In War Time

Mithridates at Chios 1


John Greenleaf Whittier

        KNOW’ST THOU, O slave-cursed land
    How, when the Chian’s cup of guilt
        Was full to overflow, there came
        God’s justice in the sword of flame
    That, red with slaughter to its hilt,
Blazed in the Cappadocian victor’s hand?

        The heavens are still and far;
    But, not unheard of awful Jove,
        The sighing of the island slave
        Was answered, when the Ægean wave
    The keels of Mithridates clove,
And the vines shrivelled in the breath of war.

        “Robbers of Chios! hark,”
    The victor cried, “to Heaven’s decree!
        Pluck your last cluster from the vine,
        Drain your last cup of Chian wine;
    Slaves of your slaves, your doom shall be,
In Colchian mines by Phasis rolling dark.”

        Then rose the long lament
    From the hoar sea-god’s dusky caves
        The priestess rent her hair and cried,
        “Woe! woe! The gods are sleepless-eyed!”
        And, chained and scourged, the slaves of slaves,
The lords of Chios into exile went.

        “The gods at last pay well,”
    So Hellas sang her taunting song,
        “The fisher in his net is caught,
        The Chian hath his master bought;”
    And isle from isle, with laughter long,
Took up and sped the mocking parable.

        Once more the slow, dumb years
    Bring their avenging cycle round,
        And, more than Hellas taught of old,
        Our wiser lesson shall be told,
    Of slaves uprising, freedom-crowned,
To break, not wield, the scourge wet with their blood and tears.

1.    It is recorded that the Chians, when subjugated by Mithridates of Cappadocia, were delivered up to their own slaves, to be carried away captive to Colchis. Athenxus considers this a just punishment for their wickedness in first introducing the slave-trade into Greece. From this ancient villany of the Chians the proverb arose, “The Chian hath bought himself a master.”    [back]

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