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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

AT DELOS

CLEANOR gladly accepted the warm invitation of the young Scipio again to become his guest. For the present the Greek's plans were uncertain. His most definite idea was to follow Theoxena and her daughter to Italy as soon as possible. It had been arranged that the two women should depart on the following day. He would have to look for his own passage to the favour of the general; all that he could do, therefore, was to hold himself in readiness to depart as soon as the opportunity should offer.

The day was not to pass, however, without giving quite a new aspect to the future. The two friends had been exchanging experiences, and were just thinking of sleep,—when Polybius entered the tent. After greeting Cleanor—whom he had not seen since they had parted in Egypt—in the kindest [318] way, not, however, without a smiling rebuke for the trick which he had played, he explained his errand.

"I am going," he said, "as soon as is possible to Greece, where things are in a critical condition, and I want you to go with me. I come direct from the general, who has put a ship of war at my service, and who fully approves of your accompanying me. I was, he said, to tell you this from him. He also gave me another message for you. He wants you to give what help you can in the translation of this great book on Agriculture. There will be a committee appointed to carry it out, and you are to be on it if it pleases you. But that will wait, anyhow for a few months. The affair in Greece will not wait; the sooner we get there the better, if we are to do any good."

Nothing could have been more to Cleanor's mind than this proposal, and he promised to be ready to depart as soon as he was wanted. Accordingly the very next day, after bidding Theoxena and her daughter an affectionate farewell in the morning, he himself embarked about sunset with Polybius. For some time the voyage was fairly prosperous, if not very rapid. The wind came mostly from the north, with a touch of east in it. The ship had but a poor crew of rowers, and its sailing capacities were small. If the wind had more than one point from the east the sails had to be hauled down and the oars resorted to.

[319] On the tenth day there came a change in the weather. The wind shifted suddenly to the south-west. This change was at first hailed with delight by everyone on board; by the rowers, who were rejoiced to be set free from their toil, by the passengers, who were beginning to be impatient of their tedious progress. But a wind from the south-west has always something dangerous about it. At daybreak a steady breeze, it grew before night into something like a gale, and it was accompanied by weather so thick that, failing any observation of either sun or stars, the captain lost his reckoning entirely.

After two days of this alarming uncertainty the weather cleared only just in time, as everyone on board saw plainly enough, to save the ship from a catastrophe. About three miles to the north the cliffs of Malia could be seen, crowned by the famous temple of Apollo, whose gilded roof showed itself when it was touched, from time to time, by some passing gleam of sunshine. On their right the cliffs of Cythera were visible. This was satisfactory in a way, but the plan of the voyage, which was to make for the western end of the Corinthian Gulf, had failed. The wind was blowing far too strongly to allow the captain to attempt a north-western course. He had, therefore, no alternative but to let it carry him up the Ęgean. What had been lost was the safe and easy passage up the quiet [320] landlocked waters of the gulf, and with it the certainty of reaching Corinth at or near the appointed time.

After a few hours the weather again changed for the worse. The clouds came lower, the wind rose. When night came all that the captain and the crew knew of their whereabouts was that they were not far from Melos, of which they had just caught a glimpse, in dangerous proximity, on their larboard bow. Melos, they knew, was not by any means on their straight course to Corinth. They were, indeed, being blown out of this more and more as time went on. The best they could hope for was that they might not be dashed on one of the rugged and inhospitable islands and islets with which the south-western Ęgean was so thickly studded.

All night they scudded before the wind under one small sail, just enough to give some steering power to the rudder. More than once they heard the crash of unseen breakers on some unseen shore, and turned their course away from the warning sound. With the morning came another welcome change of weather. The wind dropped almost instantaneously; the sky cleared till not a cloud could be seen, and the sea, though the long rollers witnessed to its recent agitation, settled rapidly into calm.

About two miles to the north, yet seen so distinctly through the clear atmosphere of early spring that it seemed almost within a stone's-throw, lay a small island which Cleanor recognized at the first glance. [321] Only one place in the world brought together so closely, within so small a space yet on a scale so magnificent, the two great elements of Greek life, commerce and religion. On the low-lying land of the west coast was to be seen the town of Delos, with its thickly-clustered dwellings. Almost, as it seemed, among these rose a forest of masts, for Delos was a mart of exchange for the trade of the Mediterranean, and the trade of the Mediterranean was practically the trade of the civilized world. Close behind the town, in all the splendour of its white Parian marble, rose the famous temple of the tutelary god of the isle, Phœbus Apollo, while nestling beside it were the smaller shrines of his twin sister Phœbe or Artemis and of Aphrodite. Behind these again was the hill of Cynthus, its steep declivity clothed with trees, among which gleamed here and there the white shining walls of buildings both sacred and secular.

