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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

PORUS AND HIS ELEPHANT

[338] THE Macedonians had now for some time been longing to march homeward rather than into new and unknown lands. But Alexander's ambition was not yet satisfied, and in 327 B.C. he determined to march into India, to add that land also to his conquests.

The army was laden with booty, and the king saw that unless it were left behind the men would not be able to march. It would be no easy matter to make the soldiers give up their plunder, but Alexander knew well how to manage men.

He ordered all his own share of plunder, all his unnecessary clothing, almost all his ornaments, to be burned. His courtiers did as they saw their king do, and when the soldiers were ordered to follow Alexander's example, they did so without a murmur, while some even cheered.

Without the plunder the soldiers marched easily, and soon reached the Punjab, where the king of the district brought to Alexander's aid five thousand men.

The army marched on unopposed, until it came to the river Hydaspes, or as we call it now the Jhelum. Here it was forced to halt, for on the opposite bank was a powerful Indian king, named Porus, and a large army.

Porus had with him a number of elephants, and when they trumpeted, the horses of the Macedonians took flight. The banks of the river were slippery, and the enemy was ready with arrows, should the king order his army to cross the river.

[339] Alexander had made up his mind to cross the Hydaspes, but first he wished to put Porus off his guard.

So night after night, by the king's orders, a trumpet called the cavalry to march. It advanced always to the edge of the river, while Porus, thinking the whole army was going to cross, commanded his elephants to be moved to the bank, and his great hosts to be drawn up ready for battle.

Hour after hour the Indians waited, but the Macedonians never attempted to cross, and so they grew listless and each night less vigilant. Even Porus began to think the Macedonians must be cowards, and he paid less and less attention to their movements. This was what Alexander had expected would happen.

But one stormy night, when the Indians were off their guard, the king with part of his army crossed to a wooded island that lay in the middle of the river. It was a terrible night. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and several of Alexander's men were killed as they struggled breast high in the water. With great difficulty the others reached the farther side, to find that Porus had realised his danger. A thousand horsemen and sixty armed chariots awaited the daring king. But Alexander captured the chariots and slew four hundred of the cavalry.

The whole Macedonian army had now joined the king and a desperate battle was fought. Hour after hour the conflict raged, neither side gaining the victory.

At length, when the elephants were dead or their riders slain, when the Indians were flying in every direction, Porus knew that the day was lost.

Yet he disdained to flee and fought on, seated upon an elephant of enormous size, for he himself was more than six feet in height. Only when he was wounded in his shoulder, did he turn to ride away from the field.

It is told that while the battle was raging the elephant took the greatest care of his master. And when the animal saw that the king was faint from his wounds, he knelt down [340] carefully that Porus might not fall. Then with his trunk he drew out the darts that were left in the body of the king.

Alexander had seen how bravely his enemy had fought. As he watched him riding from the field, he thought he would like to speak with so great a warrior, and he sent to ask him to return. He himself went out to meet the king, and was amazed at his great height and at his beauty.

When Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated, he answered, "As a king."

"For my own sake I will do that," replied the great king; "ask a boon for thy sake."

"That," said Porus, "containeth all."

As was his way, Alexander treated the fallen king right royally, giving back to him his kingdom and adding to it new territories.

Two cities were built close to the battlefield. One was named Bucephala, after Alexander's famous horse which, some say, was wounded and died after the battle. But others tell that Bucephalus had died shortly before the battle of old age, for he had lived for thirty years. The king grieved for the loss of his noble steed as for the loss of a friend.

This terrible battle made the Macedonians still more unwilling to advance farther into India.

Before them lay a desert which would take eleven days to cross. The soldiers could not face a long march in a strange land, without water and without guides.

When Alexander ordered the army to advance, the Macedonians who had followed him loyally through every difficulty, refused to obey.

Nothing he could say would make them advance a step farther.

"There they stood, looking hard at the ground with tears trickling down their cheeks, yet resolute still not to go forward."

Then Alexander dismissed them in anger. But the next [341] day he sent for them again and told them that he was going to advance. They, if they chose to forsake him in a hostile land, could go back to Macedon.

Still in anger the king left them and went to his tent, and shut himself up for two days, refusing to see any of his companions.

Perhaps he thought his obstinate Macedonians would yield. But although it grieved them to thwart their king, the soldiers remained firm.

On the third day Alexander left his tent and offered sacrifices to the gods, as he always did before beginning a new adventure. But the signs were unfavourable, and against this the king was not proof. So he sent to tell the army that he had determined to lead them in the direction of home.

In a transport of joy the faithful Macedonians hastened to the king's tent. Some of them wept as they thanked "the unconquered king that he had permitted himself to be conquered for once by his Macedonians."


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