Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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more, and the two officers, who were on duty for the night, departed to
make their round. Strong as was the place Alcibiades omitted no
precautions for its safe custody. Timanthes, who was old and feeble
retired to rest.

"Come with me to my own room," said Alcibiades to his guest, "we shall
be here alone."

The chamber to which he led the way was little like what one would have
expected to find in free-booter's stronghold, for really the castle of
Bisanthe was more of that than anything else. Art and letters were amply
represented in it. On one wall hung a panel painting[48] by Polygnotus,
a masterly composition, of that serenity, that ethical meaning, as the
great critic Aristotle expresses it, which was characteristic of the
artist. This represented the gods in council at Olympus. It was faced on
the opposite wall by an exceedingly graceful painting from the hand of
Xeuxis, Aphrodite and the Graces, and a spirited picture by the same
artist, of the duel between Ajax and Hector. There were other works by
men of less note. Sculpture was represented by only a single specimen, a
bust of Socrates.

"Paintings are easily carried about," Alcibiades afterwards explained to
his guest, "but sculpture is inconveniently heavy. You will understand
that a man in my situation has always to be ready for a move; and I
always like to have two or three really good things that I can always
take with me. One bust, indeed, I have indulged myself with, that of my
old teacher. Ah! if I had heard him to more purpose, I should not be
here! You know him, of course?"

Callias said that he did.

"An excellent likeness! is it not? Who would think that such features
concealed a soul so divinely beautiful? Did you have any talk with him
when you were in Athens?"

"Yes," replied Callias, "and I admired above all things his practical
wisdom. But what was that to what I afterwards saw of him?"

And he went on to relate how the philosopher stood firm, though in
imminent peril of his life, and had steadfastly refused to put the
unconstitutional proposal of Callixenus to the assembly.

Alcibiades heard the story with uncontrollable delight. He started up
from his seat, and walked up and down the room with flashing eyes. "Tell
me everything about it," he said, and he insisted upon the repetition of
every detail. "That is magnificent," he cried, when his curiosity had
been satisfied. "That is exactly what one would have expected from
Socrates. I suppose that it is the very first time that he ever acted as
presiding magistrate - he had never been so, I know, when I left Athens,
nor have I heard of his having been since - and that first time he did
what nobody else dared to do. You say that the others gave way?"

"Yes," replied Callias, "they stood up against it at first, but gave in
afterwards. Socrates was absolutely alone, and at last they put the
question without him."

"It is just like him," cried Alcibiades with enthusiasm.

"He is simply the bravest and most enduring man alive. I could tell you
stories about him that would astonish you. We served together in the
campaign at Potidæa. Indeed we were in the same mess. When we had short
commons, as we had many a time, there was no one like him in holding
out. He seemed to be able to go without food altogether, but when we had
plenty, he could enjoy it as well as anybody. We had a foolish way, as
young men will, of making people drink whether they wished it or not.
But nothing ever affected Socrates. No one ever saw him one whit the
worse for what he had taken. And as for the way in which he bore cold,
it was absolutely incredible, only that one saw it with one's own eyes.
The winters here are terrible, as you will find out, if, as I hope you
will, you stop with me, but he used to make nothing of them. During the
very hardest frost we had, when every one who could, stayed in doors,
and those who were obliged to go out, wrapped themselves till you would
hardly know them, he wore nothing but his common cloak, and went
absolutely barefoot.

"Once, I remember, something came into his mind. That was in the early
morning. Well, he stood trying to think it out till noon, and from noon
he went on till evening. Some Greeks from Asia wanted to see how long
this would go on; so, after dinner, they brought out their mattresses,
and took up their quarters for the night in the open air - it was
summer-time, you must understand. Some of them slept, and some watched
him, taking it by turns. Their report was that he stood there till
morning, and the sun rose, and that then he made a prayer to the sun,
and so went to his quarters.

