Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

A Thanksgiving

The worst severity of the winter was over when the army reached Trapezus. The days were longer, for it was already halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and though the nights were still bitterly cold, the sun was daily gaining power. Sometimes a breeze from the west gave to the air quite a feeling of spring. Still Callias was very thankful to find quarters in the city. He discovered but scarcely with surprise, that as soon as he returned within the circle of Greek influence, the credentials furnished him by Hippocles made life much smoother for him. Trapezus was the very farthest outpost of civilization; it was at least nine hundred miles from Athens, yet the name of Hippocles seemed as well known and his credit as good as if it had been the Piræus itself. As soon as permission could be obtained to enter the town—for the people of Trapezus, though kind and even generous to the new arrivals, kept their gates jealously shut—Callias made his way to the house of a citizen who was, he was told, the principal merchant in the place. Nothing could have been warmer than the welcome which he received, when he produced the slip of parchment to which Hippocles had affixed his seal and signature.

"All I have is at your disposal," cried Demochares; this was the name of the Trapezuntine merchant. "I cannot do too much for any friend of Hippocles. You will, of course, take up your quarters with me; and any advance that you may want,—unless," he added with a smile, "you have learnt extravagance among the Persians, for we are not very rich here in Trapezus—any advance within reason you have only to ask for."

The young Athenian ventured to borrow fifty gold pieces, astonishing his new friend by the moderation of his demand. He knew that some of his comrades, mercenaries who had not received an obol of pay for several months, must be very badly off, and he was glad to make a slight return for many little services that he had received, and acts of kindness and good fellowship that had been done for him on the march. As for hospitality, he begged to be allowed to postpone his answer till he could consult his general.

"I don't like to leave you, sir," he said when he broached the subject to Xenophon after their evening meal. "Why should I have the comforts of a house, lie soft, and feed well, while you are sleeping on the ground, and getting or not getting a meal, as good luck or bad luck will have it ?

"My dear fellow," replied Xenophon, "there is no reason why you should not take the good the gods provide you. You are not one of us; you never have been. You came as a volunteer, and a volunteer you have remained. You are perfectly free to do as you please. Besides, if you want anything more to satisfy you, you are attached to my command, and I formally give you leave."

Callias, accordingly, took up his quarters in the merchant's house. Never was guest more handsomely treated. Demochores and his family were never wearied of his adventures, a story which has indeed interested the world ever since, and which to these Greeks of Trapezus had a meaning which it has lost for us. Living as they did on the farthest boundaries of the Greater Greece, the Greece of the colonies, they were keenly alive to all that could be known about the barbarian world with which they were brought in constant contact. The young Athenian, indeed, held a sort of levee which was thronged day after day with visitors young and old. All that he had to tell them about the Great King, on whose dominions they were in some sort trespassers, and about the unknown tribes who dwelt between the sea and the Persian capital, was eagerly listened to. Pleasant as his sojourn was to himself, it was not without some advantage to his old comrades. His host was an important person in Trapezus, holding indeed the chief magistracy for the year, and he had much to do with the liberal present of oxen, corn, and wine which the town voted to the army.

A month passed in a sufficiently pleasant way. Meanwhile the army was preparing to offer a solemn thanksgiving for the safe completion of the most perilous part of its journey. The vows made at the moment of its greatest danger were now to be paid, and paid, after the usual Greek fashion, in a way that would combine religion and festivity. There was to be a sacrifice; the sacrifice was to be followed by a feast, and the feast again by a celebration which was, of course, in a great measure an entertainment, but was also, in a way, a function of worship. Wrestlers, boxers, and runners not only amused the spectators and contended for glory and prizes, but were also supposed in some way to be doing honor to the gods.

The sacrifice and the feast it is not necessary to describe. Necessarily there was nothing very splendid or costly about them. The purses of the soldiers were empty, though they had a good deal of property, chiefly in the way of prisoners whom they had captured on the way, and whom they would sell in the slave markets as the opportunity might come.

Trapezus, however, and the friendly Colchian tribes in the neighborhood furnished a fair supply of sheep and oxen serve as victims, and a sufficient quantity of bread, wine, dried fruit and olive oil, this last being a luxury which the Greeks had greatly missed during their march, and which they highly appreciated. A few of the officers, the pious Xenophon among them, went to the expense of gilding the horns of the beasts which were their special offerings; but for the most part the arrangements were of a plain and frugal kind.

