Copyright
Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

. (page 2 of 22)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 2 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


prompter - and heartily cursed the bad luck which had distracted in so
disastrous a way the attention of his audience.

When at last, to the great relief of everyone concerned, the performance
was brought to a conclusion, the young officer told his story,
supplementing the meagre contents of the despatch which he had brought,
to a full conclave of magistrates, assembled in one of the senate-rooms
of the Prytaneum or Town-hall of Athens. I may introduce him to my
readers as Callias, the hero of my story.

Many of the details that follow had already been given by Callias, but
as he had to repeat them for the benefit of the magistrates who had
stopped behind in the theatre, I may as well put them all together.

"We know," said the president, "that Conon was beaten in a battle in the
harbor of Mitylene. So much we heard from Hippocles, a very patriotic
person by the way, though he is an alien. He has a very swift yacht that
can outstrip any war-ship in Greece, and often gives us very valuable
intelligence. Do you know him?"

"Yes," said Callias, flushing with pleasure, for indeed he knew and
respected Hippocles greatly, "I know him very well."

[Illustration: THE THEATER OF DIONYSUS AT THE PRESENT DAY.]

"Well, to go on," resumed the president. "So much we know, but no more.
Tell us exactly how Conon fared in the battle."

"Sir," answered the young man, "he lost thirty ships."

"And the crews," asked the president.

"They escaped; happily they were able to get to land."

"Thank Athene for that;" and a murmur of relief ran round the meeting.
"And the other forty - he had seventy, I think, in all?" Callias nodded
assent.

"What happened to the forty?"

"They were hauled up under the walls when the day went against us."

"Now tell us exactly what has been going on since."

"The Spartans blockaded the harbor, having some of their ships within,
and some without. Our general saw that it was only a matter of time when
he should have to surrender. The Spartans had four times as many ships,
the ships not, perhaps, quite as good as his, but the crews, I am
afraid, somewhat better."

"Shade of Themistocles," murmured one of the magistrates, "that it
should come to this - the Spartan crews 'somewhat better' than ours. But
I am afraid that it is only too true."

"He could not break through; and could not stand a long siege. Mitylene
was fairly well provisioned for its ordinary garrison, but here were
seventy crews added all of a sudden to the number. He sent some
officers - I had the honor of being one of them - and we found that by
sparing everything to the very utmost, we might hold out for five
weeks. The only chance was to send news to Athens. You might help us, we
thought."

"We might; we _must_, I say. But how it is to be done is another matter.
Tell us how you got here?"

"The general took the two fastest ships in his squadron, manned them
with the very best rowers that he could find, practised the crews for
four days in the inner harbor, and then set about running the blockade
with them. The Spartans, you see, had grown a little careless. We hadn't
made any attempt to get out, and Conon got a Lesbian freedman to desert
to the Spartans with a story that we were meaning to surrender. This put
them off their guard still more. They got into a way of leaving their
ships at noon, to take their meal and their siesta afterwards on shore.
We made a dart at an unguarded place between two of their blockading
ships and we got through. I don't think that we lost a single man. By
the time that the crews of the blockading galleys regained their vessels
we were well out of bow-shot. Our instructions were to separate, when we
got outside the harbor. We did not do this at once because we had
planned a little trick which might, we hoped, help to put the enemy off
the scent. The ship that I was in was really the swifter of the two.
This was, of course, the reason why I was put into it. But as long as we
kept together we made believe that we were the slower. When they came
out after us - they had manned half-a-dozen ships or so as quickly as
they could - we separated. My ship, which you will understand, was really
the faster of the two, was put about the north as if making for
Hellespont; the other kept on its course, straight for Athens. The
Spartans told off their best ships to follow the latter which they
thought that they had the better chance of catching. And of course, as
it was headed this way, it seemed the more important of the two."

"I suppose that they overtook it," said the president, "or it would have
been here before this."

"Well, we soon outstripped the two galleys that were told to look after
us. When we were well out of sight, we headed westward again, took a
circuit round the north side of Lemnos, and got here without seeing
another enemy."

"How long is it since you left Mitylene?"

"About five days."

