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Pyrrhus by  Jacob Abbott

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THE SICILIAN CAMPAIGN

[159] THE fact has already been mentioned that one of the wives whom Pyrrhus had married after the death of Antigone, the Egyptian princess, was Lanassa, the daughter of Agathocles, the King of Sicily. Agathocles was a tyrannical monster of the worst description. His army was little better than an organized band of robbers, at the head of which he went forth on marauding and plundering expeditions among all the nations that were within his reach. He made these predatory excursions sometimes into Italy, sometimes into the Carthaginian territories on the African coast, and sometimes among the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. In these campaigns he met with a great variety of adventures, and experienced every possible fate that the fortune of war could bring. Sometimes he was triumphant over all who opposed him, and became intoxicated with prosperity and success. At other times, through his insane and reckless folly, he would involve [160] himself in the most desperate difficulties, and was frequently compelled to give up every thing, and to fly alone in absolute destitution from the field of his attempted exploits to save his life.

On one such occasion, he abandoned an army in Africa, which he had taken there on one of his predatory enterprises, and, flying secretly from the camp, he made his escape with a small number of attendants, leaving the army to its fate. His flight was so sudden on this occasion that he left his two sons behind him in the hands and at the mercy of the soldiers. The soldiers, as soon as they found that Agathocles had gone and left them, were so enraged against him that they put his sons to death on the spot, and then surrendered in a body to the enemy. Agathocles, when the tidings of this transaction came to him in Sicily, was enraged against the soldiers in his turn, and, in order to revenge himself upon them, he immediately sought out from among the population of the country their wives and children, their brothers and sisters, and all who were in any way related to them. These innocent representatives of the absent offenders he ordered to be seized and slain, and their bodies to be cast into the sea toward Africa as an expression of revengeful triumph and [161] defiance. So great was the slaughter on this occasion, that the waters of the sea were dyed with blood to a great distance from the shore.

Of course, such cruelty as this could not be practiced without awakening, on the part of those who suffered from it, a spirit of hatred and revenge. Plots and conspiracies without number were formed against the tyrant's life, and in his later years he lived in continual apprehension and distress. His fate, however, was still more striking as an illustration of the manner in which the old age of ambitious and unprincipled men is often embittered by the ingratitude and wickedness of their children. Agathocles had a grandson named Archagathus, who, if all the accounts are true, brought the old king's gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. The story is too shocking to be fully believed, but it is said that this grandson first murdered Agathocles's son and heir, his own uncle, in order that he might himself succeed to the throne—his own father, who would have been the next heir, being dead. Then, not being willing to wait until the old king himself should die, he began to form plots against his life, and against the lives of the remaining members of the family. Although several of Agathocles's [162] sons were dead, having been destroyed by violence, or having fallen in war, he had a wife, named Texina, and two children still remaining alive. The king was so anxious in respect to these children, on account of Archagathus, that he determined to send them with their mother to Egypt, in order to place them beyond the reach of their merciless nephew. Texina was very unwilling to consent to such a measure. For herself and her sons the proposed retiring into Egypt was little better than going into exile, and she was, moreover, extremely reluctant to leave her husband alone in Syracuse, exposed to the machinations and plots which his unnatural grandson might form against him. She, however, finally submitted to the hard necessity and went away, bidding her husband farewell with many tears. Very soon after her departure her husband died.

The story that is told of the manner of his death is this: There was in his court a man named Mænon, whom Agathocles had taken captive when a youth, and ever since retained in his court. Though originally a captive, taken in war, Mænon had been made a favorite with Agathocles, and had been raised to a high position in his service. The indulgence, [163] however, and the favoritism with which he had been regarded, were not such as to awaken any sentiments of gratitude in Mænon's mind, or to establish any true and faithful friendship between him and his master; and Archagathus, the grandson, found means of inducing him to undertake to poison the king. As all the ordinary modes of administering poison were precluded by the vigilance and strictness with which the usual avenues of approach to the king were guarded, Mænon contrived to accomplish his end by poisoning a quill which the king was subsequently to use as a tooth-pick. The poison was insinuated thus into the teeth and gums of the victim, where it soon took effect, producing dreadful ulceration and intolerable pain. The infection of the venom after a short time pervaded the whole system of the sufferer, and brought him to the brink of the grave; and at last, finding that he was speechless, and apparently insensible, his ruthless murderers, fearing, perhaps, that he might revive again, hurried him to the funeral pile before life was extinct, and the fire finished the work that the poison had begun.

