Part 2 out of 5
[+]No doubt farmers and artisans either wore garments of a
non-committal brown, or, more probably, let their originally white
costume get utterly dirty.
38. Greek Toilet Frivolities.--From the standpoint of inherent
fitness and beauty, this Athenian costume is the noblest ever seen
by the world. Naturally there are ill-advised creatures who do
not share the good taste of their fellows, or who try to deceive
the world and themselves as to the ravages of that arch-enemy of
the Hellene,--Old Age. Athenian women especially (though the men
are not without their follies) are sometimes fond of rouge, false
hair, and the like. Auburn hair is especially admired, and many
fine dames bleach their tresses in a caustic wash to obtain it.
The styles of feminine hair dressing seem to change from decade to
decade much more than the arrangements of the garments. Now it is
plaited and crimped hair that is in vogue, now the more beautiful
"Psyche-knots"; yet even in their worst moods the Athenian women
exhibit a sweet reasonableness. They have not yet fallen into the
clutches of the Parisian hairdresser.
The poets, of course, ridicule the foibles of the fair sex.[*]
The golden hair Nikylla wears
Is hers, who would have thought it?
She swears 'tis hers, and true she swears
For I know where she bought it!
You give your cheeks a rosy stain,
With washes dye your hair;
But paint and washes both are vain
To give a youthful air.
An art so fruitless then forsake,
Which, though you much excel in,
You never can contrive to make
Old Hecuba young Helen.
[*]Translated in Falke's "Greece and Rome" (English translation,
p. 69). These quotations probably date from a time considerably
later than the hypothetical period of this sketch; but they are
perfectly proper to apply to conditions in 360 B.C.
But enough of such scandals! All the best opinion--masculine and
feminine--frowns on these follies. Let us think of the simple,
dignified, and �sthetically noble costume of the Athenians as not
the least of their examples to another age.
Chapter VII. The Slaves.
39. Slavery an Integral Part of Greek Life.--An Athenian lady cares
for everything in her house,--for the food supplies, for the clothing,
yet probably her greatest task is to manage the heterogeneous
multitude of slaves which swarm in every wealthy or even well-to-do
[*]The Athenians never had the absurd armies of house slaves which
characterized Imperial Rome; still the numbers of their domestic
servants were, from a modern standpoint, extremely large.
Slaves are everywhere: not merely are they the domestic servants,
but they are the hands in the factories, they run innumerable little
shops, they unload the ships, they work the mines, they cultivate
the farms. Possibly there are more able-bodied male slaves in
Attica than male free men, although this point is very uncertain.
Their number is the harder to reckon because they are not required
to wear any distinctive dress, and you cannot tell at a glance
whether a man is a mere piece of property, or a poor but very proud
and important member of the "Sovereign Demos [People] of Athens."
No prominent Greek thinker seems to contest the righteousness and
desirability of slavery. It is one of the usual, nay, inevitable,
things pertaining to a civilized state. Aristotle the philosopher
puts the current view of the case very clearly. "The lower sort
of mankind are BY NATURE slaves, and it is better for all inferiors
that they should be under the rule of a master. The use made of
slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both by their
bodies minister to the needs of life." The intelligent, enlightened,
progressive Athenians are naturally the "masters"; the stupid,
ignorant, sluggish minded Barbarians are the "inferiors." Is it
not a plain decree of Heaven that the Athenians are made to rule,
the Barbarians to serve?--No one thinks the subject worth serious
Of course the slave cannot be treated quite as one would treat an
ox. Aristotle takes pains to point out the desirability of holding
out to your "chattel" the hope of freedom, if only to make him work
better; and the great philosopher in his last testament gives freedom
to five of his thirteen slaves. Then again it is recognized as
clearly against public sentiment to hold fellow Greeks in bondage.
It is indeed done. Whole towns get taken in war, and those of
the inhabitants who are not slaughtered are sold into slavery.[*]
Again, exposed children, whose parents have repudiated them, get
into the hands of speculators, who raise them "for market." There
is also a good deal of kidnapping in the less civilized parts of
Greece like �tolia. Still the proportion of genuinely GREEK slaves
is small. The great majority of them are "Barbarians," men born
beyond the pale of Hellenic civilization.
[*]For example, the survivors, after the capture of Melos, in the
40. The Slave Trade in Greece.--There are two great sources of
slave supply: the Asia Minor region (Lydia and Phrygia, with Syria
in the background), and the Black Sea region, especially the northern
shores, known as Scythia. It is known to innumerable heartless
"traders" that human flesh commands a very high price in Athens
or other Greek cities. Every little war or raid that vexes those
barbarous countries so incessantly is followed by the sale of the
unhappy captives to speculators who ship them on, stage by stage,
to Athens. Perhaps there is no war; the supply is kept up then
by deliberately kidnapping on a large scale, or by piracy.[*] In
any case the arrival of a chain gang of fettered wretches at the
Peir�us is an everyday sight. Some of these creatures are submissive
and tame (perhaps they understand some craft or trade); these can
be sold at once for a high price. Others are still doltish and
stubborn. They are good for only the rudest kind of labor, unless
they are kept and trained at heavy expense. These brutish creatures
are frequently sold off to the mines, to be worked to death by the
contractors as promptly and brutally as one wears out a machine;
or else they become public galley slaves, when their fate is
practically the same. But we need not follow such horrors.
[*]A small but fairly constant supply of slaves would come from
the seizure of the persons and families of bankrupt debtors, whose
creditors, especially in the Orient, might sell them into bondage.
The remainder are likely to be purchased either for use upon the
farm, the factory, or in the home. There is a regular "circle"
at or near the Agora for traffic in them. They are often sold at
auction. The price of course varies with the good looks, age,[*]
or dexterity of the article, or the abundance of supply. "Slaves
will be high" in a year when there has been little warfare and
raiding in Asia Minor. "Some slaves," says Xenophon, "are well
worth two min� [$36.00 (1914) or $640.80 (2000)] and others barely
half a mina [$9.00 (1914) or $160.20 (2000)]; some sell up to five
min� [$90.00 (1914) or $1,602.00 (2000)] and even for ten [$180.00
(1914) or $3,204.00 (2000)]. Nicias, the son of Nicaretus, is
said to have given a talent [over $1,000.00 (1914) or $17,800.00
(2000)] for an overseer in the mines."[+] The father of Demosthenes
owned a considerable factory. He had thirty-two sword cutters
worth about five min� each, and twenty couch-makers (evidently less
skilled) worth together 40 min� [about $720.00 (1914) or $12,816.00
(2000)]. A girl who is handsome and a clever flute player, who will
be readily hired for supper parties, may well command a very high
price indeed, say even 30 min� [about $540.00 (1914) or $9,612.00
[*]There was probably next to no market for old women; old men in
broken health would also be worthless. Boys and maids that were
the right age for teaching a profitable trade would fetch the most.
[+]Xenophon, "Memorabilia," ii. 5, � 2.
41. The Treatment of Slaves in Athens.--Once purchased, what is
the condition of the average slave? If he is put in a factory, he
probably has to work long hours on meager rations. He is lodged
in a kind of kennel; his only respite is on the great religious
holidays. He cannot contract valid marriage or enjoy any of the
normal conditions of family life. Still his evil state is partially
tempered by the fact that he has to work in constant association
with free workmen, and he seems to be treated with a moderate amount
of consideration and good camaraderie. On the whole he will have
much less to complain of (if he is honest and industrious) than
his successors in Imperial Rome.
In the household, conditions are on the whole better. Every Athenian
citizen tries to have at least ONE slave, who, we must grant, may
be a starving drudge of all work. The average gentleman perhaps
counts ten to twenty as sufficient for his needs. We know of
households of fifty. There must usually be a steward, a butler in
charge of the storeroom or cellar, a marketing slave, a porter,
a baker, a cook,[*] a nurse, perhaps several lady's maids,
the indispensable attendant for the master's walks (a graceful,
well-favored boy, if possible), the pedagogue for the children,
and in really rich families, a groom, and a mule boy. It is the
business of the mistress to see that all these creatures are kept
busy and reasonably contented. If a slave is reconciled to his
lot, honest, cheerful, industrious, his condition is not miserable.
Athenian slaves are allowed a surprising amount of liberty, so
most visitors to the city complain. A slave may be flogged most
cruelly, but he cannot be put to death at the mere whim of his
master. He cannot enter the gymnasium, or the public assembly; but
he can visit the temples. As a humble member of the family he has
a small part usually in the family sacrifices. But in any case he is
subject to one grievous hardship: when his testimony is required
in court he must be "put to the question" by torture. On the
other hand, if his master has wronged him intolerably, he can take
sanctuary at the Temple of Theseus, and claim the privilege of being
sold to some new owner. A slave, too, has still another grievance
which may be no less galling because it is sentimental. His name
(given him arbitrarily perhaps by his master) is of a peculiar
category, which at once brands him as a bondsman: Geta, Manes,
Dromon, Sosias, Xanthias, Pyrrhias,--such names would be repudiated
as an insult by a citizen.
[*]Who, however, could not be trusted to cook a formal dinner. For
such purpose an expert must be hired.
42. Cruel and Kind Masters.--Slavery in Athens, as everywhere
else, is largely dependent upon the character of the master; and
most Athenian masters would not regard crude brutality as consistent
with that love of elegance, harmony, and genteel deliberation
which characterizes a well-born citizen. There do not lack masters
who have the whip continually in their hands, who add to the raw
stripes fetters and branding, and who make their slaves unceasingly
miserable; but such masters are the exception, and public opinion
does not praise them. Between the best Athenians and their slaves
there is a genial, friendly relation, and the master will put up
with a good deal of real impertinence, knowing that behind this
forwardness there is an honest zeal for his interests.
Nevertheless the slave system of Athens is not commendable. It
puts a stigma upon the glory of honest manual labor. It instills
domineering, despotic habits into the owners, cringing subservience
into the owned. Even if a slave becomes freed, he does not become
an Athenian citizen; he is only a "metic," a resident foreigner,
and his old master, or some other Athenian, must be his patron and
representative in every kind of legal business. It is a notorious
fact that the MERE STATE of slavery robs the victim of his self-respect
and manhood. Nevertheless nobody dreams of abolishing slavery as
an institution, and the Athenians, comparing themselves with other
communities, pride themselves on the extreme humanity of their
43. The "City Slaves" of Athens.--A large number of nominal "slaves"
in Athens differ from any of the creatures we have described. The
community, no less than an individual, can own slaves just as it
can own warships and temples. Athens owns "city slaves" (Demosioi)
of several varieties. The clerks in the treasury office, and the
checking officers at the public assemblies are slaves; so too are
the less reputable public executioners and torturers; in the city
mint there is another corps of slave workers, busy coining "Athena's
owls"--the silver drachmas and four-drachma pieces. But chiefest
of all, THE CITY OWNS ITS PUBLIC POLICE FORCE. The "Scythians"
they are called from their usual land of origin, or the "bowmen,"
from their special weapon, which incidentally makes a convenient
cudgel in a street brawl. There are 1200 of them, always at the
disposal of the city magistrates. They patrol the town at night,
arrest evil-doers, sustain law and order in the Agora, and especially
enforce decorum, if the public assemblies or the jury courts become
tumultuous. They have a special cantonment on the hill of Areopagus
near the Acropolis. "Slaves" they are of course in name, and
under a kind of military discipline; but they are highly privileged
slaves. The security of the city may depend upon their loyal zeal.
