Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

. (page 16 of 22)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 16 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as helpful as possible, making roads for us, and supplying us with as
good food as they possessed.

FEBRUARY 7. - Yesterday I really thought that after all that I had gone
through, I was going to die of eating a mouthful of honey. We found a
great store of this in one of the Colchian villages that we came to, and
of course ate it freely. It was poisonous, at least to persons not used
to it. I know that I was desperately ill and so were many of my
comrades. Happily no one died. We reach Trapezus to-morrow. We are in
Greece again. Thanks be to Zeus and all the gods!


[72] For convenience' sake I have translated the dates of the Attic year
which Callias, of course, used with the corresponding days in our
reckoning. October 27 would be the "fifth day of the middle of
Boedromia." Each month was divided into three portions, often days each,
respectively called beginning, middle, and ending. The days of the last
were reckoned backwards. If this month had twenty-nine days only, the
third division had nine.



The worst severity of the winter was over when the army reached
Trapezus. The days were longer, for it was already half way between the
winter solstice and the spring equinox, and though the nights were still
bitterly cold, the sun was daily gaining power. Sometimes a breeze from
the west gave to the air quite a feeling of spring. Still Callias was
very thankful to find quarters in the city. He discovered but scarcely
with surprise, that as soon as he returned within the circle of Greek
influence, the credentials furnished him by Hippocles made life much
smoother for him. Trapezus was the very farthest outpost of
civilization; it was at least nine hundred miles from Athens, yet the
name of Hippocles seemed as well known and his credit as good as if it
had been the Piraeus itself. As soon as permission could be obtained to
enter the town - for the people of Trapezus, though kind and even
generous to the new arrivals, kept their gates jealously shut - Callias
made his way to the house of a citizen who was, he was told, the
principal merchant in the place. Nothing could have been warmer than the
welcome which he received, when he produced the slip of parchment to
which Hippocles had affixed his seal and signature.

"All I have is at your disposal," cried Demochares; this was the name of
the Trapezuntine merchant. "I cannot do too much for any friend of
Hippocles. You will, of course, take up your quarters with me; and any
advance that you may want, - unless," he added with a smile, "you have
learnt extravagance among the Persians, for we are not very rich here in
Trapezus - any advance within reason you have only to ask for."

The young Athenian ventured to borrow fifty gold pieces, astonishing his
new friend by the moderation of his demand. He knew that some of his
comrades, mercenaries who had not received an _obolus_ of pay for
several months, must be very badly off, and he was glad to make a slight
return for many little services that he had received, and acts of
kindness and good fellowship that had been done for him on the march. As
for hospitality, he begged to be allowed to postpone his answer till he
could consult his general.

"I don't like to leave you, sir," he said when he broached the subject
to Xenophon after their evening meal. "Why should I have the comforts of
a house, lie soft, and feed well, while you are sleeping on the ground,
and getting or not getting a meal, as good luck or bad luck will have

"My dear fellow," replied Xenophon, "there is no reason why you should
not take the good the gods provide you. You are not one of us; you never
have been. You came as a volunteer, and a volunteer you have remained.
You are perfectly free to do as you please. Besides, if you want
anything more to satisfy you, you are attached to my command, and I
formally give you leave."

Callias, accordingly, took up his quarters in the merchant's house.
Never was guest more handsomely treated. Demochares and his family were
never wearied of his adventures, a story which has indeed interested the
world ever since, and which to these Greeks of Trapezus had a meaning
which it had lost for us. Living as they did on the farthest boundaries
of the Greater Greece, the Greece of the colonies, they were keenly
alive to all that could be known about the barbarian world with which
they were brought in constant contact. The young Athenian, indeed, held
a sort of levee which was thronged day after day with visitors young and
old. All that he had to tell them about the Great King, on whose
dominions they were in some sort trespassers, and about the unknown
tribes who dwelt between the sea and the Persian capital, was eagerly
listened to. Pleasant as his sojourn was to himself, it was not without
some advantage to his old comrades. His host was an important person in
Trapezus, holding indeed the chief magistracy for the year, and he had
much to do with the liberal present of oxen, corn, and wine which the
town voted to the army.

