The Athenians had sent their envoys to Delphi to ask an oracle how they would fare against the Persians, and as soon as the customary rites were performed and they had entered the shrine and taken their seats, the priestess Aristonice uttered the following prophecy:
Why sit you, doomed ones? Fly to the
world’s end, leaving
Home and the heights your city circles like
The head shall not remain in its place, nor
Nor the feet beneath, nor the hands, nor
the parts between;
But all is ruined, for fire and the headlong
god of war
Speeding in a Syrian chariot shall bring you
Many a tower shall he destroy, not yours
And give pitiless fire many shrines of gods,
Which even now stand sweating, with fear
While over the rooftops black blood runs
In prophecy of woe that needs must come.
Haste from the sanctuary and bow your
hearts to grief.
The Athenian envoys heard these words with dismay; indeed, they were about to abandon themselves to despair at the dreadful fate which was prophesied, when Timon, the son of Androbulus and one of the most distinguished men in Delphi, suggested that they should take branches of olive in their hands and, in the guise of suppliants, approach the oracle a second time. The Athenians acted upon this suggestion. “Lord Apollo,” they said, “can you not, in consideration of these olive boughs which we have brought you, give us some better prophecy about our country? Otherwise we will never leave the holy place but stay here till we die.”
Thereupon the prophetess uttered a second prophecy, which ran as follows:
Not wholly can Pallas win the heart of
Though she prays him with many prayers
and all her subtlety;
Yet will I speak to you this other word, as
firm as adamant:
Though all else shall be taken within the
bound of Cecrops
And the fastness of the holy mountain of
Yet Zeus the all-seeing grants to Athene’s
That the wooden wall only shall not fall, but
help you and your children.
But await not the host of horse and foot
coming from Asia,
Nor be still, but turn your back and
withdraw from the foe.
Truly a day will come when you will meet
him face to face.
Divine Salamis, you will bring death to
When the corn is scattered, or the harvest