The "Boys' Foot-race" at the great games of Olympia, celebrated now for the one hundred and eleventh time since the epoch of Corbus, has just been run, and the victor is about to receive his crown of wild olive. The herald proclaims with a loud voice, "Charidemus, son of Callicles of Argos, come forward, and receive your prize!" A lad, who might have been thought to number seventeen or eighteen summers, so tall and well grown was he, but who had really only just completed his fifteenth year, stepped forward. His face was less regularly handsome than those of the very finest Greek type, for the nose was more arched, the chin more strongly marked, and the forehead more square, than a sculptor would have made them in moulding a boy Apollo; still the young Charidemus had a singularly winning appearance, especially now that a smile shone out of his frank blue eyes and parted lips, lips that were neither so full as to be sensual, nor so thin as to be cruel. The dark chestnut curls fell clustering about his neck, for the Greek boy was not cropped in the terrier fashion of his English successor, and the ruddy brown of his clear complexion showed a health nurtured by clean living and exercise. A hum of applause greeted the young athlete, for he had many friends among the young and old of Argos, and he was remarkable for the worth that—
"appears with brighter shine
When lodged within a worthy shrine"
—a charm which commends itself greatly to the multitude. As Charidemus approached the judges a lad stepped forward from the throng that surrounded the tribunal, and exclaimed, "I object."
All eyes were turned upon the speaker. He was immediately recognized as the competitor who had won the second place, a good runner, who might have hoped for victory in ordinary years, but who had had no chance against the extraordinary fleetness of the young Argive. He was of a well-set, sturdy figure; his face, without being at all handsome, was sufficiently pleasing, though just at the moment it had a look which might have meant either sullenness or shame.
"Who is it that speaks?" said the presiding judge. "Charondas, son of Megasthenes, of Thebes," was the answer.
"And what is your objection?" asked the judge.
"I object to Charidemus, alleged to be of Argos, because he is a barbarian."
The sensation produced by these words was great, even startling. There could scarcely be a greater insult than to say to any one who claimed to be a Greek that he was a barbarian. Greeks, according to a creed that no one thought of questioning, were the born rulers and masters of the world, for whom everything had been made, and to whom everything belonged; barbarians were inferior creatures, without human rights, who might be permitted to exist if they were content to minister to the well-being of their masters, but otherwise were to be dealt with as so many noxious beasts.
An angry flush mounted to the young runner's face. A fierce light flashed from his eyes, lately so smiling, and the red lips were set firmly together. He had now the look of one who could make himself feared as well as loved. His friends were loud in their expressions of wrath. With an emphatic gesture of his hand the judge commanded silence. "Justify your words," he said to the Theban lad.
For a few moments Charondas stood silent. Then he turned to the crowd, as if looking for inspiration or help. A man of middle age stepped forward and addressed the judge.
"Permit me, sir, on behalf of my son, whose youth and modesty hinder him from speaking freely in your august presence, to make a statement of facts."
"Speak on," said the judge, "but say nothing that you cannot prove. Such charges as that which we have just heard may not be lightly brought."
"I allege that Charidemus, said to be of Argos, is not in truth the son of Callicles, but is by birth a Macedonian."
The word "Macedonian" produced almost as much sensation as had been made by the word "barbarian." The Macedonians were more than suspected of compassing the overthrow of Greek liberties.
"Where is your proof?" asked the judge.
"There will be proof sufficient if your august tribunal will summon Callicles himself to appear before it and make confession of what he knows."
The judge accordingly commanded that Callicles should be called. The summons was immediately obeyed. A man who was approaching old age, and whose stooping form and shrunken limbs certainly showed a striking contrast to the blooming vigour of Charidemus, stood before the judges. The president spoke.
"I adjure you, by the name of Zeus of Olympia, that you tell the truth. Is Charidemus indeed your son?"
The man hesitated a moment. "I adopted Charidemus in his infancy."
"That proves your affection, but not his race," said the judge in a stern voice. "Tell us the truth, and prevaricate no more."
"He was the son of my sister."
"And his father?"
"His father was Caranus of Pella."
"A Macedonian, therefore."
"Yes, a Macedonian."
"Why then did you enter him as your son for the foot-race?"
"Because I had adopted him with all due formalities, and in the eye of the law he is my son."
"But that did not make him a Greek of pure descent, such as by the immemorial custom of these games he is bound to be."
A hum of approval went round the circle of spectators, whilst angry glances were cast at the Argive and his adopted son. Only the sanctity of the spot prevented a show of open violence, so hateful had the name of Macedonian become.
Callicles began to gather courage now that the secret was out. He addressed the judges again.
"You forget, gentlemen, that in the time of the war with the Persians Alexander of Macedon was permitted to compete in the chariot-race."
"True," replied the judge, "but then he showed an unbroken descent from the hero Achilles."
"Just so," rejoined Callicles, "and Caranus was of the royal kindred."
"The blood may easily have become mixed during the hundred and forty years which have passed since the days of Alexander. Besides, that which may be accepted as a matter of notoriety in the case of a king must be duly proved when a private person is concerned. Have you such proof at hand in regard to this youth?"
Callicles was obliged to confess that he had not. The presiding judge then intimated that he would consider the matter with his colleagues, and give the decision of the court probably in less than an hour. As a matter of fact, the consultation was a mere formality. After a few minutes the judges reappeared, and the president announced their decision.
"We pronounce Charidemus to be disqualified as having failed to prove that he is of Hellenic descent, and adjudge the prize to Charondas the Theban. We fine Callicles of Argos five minas for having made a false representation."
Loud applause greeted this judgment. Such was the feeling in force at that time that any affront that could be offered to a Macedonian was eagerly welcomed by a Greek audience. Very likely there were some in the crowd who had felt the touch of Philip's "silver spears." If so, they were even louder than their fellows in their expressions of delight.
It would be difficult to describe the feelings of dismay and rage which filled the heart of the young Charidemus as he walked away from the tribunal. As soon as he found himself alone he broke out into a violent expression of them. "A curse on these cowardly Greeks," he cried; "I am heartily glad that I am not one of them. By Zeus, if I could let out the half of my blood that comes from them I would. They dare not meet us in the field, and they revenge themselves for their defeats by insults such as these. By Ares, they shall pay me for it some day; especially that clumsy lout, who filches by craft what he could not win by speed."
If he had seen the way in which the young Theban received the prize that had been adjudged to him in this unsatisfactory way, he would have thought less hardly of him. Charondas had been driven into claiming the crown; but he hated himself for doing it. Gladly would he have refused to receive it; gladly, even—but such an act would have been regarded as an unpardonable impiety—would he have thrown the chaplet upon the ground. As it was, he was compelled to take and wear it, and, shortly afterwards, to sit out the banquet given by his father in his honour. But he was gloomy and dissatisfied, as little like as possible to a successful competitor for one of the most coveted distinctions in Greek life. As soon as he found himself at liberty he hastened to the quarters of Charidemus and his father, but found that they were gone. Perhaps it was as well that the two should not meet just then. It was not long before an occasion arose which brought them together.