The games had at least the merit of affording a vast amount of entertainment to a huge multitude of spectators. They were celebrated, it may be easily understood, under considerable difficulties, for Trapezus did not possess any regular race course, and the only rings for wrestling and boxing were within the walls, and therefore not available on this occasion. By common consent the management of the affair was handed over to a certain Dracontius. He was a Spartan, and to the Spartans, who had been undisputed lords of Greece since the fall of Athens, had been conceded a certain right of precedence on all such occasions as these. Dracontius, too, was a man of superior rank to his comrades. He belonged to one of the two royal houses of Sparta, but had been banished from his country in consequence of an unlucky accident. In one of the rough sports which the Spartan lads were accustomed to practice, sports which were commonly a more or less close mimicry of war, a blow of his dagger, dealt without evil intention but with a criminal carelessness, had been fatal to a companion. Hence, from boyhood, he had been an exile; cut off from the more honorable career to which he might have looked forward in the service of his country, he had been content to enlist as a mercenary.

Dracontius, accordingly, was made president of the games. The skins of the sacrificed animals were presented to him, as his fee, and he was asked to lead the way to the race course where the contests were to be held.

"Race course!" cried the Spartan, with the brusquerie which it was the fashion of his country to use, "Race course! What more do you want than what we have here?"

A murmur of astonishment ran through the army. Indeed there could have been nothing less like a race course than the ground on which they were standing. It was the slope of a hill, a slope that sometimes became almost precipitous. Most of it was covered with brushwood and heather. Grass there was none, except here and there where it covered with a treacherously smooth surface some dangerous quagmire. Here and there, the limestone rock cropped up with jagged points.

"But where shall we wrestle?" asked Timagenes, an Arcadian athlete, who had won the prize for wrestling two or three years before at the Lithurian games, and who naturally considered himself as an authority on the subject.

"Here of course," was the president's reply.

"But how can a man wrestle on ground so hard and so rough?" asked the Arcadian, who had no idea of practicing his art except in a regular ring.

"Well enough," said Dracontius, "but those who are thrown will get worse knocks."

The wrestler's face fell and he walked off amid a general laugh. His comrades fancied, not without reason, that he was a great deal too careful of his person.

But if the ground, broken with rocks and overgrown with wood was not suited to scientific wrestling, it certainly helped to make some of the other sports more than usually amusing. The first contest was a mile race for boys. Most of the competitors were lads who had been taken prisoners on the march, but a few Colchians entered for the prize, as did also two or three boys of Trapezus, who had the reputation of being particularly fleet of foot. But the natives of the plain, still more the inhabitants of the town, found themselves entirely outpaced on this novel race course by the young mountaineers. A Carduchian came in first, and was presented with his liberty, his master being compensated out of the prize fund which had been subscribed by the army. As soon as he understood that he was free, he set out at full speed in the direction of his home. A true mountaineer, he sickened for his native hills, and in the hope of seeing them again was ready to brave alone the perils which an army had scarcely survived.

A foot race for men followed, but the distance to be traversed was, according to the common custom of the great games, only two hundred yards. There were as many as sixty competitors; but curiously enough, they were to a man Cretans. Another foot race, this time for men in heavy armor, was next run. The president had a Spartan's admiration for all exercises that had a real bearing on military training, and the race of the heavy armed was unquestionably one of these. It was won by a gigantic Arcadian, an Ætolian whose diminutive stature made a curious contrast to his competitor coming in close behind him.

Next came the great event of the day, the "Contest of the Five Exercises," or "Pentathlon." The five were leaping, wrestling, running, quoit-throwing, and javelin-throwing. The competitor who won most successes had the prize adjudged to him.* Callias had been trained for some time at home with the intention of becoming a competitor at Olympia; but various causes had hindered him from carrying out his purpose, and, of course, he was now wholly out of practice. He was sitting quietly among the spectators when he felt a hand upon his shoulder and looking up, saw his general standing by.

"Stand up for the honor of Athens," said Xenophon, "don't let the men of the Island carry everything before them."

"But I am not in training," said Callias.

"You are in as good training, I fancy," replied the general, "as are any of these; better I should say, to judge from the way in which they have been eating and drinking since the retreat was ended. Besides, it is only the boxers who absolutely require anything very severe in that way. And you have youth."

