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Callias—The Fall of Athens by  Alfred J. Church




[231] ITS religious obligations discharged, for the games, as has been already said, were regarded as a service of thanksgiving for deliverance, the army turned its attention to secular affairs. One indispensable duty, one curiously characteristic, by the way, of the Greek soldier's temper of mind, was to call the generals to account. For a Greek soldier, even when he was selling his sword to the highest bidder, never forgot that he was a citizen, and that as a citizen he had the right of satisfying himself that his superiors had done their duty with due care and with integrity. The Ten Thousand accordingly put aside for the time their military character, and resolved themselves into a civil assembly. Their generals were no longer the commanding officers to whom they owed an unhesitating obedience, but the magistrates who had just completed their term of office, and had now to render their accounts to those who had elected them.

The meeting of the army, perhaps I should rather say the assembly, was held on the same ground which had served for a race course. One by one the officers were called to answer for themselves. With many, indeed, the proceeding [232] was purely formal. The name was called, and the man stepped forward on a platform which had been erected where it could be best seen by the whole meeting. If no one appeared to make a complaint or to ask a question, the soldiers gave him a round of applause, if I may use the word of the noise made by clashing their spears against their shields; this was a verdict of acquittal and the officer retired with a bow. And this was what commonly happened. After all, the leaders had, on the whole, done their duty sufficiently well; there was proof of that in the simple fact that such a meeting was being held. But all did not escape so easily. If, indeed, only a few voices of dissatisfaction were heard, the matter was not pushed any further. When the second appeal was made by the malcontents, they, seeing that they were not supported by their comrades, preferred to keep silence. The man would, in all probability, be their officer again and he would not be likely to think pleasantly of anyone who had accused him. But where, on the other hand, there was anything like an agreement of dissatisfied voices, the complainants took courage to come forward, and the examination was proceeded within earnest. One officer had had charge of some of the property of the army; there was a deficiency in his accounts and he was fined twenty minas to make it good. Another was accused of carelessness in his duties as leader, and had to pay half this sum. Then came the cause celebre, as it may be called, of the day, the trial of Xenophon himself. Xenophon was generally popular with the army, as, indeed, he could scarcely fail to be, considering all that he had done for it; but he had enemies. The mere fact of his being an Athenian made him an object of dislike to some; others, as will be seen, he had been compelled to offend in the discharge of his duty.

[233] "Xenophon, the son of Gryllus," shouted the herald at the top of his voice.

The Athenian stepped on to the platform.

An Arcadian soldier, Nicarchus by name, came forward and said, "I accuse Xenophon the Athenian of violence and outrage."

A few voices of assent were heard throughout the meeting; and some half dozen men came forward to support the prosecutor. Accuser and accused were now confronted. "Of what do you accuse me?" asked Xenophon. "Of wantonly striking me," replied the man.

"When and where did you suffer these blows?"

"After we had crossed the Euphrates, when there was a heavy fall of snow."

"I remember. You are right. The weather was terrible; our provisions had run out; the wine could not so much as be smelt; many men were dropping down, half dead with fatigue; the enemy were close upon our heels. Were not these things so?"

"It is true. Things were as bad as you say, or even worse."

"You hear," said Xenophon, turning to the assembly, "how we were situated, and indeed, seeing that you suffered these things yourself, you are not likely to forget them. Verily, if in such a condition of things, I struck this man wantonly and without cause, you might fairly count me more brutal than an ass. But say—" he went on, addressing himself again to his accuser, "was there not a cause for my beating you?"

"Yes, there was a cause," the fellow sullenly admitted.

"Did I ask you for something, and strike you because you refused to give it?"


"Did I demand payment for a debt, and lose my temper because the money was not forthcoming?"

[234] "No."

"Was I drunken?"


"Tell me now; are you a heavy-armed soldier?"

"No; I am not."

"Are you a light-armed then?"

"No; nor yet a light-armed."

"What were you doing then?"

"I was driving a mule."

"Being a slave?"

"Not so; I am free; but my commander compelled me to drive it."

A light broke in upon Xenophon. He had had a general recollection of the occasion, but could not remember the particular incident. Now it all came back to him.

"Ah," he cried, "I remember; it was you who were carrying the sick man?"