A month passed in a sufficiently pleasant way. Meanwhile the army was
preparing to offer a solemn thanksgiving for the safe completion of the
most perilous part of its journey. The vows made at the moment of its
greatest danger were now to be paid, and paid, after the usual Greek
fashion, in a way that would combine religion and festivity. There was
to be a sacrifice; the sacrifice was to be followed by a feast, and the
feast again by a celebration which was, of course, in a great measure an
entertainment, but was also, in a way, a function of worship. Wrestlers,
boxers, and runners not only amused the spectators and contended for
glory and prizes, but were also supposed in some way to be doing honor
to the gods.

The sacrifice and the feast it is not necessary to describe. Necessarily
there was nothing very splendid or costly about them. The purses of the
soldiers were empty, though they had a good deal of property, chiefly in
the way of prisoners whom they had captured on the way, and whom they
would sell in the slave markets as the opportunity might come. Trapezus,
however, and the friendly Colchian tribes in the neighborhood furnished
a fair supply of sheep and oxen to serve as victims, and a sufficient
quantity of bread, wine, dried fruit and olive oil, this last being a
luxury which the Greeks had greatly missed during their march, and which
they highly appreciated. A few of the officers, the pious Xenophon among
them, went to the expense of gilding the horns of the beasts which were
their special offerings; but for the most part the arrangements were of
a plain and frugal kind.

The games had at least the merit of affording a vast amount of
entertainment to a huge multitude of spectators. They were celebrated,
it may be easily understood, under considerable difficulties, for
Trapezus did not possess any regular race course, and the only rings for
wrestling and boxing were within the walls, and therefore not available
on this occasion. By common consent the management of the affair was
handed over to a certain Dracontius. He was a Spartan, and to the
Spartans, who had been undisputed lords of Greece since the fall of
Athens, had been conceded a certain right of precedence on all such
occasions as these. Dracontius, too, was a man of superior rank to his
comrades. He belonged to one of the two royal houses of Sparta, but had
been banished from his country in consequence of an unlucky accident. In
one of the rough sports which the Spartan lads were accustomed to
practice, sports which were commonly a more or less close mimicry of
war, a blow of his dagger, dealt without evil intention but with a
criminal carelessness, had been fatal to a companion. Hence, from
boyhood, he had been an exile; cut off from the more honorable career to
which he might have looked forward in the service of his country, he had
been content to enlist as a mercenary.

Dracontius, accordingly, was made president of the games. The skins of
the sacrificed animals were presented to him, as his fee, and he was
asked to lead the way to the racecourse where the contests were to be

"Race course!" cried the Spartan, with the _brusquerie_ which it was the
fashion of his country to use, "Race course! What more do you want than
what we have here?"

A murmur of astonishment ran through the army. Indeed there could have
been nothing less like a race course than the ground on which they were
standing. It was the slope of a hill, a slope that sometimes became
almost precipitous. Most of it was covered with brushwood and heather.
Grass there was none, except here and there where it covered with a
treacherously smooth surface some dangerous quagmire. Here and there,
the limestone rock cropped up with jagged points.

"But where shall we wrestle?" asked Timagenes, an Arcadian athlete, who
had won the prize for wrestling two or three years before at the
Lithurian games, and who naturally considered himself as an authority
on the subject.

"Here of course," was the president's reply.

"But how can a man wrestle on ground so hard and so rough?" asked the
Arcadian, who had no idea of practising his art except in a regular

"Well enough," said Dracontius, "but those who are thrown will get worse

The wrestler's face fell and he walked off amid a general laugh. His
comrades fancied, not without reason, that he was a great deal too
careful of his person.

