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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church

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POLYBIUS

CLEANOR'S wish for the sleep from which there is no waking was only too genuine. He felt almost heart-broken at the treatment which he had received. He had thrown himself into the cause of Carthage with a single-minded energy which had never been permitted to flag, and these wounds were his reward!

True, he had a pretty clear notion of the quarter from which this treacherous enmity had proceeded. He felt sure that Hasdrubal had never forgiven him. That his vanity had been humbled and his cruelty baffled were offences that would be sure to rankle in the mind of such a man. But what could be said for a people which was content to be ruled by a Hasdrubal? The young Greek felt that he had lost his country, so to speak, a second time. His native town had perished, and now the city of his adoption, Carthage, which he had been eager to serve with life and death, had cruelly repudiated him.

[231] The first result of these thoughts was an absolute loss of all interest in life. He did not wish to recover, and for a time it seemed most likely that what he did not wish would not be. The physician found that all the ground which had been gained was lost, and for some days he despaired of his patient's life. There was no active disease; that would have given his art something definite to combat. But there was a total indifference to everything, which offered an inert, and, as it seemed, unconquerable resistance to all his efforts.

Still, at twenty there is an almost physical desire for life which triumphs over the deepest sorrows and the most acute disappointments. Had Cleanor been master of his own actions he might have committed suicide. As it was, lying helpless in the hands of his physician and his friends, he had to submit to being kept alive. His appetite returned by degrees, though he was almost ashamed of being hungry. As his strength grew, and the blood began to course more briskly through his veins, he found interests revive which he had thought to be extinguished, interests to which he seemed to have bidden farewell And so the process of recovery went on.

The young Scipio did his best to help it forward. He had often reproached himself with haste and want of discretion in prematurely revealing to his friend and preserver the revolting truth of the [232] treachery of which he had been the object. He now exerted himself to repair the mischief. His attendance by the sick-bed was unceasing. He was always ready to talk, to read aloud, or to play a game of draughts or soldiers, as the strength of the patient permitted.

And all was done with so genuine an affection that it could not fail to win its way to the heart of the patient. More than once the young man's great kinsman, the Commander himself, spared an hour from his innumerable occupations to pay a visit to the sick man's tent. Cleanor felt again, in even increased force, what had impressed him at his first meeting, the inexplicable charm of Scipio's personality.

Under these circumstances Cleanor's health improved, at first almost in spite of himself, for he could hardly be said to have had any wish for life, and then with greater rapidity, as time weakened the painful impressions of the past and strengthened new interests and hopes. In the early days of his illness his host, for he occupied the private tent of the younger Scipio, had been granted a furlough from his military duties, for the express purpose of attending on his guest. Though renewed more than once, this had to come to an end.

But Cleanor never lacked company, and that of the most interesting kind. It will be remembered [233] that on the occasion of his visiting the Roman camp in the capacity of interpreter to the officer negotiating an exchange of prisoners, he had made the acquaintance of the historian Polybius. This acquaintance he was now able to improve. Polybius, as a non-combatant, had plenty of time to bestow on the invalid, in whom he found an intelligent listener and even critic. It became his constant custom to bring what he had written on the previous day, read it aloud to the invalid, and invite his criticism on it.

"I want above all things," Polybius said, "to be both candid and clear. Tell me if I seem to write like a partisan, or if I am obscure. What you do not readily understand will certainly be unintelligible to nine readers out of ten."

The reading was commonly followed by a conversation, in which a great variety of subjects were touched upon, and in which Cleanor found a quite inexhaustible interest. Polybius, who was now past middle age, had seen about as much of men and manners as any man of his time. He had held high military office in his native country, commanding the cavalry of the Achman League, the last effort of Greece to hold her place in the world of politics. He had never seen, it so happened, any active [234] service of importance, but in the knowledge of the theory of war he was unsurpassed by any man of his time. He had indeed made a very important contribution to the military art by greatly improving the practice of signalling. If there was anything that raised the old soldier's vanity it was this. He could not boast of any victories, and he belonged to a nation which had ceased to be a factor of importance in the politics of the world, but the credit of this invention gave him, he believed, a rank among the great soldiers of history. It was, he told Cleanor, the proudest moment of his life when he saw his system used, and used with success, by the great Scipio himself.

[235] But nothing in Polybius' conversation was more interesting than what he had to say about his experiences during his seventeen years of exile in Italy. Along with many hundreds of his countrymen—with all, it might almost be said, who were in any way distinguished or able—he had been deported to Italy. But he had been more fortunate than most of his companions. While they were distributed among the towns of Northern Italy, where they dragged out a miserable existence, without books or society, and often with but the scantiest means, he had been permitted to live in Rome. He had won the friendship of Æmilius Paullus, the great conqueror of Macedonia, and he and his two sons interested themselves in him. The society into which he was thus introduced was the most brilliant which Rome possessed, and Polybius was never weary of talking about it. Cleanor, who, like his countrymen [236] in general, had been accustomed to regard the Romans as little better than barbarians, was astonished at his enthusiasm.

"We haven't any society in Greece," Polybius would say, "that can be fairly matched with them. They are on a larger scale, more strongly built, so to speak. They are not so acute, perhaps, as some of our people, but far more solid and strong."

