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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (23 May 1863)
John G. Whitter, "Mithridates at Chios" The Anglo-African (23 May 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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Know'st thou, oh 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 shriveled 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 dusk Delphinium's holy caves;[3] 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[4] 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.
Independent.[5]       * It is recorded by Nicolas the Peripatetec[6] that the
Chians, when subjugated by Mithridates of Cappadocia,
were delivered up to their own slaves, to be carried away
captive to Colchis. Athenæus[7] considers this a just punish-
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 him-
a master."


  1. Mithradates VI Eupator (134?–63 BC), Rome's most formidable opponent in the first century BC. Convinced that the Chians were in alliance with his Roman enemies, Mithradates invaded Chios, a wealthy Aegean Island with a tremendous number of slaves, and demanded an enormous penalty in silver (Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010], 216). To meet the demand, Chian citizens collected ornaments and jewelry, and both citizens and slaves were ordered to attend its weighing (Mayor, 217). To the Chians' horror, Mithradates's general declared that they had tried to cheat the king (who specialized in dramatic punishment). He then freed the Chians' slaves and marched their devastated former masters to Mithradates's ships. The Chians were forced to labor in the king's mines in Colchis. Whittier's footnote quotes an ancient proverb inspired by the event: the Chians' riches bought them slavery.Go back
  2. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) dedicated himself to abolitionist activities in the early 1830s. He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (est. December 1833), and held the editorship of the Pennsylvania Freeman from March 1838 until February 1840. Convinced that the Constitution and the ballot could be used to attack slavery, he supported the Liberty Party and played an active part in its members' campaigns. Antislavery journalism continued to feature largely in his life; for thirteen years, he worked as corresponding editor for the National Era (1847–1860).
    Orthodox Quaker Whittier managed to reconcile his abhorrence of war with his support for conflict that furthered the antislavery cause; during the war he urged members of the Society of Friends to assist the war effort in noncombatant roles, as nurses in hospitals and as teachers among the freedpeople (Samuel T. Pickard, Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [London: Sampson Low, 1895], 2:440–41; see also "In War-Time"). Poetry had long been integral to his abolitionist mission. His first (unauthorized) collection of poetry, Poems Written during the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, between 1830 and 1838, was published by antislavery colleagues in 1837 (Randall Cluff, "Whittier, John Greenleaf," in American National Biography Online). He continued to champion abolition in verse throughout the war. His poems often appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (which he supported from its inception) and in the New York Independent, and were widely reprinted in serials with antislavery sympathies. "Mithridates at Chios" was included in the collection In War Time and Other Poems (1864).
    Go back
  3. Probably dark caves and chasms on Mount Parnassus, site of the Delphic oracle (the Oracle of Apollo). In these lines, the oracle passes judgment on the Chians; the implication is that God will pass a similar judgment on Southern slaveholders. Whittier revised the stanza for book publication, and changed Apollo for Poseidon: "Then rose the long lament / From the hoar sea-god's dusky caves: / The priestess rent her hair and cried . . ." (John Greenleaf Whittier, In War Time and Other Poems [Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864], 39).Go back
  4. Name for Greece, used by Greeks in classical times. As personified by Whittier, all of Greece mocks the Chians.Go back
  5. Although the Anglo-African cites the Independent as the source of the poem, the Anglo-African almost certainly reprinted from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, which published "Mithridates at Chios" in its issue of May 16, 1863. The Anglo-African text is identical to the Anti-Slavery text. The Independent text gives "Oh" in the first line, while both the Anglo-African and Standard give "oh." In addition, in the Independent, the final line of the poem wraps following the word "their," whereas in both the Anglo-African and Standard the final line wraps at "blood." The footnote that follows the poem in all three printings also suggests a National Anti-Slavery Standard to Anglo-African publication pipeline. In the Standard and Anglo-African texts, lines wrap at identical points in the footnote about Mithridates and the Chians, while in the Independent printing, the lines wrap at different points. Also in the footnote, the Anglo-African text repeats the misspelling "villany," which appears in the National Anti-Slavery Standard text but not in the Independent version.Go back
  6. Nicolaus of Damascus (c. 64 BC–?), "versatile author, friend and historian of Herod the Great" (Klaus Meister, "Nicolaus of Damascus," in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], Oxford Reference Online). He joined the Peripatetic school of philosophy founded by Aristotle in 336. The school met at the Lyceum outside Athens; its name was derived from the walks, or peripatoi, there.Go back
  7. Athenaeus of Naucratis in Egypt, a Greek author.Go back