In times of war they are auxiliaries. Life in this police force
cannot therefore be burdensome, and their position is envied by
all the factory workers and the house servants.
Chapter VIII. The Children.
44. The Desirability of Children in Athens.--Besides the oversight
of the slaves the Athenian matron has naturally the care of the
children. A childless home is one of the greatest of calamities.
It means a solitary old age, and still worse, the dying out of the
family and the worship of the family gods. There is just enough
of the old superstitious "ancestor worship" left in Athens to make
one shudder at the idea of leaving the "deified ancestor" without
any descendants to keep up the simple sacrifices to their memory.
Besides, public opinion condemns the childless home as not contributing
to the perpetuation of the city. How Corinth, Thebes, or Sparta
will rejoice, if it is plain that Athens is destroying herself by
race suicide! So at least ONE son will be very welcome. His advent
is a day of happiness for the father, of still greater satisfaction
for the young mother.
45. The Exposure of Infants.--How many more children are welcome
depends on circumstances. Children are expensive luxuries. They
must be properly educated and even the boys must be left a fair
fortune.[*] The girls must always have good dowries, or they cannot
"marry according to their station." Public opinion, as well as
the law, allows a father (at least if he has one or two children
already) to exercise a privilege, which later ages will pronounce
one of the foulest blots on Greek civilization. After the birth
of a child there is an anxious day or two for the poor young mother
and the faithful nurses.--Will he 'nourish' it? Are there boys
enough already? Is the disappointment over the birth of a daughter
too keen? Does he dread the curtailment in family luxuries necessary
to save up for an allowance or dowry for the little stranger? Or
does the child promise to be puny, sickly, or even deformed? If
any of these arguments carry adverse weight, there is no appeal
against the father's decision. He has until the fifth day after
the birth to decide. In the interval he can utter the fatal words,
"Expose it!" The helpless creature is then put in a rude cradle,
or more often merely in a shallow pot and placed near some public
place; e.g. the corner of the Agora, or near a gymnasium, or the
entrance to a temple. Here it will soon die of mere hunger and
neglect unless rescued. If the reasons for exposure are evident
physical defects, no one will touch it. Death is certain. If,
however, it seems healthy and well formed, it is likely to be
taken up and cared for. Not out of pure compassion, however. The
harpies who raise slaves and especially slave girls, for no honest
purposes, are prompt to pounce upon any promising looking infant.
They will rear it as a speculation; if it is a girl, they will
teach it to sing, dance, play. The race of light women in Athens
is thus really recruited from the very best families. The fact
is well known, but it is constantly winked at. Aristophanes, the
comic poet, speaks of this exposure of children as a common feature
of Athenian life. Socrates declares his hearers are vexed when
he robs them of pet ideas, "like women who have had their children
taken from them." There is little or nothing for men of a later
day to say of this custom save condemnation.[+]
[*]The idea of giving a lad a "schooling" and then turning him loose
to earn his own living in the world was contrary to all Athenian
theory and practice.
[+]About the only boon gained by this foul usage was the fact that,
thanks to it, the number of physically unfit persons in Athens
was probably pretty small, for no one would think of bringing up
a child which, in its first babyhood, promised to be a cripple.
46. The Celebration of a Birth.--But assuredly in a majority
of cases, the coming of a child is more than welcome. If a girl,
tufts of wool are hung before the door of the happy home; if a boy,
there is set out an olive branch. Five days after the birth, the
nurse takes the baby, wrapped almost to suffocation in swaddling
bands, to the family hearth in the "andron," around which she runs
several times, followed doubtless, in merry, frolicking procession,
by most of the rest of the family. The child is now under the care
of the family gods. There is considerable eating and drinking.
Exposure now is no longer possible. A great load is off the mind
of the mother. But on the "tenth day" comes the real celebration
and the feast. This is the "name day." All of the kinsmen are
present. The house is full of incense and garlands. The cook is
in action in the kitchen. Everybody brings simple gifts, along with
abundant wishes of good luck. There is a sacrifice, and during
the ensuing feast comes the naming of the child. Athenian names
are very short and simple.[*] A boy has often his father's name,
but more usually his grandfather's, as, e.g., Themistocles, the
son of Neocles, the son of Themistocles: the father's name being
usually added in place of a surname. In this way certain names
will become a kind of family property, and sorrowful is the day
when there is no eligible son to bear them!
The child is now a recognized member of the community. His father
has accepted him as a legitimate son, one of his prospective heirs,
entitled in due time to all the rights of an Athenian citizen.
[*]Owing to this simplicity and the relatively small number of
Athenian names, a directory of the city would have been a perplexing
47. Life and Games of Young Children.--The first seven years of a
Greek boy's life are spent with his nurses and his mother. Up to
that time his father takes only unofficial interest in his welfare.
Once past the first perilous "five days," an Athenian baby has
no grounds to complain of his treatment. Great pains are taken
to keep him warm and well nourished. A wealthy family will go to
some trouble to get him a skilful nurse, those from Sparta being
in special demand, as knowing the best how to rear healthy infants.
He has all manner of toys, and Aristotle the philosopher commends
their frequent donation; otherwise, he says, children will be
always "breaking things in the house." Babies have rattles. As
they grow older they have dolls of painted clay or wax, sometimes
with movable hands and feet, and also toy dishes, tables, wagons,
and animals. Lively boys have whipping toys, balls, hoops, and
swings. There is no lack of pet dogs, nor of all sorts of games on
the blind man's bluff and "tag" order.[*] Athenian children are,
as a class, very active and noisy. Plato speaks feelingly of their
perpetual "roaring." As they grow larger, they begin to escape
more and more from the narrow quarters of the courts of the house,
and play in the streets.
[*]It is not always easy to get the exact details of such ancient
games, for the "rules" have seldom come down to us; but generally
speaking, the games of Greek children seem extremely like those of
the twentieth century.
48. Playing in the Streets.--Narrow, dirty, and dusty as the
streets seem, children, even of good families, are allowed to play
in them. After a rain one can see boys floating toy boats of
leather in every mud puddle, or industriously making mud pies. In
warm weather the favorite if cruel sport is to catch a beetle, tie
a string to its legs, let it fly off, then twitch it back again.
Leapfrog, hide-and-seek, etc., are in violent progress down every
alley. The streets are not all ideal playgrounds. Despite genteel
ideas of dignity and moderation, there is a great deal of foul talk
and brawling among the passers, and Athenian children have receptive
eyes and ears. Yet on the other hand, there is a notable regard
and reverence for childhood. With all its frequent callousness and
inhumanity, Greek sentiment abhors any brutality to young children.
Herodotus the historian tells of the falling of a roof, whereby one
hundred and twenty school children perished, as being a frightful
calamity,[*] although recounting cold-blooded massacres of thousands
of adults with never a qualm; and Herodotus is a very good spokesman
for average Greek opinion.
[*]Herodotus, VI. 27.
49. The First Stories and Lessons.--Athens has no kindergartens.
The first teaching which children will receive is in the form of
fables and goblin tales from their mothers and nurses,--usually
with the object of frightening them into "being good,"--tales of the
spectral Lami�, or of the horrid witch Mormo who will catch nasty
children; or of Empusa, a similar creature, who lurks in shadows
and dark rooms; or of the Kabaloi, wild spirits in the woods. Then
come the immortal fables of �sop with their obvious application
towards right conduct. Athenian mothers and teachers have no
two theories as to the wisdom of corporeal punishment. The rod
is never spared to the spoiling of the child, although during the
first years the slipper is sufficient. Greek children soon have
a healthy fear of their nurses; but they often learn to love them,
and funeral monuments will survive to perpetuate their grateful
50. The Training of Athenian Girls.--Until about seven years old
brothers and sisters grow up in the Gyn�conitis together. Then the
boys are sent to school. The girls will continue about the house
until the time of their marriage. It is only in the rarest of
cases that the parents feel it needful to hire any kind of tutor
for THEM. What the average girl knows is simply what her mother
can teach her. Perhaps a certain number of Athenian women (of good
family, too) are downright illiterate; but this is not very often
the case. A normal girl will learn to read and write, with her
mother for school mistress.[*] Very probably she will be taught
to dance, and sometimes to play on some instrument, although this
last is not quite a proper accomplishment for young women of good
family. Hardly any one dreams of giving a woman any systematic
intellectual training.[+] Much more important it is that she
should know how to weave, spin, embroider, dominate the cook, and
superintend the details of a dinner party. She will have hardly
time to learn these matters thoroughly before she is "given a
husband," and her childhood days are forever over (see � 27).
[*]There has come down to us a charming Greek terra-cotta (it is
true, not from Athens) showing a girl seated on her mother's knee,
and learning from a roll which she holds.
[+]Plato suggested in his "Republic" (V. 451 f.) that women should
receive the same educational opportunities as the men. This was
a proposition for Utopia and never struck any answering chord.
Meantime her brother has been started upon a course of education
which, both in what it contains and in what it omits, is one of
the most interesting and significant features of Athenian life.
Chapter IX. The Schoolboys of Athens.
51. Athenians Generally Literate.--Education is not compulsory by
law in Athens, but the father who fails to give his son at least a
modicum of education falls under a public contempt, which involves no
slight penalty. Practically all Athenians are at least literate.
In Aristophanes's famous comedy, "The Knights," a boorish
"sausage-seller" is introduced, who, for the purposes of the play,
must be one of the very scum of society, and he is made to cry,
"Only consider now my education! I can but barely read, just in
a kind of way."[*] Evidently if illiterates are not very rare in
Athens, the fellow should have been made out utterly ignorant. "He
can neither swim[+] nor say his letters," is a common phrase for
describing an absolute idiot. When a boy has reached the age of
seven, the time for feminine rule is over; henceforth his floggings,
and they will be many, are to come from firm male hands.
[*]Aristophanes, "Knights", II. 188-189.
[+]Swimming was an exceedingly common accomplishment among the
Greeks, naturally enough, so much of their life being spent upon
or near the sea.
52. Character Building the Aim of Athenian Education.--The true
education is of course begun long before the age of seven. CHARACTER
NOT BOOK-LEARNING, IS THE MAIN OBJECT OF ATHENIAN EDUCATION, i.e.
to make the boy self-contained, modest, alert, patriotic, a true
friend, a dignified gentleman, able to appreciate and participate
in all that is true, harmonius and beautiful in life. To that end
his body must be trained, not apart from, but along with his mind.
Plato makes his character Protagoras remark, "As soon as a child
understands what is said to him, the nurse, the mother, the pedagogue,
and the father vie in their efforts to make him good, by showing
him in all that he does that 'THIS is right,' and 'THAT is wrong';
'this is pretty,' and 'that is ugly'; so that he may learn what to
follow and what to shun. If he obeys willingly--why, excellent.
