The Story of the Greeks
Page: 81They had no leaders, no money or provisions, and no guides to show them the way back across the burning sands, deep rivers, and over the mountains. They had nothing, in short, but the armor on their backs and the weapons in their hands.
As they did not even know the language of the country, they could not ask their way; and as they were surrounded by enemies, they must be constantly on their guard lest they should be surprised and taken prisoners or killed. They were indeed in a sorry plight; and no wonder that they all fancied they would never see their homes again. When night came on, they flung themselves down upon the ground without having eaten any supper. Their hearts were so heavy, however, that they[Pg 182] could not sleep, but tossed and moaned in their despair.
In this army there was a pupil of Socrates, called Xenophon. He was a good and brave man. Instead of bewailing his bad luck, as the others did, he tried to think of some plan by which the army might yet be saved, and brought back to Greece.
His night of deep thought was not in vain; and as soon as morning dawned he called his companions together, and begged them to listen to him, as he had found a way of saving them from slavery or death.
Then he explained to them, that, if they were only united and willing, they could form a compact body, and, under a leader of their own choosing, could beat a safe retreat toward the sea.
Xenophon's advice pleased the Greeks. It was far better, they thought, to make the glorious attempt to return home, than basely to surrender their arms, and become the subjects of a foreign king.
They therefore said they would elect a leader, and all chose Xenophon to fill this difficult office. He, however, consented to accept it only upon condition that each soldier would pledge his word of honor to obey him; for he knew that the least disobedience would hinder success, and that in union alone lay strength. The[Pg 183] soldiers understood this too, and not only swore to obey him, but even promised not to quarrel among themselves.
So the little army began its homeward march, tramping bravely over sandy wastes and along rocky pathways. When they came to a river too deep to be crossed by fording, they followed it up toward its source until they could find a suitable place to get over it; and, as they had neither money nor provisions, they were obliged to seize all their food on the way.
The Greeks not only had to overcome countless natural obstacles, but were also compelled to keep up a continual warfare with the Persians who pursued them. Every morning Xenophon had to draw up his little army in the form of a square, to keep the enemy at bay.
They would fight thus until nearly nightfall, when the Persians always retreated, to camp at a distance from the men they feared. Instead of allowing his weary soldiers to sit down and rest, Xenophon would then give orders to march onward. So they tramped in the twilight until it was too dark or they were too tired to proceed any farther.