Great Leaders: Historic Portraits from the Great Historians

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Beschreibung des Verlags

In the description of Themistocles, which we have the advantage of finding briefly sketched by Thucydides, the circumstance most emphatically brought out is his immense force of spontaneous invention and apprehension, without any previous aid either from teaching or actual practice. The might of unassisted nature was never so strikingly exhibited as in him; he conceived the complications of a present embarrassment and divined the chances of a mysterious future with equal sagacity and equal quickness. The right expedient seemed to flash on his mind extempore, even in the most perplexing contingencies, without the least necessity for premeditation.

Nor was he less distinguished for daring and resource in action. When engaged on any joint affairs his superior competence marked him out as the leader for others to follow; and no business, however foreign to his experience, ever took him by surprise or came wholly amiss to him. Such is the remarkable picture which Thucydides draws of a countryman whose death nearly coincided in time with his own birth. The untutored readiness and universality of Themistocles probably formed in his mind a contrast to the more elaborate discipline and careful preliminary study with which the statesmen of his own day—and Pericles specially the greatest of them—approached the consideration and discussion of public affairs. Themistocles had received no teaching from philosophers, sophists, and rhetors, who were the instructors of well-born youth in the days of Thucydides, and whom Aristophanes, the contemporary of the latter, so unmercifully derides—treating such instruction as worse than nothing, and extolling in comparison with it the unlettered courage, the more gymnastic accomplishments of the victors at Marathon.

The general character given in Plutarch, though many of his anecdotes are both trifling and apocryphal, is quite consistent with the brief sketch just cited from Thucydides. Themistocles had an unbounded passion, not merely for glory—insomuch as the laurels of Miltiades acquired at Marathon deprived him of rest—but also for display of every kind. He was eager to vie with men richer than himself in showy exhibition—one great source, though not the only source of popularity at Athens; nor was he at all scrupulous in procuring the means of doing it. Besides being scrupulous in attendance on the ecclesia and dicastery, he knew most of the citizens by name, and was always ready for advice to them in their private affairs. Moreover, he possessed all the tactics of the expert party-man in conciliating political friends and in defeating personal enemies; and though in the early part of his life sincerely bent upon the upholding and aggrandizement of his country, and was on some most critical occasions of unspeakable value to it, yet on the whole his morality was as reckless as his intelligence was eminent.

Biografien und Memoiren
21. November
Library of Alexandria

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