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Callias—The Fall of Athens by  Alfred J. Church

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ALCIBIADES

[111] THE sun was just setting when the Skylark cast anchor about two hundred yards from the shore and opposite the castle with which the loftiest point of the cliffs was crowned. The signal flag which the captain ran up to his mast-head was answered by another from the castle, and in a few minutes a boat was seen to start from a little quay which had been built out into the sea at the foot of the cliff. Callias had written a letter to Alcibiades in which he briefly described himself and his errand, and Hippocles, though modestly depreciating the value of anything that he could say, had also written, at the young man's request, a letter of introduction. These documents were handed over to the officer in charge of the boat, and conveyed by him to the castle. After a very short delay the boat returned again, this time in the charge of an officer of obviously higher rank. This higher personage mounted the side of the Skylark, and after giving a courteous greeting to Callias, delivered to him an invitation from Alcibiades to make his castle his home for as long a period as he might find it convenient to stay there, explaining at the same time that his master would have come in person to welcome his guest, if he had not been detained by business of importance with a neighboring chief. The young Athenian's baggage—for he had been liberally fitted out by the thoughtful and [112] generous care of Hippocles—was transferred to the boat, and in a few minutes more he had set his foot on the landing-place.

He had been speculating as he neared the shore, about the way in which the castle was to be approached. An observer looking from the sea might have thought that there was no way of getting to it except by scaling the almost perpendicular base of the cliff. Once landed on the quay, however, the traveller discovered that a passage had been cut through the cliff. This passage, which could be closed at its lower end by a massive door, was something like a winding staircase. It was somewhat stifling and dark, though light and air were occasionally admitted by holes bored to the outer surface of the rock. Its upper end opened into a courtyard round which the castle was built. The approach from the sea was, it will have been seen, sufficiently secure. On that side indeed the castle of Bisanthe was absolutely impregnable. From the land, it was, to say the least, safely defensible. It was approached by one narrow ridge so formed that a few resolute men could hold it against a numerous body of assailants. The walls were lofty and massive, and so constructed that a galling fire of missiles could be kept up on either flank of an attacking force.

Callias was escorted to his chamber by a young Thracian slave, who informed him in broken speech that a bath room in which he would find hot and cold water was at his service, and further that his master hoped to have the pleasure of his company at supper in an hour's time. The chamber, it may be said, was furnished with a clepsydra, or water-clock, marked with divisions.

[113] Callias awaited his introduction to his host with no little curiosity. Alcibiades was, as has been said, a kinsman of his own, and he had heard of him—what Athenian, indeed, had not?—but he had never happened to see him. Callias' father had been an aristocrat of the old-fashioned type, and had so strongly disapproved of his cousin's reckless and extravagant behavior that he had broken off all intercourse with him, and had been particularly careful that his son should never come in contact with him. Callias was about fourteen when Alcibiades left Athens in command (along with two colleagues) of the Sicilian expedition. The absence thus begun lasted about eight years. For the first half of this time he was an exile; for the second half in command of the fleets and armies of Athens, but still postponing his return to his native city. Then came his brief visit, lasting, it would seem, only a few days, and at that time Callias, as it happened, had been absent in foreign service. He was now in what was, or should have been, the prime of life, having just completed his forty-fourth year, but the dissipation of his youth and early manhood and the anxieties of his later years had left their mark upon him, and he looked older than his age. Yet there were traces of the brilliant beauty that in earlier days had helped to make him the spoiled darling of Athens. The wrinkles had begun to gather about his eyes, but they were still singularly lustrous, and could either flash with anger or melt with tenderness. His temples were hollow and his cheeks had somewhat fallen in; but his complexion was almost as brilliant as ever, while the abundant auburn curls that fell clustering about his neck had scarcely a streak of gray in them.

[114] His greeting to his guest was more than courteous. It was affectionate, exactly such as was fitting from an older to a younger relative. Indeed then, as ever afterwards during their acquaintance, Callias was greatly struck by the perfection of his manners. It seemed impossible that the stories told of his haughty insolence by which in former years he had made himself one of the best-hated men in Athens could possibly be true.

