Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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enough to pay for our day's pay, I warrant you.

"Well, we went on fighting for Seuthes for two months till we had
conquered the whole countryside for him. Then the conquered tribes
flocked to him - give a Thracian plenty to eat and drink and good pay and
he will fight in any quarrel - till he did not want any more. That
perhaps was not to be wondered at, but, like the mean hound that he was,
he tried to get out of paying us.

"Just at this moment when I thought that we should have to settle with
the sword for judge, Sparta declared war against the Persians and wanted
all the men she could get. So Thuisbron, their commander-in-chief, came
over and engaged the men at the same rate of pay that Seuthes was giving
or rather promising. We never got anything but a wretched fragment from
the King.

"By this time I had had about enough of campaigning of this fashion. Not
a drachma had I made. In fact I was poorer than when I set out. I had
even to sell my favorite horse, but Thuisbron bought it back for me.

"Just at the last I had a stroke of luck. That is another story I must
tell you some day. But fortunately we took prisoners a Persian noble
with his wife and children, his horses and cattle and all that he had.
The next day I left the army, but before I went they gave me the pick of
the beasts of all kinds. It was a handsome present, I can tell you."

"So, on the whole," said Callias, "you came pretty well out of the
business. You returned at least not poorer than you went, you have won
for yourself a name which those who come after us will not, I take it,
forget, and you helped, at least, to save the lives of many Greeks from
perishing shamefully by the hands of the barbarians. Are you not

"Yes," replied Xenophon, "all the more content on account of one thing
you have not mentioned. For this indeed pleases me in the matter that we
Greeks have now found a way by which we may both go to the capital of
the Persians and return therefrom. Verily, I sometimes wish we had not
been so eager to retreat, but had stopped and made ourselves masters of
the country of our enemies. Perhaps we were not strong enough; but, if I
can see so far into the future, some one will do this hereafter, and
Greece will be avenged of all that she has suffered at the hands of the

"The Master will be glad," Callias went on after a pause.

The "Master" of course was Socrates. Xenophon looked at the young man
with some surprise.

"You seem very confident on this point. He indeed was always somewhat
doubtful, and certainly there are great difficulties when you come to
look into it a little more closely."

"I really do not know what you mean," answered Callias; "you have seen
him I suppose, for you have been in Athens several days and know what he

For a few moments Xenophon stared at the speaker in utter perplexity.
Then a light broke in upon him. "What," he cried, "you do not know? You
have not heard?"

"Know what? Have heard what? You speak in riddles."

"That he is dead."

The young man covered his face with his hands. After a few minutes he
recovered calmness enough to speak. "No, indeed, I did not know it. I
never thought of such a thing. He seemed so full of life and vigor. Yet
he must have been an old man, not far from seventy I suppose, for he was
more than forty at Delium.[84] Tell me of what did he die?"

"They killed him."

"Killed him! Who killed him?"

"The people of Athens."


[80] The last scene of his life is described by Xenophon. I give the
passage with some explanation. When he drank the fatal cup he threw the
dregs on the floor with the peculiar jerk given in playing the game of
Cottabos. This game had several forms; but the feature common to them
all was the heaving of wine out of a cup. Sometimes the object seems to
have been a kind of fortune telling. A guest when he had finished his
cup would jerk out any dregs that might be left. At the same time he
named the guest who was to drink next, and the sound made by the drops
falling was supposed to give some omen good or bad. "To the gracious
Critias," said Theramenes. It was to be a prophecy of his fate. As a
matter of fact Critias fell a few weeks afterward in a battle with
Thrasybulus and the exiles of the democratic party.

[81] It was usual to kick not to knock with the hand.

[82] About $18,000.

[83] Something less than $6.

[84] The battle of Delium (between the Boeotians and the Athenians)
was fought in 424. The precise age of Socrates at the time of his death
was seventy.