"But how long did Conon think he could hold out?"

"About forty days; perhaps more, if the men were put on short rations."

"You have done well, my son," said the president kindly, "and Athens
will not forget it. We will consult together, though there is small need
of consulting, I take it. The relief _must_ be sent. Is it not so
gentlemen?"

His colleagues nodded assent.

"But there are things to be talked over. We must decide how much we can
send, and that cannot be done upon the spot. But there is a matter that
can be settled at once. Conon must be told that he is going to be
relieved. Now, who will tell him? Will you?"

"Certainly, if you see fit to give me the order."

"And how?"

"I would consult with Hippocles."

"Excellent!" cried the president. "He is just the man to help us. You
will go and see him, and then report to me. Come to me to-night; it will
not matter how late it is; I shall be waiting for you."

Callias saluted, and withdrew.




CHAPTER III.

HIPPOCLES THE ALIEN.


Hippocles has been described as an alien. An "alien," then at Athens, as
in the other Greek cities, was a resident foreigner. He might be an
enfranchised slave, he might be a barbarian (as all persons not Greek
were described), or he might be a Greek of the purest descent, but if he
had not the rights of Athenian citizenship, he was an "alien." He could
not hold any landed or house property: he was obliged to appear in any
law suit in which he might be concerned in the person of an Athenian
citizen who was described as his "patron," and he was heavily taxed. A
special impost that went under the name of an "alien-tax" was only a
slight matter, some twelve drachmas[7] a year, but all the imposts were
made specially heavy for them. And though they had no share in directing
the policy of the State, they were required to serve in its fleets and
armies. This treatment however, did not keep aliens from settling in
Athens. On the contrary they were to be found there in great numbers,
and as almost all the trade of the place was in their hands, some of
them were among its richest inhabitants.

At the time of which I am writing Hippocles had the reputation, which we
may say was by no means undeserved, of being the richest resident in
Athens. And more than that, he was one of the most patriotic. He loved
the city as if it had been his native place, and did the duty and more
than the duty of a son to her. The special contributions which as a
wealthy man he was called upon to make to the public service[8] were
made with a princely liberality. He even voluntarily undertook services
which were not required of him by law. Every year he had come forward to
furnish the crew and munitions of a ship-of-war, a charge to which
citizens only were properly liable. And of the fleet of which such
gloomy tidings had just reached Athens, he had equipped no less than
three.

Hippocles had a curious history. He was born in the Greek colony of
Poseidonia.[9] He was just entering on manhood when his native city fell
into the hands of its Lucanian neighbors. The barbarians did not abuse
their victory. They did not treat the conquered city, as the Greeks of
Croton some ninety years before had treated Sybaris, reducing it to an
absolute ruin. On the contrary they contented themselves with imposing a
tribute, and leaving a governor, with a garrison to support him, to see
that their new subjects did not forget their duty. But the presence of
the foreigner was a grievous burden to the proud Greeks. For ages
afterwards their descendants were accustomed to assemble once a year and
to bewail their fate, as the Sons of Jacob at the Vale of Weeping, the
Gentile domination over their city. The disaster broke the heart of
Hippocles' father Cimon who was one of Pacidoninus' most distinguished
citizens and had actually held the office of Tagus or chief magistrate
in the year of its fall. He survived the event scarcely a year,
recommending his son with his last breath to leave the place for some
city where he could live in a way more worthy of a Greek. His son spent
the next two years in quietly realizing his property, nor did he meet
with any interference from the Lucanian masters of the place. His house
he had to sacrifice; to sell it might have attracted too much notice;
but everything else that he had was converted into money. When this was
safely invested at Athens - Athens having been for various reasons the
city of his choice - he secretly departed. But he did not depart alone.
He took with him a companion, who, he declared, more than made up to him
for all that as a Poseidonian citizen he had lost. Pontia, the daughter
of the Lucanian governor, was a girl of singular beauty. The Lucanian,
in common with the other Italian tribes, gave to their women a liberty
which was unknown in Greek households. Under the circumstances of life
in which he had been brought up, Hippocles though a frequent visitor at
the governor's house, would never, except by the merest accident, have
seen the governor's daughter. As it was he had many opportunities of
making her acquaintance. Instead of being shut up, after the Greek
fashion in the women's apartments, she shared the common life of the
family. At first the novelty of the situation almost shocked the young
man; before long it pleased him; it ended by conquering his heart. The
young Greek, who was leaving his native land because it did not suit his
pride of race to live under the rule of a barbarian, did not submit
without an effort. Again and again he reproached himself with the
monstrous inconsistency of which he was guilty. "Madman that I am," he
said to himself, "I cannot endure to live with barbarians for neighbors
and yet I think of taking a barbarian to wife." Again and again he
resolved to break free from the influence that was enthralling him. But
love was too strong for him. Nor indeed, were there wanting arguments on
the other side. "Actually," he said to himself, "I am a Greek no more; a
Greek without a city is only not a barbarian in name." This argument, of
little weight, perhaps, in itself, gained force from the loveliness and
mental charms of the young Pontia. She had long felt a distaste for the
rough, uncultured life into which she had been born. The culture and
refinement of her father's young Greek guest charmed her. The sadness of
his mien touched the chord of pity in her heart, and admiration and pity
together soon grew into love.

