We already talked about the musketeers and make a note for ourselves – there is D’Artagnan and there are “three musketeers”, his loyal friends and henchmen. It doesn’t mean that Dumas’ are not fond of these brave trio, he just likes D’Artagnan even more…. I dare to say that of this three characters, Athos attracts most reader’s attention, and – probably – Dumas’ respect and sympathy. And author makes it clear from the very beginning, from the first acquaintance of young Gascon with Athos.
Athos is the first, with whom he scheduled a duel, he is the first, who praised D’Artagnan with words of respect and encouragement (rare thing to hear from silent Athos, indeed). Later, this day, in the fight against the Cardinal’s Guards D’Artagnan, most likely, saved Athos’s life and dignity (the latter was more important for this remarkable man).
Athos was the eldest from all four, and his relationships with D’Artagnan soon started to resemble the relationships between father and son. Dumas’ gives the description, which no-one can compete with, so let us hear the word of author.
Of all his friends, Athos was the eldest, and the least resembling him in appearance, in his tastes and sympathies.
Yet he entertained a marked preference for this gentleman. The noble and distinguished air of Athos, those flashes of greatness which from time to time broke out from the shade in which he voluntarily kept himself, that unalterable equality of temper which made him the most pleasant companion in the world, that forced and cynical gayety, that bravery which might have been termed blind, if it had not been the result of the rarest coolness, – such qualities attracted more than esteem, more than the friendship of D’Artagnan; they attracted admiration (Chapter 27).
“The fabric” of this Dumas’ character is bright, rich and consists of – at first glance – incompatible substances. He is an aristocrat with mysterious past, where there are such things as the birth in the noble family, excellent education and love tragedy. However, Athos’ modesty and ascetics are almost exemplary.
Athos is very skilled in hunting and falconry to the extent that once he astonished even King Louis XIII himself, who considered a master of these arts. Athos rode and fenced perfectly as most noblemen of that time, but he also was great in scholastic studies (so rare among gentlemen at these times) and Dumas tells us that “he smiled at the scraps of Latin which Aramis sported, and which Porthos pretended to understand. Two or three times, even, to the great astonishment of his friends, he had, when Aramis allowed some rudimental error to escape him, replaced a verb in its right tense and a noun in its case”.
Dumas tells repeatedly that Athos was beautiful physically and spiritually, and most of all – this extraordinary man had a great dignity and honesty.
And we see that Athos became a moral orienteer to D’Artagnan. The Gascon is trying to measure his life and actions, according to Athos’ opinion.
When he refused to accept Cardinal’s offer to switch the sides and became an officer in Cardinal’s Guards, Richelieu warned him that from now on the D’Artagnan’s life is in grave danger, and its cost becomes very low. D’Artagnan was scared, but he tried to keep his face and proudly went out of the cardinal’s palace. “But at the door his heart almost failed him, and felt inclined to return. Then the noble and severe countenance of Athos crossed his mind; if he made the compact with the cardinal which he required, Athos would no more give him his hand, – Athos would renounce him.
It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds him.”
Athos is an extraordinary man. Not only friends and compatriots admire his bravery, but enemies, too. We see it many times, especially during the famous scene of breakfast at the bastion St.Gervais, when he is standing on the wall waving the napkin transferred to banner under the enemy fire.
But this character valuable to Dumas and us – readers – not only because his bravery and heroic deeds. Behind this extreme and cold bravery, behind this physically attractive “admirably shaped person” with “piercing eyes, straight nose and chin cut like that of Brutus” there is another Athos – caring friend, almost guardian, always ready to help, offer his money (in that rare occasion when he has it), his advice (always wise), his protection and even his life. When he realized that D’Artagnan is in danger, he decided to follow him everywhere and put his life on the line again, as he did many times.
Still, it seems not enough for Dumas. He generously gave to Athos his unique sense of humor and drew his best scenes in the novel using inimitable Athos’ dry wit. One of the good examples is Chapter 27, where fighting Athos, being severely outnumbered, barricaded himself with his wounded valet Grimaud, in the cellar of the hostelry. Immediately follows the Chapter 28, which brings almost more fun to the reader, where bored Athos played dice with Englishman, losing his horse, than losing D’Artagnan’s horse and starts to play for Grimaud and D’Artagnan’s diamond ring (presented by Queen) wishing to return the horses. You can’t help but laugh, when you read how Athos slowly and seriously narrates the story of his morning gambling to semi-awakened horrified D’Artagnan.
Dumas completed Athos’ portrait with another color – the dark one. The cloud of tragedy is lurking in the Athos’ past. Young Comte de la Fere (the real Athos’ name and title) once met a blonde angel – the girl, with whom he immediately felt in love and married her. An angel appeared to be a monster – murderous seductress without honor and mercy – Milady, known also under numerous names. Athos hanged the treacherous woman on the tree (she survived, but Athos did not know that) and forever lost any trust to romantic feelings. He avoids women as a plague, and when sad reminiscences overcame his broken heart Athos opens the next bottle of wine and tries to sink his grief on its bottom. Without any success, though…. He drinks a lot, but only became more pale, more sad and silent. Then dark shadow will go away and Athos again will be the most pleasant and nice companion in the world….