Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

Election of Officers

Xenophon was deeply affected by the massacre of his countrymen, and all the more so because of his friendship for Proxenus, who was one of the five generals entrapped by Tissaphernes.

During the night that followed that ill-fated day, be could not sleep. He had thrown himself upon the ground, overcome with grief and anxiety, but could get no rest. At last however he fell into a troubled slumber, and dreamt that it was thundering and lightning, and that his father's house was struck by the lightning and burst into flames.

He started up in horror, but found that it was a dream. Then, being a pious man who believed that every event was brought about by the direct intervention of the gods, he began to consider what the dream could mean, for be doubted not that it was sent to him as a sign from Zeus, the Ruler of all. But whether it betokened good or evil fortune, he could not tell. The burning of the house would seem to foretell misfortune, and yet, on the other hand, the light breaking suddenly out of darkness might be taken to signify help in the hour of need.

Shaking off his despondency, he began to reason with himself. "Of what avail is it," he said, "to lie here? The night creeps on apace. To-morrow the enemy will attack us, and there is not one of us who thinks of preparing for defence. All are lying prone, as if this were a time for inaction and giving way to despair. For what should I wait, or for whom? It is clear that I must help myself."

With these words he sprang to his feet, and calling together the captains of the company of Proxenus, he proceeded to address them, saying, "I cannot sleep, and you in like manner are unable to close your eyes for thinking of the perilous situation in which we find ourselves. From the Great King we can look for nothing but fury and vengeance, for we came hither to unseat him from his throne.

"Nevertheless it seems to me that our condition is not such that we should give way to despair, for the gods are angry with the Barbarians because they have broken the peace they swore to maintain. The gods will therefore be on our side. Moreover we can endure frost and heat better than the weakly Persians, and are in every way, thank the gods, made of better stuff. Let us therefore not delay, but at once put our hands to the work. On us everything depends, for the soldiers will follow our lead. If they see us wanting in courage they will be faint-hearted, but if we show ourselves ready for anything that may be in store for us, whether of toil or danger, and encourage a like spirit in our comrades, the soldiers will follow our example and be ashamed of their faint-heartedness."

All the captains but one agreed with Xenophon, but there was one who thought otherwise, a certain Apollonides who appeared by his speech to be a Boeotian. This man said that it was madness to dream of any other deliverance than that which they might hope to gain by throwing themselves upon the mercy of the Great King, and began to reckon up all the hardships that lay before them.

But Xenophon cut him short. "Thou fool," he said, thou hast eyes and ears, but canst neither see nor hear. When the King demanded our arms, and we refused to give them up and began to march away, was he not then most anxious to enter into a treaty with us? And is it not in consequence of having trusted in his promises that we have fallen into this present distress? Ye captains, this man has not the mind of a Hellene, he is a disgrace to our brave Hellas. Let us not endure him among us any longer, he is only fit to be among the camp-followers and carry the baggage."

"In truth," said one of the captains, "Apollonides is no Boeotian, nor indeed a Hellene of any sort, but a Barbarian from Lydia. This you can tell by looking at his ears, which have been pierced." So indeed it proved, and Apollonides was turned away.

It was now midnight, and at the suggestion of Xenophon, the captains of the company of Proxenus went through the camp, and summoned all the generals and captains of the other companies to meet together and take counsel as to what should be done.

When they were assembled, to the number of about a hundred, Xenophon was asked to repeat in the hearing of all what he had already said to the captains of the company of Proxenus. This he did, and then went on to propose immediate action.

"The first thing to be done," he said, "is to choose generals and captains to replace those who have been taken from us, that the army may not be left without responsible chiefs. For through order and discipline an army is strong; slackness and disorder are the harbingers of defeat. Let us first agree among ourselves who are the best men to fill the vacant places, and then call together the soldiers to confirm our decision. It will be well also to speak to them some words of encouragement, for it is not numbers that ensure victory, but confidence and courage. He who in war thinks only of saving his life is the most likely to lose it, and his death is the death of a coward. But he who, remembering that death is the common lot of all men, chooses rather to die with honour than to live in shame, is far more likely to attain old age, and while life lasts, lives nobly."

The suggestion was acted upon without delay. Xenophon was chosen to take the place of his friend Proxenus, and for the four other missing generals successors were appointed from among the captains of their companies. In the same way, soldiers were elected to replace the dead captains and those newly promoted, so that as far as the officers were concerned, each company was made up to its former strength.

By this time it was almost daybreak, and a herald was sent round the camp to summon all the soldiers to a general meeting, the precaution being meanwhile taken of placing outposts at regular intervals outside the camp, with instructions to bring in news at once, if they should perceive any sign of the enemy's approach.