It is not too much to say that the young man was prostrated by the news
which he had just heard, for the blow fell upon him with a suddenness
that seemed to increase the pain tenfold. He had not been indeed on the
same intimate terms of friendship with the great philosopher as the
older disciples, Crito, Simmias, Cebes, Phaedo and others had been. But
he had regarded him with an affection and admiration that was nothing
less than enthusiastic; and he had looked forward to getting his advice
about the future conduct of his life with a hopeful eagerness that made
disappointment very bitter. To find himself in Athens after all the
vicissitudes of fortune through which he had passed, and to learn that
the man without whom Athens scarcely seemed itself, was lost to him
forever, was a terrible shock. Xenophon's sorrow had not been less keen,
but he had been prepared for his loss by at least a few days' previous
knowledge. The news had reached him while he was on his way, and the
first shock was over when he landed. But there had been nothing to break
the news to Callias. He felt as a son might feel who returns home after
a long absence in full expectation of a father's greeting, and finds
himself an orphan.

So overpowered was the young man that he felt solitude to be absolutely
necessary for a time.

"Let me talk to you about it another day," he said to Xenophon, "at
present I am not master of myself."

Xenophon clasped his friend's hand with a warm and sympathetic pressure.
"I understand," he said. "Yet, I think it will comfort you when you hear
how he bore himself at the last and what he said. Come to me to-morrow;
Hippocles will tell you where I live."

Early the next morning, Callias presented himself at Xenophon's house, a
modest little dwelling, not far from the garden of Academus. He found
him in the company of some friends, most of whom were more or less known
to the young man as having been members of the circle which had been
accustomed to listen to the teaching of the great master. Crito,
Menexenus and Æschines, and the two Thebans, Cebes and Simmias, were
among the number; and there were others whom he did not recognize. He
was greeted with kindness and even distinction. His host had evidently
been giving a favorable account of him to the company.

"I thought it best," Xenophon went on to explain, "to ask some of those
who were actually present when these things happened, to meet you. I
myself, as you know, was not here; and it is well that you should hear a
story so important from eye-witnesses, men who saw his demeanor with
their own eyes, and heard his words with their own ears."

"I thank you," said Callias. "But tell me first how it was that such
things came to pass. It seems incredible to me. I have heard that here
and there a man has been found so monstrously wicked that he could kill
his own father, though Solon thought it so impossible a crime that he
would impose no penalty on it. But that a whole people should be
stricken with such madness of wickedness seems to pass all imagination
or belief."

"Ah! you do not understand," said Simmias; "I am a foreigner you know;
and those who look at things from outside often see more of them than
they who are within. I had long thought that Socrates was making many
enemies in Athens. And verily if he had said such things in my own city,
as he said here, I doubt whether he had been suffered to live so long."

"But he always spoke true things," said the young man, "and things that
were to the real profit of his hearers."

"Just so," replied Simmias, "but that they were true and profitable did
not make them pleasant, or the speaker of them welcome. What think you
would happen to a school-master if his pupils whom he daily corrects and
disciplines, sometimes with hard tasks and sometimes with blows, were
permitted to judge him, or to a physician if the children whom he seeks
to cure of their ailments with nauseous drugs, or, it may be, with the
knife or cautery, had him in their power?"

"Truly, it might fare ill with him," Callias confessed, thinking to
himself of certain angry thoughts that in his own boyhood he had
cherished against his own teacher and doctor.

"Yes," said Crito, "Simmias is right, nor did this matter escape the
notice of us Athenians, though we did not perceive it so plainly. You,
I know, have been much absent from Athens since you grew to manhood, yet
you must have seen something of this. You were here, for example, when
the admirals were condemned after the battle at Arginusæ. Is it not so?"

"I was here," said Callias.

"And you know how Socrates set himself against the will of the people,
refusing to put to the vote a proposal which he believed to be
unconstitutional. Well, he suffered nothing at that time, because their
will prevailed in spite of him. Yet we saw that there were many who
remembered this against him, and only waited for the opportunity of
avenging themselves upon him. Nor was he less constant in opposing the
few, when he believed them to be acting wrongfully, than in opposing the
many. Listen now, to what he did and said in the days of the Thirty.
Were you in Athens at that time?"

