Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Greece Again

ON landing at Miletus Charidemus found a letter from the king awaiting him. After expressing his pleasure that he had been able to regain services that were so valuable, and paying him the compliment of saying that he considered the exchange had been very much to his own advantage, Alexander continued, "I desire to see you so soon after you have regained your liberty as you can contrive to come to me. You can journey either by land or sea. In either case you have at your disposal all that you may need. But I should advise that you come by sea, for I expect by the time within which you can probably reach me to be not far from the coast of Syria. The gods preserve you in the future as they have in the past!"

The officer in charge of the garrison of Miletus held very decidedly the same opinion as the king. "You can understand," he said, when Charidemus went to report himself, "that the country is at present very unsettled. When such an army as that we fought with at the Granicus is broken up, a great number of the men naturally become brigands. I do not doubt but that every forest between here and Lycia is full of them. Even without the brigands, the roads would hardly be safe. At present, you see, it is all an enemy's country, except where we have garrisons. No; you could not travel without danger, unless I gave you all my garrison for an escort. Of course there are risks by sea. In the first place, it is very late for a voyage; and then there are Phœnician cruisers about. Still I should strongly recommend this way of going; and, by good luck, I can put the very fastest ship and the very best captain that we have at your disposal. I will send for him, and you shall hear what he says."

In about an hour's time, accordingly, the captain presented himself, a weather-beaten sailor, somewhat advanced in years, if one might judge from his grizzled hair and beard, but as vigorous and alert as a youth. He made light of the difficulty of the time of the year. "Give me a good ship and a good crew, and I will sail at any time you please from one equinox to the other; and let me say that you will not find a better ship than the Centaur between here and the Pillars of Hercules. As for the crew, I can warrant them. I have trained them myself. And I am not much afraid of Phœnician cruisers. Of course accidents may happen; but I know that in a fair fight or a fair chase, the Centaur and its crew can hold their own against anything that ever came out of Tyre or Sidon. And now, my good sir, when can you start? The sooner the better, I say, for the Persians are busy just now in the north, and we may very well get to our journey's end without any trouble at all."

Charidemus said that he had nothing to keep him in Miletus, and that the speedier the start the better he would be pleased. Before sunrise next morning, accordingly, the Centaur was on its way, with a fresh following breeze from the north that spared the rowers all trouble. Halicarnassus was passed towards evening, and Rhodes the next day, brilliant in the sunshine with which its patron, the sun-god, was said always to favour it. The wind here began to fail them somewhat, as their course became more easterly; but the sea was calm, and the rowers, an admirably trained crew, who acknowledged no equals in the Western Mediterranean, got over distances that would have seemed incredible to their passenger had he not been an eye-witness of their accomplishment. Pleusicles, the captain, was in high spirits, and brought out of the store of his memory or his imagination yarn after yarn. He had begun his seafaring life nearly forty years before under the Athenian admiral Iphicrates—he was an Æginetan by birth—and had seen that commander's brilliant victory over the combined fleets of Sparta and Syracuse. He had been in every naval battle that had been fought since then; first in the service of Athens, and then, either from some offence given or from unpunctuality in the matter of payment, going over to Philip of Macedon. Intervals of peace he had employed in commercial enterprises. He knew the Mediterranean from end to end, from Tyre to the Pillars, from Cyrene to Massilia. From Massilia, indeed, he had gone on his most adventurous voyage. A Greek traveler, Pytheas by name, had engaged him for an expedition which was to explore regions altogether unknown. Pleusicles related how they had sailed through the Straits of Calpe into the immeasurable Ocean beyond, how they had with difficulty forced their way through leagues of matted sea-weed, and had come after months of difficult travel to an island in the northern sea, a land of much rain and little sunshine, where on a narrow strip of open ground between vast forests and the sea the natives cultivated some precarious crops of corn. Of so much Pleusicles had been himself an eye-witness: but there were greater marvels of which he knew only by hearsay, a yet remoter island surrounded by what was neither land nor sea nor air, but a mixture of all, one huge jelly-fish, as it were, and a tribe with whom amber, a rare and precious thing among the Greeks, was so abundant that it was used as firewood.

