Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Eumenes was born at Cardia, a small town in the Chersonesus, a peninsula in the southern part of Thrace. His father was a poor wagoner, but was able to give Eumenes a good education, because there were public schools in his day, where children of all ranks in life were taught. King Philip of Macedon chanced to be passing at one time through Cardia, and went to the exercise grounds to see the men and boys wrestling and boxing. On that occasion Eumenes was present, and showed so much energy and skill as a wrestler that Philip was charmed with him and took him into his service, where he remained for seven years.

When Philip died, Eumenes was raised to a high office under Alexander, on account of his talent for military affairs, and became one of that monarch's favorite officers, serving him for thirteen years. This was remarkable, because Eumenes was not a native of Macedon, and for that reason he refused to interfere in the disputes that arose after the death of Alexander, saying that it did not become him as a stranger to take part in the quarrels between the two Macedonian parties.

But when the troubles were all settled, the generals met to divide the various provinces and armies, and then Cappadocia and Paphlagonia fell to the share of Eumenes. Those countries were not then subject to the Macedonians, so Leonatus and Antigonus were the two commanders selected to go with their armies and place Eumenes in power. However, they deserted him at the last moment for duties that gave promise of greater glory, and he went for aid with his army to Perdiccas, who was a most important person in Macedonia.

Perdiccas was very friendly to Eumenes, and not only took him into his confidence, but after a time conducted him in person to Cappadocia with a large force, and with one battle succeeded in establishing him in the government. Having placed guards and officers whom he could trust over the various cities, Eumenes accompanied Perdiccas as far as Cilicia, and would have gone back with him to his court, but there were provinces near Cappadocia still to be conquered, and it was thought best for Eumenes to be on the spot for that purpose.

When Perdiccas was engaged in a war with Ptolemy, Craterus and Antipater, two of Alexander's most distinguished generals, made war against him, and, as he could not then oppose them, he appointed Eumenes commander-in-chief of the forces in Armenia and Cappadocia. Neoptolemus, the captain of Alexander's life-guards, refused to submit to the rule of Eumenes, and gave him battle, but he was badly beaten, and fled to Craterus and Antipater with the few who managed to escape with him. He gave those generals an account of his defeat, and asked for assistance, particularly from Craterus, who was a favorite with the Macedonians. "They are so attached to you," said Neoptolemus, "that if they saw but your hat or heard the sound of your voice they would run to you with their swords in their hands."

This was true, and Eumenes knew it; therefore he did not tell his troops that they were going to contend against Craterus, which was a wise piece of generalship. He kept the secret entirely to himself, but took care so to arrange his army that a foreign force should fight against Craterus, because he dared not trust the Macedonians to do so. The battle was a desperate one, and although Craterus fought bravely, he was killed. Many passed over his body without recognizing it; but one of Eumenes's officers, who had known the dead general well, jumped from his horse and guarded the body until the battle was over.

Eumenes was raised to high honor on account of his victories, but the Macedonians were so indignant when they discovered that they had been led against one of their own countrymen whom they loved and admired as they did Craterus, that they passed sentence of death on Eumenes. Perdiccas, who had been a friend to Eumenes, would probably have turned against him too had he been alive, but he was slain in a mutiny in Egypt two days before the news arrived.

So Antigonus and Antipater took charge of the army against Eumenes, who again showed wonderful generalship; for he paid his soldiers so liberally, and divided spoils so justly, that when it was found that the enemy had distributed papers in the camp offering a large sum of money and high honors to him who should kill Eumenes, there was so much indignation that even the Macedonians went over to him again, and formed a body-guard of a thousand men for his protection.

Eumenes lost some battles and won others, and he was forced to move from place to place so constantly that he gave his soldiers permission to leave his command. This was partly for their own safety, and partly because it was inconvenient to fly before the enemy with so large an army. So when he retired to the castle of Nora, on the border of Cappadocia, he had only five hundred horse and two hundred foot-soldiers. This was well, because a larger number could scarcely have been accommodated in so confined a space. As it was, Eumenes found it difficult to give his men and horses proper exercise; but this is the way he managed it: for the men, the largest room in the fort was used for their walks, and they were urged to keep themselves in practice, to be prepared for flight. The horses were tied to the roof of the stable with strong halters, and then, by means of pulleys, they were so raised from the ground as to be obliged to stand on their hind legs. While in that position the grooms excited them with their voices and whips until they bounded furiously and tried to get their forefeet to the ground. Thus the whole body was exercised until the horses were out of breath and covered with sweat. That mode of treatment, with good food, kept them in excellent condition.

It was Antigonus who conducted that siege, and before he began it he invited Eumenes to a conference. "Oh, no," answered Eumenes; "Antigonus has many friends and generals to take his place in case of accident to himself, but the troops under my care have no one but me to command and protect them. Antigonus must therefore send hostages if he wants to treat with me in person."

"He must make the first application to me," returned Antigonus, "I being a greater man than he."

The reply Eumenes sent back was, "While I am master of my sword I shall never think any man greater than myself."

