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Alfred J. Church

Athens in the Dust

I feel that my place is at Athens," said Callias to his host a few days after their arrival.

"In spite of the past?"

"Yes. At such a time no one thinks of the past, but only of the future."

"Well; I cannot say that you are wrong. If you think fit to go, I shall not seek to hold you back. I must frankly say that I see little hope."

"And you?" Callias went on after a pause. "What shall you do, if I may make so bold as to ask?"

"If I can save my country at all it will be here. The only hope now is to detach Persia from Sparta. Perhaps now that Athens has fallen so low, the Persians will see what their true interests are. The worst of it is that there is no real ruler, no one to carry out a consistent policy. The Great King is absolute at the capital, but in the provinces he is little more than a name. The satraps do almost as they please; they actually make war on each other if it suits their purpose. So, it is not what is best for Persia, but what Tissaphernes or Pharnabazus may think best for himself that will be done. Still there is a chance left; only I must be on the spot to seize it if it comes. Were I to go to Athens, I should be only one man among a useless crowd, and you, my young friend, will, I very much fear, be little more."

"Anyhow I shall go," replied the young man, "at all events there will be one sword more to be drawn for Athens."

"Yes," muttered Alcibiades to himself, as his companion left the room, "if you get the chance of drawing it. I rather think that with that fox Lysander in command, you will do nothing more for Athens than bring one more mouth to be fed."

Callias made his way to the coast with no difficulty. Assuming, at the suggestion of Alcibiades, a citizen's dress, he joined a caravan of traders which was on its way westward, and in their company travelled pleasantly and safely. Arrived at Miletus he took passage in a merchant ship that was bound for Ægina, hoping if he could only get so far, to be able to make his way somehow into the city. At one time, indeed, he was terribly afraid that this hope would be disappointed. The Swallow—this was the name of the vessel of Ægina—was challenged and overhauled by a Corinthian ship of war. Callias made no attempt to conceal his nationality. Indeed it would have been useless, for an Athenian in those days was about as easily recognized over the whole of the Greek world as an Englishman is recognized in these, anywhere in Europe. To his great surprise the Corinthian captain simply said: "You can go; I have no order to detain you." That there was no kindness in his permission Callias was perfectly well aware, for the hatred of Corinth for Athens was tenfold more bitter than that of Sparta.

It was a quarrel between Athens and Corinth, on the tender point of a rebellious Corinthian colony, that had been the immediate cause of the Peloponnesian War; and even before this there had always been the potent influence of commercial rivalry to set the two states against each other. The young Athenian noticed also a sinister smile on the captain's face; but what it meant he was at a loss to determine.

Landed at Ægina he lost no time in enquiring how might best reach his destination.

"Oh! you will get in easily enough," said the Æginetan merchant, the owner of the Swallow, to whom he stated his case.

"Please to explain what you mean," said Callias, who was getting a little heated by these mysterious remarks.

"Well," said the merchant, "King Pausanias is encamped outside the city in some place that they call the Grove of Academus, I think. Do you know it?"

Callias assented with a nod.

"And Lysander has a hundred and fifty ships off the Piræus. Still I think that you will be able to get in. The blockade is not kept very strictly."

"Had I best go by night?"

"Perhaps it would be better."

"Can you help me to a boat?"

"Certainly; but you will have to pay the boatman pretty highly, for of course, it is a risk, though it can be done.

"Will you make the arrangements if I pay you the money in advance?"

"Certainly, if you do not mind going so far as amina. It is really worth the money."

Callias paid the money, and was told to be in readiness to embark at midnight.

It would have enlightened him considerably if he could have seen the merchant's behavior as soon as he was safely out of the room.

"Ah, you young serpent," the man cried, "you will be allowed to creep into your hole easily enough; but if we don't suffocate you and your whole brood when we have got you there, my name is not Timagenes."

