Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Sicily was in a dreadful state of disorder about 350 B.C., because each of her cities had in turn declared its independence and elected a ruler of its own. The Carthaginians heard of the disturbance, and took advantage of it to invade the island, and they were such a powerful nation that success seemed certain to them. Their city was Carthage, of which nothing now remains but a mass of ruins; but in ancient times it was the metropolis of Africa, and celebrated for its wealth and magnificence. Some historians tell us that it was built by Dido, one hundred and sixteen years before Rome was founded; but this is not certain.

When the great Carthaginian fleet appeared off the coast of Sicily, the inhabitants were so terrified that they sent ambassadors to Greece to ask the Corinthians for help, This race was chosen because Syracuse, the chief city of Sicily, had been founded by them, and because they often engaged in wars, not for the sake of gain, but for independence, and for the purpose of putting down tyrants.

The ambassadors were kindly received, and a vote was passed granting them the aid they sought. The next thing to be considered was who should command the troops. The magistrates named several citizens who had distinguished themselves, but somebody proposed Timoleon, and, although he had up to that time taken no part in the business of the commonwealth, he was unanimously elected, and soon proved himself a patriot of no ordinary stamp.

But we must go back and tell something of his early life. The parents of Timoleon both belonged to the best families of Corinth. They had another son besides the one we have mentioned, whose name was Timophanes. The two brothers were as totally different in character as it was possible to be, for Timoleon had a remarkable love for his country and a disposition as mild as his extreme hatred of tyrants and wicked men was deep. He was prudent, courageous, and capable of conducting a war. Timophanes, on the other hand, was rash, dishonorable, and anxious for power. In time of war he seemed to give so little thought to danger that he was considered courageous, and often intrusted with the command of the army. But it was his brother who kept him in check, found excuses for his faults, and made the most of his good qualities.

Once when his horse was wounded on the battlefield and threw him within reach of the enemy, he would have been killed had not Timoleon shielded him with his own body, and, after receiving several wounds, by vigorous efforts repulsed the assailants, and so saved his brother's life.

Some time after this, when Timophanes had command of the army, he put to death a number of the principal inhabitants of Corinth, and tried to become absolute ruler of the city. This was exceedingly unjust and dishonorable, and Timoleon felt so ashamed of his brother's conduct that he went to him and urged him to give up the idea of enslaving his country, and to think of some means by which he could atone to his fellow-citizens for the crimes he had committed. Timophanes laughed at his brother and treated the matter with ridicule. A few days later, Timoleon, accompanied by two friends, went to him again. At first Timophanes laughed, as he had done on the previous occasion, but as the three men continued to reason with him he flew into a violent passion. Then Timoleon stepped aside and covered his face with his hands, while the other two drew their swords and killed the older brother on the spot.

There were those among the people of Corinth who approved of this deed, and admired the greatness of soul which prompted Timoleon to prefer his country to his kindred. He had saved his brother's life when he was fighting for his country, but had killed him when he became a traitor. There were others who, while rejoicing at the tyrant's death, pronounced Timoleon guilty of a horrible, unnatural crime. Among these was the mother of the slayer and the slain. She cursed Timoleon, and in the bitterness of her grief ordered her doors to be shut against him, declaring that she would never again look upon his face. Overcome with sorrow and remorse, he resolved to starve himself to death, but his friends, after much argument and entreaty, prevailed upon him to live. He then withdrew from all public affairs, and removed to the country, where he lived in solitude for twenty years.

It was at the close of this period that he was appointed to the command of the Corinthian army, and when he was informed of it, the messenger, a man of influence and rank, said to him, "Behave well, and be brave; for if your conduct be good, we shall consider you as the destroyer of a tyrant; if bad, as the murderer of your brother."

Timoleon accepted the post, and while preparing to set sail with his forces he received letters from Hicetes, Prince of the Leontines, telling him that he need not go to the expense and trouble of leading his men to Sicily, because the Carthaginians would not allow them to land. He added, besides, that he had joined the Carthaginians, and would aid them in the attack on Syracuse.

