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A Pirate Tale

Source: MECW">


A Pirate Tale

Source: MECW, p. 557
Written: in 1837
First published: in Russian in Marx and Engels, Works, 1929, and in German in: Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Bd. 2, 1930;
Transcribed: Andy Blunden;


On a winter’s morning in the year 1820 a ship was on the point of setting sail from the island of Kuluri, Salamis of old and scene of Athenian valour. It was a Greek merchant vessel which with its large crew had brought to Athens mastic, gum arabic and the like, but more especially Damascus blades, cedar-wood and fine cloths from Asia.

Ashore all was activity. The captain was moving among the sailors at their work, seeing that everything was done properly, when one sailor whispered to another in Italian:

“Philippo, do you see that young man standing over there? That is the new passenger the captain took on last night; he wants him to join us, and if he refuses, he'll be sent to the bottom of the sea, for he shall not reach Stamboul, as he intends.”

“But,” said Philippo, “what manner of man is he then?” “I do not know, but the captain doubtless will.” just then a shot rang out from the ship and all made for the boats. The captain boarded the sloop and cried out: “Young man-ahoy, why are you dreaming? Come along. We want to be off.” The young man to whom these words were addressed and who had hitherto stood by a column in silence, looked up: “Ah yes,” he called, “I'm coming,” and strode rapidly toward the boat. He got in, and the vessel pulled away from the shore with quick strokes of the oars. The ship was soon reached, and after a cannon had been fired, the ship’s crew assembled on board, and soon the anchor was weighed, the sails set, and like a giant swan the brig flew swiftly out over the blue-tinted sea.

But the captain, who had hitherto directed the work of the crew, now approached the handsome youth, who was leaning sorrowfully as before on the rail of the ship and gazing gloomily at the peaks of Hymettus as they sank ever further into the distance.

“Young man,” he addressed him, “come down to the saloon, I have something to say to you.”

“Gladly,” the other answered and followed in the captain’s steps.

When they were below, the captain bade him be seated, and having poured each of them a glass from a bottle of Chios wine, he said:

“Listen, I have a suggestion to make to you. But first, what is your name? And where are you from?”

“Leon Papon is my name and I am from Athinai. And you?”

“Captain Leonidas Spezziotis (from Spezia). Now listen! Doubtless you think us honest traders? We are no such thing! Have a look at our cannon, both exposed and concealed, our ammunition, our armoury, and you will easily see that we carry on such trading merely as a guise. You will see that we are different, better men, true Hellenes, men who still have a taste for freedom-in short, corsairs, as the infidels, whom we harass sorely, are wont to call us. And now to you, for you are to my liking and remind me much of a dear son of mine whom the infidels shot before my eyes last year I would propose that you should join us and help fight for the freedom of the Hellenes and harm the infidel cause, to whom Homer’s lines could well be applied:

Essetai hmar, ot’ an pot’ olwlh “Ilios irh,
Kai Priamos, kai laos eummeliw Priamoio

[In time the day will come when holy Ilion will fall,
Priam too, and the people of the spear-brandishing king. (Iliad, IV.)]

“But should you be disinclined to do this, I cannot answer for the consequences; for when my men hear what I have revealed to you, they will most certainly demand your death, and I shall not be able to save you.”

“What’s that you say? Corsairs? Will I join you? Straight away! To be able to take revenge on my father’s murderers! Oh gladly, gladly will I join your ranks, with fury will I fight the Moslems and slaughter them like cattle!”

“So it is agreed! Leon, thus you are to my liking! Let us drink a bottle of Chios wine to the new alliances And the old imbiber poured the wine briskly and many a time exhorted his more moderate comrade with a merry “Drink up, Leon,” until the bottle was empty.