"No," replied Callias, "I left the city, or rather was carried away from
it - " at this there was a general laugh, most of the company having
heard of the curious story of his abduction - "after the murder of the
Generals, and did not set foot in it till the other day."

"But you know what manner of men these Thirty were."

"Yes, I know."

"Well, among other vile things that they did was this, that they put to
death many excellent men whom they conceived to be enemies to
themselves. Then Socrates, in that free way of his, said, 'If a herdsman
were so to manage his herd that the cattle became fewer and not more,
men would consider him a bad herdsman. Still more would they consider
him to be a bad ruler of a city who should so manage it that the
citizens became not more but less numerous.' This being reported to
Critias, who was a chief among the Thirty, he sent for Socrates, and
said to him, 'There is a law that no man shall teach or use the art of
words.' Socrates said, 'Mean you by this, the art of words rightly
spoken or the art of words wrongly spoken?' On this, one Charicles, who
was a colleague of Critias, and was standing by him, broke in violently:
'Since, Socrates, you find it so hard to understand an altogether easy
thing, take this as a plain rule, that you are not to talk with young
men at all.' 'Truly I desire to obey the law,' said Socrates; 'tell me
then what you mean by young men. How young? Up to what age?' Charicles
said, 'Up to thirty, at which age men are able to take part in affairs
of the State.' 'But,' said Socrates, 'if I desire to buy a thing of a
man who is under thirty, is it permitted me to ask what it costs?'
'Yes,' said Charicles, 'you may say so much.' 'And if a man under thirty
asks me where Critias lives or Charicles lives, may I answer him?' 'Yes,
you may answer such questions,' said Charicles. Then Critias broke in,
'But you must not talk about blacksmiths and coppersmiths and tanners;
and indeed you have worn these themes pretty well threadbare by this
time.' 'Nor about righteousness and wickedness and such things, I
suppose,' said Socrates. 'No, indeed, nor about herdsmen. If you speak
of herdsmen and of the herd being diminished, take care that it be not
diminished by one more, even by you.'"

Callias listened with delight. "Oh, how like him!" he cried.

"Yes," replied Crito, "like him indeed, and truly admirable. But such
things do not please those to whom they are spoken, especially do not
please men in power. Then consider the number of empty-headed, ignorant
fellows whose vanity and conceit he exposed every day by his pitiless
questioning. There was not a pretentious fool in Athens whom he had not
at some time or other held up to ridicule."

"And they deserved it richly," said Callias.

"Yes," replied the other, "but I have never found that a man liked
punishment more because he knew that he deserved it. So you see that the
city was full of his enemies. And there were some honest men who really
believed that he did harm by his teaching. What with knaves whom he
opposed with all his might, and fools whom he exposed, and right-minded,
wrong-headed men whom he could not help offending, there was a very
formidable host arrayed against him."

"I see," said Callias. "But they must have had some pretext, they could
not put any of the things you have been speaking about into a formal
charge. Tell me, what did they accuse him of?"

"Oh, it was the old story, treason and blasphemy. Men who would have
sold their country for a quarter of a talent, men who believe in no
other gods than their own lusts, were loud in proclaiming that Socrates
had ruined the State, and was teaching the young not to worship the

"Good heavens!" cried Callias, "how dared they utter such lies? A better
patriot, a truer worshipper of the gods never lived."

"You are right; yet, these were the charges against him, these and
other things equally absurd, as that he taught the young to despise
their fathers and to think meanly of all their relatives and friends, as
if he himself were the only friend that was worth having; that he
perverted words from Homer and the old poets to a bad sense, making them
mean that no work was disgraceful so that it brought in gain, and that
it was lawful for kings and nobles to beat the common people[85] - these
were the charges that they brought against him. And then they added the
accusation that Critias and Alcibiades who had done great harm to Athens
had both been disciples of his."

"But tell me," said Callias, "how did these liars and villains proceed?
And first, who were they? Who took the lead?"

"One Meletus was the chief."

"What! The foolish poet whom every one laughs at?"

