Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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at his leisure. No, sir, I don't believe a word of it.' Well, I was not
certain that the old man was right, but I strongly suspected that he
was. Anyhow I was so convinced of it that I spent the whole night in
getting ready; and, sure enough, the next morning the blockading
squadron had slipped off, with nobody to hinder them."

"That was a very smart trick for a Spartan," said Callias.


[23] I may refer my readers to a signal instance in earlier Greek
history where the same system almost led to disaster. It was only by the
unusual personal influence of Miltiades, a personal influence almost
unparalleled in Athenian history, that thus the ten generals were
induced to fight at Marathon. There can be little doubt that, if the
conflict had been delayed the pro-Persian party might have seriously
hampered, if it did not altogether defeat, the efforts of the patriots.

[24] Theramenes had taken a prominent part four years before this date
in the establishment of the oligarchy of the Four Hundred; finding that
his own position was not such as he conceived to be suited to his
merits, and having reason also to believe that the oligarchy would soon
be overthrown - the fleet had declared against them - he changed sides and
was the means of bringing up the condemnation of two of his own intimate
friends, Antiphon and Archeptolemus.

[25] Catullus mentions it as a special excellence of his yacht that it

"Carry its load o'er stormy seas
Whether from right or left the breeze
Call o'er the main, as safe and fleet
Over course, as when, on either sheet
With equal strength blew fair behind,
With level keel the following wind."



The _Skylark_ excelled herself in the display of her sailing qualities.
Thanks to this, Callias, in spite of the untoward delays which had
occurred on his journey, was the first to bring intelligence of the
victory to Athens. The news ran like wild fire through the city,
gathering, as may be supposed, a vast number of imaginary details, as it
passed from mouth to mouth, and the assembly which was called by
proclamation for the next day, to hear the reading of the despatches,
was, considering the empty condition of the city, most unusually
crowded. No one who could crawl to the market-place was absent, and all
the entrances and approaches were thronged by women, children, and
slaves. The first stress of fear had been relieved, for it was known
that a victory had been won; but there was still much room for anxiety.
The victory had not been gained without cost - no victories ever
were - and it was only too probable that in this case the cost had been
heavy. The despatch was brief and formal. It told the numbers engaged,
and the order of formation, with the number of hostile vessels captured
or sunk. It mentioned the fact that there had been losses on the side of
the conquerors, and promised details when there should have been time to
ascertain the facts.

After the assembly had been dismissed, Callias was overwhelmed with
enquiries. To these he thought it well to return very vague answers. The
fact was that there was much that he knew and much that he did not know.
He knew the name of more than one of the ships that had been sunk or
disabled. Two or three had been run down before his eyes. About others
he had information almost equally certain. He could have told some of
his questioners what would have confirmed their worst fears. On the
other hand he could not give anything like a complete list of the
losses. Some enquirers he could reassure. He had seen or even talked to
their friends after the battle. All the admirals, he knew, were safe.
And steps, he was sure, had been taken to rescue the shipwrecked crews.
On the subject of Diomedon's fears he preserved absolute silence. If any
disaster had happened, it was only too sure to be heard of before long.

On the evening of the day of assembly a great banquet was held in the
Prytaneum, or Town-hall of Athens. Such a banquet was always an
interesting sight, and on this occasion Callias, as he witnessed it for
the first time, also saw it to the very greatest advantage. All the
public guests[26] of the city that were not absent on active service or
were not positively hindered from coming by age or infirmity were
present. The ranks of these veterans were indeed sadly thinned. The war
had been curiously deadly to officers high in command. The fatal
expedition to Sicily had swept off many of the most distinguished.
Others had fallen in the "little wars" in which Athens like all states
that have wide dominions had been perpetually involved. One famous
survivor of a generation that had long since passed away was there,
Myronides, the victor of Oenophyta. The old man had been born in the
Marathon year, and was therefore now eighty-four. His life, it will be
seen, embraced with remarkable exactitude the period of the greatness of
Athens. The victory that had made him famous had been won fifty-one
years before, and had been, so to speak, the "high water mark" of
Athenian dominion.[27] He had lived to see almost its lowest ebb, though
happily for himself as he died before the year was out, he was spared
from seeing the absolute ruin of his country. Callias was distantly
related to him and was on terms of as close a friendship as the
difference of age permitted with his son Eteonicus, one of the ablest
and most patriotic statesmen of the time. After the libation which was
the usual signal for the wine drinking, had been poured, the old man
rose from his place, as his habit was, and walked down the hall,
touching our hero on his shoulder as he passed.