"His courage, too, is astonishing. In one of the battles at Potidæa he
saved my life. I had been wounded and must infallibly have been killed,
if it had not been for him. He took me up and carried me off to our
line. The generals gave me the prize for valor, when they ought, by
right, to have given it to him. But they took account of my family and
rank, and curiously enough, he was just as anxious as they were that I
should have it and not he. Then at Delium, again, when the day went
against us, and the army was in full retreat. I was in the cavalry; he
was serving as a foot soldier. Our men would not keep together, and he
and Laches - he was killed, afterward, at Mantinea - were making the best
of their way back. I rode up to them and told them to keep up their
courage and I would not leave them. A cavalry soldier has, you know, a
great advantage in a retreat. There was no need to tell Socrates to keep
up his courage. Laches, I could see, though a brave enough man, was
terribly frightened; but Socrates was as cool as a man could be. He held
up his head finely, and marched steadily on. It was plain enough to see
that anyone who meddled with him would find out his mistake. The end of
it was that he got back safe, and brought Laches back safe also. The
fact is that at such times it is the men who are in a hurry to get away
that are cut down. I do not think that there ever was a braver man than
Socrates. And what you have just been telling me bears it out. A man may
be brave enough in battle and be timidly frightened when the assembly is
howling and raging against him. This has been a dismal business of the
generals and I have never been so near despairing of my country, as I
have since I heard it. How is it possible to help a city that makes
such a requital to those who save her? But still, while there are men
like Socrates in her, all is not lost. But no more now; you must be
weary, and ready to sleep. There will be plenty of time hereafter to
talk. And now farewell."


[44] It is convenient in a narrative to speak of "hours," and the Greeks
had a division of time that was so named. But it must not be supposed
that these hours were exact periods of time such as we mean by the word.
The day between sunrise and sunset was divided into twelve equal parts,
which varied in length according to the season of the year. The
divisions of the whole period of a day and night into twenty-four equal
unvarying parts was later than the period of which I am writing, being
attributed to Hipparchus, the astronomer, a native of Nicæa in Bithynia
who lived in the second century B. C. The water-clock mentioned in the
text may have been one of those large ones which served for the whole
night (Plato is said to have had one). The slave in announcing to the
guest the time at which the meal would be served would probably indicate
it by pointing to this or that division marked upon it. The water-clock
may be roughly compared to a sand-glass, but the water flowed through
several orifices, which were very minute.

[45] He returned in May, 407, conducted in person the procession to
Eleusis; a ceremony which had been discontinued for some time on account
of the presence of the Spartan garrison at Decelea, and left again to
take command of the fleet a few days afterward. He never saw Athens

[46] Three _drachmae_ would be something more than half-a-dollar,
(2 s. 5 d. in English money). This is taking silver at its present
conventional value. What its purchasing power would be now it would be
difficult to say, but it would certainly be greater than that of the sum
by which it is represented.

[47] So we have in Homer (Iliad 11, 261) "the libations of wine
unmingled" mentioned together with "the hand-holt trusted of yore," a
thing that gave a solemn sanction to treaties. Similar references abound
in the Greek and Latin poets.

[48] The ancients painted on panel, not on canvass. Thus the Latin
equivalent for 'picture' is tabula or tabella, words which may otherwise
be used for a 'plank.'



Life at Bisanthe would, in any case, have been remarkably attractive to
Callias. The taste for sport was hereditary with him, as it was with
most Athenians of his class. But, ever since his boyhood, circumstances
had been altogether adverse to any indulgence of it. For a quarter of a
century an Athenian's life had been perforce a city life.[49] The
country outside the walls was not available for when it was not actually
in the occupation of a hostile army, it was still in a state of
desolation. Game, it is probable, had almost disappeared from it. It had
long been too thickly populated for the larger animals to exist in it.
These the sportsman had been obliged to seek in the mountain regions of
Phocis, Doris, and Thessaly. Now the smaller such as the hare, always
reckoned a special dainty in Athens, could scarcely be found, even when
it was possible to seek for it. Callias was delighted to find a totally
different condition of things at Bisanthe. Here there were to be found
fierce and powerful animals the pursuit of which gave something of the
delightful excitement of danger, the bear, the wild-boar, and the wolf.
Lion, too, could be sometimes seen, though they were not so common as
they had been some eighty years before when the army of Xerxes, marching
through this very region, had had so many of the camels attacked and
killed by them. Our young Athenian highly appreciated this abundance of
noble game. He had had no experience, indeed, in the huntsman's craft,
but he became fairly expert at it. He was an excellent rider; this
accomplishment was a necessary part of the education of a well-born
Athenian. He was expert in all martial exercises, especially in the use
of the javelin and the spear; and, above all, he had a cool courage
which his warlike experience by land and sea had admirably developed.