On the third day the Centaur reached Patara on the Lycian coast, and on the next the Greek city of Phaselis. Here Charidemus found the king, who was engaged in one of those literary episodes with which he was wont to relieve his military life. The pride of Phaselis was its famous citizen, Theodectes, poet and orator. He had been the pupil, or rather the friend, of Aristotle. As such Alexander had known him when he himself had sat at the feet of the great philosopher. Indeed, though there was as much as twenty years difference between their ages, the prince and the poet had themselves been friends. Theodectes had died the year before in the very prime of life, and his fellow-citizens had exerted themselves to do him all possible honour. They had given the commission for his statue to Praxiteles, the first sculptor of the time, paying him a heavy fee of two talents, a sum which severely taxed their modest resources. The statue had just then been set up. And now, by a piece of singular good fortune, as they thought it, the townsfolk had the future conqueror of Asia to inaugurate it. The king took a part in the sacrifice, crowned the statue with garlands, was present with some of his principal officers at the representation of a tragedy by the deceased author, and laughed heartily at the concluding farce in which the story of the healing of Cheiron, the Centaur, was ludicrously travestied.

Early the next day Charidemus was summoned to the royal presence. The king greeted him with more than his usual kindness, and proceeded to explain the business in which he proposed to employ him. "I am going to send you," he said, "first to Greece, and then home; I have not the same reason," he went on, with a smile, "that I had with Ptolemy and his detachment, that they were newly married. But for the next three months or so there will be very little doing here, and you can be more profitably employed elsewhere. First, you must go to Athens. You will be in charge of an offering which I am sending to the goddess, three hundred complete suits of armour from the spoils of the Granicus. You should be a persona grata there. You are half an Argive, and the Argives have always been on good terms with the Athenians. And then you speak good Greek. If I were to send one of my worthy Macedonians they would laugh at his accent; he might lose his temper, and all the grace of the affair would be lost. That, then, is your mission, as far as the world sees it; you will take sealed instructions about other matters which you will not open till you have crossed the sea. . . . The offering is all ready; in fact, it was lying shipped at Miletus when you landed there. But I wanted to see you, and to be sure also that you received my instructions. These you shall have at sunset. When you have received them, start back at once."

Punctually at sunset one of the royal pages brought a roll of parchment sealed with the royal seal. Charidemus, who had been waiting on board the Centaur for it, gave a formal receipt for it, and within half an hour was on his way westward. The good ship and her picked crew had better opportunities for showing their mettle than had occurred on the eastward journey. Things were easy enough as long as they were under the lee of the Lycian coast; but at Rhodes a strong head wind encountered them; and it was only after a hard struggle of at least twelve days, during which even the bold Pleusicles thought more than once of turning back, that they reached Miletus. By that time the weather had changed again; and the voyage to Athens, though undertaken with fear and trembling by the captains of the heavily-laden merchantmen that carried the armour, was prosperous and uneventful.

Charidemus spent about a month in Athens, finding, as might have been expected, a vast amount of things to interest, please, and astonish him. Some of the impressions made upon him by what he saw and heard may be gathered from extracts taken from letters which he wrote at this time to his Theban friend.

". . . The armour has been presented in the Temple of Athené Polias. A more splendid spectacle I have never seen. They told me that it was almost as fine as the great Panathenæa, the grand triennial festival of which I dare say you have heard. The Peplos was not there nor the Basket-bearers —I missed, you see, the chance of seeing the beauty, though I saw the rank and fashion of Athens. But the magistrates were there, in their robes of office, headed by the King Archon, and, behind them a huge array of soldiers in complete armour, good enough to look at, but poor stuff in a battle, I should fancy—indeed the Athenians have long since done most of their fighting, I am told, by paid deputies. The best of these troops was a battalion, several thousands strong, of the 'youths,' as they called them. Students they are who do a little soldiering by way of change after their books. They can march, and they know their drill; and they are not pursy and fat, as are most of their elders. Their armour and accoutrements are excellent. If their wits are only as bright as their shields and their spear-points, they must be clever fellows in the lecture-room. And the Temple itself! I simply have not words to describe it and its splendours.

