Aristides. - His Character and Position. - The Rise of Themistocles. - Aristides is Ostracised. - The Ostracism examined. - The Influence of Themistocles increases. - The Silver-mines of Laurion. - Their Product applied by Themistocles to the Increase of the Navy. - New Direction given to the National Character.
I. While the progress of the drama and the genius of Aeschylus contributed to the rising renown of Athens, there appeared on the surface of her external affairs two rival and principal actors, of talents and designs so opposite, that it soon became evident that the triumph of one could be only in the defeat of the other. Before the battle of Marathon, Aristides had attained a very considerable influence in Athens. His birth was noble - his connexions wealthy - his own fortune moderate. He had been an early follower and admirer of Clisthenes, the establisher of popular institutions in Athens after the expulsion of the Pisistratidae, but he shared the predilection of many popular chieftains, and while opposing the encroachments of a tyranny, supported the power of an aristocracy. The system of Lycurgus was agreeable to his stern and inflexible temper. His integrity was republican - his loftiness of spirit was patrician. He had all the purity, the disinterestedness, and the fervour of a patriot - he had none of the suppleness or the passion of a demagogue; on the contrary, he seems to have felt much of that high-spirited disdain of managing a people which is common to great minds conscious that they are serving a people. His manners were austere, and he rather advised than persuaded men to his purposes. He pursued no tortuous policy, but marched direct to his object, fronting, and not undermining, the obstacles in his path. His reputation for truth and uprightness was proverbial, and when some lines in Aeschylus were recited on the stage, implying that "to be, and not to seem, his wisdom was," the eyes of the spectators were fixed at once upon Aristides. His sternness was only for principles - he had no harshness for men. Priding himself on impartiality between friends and foes, he pleaded for the very person whom the laws obliged him to prosecute; and when once, in his capacity of arbiter between two private persons, one of the parties said that his opponent had committed many injuries against Aristides, he rebuked him nobly: "Tell me not," he said, "of injuries against myself, but against thee. It is thy cause I am adjudging, and not my own." It may be presumed, that with these singular and exalted virtues, he did not seek to prevent the wounds they inflicted upon the self-love of others, and that the qualities of a superior mind were displayed with the bearing of a haughty spirit. He became the champion of the aristocratic party, and before the battle of Marathon he held the office of public treasurer. In this capacity Plutarch asserts that he was subjected to an accusation by Themistocles, and even intimates that Themistocles himself had been his predecessor in that honourable office . But the youth of Themistocles contradicts this statement; and though his restless and ambitious temper had led him already into active life, and he might have combined with others more influential against Aristides, it can scarcely be supposed that, possessing no advantages of birth, he rose into much power or distinction, till he won sudden and popular applause by his gallantry at Marathon.
II. Themistocles was of illegitimate birth, according to the Athenian prejudice, since his mother was a foreigner. His father, though connected with the priestly and high-born house of the Lycomedae, was not himself a Eupatrid. The young Themistocles had many of the qualities which the equivocal condition of illegitimacy often educes from active and stirring minds - insolence, ostentation, the desire to shine, and the invincible ambition to rise. He appears, by a popular tale, to have early associated with his superiors, and to have evinced betimes the art and address which afterward distinguished him. At a meeting of all the illegitimate youths assembled at the wrestling-ring at Cynosarges, dedicated to Hercules, he persuaded some of the young nobles to accompany him, so as to confound as it were the distinction between the legitimate and the baseborn. His early disposition was bold, restless, and impetuous. He paid little attention to the subtleties of schoolmen, or the refinements of the arts; but even in boyhood devoted himself to the study of politics and the arts of government. He would avoid the sports and occupations of his schoolfellows, and compose declamations, of which the subject was the impeachment or defence of some of his young friends. His dispositions prophesied of his future career, and his master was wont to say, "that he was born to be a blessing or a curse to the commonwealth." His strange and precocious boyhood was followed by a wild and licentious youth. He lived in extremes, and alternated between the loosest pleasures  and the most daring ambition. Entering prematurely into public life, either his restless disposition or his political principles embroiled him with men of the highest rank. Fearless and sanguine, he cared not whom he attacked, or what he adventured; and, whatever his conduct before the battle of Marathon, the popular opinions he embraced could not but bring him, after that event, in constant opposition to Aristides, the champion of the Areopagus.