Supper was announced shortly after Callias had been ushered into the chamber. Alcibiades took his guest by the hand, led him into the dining-room, and assigned him a place next to himself. Some other guests were present. Two of these were officers in the military force which Alcibiades maintained in his stronghold; the third was an aged man, who had been his tutor many years, and for whom he retained an affection that was honorable to both master and pupil. The fourth was the Thracian chief with whom Alcibiades had been engaged when the Skylark arrived.

The meal was simple. The chief feature was one of the huge turbot for which the Euxine was famous.

"That would have cost a fortune in the fish market at Athens," said the host pointing to the dish, "even if it could have been procured at all. Here a fisherman thinks himself well paid for such a monster by three, or at the, most, four drachmas " A piece of venison and a platter of quails were the other dishes. The second course consisted of a pudding and some sweet-meats.

During the repast the conversation turned speedily on [115] local matters, and was carried on (but not till after a courteous apology had been offered to the young Athenian) in the bastard Greek largely mixed with Thracian words, in which the chief was accustomed to express himself. The meal ended, a handsome silver cup was handed by the major-domo, a venerable looking man, who made the comfort of his master and his most honored guests his special care. Alcibiades took it and poured out a few drops upon the table, uttering as he did so, the words: "To Athene the Champion." This was equivalent to the loyal toasts of an English banquet. He then took a very moderate draught, the wine being unmixed, in obedience to the rule which demanded that all wine used in religious ceremonies—and this libation was such a ceremony—should be pure. He then tipped the cup to each guest in turn. All were equally moderate, for it was not the custom, even for a Greek drunkard, it may be said, to drink his wine unmixed. But when the cup came to the Thracian chief he drank a deep draught as if the liquor had been liberally diluted. Callias who had never been at table with a Thracian before, watched the man with amazement. He saw that while the other guests were supplied with the usual mixtures of wine and water the chief remained steadfast in his devotion to the undiluted liquid, and that he emptied his cup at a draught, and that the cup itself was of an unusual capacity. Nor did the drinker seem affected by these extraordinary potations, except that his voice became louder and his manner more boastful. At last, however, and that without a moment's notice, he rolled over senseless on his back. So sudden was the change that it suggested the idea of a fit.

"Is he ill?" he whispered in some alarm.

[116] "Ill? not a whit. It is the way in which he always finishes his evenings. His slaves will carry him to bed, and he will awake to-morrow morning without the suspicion of a headache. Bacchus, I verily believe, has a special favor for these fellows, and, truly, they do worship him with a most admirable earnestness."

The Thracian's collapse was the signal for breaking up the party. Callias and the old tutor, Timanthes by name, declined to drink any more, and the two officers, who were on duty for the night, departed to make their round. Strong as was the place Alcibiades omitted no precautions for its safe custody. Timanthes, who was old and feeble, retired to rest.

"Come with me to my own room," said Alcibiades to his guest, "we shall be here alone."

The chamber to which he led the way was little like what one would expect to find in a free-booter's stronghold, for really the castle of Bisanthe was more of that than anything else. Art and letters were amply represented in it. On one wall hung a panel painting by Polygnotus, a masterly composition, of that serenity, that ethical meaning, as the great critic Aristotle expresses it, which was characteristic of the artist. This represented the gods in council at Olympus. It was faced on the opposite wall by an exceedingly graceful painting from the hand of Zeuxis, Aphrodite and the Graces, and a spirited picture by the same artist, of the duel between Ajax and Hector. There were other works by men of less note. Sculpture was represented by only a single specimen, a bust of Socrates.

"Paintings are easily carried about," Alcibiades afterwards explained to his guest, "but sculpture is inconveniently [117] heavy. You will understand that a man in my situation has always to be ready for a move; and I always like to have two or three really good things that I can always take with me. One bust, indeed, I have indulged myself with, that of my old teacher. Ah! if I had heard him to more purpose, I should not be here! You know him, of course?"