"Yes, the very same. He represented the poets. There was one Lycon, of
whom, I suppose, you never heard, who represented the public speakers,
and Anytus, one of those who came back with Thrasybulus. He had been
badly treated, it is true, banished without any good reason, but only a
madman could have supposed that Socrates had had anything to do with it.
These three brought the indictment. It was in these words: -

"'Socrates is guilty of a crime. He does not acknowledge the gods whom
the State acknowledges, and he introduces other and new gods. He is also
guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty - death.'"

"But such charges hardly needed a defence. Is it possible that a number
of Athenian judges found a verdict of guilty?"

"It was so indeed," said Crito, "and I am not sure that you will be
altogether surprised when you hear what the accused said in his own
defence. I am an old man now, and have watched the courts now for many
years; and I have seen not a few men who might have escaped but for what
they said in their own behalf. Now I can't tell you all that Socrates
said, or even the greater part of it. Our friend Plato is going to set
it forth regularly in a book that he is writing. But I can tell you
enough to make you see what I mean.

"After he had dealt with various other matters - those calumnies for
instance, that Aristophanes set afloat about him now more than thirty
years ago - he went on: 'Some years ago, men of Athens, a certain
Chaerephon - you know him; some of you went into exile along with
him - having been my companion from my youth up, ventured to go to
Delphi, and to propose this question to the god: "Is there any man wiser
than Socrates?" The Pythia[86] made reply, "There is none wiser than
he." When I heard this I said to myself, what can the god mean? He
cannot tell a lie, yet I am not conscious to myself of possessing any
kind of wisdom. So at last I devised this plan. I went to one of the men
who are reckoned wise, thinking thus to test the oracle, so that I
might say, here at least is one that is wiser than I. Now when I came to
examine this man - he was one of our statesmen, men of Athens, - I found
that though he was accounted wise by many and especially by himself, he
was not wise in reality. But in vain I tried to convince him, and I even
became odious to him and to many others who were present and admired
him. Then I thought to myself, I am at least wiser than this man, for he
not knowing, thinks that he knows, while I at least know that I do not
know. After this, I went to the poets, tragic, lyrical, and others, and
taking to them poems which they had written, asked of them what they
meant thereby. And I found that almost always those that had not written
these things knew better what they meant than the authors. So I
concluded that these also were not wise. And at last I went to the
artisans, knowing that they were acquainted with many things of which I
knew nothing. And this, indeed, I found to be the case. But I also found
that, because they had mastered their own art, each thought himself very
wise in other things, things, too, of the greatest importance, and that
this self-conceit spoilt their wisdom. These also seemed to be less wise
than myself. But all the time that I was doing this I knew that I was
making myself hateful to many, yet, because I was bound to obey the god
as best I could, I did not desist.

"'It is true also that many young men hearing me thus questioning others
have found delight in this employment and have learnt to imitate me. And
they have obtained this result: they have found many persons who think
that they know much but in reality know nothing. But they who are thus
discovered are irritated, not so much against their questioners, but
against me whom they suppose to have taught them this habit. Hence comes
this fable of a certain wicked Socrates who is said to corrupt the young

"'Nevertheless, O men of Athens, if you this day release me, I shall not
therefore cease to do that which, as I conceive, the god commands. I
shall go about the city seeking wisdom; nor shall I cease to say to such
as come in my way, My friend, can you, being a citizen of Athens, the
most famous city of Greece, help being ashamed if you make riches or
rank your highest aim, and care not for that which is indeed the
greatest good? This shall I still do to young or old, for it is this
that the god orders me to do!'"

Crito paused in his story.

"Magnificent!" cried Callias, "but how did the judges take it? It was a
downright defiance of them."

