Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus
Text by Thomas North
Pyrrhus (319/318-272 B.C.)
Reading for Lesson One
It is written, that, since the flood, the first king of the Thesprotians and of the Molossians was Phaethon, one of those who came with Pelasgus into the realm of Epirus. But some say otherwise, that Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha remained there, after they had built and founded the Temple of Dodona, in the country of the Molossians. But howsoever it was, a great while after that, Neoptolemus (#0.5) the son of Achilles (#1), bringing thither a great number of people with him, conquered the country, and after him left a succession of kings, which were called, after his name, the Pyrrhidae: because from his infancy he was surnamed Pyrrhus, as much to say as "red": and one of his sons [omission] was also named by him Pyrrhus. From him Achilles (#1) came to have divine honours in Epirus, under the name of "Aspetus," in the language of the country.
After these first kings, those of the following intervening times becoming barbarous, and insignificant both in their power and their lives, Tharrhypas is said to have been the first who, by introducing (southern) Greek manners and learning, and humane laws into his cities, left any fame of himself. Alcetas I was the son of Tharrhypas; Arybbas the son of Alcetas; and Arybbas and Troas (his queen) were the parents of Aeacides. Aeacides married Phthia, the daughter of Menon the Thessalian, a man of note at the time of the Lamian War, and of high command in the confederate army. This Aeacides had two daughters by his wife Phthia, named Deidamia (#2) and Troas; and one son, called Pyrrhus.
In the time of Aeacides, the Molossians rebelled, drove him out of his kingdom, and put the crown into the hands of the sons of Neoptolemus (#1); and all the friends of Aeacides that could be taken were generally murdered, and slain outright. Androclides and Angelus in the meantime stole away Pyrrhus, being yet but a suckling babe (whom his enemies nevertheless eagerly sought for to have destroyed) and fled away with him as fast as possibly they might, with a few servants, and women to nurse the child, were much impeded and hindered in their flight; so as they could go no great journeys but that they might easily be overtaken by them that followed. For which cause they put the child into the hands of Androclion, Hippias, and Neander, faithful and able young fellows, giving them in charge to make for Megara, a town of Macedon, with all their might; while they themselves, partly by entreaty, and partly by force, stopped the course of the pursuers till late in the evening.
So as with much ado having driven them back, they ran after them that carried the child Pyrrhus, whom they overtook at sunset. And now, thinking they had been safe, and out of all danger: they found it clean contrary. For when they came to the river under the town walls of Megara, they saw it so rough and swift, that it made them afraid to behold it: and when they gauged the ford, they found it impossible to wade through, it was so sore risen and troubled with the fall of the rain, besides that the darkness of the night made everything seem fearful unto them. So they that carried the child thought it not good to venture the passage over by themselves alone, with the women that tended the child; but perceiving certain countrymen on the other side, they prayed and besought them, in the name of the gods, that they would help them to pass over the child, showing Pyrrhus unto them afar off. But the countrymen, by reason of the roaring of the river, understood them not.
Thus they continued a long space, the one side crying, the other listening, yet could they not understand one another, till at the last one of the company bethought himself to pull off a piece of the bark of an oak, and upon that he wrote, with the tongue of a buckle, the hard fortune and necessity of the child. This he tied to a stone to give it weight, and so threw it over to the other side of the river. Others say that he did prick the bark through with the point of a javelin which he cast over. The countrymen on the other side of the river, having read what was written, and understanding thereby the present danger the child was in, felled down trees in all the haste they could possibly, bound them together, and so the men passed over the river. And it fortuned that the first man of them that passed over, and took the child in his arms, was called Achilles (#2): the rest being helped over by others as they came to hand.
Thus being safe, and out of the reach of pursuit, they came at length to Glaucias, then king of the Illyrians, and finding him sitting at home with his wife, they laid down the child before them. The king began to weigh the matter, fearing Cassander, who was a mortal enemy of Aeacides; and, being in deep consideration, said nothing for a long time. In the meantime, the child Pyrrhus, creeping on all fours, took hold of the king's gown and crawled up by that, and so got up on his feet against the king's knees. At the first, the king laughed to see the child: but after it he pitied him again, because the child seemed like a humble suitor that came to seek sanctuary in his arms. Others say that Pyrrhus came not to Glaucias, but catching hold of an altar of the gods, and spreading his hands about it, raised himself up by that; and that Glaucias took the act as an omen. At present, therefore, he gave Pyrrhus into the charge of his wife, commanding he should be brought up with his own children; and a little after, the enemies sending to demand him, and Cassander himself offering two hundred talents, he would not deliver him up; but when he was twelve years old, bringing him with an army into Epirus, established him as king of the realm again.
[omission for length and content]
Now, when he was seventeen years of age, and the government, in appearance, well settled, he took a journey out of the kingdom to attend the marriage of one of Glaucias's sons, with whom he was brought up; upon which opportunity the Molossians again rebelling, they turned out all of his friends, and servants, plundered his property, and yielded themselves unto his adversary Neoptolemus (#2). King Pyrrhus having thus lost his kingdom, and seeing himself forsaken on all sides, went to Demetrius (the son of Antigonus (#1)) that had married his sister Deidamia [omission].
At the great Battle of Ipsus, where so many kings were engaged, Pyrrhus, taking part with Demetrius, though he was yet but a young man, put them all to flight that fought with him. And afterwards when Demetrius's fortunes were low, he did not forsake him then, but secured for him the cities of Greece with which he was entrusted; and upon articles of agreement being made between Demetrius and Ptolemy (#1), Pyrrhus went over as an hostage for him into Egypt, where both in hunting and other exercises he gave Ptolemy an ample proof of his courage and strength. Here observing Berenice in greatest power, and of all Ptolemy's wives highest in esteem for virtue and understanding: he began to entertain and honour her above all the rest. For he was a man that could tell how to humble himself towards the great (by whom he might win benefit) and knew also how to creep into their credit: and in like manner was he a great scorner and despiser of such as were his inferiors. Moreover, for that he was found marvellous honourable and of fair condition, he was preferred, before all other young princes, to be the husband of Antigone, the daughter of Queen Berenice (whom she had by Philip before she was married unto Ptolemy).
Reading for Lesson Two
After this match, advancing in honour, and Antigone being a very good wife to him, having procured a sum of money, and raised an army, he so ordered matters as to be sent into his kingdom of Epirus; and arrived there to the great satisfaction of many from their hate to Neoptolemus, because he dealt both hardly and cruelly with them. But fearing lest Neoptolemus should enter into alliance with some neighbouring princes, he came to terms and friendship with him, agreeing that they should share the government between them.
But in process of time, some of their men secretly made strife again between them, and set them at defiance one with another; and the chiefest cause (as it is said) that angered Pyrrhus most, grew upon this. It was customary for the kings to offer sacrifice to Mars at Passaro, a place in the Molossian country; and, that done, to enter into a solemn covenant with the Epirots; they (the kings) to govern according to law, these (the Epirots) to preserve the government as by law established. This was performed in the presence of both kings, who were there with their immediate friends, giving and receiving many presents; here Gelo, one of the friends of Neoptolemus, taking Pyrrhus by the hand, presented him with two pair of draught oxen, which one Myrtilus (a cupbearer of Pyrrhus) being present, and seeing, did crave of his master. But Pyrrhus denied to give them unto him, whereat Myrtilus was very angry. Gelo, perceiving that Myrtilus was angry, prayed him to sup with him that night [omission for content]. He began to persuade him after supper to take part with Neoptolemus, and to poison Pyrrhus. Myrtilus made as though he was willing to give ear to this persuasion, and to be well pleased withal. But in the meantime, he went and told his master of it, by whose commandment he made Alexicrates, Pyrrhus' chief cupbearer, to talk with Gelo about this practice, as though he had also given his consent to it, and was willing to be partaker of the enterprise. This did Pyrrhus to have two witnesses, to prove the pretended poisoning of him.
Thus was Gelo finely deceived, and Neoptolemus also with him, both imagining they had cunningly spun the thread of their treason. Neoptolemus was so glad of it that he could not keep it to himself, but told it to certain of his friends. And on a time going to be merry with his sister, he could not keep it in, but must be prattling of it to her, supposing nobody had heard him but herself, because there was no living creature near them, saving Phaenarete, the wife of Samon, the king's chief herdsman of all his beasts, and yet she was laid upon a little bed nearby, and turned towards the wall: so that she seemed as though she had slept. But having heard all their talk, and nobody mistrusting her: the next morning she went to Antigone, King Pyrrhus' wife, and told her every word what she had heard Neoptolemus say to his sister.
Pyrrhus hearing this, made no countenance of anything at that time. But having made sacrifice unto the gods, he bade Neoptolemus to supper to his house, where he slew him; being satisfied before that the great men of the Epirots were his friends and that they were eager for him to rid himself of Neoptolemus and not to content himself with a mere petty share of the government, but to follow his own natural vocation to great designs, and now when a just ground of suspicion appeared, to anticipate Neoptolemus by taking him off first.