Now he went with his new comrade through the ship and showed him the stores. First they went into the armoury. There hung magnificent garments of all kinds, close-fitting sailors’ jackets, capacious caftans, tall hats, small Greek caps, broad turbans, close-fitting western breeches and baggy Turkish trousers, gaily embroidered Persian waistcoats, Hungarian Hussar jackets, and Russian fur coats, all paraded in motley array in large cupboards. The walls were covered with the weapons of all nations: every type of fire-arm from small pocket pistols to triple-barrelled heavy muskets, swords of every description, Damascus blades, Spanish rapiers, German broadswords, short Italian daggers and curved handjars, all carefully ordered in their places. In the corners were spear-stands, so that the whole space of the room was used. Next they entered the powder-magazine. Eight large barrels, each with a hundred pounds of gunpowder, and four small ones of ten pounds stood there; there were three barrels of bombs, and two larger ones of shells; the cupboards at the sides were full of jars and pots containing powder mixed with pieces of lead, stones and pieces of iron. Then they entered the room in which Leonidas showed him several sacks full of cannonballs. They went up again to the cannons. On each side stood twelve cannons of large bore, and on the quarter-deck another two forty-eight pounders. Dotted about everywhere stood swivel guns, some thirty pieces of ordnance in all. In the saloon, to which they returned, Leonidas showed Leon three cases of musket-balls and two of mixed shot.

“Our ship is in good shape, is it not?” he said to him.

“Splendid,” replied the other, “it could not be better. But now let me look around on deck a little more.”

He went up. However it was not long before he found him standing once more at the rail. They were just passing Cape Colonae, ardent Sunium, and Leon was again looking despondently back at the peaks of Hymettus just as they were disappearing from view, when Leonidas addressed him as follows:

“Now, lad, why so melancholy? Come on to the quarter-deck with me and tell me about your life.”

And Leon accompanied him and told the following tale:


I shall soon be 16 years of age. My father was the merchant Gregorios Papon; my mother was called Diana; I am called Leon, my twin sister is called ZoŽ and my younger brother Alexis. It is some three months since the Pasha of Athinai saw a young slave-girl that my father had brought up with us. He asked for her at once, and when my father refused to let him have her, he swore to be revenged and kept his oath, to our undoing. For as we were sitting quietly together one evening and I was singing songs to the cithara with Selima, the slave-girl, ZoŽ and Alexis, the Pasha’s Arnauts entered, seized our dear father and Selima from among us and took them away; and we were turned out and left with nowhere to turn for help. We departed thence and at length arrived at the place before the gate where the old Macedonian fortress stood. There we found shelter in the house of compassionate peasants who gave us bread and a little meat. From there we made our way toward Piraeus. But alas! My sister’s strength was exhausted and she sank down half-swooning beneath an olive-tree. As for myself, I wanted to return to the city and seek help of our relatives. I went despite my mother’s entreaties and when I reached the Acropolis and was about to ascend, I found — imagine my joy — my father. I cannot tell you how joyfully I embraced him and how I pictured our happiness and my mother’s joy. Alas, all too soon I was to be disappointed For hardly had we gone a few steps when we saw coming the commander of the Pasha’s troop of Arnauts. He recognised my father, drew his sabre and fell upon him. My father took the gnarled stave which he had picked up earlier in his right hand and held his ground, the Turk struck and cut the stave in two; the blow fell upon my father’s shoulder; the Turk struck again and caught my defenceless father about the head so that he sank to the ground. I seized the fallen stave and threw it into the Turk’s face; in his fury he dropped his sabre, but drew a hammer from his belt and dashed it against my head so that I fell down senseless.

When I came to myself again, my father lay beside me breathing his last. He said, “Leon — my son — flee-flee from here! You are not safer Is your mother free?” When I confirmed it, he said: “Oh, go to Kuluri, and from there to Nauplia — I have friends there.” I asked: “Father, what is the name of your murderer?” “Leon — his name is-Mustapha — Bey — God have- mer — cy on my poor — soul,” and with these words he departed. I embraced the body, cried, lamented and shouted for help-but he remained dead and no one came to my help. At length I rose weeping to my feet, girt my good father’s belt about me, thrust the murderer’s sabre in it and swore to discard neither belt nor sabre-until my father’s blood had been washed by Turkish blood.

Now I went out of the city gates-but-oh misery, my loved ones were no longer there! A bloody dagger, my mother’s blood-stained veil and Alexis’ cap lying there testified that violence had been done here also. This is the cap I am wearing now; this is the dagger (he pointed to a fine Turkish dagger in his belt), and the veil I have been wearing since then next to my heart, beneath my chiton. [Tunic. The undergarment worn by the Greeks: citwu or kiqwu. — Note by Engels.]

