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Anabasis

Page: 58

Cheirisophus made its way down into the plain and encamped in a village filled with good things of divers sorts. Nor did this village stand alone; there were others not a few in this plain of the Tigris equally overflowing with plenty. It was now afternoon; and all of a sudden the enemy came in sight on the plain, and succeeded in cutting down some of the Hellenes belonging to parties who were scattered over the flat land in quest of spoil. Indeed, many herds of cattle had been caught whilst being conveyed across to the other side of the river. And now Tissaphernes and his troops made an attempt to burn the villages, and some of the Hellenes were disposed to take the matter deeply to heart, being apprehensive that they might not know where to get provisions if the enemy burnt the villages.

Cheirisophus and his men were returning from their sally of defence when Xenophon and his party descended, and the latter rode along the ranks as the rescuing party came up, and greeted them thus: "Do you not see, men of Hellas, they admit that the country is now ours; what they stipulated against our doing when they made the treaty, viz. that we were not to fire the king's country, they are now themselves doing—setting fire to it as if it were not their own. But we will be even with them; if they leave provisions for themselves anywhere, there also shall they see us marching;" and, turning to Cheirisophus, he added: "But it strikes me, we should sally forth against these incendiaries and protect our country." Cheirisophus retorted: "That is not quite my view; I say, let us do a little burning ourselves, and they will cease all the quicker."

When they had got back to the villages, while the rest were busy about provisions, the generals and officers met: and here there was deep despondency. For on the one side were exceedingly high mountains; on the other a river of such depth that they failed to reach the bottom with their spears. In the midst of their perplexities, a Rhodian came up with a proposal, as follows: "I am ready, sirs to carry you across, four thousand heavy infantry at a time; if you will furnish me with what I need and give me a talent into the bargain for my pains." When asked, "What shall you need?" he replied: "Two thousand wine-skins. I see there are plenty of sheep and goats and asses. They have only to be flayed, and their skins inflated, and they will readily give us a passage. I shall want also the straps which you use for the baggage animals. With these I shall couple the skins to one another; then I shall moor each skin by attaching stones and letting them down like anchors into the water. Then I shall carry them across, and when I have fastened the links at both ends, I shall place layers of wood on them and a coating of earth on the top of that. You will see in a minute that there's no danger of your drowning, for every skin will be able to support a couple of men without sinking, and the wood and earth will prevent your slipping off."

The generals thought it a pretty invention enough, but its realisation impracticable, for on the other side were masses of cavalry posted and ready to bar the passage; who, to begin with, would not suffer the first detachment of crossers to carry out any item of the programme.

Under these circumstances, the next day they turned right about face, and began retracing their steps in the direction of Babylon to the unburnt villages, having previously set fire to those they left, so that the enemy did not ride up to them, but stood and stared, all agape to see in what direction the Hellenes would betake themselves and what they were minded to do. Here, again, while the rest of the soldiers were busy about provisions, the generals and officers met in council, and after collecting the prisoners together, submitted them to a cross-examination touching the whole country round, the names, and so forth, of each district.


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