Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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with his indictment stand between the Athenian people and their desire
to do justice?" shouted another. But the excitement rose to its height
when a man clad as a mariner forced his way through the crowded meeting,
and struggled by the help of his companions into the _Bema_, the
platform or hustings of the place of assembly.

It was a strange figure to stand in that place from which some of the
famous orators and statesmen of the world had addressed their
countrymen. He was evidently of the lowest rank. His dress was ragged
and soiled. His voice, when he spoke, was rough and uncultured. Yet not
Pericles himself who so often speaking from that place

"Had swayed at will that fierce democracy,"

ever spoke with more effect.

"Men of Athens," he cried, "I was on the _Cheiron_. I was run down by a
Corinthian ship just before the battle came to an end. The _Cheiron_
sank immediately; I went down with her, but managed to get free, and
came up again to the surface of the water. I saw a meal-tub floating by
me, and caught hold of it. Some ten or twelve men were near me. They
kept themselves up for a time by swimming, but sank one by one. I spoke
to several of them, and bade them keep up their spirits, because the
admirals would be sure to rescue us. No help came. At last only one was
left. He was my brother-in-law. I made him lay hold of the other side of
the meal-tub; but it was not big enough to keep us both up. He let go of
it again. He said to me 'Agathon' - that is my name - 'you have a wife and
children; I am alone. Bid them remember me; and tell the men of Athens
that we have done our best in fighting for our country, and that the
admirals have left us to perish.'"

Was the man telling the truth, or was he one of those historic liars
that have made themselves famous or infamous for all time by the
magnitude of the fictions that they have invented just at the critical
time when men were most ready to accept them.[38]

Whether it was true or false, the story roused the people to absolute
fury. Thousands stood up in their places and shook their fists at the
accused, and at the orators who had spoken in their favor, while they
screamed at the top of their voices, "Death to the generals! death to
the murderers!"

A momentary silence fell upon the excited crowd when a well-known orator
of the intense democratic party threw himself into the hustings.

"I propose that the names of Euryptolemus and of all those who have
given notice of the indicting Callixenus be added to the names of the
accused generals, and be voted upon in the same way for life and death."

The speaker added no arguments; and the roars of approval that went up
from the assembly showed sufficiently that no arguments were needed. The
advocates of constitutional practice were cowed. It was only too plain
that to persist would surely be to meet themselves the fate of the
accused. Euryptolemus was a brave man, and as we shall soon see, did not
intend to desert his friends; but for the present he gave way. "I
withdraw my notice," he cried, reflecting doubtless that he could renew
it when the people should become more ready to listen to reason and
justice. But there was still another constitutional bulwark to be thrown
down. The presiding magistrates refused to put the motion to the
assembly. Their chief (or chairman as we should call him) rose in his
place. He was pale and agitated, and his voice could not be heard beyond
the benches nearest to him when he said, "The motion of Callixenus is
against the laws, and we cannot put it to the assembly."

"They refuse! they refuse!" was the cry that went from mouth to mouth.
Again the rage of the multitude rose to boiling point, and again the
popular orator saw his opportunity.

"I propose," he said, appearing again in the hustings, "that the names
of the presiding magistrates be added to those of the accused in the
voting for life and death."

A shout of approval more vehement than ever greeted this announcement.
Once more the policy of concession, or shall we say of cowardice
prevailed. The magistrates conversed a few moments in hurried whispers,
and then advanced to the railings in front of their seats. It was
immediately seen that they had yielded, and loud applause followed.
"Hail to the popular magistrates! Hail to the friends of the people!"
was the universal cry. But one was still sitting in his place. His
colleagues turned back to bring him. They talked, they gesticulated,
they laid hold of him by the arms; they were trying to force him out of
his seat. He heeded them not; to all persuasion he returned the same
answer: "I am set to administer the laws, and will do nothing that is
contrary to them." The most of the house could, of course, hear nothing
of what was being said; but they could see plainly what had happened.
"Socrates refuses! Socrates refuses!" was now the cry, followed by
shouts of "Death to Socrates!" "Death to the blasphemer! death to the

The philosopher sat unmoved, and his colleagues made no further attempt
to persuade him. They took what was, perhaps, the only possible course
under the circumstances - for they had not all the martyr-like temper of
Socrates - and put the question without him. It was carried by a large

The presiding magistrate, having announced the result of the vote, went
on: "Seeing that it has seemed good to the Athenian people to try the
generals accused of negligence in saving the lives of citizens, the said
generals are hereby put upon their trial. If they, or any citizen on
their behalf, wish to address the assembly, let them or him speak."

