Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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Callias lost no time in cultivating the acquaintance of his new friend.
The very next day he called upon him at as early an hour as etiquette
permitted, and was lucky enough to find him at home. He had lately
returned, indeed, from drilling with the troop of Knights to which he
belonged, and was just finishing his breakfast, which had been delayed
till his military duties had been performed.

"Will you drink a cup to our new friendship - if you will allow me to
call it so?" said Xenophon, to the young man as he entered the room.

"Excuse me," replied Callias, "if I decline."

"You are right," said Xenophon, "this is one of the offers which
formality commands us to make - whether rightly or wrongly, I cannot
say - but which I always myself refuse, and am glad to see refused by
others. But what will you? A game of koltabos, or a walk to the springs
of the Ilissus?"

"Either," replied Callias, "would be agreeable, but first now I have set
my heart on something else. You are a disciple of Socrates, I am told.
Can you manage that I may have the privilege of hearing him? I have
never had the chance of doing so before."

Xenophon's face brightened with pleasure when he heard the request.
"Excellent, my dear sir, you could not have suggested anything that
would have pleased me better. We shall certainly be good friends. I
always judge a man by what he thinks of Socrates. You are ready, I know,
to admire and love him, and I offer you my friendship in advance. Now
let us go and find him. It will not be difficult, for I know his ways
pretty well. There is a sacrifice in the Temple of Theseus, and he will
probably be there. There is no more diligent attendant at such
functions, and yet the fools and knaves say that he is an atheist. We
shall catch him just as he is leaving."

The subject of conversation between the two young men as they walked
along was naturally the character of this philosopher whom they were
about to see. Callias had much to ask, and Xenophon had still more to

"As you are going to see this man for the first time," said the latter,
"you will be interested in hearing how I first came to make his
acquaintance. It was about nine years ago, very soon, I remember, after
the first expedition sailed for Syracuse. I had been hearing a course of
lectures by Prodicus of Ceos, who was then all the fashion in Athens,
and was hurrying home to be in time for the midday meal. Socrates met us
in a narrow alley, and put his staff across it to bar the way. What a
strange figure he was, I thought. I had never seen him before, you must
know; for we had been living for some years on my father's estate in
Euboea. Certainly he looked more like a Silenus than an Apollo.
'Well,' my son, he said, looking at me with a smile that made him look
quite beautiful, 'can you tell me where a good tunic is to be
bought?' I thought it was an odd question, though certainly he might
want a tunic for himself, for his own was exceedingly shabby. However I
answered it to the best of my ability. 'And a good sword - where may that
be purchased?' That I told him also as well as I could. Some half-dozen
more things he asked me about, and I did my best to reply. At last he
said, 'Tell me then, my son, since you know so well where so many good
things are to be procured, tell me where the true gentleman[34] is to be
found?' That puzzled me exceedingly, and I could only lift my eyebrows
and shrug my shoulders. How could I answer such a question? Then he
said, 'follow me my son, and be taught.' I never went near Prodicus
again, you may be sure. My father was somewhat vexed, for he had paid a
quarter of a talent as fee for the course of lectures. However it did
not cost him anything, for Socrates will never take a fee. From that day
to this I have never missed an opportunity when I was not campaigning of
hearing him. But see there he is!"

[Illustration: THE TEMPLE OF THESEUS.]

Socrates was standing in the open space in front of the Temple of
Poseidon, with the customary group of listeners round him. As the two
young men came up the discussion which had been going on came to an end,
and the philosopher turned to greet the new comers. "Hail! Xenophon," he
cried, "and you, too, sir, for the friends of Xenophon are always
welcome." "You, sir," he went on addressing Callias, "are recently back
from the war; now tell me this." And he asked questions which showed
that military details were perfectly well known to him, better known to
him in fact than they were to Callias himself. These questions were
becoming a little perplexing, for Socrates had an inveterate habit of
driving into a corner, it may be said, every one with whom he conversed.
Luckily for Callias, another friend came up at the moment, and the great
examiner's attention was diverted.