In memory of Berenice and Ptolemy (#1), he named his son, by Antigone, Ptolemy (#2); and having built a city in the peninsula of Epirus, called it "Berenicis." From this time he began to revolve many and vast projects in his thoughts; but his first special hope and design lay near home, and he found means to engage himself in Macedonian affairs under the following pretext. The eldest son of Cassander, called Antipater, put his own mother Thessalonica to death, and drove his brother Alexander (#1) out of his own country; who sent to Demetrius for help, and called in Pyrrhus also to his aid. But Demetrius, being troubled with other matters, could not so quickly go thither. And Pyrrhus being arrived there, demanded in reward of his service the districts called Tymphaea and Parauaea in Macedon itself, and of their new conquests, Ambracia, Acarnania, and Amphilochia. The young prince giving way, Pyrrhus took possession of these countries, and secured them with good garrisons; and conquering the rest of Macedon in the name of Alexander, put his brother Antipater to great distress.
Lysimachus, designing to send aid to Antipater, was involved in much other business; but knowing Pyrrhus would not disoblige Ptolemy (#1), or deny him anything, sent pretended letters to him as from Ptolemy desiring him to give up his expedition, upon the payment of three hundred talents to him by Antipater. Pyrrhus opening the letters, knew straight that this was but a fetch and device of Lysimachus. For King Ptolemy's common manner of greeting of him, which he used at the beginning of his letters, was not in them observed: To my son Pyrrhus, health. But in those counterfeit was, King Ptolemy, unto King Pyrrhus, health.
Pyrrhus scolded Lysimachus for this deception; but, notwithstanding, agreed to make peace; and they all met to confirm it by solemn oath upon sacrifice. A goat, a bull, and a ram being brought out, the ram suddenly fell dead. The others laughed, but Theodotus, the prophet, forbade Pyrrhus to swear, declaring that Heaven by that portended the death of one of the three kings; upon which he refused to ratify the peace.
The affairs of Alexander (#1) being now in some kind of settlement, Demetrius arrived, contrary (as soon appeared) to the desire and indeed not without the alarm of Alexander. After they had been a few days together, their mutual jealousy led them to conspire against each other; and Demetrius, taking advantage of the first occasion, was beforehand with the young king, and slew him, and proclaimed himself King of Macedon.
There had been formerly no very good understanding between him and Pyrrhus; for besides the inroads he made into Thessaly, the innate disease of princes, ambition of greater empire, had rendered them formidable and suspected neighbours to each other, especially since Deidamia's death; and both having seized Macedon, they came into conflict for the same object, and the difference between them had the stronger motives.
Demetrius, having first attacked the Aetolians and subdued them, left Pantauchus there with a considerable army, and marched direct against Pyrrhus; and Pyrrhus, as he thought, against him; but by mistake of the ways they passed by one another, and Demetrius falling into Epirus wasted the country; and Pyrrhus, meeting with Pantauchus, prepared for an engagement. The soldiers fell to, and there was a sharp and terrible conflict, especially where the generals were.
Pantauchus, in courage, dexterity, and strength of body, being confessedly the best of all Demetrius's captains, and having both resolution and high spirit, challenged Pyrrhus to fight hand to hand; on the other side Pyrrhus, professing not to yield to any king in valour and glory, and esteeming the fame of Achilles more truly to belong to him for his courage than for his blood, advanced against Pantauchus through the front of the army. First they used their lances, then came to a close fight, and managed their swords both with art and force; Pyrrhus receiving one wound, but returning two for it, one in the thigh and the other near the neck, repulsed and overthrew Pantauchus, but did not kill him outright, as he was rescued by his friends. But the Epirots exulting in the victory of their king, and admiring his courage, forced through and cut in pieces the phalanx of the Macedonians, and pursuing those that fled, killed many, and took five thousand prisoners.
What happened to Antipater?
He fled to Thrace, but was killed there by Lysimachus (who also happened to be his father-in-law). Why, you might ask, since they had formerly been on such good terms that Lysimachus had sent phony letters to Pyrrhus on his behalf? Apparently the peace that Lysimachus made with Demetrius caused a quarrel over Antipater's inheritance, and Lysimachus was so angry about it that he had Antipater put to death (and also had his daughter Eurydice imprisoned for taking her husband's side in the quarrel).
Reading for Lesson Three
This fight did not so much exasperate the Macedonians with anger for their loss, or with hatred to Pyrrhus, as it won Pyrrhus great fame and honour, making his courage and valiantness to be wondered at of all such as were present at the battle that saw him fight, and how he laid about him. For they thought that they saw in his face the very life and agility of Alexander the Great, and the right shadow as it were, showing the force and fury of Alexander himself in that fight. And where other kings did but only counterfeit Alexander in his purple garments, and in numbers of soldiers and guards about their persons, and in a certain fashion and bowing of their necks a little, and in uttering his speech with an high voice: Pyrrhus only was like unto him, and followed him in his martial deeds and valiant acts.
Sidebar: On the Warlike Nature of Pyrrhus
Of his knowledge of military tactics and the art of a general, and his great ability that way, we have the best information from the commentaries he left behind him. Antigonus (#2), also, we are told, being asked who was the greatest soldier, said "Pyrrhus, if he lives to be old," referring only to those of his own time; but Hannibal, of all great commanders, esteemed Pyrrhus for skill and conduct the first, Scipio the second, and himself the third, as is related in the Life of Scipio. In a word, he seemed ever to make this all his thought and philosophy, as the most kingly part of learning; other curiosities he held in no account. He is reported, when asked at a feast whether he thought Python or Caphisias the best musician, to have said "Polysperchon was the best soldier," as though it became a king to examine and understand only such things.
Towards his familiars he was mild and not easily incensed; zealous and even vehement in returning kindnesses. Thus when Aeropus was dead, he could not bear it with moderation, saying he indeed had suffered what was common to human nature, but condemning and blaming himself, that by puttings-off and delays he had not returned his kindness in time. For our debts may be satisfied to the creditor's heirs, but not to have made the acknowledgement of received favours, while they to whom it is due can be sensible of it, afflicts a good and worthy nature.
Some thinking it fit that Pyrrhus should banish a certain ill-tongued fellow in Ambrario, who had spoken very indecently of him, "Let him rather," said he, "speak against us here to a few, than rambling about to a great many." And others who in their wine had made reflections upon him, being afterward questioned for it, and asked by him whether they had said such words, on one of the young fellows answering, "Yes, all that, king; and should have said more if we had had more wine," he laughed and discharged them.
After the death of Antigone, he married several wives to enlarge his interest and power. He had the daughter of Autoleon, king of the Paeonians; Bircenna, Bardyllis the Illyrian's daughter; and Lanassa, daughter of Agathocles the Syracusan, who brought with her in dower the city of Corcyra, which had been taken by Agathocles. By Antigone, Pyrrhus had a son named Ptolemy (#2); a son, Alexander (#2), by Lanassa; and Helenus, his youngest son, by Bircenna; he brought them up all in arms, hot and eager youths, and by him sharpened and whetted to war from their very infancy.
They write that one of his sons, being but a boy, asked him one day to which of them he would leave his kingdom. Pyrrhus answered the boy, "To him that hath the sharpest sword." That was much like the tragical curse wherewith Oedipus cursed his children:
Let them (for me) divide, both goods, yea rents and land:
With trenchant sword, and bloody blows, by force of mighty hand.
So cruel, hateful, and beastly is the nature of ambition and desire of rule.
After the battle against the Macedonians, Pyrrhus, returning gloriously home, enjoyed his fame and reputation, and being called "Eagle" by the Epirots. "By you," said he, "I am an eagle; for how should I not be such, while I have your arms as wings to sustain me?"
A little after, having intelligence that Demetrius was dangerously sick, he entered on a sudden into Macedonia, intending only an incursion, and to harass the country; but was very near seizing upon all, and taking the kingdom without a blow. He marched as far as Edessa unresisted, great numbers deserting and coming in to him. This danger excited Demetrius beyond his strength, and his friends and commanders in a short time got a considerable army together, and with all their forces briskly attacked Pyrrhus, who, coming only to pillage, would not stand a fight; but, retreating, lost part of his army as he went off, by the close pursuit of the Macedonians.
Demetrius, however, although he had easily and quickly forced Pyrrhus out of the country, yet did not slight him, but having resolved upon great designs, and to recover his father's kingdom with an army of one hundred thousand men, and a fleet of five hundred ships, would neither embroil himself with Pyrrhus, nor leave the Macedonians so active and troublesome a neighbour; and since he had no leisure to continue the war with him, he was willing to treat and conclude a peace, and to turn his forces upon the other kings.
Thus now with the peace concluded betwixt Demetrius and Pyrrhus, the designs of Demetrius quickly discovered themselves by the greatness of his preparation. And the other kings, being alarmed, sent to Pyrrhus ambassadors and letters, expressing their wonder that he should choose to let his own opportunity pass by, and wait till Demetrius could use his; and that whereas he was now able to chase him out of Macedon, involved in designs and disturbed, he should wait till Demetrius at leisure, and grown great, should bring the war home to his own door [omission]; especially having so lately, by his means, lost Corcyra and his wife together. For Lanassa had taken offence at Pyrrhus for too great an inclination to those wives of his that were barbarians, and so withdrew to Corcyra, and desiring to marry some king, invited Demetrius, knowing of all the kings he was most ready to entertain offers of marriage; so he sailed thither, married Lanassa, and placed a garrison in the city.