"But they have no literature, I am told," interrupted Cleanor.

"That is hardly so," replied Polybius, "they have the beginnings of what will be, I am sure, a great literature. At present they do little more than translate from us. But their translations are better than any originals we can now produce. I used to be present at the first readings of the comedies of their great writer, Terence. They were taken, it is true, from Menander and Diphilus and other Greeks, but the taking was done with the greatest art, and the language was admirable. You may take it for granted that with a language so finished as Latin now is, a real literature is sure to come before long. And it was curious, too, to see what admirable judges of style these young nobles were. It wasn't true, though it was commonly reported, that Scipio and his friend Lælius wrote Terence's plays for him, but I can bear witness of my own knowledge that they helped him greatly [237] with them. You see, he was not a Roman born, and it is not everyone that can write Roman Latin, any more than everyone can write Attic Greek. And there is another thing which we cannot match: the culture of the women in the best families. Among us it is very seldom that a respectable woman can do more than read and write; very often she cannot do as much as that. It is very different in Rome—not, of course, everywhere, for there are some who stick obstinately to the old ways, but in the circle of which I am talking. Lælius—he, you know, is Scipio's great friend—whose acquaintance you will soon make, has a daughter whose learning would put many of our students to shame. She was a girl not far into her teens when I used to see her—they do not shut up their women in our fashion—and she could speak Greek with the very finest accent, and they said just the same of her Latin; of that, of course, I could hardly judge so well."

"Did you ever see the old man Cato?" asked Cleanor. "I have often heard talk of him. He must have been a worthy of a very different stamp."

"Yes, yes, I knew him well," replied Polybius, "and have excellent reasons for remembering him. As you say, he was of a very different stamp, and belonged to quite another age. He was of a time [238] when scarcely a Roman had ever set his foot outside Italy, or even imagined that anything good could come from beyond the seas. Yet it was strange how the new spirit had succeeded in touching even him in his old age. Do you know that I had the honour of having him for a pupil? He must have been close upon eighty years of age when he found that it put him at a disadvantage not to know what other men knew, and he actually took to learning Greek. He had long been able to speak it in a way, but he took to reading it, and I had the pleasure of being his teacher. I used to stay at his country house, for it was only there that he had leisure for his lessons. It was a curious experience. He used to entertain his neighbours, the country-side folk, farmers and the like, in the friendliest fashion. They were fine, sturdy folk, and I soon understood, when I saw them, how Rome seems likely to conquer the world. And what heads they had! The wine-cup didn't halt in its rounds, I can tell you, and if I hadn't missed my turn as often as I could, the end would have been disaster. As for the old man, he never shirked. But there was a very harsh side to his character. Nothing could be harder than his dealings with his slaves. They [239] were mere beasts of burden to him, not one whit of more account than his horses and oxen,—not indeed of so much, seeing that they gave more trouble. He gave them just as much food as would keep them alive, not a morsel more. When they grew too old for work, he turned them out of doors to starve. However, he behaved very well to me, and if I gave him any help, he repaid me many fold. He was won over somehow to take the part of the exiles. Of course Scipio and his friends had a great deal to do with it, but I always thought that he had also a kindness for me. I was in the senate-house when the question came on—should the Greek exiles be allowed to go home? There was a hot debate, and a close division was expected. The old man rose to speak quite at the end of the sitting. I must say that what he said was not flattering, but it was certainly effective. 'Are we going to waste any more time about these trumpery Greeks? If we don't settle the matter to-day we shall have the whole discussion over again.' Then he sat down. The senators laughed; and the motion was carried easily. I went to thank him the next day. He was very friendly, and I took courage to say that if we were allowed to go back, we might also be restored to our rank and honours. He smiled very grimly. 'Friend,' he said, 'when a man is lucky enough to get out of the Cyclops' [240] cave, I take it that he would be a fool to go back after his hat or his cloak.' I took the hint, and was off before two days had passed. But before I went, he sent a message that he wanted to see me. He was then at his country house, and he was busy making some alterations in a book that he had written about agriculture. He was dictating, and a slave, a wretched Greek, who looked, as he probably was, half-starved, was writing down. 'I bought him at Magnesia', he said, 'for £20, and an excellent bargain it was, but he is getting past his work now.' I saw the poor fellow flush up, but Cato cared no more for his feelings than if he had been a dog. 'But now for what I wanted to say to you. I don't suppose that I shall see the end of Carthage, though it will not be for want of urging my countrymen to bring it about. But you probably will, for it can hardly be postponed for another ten years. Well, there is one thing in Carthage that I have always wished to see, and that is, Mago's work on agriculture. I have never been able to get anything like a complete copy of it. Only two or three [241] of the books—there are twenty-eight in all—have come into my hands, and I have found them quite admirable, and have made all the use of them that I could for my own treatise. What I wanted to say to you was to bear this matter in mind if you should chance to be at hand when the end comes. Books often fare very badly at such times. What, indeed, does the common soldier know about their value? But, depend upon it, this one will be worth a whole ship-load of gold and silver. Keep your eyes open, then, and warn all whom you know to be on the look-out for Mago's book.' That was the last time I saw him. He lived two years longer, and died happy, I suppose, because war had been declared against Carthage."


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