If not, then try by threats and blows to correct him, as men
straighten a warped and crooked sapling." Also after he is fairly
in school "the teacher is enjoined to pay more attention to his
morals and conduct than to his progress in reading and music."
53. The Schoolboy's Pedagogue.--It is a great day for an Athenian
boy when he is given a pedagogue. This slave (perhaps purchased
especially for the purpose) is not his teacher, but he ought to be
more than ordinarily honest, kindly, and well informed. His prime
business is to accompany the young master everywhere out-of-doors,
especially to the school and to the gymnasium; to carry his books
and writing tablets; to give informal help upon his lessons; to
keep him out of every kind of mischief; to teach him social good
manners; to answer the thousand questions a healthy boy is sure to
ask; and finally, in emergencies, if the schoolmaster or his father
is not at hand, to administer a needful whipping. A really capable
pedagogue can mean everything to a boy; but it is asking too much
that a purchased slave should be an ideal companion.[*] Probably
many pedagogues are responsible for their charges' idleness or
downright depravity. It is a dubious system at the best.
[*]No doubt frequently the pedagogue would be an old family servant
of good morals, loyalty, and zeal. In that case the relation might
The assigning of the pedagogue is simultaneous with the beginning
of school days; and the Athenians are not open to the charge
of letting their children waste their time during possible study
hours. As early as Solon's day (about 590 B.C.) a law had to be
passed forbidding schools to open BEFORE daybreak, or to be kept
open after dusk. This was in the interest not of good eyesight,
but of good morals. Evidently schools had been keeping even longer
than through the daylight. In any case, at gray dawn every yawning
schoolboy is off, urged on by his pedagogue, and his tasks will
continue with very little interruption through the entire day.
It is therefore with reason that the Athenian lads rejoice in the
very numerous religious holidays.
54. An Athenian School.--Leaving the worthy citizen's home, where
we have lingered long chatting on many of the topics the house and
its denizens suggest, we will turn again to the streets to seek
the school where one of the young sons of the family has been duly
conducted (possibly, one may say, driven) by his pedagogue. We
have not far to go. Athenian schools have to be numerous, because
they are small. To teach children of the poorer classes it is
enough to have a modest room and a few stools; an unrented shop
will answer. But we will go to a more pretentious establishment.
There is an anteroom by the entrance way where the pedagogues can
sit and doze or exchange gossip while their respective charges are
kept busy in the larger room within. The latter place, however,
is not particularly commodious. On the bare wall hang book-rolls,
lyres, drinking vessels, baskets for books, and perhaps some simple
geometric instruments. The pupils sit on rude, low benches, each
lad with his boxwood tablet covered with wax[*] upon his lap, and
presumably busy, scratching letters with his stylus. The master
sits on a high chair, surveying the scene. He cultivates a grim
and awful aspect, for he is under no delusion that "his pupils
love him." "He sits aloft," we are told, "like a juryman, with an
expression of implacable wrath, before which the pupil must tremble
[*]This wax tablet was practically a slate. The letters written
could be erased with the blunt upper end of the metallic stylus,
and the whole surface of the tablet could be made smooth again by
a judicious heating.
[+]The quotation is from the late writer Libanius, but it is
perfectly true for classic Athens.
Athenian schoolboys have at least their full share of idleness, as
well as of animal spirits. There is soon a loud whisper from one
corner. Instantly the ruling tyrant rises. "Antiphon! I have
heard you. Come forward!" If Antiphon is wise, he will advance
promptly and submit as cheerfully as possible to a sound caning;
if folly possesses him, he will hesitate. At a nod from the master
two older boys, who serve as monitors, will seize him with grim
chuckles. He will then be fortunate if he escapes being tied to a
post and flogged until his back is one mass of welts, and his very
life seems in danger. It will be useless for him to complain to
his parents. A good schoolmaster is supposed to flog frequently to
earn his pay; if he is sparing with the rod or lash, he is probably
lacking in energy. Boys will be boys, and there is only one remedy
for juvenile shortcomings.
This diversion, of course, with its attendant howling, interrupts
the course of the school, but presently matters again become normal.
The scholars are so few that probably there is only one teacher,
and instruction is decidedly "individual," although poetry and
singing are very likely taught "in concert."
55. The School Curriculum.--As to the subjects studied, the
Athenian curriculum is well fixed and limited: letters, music, and
gymnastics. Every lad must have a certain amount of all of these.
They gymnastics will be taught later in the day by a special
teacher at a "wrestling school." The "music" may also be taught
separately. The main effort with a young boy is surely to teach
him to read and write. And here must be recalled the relative
infrequency of complete books in classic Athens.[*] To read public
placards, inscriptions of laws, occasional epistles, commercial
documents, etc., is probably, for many Athenians, reading enough.
The great poets he will learn by ear rather than by eye; and he
may go through a long and respected life and never be compelled to
read a really sizable volume from end to end. So the teaching of
reading is along very simple lines. It is perhaps simultaneous
with the learning of writing. The twenty-four letters are learned
by sheer power of memory; then the master sets lines upon the
tablets to be copied. As soon as possible the boy is put to learning
and writing down passages from the great poets. Progress in mere
literacy is very rapid. There is no waste of time on history,
geography, or physical science; and between the concentration on a
singly main subject and the impetus given by the master's rod the
Athenian schoolboy soon becomes adept with his letters. Possibly
a little arithmetic is taught him, but only a little. In later life,
if he does not become a trader or banker, he will not be ashamed
to reckon simple sums upon his fingers or by means of pebbles;
although if his father is ambitious to have him become a philosopher,
he may have him taught something of geometry.
Once more we see the total absence of "vocational studies" in this
Athenian education. The whole effort is to develop a fair, noble,
free, and lofty character, not to earn a living. To set a boy
to study with an eye to learning some profitable trade is counted
illiberal to the last degree. It is for this reason that practical
arithmetic is discouraged, yet a little knowledge of the art
of outline drawing is allowed; for though no gentleman intends to
train his son to be a great artist, the study will enable him to
appreciate good sculpture and painting. Above all the schoolmaster,
who, despite his brutal austerity, ought to be a clear-sighted
and inspiring teacher, must lose no opportunity to instill moral
lessons, and develop the best powers of his charges. Theoginis,
the old poet of Megara, states the case well:--
To rear a child is easy; but to teach
Morals and manners is beyond our reach.
To make the foolish wise, the wicked good,
That science never yet understood.
56. The Study of the Poets.--It is for the developing of the best
moral and mental qualities in the lads that they are compelled to
memorize long passages of the great poets of Hellas. Theoginis,
with his pithy admonitions cast in semi-proverb form, the worldly
wisdom of Hesiod, and of Phocylides are therefore duly flogged
into every Attic schoolboy.[*] But the great text-book dwarfing
all others, is Homer,--"the Bible of the Greeks," as later ages
will call it. Even in the small school we visit, several of the
pupils can repeat five or six long episodes from both the "Iliad"
and the "Odyssey," and there is one older boy present (an extraordinary,
but by no means an unprecedented case) who can repeat BOTH of the
long epics word for word.[+] Clearly the absence of many books has
then its compensations. The average Athenian lad has what seems
to be a simply marvelous memory.
[*]Phocylides, whose gnomic poetry is now preserved to us only in
scant fragments, was an Ionian, born about 560 B.C. His verses
were in great acceptance in the schools.
[+]For such an attainment see Xenophon's "Symposium," 3:5.
And what an admirable text-book and "second reader" the Homeric poems
are! What characters to imitate: the high-minded, passionate, yet
withal loyal and lovable Achilles who would rather fight gloriously
before Troy (though death in the campaign is certain) than live a
long life in ignoble ease at home at Phthia; or Oysseus, the "hero
of many devices," who endures a thousand ills and surmounts them
all; who lets not even the goddess Calypso seduce him from his
love to his "sage Penelope"; who is ever ready with a clever tale,
a plausible lie, and, when the need comes, a mighty deed of manly
valor. The boys will all go home to-night with firm resolves to
suffer all things rather than leave a comrade unavenged, as Achilles
was tempted to do and nobly refused, and to fight bravely, four
against forty, as Odysseus and his comrades did, when at the call
of duty and honor they cleared the house of the dastard suitors.
True, philosophers like Plato complain: "Homer gives to lads very
undignified and unworthy ideas of the gods"; and men of a later
age will assert: "Homer has altogether too little to say about
the cardinal virtues of truthfulness and honesty."[*] But making
all allowances the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" are still the two grandest
secular text-books the world will ever know. The lads are definitely
the better for them.
[*]The virtue of unflinching HONESTY was undoubtedly the thing least
cultivated by the Greek education. Successful prevarication, e.g.
in the case of Odysseus, was put at altogether too high a premium.
It is to be feared that the average Athenian schoolboy was only
partially truthful. The tale of "George Washington and the cherry
tree" would never have found favor in Athens. The great Virginian
would have been blamed for failing to concoct a clever lie.
Three years, according to Plato, are needed to learn the rudiments
of reading and writing before the boys are fairly launched upon
this study of the poets. For several years more they will spend
most of their mornings standing respectfully before their master,
while he from his chair reads to them from the roll of one author
or another,--the pupils repeating the lines, time and again, until
they have learned them, while the master interrupts to explain
every nice point in mythology, in real or alleged history, or a
moot question in ethics.
57. The Greeks do not study Foreign Languages.--As the boys
grow older the scope of their study naturally increases; but in
one particular their curriculum will seem strangely limited. THE
STUDY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES HAS NO PLACE IN A GREEK COURSE OF STUDY.
That any gentleman should learn say Persian, or Egyptian (unless
he intended to devote himself to distant travel), seems far more
unprofitable than, in a later age, the study of say Patagonian
or Papuan will appear.[*] Down at the Peir�us there are a few
shipmasters, perhaps, who can talk Egyptian, Ph�necian, or Babylonish.
They need the knowledge for their trade, but even they will disclaim
any cultural value for their accomplishment. The euphonious,
expressive, marvelously delicate tongue of Hellas sums up for the
Athenian almost all that is valuable in the world's intellectual
and literary life. What has the outer, the "Barbarian," world
to give him?--Nothing, many will say, but some gold darics which
will corrupt his statesmen, and some spices, carpets, and similar
luxuries which good Hellenes can well do without. The Athenian
lad will never need to crucify the flesh upon Latin, French, and
German, or an equivalent for his own Greek. Therein perhaps he
may be heavily the loser, save that his own mother tongue is so
intricate and full of subtle possibilities that to learn to make
the full use thereof is truly a matter for lifelong education.
[*]This fact did not prevent the Greeks from having a considerable
respect for the traditions and lore of, e.g., the Egyptians, and
from borrowing a good many non-Greek usages and inventions; but
all this could take place without feeling the least necessity for
studying foreign languages.