Then Antigonus despatched his nephew to the fort as hostage, whereupon Eumenes came out. The two generals had been friends and companions in earlier times, so when they beheld each other they embraced warmly. The conference lasted a long time, but as Eumenes insisted on retaining the government of his provinces, and demanded a large reward for his services besides, no treaty could be made.

During the interview a number of the enemy ran forward to have a look at the man who had caused the death of Craterus. Fearing that they might offer some violence, Antigonus called to them to keep at a distance, and even ordered them to be driven off with stones. They crowded up nevertheless; so encircling Eumenes with his arms, Antigonus commanded his guards to keep back the crowd, and with no little difficulty got him safe again into the castle.

The siege lasted until Antipater died, when Antigonus, whose mind was filled with schemes, turned his attention towards Macedonia. But he needed a competent general to assist him, so he raised the siege of the castle of Nora, after having obtained the oath of Eumenes to certain proposals of his, one of which was fealty to himself and to the royal family of Macedonia.

Then all the soldiers who had left Eumenes flocked to him from different parts of the country until he had a powerful army. This so displeased Antigonus that he ordered the siege to be begun again, but it was too late, for Olympias, the wife of Alexander, had invited Eumenes to go to her and protect her son, whose life she feared was in danger.

From that time Eumenes was a faithful ally of the royal family, with whom his influence became wonderfully great. But he was shrewd enough to be always on the lookout for Antigonus, who was so jealous of him as to have turned his enemy. At last Antigonus really came; but Eumenes was prepared, and opposed him with such vigor when he attempted to cross the river, that four thousand of his men were captured, and the channel was choked up with his dead.

Not long after this bloody event, on hearing that Eumenes was ill, Antigonus, who had not abandoned hope of victory, advanced again. Eumenes was really too ill to command the army, but they would not move without him, so he had himself carried in a litter at some distance in the rear, so that his rest might not be disturbed by the noise. They had not gone far when the enemy appeared, marching down to the plain from the neighboring hills. Their armor glittered brilliantly in the sunlight, and the troops were so struck when they beheld the train of elephants with towers on their backs, and all the display of men and arms besides, that they grounded their arms and declared they would not stir another step without Eumenes.

On hearing this, Eumenes urged his slaves to hasten forward with his litter, and when he opened the curtains and waved his hand, the troops shouted for joy, challenged the enemy to come on, for they thought themselves invincible with him at their head. So did Antigonus, and when he spied the litter, carried about from one wing of the army to another, he laughed aloud, and said to his friends, "Yon litter is the thing that pitches the battle against us." And so he immediately retreated to his intrenchments.

There were two officers under Eumenes who had been jealous of him for a long time, so they formed a plot against his life, agreeing to make use of him in one more battle, and assassinate him immediately after. Antigonus managed during the next engagement to seize the baggage without being seen; but one of the jealous officers we have mentioned sent to ask after the battle that it might be returned.

Antigonus answered, "I will restore your baggage and treat you in all respects with great kindness if you will put Eumenes into my hands." The conspirators determined to deliver the brave man over to the enemy, so they took advantage of a favorable moment to fall upon him, snatch away his sword, and with his own girdle firmly bind his hands behind him.

When he was led through the midst of the men he had commanded, he asked to be allowed to speak to them. Mounting an eminence, he said, "What trophy, ye vilest of all the Macedonians! what trophy could Antigonus prefer to the one you are raising for him by delivering your general bound? Was it not base enough to acknowledge yourselves beaten merely for the sake of your baggage, as if victory dwelt among your goods and chattels, and not upon the points of your swords, but you must also send your general as a ransom for that baggage? For my part, though thus led, I am not conquered. I have beaten the enemy, and am ruined by my fellow-soldiers. But I conjure you by the god Jupiter, and by the awful deities who preside over oaths, to kill me here with your own hands. If my life be taken by another, the deed will still be yours. Nor will Antigonus complain if you take the work out of his hands; for he wants not Eumenes alive, but Eumenes dead. If you choose not to be the immediate instruments, loose but one of my hands, and that shall do the business. If you will not trust me with a sword, throw me bound as I am among wild beasts."

Some of the troops wept and would have granted his request, but others cried out, "Lead him on, and attend not to his trifling. He is only a Chersonesian who has worried us Macedonians with infinite wars; lead him on! lead him on!" And so they drove him forward.

But on account of their former friendship Antigonus could not bear to have Eumenes brought before him; therefore, when he was asked how the prisoner was to be kept, he said, "As you would keep an elephant or a lion." He soon ordered his heavy chains to be removed, however, and even permitted a slave to wait on him and friends to visit and bring him refreshments. Meanwhile, he was deliberating how to dispose of him.

At last the Macedonian officers insisted that he should be put to death,—they cared not how, so long as it was done; and Antigonus dared not postpone it. So the prisoner, after being deprived of food for three days, was executed.

The body was burned with honors, and the ashes were placed in a silver urn and sent to the friends of Eumenes in his native land. This was the end of one who raised himself to a high position entirely by his own efforts, but whose life will probably be of interest only to those who are fond of military adventure.