The declaration of Scripture, "They that take the sword shall perish by the sword," is [164] illustrated and confirmed by the history of almost every ancient tyrant. We find that they almost all come at last to some terrible end. The man who usurps a throne by violence seems, in all ages and among all nations, very sure to be expelled from it by greater violence, after a brief period of power; and he who poisons or assassinates a precedent rival whom he wishes to supplant, is almost invariably cut off by the poison or the dagger of a following one, who wishes to supplant him.

The death of Agathocles took place about nine years before the campaign of Pyrrhus in Italy, as described in the last chapter, and during that period the kingdom of Sicily had been in a very distracted state. Mænon, immediately after the poisoning of the king, fled to the camp of Archagathus, who was at that time in command of an army at a distance from the city. Here, in a short time, he contrived to assassinate Archagathus, and to seize the supreme power. It was not long, however, before new claimants and competitors for possession of the throne appeared, and new wars broke out, in the course of which Mænon was deposed. At length, in the midst of the contests and commotions that prevailed, two of the leading [165] generals of the Sicilian army conceived the idea of bringing forward Pyrrhus's son by Lanassa as the heir to the crown. This prince was, of course, the grandson of the old King Agathocles, and, as there was no other descendant of the royal line at hand who could be made the representative of the ancient monarchy, it was thought, by the generals above referred to, that the only measure which afforded any hope of restoring peace to the country was to send an embassy to Pyrrhus, and invite him to come and place his young son upon the throne. The name of Lanassa's son was Alexander. He was a boy, perhaps at this time about twelve years old.

At the same time that Pyrrhus received the invitation to go to Sicily, a message came to him from certain parties in Greece, informing him that, on account of some revolutions which had taken place there, a very favorable opportunity was afforded him to secure for himself the throne of that country, and urging him to come and make the attempt. Pyrrhus was for some time quite undecided which of these two proposals to accept. The prize offered him in Greece was more tempting, but the expedition into Sicily seemed to promise more certain suc- [166] cess. While revolving the question in his mind which conquest he should first undertake, he complained of the tantalizing cruelty of fortune, in offering him two such tempting prizes at the same time, so as to compel him to forego either the one or the other. At length he decided to go first to Sicily.

It was said that one reason which influenced his mind very strongly in making this decision was the fact that Sicily was so near the coast of Africa; and the Sicilians being involved in wars with the Carthaginians, he thought that, if successful in his operations in Sicily, the way would be open for him to make an expedition into Africa, in which case he did not doubt but that he should be able soon to overturn the Carthaginian power, and add all the northern coasts of Africa to his dominions. His empire would thus embrace Epirus, the whole southern part of Italy, Sicily, and the coasts of Africa. He could afterward, he thought, easily add Greece, and then his dominions would include all the wealthy and populous countries surrounding the most important part of the Mediterranean Sea. His government would thus become a naval power of the first class, and any further extension of his sway which he might subsequently desire could easily be accomplished.

[167] In a word, Pyrrhus decided first to proceed to Sicily, and to postpone for a brief period his designs on Greece.

He accordingly proceeded to withdraw his troops from the interior of the country in Italy, and concentrate them in and around Tarentum. He began to make naval preparations, too, on a very extensive scale. The port of Tarentum soon presented a very busy scene. The work of building and repairing ships—of fabricating sails and rigging—of constructing and arming galleys—of disciplining and training crews—of laying in stores of food and of implements of war, went on with great activity, and engaged universal attention. The Tarentines themselves stood by, while all these preparations were going on, rather as spectators of the scene than as active participants. Pyrrhus had taken the absolute command of their city and government, and was exercising supreme power, as if he were the acknowledged sovereign of the country. He had been invited to come over from his own kingdom to help  the Tarentines, not to govern them; but he had seized the sovereign power, justifying the seizure, as is usual with military men under similar circumstances, by the necessity of the case. "There must be or- [168] der and submission to authority in the city," he said, "or we can make no progress in subduing our enemies." The Tarentines had thus been induced to submit to his assumption of power, convinced, perhaps, partly by his reasoning, and, at all events, silenced by the display of force by which it was accompanied; and they had consoled themselves under a condition of things which they could not prevent, by considering that it was better to yield to a temporary foreign domination, than to be wholly overwhelmed, as there was every probability, before Pyrrhus came to them, that they would be, by their domestic foes.