58. The Study of "Music."--But the Athenian has a substitute for
this omission of foreign language study: MUSIC. This is something
more comprehensive than "the art of combining tones in a manner to
please the ear" [Webster]. It is practically the study of whatever
will develop the noble powers of the emotions, as contrasted to
the mere intellect.[*] Indeed everything which comes within the
ample provinces of the nine Muses, even sober history, might be
included in the term. However, for special purposes, the study of
"Music" may be considered as centering around playing instruments
and singing. The teacher very likely resides in a house apart
from the master of the school of letters. Aristophanes gives this
picture of the good old customs for the teaching of music. "The
boys from the same section of the town have to march thinly clad
and draw up in good order--though the snow be thick as meal--to the
house of the harp master. There he will teach them [some famous
tune] raising a mighty melody. If any one acts silly or turns any
quavers, he gets a good hard thrashing for 'banishing the Muses!'"[+]
[*]Aristotle ["Politics," V. (or VIII.) 1] says that the literary
education is to train the mind; while music, though of no practical
use, "provides a noble and liberal employment of leisure."
[+]Aristophanes's "The Clouds". The whole passage is cited in
Davis's "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 252-255.
Learning to sing is probably the most important item, for every
boy and man ought to be able to bear his part in the great chorals
which are a notable element in most religious festivals; besides,
a knowledge of singing is a great aid to appreciating lyric poetry,
or the choruses in tragedy, and in learning to declaim. To learn
to sing elaborate solo pieces is seldom necessary,--it is not quite
genteel in grown-up persons, for it savors a little too much of the
professional. So it is also with instrumental music. The Greeks
lack the piano, the organ, the elaborate brass instruments of a
later day. Their flutes and harps, although very sweet, might seem
thin to a twentieth-century critic. But one can gain considerable
volume by the great NUMBER of instruments, and nearly everybody
in Athens can pick at the lyre after a fashion. The common type of
harp is the lyre, and it has enough possibilities for the average boy.
The more elaborate CITHERA is usually reserved for professionals.[*]
An Athenian lad is expected to be able to accompany his song upon
his own lyre and to play in concert with his fellows.
[*]For the details of these harp types of instruments see Dictionary
The other instrument in common use is the FLUTE. At its simplest,
this is a mere shepherd's pipe. Anybody can make one with a knife
and some rushes. Then come elaborations; two pipes are fitted
together into one wooden mouthpiece. Now, we really have an
instrument with possibilities. But it is not in such favor in the
schools as the lyre. You cannot blow day after day upon the flute
and not distort your cheeks permanently. Again the gentleman's
son will avoid "professionalism." There are amateur flute players
moving in the best society, but the more fastidious frown upon the
instrument, save for hired performers.
59. The Moral Character of Greek Music.--Whether it is singing,
harp playing, or flute playing, a most careful watch is kept upon
the CHARACTER of the music taught the lads. The master who lets
his pupils learn many soft, dulcet, languishing airs will find his
charges' parents extremely angry, even to depriving him of their
patronage. Very soft music, in "Lydian modes," is counted effeminate,
fit only for the women's quarters and likely to do boys no good.
The riotous type also, of the "Ionic mode," is fit only for drinking
songs and is even more under the ban.[*] What is especially in
favor is the stern, strenuous Dorian mode. This will make boys
hardy, manly, and brave. Very elaborate music with trills and
quavers is in any case frowned upon. It simply delights the trained
ear, and has no reaction upon the character; and of what value is
a musical presentation unless it leaves the hearers and performer
better, worthier men? Let the average Athenian possess the
opportunity, and he will infallibly stamp with disapproval a great
part of both the popular and the classical music of the later
[*]The "Phrygian mode" from which the "Ionic" was derived was still
more demoralizing; it was counted "orgiastic," and proper only in
certain excited religious rhapsodies.
[+]We have extremely few Greek melodies preserved to us and these
few are not attractive to the modern ear. All that can fairly be
said is that the Hellenes were obvious such �sthetic, harmoniously
minded people that it is impossible their music should have failed
in nobility, beauty, and true melody.
60. The Teaching of Gymnastics.--The visits to the reading school
and to the harp master have consumed a large part of the day; but
towards afternoon the pedagogues will conduct their charges to the
third of the schoolboys' tyrants: the gymnastic teacher. Nor do
his parents count this the least important of the three. Must not
their sons be as physically "beautiful" (to use the common phrase
in Athens) as possible, and must they not some day, as good citizens,
play their brave part in war? The pal�stras (literally "wrestling
grounds") are near the outskirts of the city, where land is cheap
and a good-sized open space can be secured. Here the lads are
given careful instruction under the constant eye of an expert in
running, wrestling, boxing, jumping, discus hurling, and javelin
casting. They are not expected to become professional athletes,
but their parents will be vexed if they do not develop a healthy
tan all over their naked bodies,[*] and if they do not learn at
least moderate proficiency in the sports and a certain amount of
familiarity with elementary military maneuvers. Of course boys
of marked physical ability will be encouraged to think of training
for the various great "games" which culminate at Olympia, although
enlightened opinion is against the promoting of professional
athletics; and certain extreme philosophers question the wisdom of
any extensive physical culture at all, "for (say they) is not the
human mind the real thing worth developing?"[+]
[*]To have a pale, untanned skin was "womanish" and unworthy of a
free Athenian citizen.
[+]The details of the boys' athletic games, being much of a kind
with those followed by adults at the regular public gymnasia, are
here omitted. See Chap. XVII.
Weary at length and ready for a hearty meal and sleep, the boys
are conducted homeward by their pedagogues.
As they grow older the lads with ambitious parents will be given
a more varied education. Some will be put under such teachers of
the new rhetoric and oratory, now in vogue, as the famous socrates,
and be taught to play the orator as an aid to inducing their fellow
citizens to bestow political advancement. Certain will be allowed
to become pupils of Plato, who has been teaching his philosophy
out at the groves of the Academy, or to join some of his rivals in
theoretical wisdom. Into these fields, however, we cannot follow
61. The Habits and Ambitions of Schoolboys.--It is a clear fact,
that by the age say of thirteen, the Athenian education has had a
marked effect upon the average schoolboy. Instead of being "the
most ferocious of animals," as Plato, speaking of his untutored
state describes him, he is now "the most amiable and divine of
living beings." The well-trained lad goes now to school with his
eyes cast upon the ground, his hands and arms wrapped in his chiton,
making way dutifully for all his elders. If he is addressed by an
older man, he stands modestly, looking downward and blushing in a
manner worthy of a girl. He has been taught to avoid the Agora,
and if he must pass it, never to linger. The world is full of
evil and ugly things, but he is taught to hear and see as little of
them as possible. When men talk of his healthy color, increasing
beauty, and admire the graceful curves of his form at the wrestling
school, he must not grow proud. He is being taught to learn relatively
little from books, but a great deal from hearing the conversation
of grave and well-informed men. As he grows older his father will
take him to all kinds of public gatherings and teach him the working
details of the "Democratic Government" of Athens. He becomes
intensely proud of his city. It is at length his chief thought,
almost his entire life. A very large part of the loyalty which
an educated man of a later age will divide between his home, his
church, his college, his town, and his nation, the Athenian lad
will sum up in two words,--"my polis"; i.e. the city of Athens.
His home is largely a place for eating and sleeping; his school
is not a great institution, it is simply a kind of disagreeable
though necessary learning shop; his church is the religion of his
ancestors, and this religion is warp and woof of the government,
as much a part thereof as the law courts or the fighting fleet;
his town and his nation are alike the sovran city-state of Athens.
Whether he feels keenly a wider loyalty to Hellas at large, as
against the Great King of Persia, for instance, will depend upon
circumstances. In a real crisis, as at Salamis,--yes. In ordinary
circumstances when there is a hot feud with Sparta,--no.
62. The "Ephebi."--The Athenian education then is admirably adapted
to make the average lad a useful and worthy citizen, and to make
him modest, alert, robust, manly, and a just lover of the beautiful,
both in conduct and in art. It does not, however, develop his
individual bent very strongly; and it certainly gives him a mean
view of the dignity of labor. He will either become a leisurely
gentleman, whose only proper self-expression will come in warfare,
politics, or philosophy; or--if he be poor--he will at least envy
and try to imitate the leisure class.
By eighteen the young Athenian's days of study will usually come
to a close. At that age he will be given a simple festival by
his father and be formally enrolled in his paternal deme.[*] His
hair, which has hitherto grown down toward his shoulders, will be
clipped short. He will allow his beard to grow. At the temple
of Aglaurus he will (with the other youths of his age) take solemn
oath of loyalty to Athens and her laws. For the next year he will
serve as a military guard at the Peir�us, and receive a certain
training in soldiering. The next year the state will present
him with a new shield and spear, and he will have a taste of the
rougher garrison duty at one of the frontier forts towards B�tia or
Megara.[+] Then he is mustered out. He is an ephebus no longer,
but a full-fledged citizen, and all the vicissitudes of Athenian
life are before him.
[*]One of the hundred or more petty townships or precincts into
which Attica was divided.
[+]These two years which the ephebi of Athens had to serve under
arms have been aptly likened to the military service now required
of young men in European countries.
Chapter X. The Physicians of Athens.
63. The Beginnings of Greek Medical Science.--As we move about
the city we cannot but be impressed by the high average of fine
physiques and handsome faces. Your typical Greek is fair in color
and has very regular features. The youths do not mature rapidly,
but thanks to the gymnasia and the regular lives, they develop not
merely admirable, but healthy, bodies. The proportion of hale and
hearty OLD men is great; and probably the number of invalids is
considerably smaller than in later times and in more artificially
reared communities.[*] Nevertheless, the Athenians are certainly
mortal, and subject to bodily ills, and the physician is no unimportant
member of society, although his exact status is much less clearly
determined than it will be in subsequent ages.
[*]A slight but significant witness to the general healthiness of
the Greeks is found in the very rare mention in their literature
of such a common ill as TOOTHACHE.
Greek medicine and surgery, as it appears in Homer, is simply a
certain amount of practical knowledge gained by rough experience,
largely supplemented by primitive superstition. It was quite as
important to know the proper prayers and charms wherewith to approach
"Apollo the Healer," as to understand the kind of herb poultice
which would keep wounds from festering. Homer speaks of Asclepius;
however, in early days he was not a god, but simply a skilful leach.
Then as we approach historic times the physician's art becomes
more regular. Asclepius is elevated into a separate and important
deity, although it is not till 420 B.C. that his worship is formally
introduced into Athens. Long ere that time, however, medicine and
surgery had won a real place among the practical sciences. The
sick man stands at least a tolerable chance of rational treatment,
and of not being murdered by wizards and fanatical exorcists.
64. Healing Shrines and their Methods.--There exist in Athens and
in other Greek cities real sanataria[*]; these are temples devoted
to the healing gods (usually Asclepius, but sometimes Apollo,
Aphrodite, and Hera). Here the patient is expected to sleep over
night in the temple, and the god visits him in a dream, and reveals
a course of treatment which will lead to recovery. Probably there
is a good deal of sham and imposture about the process. The canny
priests know more than they care to tell about how the patient is
worked into an excitable, imaginative state; and of the very human
means employed to produce a satisfactory and informing dream.[+]
Nevertheless it is a great deal to convince the patient that he
is sure of recovery, and that nobody less than a god has dictated
the remedies. The value of mental therapeutics is keenly appreciated.
Attached to the temple are skilled physicians to "interpret" the
dream, and opportunities for prolonged residence with treatment by
baths, purgation, dieting, mineral waters, sea baths, all kinds of
mild gymnastics, etc. Entering upon one of these temple treatments
is, in short anything but surrendering oneself to unmitigated quackery.