But there were more serious matters than sport to occupy him. The
relation of his host to his neighbors, both Greek and barbarian, was of
curious interest to a thoughtful young man. He had heard something of it
at Athens, for Alcibiades was a much talked of personage, all of whose
movements were earnestly, even anxiously, discussed both by friends and
foes. Now he was, so to speak, behind the scenes, and saw and heard much
that the outside world did not know or did not understand. The neighbors
with whom his host came in contact, friendly or unfriendly, were three.
There were the Greek cities along the northern coast of the Propontis;
there was Seuthes, the king of Thrace; a potentate whose kingdom had
many uncertain and varying boundaries, and there were the free or
independent Thracians. Between these last and Alcibiades there was
constant war. Accustomed for centuries to plunder their neighbors, they
now found themselves repaid in their own coin. At the head of a picked
force, highly disciplined and admirably armed, Alcibiades harried their
country with an audacity and a skill which made his name a constant
terror to them. The Greek cities, on the other hand, were uniformly
friendly. Before his coming they had been sadly harrassed and distressed
by their barbarian neighbors. They had not been able to call anything
beyond their walls exactly their own, and even their walls had sometimes
scarcely sufficed to protect them. All this was altered by the military
genius of this remarkable man. The robber bands which had been
accustomed to ride unchecked up to their fortifications were now
compelled to keep at a respectful distance from them, and not only the
cities themselves but their territories were practically safe. Land
which it had been impossible to cultivate at all, or from which only a
precarious crop could be snatched with imminent danger to the
cultivator, was now covered with prosperous farms and pleasant
homesteads. For this protection, enabling them as it did to save the
exhausting expense of imported food, the cities were willing to pay, and
considerable sums which were practically a tribute, only much more
cheerfully paid, came regularly into the treasury at Bisanthe, and
enabled its master to keep up a numerous and efficient force.

As for King Seuthes, his relations with the powerful stranger who had
settled on these his territories were more doubtful. He was not an
enemy, but he certainly was not a friend. All that Alcibiades could do
in weakening the independent Thracians was altogether to his mind. Let
them be weakened enough, and they would gladly seek protection by
becoming his subjects. On the other hand he did not approve the idea of
any one but himself becoming the patron of the Greek cities on his
coast. What they were willing to pay for protection ought to come, he
felt, into his coffers, not into those of an interloping adventurer.
Meanwhile he was content to remain on outwardly good terms with the
master of Bisanthe, and to await the development of events.

In the little town of the same name that was dominated by the castle of
Bisanthe, the young Athenian found some pleasant society. He was the
more at home in it because it was an Ionian colony, and the inhabitants
were akin to him in race and sympathies. They had the same culture, a
quality that always flourished more kindly in the Ionic branch of the
Hellenic race. Plays of the great dramatists of his own country were
performed in a small but well appointed theatre, and there was at least
one circle in the town in which literary topics were discussed with
interest and intelligence.