"Come," he said, as Callias looked up, "if you can spare half an hour
from the wine cup to bear an old man company."

The young man immediately left his place and accompanied the veteran to
one of the small chambers leading from the hall.

"And now tell me all about it," he said, when they were seated.

Callias gave him as full an account as he could of all that he had seen
during the campaign. Myronides plied him with questions that showed an
intelligence of unabated vigor. The armament and sailing qualities of
the ships, the _morale_ and _physique_ of the crews, every detail, in
fact, that concerned the efficiency of the force that Athens had in the
field, were subjects of liveliest interest to the old man. When he had
heard all that his young kinsman had to say, he heaved a deep sigh. "Ah!
my dear boy," he said, "things have come to a pretty pass with Athens.
As an old soldier I know what some of the things that you tell me mean
better than you do yourself. We are near the beginning of the end, and I
can only hope that I shall be gone when the end itself comes. I don't
mean that this is not a great victory that Diomedon and the rest of them
have won; but it is a victory that will never be won again. In the very
nature of things it can not. Do you think that the old men and boys that
I won the day with at Oenophyta[28] would have sufficed for a regular
force, a force that the city could rely on? Of course not. I could not
even have afforded to risk the chance if they had not had something
strong behind them. But now what is there? Old men and boys, and nothing
behind them. The slaves, you say? Very good; they fought very well, I
hear. And of course they will get their freedom. Do you think that they
will fight as well again after they have got it? Why should they? A man
may as well die as be a slave, and so they might very well risk their
lives to get free. But, once free, why should they risk them again?"

"What!" cried Callias, "not to keep the Spartans out of Athens?"

"You talk as an Athenian," said the old man, "and they are not
Athenians. You and I, I allow, would sooner die than see Spartans within
the walls: but what would it matter to them? They could eat and drink,
buy and sell just as comfortably whoever might be their masters. Yes, my
son; it is all over with a city that has to fall back on its slaves.
There is only one chance, and that is to make peace _now_, before we
lose all that we have gained. But what chance is there of that? Is there
any one who would even dare to propose such a thing?"

"You would, sir," said the young man.

"Yes, I might; but to what profit? I don't suppose they would do me any
harm. 'Poor old man!' they would say, 'he dotes.' But as for listening
to me - I know better than that. Is there one of the responsible
statesmen who would venture to give such advice? Would my son Eteonicus
venture? Not he; and yet he is a sensible and honest young man, and
knows that I am right. But it would be as much as his life, or, what he
values more, his whole career is worth, to hint at such thing. Oh! what
opportunities I have seen lost in this way. Unfortunately a victory
makes the Athenians quite impracticable.[29] They don't seem capable of
realizing that the wheel is certain to take a turn. But you have had
enough of an old man's croakings. The gods grant that these things may
turn out better than my fears! And now give me your arm to the gate,
where my people will be waiting for me."

Callias conducted the old man to the door, and saw him put safely into
the litter which was waiting for him. He then stood meditating how he
should dispose of himself for the rest of the evening. He was unwilling
to return to the banquet. Questions would be put to him, he knew, by
many of the guests to which it would be difficult either to give or to
refuse an answer. He would gladly, indeed, have hidden himself
altogether till the fuller despatches should have arrived, which would
relieve him of the necessity of playing any longer the difficult part
which had been imposed upon him. His thoughts naturally turned to
Hippocles and Hermione, and he had already taken some steps in the
direction of the Peiraeus, when the thought occurred to him that he was
scarcely on terms of such intimacy with the family as would warrant a
visit at so late an hour. As he stood irresolute, the door of a
neighboring house opened, and a party of four young men issued from it
into the street.