Probably a large proportion of the former patients have recovered;
and they have testified their gratitude by hanging around the
shrine little votive tablets,[$] usually pictures of the diseased
parts now happily healed, or, for internal maladies, a written
statement of the nature of the disease. This is naturally very
encouraging to later patients: they gain confidence knowing that
many cases similar to their own have been thus cured.
[*]The most famous was at Epidaurus, where the Asclepius cult seems
to have been especially localized.
[+]The "healing sleep" employed at these temples is described, in
a kind of blasphemous parody, in Aristophanes's "Plutus." (Significant
passages are quoted in Davis's "Readings in Ancient History," vol.
I, pp. 258-261.)
[$]Somewhat as in the various Catholic pilgrimage shrines (e.g.
These visits to the healing temples are, however, expensive: not
everybody has entire faith in them; for many lesser ills also they
are wholly unnecessary. Let us look, then, at the regular physicians.
65. An Athenian Physician's Office.--There are salaried public
medical officers in Athens, and something like a public dispensary
where free treatment is given citizens in simple cases; but the
average man seems to prefer his own doctor.[*] We may enter the
office of Menon, a "regular private practitioner," and look about
us. The office itself is a mere open shop in the front of a house
near the Agora; and, like a barber's shop is something of a general
lounging place. In the rear one or two young disciples (doctors
in embryo) and a couple of slaves are pounding up drugs in mortars.
There are numbers of bags of dried herbs and little glass flasks
hanging on the walls. Near the entrance is a statue of Asclepius
the Healer, and also of the great human founder of the real medical
science among the Greeks--Hippocrates.
[*]We know comparatively little of these public physicians; probably
they were mainly concerned with the health of the army and naval
force, the prevention of epidemics, etc.
Menon himself is just preparing to go out on his professional
calls. He is a handsome man in the prime of his life, and takes
great pains with his personal appearance. His himation is carefully
draped. His finger rings have excellent cameos. His beard has
been neatly trimmed, and he has just bathed and scented himself
with delicate Assyrian nard. He will gladly tell you that he is
in no wise a fop, but that it is absolutely necessary to produce
a pleasant personal impression upon his fastidious, irritable
patients. Menon himself claims to have been a personal pupil of
the great Hippocrates,[*] and about every other reputable Greek
physician will make the same claim. He has studied more or less
in a temple of Asclepius, and perhaps has been a member of the
medical staff thereto attached. He has also become a member of
the Hippocratic brotherhood, a semi-secret organization, associated
with the Asclepius cult, and cheerfully cherishing the dignity of
the profession and the secret arts of the guild.
[*]Who was still alive, an extremely old man. He died in Thessaly
in 357 B.C., at an alleged age of 104 years.
66. The Physician's Oath.--The oath which all this brotherhood has
sworn is noble and notable. Here are some of the main provisions:--
"I swear by Apollo the Physician, and Asclepius and Hygeia; a
[Lady Health] and Panaceia [Lady All-Cure] to honor as my parents
the master who taught me this art, and to admit to my own instruction
only his sons, my own sons, and those who have been duly inscribed
as pupils, and who have taken the medical oath, and no others. I
will prescribe such treatment as may be for the benefit of my
patients, according to my best power and judgment, and preserve
them from anything hurtful or mischievous. I will never, even if
asked, administer poison, nor advise its use. I will never give
a criminal draught to a woman. I will maintain the purity and
integrity of my art. Wherever I go, I will abstain from all mischief
or corruption, or any immodest action. If ever I hear any secret
I will not divulge it. If I keep this oath, may the gods give me
success in life and in my art. If I break this oath, may all the
reverse fall upon me."[*]
[*]For the unabridged translation of this oath, see Smith's
"Dictionary of Antiquities" (revised edition), vol. II, p. 154.
67. The Skill of Greek Physicians.--Menon's skill as a physician
and surgeon is considerable. True, he has only a very insufficient
conception of anatomy. His THEORETICAL knowledge is warped, but
he is a shrewd judge of human nature and his PRACTICAL knowledge
is not contemptible. In his private pharmacy his assistants have
compounded a great quantity of drugs which he knows how to administer
with much discernment. He has had considerable experience in dealing
with wounds and sprains, such as are common in the wars or in the
athletic games. He understands that Dame Nature is a great healer,
who is to be assisted rather than coerced; and he dislikes resorting
to violent remedies, such as bleedings and strong emetics. Ordinary
fevers and the like he can attack with success. He has no modern
an�sthetics or opium, but has a very insufficient substitute in
mandragora. He can treat simple diseases of the eye; and he knows
how to put gold filling into teeth. His surgical instruments,
however, are altogether too primitive. He is personally cleanly;
but he has not the least idea of antiseptics; the result is that
obscure internal diseases, calling for grave operations, are likely
to baffle him. He will refuse to operate, or if he does operate
the chances are against the patient.[*] In other words, his medical
skill is far in advance of his surgery.
[*]Seemingly a really serious operation was usually turned over
by the local physician to a traveling surgeon, who could promptly
disappear from the neighborhood if things went badly.
Menon naturally busies himself among the best families of Athens,
and commands a very good income. He counts it part of his equipment
to be able to persuade his patients, by all the rules of logic and
rhetoric, to submit to disagreeable treatment; and for that end
has taken lessons in informal oratory from Isocrates or one of his
associates. Some of Menon's competitors (feeling themselves less
eloquent) have actually a paid rhetorician whom they can take to
the bedside of a stubborn invalid, to induce him by irrefutable
arguments to endure an amputation.[*]
[*]Plato tells how Gorgias, the famous rhetorician, was sometimes
thus hired. A truly Greek artifice--this substitution of oratory
No such honor of course is paid to the intellects of the poorer fry,
who swarm in at Menon's surgery. Those who cannot pay to have him
bandage them himself, perforce put up with the secondary skill and
wisdom of the "disciples." The drug-mixing slaves are expected to
salve and physic the patients of their own class; but there seems
to be a law against allowing them to attempt the treatment of
68. Quacks and Charlatans.--Unluckily not everybody is wise enough
to put up with the presumably honest efforts of Menon's underlings.
There appears to be no law against anybody who wishes to pose as
a physician, and to sell his inexperience and his quack nostrums.
Vendors of every sort of cure-all abound, as well as creatures who
work on the superstitions and pretend to cure by charms and hocus-pocus.
In the market there is such a swarm of these charlatans of healing
that they bring the whole medical profession into contempt. Certain
people go so far as to distrust the efficacy of any part of the
lore of Asclepius. Says one poet tartly:--
The surgeon Menedemos, as men say,
Touched as he passed a Zeus of marble white;
Neither the marble nor his Zeus-ship might
Avail the god--they buried him to-day.
And again even to dream of the quacks is dangerous:--
Diophantes, sleeping, saw
Hermas the physician:
Diophantes never woke
From that fatal vision.[*]
[*]Both of these quotations probably date from later than 360 B.C.,
but they are perfectly in keeping with the general opinion of Greek
All in all, despite Menon's good intentions and not despicable
skill, it is fortunate the gods have made "Good Health" one of
their commonest gifts to the Athenians. Constant exercise in the
gymnasia, occasional service in the army, the absence of cramping
and unhealthful office work, and a climate which puts out-of-door
existence at a premium, secure for them a general good health that
compensates for most of the lack of a scientific medicine.
Chapter XI. The Funerals.
69. An Athenian's Will.--All Menon's patient's are to-day set
out upon the road to recovery. Hipponax, his rival, has been less
fortunate. A wealthy and elderly patient, Lycophron, died the
day before yesterday. As the latter felt his end approaching, he
did what most Athenians may put off until close to the inevitable
hour--he made his will, and called in his friends to witness it;
and one must hope there can be no doubt about the validity, the
signets attached, etc., for otherwise the heirs may find themselves
in a pretty lawsuit.
The will begins in this fashion: "The Testament of Lyophron the
Marathonian.[*] May all be well:--but if I do not recover from
this sickness, thus do I bestow my estate." Then in perfectly
cold-blooded fashion he proceeds to give his young wife and the
guardianship of his infant daughter to Stobiades, a bachelor friend
who will probably marry the widow within two months or less of the
funeral. Lycophron gives also specific directions about his tomb;
he gives legacies of money or jewelry to various old associates;
he mentions certain favorite slaves to receive freedom, and as
specifically orders certain others (victims of his displeasure)
to be kept in bondage. Lastly three reliable friends are names as
[*]In all Athenian legal documents, it was necessary to give the
deme of the interested party or parties.
70. The Preliminaries of a Funeral.--An elaborate funeral is the
last perquisite of every Athenian. Even if Lycophron had been a poor
man he would now receive obsequies seemingly far out of proportion
to his estate and income. It is even usual in Greek states to have
laws restraining the amount which may be spent upon funerals,--otherwise
great sums may be literally "burned up" upon the funeral pyres.
When now the tidings go out that Lycophron's nearest relative has
"closed his mouth," after he has breathed his last, all his male
kinsfolk and all other persons who HOPE to be remembered in the
will promptly appear in the Agora in black himatia[*] and hasten
to the barber shops to have their heads shaved. The widow might
shave her hair likewise, with all her slave maids, did not her
husband, just ere his death, positively forbid such disfigurements.
The women of the family take the body in charge the minute the
physician has declared that all is over. The customary obol is put
in the mouth of the corpse,[+] and the body is carefully washed in
perfumed water, clothed in festal white; then woolen fillets are
wound around the head, and over these a crown of vine leaves. So
arrayed, the body is ready to be laid out on a couch in the front
courtyard of the house, with the face turned toward the door so
as to seem to greet everybody who enters. In front of the house
there stands a tall earthen vase of water, wherewith the visitors
may give themselves a purifying sprinkling, after quitting the
polluting presence of a dead body.
[*]In the important city of Argos, however, WHITE was the proper
[+]This was not originally (as later asserted) a fee to Charon the
ferryman to Hades, but simply a "minimum precautionary sum, for the
dead man's use" (Dr. Jane Harrison), placed in the mouth, where a
Greek usually kept his small change.
71. Lamenting of the Dead.--Around this funeral bed the relatives
and friends keep a gloomy vigil. The Athenians after all are
southern born, and when excited seem highly emotional people. There
are stern laws dating from Solon's day against the worst excesses,
but what now occurs seems violent enough. The widow is beating
her breast, tearing her hair, gashing her cheeks with her finger
nails. Lycophron's elderly sister has ashes sprinkled upon her gray
head and ever and anon utters piteous wails. The slave women in
the background keep up a hideous moaning. The men present do not
think it undignified to utter loud lamentation and to shed frequent
tears. Least commendable of all (from a modern standpoint) are the
hired dirge singers, who maintain a most melancholy chant, all the
time beating their breasts, and giving a perfect imitation of frantic
grief. This has probably continued day and night, the mourners
perhaps taking turns by relays.