When, however, they found that Pyrrhus was intending to withdraw from them, and to go to Sicily, without having really effected their deliverance from the danger which threatened them, they at first remonstrated against the design. They wished him to remain and finish the work which he had begun. The Romans had been checked, but they had not been subdued. Pyrrhus ought not, they said, to go away and leave them until their independence and freedom had been fully established. They remonstrated with him against his design, but their remonstrances proved wholly unavailing.

[169] When at length the Tarentines found that Pyrrhus was determined to go to Sicily, they then desired that he should withdraw his troops from their country altogether, and leave them to themselves. This, however, Pyrrhus refused to do. He had no intention of relinquishing the power which he had acquired in Italy, and he accordingly began to make preparations for leaving a strong garrison in Tarentum to maintain his government there. He organized a sort of regency in the city, and set apart a sufficient force from his army to maintain it in power during his absence. When this was done, he began to make preparations for transporting the rest of his force to Sicily by sea.

He determined to send Cineas forward first, according to his usual custom, to make the preliminary arrangements in Sicily. Cineas consequently left Tarentum with a small squadron of ships and galleys, and, after a short voyage, arrived safely at Syracuse. He found the leading powers in that city ready to welcome Pyrrhus as soon as he should arrive, and make the young Alexander king. Cineas completed and closed the arrangements for this purpose, and then sent messengers to various other cities on the northern side of the island, making known [170] to them the design which had been formed of raising an heir of King Agathocles to the throne, and asking their co-operation in it. He managed these negotiations with so much prudence and skill, that nearly all that part of the island which was in the hands of the Sicilians readily acceded to the plan, and the people were every where prepared to welcome Pyrrhus and the young prince as soon as they should arrive.

Sicily, as will be seen by referring to the map, is of a triangular form. It was only the southern portion which was at this time in the hands of the Sicilians. There were two foreign and hostile powers in possession, respectively, of the northeastern and northwestern portions. In the northeastern corner of the island was the city of Messana—the Messina of modern days. In the time of Pyrrhus's expedition, Messana was the seat and stronghold of a warlike nation, called the Mamertines, who had come over from Italy across the Straits of Messana some years before, and, having made themselves masters of that portion of the island, had since held their ground there, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Sicilians to expel them. The Mamertines had originally come into Sicily, it was said, as Pyrrhus had gone into Italy—by invitation. [171] Agathocles sent for them to come and aid him in some of his wars. After the object for which they had been sent for had been accomplished, Agathocles dismissed his auxiliaries, and they set out on their return. They proceeded through the northeastern part of the island to Messana, where they were to embark for Italy. Though they had rendered Agathocles very efficient aid in his campaigns, they had also occasioned him an infinite deal of trouble by their turbulent and ungovernable spirit; and now, as they were withdrawing from the island, the inhabitants of the country through which they passed on the way regarded them every where with terror and dread. The people of Messana, anxious to avoid a quarrel with them, and disposed to facilitate their peaceable departure from the land by every means in their power, received them into the city, and hospitably entertained them there. Instead, however, of quietly withdrawing from the city in proper time, as the Messanians had expected them to do, they rose suddenly and unexpectedly upon the people, at a concerted signal, took possession of the city, massacred without mercy all the men, seized the women and children, and then, each one establishing himself in the household that choice or chance [172] assigned him, married the wife and adopted the children whose husband and father he had murdered. The result was the most complete and extraordinary overturning that the history of the world can afford. It was a political, a social, and a domestic revolution all in one.

This event took place many years before the time of Pyrrhus's expedition; and though during the interval the Sicilians had made many efforts to dispossess the intruders and to recover possession of Messana, they had not been able to accomplish the work. The Mamertines maintained their ground in Messana, and from that city, as their fortress and stronghold, they extended their power over a considerable portion of the surrounding country.

This territory of the Mamertines was in the northeastern part of the island. In the northwestern part, on the other hand, there was a large province in the hands of the Carthaginians. Their chief city was Eryx; though there was another important city and port, called Lilybæum, which was situated to the southward of Eryx, on the sea-shore. Here the Carthaginians were accustomed to land their re-enforcements and stores; and by means of the ready and direct communication which they could [173] thus keep up with Carthage itself, they were enabled to resist all the efforts which the Sicilians had made to dispossess them.

There were thus three objects to be accomplished by Pyrrhus in Sicily before his dominion over the island could be complete—namely, the Sicilians themselves, in the southern and central parts of the island, were to be conciliated and combined, and induced to give up their intestine quarrels, and to acknowledge the young Alexander as the king of the island; and then the Mamertines on the northeast part, and the Carthaginians in the northwest, were to be conquered and expelled.