Callias said that he did.

"An excellent likeness! is it not? Who would think that such features concealed a soul so divinely beautiful? Did you have any talk with him when you were in Athens?"

"Yes," replied Callias, "and I admired above all things his practical wisdom. But what was that to what I afterwards saw of him?"

And he went on to relate how the philosopher stood firm, though in imminent peril of his life, and had steadfastly refused to put the unconstitutional proposal of Callixenus to the assembly.

Alcibiades heard the story with uncontrollable delight. He started up from his seat, and walked up and down the room with flashing eyes. "Tell me everything about it," he said, and he insisted upon the repetition of every detail. "That is magnificent," he cried, when his curiosity had been satisfied. "That is exactly what one would have expected from Socrates. I suppose that it is the very first time that he ever acted as presiding magistrate—he had never been so, I know, when I left Athens, nor have I heard of his having been since—and that first time he did what nobody else dared to do. You say that the others gave way?"

"Yes," replied Callias, "they stood up against it at first, but gave in afterwards. Socrates was absolutely alone, and at last they put the question without him."

[118] "It is just like him," cried Alcibiades with enthusiasm. "He is simply the bravest and most enduring man alive. I could tell you stories about him that would astonish you. We served together in the campaign at PotidŠa. Indeed we were in the same mess. When we had short commons, as we had many a time, there was no one like him in holding out. He seemed to be able to go without food altogether, but when we had plenty, he could enjoy it as well as any body. We had a foolish way, as young men will, of making people drink whether they wished it or not. But nothing ever affected Socrates. No one ever saw him one whit the worse for what he had taken. And as for the way in which he bore cold, it was absolutely incredible, only that one saw it with one's own eyes. The winters here are terrible, as you will find out, if, as I hope you will, you stop with me, but he used to make nothing of them. During the very hardest frost we had, when everyone who could stayed in doors, and those who were obliged to go out wrapped themselves till you would hardly know them, he wore nothing but his common cloak, and went absolutely barefoot.

"Once, I remember, something came into his mind. That was in the early morning. Well, he stood trying to think it out till noon, and from noon he went on till evening. Some Greeks from Asia wanted to see how long this would go on; so, after dinner, they brought out their mattresses, and took up their quarters for the night in the open air—it was summer-time, you must understand. Some of them slept, and some watched him, taking it by turns. Their report was that he stood there till morning, and the sun rose, and that then he made a prayer to the sun, and so went to his quarters.

His courage, too, is astonishing. In one of the battles at PotidŠa he saved my life. I had been wounded [119] and must infallibly have been killed, if it had not been for him. He took me up and carried me off to our line. The generals gave me the prize for valor, when they ought, by right, to have given it to him. But they took account of my family and rank, and curiously enough, he was just as anxious as they were that I should have it and not he. Then at Delium, again, when the day went against us, and the army was in full retreat, I was in the cavalry; he was serving as a foot soldier. Our men would not keep together, and he and Laches—he was killed, afterwards, at Mantinea—were making the best of their way back. I rode up to them and told them to keep up their courage and I would not leave them. A cavalry soldier has, you know, a great advantage in a retreat. There was no need to tell Socrates to keep up his courage. Laches, I could see, though a brave enough man, was terribly frightened; but Socrates was as cool as a man could be. He held up his head finely, and marched steadily on. It was plain enough to see that anyone who meddled with him would find out his mistake. The end of it was that he got back safe, and brought Laches back safe also. The fact is that at such times it is the men who are in a hurry to get away that are cut down. I do not think that there ever was a braver man than Socrates. And what you have just been telling me bears it out. A man may be brave enough in battle and be timidly frightened when the assembly is howling and raging against him. This has been a dismal business of the generals and I have never been so near despairing of my country, as I have since I heard it. How is it possible to help a city that makes such a requital to those who save her? But still, while there are men like Socrates in her, all is not lost. But no more now; you must be weary, and ready to sleep. There will be plenty of time hereafter to talk. And now farewell."


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