"Ho! Aristarchus," he cried to the new comer, "how fare you?"

"But poorly, Socrates," was the reply. "Things are going very ill with

"And indeed," said the philosopher, "I thought that you had a somewhat
gloomy look. But tell me - what is your trouble? Xenophon here is your
kinsman, I know, and you will not mind speaking before him, and he will
answer for the discretion of his friend. Or would you prefer that we
should go apart and talk, for to that too, I doubt not, these two
gentlemen will consent?"

"Nay," said the man who had been addressed as Aristarchus, "I am not
ashamed or unwilling to speak before Xenophon and his friend Callias, in
whom I have the pleasure of recognizing a kinsman of my own. For that
from which I am suffering, though it troubles me, has nothing shameful
in it."

"Speak on then," said Socrates, "and, perhaps, among us we shall be able
to find some remedy for your trouble. For surely it is of some use to
share a burden if it be too heavy for one."

"Listen then, Socrates," said Aristarchus, "I have been compelled for
kindred's sake to take into my home not a few ladies, sisters, and
nieces, and cousins, whose husbands or fathers, or other lawful
protectors, have either perished in the war, or have been banished.
There are fourteen of them in all. Now, as you know, nothing comes in
from my country estate, for who will farm that which at any time the
enemy may ravage? And from my houses in the city there comes but very
little, for how few are they who are able to pay rent? And no business
is being done in the city, nor can I borrow any money. Verily there is
more chance of finding money in the street, than of borrowing. O,
Socrates, 'tis a grievous thing to see my own flesh and blood perish of
hunger, and yet, when things are as they are, I cannot find food for so

"'Tis grievous indeed," said Socrates. "But tell me - how comes it to
pass that Keramon feeds many persons in his name, and yet can not only
provide what is needful for himself and his inmates, but has so much
over that he grows rich while you are afraid of perishing of hunger?"

"Nay, Socrates, why ask such a question? The many persons whom he so
keeps are slaves, while the inmates of my house are free."

"Which then, think you, are the worthier, your free persons, or
Keramon's slaves?"

"Doubtless my free persons."

"But, surely, it is a shame, that he having the less worthy should
prosper, and you with the more worthy, be in poverty."

"Doubtless 'tis because his folk are artisans while mine have been
liberally educated."

"By artisans you mean such as know how to make useful things."


"Barley meal is a useful thing, for instance?"

"Very much so."

"And bread?"

"Very much so."

"And men's and women's cloaks, and short frocks, and mantles, and

"Very much so."

"But your folk don't know how to make any of these things. Is it so?"

"Nay, but they know how to make them all."

"Do you not know then, how Nausicydes not only supports himself and his
household by making barley meal, and has become so rich that he is often
called upon to make special contributions to the State[35] and how
Coroelus, the baker, lives in fine style on the profits of
bread-making, and Demias on mantle-making, and Menon on cloak-making,
and nearly every one in Megara on the making of vests?"

"That is very true, Socrates. But all these buy barbarians for slaves,
and make them work; but my people are free by birth and kinsfolk of my

"And because they are free and kinsfolk of yours must they do nothing
but eat and sleep? Do you suppose that other free people are happier
when they live in this indolent fashion, or when they employ themselves
in useful occupations? What about your kinsfolk, my friend? At present I
take it, you do not love them, and they do not love you, for you think
them a great trouble and loss to you, and they see that you feel them to
be a burden. It is only too likely that all natural affection will turn
under these circumstances to positive dislike. But if you will put them
in the way of making their own livelihood, every thing will go right;
you will have a kindly feeling for them because they will be helping
you, and they will have as much regard for you, because they will see
that you are pleased with them. They know, you say, how to do the things
that are a woman's becoming work; don't hesitate therefore to set them
in the way of doing it. I am sure that they will be glad enough to

"By all the gods, Socrates, you are right. I dare say I could borrow a
little money to set the thing going; but to tell you the truth, I did
not like to run into debt, when all the money would simply be eaten. It
is a different thing, now that there will be a chance of paying it back,
and I have no doubt that there will be some way of managing it."