"Yes," the man confessed, "I did so, by your compulsion; and a pretty mess was made of the kit that I had upon the mule's back."

"Nay; not so; the men carried the things themselves, and nothing was lost. But hear the rest of the story," he went on, turning to the assembly, "and, indeed it is worth hearing. I found a poor fellow lying upon the ground, who could not move a step further. I knew the man, and knew him as one who had done good service. And I compelled you, sir," addressing Nicarohus, "to carry him. For if I mistake not, the enemy were close behind us."

The Arcadian nodded assent.

"Well then; I sent you forward with your burden, and after a while, overtook you again, when I came up with the rear guard. You were digging a trench in which to bury the man. I thought it a pious act, and praised you [235] for it. But, lo! while I was speaking, the dead man, as I thought he was, twitched his leg. 'Why he's alive,' the bystanders cried out. 'Alive or dead, as he pleases,' you said, 'but I am not going to carry him any further.' Then I struck you. I acknowledge it. It seemed to me that you were going to bury the poor fellow alive."

"Well," said the Arcadian, "you won't deny, I suppose, that the man died after all."

"Yes," replied Xenophon, "he died, I acknowledge. We must all die some day; but, meanwhile, there is no reason why we should be buried alive."

The man hung his head and said nothing.

"What say you, comrades?" cried Xenophon.

One of the oldest men in the ranks got up and said, "If Xenophon had given the scoundrel a few more blows he had done well."

A deafening clash of swords and spears followed, and the verdict was accepted.

The other complainants were now called to state the particulars of their grievances. Dismayed by the reception which their spokesman had met with, they remained silent, one and all. Xenophon then entered upon a general defence of his conduct.

"Comrades," he said, "I confess that I have many times struck men for want of discipline. These were men who, leaving others to provide for their safety, thought only of their own gain. While we were fighting they would leave their place in the ranks to plunder, and so enriched themselves at our expense. Some also I have struck, when I found them playing the coward and ready to give themselves helplessly up to the enemy. Then I forced them to march on, and so saved their lives. For I know, having once myself sat down in a sharp frost, while I was waiting [236] for my comrades, how loath one is to rise again. Therefore, for their sake, I raised them even with blows, as I should myself wish, were I so found, to be raised. Others also have I struck whom I found straggling behind that they might rest. I struck them for your sake, for they were hindering both you that were in front, and us that were behind, and I struck them for their own sake. For verily it was a lighter thing to have a blow with the fist from me than a spear's thrust from the enemy. Of a truth, if they are able to stand up now to accuse me, it is because I saved them thus. Had they fallen into the enemy's hand, what satisfaction would they be able to get, even if their wrongs were ten times worse than that Nicarchus complains of? No," he went on, "my friends, I have done nothing more to anyone than what a wise father does to his child, or a good physician does to his patient. You see how I behave myself now. I am in better ease; I fare better; I have food and wine in plenty. Yet I strike no one. Why? Because there is no need; because we have weathered the storm, and are in smooth water. I need no more defence; you have, I see, acquitted me. Yet I cannot forbear to say that I take it ill that this accusation has been made. You remember the times when I had for your good to incur your dislike; but the times when I eased the burden of storm or winter for any of you, when I beat off an enemy, when I ministered to you in sickness or in want, these no one remembers—" and here the speaker's voice half broke, partly with real emotion, partly at the suggestion of the orator's art. A thrill of sympathy ran through the audience. "And you forget," he went on, "that I never failed to praise the doer of any noble deed, or to do such honor as I could to the brave, living or dead. Yet, surely it were more noble, more just, more after the mind of the gods, a sweeter and kindlier act, to [237] treasure the memory of the good than to cherish these hateful thoughts."

When the speaker sat down, there was nothing that he might not have obtained from his comrades.

That night there was a great banquet. This served a double purpose. Quarrels were made up, and some other difficult relations of the army to its neighbors were satisfactorily adjusted. The fact was, that the Greeks, partly from their want, and partly in the hope of filling their pockets after a long and profitless campaign, had been plundering right and left. The natives, on the other hand, had not been slow to retaliate. Plundering cannot be done satisfactorily in company; but any who ventured to do a little business on his own account ran a great chance of being cut off. Under these circumstances both parties thought it might be possible to come to an agreement. If the Greeks would not plunder, the natives would leave them unmolested and even furnish them with supplies. The chief of the country, accordingly, sent an embassy, with a handsome present of horses and robes of native manufacture. The generals entertained them at a banquet, to which, at the same time, they invited the most influential men of the army. The chief's proposals would be informally discussed, and proposed in regular form at a general meeting the next day.

