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Page 10

Joining the Battle

 

    The troops answer with a cheer then join in full chorus in the "Pæan—" a fierce rousing charging-song that makes every faint-heart's blood leap faster. Another pæan bellowed from the hostile ranks indicates that similar preliminaries have been disposed of there. The moment the fierce chorus ends, the general (who probably is at the post of danger and honor—the right wing) nods to his corps of pipers. The shrill flutes cut the air. The whole phalanx starts forward like one man, and the enemy seem springing to meet it. The tossing color, the flashing arms and armor, make it a sight for men and gods. If the enemy has a powerful archery force, as had the Persians at Marathon, then the phalanx is allowed to advance on the run,—for at all costs one must get through the terrible zone of the arrow fire and come to grips; but if their bowmen are weak, the hoplites will be restrained,—it is better not to risk getting the phalanx disorganized. Running or marching the troops will emit a terrible roaring: either the slow deep "A! la! la! la!" or something quicker, "Eluleu!" "Eluleu!" and the flutes will blow all the while to give the time for the marching.

    Closer at hand the two armies will fairly spring into unfriendly embrace. The generals have each measured his enemy's line and extended his own to match it.[13] With files of about equal depth, and well-trained men on both sides, the first stage of the death grapple is likely to be a most fearful yet indecisive pushing: the men of the front ranks pressing against each other, shield to shield, glaring out of their helmets like wild beasts against the foeman three feet away, and lunging with their lances at any opening between the hostile shields or above them. The comrades behind wedge in the front ranks closer and closer. Men are crushed to death, probably without a wound, just by this hellish impact. The shouts and yells emitted are deafening. There is an unearthly clashing of steel weapons on bronze armor. Every now and then a shrill, sharp cry tells where a soldier has been stabbed, and has gone down in the press, probably trampled to death instantly. In this way the two writhing, thrusting phalanxes continue to push on one another at sheer deadlock, until a cool observer might well wonder whether the battle would not end simply with mutual extermination.

 

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