“And then there was the great statue of the goddess outside the Temple; I had never seen it close at hand, though I remember having had the point of the lance which she holds in her hand and the crest of her helmet pointed out to me as I was sailing along the coast. But the effect of the whole when one stands by the pedestal is overpowering. Its magnificent stature—it is more than forty cubits high —its majestic face, its imposing attitude—she is challenging the world, it would seem, on behalf of her favourite city—all these things produce an impression that cannot be described. It is made, you must understand, of bronze, and the simplicity of the material impressed me more than the gorgeous ivory and gold of the Athené Polias, as they call her.

“While I am talking about statues I must tell you about one which I was allowed to see by special favour; it is made of olive wood, and is of an age past all counting; the rudest shape that can be imagined, but extraordinarily interesting. The keeper of the Temple where it is (not the same as that of which I have been speaking, but called, by way of distinction, the Old Temple) have a story that it fell down from heaven. In the evening there was a great banquet in the Town-hall, a very gorgeous affair, with delicacies brought from all the four winds—pheasants from the Black Sea, and peacocks, and dolphins, and I know not what in flesh, fish, and fowl. Of course the special Attic dishes were prominent—honey, figs, and olives—and there were a great choice of vintages. I was amazed at the abundance and luxury of the entertainment, and could not help thinking that there was a great deal of foolish waste. Far more interesting to me than the dishes and the drinks were the guests. I do not mean the magistrates and generals, for they had nothing particularly distinguished about them; I mean those who have a permanent seat at the table. You must know that the Athenians have an excellent custom of rewarding men who have done conspicuously good service to the state by giving them such a seat.

“Of course I saw Phocion there. I had seen him before in the king's camp; and he has been very civil and serviceable to me. I sat next to a veteran who was the oldest of the public guests, and must have numbered fully a hundred years. What a storehouse of recollections the old man's mind was! Of recent things and persons he knew nothing. When I was speaking of our king he stared blankly at me. But he remembered the plague—his father and mother and all his family died of it, he told me. His first campaign was in Sicily. He had been taken prisoner and thrust into the stone quarries of Syracuse. He could not bear to think, he told me, even now of the horrors of the place. Then he had fought at Œgos-Potami, and I know not where else. His last service, I remember, was at Mantinea, where he was in command of an Athenian contingent. He was seventy years old then, he told me, but as vigorous, he boasted, as the youngest of them. He saw your Epaminondas struck down, though he was not very near. And he was a disciple of Socrates. 'To think,' he said, 'that I should be dining here at the State's expense, and that he had the hemlock draught! I remember,' he went on, 'when he was put on his trial and had been found guilty, and the president asked him to name his own penalty, he mentioned this very honour that I enjoy. He deserved it much better, he said, for showing his countrymen how foolish and ignorant they were, than if he had won a victory at Olympia. What a stir of rage went through the assembly when he said it! It quite settled the matter for the death penalty. And now here am I and he—well he has his reward elsewhere, if what he always said is true—and that I shall soon know.' A most interesting old man is this, and I must try to see him again."

A week or two afterwards, he wrote again.

"I have seen Demosthenes. A young Athenian with whom I have become acquainted introduced me to him. At first he was cold and distant. It is no passport to his favour to be a Macedonian. Afterwards he became sufficiently friendly, and we had much talk together. He is not as hopeful as I am about the king's undertaking. He thinks, indeed, that it will succeed, though, very likely, in his heart he wishes that it may not. But he does not expect much good from it. 'So Greece, you think,' he said to me one day 'will conquer Persia. I doubt it. I don't doubt indeed that your Alexander will overrun Asia from one end to the other. Philip was a great soldier, and his son is a greater, while your Macedonians are the stuff out of which armies rightly so called are made. Persia, on the other hand, is thoroughly rotten, and will fall almost at a touch. But this is not the same thing as Greece conquering Persia. No; Persia will conquer Greece; we shall be overwhelmed with a flood of eastern vices and servilities. True Greece will perish, just as surely as she would have perished had the bow triumphed over the spear at Marathon or Platæa. But this will scarce be welcome to you,' and he broke off. Still what he said has set me thinking. Only I do believe that our king is too thorough a Greek to be spoilt. But we shall see.