The work was done, so far as related to the Sicilians themselves, mainly by Cineas. His dexterous negotiations healed, in a great measure, the quarrels which prevailed among the people, and prepared the way for welcoming Pyrrhus and the young prince, as soon as they should appear. In respect to the Carthaginians and the Mamertines, nothing, of course, could be attempted until the fleets and armies should arrive.

At length the preparations for the sailing of the expedition from Tarentum were completed. The fleet consisted of two hundred sail. The [174] immense squadron, every vessel of which was crowded with armed men, left the harbor of Tarentum, watched by a hundred thousand spectators who had assembled to witness its departure, and slowly made its way along the Italian shores, while its arrival at Syracuse was the object of universal expectation and interest in that city. When at length the fleet appeared in view, entering its port of destination, the whole population of the city and of the surrounding country flocked to the shores to witness the spectacle. Through the efforts which had been made by Cineas, and in consequence of the measures which he had adopted, all ranks and classes of men were ready to welcome Pyrrhus as an expected deliverer. In the name of the young prince, his son, he was to re-establish the ancient monarchy, restore peace and harmony to the land, and expel the hated foreign enemies that infested the confines of it. Accordingly, when the fleet arrived, and Pyrrhus and his troops landed from it, they were received by the whole population with loud and tumultuous acclamations.

After the festivities and rejoicings which were instituted to celebrate Pyrrhus's arrival were concluded, the young Alexander was proclaim- [175] ed king, and a government was instituted in his name—Pyrrhus himself, of course, being invested with all actual power. Pyrrhus then took the field; and, on mustering his forces, he found himself at the head of thirty or forty thousand men. He first proceeded to attack the Carthaginians. He marched to the part of the island which they held, and gave them battle in the most vigorous and determined manner. They retreated to their cities, and shut themselves up closely within the walls. Pyrrhus advanced to attack them. He determined to carry Eryx, which was the strongest of the Carthaginian cities, by storm, instead of waiting for the slow operations of an ordinary siege. The troops were accordingly ordered to advance at once to the walls, and there mounting, by means of innumerable ladders, to the parapets above, they were to force their way in, over the defenses of the city, in spite of all opposition. Of course, such a service as this is, of all the duties ever required of the soldier, the most dangerous possible. The towers and parapets above, which the assailants undertake to scale, are covered with armed men, who throng to the part of the wall against which the attack is to be directed, and stand there ready with spears, javelins, [176] rocks, and every other conceivable missile, to hurl upon the heads of the besiegers coming up the ladders.

Pyrrhus, however, whatever may have been his faults in other respects, seems to have been very little inclined at any time to order his soldiers to encounter any danger which he was not willing himself to share. He took the head of the column in the storming of Eryx, and was the first to mount the ladders. Previous, however, to advancing for the attack, he performed a grand religious ceremony, in which he implored the assistance of the god Hercules in the encounter which was about to take place; and made a solemn vow that if Hercules would assist him in the conflict, so as to enable him to display before the Sicilians such strength and valor, and to perform such feats as should be worthy of his name, his ancestry, and his past history, he would, immediately after the battle, institute on the spot a course of festivals and sacrifices of the most imposing and magnificent character in honor of the god. This vow being made, the trumpet sounded and the storming party went forward—Pyrrhus at the head of it. In mounting the ladder, he defended himself with his shield from the missiles thrown down [177] upon him from above until he reached the top of the wall, and there, by means of his prodigious strength, and desperate and reckless bravery, he soon gained ground for those that followed him, and established a position there both for himself and for them, having cut down one after another those who attempted to oppose him, until he had surrounded himself with a sort of parapet, formed of the bodies of the dead.


[Illustration]

THE ASSAULT.

In the mean time, the whole line of ladders extending along the wall were crowded with [178] men, all forcing their way upward against the resistance which the besieged opposed to them from above; while thousands of troops, drawn up below as near as possible to the scene of conflict, were throwing a shower of darts, arrows, javelins, spears, and other missiles, to aid the storming party by driving away the besieged from the top of the wall. By these means those who were mounting the ladders were so much aided in their efforts that they soon succeeded in gaining possession of the wall, and thus made themselves masters of the city.