"Ah!" cried one of them, "'tis the sober Callias. Seize him, Glaucus and
Eudaemon, and make him come with us."

The two men addressed ran up to our hero, and laid hold each of an arm.

"You are a prisoner of my spear," said the first speaker, whose name, I
may say, was Ctesiphon, "and may as well submit to your fate with as
much grace as possible. You shall not suffer anything unendurable, and
shall be released at the proper time. Meanwhile you must join our

"I submit," said Callias, willing, perhaps, to have the question that
had been puzzling him settled for him. "But tell me, if I have to follow
you, whither you are bound."

"We are going to the house of Euctemon, where there will be something, I
know, worth seeing and hearing."

"But I am a stranger," said Callias.

"A stranger!" cried Ctesiphon, "you are no such thing. The man who
brings good news to Athens is the friend of everybody. Besides Euctemon
is my first cousin, and he is always pleased to see my friends. You
should have been at his dinner, but that there was no room on his
couches for more guests. But now when the tables are removed[30] we
shall easily find places. But come along or we shall lose something."

There was no want of heartiness in Euctemon's greeting to his new
guests. To Callias he was especially polite, making room for him on his
own couch. When the new arrivals were settled in their places, the host
clapped his hands. A white-haired freedman, who acted as major-domo,

"We are ready for Stephanos," said Euctemon.

A few minutes afterwards a figure appeared, so curiously like the
traditional representations of Homer that every one was startled.
Stephanos was a rhapsodist, or professional writer, and he had made it
one of the aims of his life to imitate as closely as he could the most
distinguished member that his profession could boast. In early life he
had been a school master, and an accident, if we may so describe a blow
from the staff of a haughty young aristocrat, whom he had ventured to
chastise, had deprived him of sight. His professional education had
included the knowledge of the authors whom the Greeks looked upon as
classics, Homer holding the first place among them, and he was glad to
turn this knowledge to account, when he was no longer able to teach. In
this occupation too his blindness could be utilized. It had its usual
effect of strengthening the memory, and it helped him to look the part,
which, as has been said, he aspired to play.

The blind minstrel was guided to the seat which had been reserved for
him in the middle of the company by an attendant, who also carried his

"What shall we have, gentlemen?" asked the host. "You will hardly find
anything worth learning that Stephanos does not know."

The guests had various tastes, so various that it seemed very difficult
to make a choice. One wanted the story of the Cyclops, another the tale
as told by Demodocus to Alcinous and the Phæacian princes, of the loves
of Ares and Aphrodite. A third, of a more sober turn of mind, called for
one of the didactic poems of Solon, and a fourth would have one of the
martial elegies with which the old Athenian bard Tyrtaeus stirred, as
was said, the spirits of the Spartan warriors.

"Let Callias, the bringer of good news, name it," said Euctemon, after
some dozen suggestions had been made.

The proposal was received with a murmur of approval.

The young man thought for a moment. Then a happy idea struck him. About
a year before there had occurred an incident which had roused the
deepest feeling in Athens. The aged Sophocles, accused by his son
Iophon before a court of his clansmen, of imbecility and incapacity for
managing his affairs, had recited as a sufficient vindication of his
powers, a noble chorus from a play which he was then composing, the last
and ripest fruit of his genius - the "Oedipus in Colonus." The verses
had had a singular success, as indeed they deserved to have, in catching
the popular fancy. They were exquisitely beautiful, and they were full
of patriotic pride. Every one had them on his lips; and before they had
time to grow hackneyed, the interest in them had been revived by the
death of the veteran poet himself.