It might have been thought that the furious crowd which had been ready
to overpower with violence the advocates of constitutional practice
would have howled down any who dared to advocate so unpopular a cause.
But it was not so. The majority, having swept away, as they thought,
the trammels of technicality, in their eagerness for justice, had no
wish to disregard justice by refusing a hearing to persons on their
defense. Whatever the faults of the Athenian democracy, it was at least
ready to hear both sides. When therefore Euryptolemus rose to address
the assembly on behalf of the generals, an instantaneous silence
followed; nor was he interrupted during the delivery of his speech
except, it may be, by occasional murmurs of approval. He spoke as

"Men of Athens, I have three things to do now that I address you. First,
I have to blame in some degree my dear friend and kinsman Pericles, and
my friend Diomedon; second, I have to plead somewhat on their behalf;
third, I have to give you such advice as will in my judgment best
advantage Athens. I blame them because they, through their generous
temper, have taken upon themselves the fault which, if it exists, lies
upon others. For indeed what happened after the battle was this:
Diomedon advised that the whole fleet should proceed to the relief of
the disabled ships and their crews. Herasinides counselled that the
whole fleet should be sent in pursuit of the enemy. Meranylus declared
that both duties might be discharged together, part being sent against
the enemy, and part to help the shipwrecked men. And this last course
was actually taken. Forty-seven ships were told off for this duty.
Three, that is, from each of the eight divisions, ten belong to private
captains, ten that were from Samos, and three that belonged to the
commander-in-chief. And three ships were committed to the charge of
Thrasybulus and Theramenes, the very men who now bring these charges
against the accused. Yet these men I do not even now, on behalf of the
generals, myself accuse. I allow that the violence of the storm
prevented them from executing this order which had been given them.

"So far then, men of Athens, do I blame the accused, and I do plead for
them. And now let me venture to give you some advice. Give these men
time, if it be but one day only, to make their defence. You know that
there is yet a form of law by which it is enacted: 'If any person hath
aggrieved the people of Athens, he shall be imprisoned and brought to a
trial before the people; and in case he be convicted, he shall be put to
death and thrown into the pit, his goods and chattels to be confiscated
to the state, reserving a tenth part for the goddess.' By this law try
the accused. Give to each a separate day and try them in due order. So
will you judge them according to the law, and not seem, as verily you
will seem if you adopt the resolution of Callixenus, to be allies of the
Lacedæmonians, by putting to death the very men who have taken twenty of
their ships.

"Why indeed are you in such vehement haste? Are you afraid to lose your
hold of life and death? That right no one doubts or threatens. Should
you not rather be afraid lest you put an innocent man to death? One man
do I say, nay many innocent men? And lest, afterwards repenting of your
deed, you shall reflect how ill and unjustly you have acted? Forbid it,
ye gods, that the Athenians should do any such thing. Take care,
therefore, I implore you, that you, being successful, do not act as they
often act, who are on the brink of despair and ruin. Only those who are
without hope insult the gods; yet somehow you will insult them, if
instead of submitting to them on points that are subject to their will
alone, you condemn those men who failed because it was the pleasure of
the gods that they should fail. You would do more justly if you honor
these men with crowns of victory rather than visit them with this
punishment of death."

