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A Young Macedonian by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

PREPARATIONS

[24] ABOUT six months have passed since the events recorded in my last chapter. Charidemus had reported to Alexander so much of the young Theban's answer as it seemed to him expedient to communicate; and the king had been pleased to receive it very graciously. "I am glad," he said, "that you will have a friend in your campaigns. I should like to have such friendships all through my army. Two men watching over each other, helping each other, are worth more than double two who fight each for his own hand. You shall be a captain in the Guards. I can't give your [25] friend the same rank. It would give great offence. My Macedonians would be terribly annoyed to see a young untried Greek put over them. He must make his way. I promise you that as soon as my men see that he is fit to lead, they will be perfectly willing to be led by him. Meanwhile let him join your company as a volunteer. He can thus be with you. And I will give orders that he shall draw the same pay and rations as you do. And now that is settled," the king went on, "I shall want you with me for a little time. Your friend shall go to Pella, and learn his drill, and make himself useful."

This accordingly had been done. Charondas had spent the winter in Pella. In this place (which Alexander's father had made the capital of his kingdom) the army was gathering for the great expedition. A gayer or more bustling scene could not well be imagined, or, except the vast array which Xerxes had swept all Asia to bring against Greece a century and a half before, a stranger collection of specimens of humanity. Savage mountaineers from the Thracian Highlands, and fishermen from the primitive lake-villages of Pćonia, jostled in the streets with representatives of almost every city of Greece, [26] the Lesser Greece which was the home of the race, and the Greater Greece which had spread its borders over the shores of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, which had almost touched with its outposts the Caspian on the east and the Pillars of Hercules on the west. The prospect of a booty such as passed all the dreams of avarice, the hope of ransacking the treasuries into which all Asia had poured its wealth for generations, had drawn adventurers from all points of the compass. The only difficulty that the recruiting officers had was in choosing. The king was determined that the strength of his army should be his own Macedonians. A sturdy race, untouched by the luxury which had corrupted the vigour of more civilized Greece, they supplied a material of the most solid value. Nor was it now the rough, untempered metal that it had been a generation before. Philip had wrought it by years of patient care into a most serviceable weapon, and it only remained for his son to give its final polish and to wield it.

So complete was the organization left behind him by the great king, that such recruits as were needed to make up the necessary numbers of the army of Asia—and none but tried soldiers were recruited—easily fell into their proper places. The preparation of siege trains, of such machines as battering-rams and the like, of the artillery of the time, catapults, small and great, some used for throwing darts and [27] some for hurling stones, was a more laborious business. The equipment of the army was far from complete. Every anvil in Macedonia was hard at work. Of provisions no great store was prepared. The king counted for supplying his needs in this direction in the country which he was about to overrun. The military chest was empty, or worse than empty; for Philip, who always preferred the spear of silver to the spear of steel, had left little but debt behind him. The personal baggage of the army was on the most moderate scale. Never was there a force which gave a better promise of being able to "march anywhere," and more amply fulfilled it.

Charondas, as it may easily be imagined, did not find the time hang heavily on his hands. His drill was easily learnt; he had served in the Theban infantry, the best in the world till it was dispossessed of its pride of place by the admirable force created by the military genius of Philip. But after this there was no lack of employment. Being a clever young fellow, who quite belied the common character of his countrymen for stupidity, and as modest as he was clever, he soon became a great favourite, and found himself set to any employment that required a little more tact and management than usual. When business permitted, there was always amusement in plenty. The lakes and marshes round Pella swarmed with wild geese and [28] swans; and there were woods which might always be reckoned upon as holding a wild boar, and in which a bear might sometimes be found.

Such had been the employment of the last six months.

When I take up again the thread of my story the two friends had met at Sestos, from which place the army was preparing to cross into the Troad. They had much to tell each other. Charidemus, who had joined the army only the night before, was anxious to learn many military details which Charondas had had the opportunity of acquainting himself with. His own story was interesting, for he had been with Alexander and had also had a mission of his own, and had some notable experiences to relate. This is an outline of his narrative:

"After we parted, I went with the king to Megara. Hephaestion was urgent with him to go to Athens; but he refused. He would give no reasons; in fact, I never saw him so abrupt and positive; but I think that I know the cause. It is certain that there would have been trouble, if he had gone. The Athenians are the freest-spoken people in the world, and the king felt, I am sure, that it would be more than he could do to command himself, if he should hear himself, and still more hear his father, insulted. And besides, he had something very unpleasant to say, the sort of thing which any one would [29] sooner say by another man's mouth than by his own. He was going to demand that the ten men who had been his worst enemies among the statesmen and soldiers of Athens should be given up to him. I was at table with him when the envoys from the city came back with their answer. He had them brought into the room where we were. No one could have been more polite than was the king. 'Be seated, gentlemen,' he said; and he ordered the pages to carry round cups of wine. Then he poured a libation from his own goblet. 'To Athené,' he cried, 'Athené the Counsellor, Athené the Champion,' and took a deep draught at each title. The envoys stood up, and followed his example. 'And now, gentlemen, to business,' he went on. 'You have brought the prisoners, of course. I mean no harm to them; but I don't care to have them plotting against me while I am away.' 'My lord,' said the chief of the embassy—and I could see him tremble as he spoke, though his bearing was brave enough—'my lord, the Athenian people, having met in a lawful assembly, and duly deliberated on this matter, has resolved that it cannot consent to your demand. The ten citizens whom you named in your letter have not been convicted of any crime; and it would not be lawful to arrest them.' I saw the king's face flush when he heard this answer; and he half started up from his seat. But he mastered himself by a great effort. [30] 'Is that so?' he said in a low voice; 'then I shall have to come and take them. You hear that, gentlemen? Tell those who sent you what they must look for.' And he took up the talk with us just at the point at which it had been broken off when the envoys were announced. But he was not as calm as he looked. One of his pages told me that he did not lie down to sleep till it wanted only two hours of dawn. All night the lad heard the king pacing up and down in his chamber. The wall of partition was very thin, and he could not help hearing much that he said. 'A set of scribblers and word-splitters, to dare to set themselves up against me! I'll fetch the villains, if I have to go for them myself; and if I go, it will be the worse for all of them!' Then his mood changed. 'I can't have another business like the last! Thebes was bad enough, but Athens—no it is impossible. Even the Spartans would not put out the "eye of Greece"; and I must not be more brutal than a Spartan. And then to make another enemy among the Immortals! It is not to be thought of. The wrath of Bacchus is bad enough; and I have sinned against him beyond all pardon. But the wrath of Athené!—that would be a curse indeed for it would be the ruin both of valour and counsel.' So [31] he went on talking to himself till the best part of the night was spent. Well, two days afterwards there came another embassy from Athens. This time they had a man of sense with them, one who knew how to make the best of things, and who, besides, was a special favourite of the king. This was Phocion, who, as I daresay you know, had the sense to accept the inevitable, and counseled peace with us, when the so-called patriots were raving for war. The king was as gracious as possible to him. 'Ah! my dear friend,' he cried, as soon as he saw him, 'I am indeed glad to see you. Now I know that I have an intelligent person to deal with, and I am quite sure that we shall have no difficulty in settling matters on a satisfactory footing. Well, what have you got to tell me? What proposition do you make? You may be sure that I will accept anything in reason.' 'Sir,' said Phocion—a singularly venerable-looking man, by the way—'the Athenians beg you not to take it ill if they are unwilling to break their laws even to win your favour; at the same time they are ready to do anything to satisfy you!' 'Ah! I see,' said the king; 'anything but what I want. But hearken: I have thought the matter over, and have come to this conclusion: I won't ask your people to give anybody up. It is a thing that has an evil look; and, upon my word, I think the better of them for refusing. At the same time, I can't have my enemies [32] plotting against me when my back is turned. You may keep your speakers, and they may talk against me as much as they please. They did not hurt my father much, and I do not suppose that they will hurt me. But as to the soldiers, that is another matter. They must go. I don't want to have them myself; but they must not stop at Athens. If you can promise so much for those who sent you, then I shall be satisfied.' 'You are as moderate,' said Phocion, 'as I always expected you would be. I can promise what you demand. Indeed, the two soldiers are gone already.' 'That is well,' said the king. 'Perhaps it is all that I ought to have asked for at the first. Yes; tell your countrymen that I honour them for their courage, and that I don't forget what they have done for Greece. If it had not been for them we should be slaves beneath the heel of the Persian this day. And tell them that if anything happens to me, it is they who are to take my place, and be the leaders of Greece. They were so once, and it may be the pleasure of the gods that they should be so again.' "

"Ah!" interrupted Charondas, smiling, "your king knows how to use his tongue as well as he knows how to use his sword. That will flatter the Athenians to the top of their bent. After that [33] they are Alexander's firm friends for ever. But to take his place—what an idea! If they only knew it, it was the cruellest satire. They have orators, I allow. I heard two of them when I was a boy. I thought that nothing could beat the first Ćschines, I think they called him—till the second got up. Good gods! that man could have persuaded me of anything. Demosthenes, they told me, was his name. But as for a general, they haven't such a thing, except it be this same Phocion, and he must be close upon seventy. They have no soldiers even, except such as they hire. They used to be able to fight, though they were never a match for us. You shrug your shoulders, I see, but it is a fact; but now they can do nothing but quarrel. But I am interrupting you. Go on."

"Well," continued Charidemus, "from Megara we went on to Corinth. There the king held a great reception of envoys from all the states. I acted, you must know, as one of his secretaries, and had to listen to the eloquence of all these gentlemen. How they prevaricated, and lied, and flattered! and the king listening all the while with a gentle smile, as if he were taking it all in, but now and then throwing in a word or putting a question that struck them dumb. These were the public audiences. And then there were the [34] private interviews, when the envoys came one by one to see what they could get for themselves. What a set of greedy, cringing beggars they were, to be sure. Some put a better face on it than others; but it was the same with all—gold; gold, or office, which of course, means gold sooner or later. I used to want to be thought a Greek, but I never——"

He stopped abruptly, for he had forgotten to whom he was talking. Charondas smiled. "Speak your mind," he said, "you will not offend me."

