Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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used to call his wife; but his real wife was an Athenian lady,
Hipparete, I have heard say."

"Yes," interrupted Callias, "I knew her; a cousin of my own; a most
unhappy marriage. But go on."

"Well, Pharnabazus received him most hospitably. There was no good house
in the village, so we had three cottages. Alcibiades had one; the
secretary and I another, and the slaves, a third. Every day the satrap
sent a handsome supply of provisions for us; dishes and wine from his
own table for my master, and for us all that we could want for
ourselves. I never fared better in my life. And my master had long talks
with him and seemed in excellent spirits. Everything was going on as
well as possible. Then there came a change. I never could find out
whether my master had heard anything to make him suspicious. If he had,
he certainly told the secretary nothing about it. But he was very much
depressed. First he sent Timandra away. She was very unwilling to go,
poor lady, for she did love my master very much, though, as I say, she
was not really his wife. But my master insisted on it, so she went away
to stay with some friends. After that his spirits grew worse and worse.
He used to tell his secretary the dreams he had. Once he dreamt he was
dressed in Timandra's clothes, and that she was putting rouge and powder
on his face. At another time he seemed to see himself laid on a funeral
pyre and the people standing round ready to set it on fire. The very
night after he had that dream we were awakened by a tremendous uproar;
the secretary and I got up and looked out. The master's cottage, which
was about a stadium[58] away from ours was on fire, and there were a
number of Persians, about fifty or sixty, standing round it, shouting
out and cursing him. The next moment we saw the door of the cottage
open, and the master ran out with a cloak round his head, to keep
himself from being choked by the smoke, and with a sword in his hand. As
soon as he was clear of the burning cottage he threw down the cloak and
rushed straight at the nearest Persian. The man turned and ran. There
was not one of them that dared stand for a moment. But they shot at him
with arrows. They had fastened the gates of the enclosure in which the
cottages stood, you must understand, so that he could not escape. In
fact he was climbing over one of them when he was killed."

"And you; what did you do?"

"Ah! sir," cried the man, "we were helpless, we had not a sword between
us. We hid ourselves, and the next morning took our master's body and
carried it to Timandra. She made a great funeral, spending upon it, poor
thing, nearly every drachma she had. When we had seen the last of my
dear master, the secretary said that he had friends at Tarsus, and set
out to go there. I thought that I had best make my way to Smyrna. Thanks
to your goodness, I shall now be able to get there, but I was very
nearly dying of starvation. But what, if I may ask, are you thinking of

"That I can't tell," replied the Athenian; "as I told you, I was on my
way to Alcibiades."

"Well, sir, I can tell you this," rejoined the stranger, "no friends of
my master's will be safe here. Pharnabazus, I feel sure, had no great
love for him, notwithstanding all his politeness; as for the Spartans,
they hated him; and I did hear that the people who are now in power at
Athens had sent to say that peace could not last unless he were put out
of the way. Yes, sir, if anyone recognizes that you are my master's
friend, you are a dead man."

"Why," said Callias, "I have made no secret of it. In Smyrna I spoke
about him to the people with whom I was staying. No one said a word
against him."

"Very likely not," replied the man, "for they thought that he was alive,
and no one liked to have my master for an enemy. He had a wonderful way
of making friends to have the upper hand and contriving that his
adversaries should have the worst of it. But now that he is dead you
will find things very different."

"What is to be done?" asked the young Athenian.

"Can you trust your guide?"

"I know nothing of the man. I simply hired him because I was told that
he was a fairly honest fellow, knew the country very well, and would not
run away if a robber made his appearance."

"Well, then get rid of him."

"But how?"

"Tell him that you have a headache, and that you will come on after him
when you have rested a little and the sun is not so hot, and that he had
better go on, get quarters at the next stage and have everything ready
for you when you shall arrive. As soon as he is gone, get back as fast
as you can to Smyrna. The news will hardly have reached that place yet,
indeed we may be sure that it has not, or you would have heard of it
before you started. Go down to the docks, and take your passage in any
ship that you can find ready to start. Even if it is going to Athens
never mind; you will be able to leave it on the way. Anyhow, get out of
Asia at any risk."

