Aratus did business. A portion of the gold they disposed of to him at once, but the remainder was being quietly exchanged by one of them, Erginus, in frequent visits. Erginus thus became well acquainted with Aegias, and having been led by him into conversation about the garrison in the citadel, said that as he was going up to see his brother he had noticed in the face of the cliff a slanting fissure leading to where the wall of the citadel was at its lowest. Thereupon Aegias fell to jesting with him, and said: “Do you, then, best of men, thus for the sake of a little gold plate rifle the king’s treasures, when it is in your power to sell a single hour’s work for large sums of money? Don’t you know that burglars as well as traitors, if they are caught, have only one death to die?” Erginus burst out laughing, and as a first step agreed to make trial of Diocles (saying that he had no confidence at all in his other brothers), and a few days afterwards came back and bargained to conduct Aratus to the wall at a spot where it was not more than fifteen feet in height, and to aid in the rest of the enterprise together with Diocles.

19. Aratus on his part agreed to give the men sixty talents if he was successful, and in case he failed, and he as well as they got off safely, to give each of them a house and a talent. Then, since the sixty talents had to be deposited with Aegias for Erginus, and Aratus neither had them himself nor was willing by borrowing them to give anyone else a suspicion of his undertaking, he took most of his plate and his wife’s golden ornaments and deposited them with Aegias as security for his money. For he was so exalted in spirit and had so great a passion for noble deeds that, knowing as he did that Phocion and Epaminondas were reputed to have been the justest and best of Greeks because they spurned great gifts and would not betray their honour for money, he elected to expend his own substance secretly, as an advance, on an enterprise in which he alone was risking his life for the whole body of citizens, who did not even know what was going on. For who will not admire the magnanimity of the man, and yearn even now to lend a helping hand, who purchased at so high a price so great a danger, and pledged what he thought the most precious of his possessions in order that he might be introduced by night among his enemies and contend for his life, receiving as his security from his countrymen the hope of a noble action, and nothing else?

20. Now the enterprise was dangerous in itself, but was made more dangerous still by a mistake which occurred at the very beginning through ignorance. For Technon, the servant of Aratus, had been sent to inspect the wall with Diocles, and had not yet met Diocles face to face, but thought he would know how he looked because Erginus had described him as curly-haired, of a swarthy complexion, and without a beard. Having come, therefore, to the place appointed, he was waiting for Erginus to come there with Diocles, just outside the city, near what was called the Ornis. As he was waiting, however, the oldest brother of Erginus and Diocles, named Dionysius, who was not privy to the enterprise and took no part in it, but resembled Diocles, chanced to come up. So Technon, moved by the similarity in the marks of his outward appearance, asked him if he was connected at all with Erginus; and on his saying that he was a brother, Technon was altogether convinced that he was talking with Diocles, and without inquiring his name, or waiting for any other proof whatever, gave him his hand and began chatting with him and asking him questions about what had been agreed upon with Erginus. Dionysius took cunning advantage of his mistake, assented to all that he said, and turning his back toward the city led him along in unsuspicious conversation. But just as he was near the city, and was at the very point of seizing Technon, by a second chance Erginus met them. Erginus comprehended the trick and the danger, motioned Technon to fly, and both of them ran off and got safely to Aratus. Aratus, however, would not give up hope, but at once sent Erginus to bribe Dionysius and beg him to hold his tongue. Erginus not only did this, but actually brought Dionysius with him to Aratus. And now that Dionysius was there they would not let him go, but bound him and kept him indoors under lock and key, while they themselves prepared for their attack.

21. When all things were ready, Aratus ordered the rest of his forces to pass the night under arms, and taking with him four hundred picked men, few of whom knew what was on foot themselves, led them towards the gate of Corinth near by the temple of Hera. It was midsummer, the moon was at its full, and the night was cloudless and clear, so that they feared lest the gleam of their arms in the moonlight should disclose them to the sentinels. But just as the foremost of them were near the wall, clouds ran up from the sea and enveloped the city itself and the region outside, which thus became dark. Then the rest of them sat down and took off their shoes, since men make little noise and do not slip if they are barefooted when they climb ladders; but Erginus, taking with him seven young men equipped as travellers, got unnoticed to the gate. Here they slew the gate-keeper and the sentries who were with him. At the same time the ladders were clapped to the wall, and after getting a hundred men of in all haste, Aratus ordered the rest to follow as fast as they could; then he pulled his ladders up after him and marched through the city with his hundred men against the citadel, being already full of joy at his escape from detection and confident of success.