The resources available in the way of native society were not great.
Thracian habits in general were not unfairly represented by the behavior
of the chief to whom my readers were introduced in the last chapter.
Their hard drinking habits had already made them notorious throughout
Greece. Our hero accordingly kept away from the entertainments which his
host felt it a matter of policy to attend. The one great social function
at which he assisted was the marriage of a prince who was nearly related
to King Seuthes. Athenian habits were commonly frugal. Their public
buildings, whether for political or religious purposes, were splendid in
the extreme. On these, and on the ceremonies of worship, they were
accustomed to spare no expense. But their private expenditure was, as a
rule, not large. Our hero was proportionately astonished at the
profusion which prevailed at the wedding festivities of the Thracian
Caranus. There were twenty guests. Each as he entered the banqueting
chamber had a circle of gold put upon his head, and in taking his place
was presented with a silver cup. These and indeed all the dishes,
plates, and cups with which the guests were furnished during the
entertainment, were supposed to become their actual property. A brass
platter, covered with pastry, on which were birds of various kinds, was
put before each, and after this another of silver, furnished with a
variety of fresh meats. These disposed of - they were just tasted and
handed to the slaves who stood behind the guests - two flasks of perfume,
one of silver, the other of gold, fastened together with a link of gold,
were distributed. Each flask held about half a pint. Then came a piece
of quite barbarous extravagance - a silver gilt charger, large enough to
hold a porker of considerable size. The creature lay on its back with
its belly stuffed with thrushes, the yolks of eggs, oysters, scollops,
and other dainties. The carrying capacity of the slaves was nearly
exhausted, and the bridegroom received a hearty round of applause when
he ordered his guests to be supplied with baskets, themselves richly
ornamented with silver in which they might carry away his bounty.

At this point Alcibiades and his friend made an excuse to depart.
"Caranus," said the former, as they returned to Bisanthe, "must have
embarassed himself for life by this silly extravagance. He must have
borrowed money largely before he could indulge in all this silver-ware,
for though his estates are large, he is far from being wealthy. But it
is a point of honor with these people to go as near to ruining
themselves as the money-lender will permit them, when they celebrate a
birth, a wedding, or a funeral."

But Callias found the chief interest of the months which he spent at
Bisanthe in the frequent conversations which he held with his host. In
these Alcibiades expressed himself with the utmost freedom and
frankness. What he said was in fact at once a confession and an apology,
the substance of them may be given as follows:

"You have heard I dare say very much evil of me, and I cannot deny that
much of it is perfectly true. It ill becomes a man to complain of
circumstances, for everyone, I take it, can make his own life and if he
goes to ruin has only himself to blame for it. Yet the gods, or fate, or
whatever it is that rules the world, were certainly adverse to me from
the beginning. My father fell at Coronea when I was but a mere child,
and the loss of a father is especially damaging when his son is rich and
noble. Every one seems to agree in spoiling the boy, the lad, the young
man, who is the master of his own fortune. I know that I was fooled to
the top of my bent. However, that is all past, and the free man who lets
others turn him about to their own purposes has nothing to say in his
own defence; and I had at least one good thing on my side of which if I
had been so minded I might have made good use. Socrates never wearied of
convicting me out of my own mouth of folly and ignorance, and he knew my
great weakness and told me of it in the most unsparing fashion. I
remember once how he convicted me of what I know has been the great
fault of my life. 'If,' he said, 'you can convince the Athenians that
you deserve to be honored as no man, not even Pericles himself deserved,
if you gain an equal name among the other Greeks and barbarians, if you
cross over from Europe and meddle with matters in Asia, all these things
will not satisfy you. You desire to be nothing less than master of the
whole human race.' That perhaps was somewhat exaggerated, but I
certainly have had big schemes in my head, bigger than I ever had, or
could hope to have, the means of carrying out. My hopes took in all
Greece, Persia, Carthage, the Western barbarians who inhabit the shores
of the ocean, and I know not what else. It was too great a structure to
build on the slight foundation of an Athenian dock-yard; it was piling
Olympus and Ossa and Pelion on the hill of Hymettus, and such structures
are sure to fall even without the thunder-bolt of Zeus. Yet it is only
fair to myself to say that in my ambitions I did think of my country as
well as of myself; and I think that I have not always had fair play in
carrying them out. There was the expedition to Sicily, for instance. I
suppose that no one will ever speak of it but as a piece of hair-brained
folly into which I was the means of leading Athens. Looked at by the
event, it seems so, I allow, and yet it might have succeeded. Indeed it
was within an iota of succeeding, and this though the people showed the
incredible folly of putting as senior in command, a man who hated the
whole business. Even Nicias almost took Syracuse. If they had only left
me without a colleague or with colleagues who would have yielded to my
counsels! But what did they do? Just at the critical time they recalled
the man whom everyone in the expedition, from the first to the last,
identified with its success; and why did they recall me? On that
trumpery charge of having broken the Hermæ.[50] You would like to ask
me, I know, whether I had anything to do with the matter. No; I had not,
but I could have told them all about it if I had had the chance. As it
was, they were ready to listen to any one but me. Why, there was an
outrageous liar came forward, and declared he had seen the whole thing
done by the light of the moon; and on the night it was done there was no
moon at all. But I had enemies, personal enemies who would stick at
nothing as long as they could injure me. And here I must confess a
fault, a fault that has been fatal to me. I deserved to have enemies. I
made them by my annoyance and insolence; and if they ruined me, and, as
I think, my country with me, I have only myself to blame. You would like
to know how I justify myself for what I did after my banishment, for
getting Sparta to help Syracuse against my own country? I do not justify
myself at all. It was madness, tho' it was only too successful. But it
made me frantic to think what a chance, what a splendid opportunity for
myself and for Athens, the fools who were in power at home were throwing
away. No; on that point I have nothing to say for myself. But since then
I have honestly tried to do the best that I could for the city. And if
the Athenians could only have trusted me and had had a little more
patience, I believe that I could have saved them. But it is always the
same story with them; they must have what they want at once, and if they
don't get it, some one has to suffer. How could they expect that I could
put right at once all that had been going wrong for years?"

