A Valiant Helper
"Y OU don't look after yourself enough. You are not doing your duty."
"Why do you say so? I take care of my wife and children, and I serve my fatherland."
"Yes, but you do not get all the money you can."
"Money? Oh, well, I can do without much money. Yonder man needs money. He is both lame and blind."
The person who thus spoke lightly of money was a famous soldier, Pelopidas (Pel-op-id-as), who lived in the Greek city of Thebes (Theebz). Strong was he in body, and he loved to try his strength with others in the wrestling-ring, and in hunting boars and deer in the forests. Noble was he in soul, for he was ever ready to go to the help of people who were ill-used or in any kind of distress.
In the year 379 B.C. a band of Spartans suddenly marched into the city and made themselves masters of the castle. This they did by the wish of certain noblemen, who hoped to rule the city themselves, under the power of the Spartans. Pelopidas was then quite a young man. He and a number of his friends were obliged to fly from Thebes, for they were on the side of the people, and the unjust noblemen sought to take their lives. The heart of Pelopidas burned with a desire to set his city free, and often he said to his companions in exile:
"We ought not to rest here while our beloved land is in the hands of evil rulers. It would be glorious to win back freedom for Thebes. Will you not join with me in saving our native city?"
They said they would. First they sent a secret message to a citizen named Charon (Kar-on), who promised to take them into his house in Thebes, and there they would prepare for an attack on the tyrants. A band of young Thebans set out for the city. But as it would not be wise for so large a body to show themselves at once, twelve of them went on in front dressed in the plain garments of country folk, and taking with them dogs and hunting-poles as if they were engaged in the chase. Their comrade, Charon, was expecting them. But one of the Thebans, who knew of the plot, felt afraid, and bade a particular friend ride quickly to the young men and warn them not to come any farther, for the peril was too great. This messenger hurried home to saddle a horse. He could not find the bridle.
"Hi! hi!" he cried to his wife. "Where is the bridle? Fetch it instantly."
"I don't know where your bridle is," she replied.
"You ought to know! I am waiting for it, and I must be off at once. Where is it, I say?"
The woman answered him angrily, and he shouted rudely in return. Then out came her sisters and serving-maids, and they all screamed in chorus:
"You bad man, you! How dare you talk so rudely to your wife, and all about a stupid bridle!"
Thus the time passed, and the message was never taken.
Meanwhile, the twelve hunters (one of whom was Pelopidas) had entered the town without being specially noticed, for there had been a fall of snow, and most folk were glad to stay indoors. And before long the hunters and their comrades were assembled in Charon's dwelling, forty-eight in all. In the evening they had put on their breast-plates, and buckled their swords to their sides, when a loud knocking was heard at Charon's door.
"Who is there?"
"The rulers of Thebes have sent me," said a voice, "to command you, O Charon, to attend before them immediately."
At once they supposed the plot was found out. Some of the young men looked in doubt at Charon. Could they trust him? Would he betray them? When Charon read their thoughts by the expression of their faces, he took his little son, and gave the child to Pelopidas.
"Here," he said, "is my son, and, if you find I am a traitor, you may slay my child."
Some of them shed tears, and cried:
"No, no! Put your son in a place of safety, lest the tyrants kill both him and you."
"I could not," he answered, "wish any better fate for my boy than to die with his father and so many friends for the sake of Thebes."
Now, a letter had been brought all the way from Athens to the leader of the tyrants, to warn him of the doings of Pelopidas. But the chief tyrant was deep in his wine, and the enjoyment of feast and music, and, on receiving the letter, he would not read it, but said:
In the castle fifteen hundred Spartans stood to arms, but dared not issue forth; and next day, being surrounded by the Thebans, they agreed to yield up the fortress if they were allowed to march home to Sparta. And this being promised, the Spartans left the city, and all the citizens gave honor to the valiant Pelopidas and his friends who had restored liberty to Thebes. Thereafter Pelopidas led many an assault on Spartan cities and Spartan troops, and the tribes round about, who had lived in fear of the Spartan warriors, now looked to Pelopidas as their helper and savior.
Among these tribes were the Thessalians, who lived in dread of a tyrant named Alexander. This brutal prince would bury alive men that had offended him; or he would clothe them in the skins of bears and wild boars and set dogs to worry them to death. The Thessalians begged the brave Pelopidas to go to their help. Then, swift and dauntless, went forth the Theban captain with a band of warriors, and when he appeared the tyrant was smit with terror, and made no resistance, but bowed humbly and said he would do the bidding of Pelopidas. But, not long afterward, Alexander sought again to oppress the people, and Pelopidas, almost alone, went to warn the tyrant to cease his evil conduct. Seeing him unguarded, Alexander caused the noble Theban to be arrested and flung into a prison. Yet he did not dare to slay him. As Pelopidas sat in his cell one day a lady entered, and gazed at his pale face and his disordered hair. In a kind tone she said:
"I pity your wife."
"And who are you that pity my wife?"
"I pity the queen," said he, "for being the wife of a cruel tyrant."
And soon he found that she was ashamed of her husband's evil deeds, and longed to see the end of his wickedness.
The friends of Pelopidas came to his rescue, and at the approach of their army Alexander gave up his prisoner and craved for peace.
At that time the Greek States were sending ambassadors to the King of Persia, and Pelopidas was chosen to go in the name of the city of Thebes. The King of Persia took more pleasure in meeting the valiant Theban than any of the others. To the ambassadors he usually gave gifts. For instance, to one—an Athenian—he gave gold and silver, a grand bed and servants to make it, eighty cows and herdsmen to tend them, and a litter or travelling-chair to carry him about! But when the Persian king asked Pelopidas what gift he desired, the reply was:
"I desire that you will treat all the Greeks as free and independent."
Thus Pelopidas sought the good of the people, and not presents for himself.
In the year 364 B.C. a message again came from the Thessalians asking for help against Alexander. Pelopidas was about to march when darkness fell on the earth during an eclipse of the sun. He would not delay for that, but hurried on to meet the foe. Alexander awaited him in a valley at the base of some steep hills. Theban horsemen drove the enemy back. Then Alexander's men tried to mount the heights; the Thebans followed; among the rocks and cliffs the warriors scrambled and fought. When Pelopidas caught sight of the tyrant he rushed in front of his troops to attack Alexander. A shower of javelins flew through the air, and Pelopidas fell dead. After his men had gained the victory, the Thessalians came and asked for the honor of burying their noble friend. Soldiers and citizens gathered about the dead chief, and mourned with heavy hearts. The people cut off their own hair and the manes of the war-horses in token of their sorrow for the generous Theban who would nevermore aid the oppressed.
And now for the end of Alexander. One night he slept in his royal bed, guarded by a fierce dog, who would fly at anybody except his master and mistress and the slave that fed him. The queen told the slave to take the dog away. Then she covered the stairs with wool to soften the sound of footsteps. Taking her husband's sword from his pillow, she showed it to her three brothers, and then bade them ascend. They climbed the stairs, and then they paused in fear. The queen, holding a lamp, sternly ordered them to enter. And they went in and slew him. Ah, yes! it is sad that death should have to be dealt out to evil-doers. But cruelty is a hateful thing, and justice is a glorious thing, and the poor and needy must be delivered.