Pyrrhus then, in fulfillment of his vow, instituted a great celebration, and devoted several days to games, spectacles, shows, and public rejoicings of all kinds, intended to express his devout gratitude to Hercules for the divine assistance which the god had vouchsafed to him in the assault by which the city had been carried.

By the result of this battle, and of some other military operations which we can not here particularly describe, the Carthaginians were driven from the open field and compelled to shut themselves up in their strongholds, or retire to the fastnesses of the mountains, where they found places of refuge and defense from which Pyrrhus could not at once dislodge them. [179] Accordingly, leaving things at present as they were in the Carthaginian or western part of the island, he proceeded to attack the Mamertines in the eastern part. He was equally successful here. By means of the tact and skill which he exercised in his military arrangements and maneuvers, and by the desperate bravery and impetuosity which he displayed in battle, he conquered wherever he came. He captured and destroyed many of the strongholds of the Mamertines, drove them entirely out of the open country, and shut them up in Messana. Thus the island was almost wholly restored to the possession of the Sicilians, while yet the foreign intruders, though checked and restrained, were not, after all, really expelled.

The Carthaginians sent messengers to him proposing terms of peace. Their intention was, in these proposals, to retain their province in Sicily, as heretofore, and to agree with Pyrrhus in respect to a boundary, each party being required by the proposed treaty to confine themselves within their respective limits, as thus ascertained. Pyrrhus, however, replied that he could entertain no such proposals. He answered them precisely as the Romans had answered him on a similar occasion, saying that he should [180] insist upon their first retiring from Sicily altogether, as a preliminary step to any negotiations whatever. The Carthaginians would not accede to this demand, and so the negotiations were suspended.

Still the Carthaginians were so securely posted in their strongholds, that Pyrrhus supposed the work of dislodging them by force would be a slow, and tedious, and perhaps doubtful undertaking. His bold and restless spirit accordingly conceived the design of leaving them as they were, and going on in the prosecution of his original design, by organizing a grand expedition for the invasion of Africa. In fact, he thought this would be the most effectual means of getting the Carthaginians out of Sicily; since he anticipated that, if he were to land in Africa, and threaten Carthage itself, the authorities there would be compelled to recall all their forces from foreign lands to defend their own homes and firesides at the capital. He determined, therefore, to equip his fleet for a voyage across the Mediterranean without any delay.

He had ships enough, but he was in want of mariners. In order to supply this want, he began to impress the Sicilians into his service. They were very reluctant to engage in it, part- [181] ly from natural aversion to so distant and dangerous an enterprise, and partly because they were unwilling that Pyrrhus should leave the island himself until their foreign foes were entirely expelled. "As soon as you have gone," they said, "the Carthaginians and the Mamertines will come out from their hiding-places and retreats, and the country will be immediately involved in all the difficulties from which you have been endeavoring to deliver us. All your labor will have been lost, and we shall sink, perhaps, into a more deplorable condition than ever."

It was evident that these representations were true, but Pyrrhus could not be induced to pay any heed to them. He was determined on carrying into effect his design of a descent upon the coast of Africa. He accordingly pressed forward his preparations in a more arbitrary and reckless spirit than ever. He became austere, imperious, and tyrannical in his measures. He arrested some of the leading generals and ministers of state—men who had been his firmest friends, and through whose agency it was that he had been invited into Sicily, but whom he now suspected of being unfriendly to his designs. One of these men he put to death. In [182] the mean time, he pressed forward his preparations, compelling men to join his army and to embark on board his fleet, and resorting to other harsh and extreme measures, which the people might perhaps have submitted to from one of their own hereditary sovereigns, but which were altogether intolerable when imposed upon them by a foreign adventurer, who had come to their island by their invitation, to accomplish a prescribed and definite duty. In a word, before Pyrrhus was ready to embark on his African campaign, a general rebellion broke out all over Sicily against his authority. Some of the people joined the Mamertines, some the Carthaginians. In a word, the whole country was in an uproar, and Pyrrhus had the mortification of seeing the great fabric of power which, as he imagined, he had been so successfully rearing, come tumbling suddenly on all sides to the ground.

