Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

A Conference with Tissaphernes

For about three weeks the two armies continued marching, one behind the other, neither good friends nor yet open enemies. The mutual distrust resulted in constant quarrels, and if the soldiers from both armies were cutting wood in the same forest, or gathering grass from the same fields, there was sure to be a fight.

Clearchus did not however believe that the Persians had any deliberate intention of breaking the treaty to which they had sworn, and in the hope of putting an end to a state of affairs which was every day getting worse, he resolved if possible to come to an understanding with Tissaphernes. He sent word therefore that he wished to speak with him. Tissaphernes accordingly invited him to a conference in his tent, and Clearchus spoke as follows- "You regard us," he said, "as enemies, and consequently we think it necessary to stand on our guard against you. These mutual suspicions may easily lead to actual war, and therefore I am anxious to convince you that you have no reason to doubt us.

"First, and before all things, we are prevented by our oath from thinking of you in any other light than that of friends. He who breaks an oath plunges himself into the greatest misery, for who is swift enough to outrun the wrath of the gods? In what darkness could he hide himself from them? What fortress would protect him, were it ever so strong? For to the gods all things are subject, and they have power over all, everywhere alike.

"But more than this, you are of all others the man who is best able to help us. Without you our way is shrouded in shades of night, for we know not your land. The inhabited districts we should fear to enter, but far more should we dread the barren waste lands, where there would be none to help us. But with your good-will every way is open to us, every river can be crossed, we shall be among friends, and food will not fail. If we were mad enough to think of taking your life, we should be destroying our best friend, and should expose ourselves to the fury of the Great King who would hasten to avenge your death.

"And now I will tell you what services we can render in return for your friendship. We know that you are harassed by the Mysians, the Pisidians and other nations, and moreover that the Egyptians have risen against you. But if we Hellenes are your friends, and fight as comrades by your side, what people can hope to withstand you?

"Taking all things into consideration, it seems incredible that you should suspect us, and I can only suppose that some mischief-maker has been at work, causing you to question our good faith."

In his own mind Clearchus had little doubt that the mischief-maker was Menon, one of the other generals. Menon was a rival of Clearchus, and wished to supersede him as commander-in-chief of the Hellene army, while Clearchus was by no means inclined to make way for him. Clearchus suspected that Menon had been trying to induce the Satrap to insist upon his being given the first place, and that in return for this, he had promised to bring over the Hellenes to the party of Tissaphernes. Of such a plan the selfish Menon was certainly capable, and it afterwards appeared that he was not entirely innocent of intrigues with the Persians. But it is very possible that Clearchus may have been misled by jealousy into over-estimating the extent of his guilt.

To the speech of Clearchus, Tissaphernes made a hypocritical reply. "I rejoice," he said, "to hear that you know how to value our friendship. But now, on the other hand, have we not long since given you proofs of our sincerity?

"If we wished to do you an injury, have we not foot-soldiers and horsemen enough to overpower you? Is there any lack of favourable places for falling upon you? Could I not seize the mountains to block your way? Or prevent you from crossing a river? Or, surest means of all to compass your ruin, could I not set fire to the country far and wide around you, and having destroyed all the fruits of the earth, leave you to die of hunger? Why have I not done this? Because I love the Hellenes, and hope, by means of their friendship, to attain my highest wish.

"The Great King," he added, "is the only one who may wear the tiara upright upon his head, but with your help, another may wear it upright in his heart."

By these mysterious words he meant to signify that he aspired to fight himself for the throne, as Cyrus had done. He also hinted that Clearchus was quite right in suspecting one of his fellow-officers, and asked him to bring all the generals and captains to a meeting in his tent, when he promised to point out the traitor.

All difficulties appeared now to have been smoothed away. Tissaphernes assumed a most friendly manner, and begged Clearchus to remain with him for supper, and be his guest for the night.