Callias still made objections, but yielded when his general made the matter a personal favor.

The competitors were six in number, the winner of the foot race, the tall Arcadian and his diminutive rival from Ætolia, two Achæans, and Callias.

The first contest was leaping at the bar. Here the Arcadian's long legs served him well. He was a singularly ungainly fellow, and threw himself over the bar, if I may be allowed the expression, in a lump. Every time the bar was raised, he managed just to clear it, though the spectators could not understand how his clumsy legs, which seemed sprawling everywhere, managed to avoid touching it. Still they did manage it, and when he had cleared four cubits short of a palm, which may be translated into the English measure of five feet nine inches, his rivals had to own themselves beaten. Callias, who came second, declared that he had been balked by the infamous playing of the flute player, whose music according to the custom followed at Olympia„ accompanied the jumping. "The wretch," he declared to the friends who condoled with him on the loss of what they had put down to him for a certainty, "the wretch played a false note just as I was at my last trial. If I had not heard him do the same at least half a dozen times before, I should have said that he did it on purpose."

If chance or fraud had been against him in this trial, in the next he was decidedly favored by fortune. This was the foot race. The course was, as usual, round a post fixed about a hundred yards from the starting point, and home again. Whenever a turn has to be made, a certain advantage falls to the competitor who has the inner place, and when, as in this case, the distance is short, the advantage is considerable. The places were determined by lot. The innermost fell to the Arcadian; Callias came next to him; fortunately for him, his most dangerous competitor, the Cretan who had won the foot race, had the outermost, i.e., the worst station. The Arcadian jumped away with a lead, and for fifty yards managed, thanks to the long strides which his long legs enabled him to take, to keep in front; but the effort was soon spent; by the time that the turning point was reached, Callias had gained enough upon him to attempt the dangerous maneuver of taking his ground. If it had not been for this, he must have been beaten, for the fleet-footed Cretan, weighted though he was by his disadvantageous place, ran a dead heat with him.

In the quoit-throwing, the Arcadian's strength and stature brought him to the front again. With us quoit-playing is a trial of skill as well as of strength. The quoit is thrown at a mark, and the player who contrives to go nearest to this mark, without touching it (for to touch it commonly ends in disaster) wins. At the, same time the throw does not count unless the quoit either sticks into the ground or lies flat upon it with the right side uppermost. In the Greek game there were no requirements of this kind. The quoit was a huge mass of metal with notches by which it could be conveniently grasped, or, sometimes, a hole in the middle through which a leather strap or wooden handle could be put. He who threw it farthest was the winner. Some little knack was required, as is indeed the case in every feat of strength, and, as has been said before, stature was the chief qualification. The Arcadian hurled the quoit, a mass of iron weighing ten pounds, to the vast distance of forty-two feet. None of his rivals came near him. As he had now won two events out of three, and his gigantic height and weight would make him, to say the least, a formidable opponent in the wrestling, he was a favorite for the prize. His Arcadian countrymen, who formed, as has been said, a large proportion of the army, were in high hope, and staked sums that were far beyond their means on his success.

The quoit-throwing was followed by hurling the javelin at a mark. Here the Arcadian was hopelessly distanced, for here skill was as much wanted as strength had been in the preceding trial. He threw the javelin indeed with prodigious force, but threw it wholly wide of the mark. Indeed, when he was performing, the near neighborhood of the mark would have been the safest place to stand. The spectators were more than once in danger of their lives, so at random and at the same time so vigorous were his strokes. The first mark was a post rudely fashioned into the figure of a man. To hit the head was the best aim that could be made; to hit a space marked out upon the body and roughly representing the heart was the neat; the third in merit was a blow that fell on some other part of the body. The legs counted for nothing. Callias and the Cretan scored precisely the same. The Athenian hit the head twice, scoring six for the two blows. The third time his javelin missed altogether. The Cretan, on the other hand, in his three strokes hit the third, second, and the first places successively, scoring for them one, two, and three respectively. Further trials of skill were now given. A wand about three fingers wide was set up at a distance of twelve yards. The Cretan's javelin pierced it, making it, as may be supposed, an exceedingly difficult thing for a rival to equal, much more to surpass the performance. But Callias was equal to the occasion. Amid tumultuous applause from the spectators, for his courtesy and carriage had made him a great favorite, he hurled his javelin with such accuracy that he split that which was already sticking in the mark. Again the Cretan and he were pronounced to have made a tie.

