Themistocles alone was enabled to determine the conduct of his countrymen in this dilemma. Inexhaustible were the resources of a genius which ranged from the most lofty daring to the most intricate craft. Perceiving that the only chance of safety was in the desertion of the city, and that the strongest obstacle to this alternative was in the superstitious attachment to HOME ever so keenly felt by the ancients, he had recourse, in the failure of reason, to a counter- superstition. In the temple of the citadel was a serpent, dedicated to Minerva, and considered the tutelary defender of the place. The food appropriated to the serpent was suddenly found unconsumed - the serpent itself vanished; and, at the suggestion of Themistocles, the priests proclaimed that the goddess had deserted the city and offered herself to conduct them to the seas. Then, amid the general excitement, Themistocles reiterated his version of the Delphic oracle. Then were the ships reinterpreted to be the wooden walls, and Salamis once more proclaimed "the Divine." The fervour of the people was awakened - the persuasions of Themistocles prevailed - even the women loudly declared their willingness to abandon Athens for the sake of the Athenians; and it was formally decreed that the city should be left to the guardianship of Minerva, and the citizens should save themselves, their women, children, and slaves, as their own discretion might suggest. Most of them took refuge in Troezene, where they were generously supported at the public expense - some at Aegina - others repaired to Salamis.
A moving and pathetic spectacle was that of the embarcation of the Athenians for the Isle of Salamis. Separated from their children, their wives (who were sent to remoter places of safety) - abandoning their homes and altars - the citadel of Minerva - the monuments of Marathon - they set out for a scene of contest (B. C. 480), perilous and precarious, and no longer on the site of their beloved and father- land. Their grief was heightened by the necessity of leaving many behind, whose extreme age rendered them yet more venerable, while it incapacitated their removal. Even the dumb animals excited all the fond domestic associations, running to the strand, and expressing by their cries their regret for the hands that fed them: one of them, a dog, that belonged to Xanthippus, father of Pericles, is said to have followed the ships, and swam to Salamis, to die, spent with toil, upon the sands.
VIII. The fleet now assembled at Salamis; the Spartans contributed only sixteen vessels, the people of Aegina thirty - swift galleys and well equipped; the Athenians one hundred and eighty; the whole navy, according to Herodotus, consisted of three hundred and seventy-eight  ships, besides an inconsiderable number of vessels of fifty oars.
Eurybiades still retained the chief command. A council of war was held. The greater number of the more influential allies were composed of Peloponnesians, and, with the countenance of the Spartan chief, it was proposed to retire from Salamis and fix the station in the isthmus near the land-forces of Peloponnesus. This was highly consonant to the interested policy of the Peloponnesian states, and especially to that of Sparta; Attica was considered already lost, and the fate of that territory they were therefore indisposed to consider. While the debate was yet pending, a messenger arrived from Athens with the intelligence that the barbarian, having reduced to ashes the allied cities of Thespiae and Plataea in Boeotia, had entered Attica; and shortly afterward they learned that (despite a desperate resistance from the handful of Athenians who, some from poverty, some from a superstitious prejudice in favour of the wooden wall of the citadel, had long held out, though literally girt by fire from the burning of their barricades) the citadel had been taken, plundered, and burnt, and the remnant of its defenders put to the sword.
IX. Consternation seized the council; many of the leaders broke away hastily, went on board, hoisted their sails, and prepared to fly. Those who remained in the council determined that an engagement at sea could only be risked near the isthmus. With this resolve the leaders at night returned to their ships.
It is singular how often, in the most memorable events, the fate and the glory of nations is decided by the soul of a single man. When Themistocles had retired to his vessel, he was sought by Mnesiphilus, who is said to have exercised an early and deep influence over the mind of Themistocles, and to have been one of those practical yet thoughtful statesmen called into existence by the sober philosophy of Solon , whose lessons on the science of government made a groundwork for the rhetorical corruptions of the later sophists. On learning the determination of the council, Mnesiphilus forcibly represented its consequences. "If the allies," said he, "once abandon Salamis, you have lost for ever the occasion of fighting for your country. The fleet will certainly separate, the various confederates return home, and Greece will perish. Hasten, therefore, ere yet it be too late, and endeavour to persuade Eurybiades to change his resolution and remain."
This advice, entirely agreeable to the views of Themistocles, excited that chief to new exertions. He repaired at once to Eurybiades; and, by dint of that extraordinary mastery over the minds of others which he possessed, he finally won over the Spartan, and, late as the hour was, persuaded him to reassemble the different leaders.