"And you?"

"Oh, no one will care about me. I am a very insignificant person. But,
as a matter of fact, I shall try to get to Syracuse. I was born there."

"Syracuse will do as well for me as any other place. Why not come with
me if it can be managed? I was able to do you a little service, and you
have done me a great one. Let us go together."

The plan was carried out with the greatest success. Callias made the
best of his way to Smyrna, and left his horse at an inn, not, of
course, the one from which he had started. As he had plenty of money for
immediate wants, besides letters of credit from Hippocles, he thought it
safer not to attempt to sell the animal. He then provided himself with
different clothes, purchasing at the same time a suit for his new
acquaintance. These he ordered to be sent to a small house of
entertainment near the docks which they had arranged should be the place
of meeting. Shortly before sunset the man appeared. Meanwhile Callias
had arranged for a passage for himself and his servant in a ship bound
for Corinth. They would not venture into Corinth itself, but would
transfer themselves at the port of Cenchreae into some ship bound for

Before the morning of the next day the two were on their way westward.
Everything went well. At Cenchreae they found a Syracusan merchantman
just about to start, shipped on board her and after a prosperous voyage
found themselves in the chief city of Sicily.


[58] A stadium was nearly a furlong; to be exact, 202 yards.



It was with no common emotion that the young Athenian entered the great
harbor of Syracuse. It was here that the really fatal blow had been
struck from which his country had never recovered. She had struggled
gallantly on for nearly ten years after she had lost the most
magnificent armament that she had ever sent forth, but the wound had
been mortal. Thenceforward she had been as a man of whose life-blood a
half had been drained away. Callias had read, shortly before leaving
Athens for the last time, the magnificent passage, then recently
published, in which the great historian of Athens had described the
decisive battle in the harbor.[59] The sight of the place now enabled
him to realize it to himself in the most vivid way. He seemed to see the
hostile fleets crowded together in a way for which there was no
precedent, two hundred war galleys in a space so narrow that manoeuvre
was impossible, and nothing availed but sheer fighting and hard blows;
while the shores seemed alive again as they had been on that eventful
day with a crowd of eager spectators, the armies of the two contending
powers, who looked on with passionate cries and gestures at such a
spectacle as human eyes had scarcely witnessed before, a mighty
war-game in which their own liberties and lives were the stake. The
heights that ran above the harbor were scarcely less significant. There,
its remains still visible, had been the Athenian line of investment. If
only a few yards more had been completed, the young man thought to
himself, the whole course of history might have been changed.[60] Not
far away was the spot where the sturdy infantry of Thebes had withstood
the fiery shock of his own countrymen, and so, not for the first time,
wrested from them the empire that seemed almost within their grasp.[61]
And somewhere - no one knew where - his own father had fallen, one of the
thousands of noble victims who had been sacrificed to the greed and
ambition of a restless democracy.

The noble house of which Callias was the representative had, of course,
its hereditary guest-friend at Syracuse. Naturally there had been very
little intercourse between citizens of the two states in late years; but
the old tie remained unbroken, and Medon, for that was the Syracusan's
name, was as ready to give a hospitable welcome to the young Athenian,
as if he had been a citizen of one of his country's allies, a merchant
prince of Corinth, or a scion of one of the two royal houses of Sparta.
He insisted upon his guest taking up his quarters in his house, and
exerted himself to the utmost to supply and even anticipate every want.

"Now you have seen something of the outside of our city," said Medon to
his friend as they sat together after the evening meal on the third day
after his arrival, "you should know something of its politics. But first
let me make sure that we are alone."

The dining chamber in which the two were sitting had an ante-room. The
door of this the Syracusan proceeded to bolt.