Only now did I give thought to my wound. It was beginning to pain me; I felt it and pushed my cap back-the blood poured afresh over my face. I lay down beneath the tree and bound a cloth round my head.

I fell asleep; and in my sleep I fancied that I saw my father coming towards me, fresh and blooming, and my mother at his side, and ZoŽ and Alexis with them, and they lifted me up, but then the Turks came, and my father’s murderer fell screaming at our feet — I awoke and found myself lying on a cart -an old man stood before me and told me to be calm, and drove me away.

He took me to St. Nicholas, where he restored me to health. I stayed four weeks with him, then he gave me money and took me to Kuluri in his own boat. There I parted from him, and we divided a piastre as a keepsake. I remained here several days, there being no opportunity for departure. The rest you know.


Such was the burden of young Papon’s tale. Leonidas at once took him by the hand, went with him into the armoury and bade him select his outfit. For clothing he took some light Greek breeches and a short blue. coat. For arms he chose a short double-barrelled rifle, two brace of double pocket pistols and a hammer. Leonidas said, “Well, take a sabre tool Or at least a scabbard for it.” “No,” he said, “I shall not be parted from this sabre! And it will remain bare until I have won myself a scabbard for it.”

Meanwhile it began to grow dark. They reached the isle of Ceos. They did not land, but nonetheless they took in all sail and sent a rocket up from the top of the main mast. At once a boat with a cross upon its prow drew near., In it sat six armed men who moored the boat at the stern and boarded. Leonidas introduced the new comrade to them, and they welcomed him heartily. Thereupon Leonidas said:

“Well, Stephanos, what have you hunted out?”

Stephanos: “There in the city harbour lies a Turkish merchant ship. I was there disguised as a tradesman. But whom do you think I saw, Leonidas? just imagine, our old comrade Dukas was there as a slave. I got him out in a chest. The ship has only three cannons, but the crew is large and well armed; there are some thirty Turks aboard. But I have won over two Greek passengers, who are travelling to Athinai. They will occupy the powder-magazine.”

Leonidas: “Ah, splendidl You stay here and wait a little.”

He hurried down to the saloon, returned with three bottles of wine and emptied them with Iron and the six newcomers. In the course of this he said:

“We are now-wait-you six, twenty men on board, Leon, myself, that makes twenty-eight, two Turks as passengers to Serpho, one of whom is a janissary. — Notos!”

The man thus summoned came.

“Take Protos and Taras with you to the saloon, disarm the Turks and bring them up.” He went.

Leonidas called again: “Mykalis!”

“Here,” cried the latter, at the double.

“Load the cannons for firing, prepare the swivel guns, load three with shot and balls, and the rest with lead, glass, stones and iron! Fetch up sixty shells, two bombs and a case of balls! Every man is to arm himself!” His command was carried out. “And now, my son,” as he turned to Leon, “now you will have the chance to try your first battle with us. Fight bravely. As soon as the ship engages with us, stay by me and do as I do. Do not venture to board before I do; it could well cost you your life.”

“Yes,” said Stephanos, “I know that. Imagine, Leon, I jumped on board the enemy ship with two young fellows like yourself; the enemy chopped off the hooks and there we were in their hands. We fought, but after my two companions had died, I was all but crushed in the throng and took a sharp blow on the head; the scar is still visible; and I would certainly have lost my fife, if our side had not meantime again grappled fast.”

Then Notos came with the two Turks, one of whom wore his arm bandaged. Notos said to Leonidas:

“Here, I have them now. They fought desperately. Our janissary here dealt poor Protos a blow such as he will scarcely recover from. He was repaid by me with a broken arm, while Taras seized the other Turk around the body and threw him to the ground.”

“Yes,” said the janissary, “that was a skilful feat indeed,

overwhelming us as we sat peacefully in the saloon! But they paid dearly for it and that consoles me.”

“Oh,” answered Leonidas, “I never doubted your bravery. But you shan’t be without your reward; if you wish, I shall disembark you tomorrow morning on Thermia; but each of you shall give me fifty piastres ransom.’ ‘ ‘ They were glad to do so and were escorted back to the saloon, where they stayed under Notos’ guard, while Leonidas went to Protos, who was lying in a hammock. He examined the wound and saw it was a blow from a handjar right across the skull, which had been damaged in one place. It was a deadly wound; yet there was still hope. He applied a plaster and retired along with Leon to bed. To the latter he allotted a couch alongside his own.