The kings having written thus to Pyrrhus, themselves likewise did trouble Demetrius in the meanwhile, while he was delaying and making his preparations. Ptolemy (#1), setting out with a great fleet, drew off many of the Greek cities. Lysimachus out of Thrace wasted the upper Macedon; and Pyrrhus, also taking arms at the same time, marched to Beroea, expecting, as it fell out, that Demetrius, collecting his forces against Lysimachus, would leave the lower country undefended.
And the selfsame night that Pyrrhus departed, he imagined that Alexander the Great did call him, and that also he (Pyrrhus) went unto him, and found him sick in his bed, of whom he had very good words and entertainment: insomuch as he (Alexander) promised to help him thoroughly. And Pyrrhus imagined also that he was so bold to demand of him again: "How, my Lord, can you help me, that lie sick in your bed?" and that Alexander made answer, "With my name"; and, mounting a Nisaean horse, seemed to lead the way. At the sight of this vision Pyrrhus was much assured, and with swift marches overrunning all the interjacent places, took Beroea, and making his headquarters there, reduced the rest of the country by his commanders.
Reading for Lesson Four
When Demetrius received intelligence of the taking of Beroea, and perceived likewise the Macedonians ready to mutiny in the army, he was afraid to advance further, lest, coming near Lysimachus, a Macedonian king, and of great fame, they should revolt to him. So returning, he marched directly against Pyrrhus, as against a strange prince, and ill beloved of the Macedonians. But while he lay encamped there near him, many who came out of Beroea infinitely praised Pyrrhus as invincible in arms, a glorious warrior, who treated those he had taken kindly and humanely. Several of these Pyrrhus himself sent privately, pretending to be Macedonians, and saying that "now was the time to be delivered from the severe government of Demetrius by coming over to Pyrrhus, that was a courteous prince, and one that loved soldiers and men of war." By this artifice a great part of the army was in a state of excitement, and the soldiers began to look every way about inquiring for Pyrrhus. It happened he was without his helmet, till understanding they did not know him, he put it on again, and so was quickly recognized by his lofty crest and the goat's horns he wore upon it. Then the Macedonians, running to him, desired to be told his password. Others put garlands of oaken boughs about their heads, because they saw his men crowned after that sort. And some were so bold also as to go to Demetrius himself, and tell him, that in their opinions he should do very well and wisely to give place to Fortune, and refer all unto Pyrrhus.
Demetrius hereupon, seeing his camp in such uproar, was so amazed, that he knew not what way to take, but stole away secretly, disguised in a broad hat and a common soldier's coat. So Pyrrhus became master of the army without fighting, and was declared King of the Macedonians.
But Lysimachus now arriving, and claiming the defeat of Demetrius as the joint exploit of them both, and that therefore the kingdom should be shared between them: Pyrrhus, not as yet quite assured of the Macedonians, and in doubt of their faith, consented to the proposition of Lysimachus, and divided the country and cities between them accordingly. This was for the present useful, and prevented a war; but shortly after, they found that this partition was no end of their enmity, but rather a beginning of quarrel and dissension between them. For men whose ambition neither seas, nor mountains, nor unpeopled deserts can limit, nor the bounds dividing Europe from Asia confine their vast desires: how should they be content with their own, without usurping others, when their frontiers join so near together, that nothing divides them? Sure it is not possible. For to say truly, they are willingly together by the ears, having these two cursed things rooted in them: that they continually seek occasion how to surprise each other, and either of them envies his neighbour's well-doing. Howbeit in appearance they use these two terms, of peace and wars, as they do money: using it as they think good, not according to right and justice, but for their private profit. And truly they are men of far greater honesty that make open war and avow it, than those that disguise and colour the delay of their wicked purpose, by the holy name of justice or friendship.
Pyrrhus was an instance of this; for setting himself against the rise of Demetrius again, and endeavouring to hinder the recovery of his power, as it were from a kind of sickness, he went to aid the Grecians against him; and came to Athens, where having ascended the Acropolis, he offered sacrifice to Athena; and the same day came down again and told the Athenians he was much gratified by the goodwill and the confidence they had shown to him; but if they were wise, he advised them, never to let any king come thither again, or open their city gates to him.
He concluded also a peace with Demetrius; but shortly after he (Demetrius) was gone into Asia, at the persuasion of Lysimachus, he (Pyrrhus) tampered with the Thessalians to revolt, and besieged his cities in Greece; finding he could better preserve the attachment of the Macedonians in war than in peace, and being of his own inclination not much given to rest.
[Pyrrhus now ruled quite a large amount of territory: not only Epirus, which had been enlarged under his rule, but also Thessaly, which had surrendered to him without much of a fight; and his half of Macedon. Can we take a quick minute to celebrate this high point with him? However, things were about to change again.]
At last, after Demetrius had been overthrown in Syria, Lysimachus, who had secured his affairs, and had nothing to do, immediately turned his whole forces upon Pyrrhus, who was in quarters at Edessa; and falling upon and seizing his convoy of provisions, brought first a great scarcity into the army; then partly by letters, partly by spreading rumours abroad, he corrupted the principal officers of the Macedonians, reproaching them that they had made one their master who was both a stranger and descended from those who had ever been servants to the Macedonians, and that they had thrust the old friends and familiars of Alexander (#0.5) out of the country. Many of the Macedonians were won by these persuasions, which fact so feared Pyrrhus, that he departed out of Macedon with his men of war, the Epirots, and others of his confederates: and so he lost Macedon by the selfsame means he won it.
Kings and princes therefore must not blame private men, though they change and alter sometimes for their profit; for therein they do but follow the example of princes, who teach them all disloyalty, treason, and infidelity; judging him most worthy of gain that least observeth justice and equity.
Reading for Lesson Five
So Pyrrhus being come home again to his kingdom of Epirus, and forsaking Macedon altogether, Fortune made him happy enough, and indeed he had good means to live peaceably at home, without any trouble, if he could have contented himself only with the sovereignty over his own natural subjects. But thinking that if he did neither hurt others, nor that others did hurt him, he could not tell how to spend his time, and by peace he should pine away for sorrow, as Homer said of Achilles:
He languished and pined by taking ease and rest:
And in the wars where travail was, he liked ever best.
And thus seeking matter of new trouble, Fortune presented him this occasion. About this time, the Romans were at war with the Tarentines, who could neither bear their force, nor yet devise how to pacify the same, by reason of the rashness, folly, and wickedness of their governors. They proposed now to make Pyrrhus their general, and engage him in it, as of all the neighbouring kings the most at leisure, and the most skillful as a commander. The more grave and discreet citizens, opposing these counsels, were partly overborne by the noise and violence of the multitude; while others, seeing this, absented themselves from the assemblies; only one Meton, a very sober man, on the day this public decree was to be ratified, when the people were now seating themselves, came dancing into the assembly like one quite drunk, with a withered garland and a small lamp in his hand, and a woman playing on a flute before him. Some clapped, others laughed, none forbade him; but they called to the woman to play, and to him to sing to the company; and when they thought he was going to do so, "'Tis right of you, O men of Tarentum," he said, "not to hinder any from making themselves merry that have a mind to it, while it is yet in their power; and if you are wise, you will take out your pleasure of your freedom while you can, for you must change your course of life, and follow other diet, when Pyrrhus comes to town."
These words made a great impression upon many of the Tarentines, and a confused murmur went about that he had spoken much to the purpose; but some who feared they should be sacrificed if a peace were made with the Romans, reviled the whole assembly for so tamely suffering themselves to be abused by a drunkard; and, crowding together upon Meton, they thrust him out.
So the public order was passed and ambassadors sent into Epirus, not only in their own names, but in those of all the Italian Greeks, carrying presents to Pyrrhus, and letting him know they wanted a general of reputation and experience; and that they could furnish him with large forces of Lucanians, Messapians, Samnites, and Tarentines, amounting to twenty thousand horse, and three hundred and fifty thousand foot. This did not only quicken Pyrrhus, but raised an eager desire for the expedition in the Epirots.
There was one Cineas, a Thessalian, considered to be a man of very good sense, a disciple of the great orator Demosthenes, who, of all that were famous at that time for speaking well, most seemed, as in a picture, to revive in the minds of the audience the memory of his (Demosthenes') force and vigour of eloquence; and being always about Pyrrhus, and sent about in his service to several cities, he verified the saying of Euripides, that--
As much as trenchant blades, in mighty hands may do.
So much can skill of eloquence, achieve and conquer too.
And therefore Pyrrhus would often say that Cineas had won him more towns with his eloquence than he himself had done by the sword: for which he did greatly honour and employ him in all his chief affairs.
This person, seeing Pyrrhus eagerly preparing for these wars of Italy, led him one day when he was at leisure into the following reasonings: "The Romans, sir, are reported to be great warriors and conquerors of many warlike nations; if it please the gods we do overcome them, what benefit shall we have of that victory?"
"You ask," said Pyrrhus, "a thing evident of itself. The Romans once conquered, there is neither Greek nor barbarian city that will resist us, but we shall presently be masters of all Italy, the extent and resources and strength of which any one should rather profess to be ignorant of than yourself."