All in all it is well that Greek custom enjoins the actual funeral,
at least, on the second day following the death.[*] The "shade"
of the deceased is not supposed to find rest in the nether world
until after the proper obsequies.[+] To let a corpse lie several
days without final disposition will bring down on any family severe
reproach. In fact, on few points are the Greeks more sensitive
than on this subject of prompt burial or cremation. After a land
battle the victors are bound never to push their vengeance so far
as to refuse a "burial truce" to the vanquished; and it is a doubly
unlucky admiral who lets his crews get drowned in a sea fight,
without due effort to recover the corpses afterward and to give
them proper disposition on land.
[*]It must be remembered that the Greeks had no skilled embalmers
at their service, and that they lived in a decidedly warm climate.
[+]See the well-known case of the wandering shade of Patrocius
demanding the proper obsequies from Achilles (Iliad, XXIII. 71).
72. The Funeral Procession.--The day after the "laying-out" comes
the actual funeral. Normally it is held as early as possible in
the morning, before the rising of the sun. Perhaps while on the
way to the Agora we have passed, well outside the city, such a
mournful procession. The youngest and stoutest of the male relatives
carry the litter: although if Lycophron's relatives had desired
a really extravagant display they might have employed a mule car.
Ahead of the bier march the screaming flute players, earning their
fees by no melodious din. Then comes the litter itself with the
corpse arrayed magnificently for the finalities, a honey cake set
in the hands,[*] a flask of oil placed under the head. After this
come streaming the relatives in irregular procession: the widow and
the chief heir (her prospective second husband!) walking closest,
and trying to appear as demonstrative as possible: nor (merely
because the company is noisy and not stoical in its manner) need
we deny that there is abundant genuine grief. All sorts of male
acquaintances of the deceased bring up the rear, since it is good
form to proclaim to wide Athens that Lycophon had hosts of friends.[+]
[*]The original idea of the honey cake was simply that it was a
friendly present to the infernal gods; later came the conceit that
it was a sop to fling to the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance
[+]Women, unless they were over sixty years of age, were not allowed
to join in funeral processions unless they were first cousins, or
closer kin, of the deceased.
73. The Funeral Pyre.--So the procession moves through the still
gloomy streets of the city,--doubtless needing torch bearers as
well as flute players,--and out through some gate, until the line
halts in an open field, or better, in a quiet and convenient garden.
Here the great funeral pyre of choice dry fagots, intermixed with
aromatic cedar, has been heaped. The bier is laid thereon. There
are no strictly religious ceremonies. The company stands in
a respectful circle, while the nearest male kinsman tosses a pine
link upon the oil-soaked wood. A mighty blaze leaps up to heaven,
sending its ruddy brightness against the sky now palely flushed
with the bursting dawn. The flutists play in softer measures. As
the fire rages a few of the relatives toss upon it pots of rare
unguents; and while the flames die down, thrice the company shout
their farewells, calling their departed friend by name--"Lycophron!
So fierce is the flame it soon sinks into ashes. As soon as these
are cool enough for safety (a process hastened by pouring on water
or wine) the charred bones of the deceased are tenderly gathered
up to be placed in a stately urn. The company, less formally now,
returns to Athens, and that night there will probably be a great
funeral feast at the house of the nearest relative, everybody
eating and drinking to capacity "to do Lycophron full honor"; for
it is he who is imagined as being now for the last time the host.
74. Honors to the memory of the Dead.--Religion seems to have
very little place in the Athenian funeral: there are no priests
present, no prayers, no religious hymns. But the dead man is now
conceived as being, in a very humble and intangible way, a deity
himself: his good will is worth propitiating; his memory is not
to be forgotten. On the third, ninth, and thirtieth days after
the funeral there are simple religious ceremonies with offerings
of garlands, fruits, libations and the like, at the new tomb; and
later at certain times in the year these will be repeated. The
more enlightened will of course consider these merely graceful
remembrances of a former friend; but there is a good deal of
primitive ancestor worship even in civilized Athens.
BURNING is the usual method for the Greeks to dispose of their
dead, but the burial of unburned bodies is not unknown to them.
Probably, however, the rocky soil and the limited land space around
Athens make regular cemeteries less convenient than elsewhere: still
it would have been nothing exceptional if Lycophron had ordered in
his will that he be put in a handsome pottery coffin to be placed
in a burial ground pertaining to his family.
75. The Beautiful Funeral Monuments.--If the noisy funeral customs
permitted to the Athenians may repel a later day observer, there
can be only praise for the Athenian tombs, or rather the funeral
monuments (st�l�) which might be set over the urns or ashes or the
actual coffins. Nearly every Athenian family has a private field
which it uses for sepulchral purposes: but running outside of
the city, near the Itonian Gate along the road to the Peir�us, the
space to either side of the highway has been especially appropriated
for this purpose. Waling hither along this "Street of the Tombs"
we can make a careful survey of some of the most touching memorials
of Athenian life.
The period of hot, violent grief seems now over; the mourners have
settled down in their dumb sense of loss. This spirit of calm,
noble resignation is what is expressed upon these monuments. All
is chaste, dignified, simple. There are no labored eulogies of
the deceased; no frantic expressions of sorrow; no hint (let it
be also said) of any hope of reunions in the Hereafter. Sometimes
there is simply a plain marble slab or pillar marked with the name
of the deceased; and with even the more elaborate monuments the
effort often is to concentrate, into one simple scene, the best and
worthiest that was connected with the dear departed. Here is the
noble mother seated in quiet dignity extending her hand in farewell
to her sad but steadfast husband, while her children linger wonderingly
by; here is the athlete, the young man in his pride, depicted not
in the moment of weakness and death, but scraping his glorious form
with his strigil, after some victorious contest in the games; here
is the mounted warrior, slain before Corinth whilst battling for
his country, represented in the moment of overthrowing beneath
his flying charger some despairing foe. We are made to feel that
these Athenians were fair and beautiful in their lives, and that
in their deaths they were not unworthy. And we marvel, and admire
these monuments the more when we realize that they are not the work
of master sculptors but of ordinary paid craftsmen. We turn away
praising the city that could produce such noble sculpture and
call it mere handicraft, and praising also the calm poise of soul,
uncomforted by revealed religion, which could make these monuments
common expressions of the bitterest, deepest, most vital emotions
which can ever come to men.[*]
[*]As Von Falke (Greece and Rome, p. 141) well says of these
monuments, "No skeleton, no scythe, no hour-glass is in them to
bring a shudder to the beholder. As they [the departed] were in
life, mother and daughter, husband and wife, parents and children,
here they are represented together, sitting or standing, clasping
each other's hands and looking at one another with love and sympathy
as if it were their customary affectionate intercourse. What the
stone perpetuates is the love and happiness they enjoyed together,
while yet they rejoiced in life and the light of day."
Chapter XII. Trade, Manufactures, and Banking.
76. The Commercial Importance of Athens.--While the funeral mourners
are wending their slow way homeward we have time to examine certain
phases of Athenian life at which we have previously glanced, then
ignored. Certain it is, most "noble and good" gentlemen delight
to be considered persons of polite uncommercial leisure; equally
certain it is that a good income is about as desirable in Athens
as anywhere else, and many a stately "Eupatrid," who seems to
spend his whole time in dignified walks, discoursing on politics
or philosophy, is really keenly interested in trades, factories,
or farms, of which his less nobly born stewards have the active
management. Indeed one of the prime reasons for Athenian greatness
is the fact that Athens is the richest and greatest commercial city
of Continental Hellas, with only Corinth as a formidable rival.[*]
[*]Syracuse in distant Sicily was possibly superior to Athens in
commerce and economic prosperity, although incomparably behind her
in the empire of the arts and literature.
To understand the full extent of Athenian commercial prosperity we
must visit the Peir�us, yet in the main city itself will be found
almost enough examples of the chief kinds of economic activity.
77. The Manufacturing Activities of Athens.--Attica is the seat
of much manufacturing. Go to the suburbs: everywhere is the rank
odor of the tanneries; down at the harbors are innumerable ship
carpenters and sail and tackle makers, busy in the shipyards; from
almost every part of the city comes the clang of hammer and anvil
where hardware of all kinds is being wrought in the smithies; and
finally the potter makers are so numerous as to require special
mention hereafter. But no list of all the manufacturing activities
is here possible; enough that practically every known industry is
represented in Athens, and the "industrial" class is large.[*] A
very large proportion of the industrial laborers are slaves, but
by no means all. A good many are real Athenian citizens; a still
larger proportion are "metics" (resident foreigners without political
rights). The competition of slave labor, however, tends to keep
wages very low. An unskilled laborer will have to be content with
his 3 obols (9 cents  or $1.51 ) per day; but a trained
workman will demand a drachma (18 cents  or $3.02 )
or even more. There are no labor unions or trade guilds. A son
usually, though not invariably, follows his father's profession.
Each industry and line of work tends to have its own little street
or alley, preferably leading off the Agora. "The Street of the Marble
Workers," the "Street of the Box Makers," and notably the "Street
of the Potters" contain nearly all the workshops of a given kind.
Probably you can find no others in the city. Prices are regulated
by custom and competition; in case any master artisan is suspected
of "enhancing" the price of a needful commodity, or his shady business
methods seem dangerous to the public, there is no hesitation in
invoking an old law or passing a new one in the Assembly to bring
him to account.
[*]For a very suggestive list of the numerous kinds of Greek industries
(practically all of which would be represented in Athens) see H.
J. Edwards, in Whibley's "Companion to Greek Studies," p. 431.
Manufacturers are theoretically under a social ban, and indeed
yonder petty shoemaker, who, with his two apprentices, first makes
up his cheap sandals, then sells them over the low counter before
his own ship, is very far from being a "leisurely" member of the
"noble and the good." But he who, like the late Lycophron, owns
a furniture factory employing night threescore slaves, can be sure
of lying down on his couch at a dinner party among the very best;
for, as in twentieth century England, even manufacture and "trade," if
on a sufficiently large scale, cover a multitude of social sins.[*]
[*]Plato, probably echoing thoughtful Greek opinion, considered it
bad for manufacturers to be either too wealthy or too poor; thus
a potter getting too rich will neglect his art, and grow idle;
if, however, he cannot afford proper tools, he will manufacture
inferior wares, and his sons will be even worse workmen then he.
Such comment obviously comes from a society where most industrial
life is on a small scale.
78. The Commerce of Athens.--Part of Athenian wealth comes from
the busy factories, great and small, which seem everywhere; still
more riches come in by the great commerce which will be found
centered at the Peir�us. Here is the spacious Deigma, a kind
of exchange-house where ship masters can lay out samples of their
wares on display, and sell to the important wholesalers, who will
transmit to the petty shopkeepers and the "ultimate consumer."[*]
[*]Of course a very large proportion of Greek manufactures wares
were never exported, but were sold direct by the manufacturer to
the consumer himself. This had various disadvantages; but there
was this large gain: ONLY ONE PROFIT was necessary to be added
to the mere cost of production. This aided to make Greece (from
a modern standpoint) a paradise of low prices.