"Let us have the 'Praises of Athens' by Sophocles the son of Sophilus of

The choice met with a shout of applause. The minstrel played a brief
prelude on his harp in the Dorian or martial mood,[31] and then began:

"Swell the song of praise again;
Other boons demand my strain,
Other blessings we inherit,
Granted by the mighty spirit;
On the sea and on the shore,
Ours the bridle and the oar.
Son of Chronos old whose sway
Stormy winds and waves obey,
Thine be heaven's well-earned meed,
Tamer of the champing steed;
First he wore on Attic plain
Bit of steel and curbing rein.
Oft too, o'er the water blue,
Athens strains thy laboring crew;
Practiced hands the barks are plying,
Oars are bending, spray is flying,
Sunny waves beneath them glancing.
Sportive myriads round them dancing,
With their hundred feet in motion,
Twinkling 'mid the foam of ocean."

He concluded amidst thunders of applause, the reference to the fleet
being especially rewarded with a purse from the host and a shower of
gold pieces from the guests.

Other recitations followed, not all, it must be confessed, in so
elevated a strain; each was produced with a few bars of music
appropriate to its character.

The next entertainment was of a less intellectual kind. Now dancers were
introduced into the room by the trainer who had taught them, and whose
slaves in fact they were. The man was a red-faced, bloated looking
creature, who, however, had been very active in his time, and could
still display a wonderful amount of agility when he was engaged in
teaching his pupils. The dancers were brother and sister, twins, and
curiously alike, though the boy was nearly a half-head taller, and
generally on a larger scale than the girl. The performance commenced
with a duet of the harps and the flute. The harp, a small instrument
not larger than a violin was played by the boy, the flute by a female
player, who had come into the room along with the dancers. After a while
the harp became silent, the flute continuing to give out a very marked
measure. To this the girl began to dance, whirling hoops into the air as
she moved, and catching them as they fell. Many were in the air at once,
and the girl neither made a single step out of time nor let a single
hoop fall to the ground.

A more difficult and exciting performance followed. The flute-player
changed the character of her music. The Lydian measure which had been
admirably suited to the graceful steps of the dance gave place to the
swift Phrygian scale, wild and fantastic music such as might move the
devotees of Cybele or Dionysus to the mysterious duties of their
worship. At the same time an attendant of the trainer brought in a large
hoop, studded round its inner circle with pointed blades. The girl
commenced to dance again with steps that grew quicker and quicker with
the music, till, as it reached a climax of sound, she leapt through the
hoop. The flute-player paused for a moment, as the dancer turned to
recover her breath, her bosom rising and falling rapidly, and her eyes
flashing with excitement. Then the music and the dance began again, with
the same _crescendo_ of sound and motion, till the same culminating
point was reached, and the same perilous leap repeated.

The spectators watched the scene with breathless interest; but it was an
exhibition that was scarcely suited to Greek taste. A Greek could be
even horribly cruel on occasions, but a cruel spectacle - and spectacles
that depend for their attraction on the danger to the performer are
critically cruel - offended their artistic taste. The company began to
feel a little uneasy, and Euctemon finally interrupted the festival when
after the second leap had been sucessfully accomplished he signed to the
flute-player to cease her music.

"Child," he said to the dancer, "Aphrodite and the graces would never
forgive me, if you were to come to any harm in my house. It is enough;
you have shown us that no one could be more skilful or more graceful
than you."

The boy and girl now performed together in what was called the Pyrrhic
or war dance. Each carried a light shield and spear, made of silvered
tin. They represented two warriors engaged in single combat. Each took
in turn the part of the assailant and the assailed, the one darting
forward the spear which had been carefully made incapable of doing any
harm, the other either receiving the blow upon his shield or avoiding it
with agile movements of the body.[32] The flute-player accompanied the
dance with a very lovely and spirited tune, while the company looked on
with the greatest admiration, so agile, so dexterous, and so invariably
graceful were the motions of the two dancers.

When the boy and girl had retired, and while the guests were again
devoting themselves to the wine, Callias was accosted by a neighbor with
whose handsome features, characterized as they were by a gravity not
often seen in young Athenians, he was familiar, though he did not happen
ever to have made his acquaintance.

"I am about to retire," said the stranger, "and if I may presume so
far, I would recommend you to do the same. Our host is hospitable and
generous, and has other virtues which I need not enumerate; but his
entertainments are apt to become after a certain hour in the night such
as no modest young man - and such from your face I judge you to be - would
willingly be present at. So far we have had an excellent and blameless
entertainment; but why not depart. What say you?"

