Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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admiral of the Spartan fleet, is here, and wishes to speak with him.'
The fellow left me standing outside, and went to deliver his message.
After I had waited till my patience was almost exhausted, the man came
back, and said 'Cyrus is not at leisure to see you. He is drinking.'
Well, I put up with that. 'Very good,' I said, 'I will wait till he has
done drinking.' I thought that I would go earlier the next day, though
even then it was scarcely an hour after noon. So I went at a time when I
thought that he could not possibly have taken to his cups, and asked
again to see him. This time they had not the grace even to make an
excuse. 'Cyrus is not at leisure to see you,' was the answer, and
nothing more. That was more than I could stand, and I went away. I vowed
that day, and believe me it was not only because I had myself been
insulted, that if I lived to go home, I would do my very best to bring
Sparta and Athens together again. And now, sir, as to your business. I
will send home a report of what you say. If the authorities direct me to
take any action in the matter, I shall do my best to take it with
effect, but I tell you frankly that this idea does not commend itself to
me, and let me give you a bit of advice: do your best to make peace in
your city, as I shall do my best to make peace in Greece. Depend upon
it, that if we don't, we shall have some one coming down upon us from
outside. It may be the Persian, though he does not seem to me to have
improved as a soldier; it may be the Macedonian, who is a sturdy fellow,
and helps us already to fight our battles. Whoever it is he will find us
helpless with an endless quarrel and will make short work with us. And
now good night."

Hippocles left the Spartan admiral full of admiration for his manly and
patriotic temper, and not at all pleased that he had been obliged to
play a false part with a man so transparently honest.

About an hour after midnight the harbor was alarmed by the cry that the
ship from Cos had parted from her moorings. Hippocles had taken
advantage of a temporary increase in the force of the wind to cut his
cables, and to drift toward the Athenian part of the harbor. Nobody was
able to answer the cry for help, even if it had not been purposely
raised too late. The _Skylark_ had run the blockade, and Conon knew that
he was to be relieved.


[17] The instances in which a Spartan general sent to fill some office
abroad seemed to lose all self-restraint and all sense of shame are
deplorably numerous. Pausanias, the Spartan who commanded at Platæa, and
was afterwards banished for treacherous dealings with the Persians, was
the first conspicuous example of this national failing, as it may be
called; but it was an example often followed. The Spartan governors in
allied or conquered cities were almost proverbial for profligacy,
tyranny and corruption.

[18] A seaman was paid four obols a day, the rate having been increased
by the liberality of Cyrus from three to four. Five obols went to the
drachma, and a hundred drachmas to the mina.

[19] This was the prince commonly called the younger Cyrus, the second
of the two sons of Darius Nothus, King of Persia, by his Queen
Parysatis. He had come down about a year and a half before the time of
which I am writing to take the government of a large portion of Asia
Minor, viz: Lydia, Phrygia, and Cappadocia. He was strongly pro-Spartan
in his views, and as has been explained in a previous note, had
increased the rate furnished by the Persian treasury to the Spartan
fleet. But Lysander, in his anger at being suspended in the command,
had, with the selfishness, characteristic of Spartan officers, paid back
to Cyrus all the money that had been furnished for the pay of the



