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mission of mercy

A fast boat, a trireme, sets off from Athens on a mission of great urgency. It must catch yesterday's boat, which carries a sentence of death on all the adult males in the city of Mitylene. The sentence has been revoked. Thucydides describes the drama:

'The first trireme had a start of about twenty-four hours. The ambassadors from Mitylene provided wine and barley for the crew and promised great rewards if they arrived in time, and so the men made such speed on the voyage that they kept on rowing while they took their food (which was barley mixed with oil and wine) and rowed continually, taking it in turn to sleep. Luckily they had no wind against them, and as the first ship was not hurrying on its distasteful mission, while they were pressing on with such speed, what happened was that the first ship arrived so little ahead of them that the governor had just had time to read the decree and to prepare everyone to put it into force, when the second ship put in to the harbour and prevented the massacre. So narrow had been the escape of Mitylene.'

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, translated Rex Warner, Penguin 1954, 1972, page 223

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