Just at this point a little boy came up with a message for Socrates. "My
mistress bids me say," he cried in a somewhat undertone, "that the
dinner is waiting, and that you must come at once." "There are commands
which all must obey," said the philosopher with a smile, "and this is
one of them. And indeed it would be ungrateful to the excellent
Xanthippe, if after hearing she has taken so much pains to prepare one's
dinner, one was to refuse the very easy return of eating it. Farewell,
my friends."

And the philosopher went his way.

To Callias the conversation which he had just heard was peculiarly
interesting, because the theory in his family was that which was
probably accepted in almost every upper class house in Athens, that it
was a disgrace for a free-born woman to work for her living, and that
all handicrafts, even in those who constantly exercised them, were
degrading and lowering to the character. Xenophon already knew what his
master thought upon these points, but to his younger friend this "gospel
of work," as it may be called, was a positive revelation. He did not
value it even when, a few days later, he heard from Aristarchus that the
experiment had succeeded to admiration. "I only had to buy a few pounds
of wool," he said; "the women are as happy as queens, and I have not got
to think all day and night, but never find out, how to make both ends


[34] The "Kalokagathos" (literally handsome and good), combining the two
Greek ideals, beauty of mind and beauty of body.

[35] See note page 22.



All this time a gloom had been settling down over the Athenian people.
The official despatch, which, as giving details of the loss in the late
engagement, was so anxiously expected, did not arrive; but quite enough
information to cause a very general anxiety came to hand in various
ways. Private letters from men serving with the fleet began to be
brought by merchantships; and not a few persons were found who had
talked or who professed to have talked with sailors and marines who had
taken part in the action. These written and oral accounts were indeed
far from being consistent with each other. Some were obviously
impossible; more were presumably exaggerated. But they were all agreed
in one point. Not only had there been a serious loss of ships and men
during the battle, but this loss had been grievously aggravated by the
casualties that had taken place after the battle. It was pretty clear,
unless the whole of these stories were fictitious, that the second loss
had been more fatal than the first.

At last the long expected despatch arrived. It ran somewhat in this

"The victory which, by the favor of the gods and the good fortune of the
Athenian people, we lately won over the Spartans and their allies at
the Islands of Arginusæ has turned out to be no less important and
beneficial to the state than we had hoped it would be. The squadron of
the enemy that was blockading the harbor of Mitylene has disappeared:
nor indeed are any of his ships anywhere to be seen. Our fleet, on the
contrary, is stronger than it has been for some years past; and we are
daily receiving overtures of friendship from cities that have hitherto
been indifferent or hostile. But this success has not been achieved
without loss. The late battle was long and obstinately contested, and,
as has been mentioned in a former despatch, not a few of our ships were
either disabled or sunk. We did not neglect the duty of succoring the
crews of the vessels that had met with this ill-fortune, committing to
officers whom we knew to be competent, the task of giving such help and
assigning to them a sufficient number of ships. At the same time we did
not omit to make provision for a pursuit of the enemy. But unluckily
when the battle was but just finished, a storm arose so severe that we
could not either rescue our friends or pursue our enemy. These then
escaped, and those, or the greater part of them perished, having behaved
as brave men toward their country. Lists of those that have so died, so
far as their names are at present known, are sent herewith."