As the reader will have learned long before this time, it was not the nature of Pyrrhus to remain on the spot and grapple with difficulties like these. If there were any new enterprise to be undertaken, or any desperate battle to be fought on a sudden emergency, Pyrrhus was always ready and eager for action, and almost sure of success. But he had no qualities what- [183] ever to fit him for the exigencies of such a crisis as this. He had ardor and impetuosity, but no perseverance or decision. He could fight, but he could not plan. He was recklessly and desperately brave in encountering physical danger, but, when involved in difficulties and embarrassments, his only resource was to fly. Accordingly, it was soon announced in Sicily that Pyrrhus had determined to postpone his plan of proceeding to Africa, and was going back to Tarentum, whence he came. He had received intelligence from Tarentum, he said, that required his immediate return to that city. This was probably true; for he had left things in such a condition at Tarentum, that he was, doubtless, continually receiving such intelligence from that quarter. Whether he received any special or extraordinary summons from Tarentum just at this time is extremely uncertain. He, however, pretended that such a message had come; and under this pretense he sheltered himself in his intended departure, so as just to escape the imputation of being actually driven away.

His enemies, however, did not intend to allow him to depart in peace. The Carthaginians, being apprised of his design, sent a fleet to watch the coast and intercept him; while the [184] Mamertines, crossing the Strait, marched to the place on the coast of Italy where they expected he would land, intending to attack him as soon as he should set foot upon the shore. Both these plans were successful. The Carthaginians attacked his fleet, and destroyed many of his ships. Pyrrhus himself barely succeeded in making his escape with a small number of vessels, and reaching the shore. Here, as soon as he gained the land, he was confronted by the Mamertines, who had reached the place before him with ten thousand men. Pyrrhus soon collected from the ships that reached the land a force so formidable that the Mamertines did not dare to attack him in a body, but they blocked up the passes through which the way to Tarentum lay, and endeavored in every way to intercept and harass him in his march. They killed two of his elephants, and cut off many separate detachments of men, and finally deranged all his plans, and threw his whole army into confusion. Pyrrhus at length determined to force his enemies to battle. Accordingly, as soon as a favorable opportunity occurred, he pushed forward at the head of a strong force, and attacked the Mamertines in a sudden and most impetuous manner.

[185] A terrible conflict ensued, in which Pyrrhus, as usual, exposed himself personally in the most desperate manner. In fact, the various disappointments and vexations which he had endured had aroused him to a state of great exasperation against his tormenting enemies. He pushed forward into the hottest part of the battle, his prodigious muscular strength enabling him to beat down and destroy, for a time, all who attempted to oppose him.

At last, however, he received a terrible wound in the head, which, for the moment, entirely disabled him. He was rescued from his peril by his friends, though stunned and fainting under the blow, and was borne off from the scene of conflict with the blood flowing down his face and neck—a frightful spectacle. On being carried to a place of safety within his own ranks, he soon revived, and it was found that he was not dangerously hurt. The enemy, however, full of rage and hatred, came up as near as they dared to the spot where Pyrrhus had been carried, and stood there, calling out to him to come back if he was still alive, and filling the air with taunting and insulting cries, and vociferations of challenge and defiance. Pyrrhus endured this mockery for a few moments as well as he [186] could, but was finally goaded by it into a perfect phrensy of rage. He seized his weapons, pushed his friends and attendants aside, and, in spite of all their remonstrances and all their efforts to restrain him, he rushed forth and assailed his enemies with greater fury than ever. Breathless as he was from his former efforts, and covered with blood and gore, he exhibited a shocking spectacle to all who beheld him. The champion of the Mamertines—the one who had been foremost in challenging Pyrrhus to return—came up to meet him with his weapon upraised. Pyrrhus parried the blow, and then, suddenly bringing down his own sword upon the top of his antagonist's head, he cut the man down, as the story is told, from head to foot, making so complete a division, that one half of the body fell over to one side, and the other half to the other.

It is difficult, perhaps, to assign limits to the degree of physical strength which the human arm is capable of exerting. This fact, however, of cleaving the body of a man by a blow from a sword, was regarded in ancient times as just on the line of absolute impossibility, and was considered, consequently, as the highest personal exploit which a soldier could perform. It was [187] attributed, at different times, to several different warriors, though it is not believed in modern days that the feat was ever really performed.

But, whatever may have been the fate of the Mamertine champion under Pyrrhus's sword, the army itself met with such a discomfiture in the battle that they gave Pyrrhus no further trouble, but, retiring from the field, left him to pursue his march to Tarentum for the remainder of the way in peace. He arrived there at last, with a force in numbers about equal to that with which he had left Tarentum for Sicily. The whole object, however, of his expedition had totally failed. The enterprise, in fact, like almost all the undertakings which Pyrrhus engaged in, though brilliantly and triumphantly successful in the beginning, came only to disappointment and disaster in the end.


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