Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

Hippocles the Alien

Hippocles has been described as an alien. An "alien," then at Athens, as in the other Greek cities, was a resident foreigner. He might be an enfranchised slave, he might be a barbarian (as all persons not Greek were described), or he might be a Greek of the purest descent, but if he had not the rights of Athenian citizenship, he was an "alien." He could not hold any landed or house property; he was obliged to appear in any law suit in which he might be concerned in the person of an Athenian citizen who was described as his "patron," and he was heavily taxed. A special impost that went under the name of an "alien-tax" was only a slight matter, some twelve drachma, a year, but all the imposts were made specially heavy for them. And though they had no share in directing the policy of the state, they were required to serve in its fleets and armies. This treatment however, did not keep aliens from settling in Athens. On the contrary they were to be found there in great numbers, and as almost all the trade of the place was in their hands, some of them were among its richest inhabitants.

At the time of which I am writing Hippocles had the reputation, which we may say was by no means undeserved, of being the richest resident in Athens. And more than that, he was one of the most patriotic. He loved the city as if it had been his native place, and did the duty and more than the duty of a son to her. The special contributions which as a wealthy man he was called upon to make to the public service were made with a princely liberality. He even voluntarily undertook services which were not required of him by law. Every year he had come forward to furnish the crew and munitions of a ship of war, a charge to which citizens only were properly liable. And of the fleet of which such gloomy tidings had just reached Athens, he had equipped no less than three.

Hippocles had a curious history. He was born in the Greek colony of Posidonia. He was just entering on manhood when his native city fell into the hands of its Lucanian neighbors. The barbarians did not abuse their victory. They did not treat the conquered city, as the Greeks of Croton some ninety years before had treated Sybaris, reducing it to an absolute ruin. On the contrary they contented themselves with imposing a tribute, and leaving a governor, with a garrison to support him, to see that their new subjects did not forget their duty. But the presence of the foreigner was a grievous burden to the proud Greeks. For ages afterwards their descendants were accustomed to assemble once a year and to bewail their fate, as the Sons of Jacob at the Vale of Weeping, the Gentile domination over their city. The disaster broke the heart of Hippocles' father Cimon who was one of Posidonia's most distinguished citizens and had actually held the office of Tagus or chief magistrate in the year of its fall. He survived the event scarcely a year, recommending his son with his last breath to leave the place for some city where he could live in a way more worthy of a Greek. His son spent the next two years in quietly realizing his property, nor did he meet with any interference from the Lucanian masters of the place. His house he had to sacrifice; to sell it might have attracted too much notice; but everything else that he had was converted into money. When this was safely invested at Athens—Athens having been for various reasons the city of his choice—he secretly departed. But he did not depart alone. He took with him a companion, who, he declared, more than made up to him for all that as a Posidonian citizen he had lost. Pontia, the daughter of the Lucanian governor, was a girl of singular beauty. The Lucanian, in common with the other Italian tribes, gave to their women a liberty which was unknown in Greek households. Under the circumstances of life in which he had been brought, up, Hippocles though a frequent visitor at the governor's house, would never, except by the merest accident, have seen the governor's daughter. As it was he had many opportunities of making her acquaintance. Instead of being shut up, after the Greek fashion in the women's apartments, she shared the common life of the family. At first the novelty of the situation almost shocked the young man; before long it pleased him; it ended by conquering his heart. The young Greek, who was leaving his native land because it did not suit his pride of race to live under the rule of a barbarian, did not submit without an effort. Again and again he reproached himself with the monstrous inconsistency of which he was guilty. "Madman that I am," he said to himself, "I cannot endure to live with barbarians for neighbors and yet I think of taking a barbarian to wife." Again and again he resolved to break free from the influence that was enthralling him. But love was too strong for him. Nor indeed, were there wanting arguments on the other side. "Actually," he said to himself, "I am a Greek no more; a Greek without a city is only not a barbarian in name." This argument, of little weight, perhaps, in itself, gained force from the loveliness and mental charms of the young Pontia. She had long felt a distaste for the rough, uncultured life into which she had been born. The culture and refinement of her father's young Greek guest charmed her. The sadness of his mien touched the chord of pity in her heart, and admiration and pity together soon grew into love.

Hippocles had just completed the settlement of his affairs, and was ruefully contemplating the curious dilemma in which he found himself—everything ready for his departure from Posidonia, but Posidonia holding him from such departure by ties which he could break only by breaking his heart—when circumstances suggested a way of escape.

