Kagans Smackdown/Hoisted from Archives: History as Tragedy: The Peloponnesian War

Weekend Reading: Origin of "'Cry 'Havoc', and Let Slip the Dogs of War!"?

Plutarch: Life of Aratus of Sicyon:

The city of Sicyon, as soon as it had fallen away from its pure Doric form of aristocracy (which was now like a harmony dissolved) and had become a prey to factions and the ambitious schemes of demagogues, was without cease distempered and agitated, and kept changing one tyrant for another.... Abantidas the son of Paseas, attempting to make himself tyrant, slew Cleinias, and, of the friends and kinsmen of Cleinias, banished some and killed others. He tried to kill also the son of Cleinias, Aratus, left fatherless at the age of seven. But in the confusion p7which prevailed about the house the boy made his escape with the fugitives, and wandering about in the city, full of fear and helpless, by chance got unnoticed into the house of a woman who was a sister of Abantidas, but had married Prophantus the brother of Cleinias. Her name was Soso. This woman, who was of a noble nature, and thought it a divine dispensation that the boy had taken refuge with her, hid him in the house, and at night sent him secretly off to Argos.

Thus was Aratus stolen away from the peril that threatened him, and at once that vehement and glowing hatred of tyrants for which he was noted became a part of his nature and grew with his growth. He was reared in liberal fashion among the guests and friends of his father's house at Argos, and since he saw that his bodily growth promised high health and stature, he devoted himself to the exercises of the palaestra, going so far as to win wreaths of victory in contesting the pentathlum. And indeed even his statues have plainly an athletic look, and the sagacity and majesty of his countenance do not altogether disown the athlete's full diet and wielding of the mattock....

Some time after the escape of Aratus, Abantidas was slain by Deinias and Aristotle the logician. The tyrant was wont to attend all their public disputations in the market-place and to take part in them; they encouraged him in this practice, laid a plot, and took his life. Paseas also, the father of Abantidas, after assuming the supreme power, was treacherously slain by Nicocles, who then proclaimed himself tyrant.... Nicocles was tyrant of the city for four months, during which he wrought the city much harm, and narrowly escaped losing it to the Aetolians when they plotted to seize it. By this time Aratus, now a young man, was held in marked esteem on account of his high birth, and of his spirit.... Wherefore the exiles from Sicyon had their minds fixed most of all upon him....

While he was planning to seize some post in the territory of Sicyon from which he might sally forth and make war upon the tyrant, there came to Argos a man of Sicyon who had run away from prison. He was a brother of Xenocles, one of the exiles; and when he had been brought to Aratus by Xenocles, he told him that the part of the city's wall over which he had climbed to safety was almost level with the ground on the inside, where it had been attached to steep and rocky places, and that on the outside it was not at all too high for scaling-ladders. When Aratus had heard this, he sent with Xenocles two servants of his own, Seuthas and Technon, to make an examination of the wall; for he was resolved, if he could, to hazard the whole enterprise on one secret and swift attempt, rather than in a long war and in open contests to match his private resources against those of a tyrant. So when Xenocles and his party came back with measurements of the wall... and... a report that the place was by nature not impassable nor even difficult (although they declared that it was hard to get to it undetected owing to a certain gardener's dogs, which were little beasts, but extraordinarily fierce and savage), Aratus at once undertook the business....

Aratus... sent on in advance Caphisias, lightly armed, with four companions; their orders were to come to the gardener's when it was dark, pretending to be travellers, and after taking up quarters there for the night, to shut up him and his dogs; for there was no other way to get past them. The scaling-ladders, which could be taken apart, were packed in boxes, and thus concealed were sent on ahead in waggons....

Aratus, immediately after the morning meal, sallied forth, joined his soldiers at the tower of Polygnotus, and led them on to Nemea. Here he disclosed his design, to most of them then for the first time, and made them exhortations and promises. Then, after giving out as watchword "Apollo Victorious," he led them forward against Sicyon, quickening or retarding his progress according to the revolution of the moon, so as to enjoy her light while on the march, and as soon as she was setting to be at the garden near the wall. There Caphisias came to meet him; he had not secured the dogs (for they had bounded off before he could do this), but had locked up the gardener. Most of his men were disheartened at this and urged Aratus to retire; but he tried to encourage them, promising to lead them back if the dogs should prove too troublesome for them....

Now it was no great distance from the garden to the wall, and to the tower, in which a huge dog was on the watch, a hunter. The dog himself did not notice their approach, either because he was naturally sluggish, or because during the day he had become tired out. But when the gardener's whelps challenged him from below, he began to growl in response, faintly and indistinctly at first, then bayed out more loudly as they passed by. Presently the whole place resounded with barking, so that the watchman opposite called with a loud cry to the huntsman asking why his dog was baying so savagely and whether some mischief was not afoot. The huntsman answered him from the tower that there was nothing to fear, but that his dog had been excited by the lights of the sentries and the din of the bell. This more than anything else gave heart to the soldiers of Aratus. They thought that the huntsman was privy to their design and was trying to conceal it, and that there were many others also in the city who would assist them....