"Delos!" cried the captain; "well, it might have been worse, and if we can only get out of the harbour as easily and quickly as it seems likely we shall get into it, we shall have nothing to complain of."

"Here," cried Cleanor to Polybius as they stood side by side on the galley's deck, "here is one of my dreams come to pass! I have always desired to see Delos, and here it is. Truly, here Greece is still to be seen in all its glory."

Polybius smiled somewhat bitterly. "There is very little of Greece, I fear, about Delos nowadays."

"But it belongs to Athens surely," broke in the [322] young Greek, "just as it did in the best times of Greece."

"Yes, it belongs to Athens," replied his friend; "if that means that Athenian coin is circulated there, and the government is carried on in the name of the Athenian people. But Delos is Roman for all practical purposes. As for the Delians themselves, they were all deported twenty years ago, and this time unfortunately Apollo did not interfere. No, my dear friend, it is only the past of Delos that belongs to Greece, and that happily no power on earth can take from her. That, thank the gods, we can still enjoy."

Some hours were pleasantly spent by the two friends in examining the sights of the place. Polybius had been there two or three times before; Cleanor, who knew every reference to the sacred island,—from the young palm-tree to which Ulysses compared the fair Nausicaa onwards,—was prepared thoroughly to enjoy the guidance of so intelligent a companion. Later on in the day they strolled through the business town. Evidently it was a thriving place. The docks were crowded with ships, the wharves covered with merchandise of every kind, from the spices of the East to the ivory brought by African hunters from the great forests of the South. But there was little or nothing Greek about it. Two [323] out of three among the huge factories which lined the harbour-side belonged to Roman traders. The others belonged to merchants of Tyre, of Antioch, of Joppa, of Alexandria, but it was the exception to find a Greek name among them. Cleanor could not help confessing to himself that another illusion was gone. The most famous seat of Greek life, whether sacred or secular, had passed into the power of the stranger.

The anxiety of the travellers to get to their journey's end was increased by all that they heard in the island. It was clear, by all accounts, that the fate of Corinth was imminent. But, much against their wills, their stay was prolonged. The ship had received so severe a buffeting during its voyage from Carthage that it could not be said to be seaworthy. It had to be laid up in dock and repaired. And then, when it was pronounced ready for sea, the weather made it absolutely impossible to start. The captain had been only too prescient when he doubted whether they should be able to get out of the harbour as easily as they got in.

There was, indeed, much to be seen in Delos, which was then at the height of its prosperity, and adorned with the offerings which the piety of more than five hundred years had heaped upon it. But Polybius and his companion were so impatient to reach their destination that the time seemed to hang heavily on their hands. Disturbing rumours, too, were current about the policy which Rome was likely to pursue at Corinth. That the city would speedily [324] be captured was considered certain, and there were ominous conjectures as to its probable fate. One day the friends had accepted an invitation to dinner from Diagoras, the Athenian governor of the island, and Corinth was naturally the principal subject of conversation. What Diagoras had to say was alarming in the extreme.

"You have come from Carthage," he said. "Well, what you have seen there you will see again at Corinth. The capitalists and the commercial party have it all their own way at Rome now, and their policy is, of course, monopoly. Every trade rival must be put out of the way. Carthage has been destroyed. That was not, as you know, the doing of the nobles. Scipio and his friends were strongly against it. The capitalists carried it in the Senate, partly by their own votes, partly by the votes which they practically bought. I could tell you the men—and some of their names would surprise you—whose votes were purchased, and I could tell you the price that was paid for them. The same thing has happened over and over again. Listen to this. I must not tell you the name of my correspondent, but his authority is beyond all doubt:

"'The vote has gone as I expected. Corinth is to perish. The division was closer than in the Carthage affair, for the crime—I can call it nothing less—is more scandalous and more unprovoked. Carthage was once formidable, though she [325] has long ceased to be so; Corinth never could have caused a moment's fear to Rome. It is simply the case of a trader burning down a rival's ware-house.'

"This letter I received last night," the governor continued, "and it appears to have been delayed on the way. The Senate's instructions to Mummius—it is he that is in command at Corinth, and a very different man from your Scipio, I fancy—must have reached him by this time."

"Then we are too late," said Polybius with a groan.

"Yes," replied the governor, "though I do not see what you could have done even if you had not been delayed. All that will be in your power will be to help individuals. I should recommend you, by the way, to go to Athens first, and get a safe-conduct and letters of introduction from the Roman agent there. These will make your task easier."

Two or three days after this conversation the travellers were able to make a start. A gentle breeze from the east carried them out of the harbour, and took them quickly to their journey's end.


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