In the middle of the night they were woken. Stephanos was standing before them.

“Make haste, arise, there is a sail in sight to the north. You may see it by its lamp.” In a moment both were armed. Leonidas opened a cupboard and gave Leon a bag of musket-balls, one of shot, and a fine large powder-horn. He also furnished himself with ammunition and both went on deck.

“Mykalis,” said the captain, “where are the swivel cannons?”

When these were pointed out, he placed himself by one, Leon by the second and Stephanos by the third.

The crew gathered on deck. Leonidas bade them assemble and numbered them off. Counting himself there were twenty-six. He ordered Notos to be relieved, and the latter came and placed himself by one of the forty-eight pounders, Mykalis by the other. The swivel guns were hard by.

All eyes were directed at the lamp. They were drawing nearer to it. Then it went out, and they had to steer on in the direction they had taken. Several times it reappeared, but eventually they quite lost it.

Day came. The sea was covered with fog patches, which gradually dispersed. Then Stephanos, who was up the mast, cried out: “I see the shipl It is the same one as I saw in the harbour at Ceos.”

Leonidas also saw it through his telescope. Stephanos came down. At once all sail was raised to catch it, and soon it was visible to them all. They ran up the Turkish flag and drew near to it. After some three hours they were so near that it was only a little out of firing range. Then Leonidas ordered the Turkish flag to be taken down and the black and red one with the white cross run up. The Turkish ship had however already turned to the north-west and put on all sail to gain Makronisi. But soon Leonidas was hard upon it, and a cannon-ball sped at his command through the enemy rigging. The Turks replied at once, but then withdrew. Then Leonidas called: “Here, Mykalis with your fifteen men, go and row your hardestl We must have it! Notos! You go to the bows and fire on the enemy when we are at half rangel Taras and his five men are to stay here.”

The ship flew faster. Nearer and nearer they approached their prey. Meanwhile Leonidas commanded:

“Taras, as soon as Mykalis returns, go to the starboard cannon; Stephanos is in charge of the stern cannon; Leon stays by me!”

Then Notos fired from his twelve-pounder, another five cannons roared, and one of the enemy’s sails fell with its mast-top and hung from the ropes! A cry of delight issued on the spot; the cannon fired once more and the ship’s bowsprit was shattered. The Turks could not escape. The ship came nearer, and quickly Leonidas and Leon gave fire with their swivel guns. Several men fell; yet the shots had achieved but little. Mykalis returned; they were quite near the Turks now, with salvoes flying right and left; but the Turks were also firing bravely; then Leonidas gave a full salvo and moved close in to the enemy. The swivel guns banged; as the enemy’s deck cleared somewhat, the Greeks grappled. Mykalis and his band, Leonidas and Leon stood by the grapplinghooks; they fired their muskets amongst the enemy, hauled at the hooks, and in a flash Mykalis and Leon were there with the enemy. Leon pulled a pistol and shot down the first corner; his cutlass flashed this way and that-and one Turk fell upon the other. Then Mykalis fell; but Leonidas was there, and the Hellenes advanced; a furious struggle developed, but the Greeks who were still on their ship fired valiantly away, and in a short while some of the Turks laid down their arms. Then a gigantic Arnaut leapt on to the deck, swung his cutlass and shouted:

“What’s this, Moslems? Do you intend to let yourselves be slaughtered by the infidels? Seize your cutlasses and cut down these dogs!”

He leapt forward and cut down one of the Hellenes. “Where is your leader?” he called. “Here,” shouted Leonidas and pushed forward. They fought. Leonidas remained cool in the face of the heavy, furious blows of his enemy. In a blind, mad fury the latter rushed forward, struck and managed to hit his opponent’s left arm. Leonidas gripped his broadsword hard and shattered his enemy’s cutlass, struck again and blood welled up from the Turk’s breast. But another Turk rushed up to Leonidas and dealt him such a blow across the face that he fell. Leon saw him fall, struck the assassin dead, held back the enemy, and the latter now laid down their arms.

But the wounded leader with ten men was just landing in his boat on Makronisi.


