Of Skilful Archers.
Part 2 of 5
Conftantius was much fkilled in the practice of Archery, and is faid to have ftudied that art in his youth, under the direction of a preceptor.234
Both the Emperor Julian235 and Gratian are characterized as expert Archers. The latter propofed to himfelf the actions of Commodus as examples, and like him, frequently exhibited to the public, the adroitnefs with which he could kill animals, running together in an enclofed place, by his Arrows.236
An anecdote recorded of a perfon, whofe name was After, has immortalized him as one of the moft expert of Archers. He poffeffed fuch fkill with his Bow, that as he faw Philip of Macedon among his troops, he wrote upon an Arrow which he intended to fhoot at that King—" After fends Philip a deadly Arrow ;" and having difcharged it, ftruck the right eye of Philip; but although the wound was not mortal, it deprived him of fight on that fide.237
A very extraordinary, and perhaps in war one of the moft ufeful Archers, is fpoken of by Zofimus, in his account of the battle . between Conftantius and Magentius, at Murfa. This foldier, whofe name was Menelaus, poffeffed the art of fhooting three Arrows from his Bow at one difcharge, and with them could ftrike three different perfons. By this fkilful expedient, fays the hiftorian, he killed a great number of thofe who oppofed him; and the enemy, it might almoft be faid, were defeated by a fingle Archer. Unfortunately, however, this valuable man at laft fell by the hand of Romulus, a general of the army of Magentius, whom he had firft wounded by an Arrow.238
The ftory of William Tell is perfectly known, and in the mouth of every one; I need not therefore celebrate his fkill, by giving an account of the exploit he is faid to have performed with his Bow.
Quintus Curtius relates, that Beffus having been condemned to death, and crucified, for the murder of Darius, his body was ordered to be guarded while on the crofs, left the birds fhould moleft it. The office was committed to one Catenus, who was fo excellent an Archer, that he could hit thofe animals with his Arrows.239
It appears probable that birds formerly were often killed by Arrows, as the circumftance is hinted by feveral authors. Diodorus Siculus, indeed, tells us, that fome of the Ethiopian nations were fo adroit, that they fubfifted entirely on the birds they fhot with their Bow.240 We muft underftand, I imagine, in the above paffages, that the birds which the Archers are faid to have killed, were flying; though that is not exprefsly mentioned. If they were fitting ftill, and were large birds, the difficulty of hitting them at a fhort diftance would not be fo great as may be fuppofed. Savages in America, and India, are faid often to kill birds; and it is common to fee on cabinets from the Eaft, figures of men fhooting Arrows at them.
Some very ancient and rude pieces of fculpture, which are copied by Stralenburg, in his Hiftory of Siberia, (PL 3 and 4,) reprefent Archers riding on horfeback, who arc aiming at birds flying in many directions, low to the ground, and perpendicularly over their heads. The plates, in the voyages of Ramufio, contain feveral figures fhooting at birds which are perching on trees.
Among the feats which have been recorded of Hercules, that of his killing the ftymphalic birds (or fwans) with his Bow, muft not be omitted. This is often figured on gems and other antique pieces of fculpture.—See Taffie's Gems. No. 5750; and Spenfe's Polymetis, Pl. 18. Fig. 5.241