Xerxes answered, “Artabanus, you define these matters reasonably. But do not fear everything, nor take account of all alike; If you wanted to take everything equally into account on every occasion that happens, you would never do anything; it is better to do everything boldly and suffer half of what you dread than to fear all chances and so never suffer anything.
But if you quarrel with whatever is said yet cannot put forth a secure position, you must be proved as wrong on your part as he who holds the contrary opinion. In this both are alike: how can someone who is only human know where there is security? I think it is impossible. Those who have the will to act most often win the rewards, not those who hesitate and take account of all chances.
You see what power Persia has attained. Now if those kings who came before me had held such opinions as yours, or if they had not held them but had had advisers like you, you would never have seen our fortunes at their present height; but as it is those kings ran the risks and advanced them to this height.
Great successes are not won except by great risks. So we will do as they did; we are travelling in the fairest season of the year, and we will return home the conquerors of all Europe without suffering famine or any other harm anywhere. First, we carry ample provisions with us on our march; second, we will have the food of those whose land and nation we invade; for we are marching against men who are tillers of the soil, not nomads.”
Then said Artabanus: “O king, I see that you will not allow us to fear any danger. But take from me this advice, as there is need for much speaking when our affairs are so great.
Cyrus son of Cambyses subdued and made tributary to Persia all Ionians except only the Athenians. I advise you by no means to lead these Ionians against the land of their fathers, since even without their aid we are well able to overcome our enemies. If they come with our army, they must either behave very unjustly by enslaving their mother city, or very justly by aiding it to be free.
If they deal very unjustly they bring us no great advantage, but by dealing very justly they may well do great harm to your army. Take to heart the truth of that ancient saying, that the end of every matter is not revealed at its beginning.”
Xerxes answered, “Artabanus, in all your pronouncements you are most mistaken when you fear that the Ionians might change sides; we have the surest guarantee for them, and you and all who marched with Darius against the Scythians can bear witness. They had the power to destroy or to save the whole Persian army, and they gave proof of their justice and faithfulness, with no evil intent.
Moreover, since they have left their children and wives and possessions in our country, we need not consider it even possible that they will make any violent change. So be rid of that fear; keep a stout heart and guard my household and tyranny; to you alone I entrust the symbols of my kingship.”
Xerxes spoke thus and sent Artabanus away to Susa. He next sent for the most notable among the Persians, and when they were present he said, “Persians, I have assembled you to make this demand, that you bear yourselves bravely and never sully the great and glorious former achievements of the Persians. Let us each and all be zealous, for the good that we seek is common to all.
For these reasons I bid you set your hands to the war strenuously; I know that we march against valiant men, and if we overcome them it is certain that no other human army will ever withstand us. Let us now cross over, after praying to the gods who hold Persia for their allotted realm.”
All that day they made preparations for the crossing. On the next they waited until they could see the sun rise, burning all kinds of incense on the bridges and strewing the road with myrtle boughs.
At sunrise Xerxes poured a libation from a golden phial into the sea, praying to the sun that no accident might befall him which would keep him from subduing Europe before he reached its farthest borders. After the prayer, he cast the phial into the Hellespont, and along with it a golden bowl, and a Persian sword which they call “acinaces.” [Note]