Aratus... mounted the wall in haste, after forty in all had mounted before him; and when he had been joined by a few more of those below, he went up against the tyrant's house and the praetorium, where the mercenary soldiers passed the night. And after falling upon these suddenly and capturing them all, but killing none, he straightway sent messages to his friends summoning them all from their homes, and they ran together from all quarters. Day was now breaking, and the theatre was thronged with people who still were in suspense because of the uncertain rumour that prevailed and in utter ignorance of what was afoot, until the herald came forward and made proclamation that Aratus the son of Cleinias invited the citizens to secure their freedom.

Then, convinced that what they had long expected was come, they rushed in a body to the residence of the tyrant, carrying firebrands. A great flame arose as the house caught fire, and it was visible as far as Corinth, so that the people of Corinth were astonished and were on the point of sallying forth to help. Nicocles, then, slipped out unnoticed by way of certain underground passages, and ran away from the city, and the soldiers, after extinguishing the fire with the aid of the Sicyonians, plundered his house. Nor did Aratus prevent this, but put the rest of the wealth of the tyrants at disposition of the citizens. And not a man was killed or even wounded at all, either among the assailants or their enemies, but fortune preserved the enterprise free from the taint of civil bloodshed....

Aratus... being general again... set on foot the enterprise for the recovery of High Corinth, not in the interests of Sicyonians or Achaeans merely, but purposing to drive from that stronghold what held all Hellas in a common subjection--the Macedonian garrison.... This enterprise of Aratus may be rightly called a sister of those of Pelopidas the Theban and Thrasybulus the Athenian, in which they slew tyrants, except that it surpassed them in being undertaken, not against Greeks, but against a foreign and alien power. For the Isthmus of Corinth, forming a barrier between the seas, brings together the two regions, and thus unites our continent; and when High Corinth, which is a lofty hill springing up at this centre of Greece, is held by a garrison, it hinders and cuts off all the country south of the Isthmus from intercourse, transits, and the carrying on of military expeditions by land and sea, and makes him who controls the place with a garrison sole lord of Greece. Therefore it is thought that the younger Philip of Macedon uttered no jest, but the truth, whenever he called the city of Corinth "the fetters of Greece."

Accordingly, the place was always an object of great contention among kings and dynasts, but the eagerness of Antigonus to secure it fell nothing short of the most frenzied passion, and he was wholly absorbed in schemes to take it by stratagem from its possessors, since an open attempt upon it was hopeless.... Antigonus... having got Acrocorinthus into his power, as I have said, kept it under guard, putting men there whom he most trusted, and making Persaeus the philosopher their commander. Now Aratus, even while Alexander was still living, had set his hand to the enterprise, but an alliance was made between the Achaeans and Alexander, and he therefore desisted. At the time of which I speak, however, a new and fresh basis for the enterprise was found.... He elected to expend his own substance secretly, as an advance, on an enterprise in which he alone was risking his life for the whole body of citizens, who did not even know what was going on. For who will not admire the magnanimity of the man, and yearn even now to lend a helping hand, who purchased at so high a price so great a danger, and pledged what he thought the most precious of his possessions in order that he might be introduced by night among his enemies and contend for his life, receiving as his security from his countrymen the hope of a noble action, and nothing else?...

When all things were ready, Aratus ordered the rest of his forces to pass the night under arms, and taking with him four hundred picked men, few of whom knew what was on foot themselves, led them towards the gate of Corinth near by the temple of Hera. It was midsummer, the moon was at its full, and the night was cloudless and clear, so that they feared lest the gleam of their arms in the moonlight should disclose them to the sentinels. But just as the foremost of them were near the wall, clouds ran up from the sea and enveloped the city itself and the region outside, which thus became dark. Then the rest of them sat down and took off their shoes, since men make little noise and do not slip if they are barefooted when they climb ladders; but Erginus, taking with him seven young men equipped as travellers, got unnoticed to the gate. Here they slew the gate-keeper and the sentries who were with him. At the same time the ladders were clapped to the wall, and after getting a hundred men of in all haste, Aratus ordered the rest to follow as fast as they could; then he pulled his ladders up after him and marched through the city with his hundred men against the citadel, being already full of joy at his escape from detection and confident of success....

?Presently the trumpets were sounding, the city was in an uproar over what was happening, many lights were flashing, some in the city below and some in the citadel above, and a confused shouting broke forth on all hands. Meanwhile Aratus was struggling up the steep with all his might, slowly and laboriously at first, unable to keep to the path and wandering from it, since it was everywhere sunk in the shadows of the jutting cliffs and had many twists and turns before it came out at the wall of the citadel. Then, marvellous to relate, the moon is said to have parted the clouds and shone out, making the most difficult part of the road plain, until he got to the wall at the spot desired; there the clouds came together again and everything was hidden in darkness.