At Athens, meanwhile, the relieving fleet was being fitted out with a
feverish energy such as had never been witnessed within the memory of
man. Nine years before, indeed, preparations on a larger scale, if cost
and magnificence are to be taken into account, had been made for the
disastrous expedition against Syracuse; but there was all the difference
in the world between the temper of the city at the one time and at the
other. Athens was at the height of her strength and her wealth when she
sent out her armament, splendid, so to speak, with silver and gold,
against Syracuse. It was a mighty effort, but she did it, one may almost
say, out of the superfluity of her strength. Now she was sadly reduced
in population and in revenue; she was struggling not for conquest but
for life; she was making her last effort, and spending on it her last
talent, her last man. To find a juster parallel it would have been
necessary to go back a life-time, to the day when the Athenians gave up
their homes and the temples of their gods to the Persian invaders,
falling back on their last defences, the "wooden walls" of their ships.
Many men had heard from father or grandfather, it was just possible that
one or two tottering veterans may have seen with their own eyes, how on
that day a band of youths, the very flower of the Athenian aristocracy,
headed by Cimon, the son of Miltiades, had marched with a gay alacrity
through the weeping multitude, to hang up their bridles in the temple of
Athene. For the time the goddess needed not horsemen but seamen, and
they gave her the service that she asked for. Now the same sight was
seen again. Again the knights, the well-born and wealthy citizens of
Athens, dedicated their bridles to the patron goddess, and went to serve
as mariners on board the fleet. Every ship that could float was hastily
repaired and equipped. Old hulks that had been lying in dock since the
palmy days when the veteran Phormion[20] led the fleet of Athens to
certain victory, were launched again and manned. In this way the almost
unprecedented number[21] of one hundred and ten triremes were got ready.
To man these a general levy of the population was made. Every one within
the age of service not actually disabled by sickness, was taken to form
the crews, and not a few who had passed the limit volunteered. Even then
the quota had to be made up by slaves, who were promised their freedom
in return for their services. It was a stupendous effort, and one which
Athens made with her own strength. These were not mercenaries, but her
own sons whom she was sending out to make their last struggle for life.
Night and day the preparations were carried on, and before a month was
out from the day on which the tidings of the disaster at Mitylene
reached the city, the fleet was ready to sail. Its destination was
Samos, an island that had remained faithful to Athens even after the
disastrous end of the war in Sicily. Here it was joined by a contingent
of forty ships, made up of the same squadron scattered about the Ægean,
the two triremes of Diomedon[22] being among them. Diomedon was related
to Callias, and the young man asked and obtained leave from the captain
with whom he had sailed from Athens to transfer himself to his ship.

A battle was imminent. The Spartan admiral had left fifty ships to
maintain the blockade of Mitylene, and sailed to meet the relieving
force. His numbers were inferior, but pride, and perhaps policy, forbade
him to decline the combat. He had made a haughty boast to Conon, and he
had to make it good. "The sea is Sparta's bride," he had said. "I will
stop your insults to her." His fleet was now off Cape Malta, the
south-eastern promontory of Lesbos. The Athenians had taken up their
position at some little islands between it and the mainland, the
Arginusæ, or White Cliffs, as the name may be translated, a name
destined to become notable as the scene of the great city's last

Callicratidas had watched the arrival of the Athenians, and had
concluded that, according to the usual custom of Greek sailors, they
would take their evening meal on shore. Before long the fires lighted
over all the group of islets showed that he was right. His own men had
supped, and they were ordered to embark in all haste and make an attack
which would probably be a surprise. What success his bold and energetic
action would have had we can only guess. The stars in their courses
fought against him. A violent thunderstorm with heavy rain came on, and
prevented him from putting to sea.

The next day was fine and calm and the two fleets were early afloat.
Their arrangement and plan of action showed a curious contrast, a
contrast such as was almost enough to make one of the great Athenian
seamen of the past turn in his grave. The Athenian ships were massed
together; the Spartans and their allies were formed in a single line.
Callias, who had never before been present at a great sea-fight, but who
had taken pains to acquire as much professional knowledge as he could,
expressed his surprise to Diomedon. "How is this, sir?" he said, "how
can our ships maneuver when they are packed together in this fashion?"

Diomedon, an old sailor who had been afloat for nearly forty years,
smiled somewhat bitterly as he answered.

"Maneuver, my dear boy! That is exactly what we want to avoid. We can't
do it ourselves, and we don't mean to let our enemies do it, if it can
be helped. The generation that could manoeuver is gone. Five and
twenty years of fighting have used it up. But, happily, we can still
fight, at least such a fleet as we have got to-day, the real Athenian
grit, can fight. If the weather holds fine, and I think it will for the
day, though I don't quite like the looks of the sky, we shall do well,
because we shall be able to keep together."

The arrangement of the Athenian line may be very briefly described. It
had two strong wings, each consisting of sixty ships, formed in four
squadrons of fifteen. These wings consisted wholly of Athenian galleys;
the contingents of the allies were posted in the centre, and were in
single line, either because they were better sailors, or because, as
being directly in front of the group of islets, they were protected by
their position.