Such was the substance of what Alcibiades said to his guest on the many
occasions on which they discussed these matters, said of course, with a
variety of details and a wealth of illustration, which it is impossible
to reproduce. More than once Callias asked his host what were his views
and expectations of the future of the war. He found that Alcibiades did
not take a cheerful view of the prospects of the campaign that would be
soon beginning.

"I was always afraid," he said, "that the victory at Arginusæ would be
only a reprieve, a postponing of the evil day. The effort which Athens
then made was too exhausting to be repeated - her next fleet will be
nothing like as good as the last, and the last had hard enough work to
win the day. And then there was the disastrous folly and crime of
putting the generals to death. Mind, I don't say that they were not to
blame; but I do say that to kill the only good officers the city had,
even if they had deserved death ten times more than they did, was mere
madness. Whom have they got to put in their place? Conon is a man who
knows his business and would do his duty, but as for the rest," he went
on, anticipating a witticism which was made many hundred years
afterwards by an English statesman, "I can only say that I hope they
will inspire the enemy with half the terror with which they inspire


[49] From 431 to 406 (the year of which I am now writing). The eight
years from 424-416, during which the peace of Nicias and the truce that
followed it were in force, must be excepted.

[50] A day or two before the expedition started the pedestal statues of
Hermes which stood at the street corners were broken down. Alcibiades
was charged with being an accomplice in this outrage, refused an
opportunity of defending himself, sent out in joint command, and
recalled when the campaign was in progress.



Alcibiades had established a system of communication with all the
principal stations in the Ægean which gave him early information of what
was going on.

Early in the new year (405) intelligence reached him at his castle, that
Lysander was coming out from Sparta to assume the command of the allied
fleet. This news affected Alcibiades very considerably.

"I anticipated this," he said to his guest after the evening meal on the
day when the news had reached him, "and it is the worst thing that could
have happened for Athens. There was just a chance that the Spartans,
who, happily for us, are very stupid and obstinate, would stick to their
rule that no man should be appointed naval commander-in-chief thrice.
But they had, as I heard from a friend in Chios, a very strong
requisition from the allies to appoint Lysander, and so they have sent
him out again, saving their rule by appointing a nominal chief, a man
called Arrachus, who, of course, is a mere figure head. Now Lysander is

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 9 of 22)