A visible effect was produced by this speech. That the republic should
put to death its successful generals almost in the moment of victory
seemed to many to be the very height of folly, even of impiety. The gods
had favored these men. To lay hands upon them would be an insult to
heaven. But supposing they had erred, would it be well for the state to
deprive itself of the services of its most skillful servants? This
seemed the common sense view. The question was: would it prevail against
the sticklers for law, those who were hardened by the sense of personal
loss, and the unscrupulous partisans who were ready to seize any pretext
for destroying political opponents? The voters filed past the balloting
urns, and dropped their votes as they passed. No one could guess what
the result would be, for no one could watch more than one of the ten
pairs of urns - a pair to each tribe - which were placed to receive the
suffrages. The process took no little time, and then when it was
finished, there was the counting, also a long and tedious process. It
was almost dark when the tables were finished.

In the midst of a profound silence the presiding magistrate stood up. It
was now dark, and his figure was thrown into striking relief by the
lamps with the help of which the votes had been counted. He read the
numbers from a small slip of paper.[39] "There have voted," he said,
"for condemnation 3254, for acquittal 3102."

The sensation produced by the announcement was intense. Not a few who
had voted 'guilty' already half repented of what they had done. Indeed
the reaction which ended in the banishment and ultimately the death by
starvation of the author of the proposal may be said to have begun at
that moment. The general excitement rose to a still higher pitch when
the officers of the Eleven, the magistrates to whose custody condemned
criminals were handed, were seen making their way, lighted by slaves
holding torches, to the place where the accused were sitting. There was
not one of the six whose features were not familiar to many in the
assembly. More than one had tendered distinguished service to Athens;
and one, Pericles, son of the great statesman by Aspasia, bore a name
which no Athenian could pronounce without some emotion of pride and
gratitude. It so happened that it was he on whom the officers laid
hands. Something like a groan went up from the crowd; but it was too
late to undo what they had done, and it was too early for the repentance
that had already begun to work to have any practical effect. The six
were led off to immediate execution.

Callias anxious to say a few words of farewell to his friend and kinsman
Diomedon had hurried round, as soon as he heard the announcement of the
numbers, to the door by which he knew the condemned would be taken from
the place of assembly. The president of the Eleven who was conducting
the matter in person, as became an occasion so important, allowed a
brief interview.

The young man was so overcome with grief that he could only throw
himself into the arms of his friend and cling to him in speechless
agony. Diomedon, on the contrary, was perfectly calm and collected. "My
son," he said, "this has ended as badly as I thought that it would - you
will remember what I said to you after the battle. For myself, this that
I am about to suffer is scarcely a thing to be lamented. It is hard
indeed to have such a return for my services to Athens; and I would
gladly have served her again. It has not so seemed good to the
Athenians. Let it be so. I am delivered from trouble to come. I would
not have fled from them willingly, but if my countrymen compel me, why
should I complain? That at least Socrates has taught me not to do. And
this day has at least brought this good, that no one can doubt hereafter
that he believes what he says. For you, my son, I have but one word. Do
not despair of your country. A grateful child pays his dues of nurture
even to an impassive mother. And now farewell!"

An hour afterwards he and his colleagues were lying mangled corpses at
the bottom of the pit.[40]


[36] Xenophon, who was probably in Athens at the time, positively
asserts that this was done, and I cannot think that the arguments of Mr.
Grote countervail his authority.

[37] The "Eleven" were commissioners of police who had, besides the
charge of the guardians of public order, the care of the prisoners, and
the custody of criminals.

[38] One of the most notorious instances in modern times was that of the
Tartar who after the battle of the Alma invented the news that
Sebastopol was taken. The report was almost universally believed in
England for some days, and the contradiction of it caused the bitterest

[39] Paper made from the rind of the _papyrus_, a reed which grew in the
Nile and which the Egyptians knew by the name of _Byblos_ (hence our
'bible'). Parchment in its present form did not become common till much
later than this time (even B. C. 150), though skin seems to have been
used for writing. For ordinary purposes paper was used.