But the soldiers of Aratus... three hundred in number, when once they had burst into the city and found it full of lights and manifold tumult, were unable to discover the path which their comrades had taken or follow in their steps. So they crouched down and huddled themselves together in a shaded flank of the cliff, and there remained in great distress and impatience.... As they were at a loss which way to turn, Archelaüs, the commander of the king's forces, having many soldiers with him, made up the ascent amid shouts and the blare of trumpets to attack Aratus and his party, and thus passed by the three hundred. These, rising up from ambush as it were, fell upon him, slew the first whom they attacked, put the rest, together with Archelaüs, to panic flight, and pursued them until they were scattered and dispersed about the city. And just as this victory had been won, Erginus came from the party fighting on the heights, with tidings that Aratus was engaged with the enemy, that these were defending themselves vigorously, that a great struggle was going on at the very wall, and there was need of speedy help.

The three hundred at once ordered him to lead the way; and as they took to the ascent their cries signalled their coming and encouraged their friends; the light of the full moon also made their arms appear more numerous to the enemy than they really were, owing to the length of their line of march, and the echoes of the night gave the impression that the shouts proceeded from many times the number there really were. At last, with a united onset, they repulsed the enemy, mastered the citadel, and held its garrison in their power. Day was now breaking, the sun at once shone out upon their success, and the rest of the forces of Aratus came up from Sicyon, the Corinthians readily receiving them by the gates and helping them to seize the king's soldiers.

When everything appeared to be safe Aratus came down from the citadel into the theatre whither an immense multitude streamed with an eager desire to see him and hear what he would say to the Corinthians. After stationing his Achaeans at both the side-entrances, he himself advanced from the back-scene into the orchestra, with his breastplate still on and his countenance altered by toil and loss of sleep, so that the exultation and joy of his spirit were overpowered by the weariness of his body. Since the multitude, when he came forward to address them, were profuse in their friendly expressions, taking his spear in his right hand and slightly inclining his knee and his body, he supported himself upon it and stood thus for a long time silently receiving their applause and acclamations, their praises of his valour and their congratulations on his success.

But when they had ceased and quiet had ensued, he summoned his strength and in behalf of the Achaeans made a speech which befitted their exploit, and persuaded the Corinthians to join the Achaean League. He also gave them back the keys to their gates, of which they then became possessed for the first time since the time of Philip of Macedon. Of the officers of Antigonus, he dismissed Archelaüs, who had been taken prisoner, but Theophrastus, who would not quit his post, he slew; as for Persaeus, on the capture of the citadel he made his escape to Cenchreae. And at a later time, as we are told, when he was leading a life of leisure, and someone remarked that in his opinion the wise man only could be a good general, "Indeed," he replied, "there was a time when I too particularly liked this doctrine of Zeno's; but now, since the lesson I got from the young man of Sicyon, I am of another mind." This story of Persaeus is told by many writers.

As for Aratus, he at once made himself master of the temple of Hera and the harbour of Lechaeum; he also seized five-and‑twenty of the king's ships, and sold five hundred horses and four hundred Syrians; Acrocorinthus, too, was garrisoned by the Achaeans with four hundred men-at‑arms, and fifty dogs with as many keepers were maintained in the citadel.

Now the Romans, in their admiration of Philopoemen, call him "the last of the Greeks," implying that no great man arose among the Greeks after him; but I should say that this capture of High Corinth was the very last and latest achievement of the Greeks, and that it rivalled their best, not only in daring, but also in happy results, as events at once showed. For Megara seceded from Antigonus and attached herself to Aratus; Troezen and Epidaurus were enrolled in the Achaean League; and Aratus, making a distant expedition for the first time, invaded Attica, and crossing the strait plundered Salamis, his Achaean forces, as though released from prison, obeying his every wish. But the freemen among his prisoners he sent back to the Athenians without ransom, thus laying a foundation for their revolt from Antigonus.

He also made Ptolemy an ally of the Achaeans, with the leadership in war on land and sea. And he was so influential among the Achaeans that, since it was not permissible every year, they chose him general every other year, though, in fact, his wisdom made him their leader all the time. For they saw that he put first and foremost, not wealth, not fame, not friendship with kings, not his own native city's advantage, but only the growth in power of the Achaean League. For he considered that the Greek states which were weak would be preserved by mutual support when once they had been bound as it were by the common interest, and that just as the members of the body have a common life and breath because they cleave together in a common growth, but when they are drawn apart and become separate they wither away and decay, in like manner the several states are ruined by those who dissever their common bonds, but are augmented by mutual support, when they become parts of a great whole and enjoy a common foresight...

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