Such treachery aroused even the most indifferent of the Corinthians to action, and they supplied Timoleon with whatever he wanted, so that he might lose no time in sailing. When all was ready, he made a visit to Delphi to offer sacrifices to Apollo, and when he went down into the place where the oracles were pronounced, a crown embroidered with images of victory slipped from among the offerings that hung over the altar right upon Timoleon's head. That was a good omen, for it appeared that Apollo sent him on the expedition crowned beforehand. He set sail with ten ships of war, and a prosperous wind soon brought the fleet to the coast of Italy. But on arriving there Timoleon received bad news. It was that Hicetes had beaten Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, in battle, and shut him up in the citadel. Before Timoleon could decide what steps to take, twenty Carthaginian galleys arrived, bringing ambassadors with a message from Hicetes to the effect that if Timoleon would send his ships and troops back to Corinth, he might, if he chose, go to Syracuse and share the government, for the war was almost finished, and the Carthaginians would not let his army proceed.

The Corinthians were very indignant at this message, but Timoleon soon calmed them by explaining what he intended to do. After that he had an interview with the Carthaginian ambassadors and commanders, and said to them, "I will submit to your proposal on condition that you will go ashore with me and make it before the people of Rhegium, a Grecian city friendly to both of us, for that will render the compact more binding." They agreed and the magistrates of Rhegium, who really wished to see Sicily in the hands of the Corinthians, entered heartily into Timoleon's scheme. So they summoned an assembly of the citizens, and then closed the gates and began one after another to make long speeches. The Carthaginians suspected nothing wrong, for Timoleon was present, and they were waiting for his turn to make an address. Meanwhile, in obedience to their commander's instructions, the Corinthian fleet put to sea, and the enemy, believing that since one vessel was left for Timoleon the others were returning to Corinth, let them go quietly. Being informed by a signal that his fleet was off, Timoleon pressed through the crowd, his retreat being covered by the Rhegians, got down to the shore, and set sail full speed for Sicily.

He landed with his whole fleet at a place called Tauromenium, because Andromachus, the ruler, was friendly, and had given permission for him to do so. No sooner did Hicetes hear of the landing of the Corinthians than, although terribly alarmed, he set out with a force of five thousand fighting-men to prevent their advance. Timoleon had only twelve hundred soldiers, but he advanced until he heard that Hicetes was approaching Adranum; then he pitched his camp before that place, and, without giving his army time for rest or refreshment, placed himself at their head and led them, as he told them, to victory. The bravery of such a leader was contagious, and his men followed him with so much spirit that the enemy were thrown into confusion; three hundred of their number were slain, and twice as many taken prisoners. Those that fled had no time to think about their camp or baggage, of which the Corinthians took possession. Such a victory induced the people of Adranum to throw open their gates and take sides with Timoleon. Then they assured him, with a mixed feeling of awe and admiration, that they had felt confident he would triumph, because just as the battle began the doors of their temple flew open without being touched by any one, and the spear which their god held in his hand trembled, while drops of sweat ran down his face. Those, they declared, were omens that always foretold victory.

Such an impression was made by Timoleon and his army that the neighboring cities, one after another, sought his friendship and offered their services. At last Dionysius himself sent a messenger to say that he was ready to deliver to the Corinthians not only the citadel, but his own person. Timoleon immediately despatched two of his captains, with four hundred men, to seize the castle, and directed them how to proceed so that no trick could be played on them.

They found a magnificent supply of horses, war-engines, and weapons in the palace of Dionysius, all of which, besides two thousand soldiers, were handed over for Timoleon's service. Then the tyrant himself, with his treasure and a few friends, embarked on a vessel secretly, so as not to be stopped by Hicetes, and sailed to the camp of Timoleon. In the attire of a humble citizen this prince, who had been born and educated in one of the most splendid of courts, now presented himself before the victorious Timoleon, worn out with wars, contests, and some of the greatest misfortunes that ever fell to the lot of man. For the present we shall say no more about Dionysius, except that he was sent to Corinth with a small sum of money; a fuller account of him is given in the life of Dion.