The policy of the Athenian commander was successful. Arginusæ was not a
battle of skillful maneuvers, but of hard fighting. Such battles are
often determined by the fate of the general, and so it was that day.
Callicratidas, had that pride of valor which had often done such great
things for Sparta and for Greece, but which some times resulted in
immediate disaster. His sailing master, a man of Megara, had advised him
to decline a battle. A rapid survey of the position, of the numbers of
the enemy and of the tactics which they were evidently intending to
pursue, had convinced this skillful, experienced seaman, that the
chances were against him. Callicratidas would not listen to him. "If I
perish," he said, "Sparta will not be one whit the worse off." It was
the answer of a man who was as modest as he was brave; but it was not to
the point. Sparta would be a great deal worse off if she lost not only
him - and he was worth considering - but, as actually happened, nearly the
half of her fleet.

The signal to advance was passed along the line, and the admiral himself
took up his place in the foremost ship. The whole fleet could see him as
he stood a conspicuous figure in the lead. His stately and chivalrous
presence, the feeling that a man whom it was a privilege to follow
anywhere, gave, for a time, an effective encouragement. But the loss was
proportionately great when that presence was removed. Early in the day
his ship endeavored to ram that which carried the Athenian admiral
Diomedon, itself in the van of the opposing force. Diomedon himself was
at the rudder and managed his galley with remarkable skill. He avoided
or rather half avoided the blow of the enemy's boat, and this in such a
way that the Spartan admiral lost his balance, and fell into the water.
Callias, who was standing on the rear of the Athenian galley, at the
head of a detachment of men ready either to board or to repel boarders,
endeavored to save him; but the weight of his armor was fatal. He sank
almost instantaneously. His death, it is easy to believe, cost Athens
even more than it cost Sparta. It would have been infinitely better for
her to fall into his hands than to have to sue for terms, as she did not
many months afterwards, to the less generous Lysander.

The battle lasted for several hours. About noon the weather became
threatening. The wind changed to the south-west and the sea began to
rise. By general consent the struggle was suspended. Both sides had
fought with conspicuous valor, but there could be no doubt that the
victory remained with the Athenians. Their losses were serious, nearly a
fifth of their force, or to give the numbers exactly, twenty-nine ships
out of one hundred and fifty. But they had inflicted much more damage
than they had suffered. Out of the small squadron of Spartan ships, ten
in number, nine had been destroyed; and more than sixty belonging to the
various allied contingents were either sunk or taken. The fifty that
remained - and there were barely fifty of them - made the best of their
way either to the friendly island of Chios, or to Phocæa on the
mainland. Without doubt the Athenians had won a great victory. Whether
the opportunity could have been used to restore permanently the fortunes
of the city, is doubtful; but it is certain that it was lamentably


[20] Phormion won some brilliant victories in the Corinthian gulf in the
early years of the war. He died prematurely, it would seem about 429 B.

[21] The number of triremes contributed by Athens to the Greek fleet of
Salamis was one hundred and eighty, but this comprised, of course,
literally every ship that they possessed. In the expedition against
Syracuse, the triremes numbered one hundred and thirty-four.

[22] Diomedon was the officer in command of Samos, and had already
attempted with the twelve ships that composed his squadron, to relieve
Conon. His force was so inferior to that of the Spartans that he could
only have hoped to succeed by eluding their observations. Accordingly he
had avoided the harbors and endeavored to make his way up a narrow
channel, known by the common name of "Euripus" (a channel with a swift
current) by which Mitylene could be approached. Callicratidas, however,
had discovered the maneuver and captured ten out of the twelve ships.



A council of war was held by the Athenian admirals on one of the
Arginusæ islets as soon as they could meet after the fighting had come
to an end. Callias, by Diomedon's desire, waited outside the tent in
which the deliberations were being held, and could not help hearing, so
high were the voices of the speakers raised, that there was an angry
argument about the course to be pursued. The intolerably clumsy system
of having ten generals of equal authority was on its trial, if indeed
any trial was needed, and was once more found wanting.[23] Even if the
right decision should be reached, time was being wasted, time that, as
we shall see, was of a value absolutely incalculable.

