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Themistocles (Greek: Θεμιστοκλῆς; "Glory of the Law"; c. 524 – 459 BC) was an Athenian politician and general. He was one of a new breed of non-aristocratic politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy. As a politician, Themistocles was a populist, having the support of lower-class Athenians, and generally being at odds with the Athenian nobility. Elected archon in 493 BC, he convinced the polis to increase the naval power of Athens, a recurring theme in his political career. During the first Persian invasion of Greece he fought at the Battle of Marathon.


  • I never learned how to tune a harp, or play upon a lute; but I know how to raise a small and inconsiderable city to glory and greatness.
    • As quoted by Plutarch, in Lives as translated by J. Langhorne and W. Langhorne (1836), p. 84
    • Variant translation: 'Tis true, I never learned how to tune a harp, or play upon a lute, but I know how to raise a small and inconsiderate city to glory and greatness.
    • Plutarch's Themistocles, 2:3 "...tuning the lyre and handling the harp were no accomplishments of his, but rather taking in hand a city that was small and inglorious and making it glorious and great" "...λύραν μὲν ἁρμόσασθαι καὶ μεταχειρίσασθαι ψαλτήριον οὐκ ἐπίσταται, πόλιν δὲ μικρὰν καὶ ἄδοξον παραλαβὼν ἔνδοξον καὶ μεγάλην ἀπεργάσασθαι." (at Perseus Project)
  • Strike, if you will, but hear.
    • As quoted in Familiar Quotations, 9th Edition (1894) edited by J. Bartlett, p. 723
    • Originally quoted by Plutarch in [Themistocles] (11.3): (3) And when Eurybiades lifted up his staff as though to smite him, Themistocles said: ‘Smite, but hear me.’ Then Eurybiades was struck with admiration at his calmness, and bade him speak, and Themistocles tried to bring him back to his own position. (Bernadotte Perrin, Ed., via Perseus Project)
      • Original Greek: [3] ἐπαραμένου δὲ τὴν βακτηρίαν ὡς πατάξοντος, ὁ Θεμιστοκλῆς ἔφη: ‘πάταξον μέν, ἄκουσον δέ.’ θαυμάσαντος δὲ τὴν πρᾳότητα τοῦ Εὐρυβιάδου καὶ λέγειν κελεύσαντος, ὁ μὲν Θεμιστοκλῆς ἀνῆγεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν λόγον.
  • For the Athenians command the rest of Greece, I command the Athenians; your mother commands me, and you command your mother.
    • Statement to his son, as quoted in Familiar Quotations 9th Edition (1894) edited by J. Bartlett, p. 723
    • Originally quoted in Plutarch, Themistocles (18.5): (5) Of his son, who lorded it over his mother, and through her over himself, he said, jestingly, that the boy was the most powerful of all the Hellenes; for the Hellenes were commanded by the Athenians, the Athenians by himself, himself by the boy's mother, and the mother by her boy. (Bernadotte Perrin, Ed., via Perseus Project)
      • Original Greek: "(5) ποῦ ἂν ἦτε νῦν ὑμεῖς;’ τὸν δὲ υἱὸν ἐντρυφῶντα τῇ μητρὶ καὶ δι᾽ ἐκείνην αὐτῷ σκώπτων ἔλεγε πλεῖστον τῶν Ἑλλήνων δύνασθαι: τοῖς μὲν γὰρ Ἕλλησιν ἐπιτάττειν Ἀθηναίους, Ἀθηναίοις δ᾽ αὐτόν, αὐτῷ δὲ τὴν ἐκείνου μητέρα, τῇ μητρὶ δ᾽ ἐκεῖνον."
  • I have with me two gods, Persuasion and Compulsion.
    • As quoted in The Columbia Book of Quotations (1993) edited by R. Andrews, p. 894.
    • Original quote from Herodotus, The Histories (8.111): "(2)...for the men of that place, the first islanders of whom Themistocles demanded money, would not give it. When, however, Themistocles gave them to understand that the Athenians had come with two great gods to aid them, Persuasion and Necessity, and that the Andrians must therefore certainly give money, they said in response, “It is then but reasonable that Athens is great and prosperous, being blessed with serviceable gods."
      • Herodotus: Original Greek: (2) πρῶτοι γὰρ Ἄνδριοι νησιωτέων αἰτηθέντες πρὸς Θεμιστοκλέος χρήματα οὐκ ἔδοσαν, ἀλλὰ προϊσχομένου Θεμιστοκλέος λόγον τόνδε, ὡς ἥκοιεν Ἀθηναῖοι περὶ ἑωυτοὺς ἔχοντες δύο θεοὺς μεγάλους, πειθώ τε καὶ ἀναγκαίην, οὕτω τέ σφι κάρτα δοτέα εἶναι χρήματα, ὑπεκρίναντο πρὸς ταῦτα λέγοντες ὡς κατὰ λόγον ἦσαν ἄρα αἱ Ἀθῆναι μεγάλαι τε καὶ εὐδαίμονες, αἳ καὶ θεῶν χρηστῶν ἥκοιεν εὖ... (via Perseus Project)
    • Herodotus is quoted by Plutarch in Themistocles (21.1): he said he came escorting two gods, Persuasion and Compulsion. (Greek: "δύο γὰρ ἥκειν ἔφη θεοὺς κομίζων, Πειθὼ καὶ Βίαν")
  • He who controls the sea controls everything.
    • As quoted in Australia Defence
    • Originally quoted by Cicero in Letters to Atticus (10, 8, 4.): ... cuius omne consilium Themistocleum est. existimat enim qui mare teneat eum necesse esse rerum potiri.
    • Translation: "On the contrary, his view is entirely that of Themistocles: for he holds that the master of the sea must inevitably be master of the empire."

Quotes about Themistocles[edit]

  • Themistocles was a man who exhibited the most indubitable signs of genius; indeed, in this particular he has a claim on our admiration quite extraordinary and unparalleled. By his own native capacity, alike unformed and unsupplemented by study, he was at once the best judge in those sudden crises which admit of little or of no deliberation, and the best prophet of the future, even to its most distant possibilities. An able theoretical expositor of all that came within the sphere of his practice, he was not without the power of passing an adequate judgment in matters in which he had no experience. He could also excellently divine the good and evil which lay hid in the unseen future. In fine, whether we consider the extent of his natural powers, or the slightness of his application, this extraordinary man must be allowed to have surpassed all others in the faculty of intuitively meeting an emergency.

External links[edit]

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