Cineas, pausing a while, replied: "And when we have taken Italy, what shall we do then?"
Pyrrhus not finding his meaning yet, said unto him: "Sicily next holds out her arms to receive us, a wealthy and populous island, and easy to be gained; having no head that governs them since Agathocles left it, more than orators only that are their councilors, who will soon be won."
"You speak," said Cineas, "what is perfectly probable, but will the possession of Sicily put an end to the war?"
"The gods grant us," answered Pyrrhus, "victory and success in that, and we will use these are forerunners of greater things; who could forbear from Libya and Carthage then within reach, which Agathocles, even when forced to flee from Syracuse, and passing the sea only with a few ships, had all but surprised? These conquests, once perfected, will any assert that of the enemies who now pretend to despise us, any one will dare to make further resistance?"
"None," replied Cineas, "for then it is manifest we may with such mighty force regain Macedon, and make an absolute conquest of Greece; and when all these are in our power what shall we do then?"
Said Pyrrhus, smiling, "We will then, good Cineas, be quiet, and take our ease, and make feasts every day, and be as merry one with another as we can possibly be."
Cineas having brought him to that point, said again to him: "And what hinders us now, sir, if we have a mind to be merry, and entertain one another, since we have at hand without trouble all those necessary things, to which through much blood and great labour, and infinite hazards and mischief done to ourselves and to others, we design at last to arrive?"
Such reasonings rather troubled Pyrrhus with the thought of the happiness he was quitting, than in any way altered his purpose, he being unable to abandon the hopes of what he so much desired.
So he sent Cineas before him unto the Tarentines, with three thousand footmen: and afterwards the Tarentines having sent him great store of flat-bottoms, galleys, and of all sorts of passenger vessels, he shipped into them twenty elephants, three thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen, two thousand archers, and five hundred "slingers."
All being thus in readiness, he set sail, and being halfway over, was driven by the wind, blowing, contrary to the season of the year, violently from the north; and carried from his course; but by the great skill and resolution of his pilots and seamen, he made the coast of Italy with infinite labour, and beyond expectation. Howbeit the rest of his fleet were violently dispersed here and there, whereof some of them failing their course into Italy, were driven into the sea; others, not able to double the cape of Japygium, were overtaken by night; and with a boisterous and heavy sea, throwing them upon a dangerous and rocky shore, they were all very much disabled except the royal galley. She, while the sea bore upon her sides, resisted with their bulk and strength, and avoided the force of it, till the wind coming about, blew directly in their teeth from the shore, and the vessel, keeping up with her head against it, was in danger of going to pieces; yet on the other hand to suffer themselves to be driven off to sea again, which was thus raging and tempestuous, with the wind shifting about every way, seemed to them the most dreadful of all their present evils. Pyrrhus, rising up, threw himself overboard.
His friends and guards strove eagerly who should be most ready to help him, but night and the sea, with its noise and violent surge, made it extremely difficult to do this; so that hardly, when with the morning the wind began to subside, he got ashore, breathless and weakened in body; but with high courage and strength of mind resisting his hard fortune. Moreover, the Messapians (upon whose coast the storm had cast him) ran out to help him, and diligently laboured in all they could possible to save him, and received also certain of his ships that had escaped, in which were a few horsemen, about two thousand footmen, and two elephants. With these Pyrrhus marched straight to Tarentum, where Cineas, being informed of his arrival, led out the troops to meet him.
Reading for Lesson Six
Now when he was come to Tarentum, at the first he would do nothing by force, nor against the goodwill of the inhabitants: until such time as his ships that had escaped the dangers of the sea were all arrived, and the greatest part of his army come together again.
But when he had all his army he looked for, seeing that the people, unless some strong compulsion was used to them, were not capable either of saving others or being saved themselves, and were rather intending, while he engaged for them in the field, to remain at home, bathing and feasting themselves. So he first shut up the places of public exercise, where they were wont to walk and disport themselves in any kind of exercise, and as they walked, to talk of wars, as it were, in pastime, and to fight with words, but not to come to the blows. He prohibited likewise all festivals, revels, and drinking-parties as unseasonable, and summoning them to arms, showed himself vigorous and inflexible in carrying out the conscription for service in the war; insomuch as there were many (which, unacquainted with such rough handling and government) forsook the city altogether, calling it a bondage not to have liberty to live at their pleasure.
Pyrrhus now received intelligence that Laevinus, the Roman consul, was upon his march with a great army, and plundering Lucania as he went. The confederate forces were not come up to him, yet he thought it impossible to suffer so near an approach of an enemy, and drew out with his army. Howbeit he sent an herald before to the Romans, to understand of them if (before they entered into this war) they could be content that the controversies they had with all the Italian Greeks might be decided by justice, and therein if they would refer themselves to his arbitrament and mediation. But Laevinus answered that the Romans would never allow him for a judge, neither did they fear him for an enemy.
Pyrrhus advanced, and encamped in the plain between the cities of Pandosia and Heraclea, and having notice that the Romans were near, and lay on the other side of the river Siris, he rode up to take a view of them; and seeing their order, the appointment of their watches, their method and the general form of their encampment, he was amazed, and addressing one of his friends next to him: "This order of the barbarians, Megacles," said he, "is not at all barbarian in character; but we shall shortly prove their force"; and growing a little more thoughtful of the event, resolved to expect the arriving of the confederate troops.
And to hinder the Romans, if in the meantime they should endeavour to pass the river, he planted men all along the bank to oppose them. But they, hastening to anticipate the coming up of the same forces which he had determined to wait for, attempted the passage with their infantry, where it was fordable, and with the horse in several places, so that the Greeks, fearing to be surrounded, were obliged to retreat; and Pyrrhus, perceiving this, and being much surprised, bade his foot officers draw their men up in line of battle, and continue in arms, while he himself with three thousand horse advanced, hoping to attack the Romans as they were coming over, scattered and disordered.
But when he saw a vast number of shields appearing above the water, and the horse following them in good order, gathering his men in a close body, himself at the head of them, he began the charge, conspicuous by his rich and beautiful armour, and letting it be seen that his reputation had not outgone what he was able effectually to perform. While exposing his hands and body in the fight, and bravely repelling all that engaged him, he still guided the battle with a steady and undisturbed reason, and such presence of mind, as if he had been out of the action and watching it from a distance, quietly and discreetly gave orders for everything, riding to and fro, to defend and encourage his men, in those places where he saw them in most distress.
Leonnatus the Macedonian, observing one of the Italians very intent upon Pyrrhus, riding up towards him, and changing places as he did, and moving as he moved: "Do you see, sir," said he, "that barbarian on the black horse with white feet? He seems to be one that designs some great and dangerous thing, for he looks constantly at you, and fixes his whole attention, full of vehement purpose, on you alone, taking no notice of others. Be on your guard, sir, against him." "Leonnatus," said Pyrrhus, "it is impossible for any man to avoid his fate; but neither he nor any other Italian shall have much satisfaction in engaging with me."
While they were in this discourse, the Italian, lowering his spear and quickening his horse, rode furiously at Pyrrhus, and ran his horse through with his lance; at the same instant Leonnatus ran his through. Both horses falling, Pyrrhus's friends surrounded him and brought him off safe, and killed the Italian, bravely defending himself. He was by birth a Fretanian, captain of a troop, and named Oplacus.
This mischance made King Pyrrhus look the better to himself afterwards; and seeing his horsemen give back, he sent presently to hasten his footmen forward, whom he straight set in order of battle; and delivering his armour and cloak to Megacles, one of his friends; and obscuring himself, as it were, in his, he charged upon the Romans, who received and engaged him; and for a great while the success of the battle remained undetermined; and it is said that there were seven turns of fortune both of pursuing and being pursued. And the change of his arms was very opportune for the safety of his person, but had like to have overthrown his cause and lost him the victory; for several of the enemy falling upon Megacles, the first that gave him his mortal wound was one Dexous, who, snatching away his helmet and his robe, rode at once to Laevinus, holding them up, crying out aloud that he had slain Pyrrhus.
These spoils being carried about and shown among the ranks, the Romans were transported with joy, and shouted aloud; while equal discouragement and terror prevailed among the Greeks, until Pyrrhus, understanding what had happened, rode about the army with his face bare, holding up his hand to his soldiers, and giving them to understand with his own voice, that it was himself.
The elephants in the end were they indeed that won the battle, and did most distress the Romans: for, their horses seeing them afar off, were sore afraid, and durst not abide them, but carried their masters back in despite of them. Pyrrhus at the sight thereof, made his Thessalian horsemen to give a charge upon them whilst they were in this disorder, and that so lustily, as they made the Romans flee, and sustain great slaughter. For Dionysius writeth that there died few less than fifteen thousand Romans at that battle. But Hieronymus speaketh only of seven thousand. And of Pyrrhus' side, Dionysius writeth, there were slain thirteen thousand. But Hieronymus sayeth less than four thousand: howbeit they were all of the best men of his army, and those whom most he trusted.