The fact was that a revolution of which Callias knew nothing had taken place at Ægina. An old rival and enemy of Athens, the city had been conquered many years before, and the anti-Athenian party expelled. And now everything was changed. Lysander had brought back the exiles, and though Athens had still friends, it was the hostile party that was in power. Callias had observed a certain change in the demeanor of the people, but was too much engrossed in his own affairs to think much about it.

The blockade was run as easily as the Æginetan had foretold. The boat passed within fifty yards of one of the squadron, and Callias could have sworn that he saw a sentinel on the watch pacing the vessel's deck. But the man did not challenge, and the Piræus was reached without any difficulty.

It was not long before all the mystery was explained.

"This is just what I feared," said Hippocles, to whose house the young Athenian hastened. "I knew that you would come back, and I could not warn you."

"What do you mean," cried the young man in astonishment. "Was it not my duty to return?"

"Yes, in one way it was. But tell me how you got here?"

Callias related the incidents of his journey, and expressed some surprise that the Corinthian captain had not taken him prisoner, and that the blockade was so negligently kept.

"And you did not understand what all this meant?"

"No; I understood nothing."

"My dear friend," said the merchant, "it simply means that Lysander is going to starve us out, and that the more there are of us the easier and the speedier his work will be. This has been his policy all along. He has taken no prisoners. Whenever he has taken a city, and there is hardly one that has not either been taken or given itself up, he has sent every Athenian citizen home. They are simply put on their parole to come here. The consequence is that the city is fairly swarming with people, and that there is next to no food. I have a good store—for some time past I have kept myself well provisioned, not knowing what might happen—and I am able to do something for my poor neighbors. But the state of things in the city is simply awful. People, and people too whom I know as really well-to-do citizens, are dying of sheer starvation. As for the poor women and children it is truly heart breaking. Oh, my dear friend, if you had only stopped away; for here you can do nothing. But I knew you would come back, and I honor you for it."

"But can nothing be done?" cried the young man. "It is better to die than be starved like a wolf in his den."

"The people have lost all heart. And indeed, if they were all brave as lions, we are hopelessly outnumbered. Pausanias must have as many as forty thousand men outside the city, for every city in the Island except Argo has sent its contingent; and we could not muster a fourth part of the number, and such troops too! And where is our fleet? At the bottom of the Ægean, or in the arsenals of the enemy. I do not suppose that there are fifty ships, all told, in our docks. And of these a third are not sea-worthy. No, we must submit; and yet it is almost as much as a man's life is worth to mention the word."

"But could we not make terms of some kind, not good terms I fear, but still such as would be endurable? Has anything been done?"

"The Senate sent to Agis, who was at Deceleia, and proposed peace on these terms: Athens was to become the ally of Sparta on the condition of having the same friends and the same enemies, but was to be allowed to keep the Long Walls and the Piræus. Agis said that he had no authority to treat, and bade the envoys go to Sparta. So they came back here, and were directed to go. They reached a place on the borders of Laconia and sent on their message to the Ephors at Sparta, not being allowed to proceed any further themselves. The Ephors sent back this answer: 'Begone instantly; if the Athenians really desire peace, let them send you again with other proposals, such as having reflected more wisely they may be disposed to make.' So the envoys returned. Some had hoped that they would do some good. I must confess that I had not. There was terrible dismay. At last one Archestratus plucked up courage to speak. 'The Lacedæmonians can force us to accept what conditions they please. Let us acknowledge what we cannot deny, and make peace with them on their own terms.' There was a howl of rage at this, for in truth the Lacedæmonian terms were nothing less than this: 'Pull down a mile of the Long Walls, and give up your fleet.' The unlucky Archestratus was thrown into prison where he lies still. Well, one said one thing, one another. At last Theramenes got up and said: 'The real manager of affairs is neither Agis nor Pausanias, nor even the Ephors, but Lysander. Send me to him—he is a personal friend of mine own—and I will make the best terms I can with him.' To this the assembly agreed, having indeed nothing better to do.' That was three or four days ago. Theramenes started the same night. I very much doubt whether he will be able to do any good. I am not even sure that he means to. But we shall see."