There are certain articles of which various districts make a
specialty, and which Athens is constantly importing: B�tia sends
chariots; Thessaly, easy chairs; Chios and Miletos, bedding; and
Miletos, especially, very fine woolens. Greece in general looks
to Syria and Arabia for the much-esteemed spices and perfumes; to
Egypt for papyri for the book rolls; to Babylonia for carpets. To
discuss the whole problem of Athenian commerce would require a book
in itself; but certain main facts stand out clearly. One is that
Attica herself has extremely few natural products to export--only her
olive oil, her Hymettus honey, and her magnificent marbles--dazzling
white from Pentelicos, gray from Hymettus, blue or black from
Eleusis. Again we soon notice the great part which GRAIN plays in
Athenian commerce. Attica raises such a small proportion of the
necessary breadstuffs, and so serious is the crisis created by any
shortage, that all kinds of measures are employed to compel a steady
flow of grain from the Black Sea ports into the Peir�us. Here is
a law which Domsthenes quotes to us:--
"It shall not be lawful for any Athenian or any metic in Attica,
or any person under their control [i.e. slave or freedman] to lend
out money on a ship which is not commissioned to bring grain to
A second law, even more drastic, forbids any such person to
transport grain to any harbor but the Peir�us. The penalties for
evading these laws are terrific. At set intervals also the Public
Assembly (Ecclesia) is in duty bound to consider the whole state
of the grain trade: while the dealers in grain who seem to be
cornering the market, and forcing up the price of bread, are liable
to prompt and disastrous prosecution.
79. The Adventurous Merchant Skippers.--Foreign trade at Athens
is fairly well systematized, but it still partakes of the nature
of an adventure. The name for "skipper" (naukl�ros) is often used
interchangeably for "merchant." Nearly all commerce is by sea,
for land routes are usually slow, unsafe, and inconvenient[*]; the
average foreign trader is also a shipowner, probably too the actual
working captain. He has no special commodity, but will handle
everything which promises a profit. A war is breaking out in
Paphlagonia. Away he sails thither with a cargo of good Athenian
shields, swords, and lances. He loads up in that barbarous but
fertile country with grain; but leaves enough room in his hold for
some hundred skins of choice wine which he takes aboard at Chios.
The grain and wine are disembarked at the Pir�us. Hardly are they
ashore ere rumor tells him that salt herring[+] are abundant and
especially cheap at Corcyra; and off he goes for a return cargo
thereof, just lingering long enough to get on a lading of Athenian
[*]Naturally there was a safe land route from Athens across the
Isthmus to Corinth and thence to Sparta or towards Ellis; again,
there would be fair roads into B�tia.
[+]Salt fish were a very usual and important article of Greek
80. Athenian Money-changers and Bankers.--An important factor in the
commerce of Athens is the "Money-changer." There is no one fixed
standard of coinage for Greece, let alone the Barbarian world. Athens
strikes its money on a standard which has very wide acceptance,
but Corinth has another standard, and a great deal of business is
also transacted in Persian gold darics. The result is that at the
Peir�us and near the Agora are a number of little "tables" where
alert individuals, with strong boxes beside them, are ready to sell
foreign coins to would-be travelers, or exchange darics for Attic
drachm�, against a pretty favorable commission.
This was the beginning of the Athenian banker; but from being a mere
exchanger he has often passed far beyond, to become a real master
of credit and capital. There are several of these highly important
gentlemen who now have a business and fortune equal to that of the
famous Pasion, who died in 370 B.C. While the firm of Pasion and
Company was at its height, the proprietor derived a net income of
at least 100 min� (over $1,800  or $30,248.07 ) per year
from his banking; and more than half as much extra from a shield
[*]These sums seem absurdly small for a great money magnate, but
the very high purchasing power of money in Athens must be borne in
mind. We know a good deal about Pasion and his business from the
speeches which Deosthenes composed in the litigation which arose
over his estate.
81. A Large Banking Establishment.--Enter now the "tables"
of Nicanor. The owner is a metic; perhaps he claims to come from
Rhodes, but the shrewd cast of his eyes and the dark hue of his skin
gives a suggestion of the Syrian about him. In his open office a
dozen young half-naked clerks are seated on low chairs--each with
his tablet spread out upon his knees laboriously computing long
sums.[*] The proprietor himself acts as the cashier. He has
not neglected the exchange of foreign moneys; but that is a mere
incidental. His first visitor this morning presents a kind of letter
of credit from a correspondent in Syracuse calling for one hundred
drachm�. "Your voucher?" asks Nicanor. The stranger produces the
half of a coin broken in two across the middle. The proprietor
draws a similar half coin from a chest. The parts match exactly,
and the money is paid on the spot. the next comer is an old
acquaintance, a man of wealth and reputation; he is followed by
two slaves bearing a heavy talent of coined silver which he wishes
the banker to place for him on an advantageous loan, against a due
commission. The third visitor is a well-born but fast and idle
young man who is squandering his patrimony on flute girls and
chariot horses. He wishes an advance of ten min�, and it is given
him--against the mortgage of a house, at the ruinous interest of
36 per cent, for such prodigals are perfectly fair play. Another
visitor is a careful and competent ship merchant who is fitting
for a voyage to Crete, and who requires a loan to buy his return
cargo. Ordinary interest, well secured, is 18 per cent, but a sea
voyage, even at the calmest season, is counted extra hazardous.
The skipper must pay 24 per cent at least. A poor tradesman also
appears to raise a trifle by pawning two silver cups; and an unlucky
farmer, who cannot meet his loan, persuades the banker to extend
the time "just until the next moon"[+]--of course at an unmerciful
compounding of interest.
[*]Without the Arabic system of numerals, elaborate bookkeeping surely
presented a sober face to the Greeks. Their method of numeration
was very much like that with the so-called Roman numerals.
[+]"Watching the moon," i.e. the end of the month when the debts
became due, appears to have been the melancholy recreation of many
Athenian debtors. See Aristophanes's "Clouds," I. 18.
82. Drawbacks to the Banking Business.--Nicanor has no paper money
to handle, no stocks, no bonds,--and the line between legitimate
interest and scandalous usury is by no means clearly drawn. There
is at least one good excuse for demanding high interest. It
is notoriously hard to collect bad debts. Many and many a clever
debtor has persuaded an Athenian jury that ALL taking of interest
is somewhat immoral, and the banker has lost at least his interest,
sometimes too his principal. So long as this is the case, a banker's
career has its drawbacks; and Demosthenes in a recent speech has
commended the choice by Pasion's son of a factory worth 60 min�
per year, instead of his father's banking business worth nominally
100. The former was so much more secure than an income depending
on "other people's money!"
Finally it must be said that while Nicanor and Pasion have been
honorable and justly esteemed men, many of their colleagues have
been rogues. Many a "table" has been closed very suddenly, when
its owner absconded, or collapsed in bankruptcy, and the unlucky
depositors and creditors have been left penniless, during the
"rearrangement of the tables," as the euphemism goes.
83. The Potter of Athens.--There is one other form of economic
activity in Athens which deserves our especial notice, different as
it is from the bankers' tables,--the manufacture of earthen vases.
A long time might be spent investigating the subject; here there
is room only for a hasty glance. For more than two hundred years
Attica has been supplying the world with a pottery which is in
some respects superior to any that has gone before, and also (all
things considered) to any that will follow, through night two and
a half millenniums. The articles are primarily tall vases and
urns, some for mere ornament or for religious purposes,--some for
very humble household utility; however, besides the regular vases
there is a great variety of dishes, plates, pitchers, bowls, and
cups all of the same general pattern,--a smooth, black glaze[*]
covered with figures in the delicate red of the unglazed clay. At
first the figures had been in black and the background in red, but
by about 500 B.C. the superiority of the black backgrounds had been
fully realized and the process perfected. For a long time Athens
had a monopoly of this beautiful earthenware, but now in 360 B.C.
there are creditable manufactories in other cities, and especially
in the Greek towns of Southern Italy. The Athenian industry is,
however, still considerable; in fifty places up and down the city,
but particularly in the busy quarter of the Ceramicus, the potters'
wheels are whirling, and the glazers are adding the elegant patterns.
[*]Sometimes this glaze tended to a rich olive green or deep brown.
84. Athenian Pottery an Expression of the Greek Sense of
Beauty.--Athens is proud of her traditions of naval and military
glory; of the commerce of the Peir�us; of her free laws and
constitution; of her sculptured temples, her poets, her rhetoricians
and philosophers. Almost equally well might she be proud of her
vases. They are not made--let us bear clearly in mind--by avowed
artists, servants of the Muses and of the Beautiful; they are the
regular commercial products of work-a-day craftsmen. But what
craftsmen! In the first place, they have given to every vase
and dish a marvelous individuality. There seems to be absolutely
no duplication of patterns.[*] Again, since these vases are made
for Greeks, they must--no matter how humble and commonplace their
use--be made beautiful--elegantly shaped, well glazed, and well
painted: otherwise, no matter how cheap, they will never find a
[*]It is asserted that of the many thousands of extant Greek vases
that crowd the shelves of modern museums, there are nowhere two
patterns exactly alike.
The process of manufacture is simple, yet it needs a masterly touch.
After the potter has finished his work at the wheel and while the
clay is still soft, the decorator makes his rough design with a
blunt-pointed stylus. A line of black glaze is painted around each
figure. Then the black background is freely filled in, and the
details within the figure are added. A surprisingly small number
of deft lines are needed to bring out the whole picture.[*] Sometimes
the glaze is thinned out to a pale brown, to help in the drawing
of the interior contours. When the design is completed, we have an
amount of life and expression which with the best potters is little
short of startling. The subjects treated are infinite, as many as
are the possible phases of Greek life. Scenes in the home and on
the farm; the boys and their masters at school; the warriors, the
merchants, the priests sacrificing, the young gallants serenading
a sweet-heart; all the tales, in short of poet-lore and mythology,--time
would fail to list one tenth of them. Fairly we can assert that
were all the books and formal inscriptions about the Athenians to
be blotted out, these vase paintings almost photographs one might
say, of Athenian daily life, would give us back a very wide knowledge
of the habits of the men in the city of Athena.
[*]In this respect the Greek vase paintings can compete with the
best work in the Japanese prints.
The potters are justly proud of their work; often they do not
hesitate to add their signatures, and in this way later ages can
name the "craftsmen" who have transmitted to them these objects
of abiding beauty. The designers also are accommodating enough to
add descriptive legends of the scenes which they depict,--Achilles,
Hercules, Theseus, and all the other heroes are carefully named,
usually with the words written above or beside them.
The pottery of Athens, then, is truly Athenian; that is to say,
it is genuinely elegant, ornamental, simple, and distinctive. The
best of these great vases and mixing bowls are works of art no less
than the sculptures of Phidias upon the Parthenon.
Chapter XIII. The Armed Forces of Athens.
85. Military Life at Athens.--Hitherto we have seen almost nothing
save the peaceful civic side of Athenian life, but it is a cardinal
error to suppose that art, philosophy, farming, manufacturing, commerce,
and bloodless home politics sum up the whole of the activities of
Attica. Athens is no longer the great imperial state she was in
the days of Pericles, but she is still one of the greatest military
powers in Greece,[*] and on her present armed strength rests a
large share of her prestige and prosperity. Her fleet, which is
still her particular boast, must of course be seen at the Peir�us;
but as we go about the streets of the main city we notice many men,
who apparently had recently entered their house doors as plain,
harmless citizens, now emerging, clad in all the warrior's bravery,
and hastening towards one of the gates. Evidently a review is to
be held of part of the citizen army of Athens. If we wish, we can
follow and learn much of the Greek system of warfare in general
and of the Athenian army in particular.