A little farther on they encountered a watch of four men with a light; they were not seen by them, being still in the shade of the moon, but saw them coming up in the opposite direction. So they drew back a little for shelter beneath some walls and buildings, and set an ambush for the men. Three of them they killed in their attack, but the fourth, with a sword-wound in his head, took to flight, crying out that the enemy were in the city. And presently the trumpets were sounding, the city was in an uproar over what was happening, many lights were flashing, some in the city below and some in the citadel above, and a confused shouting broke forth on all hands.

22. Meanwhile Aratus was struggling up the steep with all his might, slowly and laboriously at first, unable to keep to the path and wandering from it, since it was everywhere sunk in the shadows of the jutting cliffs and had many twists and turns before it came out at the wall of the citadel. Then, marvellous to relate, the moon is said to have parted the clouds and shone out, making the most difficult part of the road plain, until he got to the wall at the spot desired; there the clouds came together again and everything was hidden in darkness.

But the soldiers of Aratus whom he had left at the gate outside near the temple of Hera, three hundred in number, when once they had burst into the city and found it full of lights and manifold tumult, were unable to discover the path which their comrades had taken or follow in their steps. So they crouched down and huddled themselves together in a shaded flank of the cliff, and there remained in great distress and impatience. For Aratus and his party were now assailed with missiles from the citadel and were fighting, the shouts of the combatants came down the slopes, and cries echoed round about which the reverberations from the hills rendered confused and of uncertain origin. Then, as they were at a loss which way to turn, Archelaüs, the commander of the king’s forces, having many soldiers with him, made up the ascent amid shouts and the blare of trumpets to attack Aratus and his party, and thus passed by the three hundred. These, rising up from ambush as it were, fell upon him, slew the first whom they attacked, put the rest, together with Archelaüs, to panic flight, and pursued them until they were scattered and dispersed about the city. And just as this victory had been won, Erginus came from the party fighting on the heights, with tidings that Aratus was engaged with the enemy, that these were defending themselves vigorously, that a great struggle was going on at the very wall, and there was need of speedy help. The three hundred at once ordered him to lead the way; and as they took to the ascent their cries signalled their coming and encouraged their friends; the light of the full moon also made their arms appear more numerous to the enemy than they really were, owing to the length of their line of march, and the echoes of the night gave the impression that the shouts proceeded from many times the number there really were. At last, with a united onset, they repulsed the enemy, mastered the citadel, and held its garrison in their power. Day was now breaking, the sun at once shone out upon their success, and the rest of the forces of Aratus came up from Sicyon, the Corinthians readily receiving them by the gates and helping them to seize the king’s soldiers.

23. When everything appeared to be safe Aratus came down from the citadel into the theatre whither an immense multitude streamed with an eager desire to see him and hear what he would say to the Corinthians. After stationing his Achaeans at both the side-entrances, he himself advanced from the back-scene into the orchestra, with his breastplate still on and his countenance altered by toil and loss of sleep, so that the exultation and joy of his spirit were overpowered by the weariness of his body. Since the multitude, when he came forward to address them, were profuse in their friendly expressions, taking his spear in his right hand and slightly inclining his knee and his body, he supported himself upon it and stood thus for a long time silently receiving their applause and acclamations, their praises of his valour and their congratulations on his success. But when they had ceased and quiet had ensued, he summoned his strength and in behalf of the Achaeans made a speech which befitted their exploit, and persuaded the Corinthians to join the Achaean League. He also gave them back the keys to their gates, of which they then became possessed for the first time since the time of Philip of Macedon. Of the officers of Antigonus, he dismissed Archelaüs, who had been taken prisoner, but Theophrastus, who would not quit his post, he slew; as for Persaeus, on the capture of the citadel he made his escape to Cenchreae. And at a later time, as we are told, when he was leading a life of leisure, and someone remarked that in his opinion the wise man only could be a good general, “Indeed,” he replied, “there was a time when I too particularly liked this doctrine of Zeno’s; but now, since the lesson I got from the young man of Sicyon, I am of another mind.” This story of Persaeus is told by many writers.

24. As for Aratus, he at once made himself master of the temple of Hera and the harbour of Lechaeum; he also seized five-and‑twenty of the king’s ships, and sold five hundred horses and four hundred Syrians; Acrocorinthus, too, was garrisoned by the Achaeans with four hundred men-at‑arms, and fifty dogs with as many keepers were maintained in the citadel.