The two Achæans and the Ætolian did creditably, scoring five each. As they had failed in four out of the five contests, the prize was clearly out of their reach, and they stood out of the last competition, the wrestling.

And now came the last and deciding struggle. Here again fortune decidedly favored the Athenian. The president, following the rule always observed at Olympia, ordered three lots marked A, B, and C, and representing respectively Callias, the Arcadian, and the Cretan, to be put into an urn. The two first drawn were to contend in the first heat, the third was to have what is technically, called a "bye." The "bye" fell to the lot of Callias, and with it, it need hardly be said, the not inconsiderable advantage of coming fresh to contend with a rival who had undergone the fatigue of a previous struggle.

The issue of the contest between the Arcadian and the Cretan was not long in doubt. The latter was an agile fellow, who would have had a very good chance with "light-weights," to use again a technical term, if the competitors had been so classed, as indeed they are by the customs of the modern wrestling ring. But against his gigantic opponent he had scarcely a chance. In the first bout the Arcadian lifted his antagonist clean from the ground, and threw him down at full length without more ado. The second was more equal. The Cretan struck his antagonist's left ankle so sharply with his foot that the giant fell, but he could not loose the other's hold, and fell also, scoring only the advantage of being the uppermost. If there had been a tie in the other two bouts this might have sufficed to give him the victory, or the president might have ordered a fresh trial. But the third bout was decisive. It was in fact a repetition of the first, only, if possible, still more decisive. The Cretan was again lifted from the ground, before he had the chance of practicing any of his devices, and again hurled at full length upon the ground. This time he was stunned, and carried insensible from the ground by his companions.

A brief interval was now allowed. It was thought unfair that the Arcadian should be called upon to engage a fresh antagonist without some chance of resting himself. But what was meant for an advantage turned out to be exactly the contrary. The man was not particularly tired, but he was exceedingly thirsty, and he had not learnt the habit of self-control. Regardless of the remonstrance of his companions, he indulged himself with a huge goblet of wine and water. So imprudent was he indeed that he put less water than was usual in the mixture, and slightly confused his brain by the potency of the draught. When he came forth to meet his antagonist, he had not only damaged his wind but had made his footing somewhat unsteady. Three bouts, as before, were fought. The Arcadian first tried the simple tactics which had been successful with the Cretan. He did his best to lift the Athenian from the ground, and Callias had all he could do to prevent it. But his weight and his strength, which he made the most of by his coolness, stood him in good stead. After a fierce struggle both fell together, and fell in such a way that the president declared that neither had gained any advantage. Practically, however, the victory was decided in favor of Callias. The Arcadian's strength was impaired, and he was so scant of breath that he could not use what was left to him. And he had little skill to fall back upon, whereas his antagonist had been the favorite pupil of one of the best trainers in Athens. In the second bout Callias struck the Arcadian on the right foot with his own left; in the third he simply reversed the device, striking the left with his right. In both he contrived to free himself when his opponent fell. Thus the fifth contest ended for him in an unquestioned victory.

The prize of victory was an ox and a purse of twenty-five gold pieces, for soldiers who fought for pay would not have relished the barren honor of a wreath of wild olive with which the Olympian judges were accustomed to reward the victors. Callias won golden opinions from his comrades by the liberality with which he disposed of his gains. The ox he presented to the company to which he had been attached; the money he divided, in such proportion as seemed right, among the unsuccessful competitors.

One more contest remained, and it turned out to be the most entertaining of them all. This was a horse race. The competitors were to make their way from the hilltop to the shore and back again. The headlong, break-neck speed at which they galloped down, and the slow and painful effort by which they crawled back again, were witnessed with inextinguishable laughter by the assembled crowds. Xenophon himself took a part in this sport, and gained great favor not only by his condescension but by his skillful riding. He did not win, indeed, for the animal which he rode was hopelessly inferior, but his performance did not discredit the land which claimed by the bounty of the god of the sea to have been the birthplace of the horse. The piety of Xenophon always ready to show itself, did not fail to improve the occasion of his young friend's success.

"You have gained the prize," he said in a tone of the deepest earnestness, "nor did you fail to deserve it. Prize it the more because it is manifest that the gods favor you. Youth and strength pass away, but piety you can cherish always, and cherishing piety, you have also the favor of the gods."