King Pyrrhus presently hereupon also took the Romans' camp, which they forsook, and won many of their cities from their alliance, spoiled and overcame much of their country, and in fact he came within six and thirty miles of Rome itself. Many of the Lucanians and Samnites came and joined him, whom he rebuked because they came too late to the battle. Howbeit a man might easily see in his face that he was not a little glad and proud to have overthrown so great an army of the Romans, with his own men and the aid of the Tarentines only.
Reading for Lesson Seven
The Romans did not remove Laevinus from the consulship; though it is told that Gaius Fabricius said openly that it was not the Epirots that had overcome the Romans, but Pyrrhus that had overcome Laevinus: insinuating that their loss was not through want of valour but of conduct; but they filled up their legions, and enlisted fresh men with all speed, talking high and boldly of war, which struck Pyrrhus with amazement. Whereat Pyrrhus, marvelling much, thought good first to send to the Romans, to prove if they would give any ear to an offer of peace, knowing right well that the winning of the city of Rome was no easy matter to compass, or attain, with that strength he presently had; and also that it would be greatly to his glory if he could bring them to peace after this, his valiant victory.
Cineas was despatched away, and applied himself to several of the great ones, with presents for themselves and their ladies from the king; but not a person would receive any, and answered, as well men as women, that if an agreement were publicly concluded, they also should be ready, for their parts, to express their regard to the king. And Cineas, discoursing with the Senate in the most persuasive and obliging manner in the world, yet was not heard with kindness or inclination, although Pyrrhus offered also to return all the prisoners he had taken in the fight, without ransom, and promised his assistance for the entire conquest of all Italy, asking only their friendship for himself, and security for the Tarentines, and nothing further. Nevertheless, most were well inclined to a peace, having already received one great defeat, and fearing another from an additional force of the native Italians, now joining with Pyrrhus.
But Appius Claudius, a famous man, who came no more to the Senate, nor dealt in matters of state at all by reason of his age, and partly because he was blind: when he understood of King Pyrrhus' offers, and of the common bruit that ran through the city, how the Senate were in mind to agree to the capitulations of peace propounded by Cineas, he could not abide, but caused his servants to carry him in his chair upon their arms unto the Senate door, his sons, and sons-in-law taking him in their arms, carried him so into the Senate house. The Senate made silence to honour the coming in of so notable and worthy a personage: and he, so soon as they had set him in his seat, began to speak in this sort:
Hitherunto with great impatience (my Lords of Rome) have I borne the loss of my sight, but now, I would I were also as deaf as I am blind, that I might not (as I do) hear the report of your dishonourable consultations determined upon in Senate, which tend to subvert the glorious fame and reputation of Rome. What is now become of all your great and mighty brags you blazed abroad, through the whole world? that if Alexander the Great himself had come into Italy, in the time that our fathers had been in the flower of their age, and we in the prime of our youth, they would not have said everywhere that he was altogether invincible, as now at this present they do: but either he should have left his body slain here in battle, or at the least wise have been driven to flee, and by his death or flying should greatly have enlarged the renown and glory of Rome? You plainly show it now, that all these words spoken then were but vain and arrogant vaunts of foolish pride. Considering that you tremble for fear of the Molossians and Chaonians, who were ever a prey to the Macedonians: and that ye are afraid of Pyrrhus also, who all his lifetime served and followed one of the guard unto Alexander the Great, and now is come to make wars in these parts, not to aid the Grecians inhabiting in Italy, but to flee from his enemies there about his own country, offering you to conquer all the rest of Italy with an army, wherewith he was nothing able to keep a small part of Macedon only for himself. And therefore you must not persuade yourselves, that in making peace with him, you shall thereby be rid of him: but rather shall you draw others to come and set upon you besides.
When Appius had done, eagerness for the war seized on every man, and Cineas was dismissed with this answer, that when Pyrrhus had withdrawn his forces out of Italy, then, if he pleased, they would treat with him about friendship and alliance; but while he stayed there in arms, they were resolved to prosecute the war against him with all their force, though he should have defeated a thousand Laevinuses.
It is said that Cineas, while he was managing this affair, made it his business carefully to inspect the manners of the Romans, and to understand their methods of government, and having conversed with their noblest citizens, he afterwards told Pyrrhus, among other things, that the Senate seemed to him an assembly of kings; and as for the people, he feared lest it might prove that they were fighting with a Lernaean hydra, for the consul had already raised twice as large an army as the former, and there were many times over the same number of Romans able to bear arms.
Then Gaius Fabricius came in embassy from the Romans to treat about the prisoners that were taken; he was one whom Cineas had reported to be a man of highest consideration among them as an honest man and a good soldier, but extremely poor. Pyrrhus received him with much kindness, and privately would have persuaded him to accept of his gold, not for any evil purpose, but calling it a mark of respect and hospitable kindness. Fabricius would have none of his gift: so Pyrrhus left him for that time.
Notwithstanding, the next morning, thinking to fear him, because he had never seen elephants before, Pyrrhus commanded his men that, when they saw Fabricius and him talking together, they should bring one of his greatest elephants, and set him hard by them, behind a hanging; which being done at a certain sign by Pyrrhus given, suddenly the hanging was pulled back, and the elephant with his trunk was over Fabricius's head, and gave a terrible and fearful cry. Fabricius softly giving back, nothing afraid, laughed and said to Pyrrhus, smiling, "Neither did your gold, O King, yesterday move me, nor your elephant today fear me."
At supper, amongst all sorts of things that were discoursed of, but more particularly Greece and the philosophers there. Cineas, by accident, had occasion to speak of Epicurus, and explained the opinions his followers hold about the gods and the commonwealth, and the objects of life, placing the chief happiness of man in pleasure, and declining public affairs as an injury and disturbance of a happy life, removing the gods afar off both from kindness or anger, or any concern for us at all, to a life wholly without business and flowing in pleasures. But as he still continued this discourse, Fabricius cried out aloud, and said: "The gods grant that Pyrrhus and the Samnites were of such opinions, as long as they had wars against us."
Pyrrhus marvelling much at the constancy and magnanimity of this man, was more desirous by a great deal to have peace with the Romans than before. And he privately prayed Fabricius very earnestly, that he would treat for peace, whereby he might afterwards come and remain with him, saying that he would give him the chief place of honour about him, amongst all his friends. Whereunto Fabricius answered him softly: "That were not good, O King, for yourself," quoth he, "for your men that presently do honour and esteem you, by experience if they once knew me, would rather choose me for their king than yourself."
Such was Fabricius' talk, whose words Pyrrhus took not in ill part, neither was offended with them at all, as a tyrant would have been: but did himself report to his friends and familiars the noble mind he found in him, and entrusted the prisoners to him alone, on condition that if the Senate should not vote a peace, after they had conversed with their friends and celebrated the festival of Saturn, they should be remanded. And, accordingly, they were sent back after the holidays, it being decreed pain of death for any that stayed behind.
[Omitted for length: Gaius Fabricius did Pyrrhus a favour by uncovering a plot by his own physician to poison him. In thanks, Pyrrhus sent home the Roman prisoners of war (seemingly without conditions). But the Romans preferred not to owe any favours to an enemy who refused to leave Italy, and so they sent the same number of prisoners back to the Epirots.]
Reading for Lesson Eight>
Wherefore Pyrrhus seeing no remedy but that he must needs fight another battle: after he had somewhat refreshed his army, he decamped, and met the Romans about the city Asculum; where, however, he was incommoded by a woody country unfit for his horse, and a swift river, so that the elephants, for want of sure treading, could not get up with the infantry. After many were wounded and killed, night put an end to the engagement.
Next day, designing to make the fight on even ground, and have the elephants among the thickest of the enemy, he caused a detachment to possess themselves of those incommodious grounds; and, mixing slingers and archers among the elephants, with full strength and courage, he advanced in a close and well-ordered body. The Romans, not having those advantages of retreating and falling on as they pleased, which they had before, were obliged to fight man to man upon plain ground; and, being anxious to drive back the infantry before the elephants could get up, they fought fiercely with their swords among the Macedonian spears, not sparing themselves, thinking only to wound and kill, without regard to what they suffered.
After a long and obstinate fight, the first giving ground is reported to have been where Pyrrhus himself engaged with extraordinary courage; but the Romans were carried away by the overwhelming force of the elephants, not being able to make use of their valour, but overthrown as it were by the eruption of a sea or an earthquake, rather than tarry to be trodden under feet, and overthrown by them, whom they were not able to hurt again, but be by them most grievously martyred, and their troubles thereby yet nothing eased.
The chase was not long, because they fled but into their camp: and Hieronymus the historiographer writeth that there died six thousand men of the Romans, and of Pyrrhus' part about three thousand five hundred and five, as the king's own chronicles do witness. Nevertheless, Dionysius makes no mention of two battles given near unto the city of Asculum, nor that the Romans were certainly overthrown: howbeit he confirmeth that there was one battle only that continued until sunset, and that they scarcely severed also when night was come on, Pyrrhus being hurt on the arm with a spear, and his carriage robbed and spoiled by the Samnites; and that in all there died of Pyrrhus's men and the Romans above fifteen thousand.
The armies separated; and some say that it was at that time Pyrrhus answered one who rejoiced with him for the victory they had won: "If we win another of the price," quoth he, "we are utterly undone."