[40] Mr. Grote says that the condemned generals drank hemlock but it is
evident from the report of Euryptolemus which is substantially taken
from Xenophon's report that the mode of execution for persons condemned
under such charges as that brought against the generals was by being
thrown into the Pit. This place was called the _Barathron_ and was
within the city walls and was a deep pit with hooks fastened into the
walls. The officer in charge of it was called "The Man of the Pit."



The execution of the generals was a blow of such severity that Callias
was absolutely prostrated by it. As a patriotic Athenian he felt
overwhelmed both with shame and with despair. That his country should be
capable of such ingratitude and folly, should allow private revenge or
party spite to deprive her of the generals who could lead her troops to
victory made it impossible to hope. The end must be near, for the gods
must have smitten her with the madness which they send upon those whom
they are determined to destroy. And then he had loved Diomedon almost as
a son loves a father. Left an orphan at an early age he had found in
this kinsman an affectionate and loyal guardian; and he had made his
first acquaintance with war under his auspices. He had in him a friend
whom he felt it would be quite impossible to replace.

For some days Callias remained in strict seclusion at home, refusing all
visitors, and, in fact, seeing no one, except the aged house-steward,
who had been now the faithful servant and friend of three generations of
his family. Even when Hippocles himself, on the fifth day after the
disastrous meeting of the assembly, sent in an urgent request that he
might be allowed to see him, the steward was directed to meet him with
the same refusal. The old man contrary to his custom of prompt and
unhesitating obedience, lingered in the room after he had received this
answer, and was obviously anxious to speak. "Well! Lycides," said the
young man, his attention attracted even in the midst of his
preoccupation by this unusual circumstance, "What is it? What do you

"It would be well, sir," replied the man, "if you would see the worthy
Hippocles. He declares that the affair of which he is come is one of the
very highest importance."

Callias simply shook his head.

The steward began again, "Oh! sir - "

Callius interrupted him. "You are an old man, and a friend whom my
father and my grandfather trusted, and I would not say a harsh word to
you. But if you will not leave the room, I must."

The old man's eyes filled with tears. He had never heard his young
master speak in such a tone before. Still he would not go, without
making another effort.

He rapidly advanced to where his master was sitting, his face buried in
his hands, and throwing himself on the ground, caught the young man by
the knees.

"Listen, sir," he cried, "I implore you, by the gods, and by the memory
of your father and your grandfather, who both died in my arms."

"Speak on," cried Callias. "It seems I am not my own master any longer."

"Oh! sir," the old man continued, "your liberty, your life is in

These words, uttered as they were in a tone of conviction that could
not be mistaken, startled the young man out of the indifference which
his profound depression had hardened.

"What do you mean?" he cried.

"I have known it since yesterday at noon," the steward replied, "and
have been anxiously thinking over with myself how I could best make it
known to you. And now Hippocles has come to say the same thing. For the
sake of all the gods, trust and listen to what he has to tell you."

"Bring him in, if you will have it so," said Callias.

Hippocles came into the room with outstretched hands and caught the
young man in a close embrace. The warmth and tenderness of this greeting
had the happiest result. Callias was moved from the stupor of grief
which had overwhelmed him. Bowing his head on his friend's shoulder, he
burst into a passion of tears, - for tears were a relief which the most
heroic souls of the ancient world did not refuse to themselves. His
friend allowed his feelings to express themselves without restraint, and
then as the violence of the young man's emotion began to subside, he put
in a few words, instinct with heartfelt sympathy, about the friend whom
they had lost. Thus, with his usual tact, he waited for Callias himself
to open the subject in which he now felt sure his interest had been
aroused. It was soon after that the young man asked: "What is this that
old Lycides has been saying about my liberty and life being in danger?
He has known it, he says, since yesterday, and you know it too. What can
he mean?"

"He is quite right," replied Hippocles. "He knows something and I know
something. Now listen. Your parting with Diomedon was observed. The men
who murdered him - and by all the gods! there never was a fouler murder
done in Athens - cannot but look for vengeance to come upon them. To
avoid it or to postpone it they will stick at nothing. No near friend or
relative of their victims is safe. I know - for I have friends in places
you would not think - mark you, I _know_ that your name is among those
who will be accused in the next assembly."

