Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

The Retreat

Seven weeks have passed since the catastrophe recorded in my last chapter. Curiously enough the Greeks had returned to their camp after their easily won victory without any suspicion of what had happened on the other side of the battle field. They wondered, indeed, that Cyrus neither came nor sent to congratulate them on their success, but the news of his death which was brought to them next morning by an Ionian Greek, who had been in the service of Cyrus, came upon them like a thunderclap. Then had followed a period of indecision and perplexity. So long as they had to answer insolent messages from the King or Tissaphernes, bidding them give up their arms and be content with such chance of pardon as they might have, their course was plain. To such demands only one answer was possible. "We will die sooner than give them up," had been the reply which Cleanor the Arcadian, the senior officer, had made. But when the Persians began to treat, when they agreed upon a truce, and even allowed the Greeks to provision themselves, the course to be followed became less plain. Tissaphernes made indeed the most liberal offers. "We will lead you back to Greece," he said, "and find you provisions at a fair price. If we do not furnish them, you are at liberty to take them for yourself only you must swear that you will behave as if you were marching through the country of friends." There were some who roundly said that the Greeks had best have no dealings with the man; he was known to be treacherous and false; this was only his way of luring them on to their death. On the other hand it was difficult to refuse terms so advantageous. It was possible that the satrap, though not in the least friendly, was genuinely afraid, and would be glad to get rid at any price of visitants so unwelcome. This was the common opinion. If the army could find its way home without fighting, it would be madness to reject the chance. For many days past, everything had gone smoothly; relations between the Greeks and Tissaphernes seemed to become more and more friendly. Clearchus, the general, commanding in chief, had even dined with the satrap, had been treated in the most friendly fashion, and had now come back to the camp with a proposition from him for a formal conference at which the Greeks were to be represented by their principal generals. Some voices were raised against this proposal. "No one ever trusted Tissaphernes without repenting it," was the sentiment of not a few, Xenophon amongst the number. But the opposition was overruled. Five generals and twenty inferior officers proceeded to the tent of Tissaphernes, followed by a troop of stragglers, who availed themselves of the favorable opportunity, as they thought it, of marketing within the enemy's lines.

"Calliias," said Xenophon to his friend on the morning of this eventful day, "my mind misgives me. The soothsayer tells me that, though the sacrifices have been generally favorable, there have always been some sinister indications. And certain it is that we have never put ourselves so completely in the enemy's power as we have this day. Tissaphernes has only to say the word and our most skillful leaders are dead men. But, hark, what is that?"

A cry of surprise and wrath went up from the camp, and the two Athenians rushed out of the tent in which they had been sitting, to ascertain the cause. One glance was enough. The stragglers were hurrying back at the top of their speed with the Persians in hot pursuit. Among the foremost of the fugitives was an Arcadian officer, who, fearfully wounded as he was, managed to make his way to the camp. "To arms!" he cried, "Clearchus and the rest are either dead or prisoners." Instantly there was a wild rush for arms. Everyone expected that the next moment would bring the whole Persian army in sight. But the King and his satraps knew how formidable the Greeks really were. As long as they had a chance of succeeding by fraud, they would not use force.

Fraud was immediately attempted. Ariĉus, who by this time had made his peace with the King, rode up to within a short distance of the camp, and said, "Let the Greeks send some one that is in authority to bear a message from the King." The veteran Cleanor accordingly went forward.

"Let me go with you," cried Xenophon, "I am eager to hear what has become of my friend Proxenus. Come you, too," he whispered to Callias.

Ariĉus addressed them: "Thus saith the King; Clearchus, having forsworn himself and broken the truth, has been put to death. Proxenus and Medon are honorably treated. As for you, the King demands your arms, seeing that they belonged to Cyrus, who was his slave."

Cleanor's answer was brief and emphatic, "Thou villain, Ariĉus, and the rest of you, have you no shame before gods or men, that you betray us in this fashion, and make friends with that perjurer Tissaphernes?"

Ariĉus could only repeat that Clearchus was a traitor. "Then," cried Xenophon, "why not send us back Proxenus and Medon, good men you say, who would advise both you and us for the best?"

To this no answer was made; and the party slowly made their way back to the camp. The worst had happened. They were in the midst of their enemies, more than a thousand miles from the sea; and they had lost their leaders.

The two Athenians, who shared the same tent, lay down to rest at an early hour. It still wanted some time to mid-night, when Xenophon surprised his companion by suddenly starting up.