Now he surveyed the scene of battle. Twelve Turks lay there dead. Eight were wounded; ten had laid down their arms, and ten had escaped.

But four Greeks lay there dead too; Mykalis lay dying; Notos had a shot in his thigh; the captain had his cutlass wound, and three more were slightly wounded. Leon too had his head grazed by a bullet and a cut on his left arm.

Stephanos went up to him. “You fought bravely, Leon; but you must come to Leonidas. What, are you bleeding?”

“It is nothing, just a trifle. What vexes me most is that the cursed Arnaut escaped us. I would gladly have quite done for him.”

He went to Leonidas. The captain said: “Leon, I now give Notos’ command to you until he is recovered. Stephanos is commander-in-chief until I can resume my office. Go to Mykalis and see how he fares.”

He obeyed. “He is very weak; he has a shot in the breast and a stab in the thigh. But Taras still has hope.”

Stephanos returned. “The ship is loaded with cotton for Athinai and ammunition for Nauplia. Also dates, coco-nuts, figs and all manner of provisions in superfluity, for occasional sale.”

“Bring over everything that is of value in the ship and order course for Porto Raphthi,” said Leonidas. “Leon, go over with Stephanos. Question the prisoners; note everything they say.”

He went. The gist of the prisoners’ statements was as follows: the ship was a merchantman and belonged to a merchant in Ismir, named Murad. His brother Ali had been in command of the ship and was the very man whom Leon had wounded. They had reached Sykia where they had received news that there were corsairs in that vicinity. For this reason they had taken on ten more men for Athinai the previous night. Then they had seen the ship and been attacked. To the question of where the Greek passengers were, they said one had fallen into the sea and the other had been killed by Ali when the corsair ship had been recognised.

Then the ship was searched through. Besides the goods already cited, much weaponry and ammunition was found, along with cloth and clothing. Best of all were three bags of gold, with 5,000 piastres in each. These were brought to the saloon of the Greek ship.

Between Sunium and the Argolis peninsula lies an islet, [Called San Giorgio di Aspara. — Note by Engels.] rocky and deserted. To this Leonidas steered. They landed the following morning. But as they wanted [to secure themselves] against Ali and the Turks, who would certainly persuade the Pasha of Eyribos or Athens to send a ship against the pirates, they set down the Turks there, gave them some provisions, two cutlasses and a musket with ammunition, so that they might provide for themselves by hunting hares and the like, which abound. on such islands.

They were about to depart-but Leon was missing. He had gone off to hunt; they searched-then a shot was heard, they hastened in that direction and-there lay Leon in his own blood, beside him a Turk who had been shot dead, and another with Leon’s bloody cutlass in his hand stood by. Stephanos, who was there first, leapt in and attacked the Turk. After a short struggle he dashed the cutlass from his enemy’s hand, hurled him to the ground and struck off his head.

Then several others appeared. Leon was laid upon a stretcher of boughs and carried back. Taras, who examined the youth, found that the Turk had dealt him a blow across the head, another across the thigh and a slight scratch across the arm.

At length the wounded man regained his senses. “Where is my cutlass?” was his first question. When it was shown to him he said, “Where is the Turk who struck me?”

“I have killed him,” said Stephanos. “But he calm, you are dangerously wounded.”

The head wound was dangerous; the journey by ship could only do harm, so it was resolved to capture the Turks and set them down on the coast of the Morea; and to leave Leon, Mykalis, who was also in danger, Notos and Leonidas here with three men to tend them. Stephanos would pick them up again a few weeks later.

The Turks were again assembled, only one was still missing; but as they sighted a Turkish ship in the distance, the corsairs’ ship set sail with Stephanos. Apart from the wounded and Taras with his two helpers another five remained behind, who were to get the Turkish ship to Epina and departed the following day.

Leon’s condition improved visibly. After six days he could already get up and walk around a little. The following week Mykalis too stepped out of the door of the little hut they had built. Leonidas and Notos were already almost completely recovered and had often been hunting. One day Notos returned and said:

“I have seen a Turk. But he ran away quickly. Let us be on our guard.”