[*]Of course the greatest military power of Greece had been Sparta
until 371 B.C., when the battle of Leuctra made Thebes temporarily
"the first land power."
Even at the present day, when there is plenty of complaint that
Athenians are not willing to imitate the sturdy campaigning of their
fathers, the citizens seem always at war, or getting ready for it.
Every citizen, physically fit, is liable to military service from
his eighteenth to his sixtieth year. To make efficient soldiers
is really the main end of the constant physical exercise. If a
young man takes pride in his hard and fit body, if he flings spears
at the stadium, and learns to race in full armor, if he goes on
long marches in the hot sun, if he sleeps on the open hillside, or
lies on a bed of rushes watching the moon rise over the sea,--it
is all to prepare himself for a worthy part in the "big day" when
Athens will confront some old or new enemy on the battlefield. A
great deal of the conversation among the younger men is surely not
about Platonic ideals, Demosthenes's last political speech, nor
the best fighting cocks; it is about spears, shield-straps, camping
ground, rations, ambuscades, or the problems of naval warfare.
It is alleged with some show of justice that by this time Athenians
are so enamored with the pleasures of peaceful life that they prefer
to pay money for mercenary troops rather than serve themselves on
distant expeditions; and certain it is that there are plenty of
Arcadians, Thracians, and others, from the nations which supply
the bulk of the mercenaries, always in Athenian pay in the outlying
garrisons. Still the old military tradition and organization for
the citizens is kept up, and half a generation later, when the freedom
of Athens is blasted before Philip the Macedonian at Ch�roneia, it
will be shown that if the Athenian militia does not know how to
conquer, it at least knows how to die. So we gladly follow to the
review, and gather our information.
86. The Organization of the Athenian Army.--After a young "ephebus"
has finished his two years of service in the garrisons he returns
home subject to call at the hour of need. When there is necessity
to make up an army, enough men are summoned to meet the required
number and no more. Thus for a small force only the eligibles
between say twenty and twenty-four years of age would be summoned;
but in a crisis all the citizens are levied up to the very graybeards.
The levy is conducted by the ten "Strategi" (at once 'generals,'
'admirals,' and 'war ministers') who control the whole armed power
of Athens. The recruits summoned have to come with three days'
rations to the rendezvous, usually to the Lyceum wrestling ground
just outside the city. In case of a general levy the old men are
expected to form merely a home guard for the walls; the young men
must be ready for hard service over seas.
The organization of the Athenian army is very simple; each of the
ten Attic tribes sends its own special battalion or "taxis," which
is large or small according to the total size of the levy.[*] These
"taxeis" are subdivided into companies or "lochoi," of about an
average of 100 men each. The "taxeis" are each under a tribal-colonel
("taxiarch"), and each company under its captain ("locharch"). The
ten strategi theoretically command the whole army together, but
since bitter experience teaches that ten generals are usually nine
too many, a special decree of the people often entrusts the supreme
command of a force to one commander, or at most to not over three.
The other strategi must conduct other expeditions, or busy themselves
with their multifarious home duties.
[*]Thus if 3000 men were called out, the average "taxis" would be
300 strong, but if 6000, then 600.
87. The Hoplites and the Light Troops.--The unit of the Athenian
citizen army, like practically all Greek armies, is the heavy armed
infantry soldier, the HOPLITE. An army of "three thousand men"
is often an army of so many hoplites, unless there is specific
statement to the contrary. But really it is of six thousand men,
to be entirely accurate: for along with every hoplite goes an
attendant, a "light-armed man," either a poor citizen who cannot
afford a regular suit of armor,[*] or possibly a trusted slave.
These "light-armed men" carry the hoplites' shields until the battle,
and most of the baggage. They have javelins, and sometimes slings
and bows. They act as skirmishers before the actual battle: and
while the hoplites are in the real death-grip they harass the foe
as they can, and guard the camp. When the fight is done they do
their best to cover the retreat, or slaughter the flying foe if
their own hoplites are victorious.
[*]The hoplite's panoply (see description later) was sufficiently
expensive to imply that its owner was at least a man in tolerable
88. The Cavalry and the Peltasts.--There are certain divisions of
the army besides the hoplites and this somewhat ineffective light
infantry. There is a cavalry corps of 1000. Wealthy young Athenians
are proud to volunteer therein; it is a sign of wealth to be able
to provide your war horse. The cavalry too is given the place of
honor in the great religious processions; and there is plenty of
chance for exciting scouting service on the campaign. Again, the
cavalry service has something to commend it in that it is accounted
MUCH SAFER than the infantry![*] The cavalry is, however, a rather
feeble fighting instrument. Greek riders have no saddles and no
stirrups. They are merely mounted on thin horse pads, and it is
very hard to grip the horse with the knees tightly enough to keep
from being upset ignominiously while wielding the spear. The best
use for the cavalry perhaps is for the riders to take a sheaf of
javelins, ride up and discharge them at the foe as skirmishers,
then fall back behind the hoplites; though after the battle the
horsemen will have plenty to do in the retreat or the pursuit.
[*]Greeks could seldom have been brought to imitate the reckless
medieval cavaliers. The example of Leonidas at Thermopyl� was more
commended than imitated. Outside of Sparta at least, few Greeks
would have hesitated to flee from a battlefield, when the day
(despite their proper exertions) had been wholly lost.
The Athenians have of course the Scythian police archers to send
into any battle near Athens; they can also hire mercenary archers
from Crete, but the Greek bows are relatively feeble, only three
or four feet long--by no means equal to the terrible yew bows which
will win glory for England in the Middle Ages. There has also come
into vogue, especially since the Peloponnesian war, an improved
kind of light-javelin-men,--the "Peltasts,"--with small shields,
and light armor, but with extra long lances. In recent warfare
this type of soldier, carefully trained and agile, has been known
to defeat bodies of the old-style over-encumbered hoplites.[*]
Nevertheless, most veteran soldiers still believe that the heavy
infantryman is everything, and the backbone of nearly every Greek
army is still surely the hoplite. He will continue to be the regular
fighting unit until the improved "phalanx," and the "Companion
Cavalry" of Philip and Alexander of Macedon teach the captains of
the world new lessons.
[*]Especially the Athenian general Iphicrates was able to cut
to pieces a "mora" (brigade) of Spartan hoplites, in 392 B.C., by
skillful use of a force of peltasts.
89. The Panoply of the Hoplite.--We have passed out one of the
gates and are very likely in a convenient open space south and east
of the city stretching away toward the ever visible slopes of gray
Hymettus. Here is a suitable parade ground. The citizen soldiers
are slipping on their helmets and tightening up their cuirasses.
Trumpets blow from time to time to give orders to "fall in" among
the respective "lochoi" and "taxeis." There is plenty of time to
study the arms and armor of the hoplites during these preliminaries.
A very brief glance at the average infantryman's defensive weapons
tells us that to be able to march, maneuver, and fight efficiently
in this armor implies that the Athenian soldier is a well-trained
athlete. The whole panoply weighs many pounds.[*] The prime
parts in the armor are the helmet, the cuirass, the greaves, and
the shield. Every able-bodied citizen of moderate means has this
outfit hanging in his andronitis, and can don it at brief notice.
The HELMET is normally of bronze; it is cut away enough in front
to leave the face visible, but sometimes a cautious individual will
insist on having movable plates (which can be turned up and down)
to protect the cheeks.[+] Across the top there runs a firm metal
ridge to catch any hard down-right blow, and set into the ridge is
a tall nodding crest either of horsehair or of bright feathers--in
either case the joy and glory of the wearer.
[*]Possibly fifty or more--we have no correct means for an
exact estimate. [A note from Brett: Looking at web sites where
reconstruction of the armor has been done and estimates made (ca.
1999) there seems to be a consistent top end of 70 pounds. Scholarly
circles (e.g. Rudolph Storch of the University of Maryland) seem
to lock the estimate more tightly, with the consensus saying that
a fully armored Hoplite carried between 60 and 70 pounds. Most
of this weight seems to be in the cuirass, which in some cases
was linen and weighed only 10-15 pounds (the actual thickness is
unknown, so the broad range of weight estimate covers the minimum
to maximum reasonable thickness). For reference, a modern (2000)
soldier is generally limited to 50 pounds of gear when fighting
and 70 pounds when marching.]
[+]The "Corinthian" type of helmets came more closely over the face,
and the cheek protectors were not movable; these helmets were much
like the closed helms of the medieval knights. The Spartans, in
their contempt for danger, wore plain pointed steel caps which gave
relatively little protection.
Buckled around the soldier's body is the CUIRASS. It comprises
a breastplate and a back piece of bronze, joined by thongs, or by
straps with a buckle. The metal comes down to the hips. Below it
hangs a thick fringe of stout strips of leather strengthened with
bright metallic studs, and reaching halfway to the knees. From this
point to the knees the legs are bare, but next come the GREAVES,
thin pliable plates of bronze fitted to the shape of the leg, and
opening at the back. They have to be slipped on, and then are
fastened at the knees and ankle with leathern straps.
But the warrior's main protection is his SHIELD. With a strong,
large shield you can fight passing well without any regular body
armor; while with the best outfit of the latter you are highly
vulnerable without your shield. To know how to swing your shield
so as to catch every possible blow, to know how to push and lunge
with it against an enemy, to know how to knock a man down with it,
if needs be, THAT is a good part of the soldier's education. The
shield is sometimes round, but more often oval. It is about four
feet by the longest diameter. It is made of several layers of heavy
bull's hide, firmly corded and riveted together, and has a good
metal rim and metal boss in the center. On the inside are two
handles so that it can be conveniently wielded on the left arm.[*]
These shields are brilliantly painted, and although the Greeks have
no heraldic devices, there are all manner of badges and distinguishing
marks in vogue. Thus all Theban shields are blazoned with a club;
Sicyonian shields are marked with the initial "Sigma" (S), and we
note that the Athenian shields are all marked Alpha (A).[+]
[*]Earlier Greek shields seem to have been very large and
correspondingly heavy. These had only a single handle; and to aid
in shifting them they were swung on straps passed over the left
[+]This last is a matter of safe inference rather than of positive
90. The Weapons of a Hoplite.--The hoplites have donned their
armor. Now they assume their offensive weapons. Every man has a
lance and a sword. The LANCE is a stout weapon with a solid wooden
butt, about six feet long in all. It is really too heavy to use
as a javelin. It is most effective as a pike thrust fairly into a
foeman's face, or past his shield into a weak spot in his cuirass.
The sword is usually kept as a reserve weapon in case the lance
gets broken. It is not over 25 inches in length, making rather a
huge double-edged vicious knife than a saber; but it is terrible
for cut and thrust work at very close quarters. Simple as these
weapons are, they are fearful instruments of slaughter in well-trained
hands, and the average Greek has spent a considerable part of his