"Well," continued the Macedonian, "there was at least one man at Corinth whom I could honestly admire. I had gone with the king and Hephaestion to dine with a rich Corinthian. What a splendid banquet it was! The king has no gold and silver plate to match what Xeniades—for that was our host's name—produced. The conversation happened to turn on the sights of Corinth, and Xeniades said that, after all, there was not one of them could match what he had to show. 'Can we see it?' asked Alexander. 'Not to-day, I am afraid,' said our host, 'but come to-morrow about noon, and I can promise you a good view.' Accordingly the next day we went. Xeniades took us into the open court inside his house, and showed us a curious little figure of a man asleep in the sunshine. 'That,' said he, 'is the one man I know, or ever have known, who never wanted anything more than what he had. [35] Let me tell you how I came to know him. About thirty years ago I was travelling in Crete, and happened to stroll into the slave-market at Gnossus. There was a lot of prisoners on sale who had been taken by pirates out of an Athenian ship. Every man had a little paper hanging round his neck, on which were written his age, height, and accomplishments. There were cooks, tailors, tent-makers, cobblers, and half-a-dozen other trades, one poor wretch who called himself a sculptor, the raggedest of the lot, and another, who looked deplorably ill, by the way, who called himself a physician. They were poor creatures, all of them. Indeed, the only one that struck my fancy was a man of about fifty—too old, of course, in a general way, for a slave that one is going to buy. He certainly was not strong or handsome, but he looked clever. I noticed that no occupation was mentioned in his description; so I asked him what he could do. "I can rule men," he said. That seemed such a whimsical answer, for certainly such a thing was never said in the slave-market before, that I could do nothing less than buy the man. "You are just what I have been wanting," I said. Well, to make a long story short, I brought him home and made him tutor to my children, for I found that he was a learned man. He did his work admirably. But of late he has grown very odd. He might have any room in my house, but you see the place in which he prefers to [36] live,' and he pointed to a huge earthenware vat that had been rolled up against the side of the house. 'But let us go and hear what he has to say.' Well, we went, and our coming woke the old man. He was a curious, withered, bent creature, nearly eighty years old, our host said, with matted white hair, eyes as keen as a hawk's, and the queerest wrinkles round his mouth. 'Who are you?' he said. 'I am Alexander, King of Macedonia,' said the king. 'I am Diogenes the Cynic,' said the old man. 'Is there anything that I can do for you,' asked the king. 'Yes; you can stand out of the sunshine.' So the king stood aside, whereupon the old man curled himself up and went to sleep again. 'Well,' said the king, 'if I were not Alexander, I would gladly be Diogenes,' ' You may well say so, my lord,' said Xeniades; 'that strange old creature has been a good genius in my house.' "

"And what became of you after the king came back to Pella?" asked Charondas.

"I stayed behind to do some business which he put into my hands. Most of the time I spent in Argos, where I was brought up, and where I have many friends, but I paid visits to every town of importance in the Peloponnesus. I may say so much without breaking any confidence, that it was my business to commend the Macedonian alliance to any people of note that I might come into contact with. I was very well received everywhere [37] except in Sparta. The Spartans were as sulky as possible; in fact, I was told to leave the city within a day."

At this point the conversation of the two friends was interrupted by the entrance of one of Alexander's pages. The lad—he was about sixteen years of age, —saluted, and said "a message from the king." The two friends rose from their seats and stood "at attention" to receive the communication. "The king commands your attendance to-morrow at sunrise, when he goes to Troy." His errand done, the lad relaxed the extreme dignity of his manner, and greeted the two young men in a very friendly way. "Have you heard the news," he asked, "that has set all the world wondering? The statue of Orpheus that stands in Pieria has taken to sweating incessantly. The priest thought it important enough to send a special messenger announcing the prodigy. Some of the old generals were very much troubled at the [38] affair," went on the young man, who was by way of being an esprit fort, "but luckily the soothsayer was equal to the occasion. 'Let no one be troubled,' he said, 'it is an omen of the very best. Much labour is in store for the poets, who will have to celebrate the labours of our king.' "

"Well," said Charidemus, who was a well-educated young man, and had a certain taste in verse, "our friend Chœrilus, with all that I have seen of him and his works, will have to sweat very hard before he can produce a decent verse."

"Very true," said the page, "but why Orpheus should trouble himself about such a fool as Chœrilus passes my comprehension. Now, if you want a really good omen, my dear Charidemus, you have one in the king's sending for you. That means good luck if anything does. There are very few going. Perdiccas, Hephaestion, half-a-dozen of us pages (of whom I have not the luck to be one), the soothsayer, of course, with the priests and [39] attendants, and a small escort make up the company."

"And where is he going?" asked the two friends together.

"To the ruins of Troy. And now farewell."


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