Hippocles had just completed the settlement of his affairs, and was
ruefully contemplating the curious dilemma in which he found
himself - everything ready for his departure from Poseidonia, but
Poseidonia holding him from such departure by ties which he could break
only by breaking his heart - when circumstances suggested a way of
escape.

The governor was a widower, and had more than the usual incapacity of
busy men in middle life for discerning the symptoms of love. It was
accordingly, with a cheerful unconsciousness of his guest's feelings
that he said to him one morning: - "I have good news about my dear
Pontia. The girl is growing up, and should be settled in life, and I
have had a most eligible proposal for her. I have told you, I think,
that I am getting tired of this life, and want to get back to my farm
among the hills. So I have asked to be relieved, and I hear from the
Senate that they have chosen a successor, Hostius of Vulsi, a cousin, I
should say, of my own, and a most respectable man. Hostius has come to
announce the fact in person, and at the same time to ask for my daughter
in marriage. A most eligible proposal, I say. Perhaps he is a little
old, about five years younger than myself. But that's of no consequence.
I mentioned the matter to her. She did not say much, but, of course, a
girl must seem to hold back. I suggested that the marriage should take
place next week - for I should dearly like to be at home in time for the
barley harvest. That roused her. Of course she said that she had no
clothes. I don't know about that - she always seems to me to look very
nice - but I should not like to annoy her, for she is a dear, good girl,
and I gave her another month. It's an excellent arrangement - don't you
think so?"

Hippocles muttered a few words of assent; but long before the month was
out, he and his Pontia were on their way to Athens.

The marriage and the settlement in Athens had taken place twenty-one
years before the time of which I am writing. Two children had been born,
a son and a daughter. The son had fallen, not many months before, at
the battle of Notium[10] and the death of the mother, who had been in
feeble health, had soon followed. The daughter, to whom her parents had
given the name of Hermione, had just completed her sixteenth year.

Hermione united in herself some of the happiest characteristics of the
two races from which she sprang. Her father was a Greek of the Greeks.
Poseidonia had been founded by Dorian settlers from Sybaris, who could
not contrive to live on good terms with the Achaean Greeks that had
become the predominant element in that city; and Hippocles, who claimed
descent from the Messenian kings, yielded to none in nobility of birth.
A purer type of the genuine Hellenes it would have been impossible to
find. Pontia brought from the Lucanian hills, among which she had been
reared, some of the best qualities, moral and physical, of the Italian
race. The simplicity, frugality, and temperance which then and long
after distinguished rural Italy, were to be seen in her united with a
singular feminine charm not so often found among that somewhat rude
population; until the close air of the Piraeus, ill-suited to a daughter
of the hills, sapped her constitution, she had had a frame magnificently
healthy and strong. To the daughter the climate which had shortened her
mother's days, happily did no harm. It was in fact her native air, and
she throve in it. She was still undeveloped, for she had only just
completed her sixteenth year; but she gave promise of remarkable beauty,
and indeed, the promise was already more than half fulfilled. When she
had performed the duty, sometimes imposed on the daughters of resident
aliens, - it might be called, rather, privilege conceded to them - and
walked in the great procession of the patron-goddess, holding a sunshade
over some high-born Athenian maiden,[11] all the spectators agreed that
the prize of beauty belonged to the stranger. Her stature reached the
very utmost height that the canons of beauty conceded to women; so far
she was more of an Athene than an Aphrodite. But her face and her whole
bearing were exquisitely feminine. The sapphire-colored eyes, shaded by
long drooping lashes, the forehead, broad and low with the clustering
ringlets of light chestnut on either side, perfectly rounded cheeks,
firm, delicate mouth, showing a glimpse, but only a glimpse of pearly
teeth, and a faultlessly clear complexion, just tinted with the brown
caught from Ægæan suns and winds - for she was dearly fond of a cruise in
her father's yacht - made up together a remarkable combination of charms.