Now the Romans, in their admiration of Philopoemen, call him “the last of the Greeks,” implying that no great man arose among the Greeks after him; but I should say that this capture of Acrocorinthus was the very last and latest achievement of the Greeks, and that it rivalled their best, not only in daring, but also in happy results, as events at once showed. For Megara seceded from Antigonus and attached herself to Aratus; Troezen and Epidaurus were enrolled in the Achaean League; and Aratus, making a distant expedition for the first time, invaded Attica, and crossing the strait plundered Salamis, his Achaean forces, as though released from prison, obeying his every wish. But the freemen among his prisoners he sent back to the Athenians without ransom, thus laying a foundation for their revolt from Antigonus. He also made Ptolemy an ally of the Achaeans, with the leadership in war on land and sea. And he was so influential among the Achaeans that, since it was not permissible every year, they chose him general every other year, though, in fact, his wisdom made him their leader all the time. For they saw that he put first and foremost, not wealth, not fame, not friendship with kings, not his own native city’s advantage, but only the growth in power of the Achaean League. For he considered that the Greek states which were weak would be preserved by mutual support when once they had been bound as it were by the common interest, and that just as the members of the body have a common life and breath because they cleave together in a common growth, but when they are drawn apart and become separate they wither away and decay, in like manner the several states are ruined by those who dissever their common bonds, but are augmented by mutual support, when they become parts of a great whole and enjoy a common foresight.

25. And so, whence he saw that the best of the neighbouring peoples were autonomous, and was distressed at the servitude of the Argives, he plotted to kill Aristomachus the tyrant of Argos, being ambitious to restore its freedom to the city as a reward for the rearing it had given him, as well as to attach it to the Achaean League. Accordingly, men were found to dare the deed, of whom Aeschylus and Charimenes the seer were the chief. They had no swords, however, the tyrant having prohibited the possession of them under heavy penalties. Aratus, therefore, ordered small daggers to be made for them in Corinth and sewed them up in pack-saddles; these he put upon beasts of burden carrying ordinary wares and sent them into Argos. But Charimenes the seer took on a partner in the enterprise, at which Aeschylus and his friends were incensed and proceeded to act on their own account, ignoring Charimenes. When Charimenes was aware of this, he was angry and informed against the men just as they were setting out to attack the tyrant; most of them, however, succeeded in escaping from the market-place and fled to Corinth.

Nevertheless, after a little while Aristomachus was killed by slaves, and Aristippus, a more pernicious tyrant than he, soon succeeded in seizing the power. Aratus at once took all the Achaeans of military age who were at hand and went swiftly to the aid of the city, supposing that he would be welcomed by the Argives. But since most of them were by this time habituated to slavery and willing to endure it, so that not a man came over to his side, he retired, after involving the Achaeans in the charge of having gone to war in time of peace. They were prosecuted on this charge before the Mantineans, and in the absence of Aratus, Aristippus as plaintiff won his case and was awarded damages to the amount of thirty minas. Aratus himself the tyrant both hated and feared, and so laid plots to kill him with the assistance of Antigonus the king; and almost everywhere there were men who undertook this deed for them and watched for an opportunity.

But there is no safeguard for a ruler like a sincere and steadfast goodwill on the part of the ruled. For when both the common people and the leading men are afraid, not of their leader, but for their leader, he sees with many eyes, hears with many ears, and so perceives betimes what is going on. Therefore I wish to stop my story at this point, in order to describe the life that Aristippus led. This was laid upon him by his office of tyrant, so envied of men, and by the pride and pomp of monarchy, which men celebrate and call blessed.

26. For though he had Antigonus as ally, and kept many guards to protect his person, and had left no single enemy alive in the city, yet he would order his spearmen and guards to bivouac outside in the colonnade; and as for his servants, as soon as supper was over he would drive them all out. Then he would lock the doors of the inner house, and betake himself with his mistress to a little upper room, which was closed by a trap-door; on this door he would place his couch and sleep, as one in his state of mind would naturally sleep, by fits and starts and in great fear. The ladder the mother of his mistress would take away and lock up in another room, and in the morning would put it in place again and call the wonderful tyrant, who would come down like a creeping thing out of its hole. Aratus, on the other hand, not by force of arms, but legally and in consequence of his virtues, had invested himself with an enduring power, and yet went about in ordinary tunic and cloak; he declared himself a public foe of any and every tyrant; and he left behind him a posterity of the highest repute among the Greeks down to this day. But of the men who seize citadels, maintain spearmen, and depend upon arms and gates and trap-doors for the safety of their persons, only a few, like timorous hares, have escaped a violent death; while not one of them has left a house, or a family, or a tomb to keep his memory in honour.