For indeed then had he lost the most part of his army he brought with him out of his realm, and all his friends and captains, and there were no others there to make recruits, and he perceived also that the confederates he had in Italy began to wax cold. Whereas the Romans to the contrary, did easily renew their army with fresh soldiers, which they caused to come from Rome as need required (much like unto a lively spring, the head whereof they had at home in their country), and they fainted not at all for any losses they received, but rather were they so much the more hotly bent, stoutly determining to abide out the wars, whatever betide.
And thus whilst Pyrrhus was troubled in this sort, new hopes, and new enterprises were offered unto him, that made him doubtful what to do. For at the same time some persons arrived from Sicily, offering into his hands the cities of Agrigentum, Syracuse, and Leontini; and begging his assistance to drive out the Carthaginians and rid the island of tyrants; and others brought him news out of Greece that Ptolemy, called Ceraunus (#3), was slain in a fight, and his army cut in pieces by the Gauls; and that now, above all others, was his time to offer himself to the Macedonians, in great need of a king. Complaining much of Fortune for bringing him so many occasions of great things all together at a time, and thinking that to have both offered to him was to lose one of them, he was doubtful, balancing in his thoughts. But the affairs of Sicily seeming to hold out the greater prospects, Africa lying so near, he turned himself to them; and presently despatched away Cineas, as he used to do, to make terms beforehand with the cities.
Then he placed a garrison in Tarentum, much to the Tarentines' discontent, who required him either to perform what he came for, and continue with them in a war against the Romans, or leave the city as he found it. He returned no pleasing answer, but commanded them to be quiet and attend his time, and so sailed away.
Being arrived in Sicily, what he had designed in his hopes was confirmed effectually, and the cities frankly surrendered to him; and wherever his arms and force were necessary, nothing at first made any considerable resistance. For advancing with thirty thousand foot, and twenty-five hundred horse, and two hundred ships, he totally routed the Phoenicians, and overran their whole province; and Eryx being the strongest town they held, and having a great garrison in it, he resolved to take it by storm.
The army being in readiness to give the assault, he put on his arms, and coming to the head of his men made a vow of plays and sacrifices in honour to Hercules, if he signalized himself in that day's action before the Greeks that dwelt in Sicily, as became his great descent and his fortunes.
The sign being given by sound of trumpet, he first scattered the barbarians with his shot, and then brought his ladders to the wall, and was the first that mounted upon it himself. The enemy appearing in great numbers, he beat them back; some he threw down from the walls on each side, others he laid dead in a heap round about him with his sword, nor did he receive the least wound; but by his very aspect inspired terror in the enemy; and gave a clear demonstration that Homer was in the right, and pronounced according to the truth of fact, that fortitude alone, of all the virtues, is wont to display itself in divine transports and frenzies. The city being taken, he offered to Hercules most magnificently, and exhibited all varieties of shows and plays.
There dwelt a barbarous people at that time about Messina, called the Mamertines, who did much hurt to the Grecians thereabouts, making many of them pay tax and tribute [omission]. Pyrrhus led his army against them, and overthrew them in battle: and put their collectors to death, that did levy and exact the tax, and razed many of their fortresses.
And when the Carthaginians required peace and his friendship, offering him ships and money: he made them a short answer, that there was but one way to make peace and love between them: if they, wholly abandoning Sicily, would consent to make the African sea the limit between them and the Greeks. And being elevated with his good fortune, and the strength of his forces, and pursuing those hopes in prospect of which he first sailed thither, his immediate aim was at Africa; and as he had abundance of shipping, but was very ill equipped, he collected seamen, not by fair and gentle dealing with the cities, but by force in a haughty and insolent way, and menacing them with punishments. This he did not do at his first coming, but contrarily had won all their good wills, speaking more courteously to them than any other did, and showing that he trusted them altogether, and troubled them in nothing. But suddenly being altered from a popular prince unto a violent tyrant, he was not only thought cruel and rigorous, but that worst of all, unfaithful and ungrateful.
Reading for Lesson Nine
However, they gave way to these things as necessary, although they took them very ill from him; and especially when he began to show suspicion of Thinion and Sosistratus, men of the first position in Syracuse, who had invited him over into Sicily; and when he was come, put the cities into his power, and were most instrumental in all he had done there since his arrival; but whom he now would neither suffer to be about his person, nor leave at home; and when Sosistratus out of fear withdrew himself, he then charged Thinion, as in a conspiracy with the other, and put him to death.
Then all things fell out against Pyrrhus, not one after another, nor by little and little, but all together at one instant, and all the cities generally hated him to the death, and did again some of them confederate with the Carthaginians, and others with the Mamertines, to set upon him.
And seeing revolts in all places, and desires of alteration, and a potent faction against him, at the same time he received letters from the Samnites and Tarentines, by which they advertised him how they had much ado to defend themselves within their cities and strongholds, and that they were wholly driven out of the field: wherefore they earnestly besought him speedily to come to their aid. This served as a colour to make his relinquishing Sicily no flight, nor a despair of good success; but true it was indeed, that when he saw he could no longer keep it than a ship could stand still among the waves, and desired to be out of her, he suddenly threw himself over into Italy.
Nevertheless, at his departure out of Sicily, they say that looking back upon the isle, he said to those that were about him: "O what a goodly field for a battle, my friends, do we leave to the Romans and Carthaginians, to fight the one with the other?" And verily so it fell out shortly after, as he had spoken.
When he was sailing off, the barbarians having conspired together, he was forced to a fight with the Carthaginians in the very road, and lost many of his ships; with the rest he fled into Italy. There, about one thousand Mamertines, who had crossed the sea a little before, though afraid to engage him in open field, set upon him where the passages were difficult, and disordered all his army. They slew two of his elephants, and cut off a great number of his rearward forces. Pyrrhus, therefore, coming up in person, repulsed the enemy, but ran into great danger among men long trained and bold in war. His being wounded in the head with a sword, and retiring a little out of the fight, much increased their confidence; and one of them advancing a good way before the rest, large of body and in bright armour, challenged him with a haughty voice to come forth if he were alive. Pyrrhus, in great anger, broke away violently from his guards and, in his fury, besmeared with blood, terrible to look upon, made his way through his own men, and struck the barbarian on the head with his sword such as a blow, as with the strength of his army, and the excellent temper of the weapon, passed downward so far that his body, being cut asunder, fell in two pieces.
This stopped the course of the barbarians, amazed and confounded at Pyrrhus, as one who seemed more than man; so that continuing his march all the rest of the way undisturbed, he arrived at Tarentum with twenty thousand foot and three thousand horse. And there, reinforcing himself with the choicest troops of the Tarentines, he advanced immediately against the Romans, who then lay encamped in the territories of the Samnites, which were then in very hard state. For their hearts were killed, because that in many battles and encounters with the Romans, they were ever overthrown. They were very angry besides with Pyrrhus, for that he had forsaken them to go on his voyage unto Sicily, by reason whereof there came no great number of soldiers into his camp.
He divided his army into two parts, and despatched the first into Lucania to oppose one of the consuls there (so that he should not come in to assist the other consul). The rest he led against Manius Curius, who had posted himself very advantageously near Beneventum, and expected the other consul's forces; and who, partly because the priests had dissuaded him by unfavourable omens, was resolved to remain inactive. Pyrrhus, hastening to attack these before the other could arrive, with his best men, and the most serviceable elephants, marched in the night toward their camp. But being forced to go round about, and through a very woody country, their lights failed them, and the soldiers lost their way.
A council of war being called, while they were in debate, the night was spent, and at the break of day, his approach, as he came down the hills, was discovered by the enemy, and put the whole camp into disorder and tumult. Nevertheless Manius having had the signs of the sacrifices favourable, and seeing that occasion did press him to it, went out into the field, and set upon the voward of his enemies, and made them turn their backs. This put the whole army into such consternation that there were slain a great number of them in the field, and certain elephants also taken.
This success drew Manius down into the level plain; and here, in open battle, he (Manius) defeated part of the enemy; but, in other quarters, finding himself overpowered by the elephants and forced back to his trenches, he commanded out those who were left to guard them, a numerous body, standing thick at the ramparts, all in arms and fresh. These coming down from their strong position, and charging the elephants, forced them to retire; and they in the flight turning back upon their own men, caused great disorder and confusion, and gave into the hands of the Romans the victory and the future supremacy. For the Romans being grown more courageous by this battle, and having increased their force and won the reputation of "men unconquerable": immediately after, they conquered all Italy besides; and soon after that, all Sicily.
Thus fell Pyrrhus from his Italian and Sicilian hopes, after he had consumed six years in these wars; and though unsuccessful in his affairs, yet he preserved his courage unconquerable among all these misfortunes, and was held, for military experience, and personal valour and enterprise, much the bravest of all the princes of his time; only what he got by great actions he lost again by vain hopes, and by new desires of what he had not, kept nothing of what he had. So that Antigonus (#2) used to compare him to a player with dice, who had excellent throws, but knew not how to use them.