"Now," he said, "we shall have no eavesdroppers. Any inquisitive friend
may listen at that other door, with all this space between us and him,
without getting much idea of what we are talking about. All the other
walls are outer walls, as you know, and unless a certain great personage
has the birds of the air in his pay, we may talk without reserve. You
look surprised. Well, you will understand things a little better when
you have heard what I have to tell you. You know something, I suppose,
of what has been happening here of late years. The fact is we have been
going through an awful time. No sooner were we free of the danger that
you put us in - you must pardon me for alluding to it - than we were
confronted with another which was every whit as formidable. Another
wretched quarrel between two towns in the island - curiously enough the
very same two that were concerned in your expedition against
us[62] - brought in a foreign invader. This time it was the
Carthaginians. They had had settlements in the island for many years,
had always coveted the dominion of the whole, and more than once had
been very near getting it. They were not far from success this time.
First they took Selinus and massacred every creature in it; then they
took Acragas;[63] then they utterly destroyed Himera. Something made
them hold their hands, and we had a short breathing space. Four years
afterwards they came back in greater force than ever. Acragas was
besieged; it held out bravely, but at last the population had to leave
it; only Syracuse was left. Again when in the full tide of victory, the
Carthaginians held their hand. Do you ask me why? I cannot tell you. But
listen to the fourth article of the treaty of peace." In spite of the
precautions that he had taken against being overheard, Medon, at this
point lowered his voice. "Syracuse is to be under the rule of Dionysius.
Yes; the secret is there; it was he that made it worth their while to
go; and you may be sure that it was worth his while to buy them off. I
must allow that he was the only man who showed a grain of sense or
courage in the whole matter; the other generals as they were called were
hopelessly imbecile. Well, they went, and Dionysius became, shall we
call it, 'commander-in-chief,' or perhaps as we are quite alone,
'tyrant?' He had not an easy time of it at first; I don't suppose that
he will ever have an easy time, tyrants seldom do. The nobles and the
heads of the democratic party leagued together against him, and drove
him out. That did not last long. Of course the conquerors used their
victory most brutally. They were furious that Dionysius had slipped out
of their hands, and wreaked their vengeance on his poor wife. I can't
tell you the horrible way in which they killed her. She was the
daughter, too, of Hermocrates, one of the very best and noblest men
that Syracuse ever had. Equally of course they quarrelled over the
spoils. Naturally, before long they had nothing left to quarrel over.
Dionysius hired a force of Campanian mercenaries, the hardest hitters,
by the way, that I ever saw, and drove them out of the city. Now, I
fancy, he is pretty firmly seated. The people like him; they were never
as fit, you must know, for popular government as yours are. He gives
them plenty of employment and amusements, wrings the money out of us
with a tight hand, and scatters it among them with an open one. Of
course a dagger may reach him, and there are not a few that are kept
ready sharpened for the chance. Barring that, he is likely to be master
here as long as he lives. And to tell you the truth, though personally I
hate the idea, as any noble must - it is the nobles that always hate a
tyrant most - yet I do not see that anything could be better for
Syracuse. The Carthaginian danger is not over yet, and Dionysius is the
very ablest soldier and administrator that we have. Of course the pinch
will come later. A ruler of this sort always becomes harder, more cruel,
more suspicious as he grows older. And if he has a son, brought up in
the bad atmosphere of tyranny, the country has a terrible time of it.
Happily the son is generally a fool, and brings the whole thing down
with a crash. But all this is far off. Dionysius is still a young man,
not more than twenty-six years old, I fancy. However, you shall see
him - we are very good friends in public - and judge for yourself."

Callias, who had the hereditary abhorrence of his race for anything
like tyranny,[64] demurred at the proposed introduction to the despot.
Medon was very urgent in overruling his objection. "Don't mistake Sicily
for Greece," he said; "we are half barbarous, and what would be
monstrous with you is quite in its right place here. I grant you that an
honest man should have no dealings with a tyrant who should set himself
up at Thebes, or Corinth, or Argos. But it is different here. I am sure
that the man governs us better than we should be governed by the people,
or, for the matter of that, by the nobles either."

At last the Athenian consented. "Very good," cried Medon, "you will go.
Then we will lose no time about it. Depend upon it, Dionysius knows all
about you; and if you do not pay your respects to him without loss of
time he will be suspicious. Suspicion is the bane of his situation.
Servant, friend, wife; he trusts nobody."