A miserable period of waiting followed. Day after day passed, and the envoy neither returned nor sent any communication to his fellow countrymen. No one knew where he was. Whether he was still with Lysander or had gone on to Sparta—all was a mystery. Meanwhile the distress in the city grew more and more acute. Callias had taken up his abode with Hippocles, and was so out of absolute want. He was perfectly ready to acquiesce in the extreme frugality which was the rule of the house. Free and bond all fared alike, and none had anything beyond the most absolute necessaries of life. Whatever could be spared was devoted to the relief of the needy.

Not the least trying part of the situation was the forced inaction. Not even a sally was made. Indeed, it would have been a useless waste of life. Not only were the forces of the enemy vastly superior, but the besieged soldiers were almost unable to support the weight of their arms, so scanty was the fare to which they were reduced. There were times when Callias was disposed to rush sword in hand on some outpost of the enemy, sell his life as dearly as he could, and perish.

Two things held him back from carrying this idea into execution, things curiously unlike, yet working together for the same result. One was his love for Hermione. Life had not lost all its charm, his horizon was not wholly dark, while there remained the light of this hope. Indeed it was the one consolation of his life that he was permitted to help her in her daily ministration among her needy neighbors.

A string of pensioners presented themselves at the merchant's gates, and received such relief as he could give. But Hermione was not content with this. There were some, she knew, whose pride would not permit them to mingle in the train of mendicants; there were others whose strength did not permit them to come abroad. These she sought out in their own homes. Callias found a melancholy pleasure in accompanying and helping her. Not a word of love passed his lips. He would have scorned himself if he had added the smallest grain to the burden of care that she bore. But he never failed in his attendance, and he was hailed by many a poor sufferer with a pleasure only second to that which greeted the gracious presence of the girl. When, as happened before long, fever, the unfailing follower of famine, began to spread its ravages over the Piræus, his labors and hers grew more arduous. Battling with these two fearful enemies within the walls, Callias almost forgot the foes that were without.

The other restraining and strengthening influence was that which Socrates exercised on the young man's mind. All the time that Callias could spare from the labors that he shared with Hermione was given to the society of the philosopher. The sage's indomitable courage and endurance were in themselves an encouragement of the highest order. Doubtless his physical strength, which made him capable of bearing an almost incredible degree of cold and hunger, helped him to show a dauntless heart to the troubles which were breaking down so many. Indeed he seemed scarcely to want food or drink. But the steadfastness with which he pursued his usual course of life, still keeping up his untiring search for wisdom, was a spectacle nothing less than splendid, while nothing could exceed his practical sagacity. Anyone who wanted shrewd advice in the actual circumstances of life, anyone who desired to be lifted out of the sordid present, with its miserable hopes and cares, onto a higher plane of life, came to Socrates and did not come in vain.

At length, when nearly three months had passed, the long period of suspense seemed about to come to an end. The report ran through the city that Theramenes had returned. What were the terms he had brought back, no one knew. On that point he remained obstinately silent. In fact he had nothing to say, nothing further, that is, than the fact that Lysander professed himself unable to treat; the Ephors must be approached, if anything was to be done.

Had Lysander amused him with hopes that instructions and power to treat would soon be sent down to him from Sparta, or had he deliberately waited till the city should be reduced to such a pitch of starvation that it would be ready to consent to any terms? There was a brutal, cold-blooded cruelty in such conduct that makes it difficult to credit; yet many believed it to be the true explanation of the delay. To picture the dismay that prevailed through the assembly when Theramenes had given his report of the negotiations which he had not concluded would be impossible. There was nothing to be done but accept the bitter necessity. Theramenes, with nine others, was sent to Sparta with full power to treat. They were to accept any terms that might be offered. The proud city had fallen as low as that.