27. Against Aristippus, then, and in trying to seize Argos, Aratus made many open and secret attempts in vain. Once he set up scaling-ladders, at great hazard got upon the wall with a few followers, and killed the sentries that defended the place. The day came and the tyrant attacked him from all sides, while the Argives, as though it were not a battle to secure their liberties, but a contest in the Nemean games of which they were the judges, sat as just and impartial spectators of what was going on, without lifting a finger. Aratus, fighting sturdily, had his thigh transfixed by a spear-thrust, yet held his ground, though harassed by his enemies. And if through the night also he had maintained the struggle, he would not have failed in his attempt; for the tyrant was already bent on flight and had sent on many of his goods to the sea. As it was, however, no one told Aratus of this, and since water was failing him and he could not use his strength by reason of his wound, he led his soldiers away.

28. Then, since he despaired of success in this way, he openly invaded the territory of Argos with his army and ravaged it; and in a fierce battle with Aristippus at the river Chares, he was accused of abandoning the struggle and throwing away the victory. For although the rest of his forces admittedly had the upper hand and had gone far on ahead in pursuit, he himself, not so much because he was ousted from his position by his opponents, as out of mistrust of success and in utter fear, withdrew in disorder to his camp. But when the rest of his army came back from the pursuit and were indignant because, though they had routed the enemy and slain far more of them than they had lost of their own number, they had suffered the vanquished to erect a trophy over the victors, Aratus was ashamed and determined again to fight out the question of the trophy, and on the next day but one put his army once more in battle array. However, on perceiving that the forces of the tyrant were more numerous than before and more courageous in their resistance, he would not venture a decisive battle, but withdrew after being allowed to take up his dead under a truce. Nevertheless, by his skill in dealing with men and public affairs, and by the favour in which he stood, he retrieved this failure, brought Cleonae into the Achaean League, and celebrated the Nemean games in that city, on the ground that it had an ancient and more fitting claim upon them. But the games were also celebrated at Argos, and then for the first time the privilege of asylum and safe-conduct which had been granted to contestants in the games was violated, since the Achaeans treated as enemies and sold into slavery all contestants in the games at Argos whom they caught travelling through their territory. So fierce and implacable was Aratus in his hatred of tyrants.

29. A little while after this, Aratus heard that Aristippus was plotting against Cleonae, but feared to attack it while his enemy was posted at Corinth; he therefore assembled an army by public proclamation. And after ordering his troops to carry provisions for several days, he marched down to Cenchreae, by this stratagem inviting Aristippus to attack Cleonae in the belief that his enemy was not at hand; and this was actually what happened. For the tyrant set out at once from Argos with his forces. But Aratus, returning from Cenchreae to Corinth as soon as it was dark, and posting guards along all the roads, led his Achaeans towards Cleonae, and they followed him in such good order and with such swiftness and alacrity that not only while they were on the march, but also when they had got into Cleonae, before the night was over, and had arrayed themselves for battle, Aristippus knew nothing at all of it. Then, at daybreak, the gates were thrown open, the trumpet gave its loud signal, and dashing at a run and with shouts upon the enemy Aratus routed them at once, and kept on pursuing where he most suspected that Aristippus was in flight, the country having many diverging routes. The pursuit continued as far as Mycenae, where the tyrant was overtaken and slain by a certain Cretan named Tragiscus, as Deinias relates; and besides him there fell over fifteen hundred. But although Aratus had won so brilliant a success, and had lost not a single one of his own soldiers, he nevertheless did not take Argos nor set it free, since Agias and the younger Aristomachus burst into the city with troops of the king and took control of affairs.

This success, then, refuted much of the calumny heaped upon Aratus, as well as the scoffing and abusive stories of the flatterers of the tyrants, who would recount, to please their masters, how the general of the Achaeans always had cramps in the bowels when a battle was imminent, and how torpor and dizziness would seize him as soon as the trumpeter stood by to give the signal, and how, after he had drawn up his forces and passed the watchword along, he would ask his lieutenants and captains whether there was any further need of his presence (since the die was already cast), and then go off to await the issue anxiously at a distance. For these stories were so prevalent that even in the schools of philosophy, when the query arises whether palpitation of the heart and change of colour and looseness of the bowels, in the presence of seeming peril, are the mark of cowardice, or of some faulty temperament and chilliness in the body, Aratus is always mentioned by name as one who was a good general, but always had these symptoms when a contest was impending.