The next day Medon and his guest presented themselves at the palace. The
Athenian had half turned back when he found that he must be searched. No
one was admitted into the presence until that precaution had been taken,
and his freeman's pride revolted. Medon simply shrugged his shoulders.
"He is quite right," he whispered to his indignant friend, "he would not
live a month if he did not do it."

Dionysius was, or pretended to be, busy with his studies, when the two
visitors were announced. A slave was reading to him from a roll, and he
was taking notes on a wax tablet. He welcomed the newcomers with much

"So, Medon, you have brought your Athenian friend at last. I hope that
you have not been slandering me to him."

"My lord," answered Medon with a courtly bow, "I have told him the
history of the last five years, and have taken him to see Syracuse. That
is not the way to slander you."

"Good," said Dionysius, "I shall have you a courtier yet."

He then turned to the Athenian, asked him a few questions, all with the
nicest tact, about his movements, and finally named a time when he
should be at leisure to have some real conversation with him.

"Believe me," he said, "I honor the Athenians more than any other people
in Greece; a strange thing you may think for a Syracusan to say, but it
is true."

Certainly when Callias presented himself at the appointed time,
everything that his royal host had said seemed to bear out this
assurance. "After to-day," he said, "politics shall be banished from our
talk. Don't suppose for a moment that if I had been a citizen of Athens,
I should have attempted, that I should even have wished, to be what I am
here. But Syracuse is not capable of being what Athens is. Even you find
liberty a little hard to manage sometimes. Here it is a farce, only a
very bloody farce. Listen to what happened to my father-in-law,
Hermocrates. There never was an abler man in the country. If it had not
been for him, I verily believe that you would have conquered us. He
saved the city; and then, a little time afterwards, because he did not
do what ten years before no one would have dreamt of doing, that is,
conquer you Athenians in a sea-fight, they banished him. Can you imagine
such ingratitude, such folly? Well; he was not disposed to put up with
it; he saw what I see, that the Syracusans are not fit to govern
themselves, and if it had not been for an accident, perhaps I ought
rather to say his own reckless courage, he would have been in my place
now.[65] What he intended to do I have done. I saved Syracuse as he
saved her from Athens; and I dare say that in a year or two my grateful
countrymen would have banished me as they banished him. Only I have been
beforehand with them. So much for politics; now let us talk of something
more pleasant and more profitable."

"Tell me now, do you know one Socrates in your city, a very wise man
they tell me?"

"Yes, I know him well."

"And he is wise?"

"Yes, indeed; there is no one like him; and so the god thought, for the
Pythia declared him to be the wisest of men."

"I should dearly like to see him. Do you think it likely that he would
come here, if I were to invite him? I would make it worth his while."

"I fear there is no chance of it. He never leaves Athens; never has left
it except when he served abroad with the army, and as for money, he is
quite careless about it."

"But he takes a fee for his teaching, I suppose."

"Not a drachma."

"Well, that astonishes me. Why, Georgias would not teach anyone for less
than half a talent, and has got together, I suppose, a pretty heap of
money by this time. But, perhaps, if I could not get the great man
himself, I might get one of his disciples. Whom do men reckon to be the
first among them?"

"I think that one Plato is the most famous. He was a poet when he was
quite young, indeed he is young now, and had a great reputation; but he
has given up poetry for philosophy."

"That seems a pity. I don't see why a man should not be both poet and
philosopher. I am a little of both myself. Can you remember anything
that he has written?"

"Yes; there was an epigram which everyone was repeating when I left
Athens. It was written for the tomb of one of his fellow disciples."

"Let me hear it."

Callias repeated,

"In life like Morning star thy shining head;
And now the star of Evening 'mid the dead."

"Very pretty indeed. I have something very like it of my own. Would you
like to hear it?"

Callias of course politely assented and expressed as much admiration as
his conscience permitted, possibly a little more, for the composition
was vapid and clumsy.