But if the ground, broken with rocks and overgrown with wood was not
suited to scientific wrestling, it certainly helped to make some of the
other sports more than usually amusing. The first contest was a mile
race for boys. Most of the competitors were lads who had been taken
prisoners on the march, but a few Colchians entered for the prize, as
did also two or three boys of Trapezus, who had the reputation of being
particularly fleet of foot. But the natives of the plain, still more the
inhabitants of the town, found themselves entirely outpaced on this
novel race course by the young mountaineers. A Carduchian came in first,
and was presented with his liberty, his master being compensated out of
the prize fund which had been subscribed by the army. As soon as he
understood that he was free, he set out at full speed in the direction
of his home. A true mountaineer, he sickened for his native hills, and
in the hope of seeing them again was ready to brave alone the perils
which an army had scarcely survived.

A foot race for men followed, but the distance to be traversed was,
according to the common custom of the great games, only two hundred
yards. There were as many as sixty competitors; but curiously enough,
they were to a man Cretans. Another foot race, this time for men in
heavy armor, was next run. The president had a Spartan's admiration for
all exercises that had a real bearing on military training, and the race
of the heavy armed was unquestionably one of these. It was won by a
gigantic Arcadian, an Ætolian whose diminutive stature made a curious
contrast to his competitor, coming in close behind him.

Next came the great event of the day, the "Contest of the Five
Exercises," or "Pentathlon." The five were leaping, wrestling, running,
quoit-throwing, and javelin-throwing. The competitor who won most
successes had the prize adjudged to him.[73] Callias had been trained
for some time at home with the intention of becoming a competitor at
Olympia; but various causes had hindered him from carrying out his
purpose, and, of course, he was now wholly out of practice. He was
sitting quietly among the spectators when he felt a hand upon his
shoulder and looking up, saw his general standing by.

"Stand up for the honor of Athens," said Xenophon, "don't let the men of
the Island[74] carry everything before them."

"But I am not in training," said Callias.

"You are in as good training, I fancy," replied the general, "as are any
of these; better I should say, to judge from the way in which they have
been eating and drinking since the retreat was ended. Besides, it is
only the boxers who absolutely require anything very severe in that way.
And you have youth."

Callias still made objections, but yielded when his general made the
matter a personal favor.

The competitors were five in number, the winner of the foot-race, the
tall Arcadian and his diminutive rival from Ætolia, two Achaeans, and

The first contest was leaping at the bar. Here the Arcadian's long legs
served him well. He was a singularly ungainly fellow, and threw himself
over the bar, if I may be allowed the expression, in a lump. Every time
the bar was raised, he managed just to clear it, though the spectators
could not understand how his clumsy legs, which seemed sprawling
everywhere, managed to avoid touching it. Still they did manage it, and
when he had cleared four cubits short of a palm, which may be translated
into the English measure of five feet nine inches, his rivals had to own
themselves beaten. Callias, who came second, declared that he had been
balked by the infamous playing of the flute player, whose music
according to the custom followed at Olympia, accompanied the jumping.
"The wretch," he declared to the friends who condoled with him on the
loss of what they had put down to him for a certainty, "the wretch
played a false note just as I was at my last trial. If I had not heard
him do the same at least half-a-dozen times before, I should have said
that he did it on purpose."

If chance or fraud had been against him in this trial, in the next he
was decidedly favored by fortune. This was the foot race. The course
was, as usual, round a post fixed about a hundred yards from the
starting point, and home again. Whenever a turn has to be made, a
certain advantage falls to the competitor who has the inner place, and
when, as in this case, the distance is short, the advantage is
considerable. The places were determined by lot. The innermost fell to
the Arcadian; Callias came next to him; fortunately for him, his most
dangerous competitor, the Cretan who had won the foot race, had the
outermost, _i. e._, the worst station. The Arcadian jumped away with a
lead, and for fifty yards managed, thanks to the long strides which his
long legs enabled him to take, to keep in front; but the effort was soon
spent; by the time that the turning point was reached, Callias had
gained enough upon him to attempt the dangerous manoeuvre of taking
his ground. If it had not been for this, he must have been beaten, for
the fleet-footed Cretan, weighted though he was by his disadvantageous
place, ran a dead heat with him.