"That I am ready to go with you," answered Callias. "My friend Ctesiphon
brought me hither, and I know nothing of our host except the report of
his riches and liberality." "What! are you going?" cried the host, as
the two young men rose from their places. "Nay, but you are losing the
best part of the entertainment. It is but a short time to the first
watch when Lyricles will come with his troop of dancers. He says that
they are quite incomparable."

"Nay, sir," said the young man who had spoken to Callias, "you must
excuse us."

"Ah!" cried one of the guests, a young dandy, whose flushed face and
flower-garland set awry on his forehead seemed to show that he had been
indulging too freely in his host's strong Chian wine, "'Tis old
Silverside. He pretends to be a young man; but I believe that he is
really older than my father. At least I know that the old gentleman is
far more lively. Come, Philip and Hermogenes," he went on addressing two
of his neighbors, "don't let us permit our pleasant party to be broken
up in this way."

The three revellers started up from their places, and were ready to stop
the departing guests by force. But the host, who was still sober, and
was too much of a gentleman to allow annoyances of the kind to be
inflicted upon anyone in his house, interfered.

"Nay, gentlemen," he cried, "I will put force on no man for if our
friends think that they can be better or more pleasantly employed
elsewhere, I can only wish them good night, and thank them for so much
of their company as they have been pleased to bestow upon us."

The two, accordingly, made their escape without any further

"Will you walk with me as far as my house," said Callias' companion to
him. "It lies in the Agræ.[33] The night is fine and I shall be glad of
your company."

Callias cheerfully consented, and was glad that he had done so, so witty
and varied was his companions conversation.

When they had reached their destination his new friend invited him to
enter. This he declined to do for the hour was late, and he wished to be
at home.

"Well then," said the other, "we can at least meet again. This, you see,
is my house, and my name is Xenophon, the son of Gryllus."


[26] Persons who had rendered distinguished services to their country in
peace or war received, among other rewards, the privilege, lasting for
life, of dining in the Town hall. The city had no greater honor to

[27] It had brought about for a time the subjection of all the
Boeotian towns (Thebes only excepted) and of Phocis to Athens.

[28] Myronides marched out with the citizens above and under the
military age - all the available force that was left at Athens at the
time - and won two victories, the first at Megara, the second and most
famous of the two at Oenophyta in Boeotia.

[29] The old man was thinking of the Spartan offer to make peace after
the capture of the five hundred and ninety-two prisoners at Pylos (B. C.
425). Terms much more favorable might have been secured than were
obtained four years afterwards by the Peace of Nicias. Again, after the
defeat and death of the Spartan admiral Mindarus in B. C. 410 peace
might have been made, and the ruin of Athens probably postponed for many
years; but the people refused to enter into negotiations.

[30] When the meal was ended the tables were not cleared, but removed.

[31] There were three original moods in Greek music, the Dorian,
Phrygian, and Lydian. The last of these was in a major scale, and was
reckoned to be plaintive and effeminate. So Milton writes in

"And ever against eating cares
Lap one in soft Lydian airs
Married to immortal verse;
Such as the melting soul may pierce
In notes with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out."

The Dorian was in a minor scale, and was considered to be manly and
vigorous. Martial music was of this kind. So, to quote Milton again, we

"Anon they move
In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood
Of flutes and soft melodies; such as raised
To heights of noblest temper heroes old
Coming to battle."

The third, or Phrygian, was also minor, and was considered to be
suitable for sacrifices and other religious functions as being of an
ecstatic kind. There were combinations and modifications of these moods.
Readers who may desire to know more of the subject, should consult
Professor Mahaffy's _Rambles and Studies in Greece_, pp. 424-444 (3rd
edition). A more elaborate account may be found in Mr. Chappell's
History of Music.

[32] So Hector in the single combat with Ajax.

[33] A quarter of Athens south of the city on the Ilissus.


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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 5 of 22)