Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

The Condition of Exile

The story that Callias had heard of the last days of his Master, and heard, of course, with many details which it is now impossible to reproduce, made, it need hardly be said, a profound impression on him. First and foremost—and this was what the dead man himself would have been most rejoiced to see—was the profound conviction that this teaching, inspired, as it was, with a faith which the immediate prospect of death had not been able to shake, was absolutely true. The young man can hardly be said to have had any feeling of religion in the sense in which we understand that word. To believe in the fables, grotesque or even immoral, which made up the popular theology, in gods who were only exaggerated men, stronger, indeed, but more cruel, treacherous, and lustful, was an impossibility. The poets' tales of the Elysian plain and of the abyss of Tartarus had in no wise helped towards producing any emotions of the spiritual kind, any wish to dwell in an invisible world. The most sacred of these poets in his description of that world as another earth in which everything was feebler, paler, less satisfying than it is here, had certainly repelled rather than attracted him. Now this want had been supplied; the lofty teaching of duty, duty owed to country, kinsfolk, friends, fellow-citizens, fellow-men, that he had heard from the Master was now supplemented and sanctioned by this clear enunciation of a doctrine of immortality. The young man felt that he could face the world, whether it brought him prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow, life or death, with a more equable soul or more assured spirit than he had ever dreamed could be possible.

The two or three days that followed the conversation related in my last chapter were spent by the young Athenian in debating with himself the question: What am I to do?

He had just risen on the morning of the fourth day, when a visitor was announced. It was Xenophon, looking, as Callias thought, serious, but not depressed.

"And what have you been doing these three days? cried the newcomer.

"Thinking," replied Callias.

"That is exactly what I have been doing myself, and I would wager my chance of being Archon next year, a very serious stake indeed, that we have had the same subject for our thoughts. You have been debating with yourself what you are to do?"

"Exactly so; and I am no nearer a conclusion than I was when I began."

"Well, some one else has been good enough to save us the trouble of deciding. Listen to this. I have a friend in office, I should tell you, and he has given me an early copy of what will be soon known all over Athens. 'It is proposed by Erasinides, son of Lysias, of the township of Colonus, that Xenophon, son of Gryllus, of the township of Orchia, and Callias, son of Hipponicus, of the township of Eleusis,' and some twenty others, whose names I need not trouble you with, 'be banished from Athens for unpatriotic conduct, especially in aiding and abetting the designs of Cyrus, who was a notorious enemy of the Athenian people.' Well; that is going to be proposed to the Senate to-day.

My friend, who knows all about the strings, and how they are pulled, tells me that it is certain to be carried. In the course of a few days it will be brought before the Assembly, and I have no doubt whatever that it will be accepted."

"But what have the Athenian people got to do with Cyrus, who is dead and gone, and can neither help nor hurt?"

"Ah! you don't understand. The Lacedæmonians, you know, have declared war against the Persian King. Of course that gives the Athenians a chance of becoming his friends. It is true that things are not ripe just yet for anything decisive or public. We are allies with the Lacedæmonians, and can't venture to quarrel with them. But this is a matter at which they cannot take offence, but which will most certainly please the Great King. He has not forgotten the Cyrus business, you may depend upon it, and it will delight him to hear of any who had a part in it suffering for their act. That is why we are to be banished."

"And what shall you do?"

"I shall go to Asia. I had intended to go in any case, for I have private affairs there, nothing less important, I may tell you in confidence, than marrying a wife. Then I shall find something to do with the Spartans, among whom I have some very good friends. Come with me. You too, might find a wife; that will be as you please; but anyhow I can guarantee you employment"

"I confess," said Callias, after meditating awhile, "that I do not feel greatly drawn by what you suggest. As for the wife, that prospect does not please me at all; and, as you know, I am not so much of a Spartan-lover as you. You must let me think about it; you shall have a final answer to-morrow."

When Xenophon had taken leave, Callias went straight to Hippocles, and happened to arrive just as a messenger was leaving the house with a note addressed to himself, and asking for an early visit. Callias related what he had just heard from Xenophon.

"You do not surprise me. In fact I also have had a private intimation from a member of the Senate that this is going to be done, and it is exactly the matter about which I wished to see you. But tell me, what does Xenophon advise?"

Callias told him.

"And you hesitate about accepting his offer?"

"Yes; I do more than hesitate; I feel more and more averse to it the more I think of it."

"You are right; to take service with the Spartans must, almost of necessity, mean, sooner or later, some collision with your own country. It was this that ruined Alcibiades. If he could only have had patience, he could have saved himself and the Athenians too, but that visit to Sparta ruined both. No; I should advise you against Xenophon's suggestion."

"But where am I to go? I have thought of Syracuse. But I do not care to go back to Dionysius. He was all courtesy and kindness; but I felt suffocated in the air of his court. And we never feel quite safe with a tyrant."

"I have thought of something else that might suit you. I am going to start in a few days' time on a visit to my own native country, not to Posidonia—I could not bear to see the barbarians masters there—but to Italy. There are other Greek cities which still hold their own, and they are well worth seeing. You might, too, if you choose, pay another visit to Rome. You will at least have the advantage being out of this dismal round of strife to which Greece itself seems doomed. Our countrymen there have, I know, faults of their own; but they do contrive to live on tolerably good terms with each other."

The plan proposed seemed to Callias to promise better than any that he could think of and he accepted the offer with thankfulness. A few days afterwards he was gazing for what he felt might well be the last time at the city of his birth. Bathed in the sunshine of a summer morning stood the Acropolis, crowned with its marble temples, and, towering above all, the gigantic statue of Athene the Champion, her outstretched spear-point flashing in the light. What glories he was leaving behind him! What lost hopes, what unfulfilled aspirations of his own! The tears of no unmanly emotion were in his eyes as he turned away, but not before he had caught sight of a well-known house by the harbor of Piræus. This seemed to be the last drop of bitterness in his cup. She had lost him for his country's sake, and now he had lost her, too. He turned and found himself face to face with Hermione! There was something in her look which made his heart thrill; but she did not give him time to speak.

"Callias," she said, "you gave up what you said was dear to me," and her blush deepened as she spoke, "for Athens' sake. But now—if you have not forgotten—"

He needed to hear no more. The next moment, careless of the eyes of the old helmsman, he had clasped her in his arms.

"I can allow myself to love the exile," she whispered in his ear.