Reading for Lesson Ten
Pyrrhus returned into Epirus with eight thousand foot soldiers and five hundred horsemen; and being without money to pay them, he devised with himself to seek out some new war to entertain those soldiers, and keep them together. Some of the Gauls joining him, he invaded Macedonia, where Antigonus (#2), son of Demetrius, governed, designing merely to plunder and waste the country. But after he had made himself master of several towns, and two thousand men came over to him, he began to hope for something greater, and marched upon Antigonus himself; and meeting him at a narrow passage, put the whole army in disorder.
The Gauls, who formed the rear of the Macedonian troops, were very numerous and stood firm; but after a sharp encounter, the greatest part of them were cut off; and they who had the charge of the elephants. being surrounded every way, delivered up both themselves and the beasts. Pyrrhus, taking this advantage, and advising more with his good fortune than his reason, boldly set upon the main body of the Macedonian foot, who were already surprised with fear, and troubled at the former loss. They declined any action or engagement with him; and he, holding out his hand and calling the captains of the bands by their names, straightways made all the footmen of Antigonus turn wholly to his side. Antigonus, fleeing, saved himself with a few horsemen, and kept certain of the cities in his realm upon the sea coast.
Pyrrhus, among all these kindnesses of Fortune, thinking what he had effected against the Gauls most advantageous for his glory, hung up their richest and goodliest spoils in the temple of Minerva Itonis, with an inscription [omission].
After this victory in the field, he proceeded to secure the cities of Macedon; and having possessed himself of Aegae, besides other hardships put upon the people there, he left in the town a garrison of Gauls, which he had in pay. These, being insatiably desirous of wealth, instantly dug up the tombs of the kings that lay buried there, took away all the gold and silver they could find, and afterwards with great insolency cast out their bones into the open wind.
Pyrrhus was told of it, but he lightly passed it over, and made no reckoning of it: either because he deferred it till another time by reason of the wars he had then in hand: or else for that he dared not meddle with punishing of these barbarous people at that time. But whatsoever the matter was, the Macedonians were very angry with Pyrrhus, and blamed him greatly for it.
Furthermore, having not yet made all things sure in Macedon, nor being fully possessed of the same, he began to entertain new hopes and projects, and in raillery called Antigonus (#2) a shameless man for still wearing his purple and not changing it for an ordinary dress; but upon Cleonymus arriving and inviting him to Lacedaemon, he frankly embraced the overture. Cleonymus was of royal descent, but seeming too arbitrary and absolute, had no great respect nor credit at home; and Areus was king there [omission]. He brought Pyrrhus to Sparta with an army of twenty-five thousand foot, two thousand horse, and twenty-four elephants: by which preparation, though by nothing else, the world might plainly see that Pyrrhus came with a mind not to restore Cleonymus again unto Sparta, but of intent to conquer for himself (if he could) all the country of Peloponnesus. For in words he denied it to the Lacedaemonians themselves, who sent ambassadors unto him when he was in the city of Megalopolis, where he told them that he was come into Peloponnesus to set the towns and cities at liberty which Antigonus kept in bondage; and that his true intent and meaning was to send his young sons into Sparta so they might be trained after the Laconian manner, and from their youth have this advantage above all other kings, to have been well brought up.
[omission for length]
He now marched away directly for Lacedaemon, and being advised by Cleonymus to give the assault as soon as he arrived, fearing, as it is said, lest the soldiers, entering by night, should plunder the city; he answered that they might do it as well next morning, because there were but few soldiers in town, and those unprovided against his sudden approach, as Areus was not there in person, but gone to aid the Gortynians in Crete. And it was this alone that saved the town, because he despised it as not tenable, and so imagined no defense would be made.
Pyrrhus camped before the town, thoroughly persuaded with himself that he should find none to fight with him: and Cleonymus's friends and servants also did prepare his lodging there, as if Pyrrhus should have come to supper to him, and lodged with him.
When night was come, the Lacedaemonians counselled together, and secretly determined to send away their wives and little children into Crete. But the women themselves were against it, and there was one among them called Archidamia, who went into the Senate house with a sword in her hand, to speak unto them in the name of all the rest, and said that they did their wives great wrong, if they thought them so fainthearted as to live after Sparta were destroyed.
It was next resolved to draw a trench in a line directly over against the enemy's camp, and, here and there in it, to bury carts in the ground, unto the midst of the wheels, that, so being firmly fixed, they might obstruct the passage of the elephants. And when they had just begun the work, there came wives and maids unto them, some of them with their clothes girt up round about them, and others all in their smocks, to work at this trench with the old men, advising the young men that should fight the next morning to rest themselves in the meanwhile. So the women took the third part of the trench to task, which was six cubits broad, four cubits deep, and eight hundred feet long, as Philarchus sayeth: or a little less, as Hieronymus writeth.
Then when the break of day appeared, and the enemies removed to come to the assault: the women themselves fetched the weapons which they put into the young men's hands, and delivered them the task of the trench readymade, which they before had undertaken, praying them valiantly to keep and defend it, telling them withal, how great a pleasure it is to overcome the enemies, fighting in view and sight of their native country, and what great felicity and honour it is to die in the arms of his mother and wife, after he hath fought valiantly like an honest man, and worthy of the magnanimity of Sparta.
Reading for Lesson Eleven
Pyrrhus himself advanced with his footmen to force through the shields of the Spartans ranged against him; and to get over the trench, which was scarce passable, because the looseness of the fresh earth afforded no firm footing for the soldiers. Ptolemy (#2), his son, with two thousand Gauls, and some choice men of the Chaonians went around the trench, and endeavoured to get over where the carts were: which, being set very deep into the ground, and one joined unto another, they did not only hinder the assailants, but the defendants also. Yet now the Gauls had got the wheels out of the ground, and were drawing off the carts toward the river, when young Acrotatus, King Areus's son, seeing the danger, ran through the city with a troop of three hundred lusty youths besides, and went to enclose Ptolemy behind before he espied him, for that he passed a secret hollow way till he came even to give the charge upon them: whereby they were enforced to turn their faces towards him. And thrusting one another into the ditch, and falling among the carts, at last with much loss, not without difficulty, they withdrew. The elderly men and all the women saw this brave action of Acrotatus, and when he returned back into the town to his first post, all covered with blood, and fierce, and elated with victory, he seemed to the Spartan women to have become taller and more beautiful than before [omission for content].
Where Pyrrhus himself fought was the hottest of the action and many of the Spartans did gallantly, but in particular one Phyllius signalized himself, made the best resistance, and killed the most assailants; and when he found himself ready to sink with the many wounds he had received, retiring a little out of his place behind another, he fell down among his fellow-soldiers, that the enemy might not carry off his body.
The fight ended with the day; and Pyrrhus, in his sleep, dreamed that he drew thunderbolts upon Lacedaemon, and set it all on fire, and rejoiced at the sight; and waking, in this transport of joy, he commanded his officers to get all things ready for a second assault. Pyrrhus related his dream among his friends, supposing it to mean that he should take the town by storm. The rest assented to it with admiration, but Lysimachus was not pleased with the dream, and told him he feared lest as places struck with lightning are held sacred, and not to be trodden upon, so the gods might by this let him know the city should not be taken. Pyrrhus replied that all these things were but idle talk, full of uncertainty, and only fit to amuse the vulgar; their thought, with their swords in their hands, should always be--
The one good omen is King Pyrrhus's cause,
and so he got up, and drew out his army to the walls by break of day.
On the other side also, the Lacedaemonians with a marvellous courage and magnanimity, far greater than their force, bestirred themselves wonderfully to make resistance, having their wives by them that gave them their weapons wherewith they fought, and were ready at hand to give meat and drink to them that needed, and did also withdraw those that were hurt to cure them. The Macedonians, for their part, endeavoured with all their might to fill up the trench with wood and other things, which they cast upon the dead bodies lying in the bottom of the ditch. While the Lacedaemonians opposed this with all their force, Pyrrhus, in person, appeared on their side of the trench, pressing on horseback toward the city; at which the men who had that post were calling out, and the women shrieking and running about, while Pyrrhus violently pushed on, and beat down all that disputed his way. His horse received a shot in the belly from a Cretan arrow; and, in his convulsions as he died, threw off Pyrrhus on slippery and steep ground. And all about him being in confusion at this, the Lacedaemonians came boldly up, and making good use of their missiles, forced them off again.
After this, Pyrrhus caused the assault to cease, hoping the Lacedaemonians in the end would yield, considering there were many of them slain in the two days past, and all the rest in manner hurt. Howbeit, the good fortune of the city, either satisfied with the experiment upon the bravery of the citizens, or willing to prove how much even in the last extremities such interposition may effect, brought, when the Lacedaemonians had now but very slender hopes left, Ameinias the Phocian, one of Antigonus's commanders, from Corinth, to their assistance, with a force of mercenaries; and they were no sooner received into the town, but Areus their king arrived there himself, too, from Crete, with two thousand men more. The women upon this went all home to their houses, making their reckoning that they should not need any more to trouble themselves with wars; and they also were sent back who, though not of military age, were by necessity forced to take arms, while the rest prepared to fight Pyrrhus.
Pyrrhus, understanding that new supplies were come, was possessed with a more eager desire and ambition than before to make himself master of the town; but his designs not succeeding, and receiving fresh losses every day, he gave over the siege, and fell to plundering the country, determining to winter thereabouts.