The following day he again went hunting with Leonidas. They met a wild goat. Then they separated. Notos was walking through the woods when a shot rang out, Notos fell, and the Turk, with a pistol in his left hand and a dagger in his right, dashed forward, bent down, and swung the dagger, at which moment the wounded man rose, drew a pistol and shot the Moslem down. Before long all the Greeks gathered. The Turk was dead; his shot had entered Notos’ breast, but the handle of his dagger had deadened the shot and there was no danger.

Notos was borne home and suffered another week before he could rise again. Then they were all recovered; but the provisions were exhausted and the isle provided little from hunting.


They had been on the island for four weeks when Stephanos came and took them off. He had sold the Turkish ship to an English merchant in Thessalonica for 10,000 piastres; likewise the cotton to another for 4,000 piastres. The corsairs’ ship was newly equipped, three new cannons, ammunition replenished threefold, muskets and other arms in abundance. The well-rewarded pirates were also in better condition. Now the ship set sail for Candia. But when they were within view of Milos, a ship of Turkish appearance hove in sight. At once Leonidas fell in behind and pursued it into the bay of Milos, across the mouth of which several small islands are scattered. Here the ship fled, protected by the cannons of the harbour naval yard. Now it became evident that it was an Egyptian galley. A furious battle developed. The Greeks fired away bravely; but then a Turkish ship — a small man-of-war — sailed into the bay and attacked the Hellenes from the rear. Leonidas grappled with the Turks-sent Stephanos on board, and after a short struggle the ship was won.

Meantime a salvo from the fort had hit the Greek ship and it was sinking. So it was hastily steered to the shore on to a sandbank where it grounded. But the men climbed aboard the captured Turkish ship, pressed the galley hard and grappled. Leon leapt across and was followed by others; Stephanos went too, without delay, and attacked. Leon, always in the lead, bathed his sword in Moslem blood; he laid on furiously, Stephanos followed him, and they pushed far ahead. Then Leon was faced by the enemy leader, a gigantic Egyptian. He fought with him but neither could overcome the other; at length Leon dealt his opponent a rapid blow on the left arm; then the latter drew a pistol, fired it, but instead of Leon hit another Hellene and fell beneath the blows of his valiant adversary. With his fall the ship was won. The few Turks laid down their arms and were put on land, where Taras approached the fort in Turkish costume to negotiate the restoration of the ship. The avaricious Pasha was persuaded by a gift of three hundred piastres, but secretly sent a boat to Siphanto where several ships of the Turkish fleet lay. It found them and it once all three sailed up. Notos and Taras had gone out to the mouth of the bay in their boat when they sighted the ships and brought the news to Leonidas. The latter swiftly dispatched some of his men aboard the Turkish ships where he had also sent ammunition for small arms and several cannons; most of them, however, he ordered aboard his own ship, to which also went some thirty newly-hired fellows from Milos. Leon, who was in command of the little naval brig, stationed himself at the entrance to the bay. Then the Turks came. One ship entered first. Thereupon Leon gave it a full salvo at the bows, turned his ship, grappled and boarded with his whole crew. But the next ship fastened on from the -other side, sent in its crew, and a furious battle ensued. Leon fought bravely. Many a Turk fell beneath his blows, but many a brave Hellene too was made to breathe his last beneath the swords of the Turks, and fortune inclined to the barbarians’ side, who, however, were thrice as numerous. Then Leon saw his father’s murderer. Rage seized him as he saw the big Arnaut, who was at that moment felling an old Hellene. “Hunkiar!” (Murderer) he cried, “turn and face younger men!” And at once he turned and fought, in strength twice the Hellene’s equal but inferior to him in fury. They fought furiously. Blow fell upon blow.-Then the Turk dropped his cutlass as Leon gave him a blow on the hand. But he snatched the familiar hammer from his belt and, raging with fury and pain, bore down on Leon, and soon the broad surface of the hammer descended a second time on Leon’s brow, and Leon fell beneath the Turk’s incessant heavy blows.

“The devil has him now!” he cried. “Now for the others.” But these were already almost all dead, and only a few, deprived of their arms, had been taken prisoner.

Meantime the two other ships had sailed into the harbour and were pursuing Leonidas, who threw himself with all his crew and the money on to the galley and, escaping the enemy’s pursuit, left the harbour safely for the open sea and sailed for Belo Paulo, from where he meant to obtain news of Leon and the rest.