Within fifty days after his landing in Sicily we find Timoleon's men in possession of the fortress of Syracuse. This was a splendid beginning; but Hicetes was still in the city, and continued to besiege the castle, so that those who were shut up in it could receive no provisions. Besides, he filled the city with soldiers, and there was every prospect that the Carthaginians would soon make themselves its sole rulers. Not only did the besieged Corinthians suffer from want of provisions, but they were constantly attacked about the walls of the castle, and had to divide themselves for defence. The harbor was blocked up by the Carthaginian fleet, of which Mago was admiral; but during a storm, when the ships got separated, Timoleon managed to send a quantity of corn to his besieged soldiers by little fishing-boats that slipped in unnoticed.

Timoleon was then at Catana, and Hicetes was determined to stop all further supply of provisions from that quarter; so he selected the best of his troops, and, with Mago to manage the ships, sailed from Syracuse.

Leo, the Corinthian commander in the citadel, saw the departure of the fleet, and soon observed that those of the forces that were left behind kept guard very carelessly: so he made an attack upon Achradina, the strongest quarter of Syracuse, and took possession of it. It must be borne in mind that, unlike other cities, this one was divided into four parts, each separated from the other by a strong wall, so that Syracuse might be called an assemblage of towns. Achradina, which was quite near the citadel, was the strongest quarter, and had suffered least from the enemy, so Leo found plenty of provisions and money there. He knew the value of what he had, and determined to keep it, so he fortified it and joined it to the citadel. As Mago and Hicetes approached Catana a messenger met them and informed them of the dreadful misfortune that had overtaken them at home; whereupon they hurried back. Shortly after Mago sailed to Africa, though there seemed to be no reason for thus allowing Sicily to slip out of his hands.

Meanwhile, Timoleon had received reinforcements from Corinth, and with these he took the city of Messina, and then went on to Syracuse, where he beat off the forces of Hicetes and put them to flight. He next ordered the town-criers to call on all the Syracusans to come with their tools to help to tear down the fortifications of the tyrants. They came, one and all, and worked with a will for liberty. Not only did they destroy the citadel, but the palaces and monuments near by, and whatever else there was to remind them of their former tyrants, were demolished.

When the spot was cleared, Timoleon built a hall of justice, to show the citizens that a popular government was to be established on the ruins of tyranny.

But now so many people had been killed in the wars, and so many more had run away, that Syracuse looked deserted, and there was danger that the soil would not be properly cultivated. To avoid this evil, Timoleon wrote to his countrymen, urging them to send people to settle there. He had another reason for desiring to populate Sicily. It was this: Mago had killed himself after he returned to Africa, because he could not bear the reproaches he received for leaving Sicily, and after his death his countrymen began to collect forces for a second invasion of the island.

When Timoleon heard this, he knew that he ought to be prepared with an army; so, besides the message to Corinth, he invited all the Syracusans who had fled to return, and offered them protection on the voyage. In a short time ten thousand people sailed from Corinth for Syracuse, and sixty thousand more flocked there from Italy and other places.

The land Timoleon divided freely among the new citizens, but he sold them the houses, and thus raised a fund which was much needed; for not only was the public treasury exhausted, but it had even been found necessary to sell the statues to defray the expenses of the war.

After restoring order and establishing reforms in Syracuse, Timoleon marched to other parts of Sicily, and compelled the tyrants of the various little towns to destroy their palaces and take their places among the private citizens. Hicetes was one of these, and he was forced, besides, to promise to interfere no further in the affairs of the Carthaginians. Then Timoleon returned to Syracuse to see how the new laws were working.

Meanwhile, the Carthaginians had landed an immense army in the territory that still belonged to them on the island of Sicily. They were drawn together on the banks of the river Crimesus; and as soon as this was known to Timoleon he hastened to meet them with the small army that he could get together. It was composed of paid foreigners for the most part, because the citizens of Syracuse were so frightened when they heard how great was the number of the enemy's forces that they would not follow Timoleon, and of the four thousand whom he hired nearly a quarter grew faint-hearted by the way and deserted.

As Timoleon was climbing a hill overlooking the river Crimesus, whence he expected to see what the Carthaginians were about, he met a train of mules loaded with parsley. The soldiers looked upon this as an ill omen, because parsley was used to adorn tombs. But among the Corinthians it was at that time made into garlands to crown the victors of the public games. So, to remove all forebodings of evil, Timoleon turned this to account, and assured his soldiers that victory was certain, the garlands being already theirs. Then he crowned himself with a wreath made of the parsley; all his captains and soldiers followed his example, and marched on.