30. Having thus made away with Aristippus, Aratus at once began to plot against Lydiades, who was tyrant in his native city of Megalopolis. This Lydiades was neither of mean birth nor naturally lacking in high ambition, nor, like most sole rulers, had he been driven by licence and rapacity into this iniquity, but he had been fired with a love of glory while still young, and had thoughtlessly associated with his high spirit the false and empty doctrines current concerning tyranny, to the effect that it was a wonderful and blessed thing. And now that he had made himself tyrant, he was quickly sated with the burdens which devolve upon the sole ruler. Therefore, at once envying the successes of Aratus and fearing his plots, he adopted a new and most admirable plan, first, to free himself from hatred and fear and guards and spearmen, and second, to become a benefactor of his native city. So he sent for Aratus, resigned his power, and made his city a member of the Achaean League. Wherefore the Achaeans exalted him and chose him general.

Lydiades was at once ambitious to surpass Aratus in reputation, and not only did many other things which were thought unnecessary, but also proclaimed an expedition against the Lacedaemonians. Aratus opposed him, but was thought to do so out of jealousy; and Lydiades was chosen general for the second time, though Aratus openly worked against him and was eager to have the office given to someone else. For Aratus himself, as I have said, ​ held the office every other year. Accordingly, until he was general for the third time, Lydiades continued to be held in favour, and held the office every other year in alternation with Aratus; but after displaying an open enmity to him and frequently denouncing him before the Achaeans, he was cast aside and ignored, since it was apparent that he was contending, with a fictitious character, against a genuine and unadulterated virtue. And just as the cuckoo, in the fable of Aesop, when he asks the little birds why they fly away from him, is told by them that he will one day be a hawk, so it would seem that since Lydiades had once been a tyrant he was never free from a suspicion, which did injustice to his real nature, that he would change again.

31. In the Aetolian war also Aratus won a good repute. For when the Achaeans were bent on an engagement with the Aetolians in front of Megara, ​ and Agis the king of the Lacedaemonians was come up with an army and joined in urging the Achaeans on to battle, Aratus opposed this counsel, and in spite of much vilification and much scoffing abuse for weakness and cowardice would not abandon, because of any seeming disgrace, which he judged to be for the general advantage, but allowed the enemy to cross the Geraneian range without a battle and pass on into Peloponnesus. When, however, after thus passing on, they suddenly seized Pellene, he was no longer the same man, nor would he wait at all in order that his forces might assemble and come together from all quarters, but at once set out with those he had against the enemy, whom the disorder and wantonness attendant upon their success had wholly weakened. For as soon as they had entered the city, the common soldiers had scattered themselves among the houses, jostling and fighting with one another over the booty, while the leaders and captains were going about and seizing the wives and daughters of the Pellenians, on whose heads they put their own helmets, that no one else might seize them, but that helmet might show to whom each woman belonged. But while they were in this situation and thus engaged, word was suddenly brought to them that Aratus had attacked. Dismay fell upon them, as was natural amid such disorder, and before all had learned of the danger the foremost of them, engaging with the Achaeans at the gates and in the suburbs, were already conquered and in full flight, and being driven in headlong rout, they filled with dismay those who were collecting together and coming to their aid.

32. In the midst of this confusion, one of the captive women, daughter of Epigethes, a man of distinction, and herself conspicuous for beauty and stateliness of person, chanced to be sitting in the sanctuary of Artemis, where she had been placed by the captain of a picked corps, who had seized her for his prize and set his three-crested helmet upon her head. But suddenly she ran forth to view the tumult, and as she stood in front of the gate of the sanctuary and looked down upon the combatants from on high, with the three-crested helmet on her head, she seemed to the citizens themselves a vision of more than human majesty, while the enemy thought they saw an apparition from heaven and were struck with amazement and terror, so that not a man of them thought of defending himself.

But the Pellenians themselves tell us that the image of the goddess usually stands untouched, and that when it is removed by the priestess and carried forth from the temple, no man looks upon it, but all turn their gaze away; for not only to mankind is it a grievous and terrible sight, but trees also, past which it may be carried, become barren and cast their fruit. This image, then, he says, the priestess carried forth from the temple at this time, and by ever turning it in the faces of the Aetolians robbed them of their senses and took away their reason. Aratus, however, in his Commentaries, makes no mention of such a thing, but says that after routing the Aetolians and bursting into the city with them as they fled, he drove them out by main force, and slew seven hundred of them. The action was extolled as among the greatest exploits, and Timanthes the painter made a picture of the battle which in its composition vividly portrayed the event.

33. Notwithstanding, since many peoples and dynasts were combining against the Achaeans, Aratus at once sought to make friends of the Aetolians, and with the assistance of Pantaleon, their most influential man, not only made peace, but also an alliance between them and the Achaeans.

WholeReader. Empty coverWholeReader. Book is closedWholeReader. FilterWholeReader. Compilation cover