In this official communication, it will be seen, no blame was laid on
any person. The weather, and the weather alone, was given as the cause
of the disaster that had occurred. But in their private communications
with friends at home the generals were not so reticent. They had
commissioned, they said, Theramenes and Thrasybulus to save the
shipwrecked men. If all that was possible had not been done to execute
this commission it was they and they only who were to be blamed. Such
words, even if they are intended only for the private reading of the
people to whom they are written, seldom fail sooner or later to get out.
In this case so many people were profoundly and personally interested in
the matter that they got out very soon. And, of course, among the first
persons whom they reached were the two incriminated officers, Theramenes
and Thrasybulus. It was a charge, hinted at if not exactly made, which
no man would allow to be made against him without at least an attempt to
refute it. Theramenes, who had come back on leave not many days after
the battle, at once bestirred himself in his own defense. He was an able
speaker, all the more able because he was utterly unscrupulous; and he
had a large following of personal friends and partisans. On the present
occasion he was reinforced by the many citizens who had lost relatives
or friends in the late engagement. These were furious and not without
some cause. What had been at first represented as a great victory had at
length turned out to be as fatal as a great defeat. They loudly demanded
a victim. Somebody, they said, must be punished for so scandalous, so
deadly a neglect. Theramenes had the advantage of being on the spot, and
of being able to guide these feelings in a way that suited his own
personal interests. "I was commissioned," he said, "to do the work; I do
not deny it. But the charge was given me when it was almost too late to
execute it, and I hadn't the proper means at hand. I could not get hold
of the ships that were told off for this task, or of the crews who
should have manned them. If one of the ten had come himself to help me,
things might have been different. As it was, the men either could not be
found, or refused to come. A subordinate must not be blamed for failing
in what ought to have been undertaken by a chief in command."

These representations, in which, as has been seen, there was a certain
measure of truth, had a great effect. An assembly was held to consider
the contents of the second despatch, and at this it was resolved, with
scarcely an opposing voice, that the generals should be recalled. They
were publicly thanked for the victory which they had won, but they were
suspended, at least for the present, in their command, and successors
were sent out to replace them. Conon, as having been shut up at the time
in Mitylene, and being therefore manifestly clear of all blame in the
matter, was continued in office, and another of the ten had died. Eight,
therefore, were left to be affected by the decree. Of these eight two
determined not to run the risk of returning; the other six sailed at
once for home. Of these six Diomedon, about whom something has been said
already, was one.

As soon as was practicable after their arrival at Athens, an assembly
was held and they were called upon for their defence. The chief speaker
against them was Theramenes. His colleague, Thrasybulus, stood by
apparently approving by his presence the charge that was brought but not
opening his mouth. One man among the accused men might have easily
secured his own safety at the expense of his colleagues. If Diomedon had
stood up and recapitulated the advice which he had given in the council
held after the battle; if he had affirmed what none of his fellows
would have been able to deny, "I urged you to make the rescue of the
imperilled crews your first business, to use for it all the means at
your disposal, and to undertake it yourselves," he must have been
triumphantly acquitted, but he was of too generous a temper thus to save
himself. He chose to stand or fall with his fellows. All, accordingly,
put forward the same defence, and it was in substance this: "We did what
seemed best in our judgment. We detailed for the duty of saving the
crews what we considered to be an adequate force, and put over it men
whom we knew to be competent. If Theramenes accuses us, we do not accuse
him. We believe that he was hindered from doing the duty intrusted to
him by the storm, and that if he had had double the number of ships,
even the whole fleet, at his disposal, he would have been no less
powerless to give the shipwrecked men any effectual help."

There was a sincerity of tone about their defense which was just the
thing to win favor of such an audience as the Athenian assembly. There
were murmurs indeed. The friends and kinsfolk of the drowned men could
not endure to think that no one would be punished for what they believed
to be a shameful neglect. But the general applause drowned the
dissenting voices, and the friends of the accused began to hope that
they were safe. If there had been only a few more minutes of daylight,
such might have been the result. A show of hands was taken by the
presiding magistrate, and it was believed to be in favor of the accused,
but it was too dark to count; no regular decision could be made; and the
matter had to be adjourned to another meeting of the assembly.

