Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church


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 want?"

"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—"

Callias 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 danger."

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 to-night."

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 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 way.

He was returning to his home in the upper city from the Pirĉus on a dark and stormy night, picking his way under the shelter of one of the Long Walls when he felt himself suddenly seized from behind. So suddenly and so skillfully 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 clatter of the horses' hoofs and the grinding of the chariot wheels upon the road. Then came a stoppage. The prisoner was lifted from his seat and put on board what he guessed to be a small boat. He felt that this was pushed out from the land, that it began by making fair progress, and that not long after starting, when it had passed, as he conjectured, beyond the shelter of some bay or promontory, it began to meet bad weather. The waves were breaking, it was easy to tell, over the boat, in which the water was rising in spite of the efforts of the men who were busy bailing to keep it under. It as time for our hero to speak; so busy were the sailors in struggling with their difficulties, that they might easily have forgotten their prisoner, and let him go to the bottom like a stone.

Friends," he cried, "you had best let me help you and myself."

"By Poseidon! I had forgotten him," he heard one of the men cry. "If he drowns there will be no profit to us in floating." A consultation carried on in low, rapid whispers followed. It ended in the prisoner's bonds being severed, and the bandage being removed from his eyes.

When the situation became visible to the young Athenian it was certainly far from encouraging. The boat was low in the water, and was getting lower. It was evident that it could not live more than a few minutes more. The night was dark, and the sea so high that even the most expert swimmer could not expect to survive very long. The only hope seemed to lie in the chance of being blown ashore. But obviously the first thing to be done: was to prepare for a swim. Callias, accordingly, threw off his upper garment and untied his sandals. This done he waited for the end.

It was not long in coming. The boat was too low in the water to rise to the waves, and one of unusual size now broke over and swamped it, immersing the crew, who numbered nine persons including Callias. Happily they were good swimmers, and if speedy help were to come, might hope to escape. And, luckily, help was nearer than any of them had hoped. A light became visible in the darkness; and the swimmers shouted in concert to let the newcomers know of their whereabouts. An answering shout came from the galley, for as may be supposed, it was a galley that carried the light. "Be of good cheer," shouted a voice which Callias thought that he recognized. The swimmers shouted in answer, and felt new hope and new life infused into them. But the rescue was no easy task. Each man in turn had to fasten under his armpits a rope with a noose at the end which was thrown to him, and was then drawn up the side of the galley. This took time. Some of the men found it hard to do their part of the work, and so delayed the rescue of the others. By the time that Callias was reached, and he was the last of the nine, he was almost beyond the reach of help. By one supreme effort, however, he managed to slip the rope about him. As he was dragged on to the deck the last conscious impression that he had—and so strange was it that he thought it must be a dream—was the face of Hermione bent over him with an expression of intense anxiety.