"I believe," he cried, "all will be well after all. I have had a most encouraging dream."

"What was it?" asked Callias.

"I dreamt," returned the other, "that I was at home and that there was a great storm of thunder and lightning and that the lightning struck the house and that it blazed up all over."

Callias stared. "But that does not sound very encouraging."

"Ah! but listen to what I have to tell you. When Proxenus asked me to come with him on this expedition, I applied to Socrates for his advice. 'Ask the god at Delphi,' he said. So I asked the god but not, as he meant me to do, whether I should go or not, but to what gods, if I went, I should sacrifice. Well, this has been a great trouble to me, and I look upon this dream as an answer. First—this is the encouragement—Zeus shows me a light in darkness. The house all on a blaze, I take it, means that we are surrounded with dangers."

"May it turn out well," was all that Callias could find it in his heart to say. But if he was tempted to think meanly of his companion, he had soon reason to alter his opinion.

"Whether my dream means what I think or anything else," Xenophon went on, "we must act. To fall into the hands of the King means death, and death in the most shameful form. And yet no one stirs hand or foot to avoid it; we lie quiet, as though it were time to take our rest. I shall go and talk to my comrades about it."

The first thing was to call together his own particular friends, the officers of Proxenus' division. He found them as wakeful as himself.

"Friends," he said, "we must get out of the King's clutches. You know what he did to his own brother. The man was dead; but he must nail his body to a cross. What will he do, think you, to us? No; we must get out of his reach. But how? Not by making terms with him. That only gives him time to hem us in more and more completely. No; we must fight him; and we, who are more enduring and brave than our enemies, have a right to hope that we shall fight to good purpose. And surely the gods will help us rather than them. For are they not faithless and forsworn?

"But, if we are to fight, we must have leaders. Let us choose them then. As for me, I will follow another, or, if you will have it so, I will lead myself. Young I am, but I am at least of an age to take care of myself."

Then there was a loud cry—"Xenophon for general!" Only one voice was raised in protest, that of a captain, who spoke in very broad Bœotian. "Escape is impossible; we should better try persuasion." Such was the burden of his speech.

Xenophon turned on him fiercely. "Escape impossible! And yet you know what the King did. First came a haughty command that we should give up our arms. When we refused, he took to soft words and cajolery. He is afraid of us; but if we trust to persuasion we are lost." Then turning to the others, he cried, "Is this man fit to be a captain? Make him a bearer of burdens. He is a disgrace to the name of Greek."

"Greek," cried an Arcadian captain, "he is no Bœotian, nor Greek at all. He is a Mysian slave. I see his ears are bored." And the man was promptly turned out of camp.

Not a moment was now lost. A representative body of officers from the whole army was promptly collected, and Xenophon was asked to repeat what he had said to the smaller gathering. The meeting ended in the election of five generals to replace those who had been murdered. Chirisophus, a Spartan, made the sixth, having held the office before.

The day was now beginning to dawn. It was scarcely light when the whole army assembled in obedience to a hasty summons which had been sent through the camp.

Chirisophus opened the proceedings. "We have fared ill, fellow soldiers," he said, "in that we have been robbed of so many officers and have been deserted by our allies. Still we must not give in. If we cannot conquer, at least we can die gloriously. Anyhow we must not fall alive into the hands of the King."

After an address by another general, Xenophon stood up. He had dressed himself in his best apparel. "Fine clothes will suit victory best," he said to himself, "and if I die, let me at least die like a gentleman."

"Gentlemen," he said, "if we were going to treat with the barbarians, then, knowing how faithless they are, we might well despair; but if we mean, taking our good swords in our hands, to punish them for what they have done, and to secure our own safety, then we may hope for the best."

At this point, a soldier sneezed. A sneeze was a lucky omen, and by a common impulse all the soldiers bowed their heads. Xenophon seized the opportunity.

"I spoke of safety, gentlemen, and as I was speaking, Zeus the Savior, sent us an omen of good fortune. Let us therefore vow to him a thank-offering for deliverance, if we ever reach our native country. This let us do as an army; and besides, let everyone vow to offer according to his ability in return for his own safe arrival."

These propositions were unanimously accepted, and the hymn of battle was solemnly sung by the whole army.

"Now," said the speaker, "we have set ourselves right with the gods, who will doubtless reward our piety, while they will punish these perjurers and traitors who seek to destroy us."