Callias had seen her but once before, and that was on a melancholy
occasion. He had been commissioned by the general in command to break to
her father the death of her brother, killed as has been said, in the
unlucky conflict at Notium. He had behaved there with conspicuous
gallantry, having led the boarding party which captured the only
Lacedaemonian galley that the Athenians had to set off against their own
fifteen losses, and had fallen in the moment of victory. It was not the
first time that he had shown distinguished valor, and it was for this
reason, as well as on account of the high reputation of his father,
that Alcibiades had sent Callias with a special message of condolence.
The blow, which could not be softened by any delicacy in the telling,
and for which the praises of the general were but a slight consolation,
broke Hippocles down completely. It was then that Hermione showed the
strength of her character. Tenderly attached herself to her brother she
had come forward to support her broken-hearted father. With a patient
endurance that was beyond all praise, she had battled with her own grief
in the effort to help a sorrow even more agonizing than her own, till
for very shame Hippocles had raised himself to bear his loss with
resignation. The effort saved his life; for even the physicians had at
one time been greatly alarmed. Callias, accustomed to think of women as
encumbrances rather than helps in time of need was profoundly impressed
by the girl's demeanor. If he had been inclined, for a moment, to think
that her singular self-possession indicated a want of womanly feeling,
he would have been soon undeceived. Paying a visit of inquiry to the
house next day, he found that Hermione's endurance had not lasted beyond
the occasion for which it was wanted. Her father received him, and told
him that his daughter had broken down under the strain. "I was cowardly
enough," he said, "yesterday to rest upon her strength when I should
have summoned up my own. The gods grant that I may not have taxed it
overmuch, and that I may not lose both my children. I have learned that
I ought not to have grudged my son to the city which has been a second
mother to me; if only I have not learnt it at too terrible a price."
Callias had to leave Athens on the next day to rejoin the fleet, but he
had the satisfaction of hearing before his departure that Hermione was
on a fair way to recovery. Since then he had not been in Athens.

FOOTNOTES:

[7] This would amount to about $2.25 - a drachma being equal to about 20c
or 9-1/2d. in English money.

[8] These "liturgies," as they were called, were charges imposed upon
all residents in Athens whose property was assessed at more than a
certain amount (three talents, which, as a talent contained 6,000
drachmæ, may be roughly estimated at $3,500, equivalent, it is probable,
to much more in actual value). These were originally equivalents for
special privileges and powers which the wealthy enjoyed under the
earlier constitution, but they were continued in force after the
democratic changes which put all citizens on an equality. The Aliens
were not liable to all.

[9] Better known by its Latin name of Paestum.

[10] Fought in 407. Notium was the harbor of Colophon a city of Asia
Minor, about nine miles north of Ephesus, and about fifteen miles from
the sea.

[11] Noble Athenian damsels were the "basket-bearers" (_Canephoroi_),
daughters of aliens "Sunshade-bearers" (_Skiaphoroi_) in the
Paratheraea, or Great Procession of Athens.




CHAPTER IV.

A COUNCIL.