The generals did their best to impress their guests. Meat, bread and wine were in plenty; and the eparch of Trapezus sent one of the magnificent turbots for which the waters of the Black Sea were famous. All the plate that was in the camp was put into requisition to make as brave a show as possible; and, at the instance of Callias, some handsome vessels of gold and silver were lent by the town authorities. But, in the eyes of the guests, the most impressive part of [238] the entertainment was in the performances which followed it. The libation having been made and the hymn, which supplied the part of grace after meat, having been sung, some of the Thracian soldiers came upon the platform which had been prepared for the performers. They wore the usual armor of their country, a helmet, greaves, light cuirass, and sword, and danced a national dance to the sound of a flute, leaping into the air with extraordinary nimbleness, and brandishing their swords. One pair of dancers were conspicuous for their agility. Faster and faster grew their movements, and with gestures of defiance they alternately retreated and advanced. At last, one of them, carried, it seemed, out of himself by his rage, thrust at his fellow with his sword. The man fell.

"He is killed!" screamed out the guests, and rose from their seats.

Indeed, the man had fallen so artistically and lay so still that anyone would have thought that he had received a fatal blow. The Greeks, however, looked on unmoved, and the strangers, not knowing whether this wonderful people might not be wont to kill each other for the entertainment of their guests, resumed their seats. The dancer who had dealt the blow stripped the other of his arms, and hurried off, singing the Thracian national song:

"All praise to Sitalces,

Invisible Lord,

The spear point that errs not,

The death-dealing sword,

The chariot that scatters

The close ranks of war,

Red Ruin behind it,

Blind Panic before!"

When he had left the stage a party of Thracians appeared and carried off the fallen man, who had remained without giving the slightest sign of life.

[239] Another dance in armor succeeded, performed this time by Ĉolian tribesmen from the Menalian coast. A man came on the stage, and, laying aside his arms, made believe to drive a yoke of oxen, and to sow as he drove. Every now and then he looked round, with an admirable imitation of expecting some unpleasant interruption. This came in the shape of another armed man, who was supposed to represent a cattle-lifter. The ploughman caught up his arms, and ran to encounter him. The two fought in front of the team, keeping time as they struck and parried to the sound of the flute. At last the robber appeared to vanquish his adversary, to bind him, strip him of his arms, and drive off the team.

The next performer was a Mysian, who danced, again in armor, what we should call a pas seul. He had a light shield in each hand, and seemed to be fighting with two adversaries at once; his action was extraordinarily life-like and his agility almost more than human. In curious contrast with his performance was the stately movement of some Arcadians heavy-armed, who, with all the weight of their armor and accoutrements upon them, moved to the tune of the warriors march with as much ease as if they had been perfectly unencumbered.

"Good Heavens!" cried one of the envoys to his next neighbor, "what men these are! Their armor seems not one whit heavier to them than a shirt, and they carry their swords and their spears as if they were twigs of osier."

One of the Mysians, whose dialect was not very different from that of the speaker, overheard the remark. "Ah!" he said to himself, "we will astonish these gentlemen still more."

He drew one of the Arcadians who had just performed, aside. "Send Cleone on the stage," he said.

[240] Cleone was a dancing-girl, famous for her agility.

By good luck she was at hand, having indeed expected to perform for the amusement of the company. The Arcadian made her put on a light cuirass of silvered steel, which she wore over a scarlet tunic. She had a short gilded helmet, buskins of purple, and sandals tied with crimson strings. In her left hand she carried a small shield, and in her right, a light spear. Thus accoutred, she came on the stage and danced the Pyrrhic dance with tremendous applause from all the spectators.

The astonishment of the native guests was beyond all expression.

"What!" cried their chief, "do your women fight?"

"Of course," said the general whom he addressed, "of course they fight, and very pretty soldiers they make."

"Women soldiers!" gasped the man.

"Why," said his host, "did you not know that it was the women who routed the Great King, and drove him out of our camp?"

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