Then came another time of waiting. Happily it was not long. Theramenes felt that the endurance of his countrymen had been tried to the uttermost, and that nothing more was to be gained. Athens was on her knees. It did not suit him and his purposes—for he had purposes of his own, possibly a tyranny, certainly power—that she should be actually prostrate. He and his colleagues made all the haste that they could; and as their instructions were simple—to accept anything that might be offered—there was little to delay them.

At the end of about twelve days they returned, it was in the midst of a breathless suspense that Theramenes stood up to make his report. What he said may be thus given in outline.

"We went with all speed to Sellasia and there waited, having sent on a message to the Ephors that we had come with full power to treat. On the second day we were summoned to Sparta. There we found envoys assembled from the allies of the Lacedæmonians. Aristides also was there."

At the mention of the name of Aristides a murmur of fear and rage ran through the assembly. The man was one of the most notorious of the anti-patriotic party. He had been in exile for many years, and was believed to have done more harm than anyone else to his native city.

"The senior of the Ephors stood up, and said: 'Friends and allies, the Athenians seek for peace. What say you? Shall we put it to them?' One after another the envoys rose in their places. They did not use many words. It was not the custom of the place to be long in speech as they knew. All said the same thing. 'We give our vote against peace. Let Athens be destroyed. There will be no true peace so long as she is permitted to exist.' When all had spoken we were called on to speak. 'You hear what these say,' said the Ephor who had not spoken before. 'What have you to reply?' I answered that the Athenians were ready to give all pledges that might be asked from them they would not harm either Sparta or her allies or any city of the Greeks. After this we were all commanded to withdraw. In about the space of an hour we were summoned again into the chamber. The Ephor rose in his place and spoke. 'The Corinthians and the other allies demand that Athens shall be destroyed. Nor do they this without reason. The Athenians have destroyed many cities of the Greeks. Yet can we not forget that they have also in time past done good service to Greece. But of these things which you all know it is needless to speak. Our sentence is this: Let the Athenians pull down their Long Walls for the space of a mile. Let them also surrender their fleet, keeping only twelve ships. On these terms they shall have Peace. These then, O men of Athens,' the speaker continued, are the conditions which the Spartans demand. I confess that they are hard. Yet they are better than that which the rest of Greece would impose upon you. Truly the Lacedæmonians stand between us and utter destruction. And there is nothing beyond remedy in what they would lay upon us. Walls that are broken down may be repaired, and for ships that have been given up many others may he built; but of a city against which the decree of destruction has gone forth, there is an end. Therefore I propose that peace be made with the Lacedæmonians on these terms."

One or two speakers ventured to rise in opposition. But they could scarcely get a hearing. Probably they only went but through the form of opposing in order that they might be able at some future time to say that they had done so. With but short delay the proposition was put to vote and carried by an overwhelming majority. The same evening envoys were sent to Lysander announcing that the Spartan conditions had been accepted.

The next day the gates of the city were thrown open, and the fleet of Lysander sailed into the Piræus. The ships of war were handed over to him. Many were destroyed, and indeed the once famous and powerful fleet of Attica had been reduced to a state of most deplorable weakness. The sacrifice of the fleet, such as it was, was not so very costly after all. The few sea-worthy ships that remained, besides the twelve that the city was permitted to retain, were sent off to the Lacedæmonian arsenal of Gytheum. This done, the next thing was to beat down the Long Walls. "This is the first day of the freedom of Greece," said Lysander, "we must keep it as a festival. Send for the flute players." Accordingly the services of every flute player in Attica were requisitioned; and to the sound of the gayest tunes which they could find in their repertoire the work of demolition went on. Every decent Athenian whatever his policy, kept, of course, close within doors; but there was nevertheless a vast concourse of spectators, the rabble who will crowd to any sight, however brutal and humiliating, the army of Pausanias and the crews of Lysander's fleet, with a miscellaneous crowd of foreigners who had come to gloat over the downfall of the haughty city. Loud was the shout that went up when a clean breach was made through the walls. The general feeling was that Athens had suffered a blow from which she could never recover. But there were some who doubted. "You have scotched the snake, not killed it," said a Corinthian, as he turned away.