"Accused," cried Callias, "accused of what? Of being bound by kindred
and affection to one of the noblest of men. By heavens! let them accuse
me. I should glory to stand and defend myself on such a charge. If I
could only tell that villain Theramenes what I think of him I should be
afraid of nothing."

"That is exactly what I thought you would say," replied Hippocles, "nor
can I blame you. But have patience. Theramenes will get his deserts if
there are gods in heaven and furies in hell. But have patience. Leave
his punishment to them. But meanwhile don't give him the chance of
burdening his soul with another crime."

"What would you have me do then?" asked Callias.

"Fly from Athens," replied his older friend.

"What! fly, and leave these traitors and murderers to enjoy their
triumph! Not so; not if I were to die to-morrow."

"My dear young friend, you will help your country, which, in spite of
all her faults, you wish, I presume, to serve, and avenge your friends
all the more surely if you will yield to the necessities of the time."

"Don't press me any further: it would be a dishonor to me to leave
Athens now."

The argument was continued for some time longer; but Hippocles could not
flatter himself with the idea that he had made any impression. At last
he seemed to abandon the attempt.

"Well," he said, "a willful man must have his way. I can only hope that
you will never live to repent it. But you will not refuse to come and
see us - my daughter adds her invitation to mine - you will not be so
ungallant as to refuse."

"No, I should not think of refusing," said Callias. "You have called me
back to life. I thought that my heart would have burnt with grief and
rage. You can't imagine what your sympathy is to me."

"Well," said Hippocles, "show your gratitude by dining with us

Callias promised that he would, and accordingly at the time appointed
presented himself at the merchant's house.

After dinner the discussion was resumed. Hippocles and Hermione urged
all the arguments that they knew to persuade the young man to think of
his own safety, but they urged in vain.

"No!" said the young man, as he rose to take his leave, "no, I thank you
for your care for me, but your advice I may not follow. I refuse to
believe that the Athenian people can keep the the base and ungrateful
temper which they showed the other day. It was the madness of an hour,
and they must have repented of it long ago. If they have not, then an
honest man who happens to be born into this citizenship had best die.
Athens is no place for him. Anyhow, I shall try, at the very next
assembly, unless I can get some other and abler man than I am to do it
for me, to indict Callixenus for unconstitutional practices. Did I pass
by this occasion of vengeance, the blood of Diomedon and his brave
colleagues might well cry out of the ground against me."

Several days passed without any disturbing incident. Callias had
warnings indeed. Mysterious letters were brought to him, bidding him
beware of dangers that were imminent; more than one stranger who found
him in the streets let fall, it seemed by the merest accident, words
that could not but be meant to give a warning; friends spoke openly to
the same effect; but the young man remained unmoved. At the table of
Hippocles, where he was a frequent guest, the subject was dropped. It
seemed to be conceded by common consent that Callias was to have his own

He was returning to his home in the upper city from the Piraeus on a
dark and stormy night, picking his way under the shelter of one of the
Long Walls[41] when he felt himself suddenly seized from behind. So
suddenly and so skilfully made was the attack that in an instant the
young man, though sufficiently active and vigorous, was reduced to
absolute helplessness. His arms were fastened to his side; his legs
pinioned; his eyes blindfolded, and a gag thrust into his mouth. All
this was done without any unnecessary violence, but with a firmness that
made resistance impossible. The young man then felt himself lifted on to
some conveyance which had been waiting, it seemed, in the neighborhood,
and driven rapidly in a northerly direction. So much the prisoner could
guess from feeling the wind which he knew had been coming from the east,
blowing upon his right cheek. After being driven rapidly for a few
minutes the gag was removed with an apology for the necessity that had
compelled its use. The journey was continued with unabated and even
increased rapidity, the lash, as Callias' ear told him, being freely
used to urge the animals to their full speed. Before long the sound of
the waves breaking upon the shore could be distinctly heard above the

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 7 of 22)