"I hoped to hear the great man speak, but was disappointed. He very seldom speaks now. The fact is there are no politics in Athens; and for the plaintiffs and defendants in civil causes the orators write speeches, but do not deliver them. That the parties concerned have to do themselves. I heard, it is true, a speech of Demosthenes, but it was spoken by a very commonplace person, and, you will understand, was made commonplace to suit him. Of course it would not do to put a piece of eloquence into the mouth of some ordinary farmer or shipbuilder. Everybody knows that the suitors do not write the speeches, but still the proprieties have to be observed.

"The plaintiff in this case—his name was Ariston—had a very strange and piteous story to tell. Unfortunately there was something about the man that moved the court irresistibly to laughter. (The court, you must know, is the strangest that the wit or folly of man ever devised—a regular mob of thousands of men who shout and groan if anything displeases them, and chatter or fall asleep if they are pleased to find the proceedings dull.) Well, Ariston was an eminently respectable man; his hair and beard carefully arranged without being in the least foppish, and his cloak and tunic quite glossy; and the indignities of which he had to complain were so out of keeping with all that he looked that it was almost impossible not to be amused. His story was this, put briefly:

"Three years before (i.e., just before King Philip's death) he had been sent on outpost duty to the frontier. The sons of a certain Conon were his neighbours in the bivouac, wild young fellows who began drinking after the midday meal, and kept it up to nightfall. 'Whereas,' said he in a dignified tone which raised a roar of laughter, 'I conducted myself there just as I do here.'

“The young men played all sorts of drunken tricks on Ariston and his messmates, till at last the latter complained to the officer in command. The officer administered a severe reprimand, which did, however, no manner of good, for that very night the ruffians made an attack on Ariston's tent, gave him and his friends a beating, and indeed, but for the timely arrival of the officer in command, might have killed them. Of course when the camp broke up there was not a little bad blood between the parties to the quarrel. Still, Ariston did nothing more than try his best to steer clear of these troublesome acquaintances.

“One evening, however, as he was walking in the market-place with a friend, one of Conon's sons caught sight of him. The young fellow, who was tipsy, ran and fetched his father, who was drinking with a number of friends in a fuller's shop. The party rushed out; one of them seized Ariston's friend and held him fast, while Conon, his son, and another man, caught hold of Ariston himself, tore his cloak off his back, tripped him up, and jumped upon him, as he lay in the mud, cutting his lip through, and closing up both his eyes. So much hurt was he that he could not get up or even speak. But he heard Conon crowing like a cock to celebrate his victory, while his companions suggested that he should flap his wings, by which they meant his elbows, which he was to strike against his sides. Other things he heard, but they were so bad that he was positively ashamed to repeat them to the court. At last some passers-by carried him home, where there was a terrible outcry, his mother and her domestics making as much ado as if he had been carried home dead. After this came a long illness in which his life was despaired of. When he had told his story he gravely controverted what he supposed would be Conon's defence, that this was a quarrel of hot-headed deep-drinking young men; that both parties were gay young fellows who found a pleasure in roaming the streets at night, and playing all kinds of pranks on passers-by, and that the plaintiff had no business to complain, if he happened to get the worst of it. He was no roisterer, Ariston said, with a solemnity which convulsed the court. Indeed, the idea that such a paragon of respectability should be anything of the kind was sufficiently amusing. However, he won his cause, and got thirty minas damages, or will get them if he can manage to make Conon pay, a thing which, the friend who took me into court tells me, is more than doubtful.

"You see, my dear Charondas, that there are other people besides philosophers in Athens. Indeed, from all that I could make out, though clever and learned men come to the city from all parts, the Athenians themselves seldom show any genius. As for those noisy, roistering young fellows, there are numbers of them in the streets at night. I have seen them myself, again and again, though they have never molested me. Indeed, they keep far enough away from any one who is likely to give them a warm reception. I cannot help thinking that, whatever Demosthenes may say, they would be better employed if they were following our king."

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