The governor was a widower, and had more than the usual incapacity of busy men in middle life for discerning the symptoms of love. It was accordingly, with a cheerful unconsciousness of his guest's feelings that he said to him one morning:—"I have good news about my dear Pontia. The girl is growing up, and should be settled in life, and I have had a most eligible proposal for her. I have told you, I think, that I am getting tired of this life, and want to get back to my farm among the hills. So I have asked to be relieved, and I hear from the Senate that they have chosen a successor, Hostius of Vulsi, a cousin, I should say, of my own, and a most respectable man. Hostius has come to announce the fact in person, and at the same time to ask for my daughter in marriage. A most eligible proposal, I say. Perhaps he is a little old, about five years younger than myself. But that's of no consequence. I mentioned the matter to her. She did not say much, but, of course, a girl must seem to hold back. I suggested that the marriage should take place next week—for I should dearly like to be at home in time for the barley harvest. That roused her. Of course she said that she had no clothes. I don't know about that—she always seems to me to look very nice—but I should not like to annoy her, for she is a dear, good girl, and I gave her another month. It's an excellent arrangement—don't you think so?"

Hippocles muttered a few words of assent; but long before the month was out, he and his Pontia were on their way to Athens.

The marriage and the settlement in Athens had taken place twenty-one years before the time of which I am writing. Two children had been born, a son and a daughter. The son had fallen, not many months before, at the battle of Notium and the death of the mother, who had been in feeble health, had soon followed. The daughter, to whom her parents had given the name of Hermione, had just completed her sixteenth year.

Hermione united in herself some of the happiest characteristics of the two races from which she sprang. Her father was a Greek of the Greeks. Posidonia had been founded by Dorian settlers from Sybaris, who could not contrive to live on good terms with the Achæan Greeks that had become the predominant element in that city; and Hippocles, who claimed descent from the Messenian kings, yielded to none in nobility of births A purer type of the genuine Hellenes would have been impossible to find. Pontia brought from the Lucanian hills, among which she had been reared, some of the best qualities, moral and physical, of the Italian race. The simplicity, frugality, and temperance which then and long after distinguished rural Italy, were to be seen in her united with a singular feminine charm not so often found among that somewhat rude population; until the close air of the Piræus, ill-suited to a daughter of the hills, sapped her constitution, she had had a frame magnificently healthy and strong. To the daughter the climate which had shortened her mother's days, happily did no harm. It was in fact her native air, and she throve in it. She was still undeveloped, for she had only just completed her sixteenth year; but she gave promise of remarkable beauty, and indeed, the promise was already more than half fulfilled. When she had performed the duty, sometimes imposed on the daughters of resident aliens,—it might be called, rather, privilege conceded to them—and walked in the great procession of the patron-goddess, holding a sunshade over some high-born Athenian maiden, all the spectators agreed that the prize of beauty belonged to the stranger. Her stature reached the very utmost height that the canons of beauty conceded to women; so far she was more of an Athene than an Aphrodite. But her face and her whole bearing were exquisitely feminine. The sapphire-colored eyes, shaded by long drooping lashes the forehead, broad and low with the clustering ringlets of light chestnut on either side, perfectly rounded cheeks, firm, delicate mouth, showing a glimpse, but only a glimpse of pearly teeth, and a faultlessly clear complexion, just tinted with the brown caught from Ægæan suns and winds—for she was dearly fond of a cruise in her father's yacht—made up together a remarkable combination of charms.

Callias had seen her but once before, and that was on a melancholy occasion. He had been commissioned by the general in command to break to her father the death of her brother, killed as has been said, in the unlucky conflict at Notium. He had behaved there with conspicuous gallantry, having led the boarding party which captured the only Lacedæmonian galley that the Athenians had to set off against their own fifteen losses, and had fallen in the moment of victory. It was not the first time that he had shown distinguished valor, and it was for this reason, as well as on account of the high reputation of his father, that Alcibiades had sent Callias with a special message of condolence. The blow, which could not be softened by any delicacy in the telling, and for which the praises of the general were but a slight consolation, broke Hippocles down completely. It was then that Hermione showed the strength of her character. Tenderly attached herself to her brother she had come forward to support her broken-hearted father. With a patient endurance that was beyond all praise, she had battled with her own grief in the effort to help; a sorrow even more agonizing than her own, till for very shame Hippocles had raised himself to bear his loss with resignation. The effort saved his life; for even the physicians had at one time been greatly alarmed. Callias, accustomed to think of women as encumbrances rather than helps in time of need was profoundly impressed by the girl's demeanor. If he had been inclined, for a moment, to think that her singular self-possession indicated a want of womanly feeling, he would have been soon undeceived. Paying a visit of inquiry to the house next day, he found that Hermione's endurance had not lasted beyond the occasion for which it was wanted. Her father received him, and told him that his daughter had broken down under the strain. "I was cowardly enough," he said, "yesterday to rest upon her strength when I should have summoned up my own. The gods grant that I may not have taxed it overmuch, and that I may not lose both my children. I have learned that I ought not to have grudged my son to the city which has been a second mother to me; if only I have not learnt it at too terrible a price." Callias had to leave Athens on the next day to rejoin the fleet, but he had the satisfaction of hearing before his departure that Hermione was on a fair way to recovery. Since then he had not been in Athens.