When at last the council broke up - its deliberations had lasted for more
than an hour - and Diomedon rejoined the young officer, he wore a gloomy
and anxious look.

"I am afraid," he said, "that mischief will come of this. I feel it so
strongly that, though I ought not, perhaps, to tell outside the council
what has been going on within, I must call you to witness. I did my
very best to persuade my colleagues. 'Our first business,' I said, 'is
to save our friends. There were twenty-six ships, I said, disabled. A
few were sunk on the spot; others, I am afraid, have gone down since;
but more than half, I hope, are still afloat. Even where the ship is
gone already, there are sure to be some of the crew who have been able
to keep themselves afloat either by swimming or by holding on to
floating stuff. For the sake of the gods, gentlemen,' - I give you my
very words - 'don't lose another moment. We have lost too many already.
Send every seaworthy ship that you have got to the rescue of the
shipwrecked. It is better to let ten enemies escape, than lose a single
friend.' They would not listen to me. They were bent, they said, on
following up their victory, an excellent thing, I allow; but only when
the first duty of making all that you have got quite safe has been
performed. One of them - I will mention no names - positively insulted me.
'Diomedon,' he said, 'has doubtless had enough fighting for the day.'
Why, in the name of Athene, do they put such lowbred villains into
office. The fellow has a long tongue, and so the people elect him. I
'tired of fighting' indeed? I might have some excuse if I were, for I
was hard at it, when he was a thievish boy, picking up unconsidered
trifles in the market-place. Well; the end of it was that we came to a
sort of compromise. Forty-odd ships are to go and save what can be saved
from the wrecks - the gods only know how many will be left by this
time - while the rest are to make the best of their way to Mitylene, and
cut off the blockading squadron."

"And you, sir?" asked Callias, "with which squadron are you to be?"

"I am to go to Mitylene, of course, after what that fellow said, I could
not ask to have the other duty; but I feel that it is what I ought to be

"Who is to have it, sir," said Callias.

"No one, if you will believe it," answered the admiral, with an angry
stamp of the foot. "I mean no one of ourselves, of the Ten. They are all
so anxious to follow up the victory, as they put it, and make a great
show of taking Spartan ships, that they will not take the trouble.
Theramenes and Thrasybulus are to do it. I know that they have been in
command in former years and may be supposed to be competent.
Thrasybulus, too, is trustworthy; but Theramenes - to put it plainly - is
a scoundrel. You know that I don't care about politics; I am a plain
sailor and leave such things to others; but I say this, politics or no
politics, a man who turns against his friends is a scoundrel.[24] I
don't know what trick he is not capable of playing. Anyhow, whether
these two do the business ill or well, one of the Ten ought to go. It
would be better; and I am sure trouble will come of our not going. Mind
this is all in confidence. You are never to breathe a word of it, till I
give you leave."

"And am I to go with you, sir?" said Callias.

"No," was the answer; "I forgot to tell you; the worry of all this put
it out of my mind. You are to take the despatch to Athens."

"But the shipwrecked men" - exclaimed Callias.

"We must obey orders."

An hour afterward Callias was on his way to Athens; the storm had now
increased to something like a gale. As the waves came from the south it
was impossible to take a straight course for the point in view, lying as
it did almost due west. Few ships in those days could keep a straight
line with the wind on the quarter.[25] Indeed it was soon impossible to
keep up any sail at all, nor was it safe, even if the strength of the
rowers already wearied by the labors of the day, had permitted it to
keep the ship broadside to the waves. Nothing remained but to put her
about and drive before the wind, a sail being now hoisted again and the
rowers exerting themselves to the utmost to avoid being "pooped" by the
heavy waves. Toward morning the wind moderated, but by that time the
_Swallow_, for that was the name of the despatch-boat which had been
told off for the service, had been driven as much as fifty miles out of
her course. This would not have been of much consequence, but that the
timber of the _Swallow_ had been so strained by her battle with the sea
that she began to leak inconveniently, if not dangerously. Her crew,
too, were now in urgent need of rest. Under ordinary circumstances,
Chios, which could be seen, as the day broke, about ten miles on the
right bow, would have afforded a convenient shelter; but Chios was in
the hands of the enemy. The little island of Vara, lying some ten miles
to the north-west, was the only alternative. Here Callias, much against
his will, for he feared that his news would be anticipated, was
compelled to stop, the captains of the despatch-boat refusing to
proceed, until vessel and men were better able to face the weather.

