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A Young Macedonian by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

AT TROY

[40] EARLY as it was when our hero passed through the camp on his way to the point from which the king's galley was to start, everything was in a great bustle of preparation. More than a hundred and fifty vessels of war and a huge array of trading ships of every kind and size were standing as near the shore as their draught would permit, ready to receive the army and to transport it to the Asiatic shore. The munitions of war and the artillery had been already embarked, relays of men having been engaged on this part of the work for some days past. The pier was crowded with horses and their attendants, this being the only spot from which the animals could be conveniently put on ship-board. Alexander, however, contemplated mounting some part of his cavalry with chargers to be purchased on the soil of Asia, and, with that extraordinary faculty for organization and management that was as marked in him as was his personal courage, had provided that there should be no delay in procuring a proper supply. The soldiers [41] themselves were not to go on board till everything else had been arranged. The king's galley, which was the admiral's own ship, presented a striking appearance. At the stern stood Alexander, a splendid figure, tall and stately, and clad in gilded armour. The pages, wearing purple tunics with short cloaks richly embroidered with gold thread, were clustered about him on the after deck, while, close at hand, conspicuous in their sacrificial white garments, stood the priest and his attendants. All the crew wore holiday attire, and every part of the vessel was crowned with garlands.

At a signal from the king the galley pushed off from the shore; the fugleman struck up a lively strain of martial Dorian music; the rowers, oarsmen picked for strength and endurance from the whole fleet, struck the water with their oars in faultless time, while Alexander himself held the rudder. At first he steered along the shore, for he was bound for the southern extremity of the peninsula, on which stood the chapel of Protesilaüs, the hero who, whether from self-sacrifice or ill-luck, had expiated by his death the doom pronounced on his people. Reaching the place he went ashore, followed by his companions and attendants, and, after duly perform- [42] ing sacrifice to the hero, returned to his ship. The prow was then turned straight to the opposite coast. In mid-channel the music of the fugleman's flute ceased, and the rowers rested on their oars. Leaving the rudder in the charge of Hephaestion, the king advanced to sacrifice the milk-white bull, which, with richly gilded horns and garlands of flowers hanging about its neck, stood ready for the rite. He plucked some hair from between the horns, and duly burned them on the coals of a brasier, and then sprinkled some salted meal and poured a few drops of wine on the animal's forehead. The attendants meanwhile plunged knives into its throat, and caught the streaming blood in broad shallow dishes. The entrails were then duly examined by the soothsayer, who, after an apparently scrupulous investigation, declared that they presented a singularly favourable appearance. This done, the king took a golden cup from the hand of an attendant, and after filling it with the choicest Chian wine, poured out libations to Poseidon, the sea-god, and to the sisterhood of the nymphs, imploring that they would continue to him and to his companions the favour which they had shown to the Greek heroes of old times. His prayer ended, he flung the goblet, as that which should [43] never be profaned by any meaner function, into the dream of the Hellespont.

These ceremonies ended, a very brief space of time sufficed to bring the galley to the "Harbour of the Achĉans," the very spot which tradition asserted to have been the landing-place of the host of Agamemnon. The king was the first to leap ashore. For a moment he stood with his spear poised, as if awaiting an enemy who might dispute his landing; then, no one appearing, stuck the weapon in the ground, and implored the favour of Zeus and the whole company of the dwellers in Olympus on the undertaking of which that day's work was the beginning. Then followed a number of remarkable acts. They were partly, one cannot doubt, intended for effect, the performances of a man who desired above all things to pose as the representative of Greek feeling, to show himself to the world as the successor of the heroes who had championed Greece against the lawless insolence of Asia. But they were also in a great degree the expression of a genuine feeling. Alexander had a romantic love for the whole cycle of Homeric song and Homeric legend. A copy of the Iliad was the companion of all his campaigns; he even slept with it under his pillow. It was his proudest boast that he was descended from Achilles; and now he was actually performing in person the drama which had been the romance of his life. His first visit was to the temple of Athené that crowned the hill, identified [44] at least by the inhabitants of the place with the Pergama of ancient Troy. The walls of the temple were adorned with suits of armour, worn, it was said, by the guardians of the place, by heroes who had fought against Troy. The king had several of these taken down, not intending to wear them himself, but meaning to have them carried with him during his campaigns, a purpose which was afterwards fulfilled. He left instead his own gilded armour, and added other valuable offerings to the temple. From Athené's shrine he went to the palace of Priam, where his guides showed him the very altar of Zeus at which the old king was slaughtered by the savage son of Achilles. But this son was an ancestor of his own, and he felt himself bound to expiate by offering sacrifice the wrath which the murdered man might feel against the descendant of the murderer. The sight which crowned the glories of the day was the tomb and monumental column of Achilles. It was the practice of pilgrims to this sacred spot to strip off their garments, anoint themselves, and run naked round the mound under which the great hero reposed.

"Happy Achilles," he cried, when the ceremony was finished; "who didst find a faithful friend to love thee during life, and a great poet to celebrate thee after death. The friend is here," he went on, [45] turning with an affectionate gesture to Hephaestion, "but the poet——" and he was thinking, it may be possible, of the unlucky Chœrilus.

Nothing adverse had occurred from morning to evening, but those who were responsible for the success of the operation had been profoundly anxious. Sentinels stood on the highest ground at the western end of the Hellespont, to watch the seas both toward the south and the west for the first signs of the approach of a hostile squadron, but not a sail was to be seen; and the tedious and dangerous operation of transferring the army from one continent to the other had been executed in safety. A squadron of agile Phœnician galleys, driven by resolute captains on that helpless crowd of transports, might have wrought irreparable damage, and even crushed the undertaking in its first stage. This would have been done if the Persian king had listened to his wisest counsellors; but it was not to be. Then, as ever, it was true, "Whom the gods will ruin they first strike with madness."

The army bivouacked that night, as it best could, on or near the shore. Next morning it marched past the king in battle array. A more perfect instrument of war the world had never seen. Skirmishers, light infantry, cavalry, all were as highly disciplined and as admirably equipped as the lavish expenditure of trouble and money could make them. But the irresistible strength of the force was in its famous [46] phalanx. Each division—there were six of them that passed that day under their general's eyes—had a front file of 128 men, while the files were sixteen deep. Every soldier in this compact body of more than two thousand men carried the huge Macedonian pike. It was twenty-two feet in length, being so weighted that the fifteen feet which projected beyond the bearer were fairly balanced by the six behind him. The pikes of the second rank, which stood three feet behind the first, projected twelve feet before the line, those of the third nine, of the fourth six, of the fifth three. The other ranks sloped their pikes upward, over the shoulders of their comrades, to form a sort of protection against missiles that might be discharged against them. The whole presented a most formidable appearance; and its appearance was not more formidable than its actual strength. It was cumbrous; it could not manœuvre with ease; it could not accommodate itself to difficult ground. But on ground of its own, and when it could bring its strength to bear, it was irresistible. The best infantry of Greece, though led by skilful generals, and fighting with desperate courage, had been crushed by it. Long afterwards, when the Macedonian army was but the shadow of its former self, the sight of the phalanx could still strike terror into the conquerors of the world.

[47] Alexander's eyes were lighted up with pride as the massive columns marched past him. "Nothing can resist them," he cried; "with these I shall conquer the world."


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