The house of Hippocles was on a smaller scale than might have seemed
suitable to his vast wealth. The fact was that both he and his daughter
had simple tastes. They had a special dislike to the enormous
establishments of slaves which it was the fashion for rich Athenians,
whether of native or of foreign birth, to maintain. In each division of
the house - for, it was divided after the usual Greek fashion, into two
"apartments," to use that word in its proper sense, belonging
respectively to the men and the women[12] - there were but three or four
inmates besides the master and mistress. Hippocles had his house steward
and his personal attendant, both older than himself, long since
emancipated, who had accompanied him from his Italian home, and a lad of
seventeen, who was still a slave, but who, if he conducted himself well,
would certainly earn his freedom by the time that he had reached the age
of thirty. Hermione's establishment, on the other hand, consisted of a
lady who had just exchanged the post of governess, now no longer
necessary, for that of companion or duenna, a housekeeper, and two
domestics who may be described by the modern terms of lady's-maid and
house-maid. Stephanion, the companion, was of pure Athenian descent. She
belonged to one of the many families which had been reduced to poverty
by the war, and she had been glad to take employment in the house of the
wealthy alien. She had more education than was commonly given to
Athenian ladies, but this is not to say much, and Hermione would have
fared but ill for teaching, according at least to our standard if her
father had not always found time even in his busiest days, to supplement
her education. The housekeeper was a Laconian woman. She, too, had found
her way into the family through circumstances connected with the war.
She had been nurse in a wealthy Athenian household. Before the war it
had been the fashion, my readers should know, for the upper classes at
Athens to get their nurses from Sparta. A true Spartan, a daughter that
is, of the military aristocracy that ruled Laconia and its dependencies,
it was, of course, impossible to obtain, but girls from the farmer class
that cultivated the lands of their soldier masters often sought
situations in other countries. This was the case with Milanion, who as
the youngest of the five daughters of a Laconian farmer, had been
delighted to find a place with an Athenian lady, Melissa, wife of
Demochares, at a salary which almost equalled her father's income. This
was just before the commencement of the long war. She had been nurse to
Melissa's five children when the disastrous expedition to Sicily brought
irretrievable ruin upon her employer's family. Demochares was one of the
army that surrendered with Nicias, was thrown with his comrades into
that most dreadful of prisons, the stone-quarries of Syracuse, and died
of a fever before the end of the year. His property had consisted, for
the most part, of farms in the island of Chios, and when Chios revolted
from Athens, the widow and her children were reduced to something very
like poverty. Nothing was left to them but a small farm at Marathon, and
as it so happened, the rent of the house which Hippocles unable, as has
been said, to own real property in Attica, had been accustomed to hire.
The establishment had to be broken up, the slaves being sold and the
free persons looking for employment elsewhere. Milanion was about to
return, much against her will, to Laconia, where her long residence at
Athens would have rendered her an object of suspicion and dislike, when
an opening suddenly presented itself in the family of Hippocles.
Pontia's long illness had come to a fatal end, and the widower was
looking for an experienced woman to take charge of the young Hermione.
Milanion seemed to him exactly the person that he wanted, and she, on
the other hand, was delighted to come to him. As her charge grew older,
her duties as nurse gradually changed into the duties of a housekeeper.
She had come to her new situation accompanied by a middle-aged woman, a
Marian by birth, Manto by name, whom Hippocles had bought, at her
suggestion, at the sale of Demochares' slaves. Manto had steadily
refused the emancipation which her master had several times offered to
her.

"No, sir," she said, "I thank you very much, but I am better as I am. I
desire nothing more than to live in your house, and, when my time comes,
to die in it."

"What if I should die first," suggested the merchant.

"The gods know, my master, the gods know," cried the poor woman in an
agony. "But it is impossible; the gods would not do anything so cruel,
so unjust. But, if you wish, you may put what you please into your will.
As long as you live you are my master, and I am your slave." So matters
stood when my story opens. Perhaps it may be added that Manto's
condition did not prevent her tongue from being truthful; but
affectionate, faithful, and honest, she allowed herself and was
allowed - no unusual circumstance, yet she was under a system of
slavery - a liberty of speech which in one free born would certainly have


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 2 of 22)