When they reached the top of the hill, they beheld the enemy crossing the river with their formidable four-horse chariots of war, followed by thousands of foot-soldiers bearing glittering arms. Timoleon called his first cavalry officer to his side and gave him orders to fall at once upon the enemy, while part remained on one side of the river and part on the other, and before they were drawn up in line of battle. This was done; and after watching the action for a while, Timoleon saw that his soldiers were harassed by the armed chariots of the enemy, which ran to and fro in front of their own army, and not only prevented the Greeks from coming to close quarters, but forced them continually to wheel about to escape having their ranks broken. So, taking his shield in his hand, he cried out to the foot-soldiers to follow him, and amidst the blasts of trumpets rushed down the hill with drawn sword into the thickest of the fight.

With their stout armor, the Carthaginians had not found it difficult to repel the spears of the horsemen, but when it came to swords, which required more skill than strength, they were at a disadvantage. Then, too, the onslaught of Timoleon was attended by a terrific thunderstorm, and the enemy were so placed that the rain, wind, and hail beat right into their faces and almost blinded them. Added to this, the thunder prevented them from hearing the commands of their officers, and their armor was so heavy that when once the Greeks got them down in the mud they could not rise, and there was plenty of it, for the river had overflowed its banks a short time before. The Carthaginians rolled and tumbled about in the ditches, where they were cut to pieces without being able to offer much resistance.

The Greek armor was light, the storm was at their backs, and they made such havoc in the first ranks that the whole Carthaginian army began to fly. Great numbers were overtaken in the fields and killed, many were drowned, and those who tried to escape into the mountains were stopped by the Greeks. Ten thousand Carthaginians lay dead upon the plain at the close of the battle, among whom were many men of rank, wealth, and reputation. The booty the Greeks collected was so rich that they did not take the pains to reckon the brass or iron, gold and silver being so plentiful. Then there were two hundred chariots of war, besides all the camp-equipments. Timoleon's tent was resplendent with the military ornaments, and thousands of rare and beautifully wrought breastplates and shields.

The Carthaginians, encouraged by Hicetes, sent another army, but were again defeated. Hicetes was captured alive, tried, and condemned to death. Then the Carthaginians sued for peace, and it was granted to them under certain conditions, to which they were glad to yield in consideration of all they had suffered. A few more battles put an end to all the tyrants of Sicily and converted the island into such a happy, civilized home that even strangers went there in great numbers to settle. Timoleon was loved and honored by all, and the Sicilians looked upon him as the founder of their government. He was presented with one of the best houses in Syracuse, and there he lived contentedly and comfortably with his wife and children, who came to him from Corinth when the wars were at an end.

As he grew old his sight began to fail, and at last he became totally blind. He bore this misfortune meekly and patiently, and the people of Syracuse continued to show him every mark of respect and gratitude. They went constantly to pay their respects to him, and took every stranger who visited the city to see the man whose brave exploits had brought about so much happiness. In honor of Timoleon, they passed a vote that whenever they should be engaged in war with a foreign nation none but a Corinthian general should lead them. When an important question was to be decided, the blind old commander was always consulted, and for that purpose he was carried to the marketplace in a litter. When he appeared, the people saluted him by name, then he would listen to the debate and deliver his opinion. That done, he was escorted back to his house.

This respect and tenderness were shown to the old hero until he died, and when that event occurred a great concourse of people assembled to do honor to his memory. The bier was borne by young men, followed by thousands of people robed in white and crowned with garlands, many of them shedding tears as they moved along.

When the bier was placed upon the pile of wood to be burned, one of the public criers read the following proclamation in a loud, clear tone of voice: "The people of Syracuse inter Timoleon, son of Timodemus, the Corinthian, at the common expense. They propose to honor his memory forever by establishing annual prizes for horse-races, music, and wrestling, because he overthrew the barbarians, destroyed tyrants, repeopled desolate cities, and restored to the Sicilian Greeks their laws and privileges."

A monument was erected on the spot where the body was interred; near by was a place where the young men exercised, to which they gave the name of the Timoleonteum. For thirty years the Sicilians lived in peace and prosperity under the laws which Timoleon had left them.