"Certainly it was, and so they thought it. There was a tremendous
uproar. When the noise had ceased, he began again: - 'Do not clamor
against me, men of Athens, but hear me patiently; 'tis indeed for your
own good that you should. For be assured that putting me to death, you
will harm yourselves rather than me. For, having rid yourselves of me,
you will not easily find any one who will do for you the office that I
have done, which has been, I take it, that of a rider upon a horse of
good breed, indeed, and strong, but needing the spur. Such a rider have
I been to the city, sitting close and exciting you continually by
persuasion and reproach. You will not easily find another like me; and
if you are angry with me, yet remember that persons awakened out of
sleep are angry with the man who rouses them, though it may be to the
saving of their lives. And remember this too: what I have done, I have
done without pay; no one can bring up this against me that I have done
anything for gain. If you ask a proof, look at my poverty - that is proof

"'And if any one ask me why I go about meddling with every body and
giving them advice, and yet never come forward and give any advice about
matters of state, I make him this answer: There is a voice within me, of
which Meletus idly speaks as if it were another god, which never indeed
urges me to do anything, but often warns me against doing this or that.
This same voice has often warned me against taking part in public
affairs, and rightly so indeed, for be assured that if I had so taken
part, I should long ago have perished. And do not be offended if I tell
you the truth. No man can be safe who opposes things wrong and illegal
that are done by the people. If he would live, even but for a short
time, he must keep to a private station.

"'Do you not remember, men of Athens, how when you had to judge the
admirals that did not save the shipwrecked men at Arginusæ, I would not
put the motion to the vote? For though I had never held any public
office I was in the Senate, and it so chanced that my tribe that day had
the presidency. You chose to judge all the men together, acting
wrongfully, as you afterward acknowledged. And I alone of all the
presidents opposed this thing, and would not yield, no not when the
orators denounced me, and would have joined me with the accused. This
was in the time of the democracy.

"'And afterwards when the democracy was overthrown, and the oligarchy
was in power, what happened? Did not the Thirty send for me along with
four others to their council-chamber, and bid us fetch Leon of Salamis,
that he might be put to death. This they did, after their habit, seeking
to involve as many as possible in their wicked deeds. Then also I showed
not in words only, but in deeds that I cared not one jot for death. For
in the chamber I declared that I would not do this thing, and when we
had gone out, the other four indeed went to Salamis, and fetched Leon,
but I went to my own home. Doubtless I should have died for this act,
but that the Thirty were overthrown soon afterward.

"'And what I have done publicly that I have privately also. Never have I
conceded anything that was wrong to any man. But if any man would hear
what I said I never grudged him the opportunity. I have offered myself
to rich and poor, whether they would question me themselves or answer my
questions, nor have I spoken for pay, nor been silent because I was not
paid, nor have I ever said aught to any man that I have not said to all.

"'So much, men of Athens, might suffice for my defence, but if any of
you, remembering that other men when accused have brought their children
before you seeking to rouse compassion, are angry with me because I have
not so done, let him listen to me. I, too, have family ties.

"'From no gnarled oak I sprang, or flinty rock, as Homer has it, but am
born of man. Three sons I have; two of them are children, one an infant.
Should I then bring them before you, and seek to move your pity by the
sight of them? Not so. I have seen many thus demeaning themselves, as
if, forsooth, you acquitting them, they would escape death altogether;
but such behavior would ill befit those who seek to follow after virtue
and honor. Nor is such behavior only unseemly; it is wrong. For we are
bound to convince a judge, not to persuade him, and he is set in his
place not to give justice as a favor, but because it is justice. Verily,
if I should have to persuade you to act against your oaths I should be
condemning myself of the very charge that Meletus has brought against
me, for I should act as if I did not believe that the gods by whom ye
have sworn to do right are gods at all. Far be it from me so to act. I
believe in the gods more than my accusers believe; and I leave it to
these gods and to you to judge concerning me as it may be best for you
and for me.'"

"No man," said Cebes, "could have spoken better; but it was not the
speech that would please or conciliate."

"And what was the result?" asked Callias.

"After all there was only a majority of _six_ against him; two hundred
and eighty-one against two hundred and seventy-five were the numbers.
Then came the question of the sentence. The prosecutor had demanded the
penalty of death. 'Socrates,' said the president of the court, 'what
penalty do you yourself propose?'[87] 'You ask me,' said Socrates, 'what
penalty I myself propose. What then do I deserve, I who have not sought
to make money, or to hold office in the state, or to command soldiers

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 19 of 22)