As it turned out, the delay did no harm. In fact it was the means of his
reaching Athens with more speed and safety than he might otherwise have
done. A day indeed was lost in doing such repairs as the imperfect
resources of the little island permitted, but on the morrow, Callias set
out again, and was groaning over the day that had been lost, and the
very little good that the clumsy boat-builders had been able to do for
him, when he found himself being rapidly overhauled by a vessel which
had not long before hove in sight. Before noon he recognized the cut of
the disguised _Skylark_, and at once ran up a signal which Hippocles
whom he supposed to be on board would, he knew, recognize. The signal
was immediately answered, and before another half-hour had passed the
_Skylark_ was along-side. After a brief colloquy it was arranged that
the _Swallow_ should make the best of her way to Samos, where there was
an arsenal in which she could be properly repaired and that Callias with
his dispatches should take his passage to Athens in the yacht.

Hippocles was acquainted with the general fact that the Athenian fleet
had won a great victory; but he knew no details, and was eager to hear
from the lips of one who had taken a part in the action. And he had much
that was interesting to say to his young friend. The three weeks which
he had spent in Mitylene with the blockaded squadron had not made him
hopeful about the first issue of the war. He had found that Conon was
not hopeful, and Conon was as able and intelligent an officer as Athens
had in her service.

"This has been a stupendous effort on the part of the city," he said,
"and it has saved us for a time, but it can't be kept, and it can't be
repeated. Athens is like a gambler reduced to his last stake. He wins
it; very good. But then he has to throw again; and as often as he
throws, it is the same - if he loses, he loses all. And, sooner or later,
lose he must. In the long run the chances are against us. We have lost
our _morale_. I saw a good deal of Conon's men when I was shut up, and I
thought very badly of them; and he thinks badly, too, I know. It is only
a question of time. Do you know," he went on, sinking his voice to a
whisper - "and mark you, this is a thing that I should not venture to say
to anyone in the world but you - I am half inclined to wish that we had
been beaten in the last battle - that is, if Callicratidas had lived. A
noble fellow indeed! Do you know that he let the Athenians whom he took
at Methymna go on their _parole_? Any one else would have sold them for

"Well," said Callias, who was a little staggered by his friend's view of
affairs, "as your hero is drowned - mind that I quite agree in what you
say of him - perhaps it is better that things have turned out as they
have. And I can't believe that our chances are as bad as you make out.
Anyhow we are better off than when I saw you last."

"I hope so; I hope so;" said Hippocles in a despondent tone, "But they
might have done better. For instance, we have let the blockading
squadron at Mitylene escape."

"How was that?" asked Callias. "Did you see nothing of our fleet. It was
to sail northward at once."

"No - I never saw or heard of it. Now listen to what happened. On the day
after the battle - though of course I knew nothing of what
happened - _two_ despatch-boats came into the harbor - so at least
everyone thought - and the second had wreaths on mast and stern, as if it
had brought good news. And Eteonicus - he was in command of the
blockading squadron - was good enough to send us a herald with the
intelligence that Callicratidas had won a great sea fight, and that the
whole of the Athenian fleet had been destroyed. Of course we did not
quite believe that, but if only a quarter of it was true, it was not
pleasant hearing. My old sailing master, who has as sharp eyes as any
man I know, said to me. 'My belief, sir, is that it is all nonsense
about this great victory, and that the second boat was only the first
_dressed up_. I observed them both particularly, and they were amazingly
alike. In both the bow sides oars were just a little behind the stroke,
and one of the oars, I noticed, was a new one, and not painted like the
rest. And why should the man take the trouble to tell us about the
victory as he calls it. If it is true, he has us safe, and can cut us up

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 4 of 22)