In the quoit-throwing, the Arcadian's strength and stature brought him
to the front again. With us quoit-playing is a trial of skill as well as
of strength. The quoit is thrown at a mark, and the player who contrives
to go nearest to this mark, without touching it (for to touch it
commonly ends in disaster) wins. At the same time the throw does not
count unless the quoit either sticks into the ground or lies flat upon
it with the right side uppermost. In the Greek game there were no
requirements of this kind. The quoit was a huge mass of metal with
notches by which it could be conveniently grasped, or, sometimes, a hole
in the middle through which a leather strap or wooden handle could be
put. He who threw it farthest was the winner. Some little knack was
required, as is indeed the case in every feat of strength, and, as has
been said before, stature was the chief qualification. The Arcadian
hurled the quoit, a mass of iron weighing ten pounds, to the vast
distance of forty-two feet. None of his rivals came near him. As he had
now won two events out of three, and his gigantic height and weight
would make him, to say the least, a formidable opponent in the
wrestling, he was a favorite for the prize. His Arcadian countrymen, who
formed, as has been said, a large proportion of the army, were in high
hope, and staked sums that were far beyond their means on his success.

The quoit-throwing was followed by hurling the javelin at a mark. Here
the Arcadian was hopelessly distanced, for here skill was as much wanted
as strength had been in the preceding trial. He threw the javelin indeed
with prodigious force, but threw it wholly wide of the mark. Indeed,
when he was performing, the near neighborhood of the mark would have
been the safest place to stand. The spectators were more than once in
danger of their lives, so at random and at the same time so vigorous
were his strokes. The first mark was a post rudely fashioned into the
figure of a man. To hit the head was the best aim that could be made; to
hit a space marked out upon the body and roughly representing the heart
was the next; the third in merit was a blow that fell on some other part
of the body. The legs counted for nothing. Callias and the Cretan scored
precisely the same. The Athenian hit the head twice, scoring six for the
two blows. The third time his javelin missed altogether. The Cretan, on
the other hand, in his three strokes hit the third, second, and the
first places successively, scoring for them one, two, and three
respectively. Further trials of skill were now given. A wand about three
fingers wide was set up at a distance of twelve yards. The Cretan's
javelin pierced it, making it, as may be supposed, an exceedingly
difficult thing for a rival to equal, much more to surpass the
performance. But Callias was equal to the occasion. Amid tumultuous
applause from the spectators, for his courtesy and carriage had made him
a great favorite, he hurled his javelin with such accuracy that he split
that which was already sticking in the mark. Again the Cretan and he
were pronounced to have made a tie.

The two Achaeans and the Ætolian did creditably, scoring five each. As
they had failed in four out of the five contests, the prize was clearly
out of their reach, and they stood out of the last competition, the

And now came the last and deciding struggle. Here again fortune
decidedly favored the Athenian. The president, following the rule always
observed at Olympia, ordered three lots marked A, B, and C, and
representing respectively Callias, the Arcadian, and the Cretan, to be
put into an urn. The two first drawn were to contend in the first heat,
the third was to have what is technically called a "bye." The "bye" fell
to the lot of Callias, and with it, it need hardly be said, the not
inconsiderable advantage of coming fresh to contend with a rival who had
undergone the fatigue of a previous struggle.

The issue of the contest between the Arcadian and the Cretan was not
long in doubt. The latter was an agile fellow, who would have had a
very good chance with "light-weights," to use again a technical term, if
the competitors had been so classed, as indeed they are by the customs
of the modern wrestling ring. But against his gigantic opponent he had
scarcely a chance. In the first bout the Arcadian lifted his antagonist
clean from the ground, and threw him down at full length without more
ado. The second was more equal. The Cretan struck his antagonist's left
ankle so sharply with his foot that the giant fell, but he could not
loose the other's hold, and fell also, scoring only the advantage of
being the uppermost. If there had been a tie in the other two bouts this
might have sufficed to give him the victory, or the president might have
ordered a fresh trial. But the third bout was decisive. It was in fact a
repetition of the first, only, if possible, still more decisive. The
Cretan was again lifted from the ground, before he had the chance of
practising any of his devices, and again hurled at full length upon the
ground. This time he was stunned, and carried insensible from the ground
by his companions.