But now came another change in the impulsive, passionate temper of the
people. The next day or the next day but one was the first of the great
family festival of Athens, the Apaturia, a celebration something like
the Christmas Day or the New Year's Day of the modern world. It was one
of the most cherished, as it was one of the most ancient of the national
festivals. All the great Ionic race, with scarcely an exception, kept
it, and had kept it from times running back far beyond history. The
family annals were now, so to speak, made up, and consecrated by a
solemn association with the past. If a marriage had been celebrated in
the family during the year it was now formally registered; if a son of
the house had reached his majority his name was now entered upon the
roll. These formalities were duly marked by customary sacrificing and
sacrifices were accompanied, as always in the ancient world, by
festivities. But family festivities are apt, as most of us know only too
well, to be marred by melancholy associations. It is delightful to greet
those that remain, but what of those who are gone? And so it had been
year after year, since the day when Athens embarked on the fatal war
which for nearly thirty years drained her resources. So it was, in a
special way, in the year of which I am writing. The men whom Athens had
lost were not hired servants but sons. Every one, the slaves only
excepted, left an empty place in some family gathering. And now for the
first time the city realized the greatness of her loss. The numbers had
been known before; but numbers, however startling, do not impress the
mind like visible facts, and now the visible facts were before the eyes
of all. The streets were filled with men and women in mourning garb,
for the families which had suffered individually assumed it. It seemed
as if almost every passer by had lost a kinsman. There could scarcely
have been any such proportion of mourners, but any uniform garb renders
the impression of being much more numerously worn than is really the

And there can be but little doubt that the demonstration was purposely
exaggerated. For now came in the sinister influence of political strife,
which since the oligarchical revolution of five years before had grown
more than ever bitter and intense. The accused leaders belonged to the
party of moderate aristocrats; a party loyal to the democratic
constitution of Athens, but disposed to interpret its provisions in a
conservative sense. The oligarchy hated them, and Theramenes had been an
oligarchical conspirator before, and was about to be again. And the
extremists on the other side hated them. Between the two a plot was
concocted. Men who had no kinsfolk among the lost soldiers and sailors
were bribed or otherwise persuaded to behave as if they had,[36] to come
into the streets with black clothes and shaven heads, and to swell the
numbers of the mourners, thus increasing the popular excitement.

Strangely enough it was the senate, the upper chamber of the Athenian
constitution that first gave this excitement an expression. At the first
meeting after the festival, Callixenus, a creature of Theramenes - the
man himself was probably too notorious to take an active part - proposed
a resolution which ran as follows:

"For as much as both the parties in this case, to wit, the prosecutor,
on the one hand, and the accused, on the other were heard in the late
assembly, it seems good to us that the Athenian people now vote on the
matter by their tribes, there being provided for each tribe two urns,
and that the public crier make proclamation as follows in the hearing of
each tribe: 'Let every one who finds the generals guilty of not rescuing
the heroes of the late sea fight deposit his vote in Urn No. 1. Let him
who is of the contrary opinion deposit his vote in Urn No. 2.'
Furthermore it seems good to us, that, if the aforesaid generals be
found guilty, death should be the penalty; that they should be handed
over to the Eleven,[37] and their property confiscated to the state,
excepting a tenth part, which falls to the goddess [Athene]."

The Senate passed this resolution, though there was a strong minority
that protested against it. The assembly was held next day, and
Callixenus came forward again and proposed his resolution as having
received the senate's sanction.

It was received with a roar of approval from the majority. But there
were some honest men who were not inclined to sanction a proceeding so
grossly illegal, for such indeed it was. One of them, Euryptolemus by
name, rose in his place, and spoke:

"There is an enactment which for many years has been observed by the
people of Athens for the due protection of persons accused of crime. By
this enactment it is provided that every person so accused shall be
tried separately, and shall have proper time allowed him for the
preparation of his defence. Seeing then that the resolution just
proposed to the assembly contravenes this enactment by providing that
the accused persons should be tried altogether and without such
allowance of due time, I hereby give notice that I shall indict
Callixenus its proposer for unconstitutional action."

A tremendous uproar followed the utterance of these words. "Who shall
hinder us from avenging the dead?" cried one man. "Shall this pedant

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 6 of 22)