But though Dionysius was an indifferent composer, he had really a very
strong interest in literary matters. Personal vanity had something to do
with it, for he was fully convinced of his own abilities in this way;
but he had a genuine pleasure in talking on the subject. This was
indeed the first of many conversations which the young Athenian had
with him. Politics were never mentioned again, but poetry, the drama,
indeed every kind of literary work, supplied topics of unfailing
interest. The drama was, perhaps, the despot's favorite topic. He had
received not long before Callias' arrival, a copy of the play which was
described in my first chapter, and was never tired of asking questions
about various points of interest in it. It soon became evident that his
special ambition lay in this direction.

"So, now that your two great men are gone," he said to the young
Athenian, "you have no man of really the first rank among your

"I should say not," replied Callias. "Some think well of Iophon, who is
the son of Sophocles. Others say that he would be nothing without his
father. They declare that the old man helped him when he was alive, and
that what he has brought out since his father's death is really not his

"Well," said Dionysius, "the stock will be exhausted before long. And
there is no one, you say, besides him?"

"No one, certainly of any reputation."

"Then there would be a chance for an outsider? But would a dramatist
that was not an Athenian be allowed to exhibit?"

"I know nothing to the contrary. But I do not know that there has ever
been a case. Anyhow it would be easy to exhibit in the name of a

"An excellent idea! I shall certainly manage it somehow. The first
prize at your festival would be almost as well worth having as the
tyranny itself."[66]

It is not surprising that a ruler who cherished such tastes should have
reckoned a library among the ornaments which were to make Syracuse the
most splendid among Greek cities. In his Athenian guest he believed
himself to have found a competent agent for carrying this purpose into
effect; and Callias was in truth a well educated person who knew what
books were worth buying. He was well acquainted with the literature of
his own country and had a fairly competent knowledge of what had been
produced elsewhere in Greece. For the next three years it was his
employment, and one, on the whole not uncongenial to his tastes, to
collect volumes for Dionysius. In Sicily there was little culture, but
the Greek cities of Italy furnished a more fertile field. There was not
indeed much in the way of _belles-lettres_. Works of this kind had to be
imported for the most part, either from Athens, or from Lesbos, where
the traditions of the school of Sappho and Alcæus were not extinct, but
books on philosophy and science, could be secured in considerable
numbers. At Crotona, for instance, Callias was fortunate enough to
secure a valuable scientific library which had been for some years in
the family of Democedes, while at Tarentum he purchased a handsome
collection of treatises by teachers of the school of Pythagoras.

This occupation was varied in the second year of his residence by an
interesting mission to Rome. That city, the rising greatness of which so
keen an observer as Dionysius was able to discern, was at this time
sorely distressed by a visitation of famine, and had applied far and
wide for help. The harvests of Sicily had been remarkably abundant, and
Dionysius sent a magnificent present of a hundred thousand bushels of
wheat, putting Callias in charge of the mission.

In spite of these honorable and not distasteful employments the young
Athenian did not greatly like his position. It would indeed have been
scarcely endurable to a soul that had been reared in an atmosphere of
liberty, but for the fact that his work took him much away from
Syracuse. Dionysius was all courtesy and generosity in his dealings with
him; but he was a tyrant; there was iron under his velvet glove. It was
therefore with a considerable feeling of relief that in the early spring
of the third (or according to classical reckoning) the fourth year after
the fall of Athens, he received a missive from Xenophon couched in the
following terms.[67]

"Meet me at Tarsus with all the speed you can. Great things lie before
us, of which you will hear more at the proper time. Farewell."

Leave of absence was obtained with some difficulty, and towards the end
of June, Callias found himself at the appointed place.


[59] See Thucydides, VII. 71.

[60] A very small space yet remained to be erected when Gylippus and his
Lacedaemonians broke through, relieved Syracuse, and practically decided
the issue of the campaign.

[61] Coronea (447) and Delium (424) had been defeats inflicted by the
Boeotians on the Athenian army at very critical periods when the
victory of the latter must have had very far reaching results.

[62] The two were Selinus and Egesta.

[63] Commonly known by its Latinized name of Agrigentum.

[64] Tyranny, in its Greek sense, it may be explained, is the

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 13 of 22)