A brief interval was now allowed. It was thought unfair that the
Arcadian should be called upon to engage a fresh antagonist without some
chance of resting himself. But what was meant for an advantage turned
out to be exactly the contrary. The man was not particularly tired, but
he was exceedingly thirsty, and he had not learnt the habit of
self-control. Regardless of the remonstrance of his companions, he
indulged himself with a huge goblet of wine and water. So imprudent was
he indeed that he put less water than was usual in the mixture, and
slightly confused his brain by the potency of the draught. When he came
forth to meet his antagonist, he had not only damaged his wind but had
made his footing somewhat unsteady. Three bouts, as before, were fought.
The Arcadian first tried the simple tactics which had been successful
with the Cretan. He did his best to lift the Athenian from the ground,
and Callias had all he could do to prevent it. But his weight and his
strength, which he made the most of by his coolness, stood him in good
stead. After a fierce struggle both fell together, and fell in such a
way that the president declared that neither had gained any advantage.
Practically, however, the victory was decided in favor of Callias. The
Arcadian's strength was impaired, and he was so scant of breath that he
could not use what was left to him. And he had little skill to fall back
upon, whereas his antagonist had been the favorite pupil of one of the
best trainers in Athens. In the second bout Callias struck the Arcadian
on the right foot with his own left; in the third he simply reversed the
device, striking the left with his right. In both he contrived to free
himself when his opponent fell. Thus the fifth contest ended for him in
an unquestioned victory.

The prize of victory was an ox and a purse of twenty-five gold pieces,
for soldiers who fought for pay would not have relished the barren honor
of a wreath of wild olive with which the Olympian judges were accustomed
to reward the victors. Callias won golden opinions from his comrades by
the liberality with which he disposed of his gains. The ox he presented
to the company to which he had been attached; the money he divided, in
such proportion as seemed right, among the unsuccessful competitors.

One more contest remained, and it turned out to be the most
entertaining of them all. This was a horse race. The competitors were to
make their way from the hill-top to the shore and back again. The
headlong, break-neck speed at which they galloped down, and the slow and
painful effort by which they crawled back again, were witnessed with
inextinguishable laughter by the assembled crowds. Xenophon himself took
a part in this sport, and gained great favor not only by his
condescension but by his skillful riding. He did not win indeed, for the
animal which he rode was hopelessly inferior, but his performance did
not discredit the land which claimed by the bounty of the god of the sea
to have been the birthplace of the horse.[75] The piety of Xenophon
always ready to show itself, did not fail to improve the occasion of his
young friend's success.

"You have gained the prize," he said in a tone of the deepest
earnestness, "nor did you fail to deserve it. Prize it the more because
it is manifest that the gods favor you. Youth and strength pass away,
but piety you can cherish always, and cherishing piety, you have also
the favor of the gods."


[73] According to some accounts no competitor was crowned unless he was
successful in all. But victory in five exercises so dissimilar could
seldom, if ever, have been gained. Quoit-throwing, for instance,
corresponding to our "putting the stone," required lofty stature and
great muscular strength, and would very seldom be the specialty of a
very fleet runner.

[74] The Island of Pelops or Peloponnesus.

[75] The legend was that Poseidon and Athene contended together for the
honor of being the patron Deity of Attica. This was to be adjudged to
the Power which should present it with the most useful gift. Poseidon
struck the ground with his trident, and produced the horse; Athene bade
the olive spring forth, and was judged to have surpassed her rival.
Reference is made to this legend in the most beautiful of the choral
odes of Sophocles, the "Praise of Colonas" in the second of the two
plays in the Story of Oedipus.



Its religious obligations discharged, for the games, as has been already
said, were regarded as a service of thanksgiving for deliverance, the
army turned its attention to secular affairs. One indispensable duty,
one curiously characteristic, by the way, of the Greek soldier's temper
of mind, was to call the generals to account. For a Greek soldier, even

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 16 of 22)