Then, after appealing to the glorious memories of the peat, when the Greeks, fighting against overwhelming odds, had once and again turned back the tide of Persian invasion, he addressed himself to deal with the circumstances of the situation. "Our allies have deserted us; but we shall fight better without such cowards. We have no cavalry; but battles are won by the sword; our foes will have the better only in being able to run away more quickly. No market will be given us; but it is better to take our food than to buy it. If rivers bar our way, we have only to cross them higher up. Verily, I believe that not only can we get away, but that if the King saw us preparing to settle here, he would be glad to send us away in coaches and four, so terribly afraid is he of us.

"But how shall we go? Let us burn our tents and all superfluous baggage. The baggage too often commands the army. That is the first thing to do. Our arms are our chief possession. If we use them aright, everything in the country is ours. Let us march in a hollow square, with the baggage animals and the camp followers in the middle. And let us settle at once who is to command each section of the army."

All this was accepted without demur. Chirisophus was appointed to command the van. Xenophon, with a colleague, as the youngest of the generals, the rear. Practically these two divided the command between them.

The first experience of an encounter with the enemy was not reassuring; in fact it was almost disastrous. Early in the first day's march, one Mithridates, a personage well known to the Greeks, for he had been high in Cyrus' confidence, rode up with a couple of hundred horsemen and twice as many stingers and bowmen. He had a look of coming as a friend; indeed, earlier in that day he had come with what purported to be a conciliatory message from Tissaphernes. But on arriving within a moderate distance of the Greeks he halted, and the next moment there was a shower of bullets and arrows from the slings and bows. The Greeks were helpless. They suffered severely, but could do nothing to the enemy in return. The Cretan archers had a shorter range than that of the Persian bows, and the javelin could not, of course, come anywhere near the slingers. At last Xenophon gave the order to charge. Charge the men did, heavy-armed and light-armed alike. Possibly it was better than standing still to be shot at. But they did not contrive to catch a single man. As foot soldiers they were fairly outpaced; and they had no cavalry. Only three miles were accomplished that day, and the army reached the villages in which they were to bivouac, in a state of great despondency. Unless such attacks could be resisted with better success, the fate of the army was sealed. Xenophon was severely blamed by his colleagues for his action in charging. He frankly acknowledged his fault. "I could not stand still," he said, "and see the men falling round me without striking a blow, but the charge did no good. We caught none of them, and we did not find it easy to get back. Thanks to the gods, there were not very many of them; if they had come on in force, we must have been cut to pieces."

After a short silence, he addressed his colleagues again. "We are at a great disadvantage. Our Cretans cannot shoot so far as their Persian archers; and our hand throwers are useless against the slingers. As for the foot soldiers, no man, however fleet of foot, can overtake another who has a bowshot's start of him, specially as we cannot push the pursuit far from the main body. The simple truth is that we must have slingers and horsemen of our own. I know that there are Rhodians in the army who can sling leaden bullets to a much greater distance than these Persian slings can reach. I propose, first, that we find out who among them have slings of their own; these we will buy at the proper value; if any know how to plait some more, we will pay them the proper price for doing it; the slings thus obtained, we shall soon get a corps of slingers to use them. Give them some advantage and they will enroll themselves fast enough. Now for the cavalry. We have some horses I know. There are some in the rear guard with me; there are others that belonged to Clearchus; a good many have been taken from the enemy, and are being used as baggage animals. Let us take the pick of these and equip them for the use of cavalry; we shall soon have some very capable horsemen at our service."

The idea was promptly carried out. That very night a couple of hundred slingers were enrolled, and the next day, which was spent without any attempt to advance, fifty horsemen passed muster, fairly well-mounted and duly furnished with buff jackets and cuirasses. This was only the first of many instances in which Xenophon showed the fertility and readiness of device which did so much to save the army.

The very next day the new forces were brought into action with the happiest results. Mithridates came up again with his archers and slingers, but encountered a reception on which he had not calculated. The cavalry made a brilliant charge, cutting down a number of the infantry and taking prisoners some seventeen horsemen. At the end of the day's march, the army reached the Tigris. Fourteen weeks of hard and perilous marching lay before them; but they were fairly well-equipped for the work. I shall take an account of some of the principal incidents of the journey from a diary kept by Callias, who acted throughout as aid-de-camp to Xenophon.