He could not for all this avoid his destiny. For there rose a sedition in the city of Argos between two of the chiefest citizens, Aristeas and Aristippus: and because Aristeas thought that Antigonus (#2) did favour his enemy Aristippus, he made haste to send first unto Pyrrhus, whose nature and disposition was such that he did continually heap hope upon hope, ever taking the present prosperity for an occasion to hope after greater to come. And if it fell out he was a loser, then he sought to recover himself, and to restore his loss by some other new attempts. So that neither for being conqueror, nor overcome, he would ever be quiet, but always troubled someone, and himself also: by reason whereof, he suddenly departed towards Argos.
But King Areus, having laid ambushes for him in diverse places, and occupied also the straitest and hardest passages, by the which he (Pyrrhus) was to pass; he (Areus) gave a charge upon the Gauls and Molossians, which were in the tail of Pyrrhus's army. The fray was very hot about Ptolemy, Pyrrhus' son, for they were all the chief men of the Lacedaemonians with whom he had to do, led by a valiant captain called Eualcus. But as he fought valiantly against those that stood before him, there was a soldier of Crete called Oroissus, born in the city of Aptera, a man very ready of his hand, and light of foot, who running alongst by him, struck him such a blow on his side, that he fell down dead in the place.
Prince Ptolemy being slain, his company began straight to flee: and the Lacedaemonians followed the chase so hotly, that they took no heed of themselves, until they saw they were in the plain field far from their footmen. Wherefore, Pyrrhus unto whom the death of his son was newly reported, being afire with sorrow and passion, turned suddenly upon them, with the men of arms of the Molossians, and being the first that came unto them, made a marvellous slaughter among them. For, notwithstanding that everywhere before that time he was terrible and invincible, having his sword in his hand: yet then he did show more proof of his valiantness, strength, and courage than he had ever done before.
On his riding his horse up to Eualcus, Eualcus turned on the toe side and gave Pyrrhus such a blow with his sword, that he missed little the cutting off of his bridle hand: for he cut indeed all the reins of the bridle asunder. But Pyrrhus straight ran him through the body with his spear, and lighting off from his horse, he put all the troop of the Lacedaemonians to the sword that were about the body of Eualcus, being all chosen men. Thus the ambition of the captains was the cause of that loss unto their country for nothing, considering that the wars against them were ended.
But Pyrrhus having now, as it were, made sacrifice of these poor bodies of the Lacedaemonians for the soul of his dead son, and fought thus wonderfully also to honour his funerals, converting a great part of his sorrow for his death into anger and wrath against the enemies: he afterwards held on his way directly towards Argos.
And understanding that Antigonus (#2) had already seized the hills that were over the valley, he lodged near unto the city of Nauplia: and the next morning following sent a herald unto Antigonus, and gave him defiance, calling him a wicked man; and challenged him to come down into the valley to fight with him, to try which of the two should be king. Antigonus made him answer that he made wars as much with time as with weapons; and furthermore, that if Pyrrhus were weary of his life, he had ways open enough to put himself to death.
The citizens of Argos also sent ambassadors unto them both to pray them to depart, since they knew that there was nothing for them to see in the city of Argos, and that they would let it be a neuter, and friend unto them both. King Antigonus agreed unto it, and gave them his son for hostage. Pyrrhus also made them fair promise to do so too, but because he gave no caution nor sufficient pledge to perform it, they mistrusted him the more.
Reading for Lesson Twelve
Pyrrhus then coming hard to the walls of Argos in the night, and finding one of the gates, called Diamperes, opened by Aristeas, he put in his Gauls: who possessed the marketplace before the citizens knew anything of it. But because the gate was too low to pass the elephants through with their towers upon their backs, they (the Gauls) were driven to take them off, and afterwards when they were within, to put them on in the dark, and in tumult: by reason whereof they lost much time, so that the citizens in the end perceived it, and ran incontinently unto the castle of Aspides, and into other strong places of the city. And therewithal, they sent with present speed unto Antigonus (#2), to pray him to come and help them; and so he did. And after he was come hard to the walls, he remained without with the scouts, and in the meantime sent his son with his chiefest captains into the town, who brought a great number of good soldiers and men of war with them.
At the same time also arrived Areus, king of Sparta, with a thousand of the Cretans, and the most lusty Spartans: all which joining together, came to give a charge upon the Gauls that were in the marketplace, who put them in a marvellous fear and hazard.
[Omitted for length: the Gauls had some trouble finding their way around town in the dark, and decided to wait for daylight before doing anything else. When Pyrrhus entered the marketplace at dawn, the sight of a sculpture that seemed to be a bad omen disturbed him.]
Pyrrhus being half discouraged with the sight of this, and also because nothing fell out well according to his expectation, thought best to retire; but fearing the straitness of the gates of the city, he sent a message unto his son Helenus, whom he had left outside the city with the greatest part of his force and army, commanding him to overthrow a piece of the wall that his men might the more readily get out, and that he might receive them, if their enemies by chance did hinder their coming out.
But the messenger whom he sent was so hasty and fearful, with the tumult that troubled him in going out, that he did not well understand what Pyrrhus said unto him, but reported his message quite contrary. Whereupon the young Prince Helenus, taking the best soldiers he had with him, and the rest of his elephants, entered into the city to help his father, who was now giving back; and so long as he had room to fight at ease, retiring still, he valiantly repulsed those that set upon him, turning his face oft unto them. But when he was driven unto the street that went from the marketplace to the gate of the city, he was kept in with his own men that entered at the same gate to help him. But they could not hear when Pyrrhus cried out, and bade them go back, the noise was so great: and though the first had heard him, and would have gone back, yet they that were behind, and did still thrust forward into the press, did not permit them.
Besides this moreover, the biggest of all the elephants by misfortune fell down overthwart the gate, where he, grinding his teeth, did hinder those also that would have come out and given back. Furthermore, another of the elephants that were entered before the city, called Nico (or "Conquering"), seeking his governor that was stricken down to the ground from his back with terrible blows, ran upon them that came back upon him, overthrowing friends and foes one in another's neck, till at the length having found the body of his master slain, he lift[ed] him up from the ground with his trunk, and carrying him upon his two tusks, returned back with great fury, treading all under feet he found in his way.
Thus every man being thronged and crowded up together in this sort, there was not one that could help himself: for it seemed to be a mass and heap of a multitude, and one whole body shut together, which sometimes thrust forward, and sometimes gave back, as the sway went. They fought not so much against their enemies, who set upon them behind: but they did themselves more hurt than their enemies did. For if any drew out his sword, or based his pike, he could neither scabbard the one again, nor lift up the other, but thrust it full upon his own fellows that came in to help them; and so killed themselves, one thrusting upon another.
Wherefore Pyrrhus seeing his people thus troubled and harried to and fro, took his crown from his head, which he wore upon his helmet, that made him known of his men afar off, and gave it unto one of his familiars that was next unto him; and trusting then to the goodness of his horse, flew upon his enemies that followed him.
It fortuned that one hurt him with a pike, but the wound was neither dangerous nor great: wherefore Pyrrhus set upon him that had hurt him, who was an Argian born, a man of mean condition, and a poor old woman's son, whose mother at that present time was gotten up to the top of the tiles of a house, as all other women of the city were, to see the fight. And she, perceiving that it was her son whom Pyrrhus came upon, was so affrighted to see him in that danger, that she took a tile, and with both her hands cast it upon Pyrrhus.
The tile falling off from his head by reason of his headpiece, lighted full in the nape of his neck, and broke his neckbone asunder: wherewith he was suddenly so benumbed, that he lost his sight with the blow, the reins of his bridle fell out of his hand, and himself fell from his horse to the ground, by Licymmias's tomb, before any man knew who he was, at the least the common people. Until at the last there came one Zopyrus, that was in pay with Antigonus, and two or three other soldiers also that ran straight to the place, and knowing him, dragged his body into a gate, even as he was coming again to himself out of this trance. This Zopyrus drew out a sword he wore by his side, to strike off his head [and did so, although with some difficulty].
By this time, what had happened was known to a great many; and Alcyoneus, hastening to the place, desired to look upon the head, and see whether he knew it. But when he had it, he ran presently unto his father withal, and found him talking with his familiar friends, and cast Pyrrhus' head before him. Antigonus looking upon it, when he knew it, laid upon his son with his staff, and called him cruel murderer, and unnatural barbarous beast: and so hiding his eyes with his cloak, wept for pity, remembering the fortune of his grandfather Antigonus (#1), and of his father Demetrius; and then caused Pyrrhus' head and body to be honourably burnt and buried.
After this, Alcyoneus, discovering Helenus under a mean disguise in a threadbare coat, used him very respectfully, and brought him to his father. When Antigonus saw him, he said,
This part now (my son) is better than the first, and pleaseth me a great deal more. But yet thou hast not done all thou shouldst: for thou shouldst have taken from him his beggarly cloak he weareth, which doth more shame us that are the gainers, than him that is the loser.
And treating Helenus with great kindness, and as became a prince, restored him to his kingdom of Epirus, and gave the same obliging reception to all Pyrrhus's principal commanders, his camp and whole army having fallen into his hands.
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus