Part 3 out of 5
life in being taught how to use them.
91. Infantry Maneuvers.--The final trumpets have blown, and the
troops fall into their places. Each tribal "taxis" lines up its
"lochoi." The Greeks have no flags nor standards. There is a
great deal of shouting by the subaltern officers, and running up
and down the ranks. Presently everything is in formal array. The
hoplites stand in close order, each man about two feet from the
next,[*] leaving no gaps between each division from end to end of
the lines. The men are set in eight long ranks. This is the normal
"phalanx"[+] order. Only those in front can actually lunge and
strike at the enemy. The men in the rear will add to the battering
force of the charge, and crowding in closely, wedge themselves
promptly to the front, when any of the first rank goes down.
[*]The object would be to give each man just enough distance to
let him make fair use of his lance, and yet have his shield overlap
that of his neighbor.
[+]The "phalanx" is sometimes spoken of as a Macedonian invention,
but Philip and Alexander simply improved upon an old Greek military
It is an imposing sight when the strategos in charge of the maneuvers,
a stately man in a red chlamys, gives the final word "March!"
Loud pipes begin screaming. The long lines of red, blue, and orange
plumes nod fiercely together. The sun strikes fire out of thousands
of brandished lance tips. The phalanx goes swinging away over the
dusty parade ground, the subalterns up and down the files muttering
angrily to each inapt recruit to "Keep your distance:" or "Don't
advance your shield." The commandant duly orders the "Half turn:"
"Left" or "Right turn:" "Formation by squares," and finally the
critical "Change front to rear." If this last maneuver is successfully
accomplished, the strategos will compliment the drill sergeants;
for it is notoriously difficult to turn a ponderous phalanx around
and yet make it keep good order. The drilling goes on until the
welcome order comes, "Ground arms!" and every perspiring soldier
lets his heavy shield slip from his arm upon the ground.
92. The Preliminaries of a Greek Battle.--Later in the day, if
these are happy times of peace, the whole phalanx, so bristling
and formidable, will have resolved itself into its harmless units
of honest citizens all streaming home for dinner.
Our curiosity of course asks how does this army act upon the
campaign; what, in other words, is a typical Greek battle? This
is not hard to describe. Greek battles, until lately, have been
fought according to set formul� in which there is little room for
original generalship, though much for ordinary circumspection and
personal valor. A battle consists in the charging together of two
phalanxes of hoplites of about equal numbers. If one army greatly
overmatches the other, the weaker side will probably retire without
risking a contest. With a common purpose, therefore, the respective
generals will select a broad stretch of level ground for the
struggle, since stony, hilly, or uneven ground will never do for
the maneuvering of hoplites. The two armies, after having duly
come in sight of one another, and exchanged defiances by derisive
shouts, catcalls, and trumpetings, will probably each pitch its camp
(protected by simple fortifications) and perhaps wait over night,
that the men may be well rested and have a good dinner and breakfast.
The soldiers will be duly heartened up by being told of any lucky
omens of late,--how three black crows were seen on the right, and
a flash of lightning on the left; and the seers and diviners with
the army will, at the general's orders, repeat any hopeful oracles
they can remember or fabricate, e.g. predicting ruin for Thebes,
or victory for Athens. In the morning the soldiers have breakfast,
then the lines are carefully arrayed a little beyond bowshot from
the enemy, who are preparing themselves in similar fashion. Every
man has his arms in order, his spear point and sword just from the
whetstone, and every buckle made fast. The general (probably in
sight of all the men) will cause the seers to kill a chicken, and
examine its entrails. "The omens are good; the color is favorable;
the gods are with us!"[*] he announces; and then, since he is
a Greek among Greeks, he delivers in loud voice an harangue to as
many as can hear him, setting forth the patriotic issues at stake
in the battle, the call of the fatherland to its sons, the glory
of brave valor, the shame of cowardice, probably ending with some
practical directions about "Never edging to the right!" and exhorting
his men to raise as loud a war-cry as possible, both to encourage
themselves and to demoralize the enemy.
[*]It may be suspected that it was very seldom the omens were
ALLOWED to be unfavorable when the general was really resolved on
93. Joining the Battle.--The troops answer with a cheer then join
in full chorus in the "P�an--" a fierce rousing charging-song that
makes every faint-heart's blood leap faster. Another p�an bellowed
from the hostile ranks indicates that similar preliminaries have been
disposed of there. The moment the fierce chorus ends, the general
(who probably is at the post of danger and honor--the right wing)
nods to his corps of pipers. The shrill flutes cut the air. The
whole phalanx starts forward like one man, and the enemy seem springing
to meet it. The tossing color, the flashing arms and armor, make
it a sight for men and gods. If the enemy has a powerful archery
force, as had the Persians at Marathon, then the phalanx is allowed
to advance on the run,--for at all costs one must get through the
terrible zone of the arrow fire and come to grips; but if their
bowmen are weak, the hoplites will be restrained,--it is better
not to risk getting the phalanx disorganized. Running or marching
the troops will emit a terrible roaring: either the slow deep "A!
la! la! la!" or something quicker, "Eluleu!" "Eluleu!" and the
flutes will blow all the while to give the time for the marching.
Closer at hand the two armies will fairly spring into unfriendly
embrace. The generals have each measured his enemy's line and
extended his own to match it.[*] With files of about equal depth,
and well-trained men on both sides, the first stage of the death
grapple is likely to be a most fearful yet indecisive pushing:
the men of the front ranks pressing against each other, shield to
shield, glaring out of their helmets like wild beasts against the
foeman three feet away, and lunging with their lances at any opening
between the hostile shields or above them. The comrades behind
wedge in the front ranks closer and closer. Men are crushed to
death, probably without a wound, just by this hellish impact. The
shouts and yells emitted are deafening. There is an unearthly
clashing of steel weapons on bronze armor. Every now and then a
shrill, sharp cry tells where a soldier has been stabbed, and has
gone down in the press, probably trampled to death instantly. In
this way the two writhing, thrusting phalanxes continue to push
on one another at sheer deadlock, until a cool observer might
well wonder whether the battle would not end simply with mutual
[*]Any sudden attempt to extend your line BEYOND the foe's, so as
to outflank him, would probably have produced so much confusion in
your own phalanx as to promise certain disaster. Of course for an
inferior force to accept battle by thinning its line, to be able
by extending to meet the long lines of the enemy, would involve
the greatest risk of being broken through at the center. The best
remedy for inferior numbers was manifestly to decline a decisive
94. The Climax and End of the Battle.--Boot look away now from the
center, towards the two wings. What the generals of BOTH contending
armies have feared and warned against has come to pass. Every
hoplite is admirably covered by his great shield on his left side;
but his right is unprotected. It is almost impossible to resist
the impulse to take a step toward the right to get under the cover
of a comrade's shield. And he in turn has been edging to the
right likewise. The whole army ahs in fact done so, and likewise
the whole phalanx of the enemy. So after a quarter of an hour of
brisk fighting, the two hosts, which began by joining with lines
exactly facing each other, have each edged along so much that each
overlaps the other on the right wing, thus:
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
What will happen now is easy to predict with assurance up to a
certain point. The overlapping right wings will EACH promptly turn
the left flank of their enemies, and falling upon the foe front
and rear catch them almost helpless. The hoplite is an admirable
soldier when standing shoulder to shoulder with his comrades facing
his foe; but once beset in the rear he is so wedged in by the press
that it is next to impossible for him to turn and fight effectively.
Either he will be massacred as he stands or the panic will spread
betimes, and simultaneously both left wings will break formation
and hurry off the field in little better than flight.
Now will come the real test of discipline and deliberate valor. Both
centers are holding stoutly. Everything rests on the respective
victorious right wings. Either they will foolishly forget that
there is still fighting elsewhere on the field, and with ill-timed
huzzaing pursue the men they have just routed, make for their camp
to plunder it, or worse still, disperse to spoil the slain; or,
if they can heed their general's entreaties, keep their ranks,
and wheeling around come charging down on the rear of the enemy's
center. If one right wing does this, while the hostile right
wing has rushed off in heedless pursuit, the battle is infallibly
won by the men who have kept their heads; but if both right wings
turn back, then the real death grapple comes when these two sets
of victors in the first phase of the contest clash together in a
By this time the original phalanx formations, so orderly, and
beautiful, have become utterly shattered. The field is covered by
little squares or knots of striking, cursing, raging men--clashing
furiously together. If there are any effective reserves, now is
the time to fling them into the scale. The hitherto timorous light
troops and armor bearers rush up to do what they can. Individual
bravery and valor count now to the uttermost. Little by little the
contest turns against one side or the other. The crucial moment
comes. The losing party begins to fear itself about to be surrounded.
Vain are the last exhortations of the officers to rally them.
"Every man for himself!" rings the cry; and with one mad impulse
the defeated hoplites rush off the field in a rout. Since they
have been at close grip with their enemies, and now must turn
their ill-protected backs to the pursuing spears, the massacre of
the defeated side is sometimes great. Yet not so great as might
be imagined. Once fairly beaten, you must strip off helmet and
cuirass, cast away shield and spear, and run like a hare. You
have lightened yourself now decidedly. But your foe must keep HIS
ponderous arms, otherwise he cannot master you, if he overtakes
you. Therefore the vanquished can soon distance the victors unless
the latter have an unusually efficient cavalry and javelin force.
However, the victors are likely to enter the camp of the vanquished,
and to celebrate duly that night dividing the plunder.
95. The Burial Truce and the Trophy after the Battle.--A few
hours after the battle, while the victors are getting breath and
refreshing themselves, a shamefaced herald, bearing his sacred
wand of office, presents himself. He is from the defeated army,
and comes to ask a burial truce. This is the formal confession of
defeat for which the victors have been waiting. It would be gross
impiety to refuse the request; and perhaps the first watch of the
nigh is spent by detachments of both sides in burying or burning
The fates of prisoners may be various. They may be sold as slaves.
If the captors are pitiless and vindictive, it is not contrary to
the laws of war to put the prisoners to death in cold blood; but
by the fourth century B.C. Greeks are becoming relatively humane.
Most prisoners will presently be released against a reasonable
ransom paid by their relatives.
The final stage of the battle is the trophy: the visible sign on
the battlefield that here such-and-such a side was victorious. The
limbs are lopped off a tree, and some armor captured from the foe
is hung upon it. After indecisive battles sometimes both sides
set up trophies; in that case a second battle is likely to settle
the question. Then when the victors have recovered from their
own happy demoralization, they march into the enemy's country; by
burning all the farmsteads, driving off the cattle, filling up the
wells, girdling the olive and fruit trees, they reduce the defeated
side (that has fled to its fortified town) to desperation. If
they have any prisoners, they threaten to put them to death. The
result, of course, is frequently a treaty of peace in favor of the
96. The Siege of Fortified Towns.--If, however, one party cannot
be induced to risk an open battle; or if, despite a defeat, it allows
the enemy to ravage the fields, and yet persists in defending the
walls of its town,--the war is likely to be tedious and indecisive.
It is notorious that Greeks dislike hard sieges. The soldiers
are the fellow townsmen of the generals. If the latter order an
assault with scaling ladders and it is repulsed with bloody loss,
the generals risk a prosecution when they get home for "casting
away the lives of their fellow citizens."[*] In short, fifty men
behind a stout wall and "able to throw anything" are in a position
to defy an army.
[*]In siege warfare Oriental kings had a great advantage over Greek
commanders. The former could sacrifice as many of their "slaves"
as they pleased, in desperate assaults. The latter had always to
bear in mind their accountability at home for any desperate and
The one really sure means of taking a town is to build a counter
wall around it and starve it out,--a slow and very expensive,
thought not bloody process. Only when something very great is at
stake will a Greek city-state attempt this.[*] There is always
another chance, however. Almost every Greek town has a discontented
faction within its walls, and many a time there will be a traitor
who will betray a gate to the enemy; and then the siege will be
suddenly ended in one murderous night.
[*]As in the siege of Potidea (432-429 B.C.), when if Athens had
failed to take the place, her hold upon her whole empire would have
97. The Introduction of New Tactics.--Greek battles are thus very
simple things as a rule. It is the general who, accepting the
typical conditions as he finds them, and avoiding any gross and
obvious blunders, can put his men in a state of perfect fitness,
physical and moral, that is likely to win the day. Of late there
has come indeed a spirit of innovation. At Leuctra (371 B.C.)
Epaminodas the Theban defeated the Spartans by the unheard-of
device of massing a part of his hoplites fifty deep (instead of
the orthodox eight or twelve) and crushing the Spartan right wing
by the sheer weight of his charge, before the rest of the line
came into action at all. If the experiment had not succeeded,
Epaminondas would probably have been denounced by his own countrymen
as a traitor, and by the enemy as a fool, for varying from the
time-honored long, "even line" phalanx; and the average general will
still prefer to keep to the old methods; then if anything happens,
HE at least will not be blamed for any undue rashness. Only in
Macedon, King Philip II (who is just about to come to the throne)
will not hesitate to study the new battle tactics of Epaminondas,
and to improve upon them.
The Athenians will tell us that their citizen hoplites are a match
for any soldiers in Greece, except until lately the Spartans, and
now (since Leuctra) possibly the Thebans. But Corinthians, Argives,
Sicyonians, they can confront more readily. They will also add,
quite properly, that the army of Athens is in the main for home
defense. She does not claim to be a pre�minently military state.
The glory of Athens has been the mastery of the sea. Our next
excursion must surely be to the Peir�us.
Chapter XIV. The Peir�us and the Shipping.
98. The "Long Walls" down to the Harbor Town.--It is some five
miles from the city to the Peir�us, and the most direct route this
time lies down the long avenue laid between the Long Walls, and
running almost directly southwest.[*] The ground is quite level.
If we could catch glimpses beyond the walls, we would see fields,
seared brown perhaps by the summer sun, and here and there a
bright-kerchiefed woman gleaning among the wheat stubble. The two
walls start from Athens close together and run parallel for some
distance, then they gradually diverge so as to embrace within their
open angle a large part of the circumference of the Peir�us. This
open space is built up with all kinds of shops, factories, and
houses, usually of the less aristocratic kind. In fact, all the
noxious sights and odors to be found in Athens seem tenfold multiplied
as we approach the Peir�us.
[*]These were the walls whereof a considerable section was thrown
down by Lysander after the surrender of Athens [404 B.C.]. The
demolition was done to the "music of flute girls," and was fondly
thought by the victors to mean the permanent crippling of Athens,
and therefore "the first day of the liberty of Greece." In 393
B.C., by one of the ironies of history, Conon, an Athenian admiral,
but in the service of the king of Persia, who was then at war with
Sparta, appeared in the Peir�us, and WITH PERSIAN MEN AND MONEY
rebuilt the walls amid the rejoicings of the Athenians.
The straight highroad is swarming with traffic: clumsy wagons are
bringing down marble from the mountains; other wains are headed
toward Athens with lumber and bales of foreign wares. Countless
donkeys laden with panniers are being flogged along. A great deal
of the carrying is done by half-naked sweating porters; for, after
all, slave-flesh is almost as cheap as beast-flesh. So by degrees
the two walls open away from us: before us now expands the humming
port town; we catch the sniff of the salt brine, and see the tangle
of spars of the multifarious shipping. Right ahead, however,
dominating the whole scene, is a craggy height,--the hill of Munychia,
crowned with strong fortifications, and with houses rising terrace
above terrace upon its slopes. At the very summit glitters in its
white marble and color work the temple of Artemis Munychia, the
guardian goddess of the port town and its citadel.[*]
[*]This fortress of Munychia, rather than the Acropolis in Athens
was the real citadel of Attica. It dominated the all-important
harbors on which the very life of the state depended.
99. Munychia and the Havens of Athens.--Making our way up a steep
lane upon the northwestern slope, we pass within the fortifications,
the most formidable near Athens. A band of young ephebi of
the garrison eye us as we enter; but we seem neither Spartans nor
Thebans and are not molested. From a convenient crag near the
temple, the whole scheme of the harbors of Athens is spread out
before us, two hundred and eighty odd feet below. Behind us is
the familiar plain of Athens with the city, the Acropolis, and the
guardian mountains. Directly west lies the expanse of roof of the
main harbor town, and then beyond is the smooth blue expanse of
the "Port of the Peir�us," the main mercantile harbor of Athens.
Running straight down from Munychia, southwest, the land tapers off
into a rocky promontory, entirely girt with strong fortifications.
In this stretch of land are two deep round indentations. Cups
of bright water they seem, communicating with the outer sea only
by narrow entrances which are dominated by stout castles. "Zea"
is the name of the more remote; the "haven" of "Munychia" is that
which seems opening almost at our feet. These both are full of
the naval shipping, whereof more hereafter. To the eastward, and
stretching down the coast, is a long sandy beach whereon the blue
ripples are crumbling between the black fishing boats drawn up
upon the strand. This is Phaleron, the old harbor of Athens before
Themistocles fortified the "Peir�us"--merely an open roadstead in
fact, but still very handy for small craft, which can be hauled up
promptly to escape the tempest.
100. The Glorious View from the Hill of Munychia.--These are
the chief points in the harbors; but the view from Munychia is
most extensive. Almost everything in sight has its legend or its
story in sober history. Ten miles away to the southward rise the
red rocky hills of �gina, Athens' old island enemy; and the tawny
headlands of the Argolic coasts are visible yet farther across he
horizon. Again as we follow the purplish ridge of Mount �galeos
as it runs down the Attic coast to westward, we come to a headland
then to a belt of azure water, about a mile wide, then the reddish
hills of an irregular island. Every idler on the citadel can tell
us all the story. On that headland on a certain fateful morning
sat Xerxes, lord of the Persians, with his sword-hands and mighty
men about him and his ships before him, to look down on the naval
spectacle and see how his slaves would fight. The island beyond
is "holy Salamis," and in this narrow strip of water has been
the battle which saved the life of Hellas. Every position in the
contest seems clearly in sight, even the insignificant islet of
Psytteleia, where Aristeides had landed his men after the battle,
and massacred the Persions stationed there "to cut off the Greeks
who tried to escape."
The water is indescribably blue, matching the azure of the sky.
Ships of all kinds under sails or oars are moving lightly over the
havens and the open Saronic bay. It is matchless spectacle--albeit
very peaceful. We now descend to the Peir�us proper and examine
the merchant shipping and wharves, leaving the navy yards and the
fighting triremes till later.
101. The Town of Peir�us.--The Peir�us has all the life of the
Athenian Agora many times multiplied. Everywhere there is work
and bustle. Aristophanes has long since described the impression
it makes on strangers,[*]--sailors clamoring for pay, rations
being served out, figureheads being burnished, men trafficking for
corn, for onions, for leeks, for figs,--"wreaths, anchovies, flute
girls, blackened eyes, the hammering of oars from the dock yards,
the fitting of rowlocks, boatswains' pipes, fifes, and whistling."
There is such confusion one can hardly analyze one's surroundings.
However, we soon discover the Peir�us has certain advantages over
Athens itself. The streets are much wider and are quite straight,[+]
crossing at right angles, unlike the crooked alleys of old Athens
which seem nothing but built-up cow trails. Down at the water
front of the main harbor ("the Peir�us" harbor to distinguish it
from Zea and Munychia) we find about one third, nearest the entrance
passage and called the Cantharus, reserved for the use of the
war navy. This section is the famous "Emporium," which is such
a repository of foreign wares that Isocrates boasts that here one
can easily buy all those things which it is extremely hard to purchase
anywhere else in Hellas. Along the shore run five great stoas or
colonnades, all used by the traders for different purposes;--among
them are the Long Stoa (Makra' Stoa'), the "Deigma" (see section
78) used as a sample house by the wholesalers, and the great Corn
Exchange built by Pericles. Close down near the wharves stands also
a handsome and frequented temple, that of Athena Euploia (Athena,
Giver of good Voyages), to whom many a shipman offers prayer
ere hoisting sail, and many another comes to pay grateful vows
after surviving a storm.[&] Time fails us for mentioning all the
considerable temples farther back in the town. The Peir�us in
short is a semi-independent community; with its shrines, its agoras,
its theaters, its court rooms, and other public buildings. The
population contains a very high percentage of metics, and downright
Barbarians,--indeed, long-bearded Babylonians, clean bronze Egyptians,
grinning Ethiopians, never awaken the least comment, they are so
[*]"Acharn." 54 ff.
[+]Pericles employed the famous architect Hippodamus to lay out
the Peir�us. It seems to have been arranged much like many of the
newer American cities.
[&]There seems to have been still another precinct, sacred to
"Zeus and Athena the Preservers," where it was very proper to offer
thanksgivings after a safe voyage.
102. The Merchant Shipping.--We can now cast more particular
eyes upon the shipping. Every possible type is represented. The
fishing craft just now pulling in with loads of shining tunnies
caught near �gina are of course merely broad open boats, with only
a single dirty orange sail swinging in the lagging breeze. Such
vessels indeed depend most of the time upon their long oars. Also
just now there goes across the glassy surface of the harbor a slim
graceful rowing craft, pulling eight swiftly plying oars to a side.
She is a "Lembus:" probably the private cutter of the commandant
of the port. Generally speaking, however, we soon find that all
the larger Greek ships are divided into two categories, the "long
ships" and the "round ships." The former depend mainly on oars
and are for war; the latter trust chiefly to sail power and are
for cargo. The craft in the merchant haven are of course nearly
all of this last description.
Greeks are clever sailors. They never feel really happy at a great
distance from the sea which so penetrates their little country;
nevertheless, they have not made all the progress in navigation
which, considering the natural ingenuity of the race, might well
be expected. The prime difficulty is that Greek ships very seldom
have comfortable cabins. The men expect to sleep on shore every
night possible. Only in a great emergency, or when crossing an
exceptionally wide gulf or channel,[*] can a captain expect the
average crew to forego the privilege of a warm supper and bivouac
upon the strand. This means (since safe anchorages are by no means
everywhere) the ships must be so shallow and light they can often
be hauled up upon the beach. Even with a pretty large crew,
therefore, the limit to a manageable ship is soon reached; and
during the whole of the winter season all long-distance voyaging
has to be suspended; while, even in summer, nine sailors out of ten
hug close to the land, despite the fact that often the distance of
a voyage is thereby doubled.
[*]For example, the trip from Crete to Cyrene--which would be
demanded first, before coasting along to Egypt.
However, the ships at Peir�us, if not large in size, are numerous
enough. Some are simply big open boats with details elaborated.
They have a small forecastle and poop built over, but the cargo in
the hold is exposed to all wind and weather. The propulsion comes
from a single unwieldy square sail swinging on a long yard the whole
length of the vessel. Other ships are more completely decked, and
depend on two square sails in the place of one. A few, however,
are real "deep sea" vessels--completely decked, with two or even
three masts; with cabins of tolerable size, and forward and aft
curious projections, like turrets,--the use whereof is by no means
obvious, but we soon gather that pirates still abound on the distant
seas, and that these turrets are useful when it comes to repelling
boarders. The very biggest of these craft run up to 250 gross tons
(later day register),[*] although with these ponderous defense-works
they seem considerably larger. The average of the ships, however,
will reckon only 30 to 40 tons or even smaller. It is really a
mistake, any garrulous sailor will tell us, to build merchant ships
much bigger. It is impossible to make sailing vessels of the Greek
model and rig sail very close to the wind; and in every contrary
breeze or calm, recourse must be had to the huge oars pile up along
the gunwales. Obviously it is weary work propelling a large ship
with oars unless you have a huge and expensive crew,--far better
then to keep to the smaller vessels.
[*]The Greeks reckoned their ships by their capacity in talents
(= about 60 lbs.), e.g. a ship of 500 talents, of 2000, or (among
the largest) 10,000.
103. The Three War Harbors and the Ship House.--Many other points
about these "round ships" interest us; but such matters they share
with the men-of-war, and our inspection has now brought us to the
navy yard. There are strictly three separate navy yards, one at
each of the harbors of Munychia, Zea, and Cantharus, for the naval
strength of Athens is so great that it is impossible to concentrate
the entire fleet at one harbor. Each of these establishments is
protected by having two strong battlements or breakwaters built
out, nearly closing the respective harbor entrances. At the end of
each breakwater is a tower with parapets for archers, and capstans
for dragging a huge chain across the harbor mouth, thus effectively
sealing the entrance to any foe.[*] The Zea haven has really the
greatest warship capacity, but the Cantharus is a good type for
the three.[+] As we approach it from the merchant haven, we see
the shelving shore closely lined with curious structures which do
not easily explain themselves. There are a vast number of dirty,
shelving roofs, slightly tilted upward towards the land side, and
set at right angles to the water's edge. They are each about 150
feet long, some 25 feet wide, about 20 feet high, and are set up side
by side with no passage between. On close inspection we discover
these are ship houses. Under each of the roofs is accommodated the
long slim hull of a trireme, kept safe from sea and weather until
the time of need, when a few minutes' work at a tackle and capstan
will send it down into harbor, ready to tow beside a wharf for
[*]Ancient harbors were much harder to defend than modern ones,
because there was no long-range artillery to prevent an enemy from
thrusting into an open haven among defenseless shipping.
[+]Zea had accommodation for 196 triremes, Munychia, 82, and the
104. The Great Naval Arsenal.--The ship houses are not the only
large structures at the navy yard. Here is also the great naval
arsenal, a huge roofed structure open at the sides and entirely
exposed to public inspection. Here between the lines of supporting
columns can be seen stacked up the staple requisites for the
ships,--great ropes, sail boxes, anchors, oars, etc. Everybody
in Athens is welcome to enter and assure himself that the fleet
can be outfitted at a minute's notice[*]; and at all times crews
of half-naked, weather-beaten sailors are rushing hither and yon,
carrying or removing supplies to and from the wharves where their
ships are lying.
[*]This arsenal was replaced a little later than the hypothetical
time of this narrative by one designed by the famous architect,
Philo. It was extremely elegant as well as commodious, with handsome
columns, tiled roofs, etc. In 360 B.C., however, the arsenal seems
to have been a strictly utilitarian structure.
105. An Athenian Triearch.--Among this unaristocratic crowd we
observe a dignified old gentleman with an immaculate himation and
a long polished cane. Obsequious clerks and sailing masters are
hanging about him for his orders; it is easy to see that he is a
TRIERARCH--one of the wealthiest citizens on whom it fell, in turn,
at set intervals, to provide the less essential parts of a trireme's
outfit, and at least part of the pay for the crew for one year,
and to be generally responsible for the efficiency and upkeep of
the vessel.[*] This is a year of peace, and the patriotic pressure
to spend as much on your warship as possible is not so great as
sometimes; still Eustatius, the magnate in question, knows that he
will be bitterly criticized (nay, perhaps prosecuted in the courts)
if he does not do "the generous thing." He is therefore ordering
an extra handsome figurehead; promising a bonus to the rowing master
if he can get his hands to row in better rhythm than the ordinary
crew; and directing that wine of superior quality be sent aboard for
the men.[+] It will be an anxious year in any case for Eustathius.
He has ill wishers who will watch carefully to see if the vessel
fails to make a creditable record for herself during the year, and
whether she is returned to the ship house or to the next trierarch
in a state of good repair. If the craft does not then appear
seaworthy, her last outfitter may be called upon to rebuild her
completely, a matter which will eat up something like a talent.
Public service therefore does not provide beds of roses for the
rich men of Athens.
[*]Just how much of the rigging and what fraction of the pay
of the crew the government provided is by no means clear from our
evidence. It is certain that a public-spirited and lavish trierarch
could almost ruin himself (unless very wealthy) during the year he
was responsible for the vessel.
[+]According to various passages in Demosthenes, the cost of
a trierachy for a year varied between 40 min� (say $540 [1914 or
$9,304.20 in 2000]) and a talent (about $1000 [1914 or $17,230 in
2000]), very large sums for Athenians. The question of the amount
of time spent in active service in foreign waters would of course
do much to determine the outlay.
Eustathius goes away towards one of the wharves, where his trireme,
the "Invincible," is moored with her crew aboard her. Let us
examine a typical Athenian warship.
106. The Evolution of the Trireme.--The genesis of the trireme
was the old PENTECONTER ("fifty-oar ship") which, in its prime
features, was simply a long, narrow, open hull, with slightly raised
prow and stern cabins, pulling twenty-five oars to a side. There
are a few penteconters still in existence, though the great naval
powers have long since scorned them. It was a good while before
the battle of salamis that the Greek sea warriors began to feel the
need of larger warships. It was impossible to continue the simple
scheme of the penteconter. To get more oars all on one tier you
must make a longer boat, but you could not increase the beam, for,
if you did, the whole craft would get so heavy that it would not
row rapidly; and the penteconter was already so long in relation
to its beam as to be somewhat unsafe. A device was needed to get
more oars into the water without increasing the length over much.
The result was the BIREME (two-banker) which was speedily replaced
by the still more efficient TRIREME (three-banker), the standard
battleship of all the Greek navies.[*]
[*]By the end of the fourth century B.C., vessels with four and
five banks of oars (quadriremes and quinqueremes) had become the
regular fighting ships, but they differed probably only in size,
not in principle, from the trireme.
107. The Hull of a Trireme.--The "Invincible" has a hull of fir
strengthened by a solid oak keel, very essential if she is to be hauled
up frequently. Her hull is painted black, but there is abundance
of scarlet, bright blue, and gilding upon her prow, stern, and
upper works. The slim hull itself is about 140 feet long, 14 feet
wide, and rides the harbor so lightly as to show it draws very little
water; for the warship, even more perhaps than the merchantman, is
built on the theory that her crew must drag her up upon the beach
almost every night.
While we study the vessel we are soon told that, although triremes
have been in general use since, say, 500 B.C., nevertheless the
ships that fought at Salamis were decidedly simpler affairs than
those of three generations later. In those old "aphract" vessels
the upper tier of rowers had to sit exposed on their benches with
no real protection from the enemy's darts; but in the new "cataphract"
ships like the "Invincible" there is a stout solid bulwark built up
to shield the oarsmen from hostile sight and missiles alike. All
this makes the ships of Demosthene's day much handsomer, taller
affairs than their predecessors which Themistocles commanded;
nevertheless the old and the new triremes have most essentials in
common. The day is far off when a battleship twenty years old will
be called "hopelessly obsolete" by the naval critics.[*]
[*]There is some reason for believing that an Athenian trireme was
kept in service for many years, with only incidental repairs, and
then could still be counted as fit to take her place in the line
The upper deck of the trireme is about eleven feet above the harbor
waves, but the lowest oar holes are raised barely three feet. Into
the intervening space the whole complicated rowing apparatus has
to be crammed with a good deal of ingenuity. Running along two
thirds of the length of the hull nearly the whole interior of the
vessel is filled with a series of seats and foot rests rising in
sets of three. Each man has a bench and a kind of stool beneath
him, and sits close to a porthole. The feet of the lowest rower
are near the level of the water line; swinging two feet above him
and only a little behind him is his comrade of the second tier;
higher and behind in turn is he of the third.[*] Running down
the center of the ship on either side of these complicated benches
is a broad, central gangway, just under the upper deck. Here the
supernumeraries will take refuge from the darts in battle, and here
the regular rowers will have to do most of their eating, resting,
and sleeping when they are not actually on the benches or on shore.
[*]The exact system by which these oar benches were arranged, the
crew taught to swing together (despite the inequalities in the
length of their oars), and several other like problems connected
with the trireme, have received no satisfactory solution by modern
investigators. [Note from Brett: Between 1985 and 1987 John
Morrison and John Coates oversaw a reproduction of a trireme which
has an excellent study of bench arrangements and several other
problems connected with the trireme were likely solved.]
108. The Rowers' Benches of a Trireme.--With her full complement
of rowers the benches of the "Invincible" fairly swarm with life.
There are 62 rowers to the upper tier (thranites), 58 for the middle
tier (zygites), and 54 for the lower (thalamites), each man with
his own individual oar. The TRHANITES with the longest oars (full
13 feet 6 inches) have the hardest pull and the largest pay, but
not one of the 174 oarsmen holds a sinecure. In ordinary cruising,
to be sure, the trireme will make use of her sails, to help out a
single bank of oars which must be kept going almost all the time.
Even then it is weary work to break your back for a couple of hours
taking your turn on the benches. But in battle the trireme almost
never uses sails. She becomes a vast, many-footed monster, flying
over the foam; and the pace of the three oar banks, swinging
together, becomes maddening. Behind their bulwarks the rowers can
see little of what is passing. Everything is dependent upon their
rowing together in absolute rhythm come what may, and giving instant
obedience to orders. The trireme is in one sense like a latter-day
steamer in her methods of propulsion; but the driving force is 174
straining, panting humans, not insensate water vapor and steel.
109. The Cabins, Rigging, and Ram of a Trireme.--Forward and aft of
the rowers' benches and the great central gangway are the fore and
stern cabins. They furnish something akin to tolerable accommodations
for the officers and a favored fraction of the crew. Above the
forecastle rises a carved proudly curing prow, and just abaft it
are high bulwarks to guard the javelin men when at close quarters
with the foe. There is also on either side of the prow a huge red
or orange "eye" painted around the hawse holes for the anchors.
Above the stern cabin is the narrow deck reserved for the pilot,
the "governor" of the ship, who will control the whole trireme with
a touch now on one, now on the other, of the huge steering paddles
which swing at the sides near the stern. Within the stern cabin
itself is the little altar, sacred to the god or goddess to whom
the vessel is dedicated, and on which incense will be burned before
starting on a long cruise and before going into battle. Two masts
rise above the deck, a tall mainmast nearly amidships, and a much
smaller mast well forward. On each of these a square sail (red,
orange, blue, or even, with gala ships, purple) will be swung from
a long yard, while the vessel is cruising; but it is useless to set
sails in battle. One could never turn the ship quickly enough to
complete the maneuvers. The sails and yards will ordinarily be
sent ashore as the first measure when the admiral signals "clear
ship for action."
We have now examined all of the "Invincible" except for her main
weapon,--her beak; for the trireme is really herself one tremendous
missile to be flung by the well-trained rowers at the ill-starred
foe. Projecting well in front of the prow and close to the water
line are three heavy metal spurs serrated one above the other,
=====|______ /=============\ / / */
Let this fang once crush against a foeman's broadside, and his
timbers are crushed in like eggshells.
[*]Probably at Salamis and in the earlier Athenian army the ram
had been composed of a single long, tapering beak.
110. The Officers and Crew of a Trireme.--So much for the "Invincible"
herself, but obviously she is a helpless thing without an efficient
crew. The life of an oarsman is far from luxurious, but the pay
seems to be enough to induce a goodly number of THETES (the poorest
class of the Athenian citizens) to accept service, and the rest
can be supplied by hired metics or any kind of foreign nondescript
who can be brought into discipline. The rowers are of course the
real heart and soul of the trireme; but they are useless without proper
training. Indeed it was the superior discipline of the Athenian
crews which in the days of Themistocles and Pericles gave Athens
the supremacy of the seas. The nominal, and sometimes actual,
commander of the trireme is her trierarch; but obviously a cultivated
old gentleman like Eustathius is no man to manage the ship in a
sea fight. He will name some deputy, perhaps a stout young friend
or a son, for the real naval work. Even he may not possess great
experience. The real commander of the "Invincible" is the "governor"
(KYBERNATES), a gnarled old seaman, who has spent all his life upon
the water. Nominally his main duty is to act as pilot, but actually
he is in charge of the whole ship; and in battle the trierarch (if
aboard) will be very glad to obey all his "suggestions." Next to
the "governor" there is the PROIREUS, another experienced sailor
who will have especial charge of the forecastle in battle. Next in
turn are two "oar-masters" (TOIXARCHOI), who are each responsible
for the discipline and working of one of the long rowers' benches;
and following in grade, though highly important, are the KELEUST�S,
and the TRI�RAUL�S, who, by voice and by flute respectively, will
give the time and if needs be encouragement to the rowers. These
are all the regular officers, but naturally for handling the sails
and anchors some common sailors are desirable. The "Invincible"
carries 17 of these. She also has 10 marines (EPIBAT�), men trained
to fight in hoplite's armor and to repel boarders. The Persian
ships at Salamis carried 30 such warriors, and often various Greek
admirals have crowded their decks with these heavy marines; but
the true Athenian sea warrior disdains them. Given a good helmsman
and well-trained rowers, and you can sink your opponent with your
ram, while he is clumsily trying to board you. Expert opinion
considers the EPIBAT� somewhat superfluous, and their use in most
naval battles as disgracefully unscientific.
111. A Trireme at Sea.--A trireme, then is an heroic fighting
instrument. She goes into battle prepared literally to do or die.
If her side is once crushed, she fills with water instantly, and
the enemy will be too busy and too inhumane to do anything but cheer
lustily when they see the water covered with struggling wretches.
But the trireme is also a most disagreeable craft before and after
the battle. Her light draft sets her tossing on a very mild sea.
In the hot southern climate, with very little ventilation beneath
the upper deck, with nigh two hundred panting, naked human beings
wedged in together below so closely that there is scarce room for
one more, the heat, the smells, the drudgery, are dreadful. No
wonder the crew demanded that the trierarch and governor "make
shore for the night," or that they weary of the incessant grating
of the heavy oars upon the thole-pins.
Thus the "Invincible" will seem to any squeamish voyager, but not
so to the distant spectator. For him a trireme is a most marvelous
and magnificent sight. A sister ship, the "Dana�,"[*] is just
entering the Peir�us from Lemnos (an isle still under the Athenian
sovereignty). Her upper works have been all brightened for the
home-coming. Long, brilliant streams trail from her sail yards
and poop. The flute player is blowing his loudest. The marines
stand on the forecastle in glittering armor. A great column of
foam is spouting from her bow.[+] Her oars, eighty-seven to the
side, pumiced white and hurling out the spray, are leaping back
and forth in perfect unison. The whole vessel seems a thing of
springing, ardent life. It is, indeed, a sight to stir the blood.
No later sailing ship in her panoply of canvas, no steam battleship
with her grim turrets and smoking funnels can ever match the
spectacle of a trireme moving in her rhythm and glory.
[*]The Greek ships seem to have been named either for mythological
characters, or for desirable qualities and virtues.
[+]At her best a trireme seems to have been capable of making 8 to
9 knots per hour.
112. The Tactics of a Naval Battle.--Imagination can now picture
a Greek naval battle, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, or more of these
splendid battleships flying in two hostile lines to the charge.[*]
Round and round they will sail, each pilot watching the moment when
an unlucky maneuver by the foe will leave a chance for an attack;
and then will come the sudden swinging of the helm, the frantic
"Pull hard!" to the oarsmen, the rending crash and shock as the
ram tears open the opponents side, to be followed by almost instant
tragedy. If the direct attack on the foe's broadside fails, there
is another maneuver. Run down upon your enemy as if striking bow
to bow; the instant before contact let your aim swerve--a little.
Then call to your men to draw in their oars like lightning while
the enemy are still working theirs. If your oarsmen can do the
trick in time, you can now ride down the whole of the foemen's
exposed oar bank, while saving your own. He is left crippled
and helpless, like a huge centipede with all the legs on one side
stripped away. You can now back off deliberately, run out your
oars, an in cold blood charge his exposed flank. If he does not
now surrender, his people are dead men. Excellent to describe!
Not always so excellent in performance. Everything depends on the
perfect discipline and handiness of your crew.
[*]A more detailed picture of an ancient naval battle and its
tactics can be found in the author's historical novel, "A Victor
of Salamis" (Chap. XXIX).
113. The Naval Strength of Athens.--The strength of Athens is
still upon the sea. Despite her defeats in the Peloponnesian War
she has again the first navy in Hellas. All in all she can send
out 400 triremes and since each trireme represents a crew of over
200 men, this means that Athens can dispose of over 80,000 souls
in her navy, whereof, however, only a minor fraction are Athenian
citizens. Athens is quite right in thus laying stress upon her
sea power. Her long walls and the Peir�us make her practically an
island. Even after Ch�roneia, Philip of Macedon will be obliged
to give her honorable terms,--she has still her great navy. Only
after the defeat of her fleet at Amorgos in 322 B.C. will she have
to know all the pangs of vassalage to Macedon.
Chapter XV. An Athenian Court Trial.
114. The Frequency of Litigation in Athens.--The visit to the
Peir�us and the study of the shipping have not been too long to
prevent a brief visit to one of the most characteristic scenes of
Athenian life--a law court. Athens is notorious for the fondness
which her citizens display for litigation. In fact it is a somewhat
rare and exceptionally peaceable, harmless, and insignificant
citizen who is not plaintiff or defendant in some kind of action
every few years or so. Says Aristophanes, "The cicada [grasshopper]
sings for only a month, but the people of Athens are buzzing with
lawsuits and trials their whole life long." In the jury courts the
contentious, tonguey man can spread himself and defame his enemies
to his heart's content; and it must be admitted that in a city like
Athens, where everybody seems to know everybody else's business almost
every citizen is likely to have a number both of warm friends and
of bitter enemies. Athenians do not have merely "cold acquaintances,"
or "business rivals," as will men of the twentieth century. They
make no pretenses to "Christian charity." They freely call an
obnoxious individual their "personal foe" (ECHTHROS), and if they
can defeat, humiliate, and ruin him, they bless the gods. The
usual outlet for such ill-feeling is a fierce and perhaps mutually
Then too, despite Athenian notions of what constitutes a gentleman,
many citizens are people of utterly penurious, niggardly habits.
Frequently enough the fellow who can discuss all Socrates's theories
with you is quarreling with his neighbor over the loan of salt or
a lamp wick or some meal for sacrifice.[*] If one of the customary
"club-dinners"[+] is held at his house, he will be caught secreting
some of the vinegar, lamp oil, or lentils. If he has borrowed
something, say some barley, take care; when he returns it, he will
measure it out in a vessel with the bottom dented inward. A little
ill feeling, a petty grievance carefully cultivated,--the end in
due time will be a lawsuit, costly far out of proportion to the
[*]Persons of this kidney are delineated to us as typical characters
[+]The nearest modern equivalent is a "basket lunch."
115. Prosecutions in Athens.--Athens does not draw a sharp line
between public and private litigation. There is no "state" or
"district attorney" to prosecute for the offenses against public
order. Any full citizen can prosecute anybody else upon such
a criminal charge as murder, no less than for a civil matter like
breach of contract. All this leads to the growth of a mischievous
clan--the SYCOPHANTS. These harpies are professional accusers
who will prosecute almost any rich individual upon whom they think
they can fasten some technical offense. Their gains are from two
quarters. If they convict the defendant, about half of the fine
or property taken will go to the informer. But very likely there
will be no trial. The victim (either consciously guilty, or
innocent but anxious to avoid the risk) will pay a huge blackmail
at the first threat of prosecution, and the case is hushed up.
It is true there are very heavy penalties for trumped-up cases,
for unwarranted threat of legal proceedings, for perjured evidence;
still the abuse of the sycophants exists, and a great many of the
lawsuits originate with this uncanny tribe.
116. The Preliminaries to a Trial.--There are official arbitrators
to settle petty cases, but it is too often that one or both parties
declare "the dicasts must settle it," and the lawsuit has to take
its way. Athenian legal methods are simple. Theoretically there are
no professional lawyers, and every man must look out for himself.
The first business is to file your complaint with one of the magistrates
(usually one of nine ARCHONS), and then with two witnesses give
formal summons to your opponent, the defendant, to appear on a set
day in court. If he has defaulted, the case is usually ended then
in your favor. This hearing before the magistrate is in any event
an important part of the trial. Here each side proffers the laws
it cites to sustain its claims, and brings its witnesses, who can
be more or less cross-examined. All the pertinent testimony is
now written down, and the tablets sealed up by the magistrate. At
the final trial this evidence will be merely READ to the jury, the
witness in each instance standing up before the court and admitting
when duly asked, "This is my testimony on the case."
Free men testify under oath, but a slave's oath is counted worthless.
The slaves may be the only important witnesses to a given act,
but under only one condition can they testify. With the consent
of their master they may testify UNDER TORTURE. It is a critical
moment at this hearing when a litigant who is confident of his case
proudly announces, "I challenge my enemy to put my slaves under
torture"; or the other, attacking first, cries out, "I demand that
my enemy submit his slaves to torture." Theoretically the challenged
party might refuse, practically a refusal is highly dangerous. "If
his slaves didn't know something bad, why were they kept silent?"
the jury will ask. So the rack is brought forth. The wretched
menials are stretched upon it. One must hope that often the whole
process involves more show of cruelty than actual brutality. What
now the slaves gasp out between their twists and howls is duly
taken down as "important evidence," and goes into the record.[*]
[*]Athenian opinion was on the whole in favor of receiving as valid
testimony the evidence extorted thus from slaves by mere animal
fear. Antiphon the orator speaks of how truth may be wrung from
slaves by torture; "by which they are compelled to speak the truth
though they must die for it afterward [at the hands of the master
they have incriminated], for the present necessity is to each
stronger than the future." This has been well called one of the
few cases of extreme STUPIDITY on the part of the Athenians.
117. The Athenian Jury Courts.--A convenient interval has elapsed
since one of these preliminary hearings. To-day has been set for
the actual trial before a member of the archons in the "Green" court.
Ariston, a wealthy olive farmer, is suing Lamachus, an exporter of
the Peir�us, for failing to account for the proceeds of a cargo of
olives lately shipped to Naxos. To follow the trial in its entirety
we should have been at the courthouse at first dawn. Then we would
have seen the jurymen come grumbling in, some from the suburbs,
attended by link boys. These jurors represent a large fraction of
the whole Athenian people. There are about six thousand in all.
Pretty nearly every citizen above thirty years of age can give in
his name as desiring jury duty; but naturally it is the elderly
and the indolent who must prefer the service. One thousand of the
six act as mere substitutes; the rest serve as often as the working
of a complicated system of drawing by lot assigns them to sit as
jurors on a particular case. It is well there are five thousand
always thus available, for Athenian juries are very large; 201,
401, 501, 1001 are numbers heard of, and sometimes even greater.[*]
The more important the case, the larger the jury; but "Ariston v.
Lamachus" is only a commonplace affair; 401 jurors are quite enough.
Even with that "small court," the audience which the pleaders now
have to address will seem huge to any latter-day lawyer who is
accustomed to his "twelve men in a box"; and needless to say, quite
different methods must be used in dealing with such a company.
[*]The odd unit was no doubt added to prevent a tie.
Each "dicast" (to use the proper name) has a boxwood tablet to show
at the entrance as his voucher to the Scythian police-archers on
duty; he has also a special staff of the color of the paint on the
door of the court room.[*] The chamber itself is not especially
elegant; a long line of hard benches rising in tiers for the dicasts,
and facing these a kind of pulpit for the presiding magistrates,
with a little platform for orators, a small alter for the preliminary
sacrifice, and a few stools for attendants and witnesses complete
the simple furnishings. There are open spaces for spectators,
though no seats; but there will be no lack of an audience today,
for the rumor has gone around, "Hypereides has written Ariston's
argument." The chance to hear a speech prepared by that famous
oration-monger is enough to bring every dicast out early, and to
summon a swarm of loiterers up from the not distant Agora.
[*]Each court room had is distinguishing color. There were about
ten regular court rooms, besides some for special tribunals; e.g.
the Areopagus for the trial of homicides.
118. The Juryman's Oath.--The dicasts are assumed to approach their
duty with all due solemnity. They have sworn to vote according to
the laws of Athens, never to vote for a repudiation of debts, nor
to restore political exiles, nor to receive bribes for their votes,
nor take bribes in another's behalf, nor let anybody even tempt
them with such proffers. They are to hear both sides impartially
and vote strictly according to the merits of the case: and the oath
winds up awfully--"Thus do I invoke Zeus, Poseidon, and Demeter to
smite with destruction me and my house if I violate any of these
obligations, but if I keep them I pray for many blessings."[*]
[*]We have not the exact text of all the dicasts' oath, but we can
reproduce it fairly completely from Demosthenes's "Oration against
119. Opening the Trial. The Plaintiff's Speech.--The oath
is admirable, but the dicasts are not in a wholly juridical state
of mind. Just before the short sacrifice needful to commence
proceedings, takes place, old Zenosthenes on the second row nudges
his neighbor: "I don't like the looks of that Lamachus. I shall
vote against him." "And I--my wife knows his wife, and--" The
archon rises. The crier bids, "Silence!" The proceedings begin:
but all through the hearing there is whispering and nudging along
the jurors' benches. The litigants are quite aware of the situation
and are trying their best to win some advantage therefrom.
Ariston is the first to speak. He has taken great pains with the
folds of his himation and the trim of his beard this morning. He
must be thoroughly genteel, but avoid all appearances of being a
dandy. In theory every man has to plead his own case in Athens,
but not every man is an equally good orator. If a litigant is
very inept, he can simply say a few words, then step aside with "My
friend so-and-so will continue my argument"; and a readier talker
will take his place.[*] Ariston, however, is a fairly clever
speaker. Having what he conceives a good case, he has obtained the
indirect services of Hypereides, one of the first of the younger
orators of Athens. Hyperedies has written a speech which he thinks
is suitable to the occasion, Ariston has memorized it, and delivers
it with considerable gusto. He has solid evidence, as is proved
from time to time when he stops to call, "Let the clerk read
the testimony of this or that." There often is a certain hum of
approbation from the dicasts when he makes his points. He continues
bravely, therefore, ever and anon casting an eye upon the CLEPSYDRA
near at hand, a huge water-clock which, something like an hour
glass, marks off the time allotted him. Some of his arguments seem
to have nothing to do with the alleged embezzlement. He vilifies
his opponent: calls Lamachus's mother coarse names, intimates that
as a boy he had no decent schooling, charges him with cowardice
in the recent Mantinea campaign in which he served, hints that
he has quarreled with his relatives. On the other hand, Ariston
grandiloquently praises HIMSELF as well born, well educated, an
honorable soldier and citizen, a man any Athenian would be glad to
consider a friend. It is very plain all these personalia delight
the jury.[+] When Ariston's "water has run out" and he concludes
his speech, there is a loud murmur of applause running along the
benches of the dicasts.
[*]These "friends," however, were never regularly professional
advocates; it would have been ruinous to let the jury get the
impression that an orator was being directly hired to speak to
[+]For the depths of personal insult into which Greek litigants could
descend there is no better instance than Demosthenes's (otherwise
magnificent) "Oration on the Crown," wherein he castigates his foe
120. The Defendant's Speech. Demonstrations by the Jury.--It is
now Lamachus's turn. He also has employed a professional speech-writer
("logographos") of fame, Is�us, to prepare his defense. But almost
at the outset he is in difficulties. Very likely he has a bad case
to begin with. He makes it worse by a shrill, unpleasant voice
and ungainly gestures. Very soon many dicasts are tittering and
whispering jibes to their companions. As his harangue proceeds,
the presiding archon (who has really very little control of the
dicasts) is obliged "to remind the gentlemen of the jury that the
have taken solemn oath to hear both sides of the question."
Lamachus fights doggedly on. Having put in all his real arguments,
he takes refuge also in blackguarding his opponent. Did Ariston
get his wealth honestly? was not his father a rascally grain dealer
who starved the people? Yet there is still more impatience among
the dicasts. Lamachus now uses his last weapon. Upon the pleader's
stand clamber his five young children clad in black mourning
garments. They all weep together, and when not wiping their eyes,
hold out their hands like religious suppliants, toward the dicasts.[*]
[*]For such an appeal to an Athenian dicastery, see Aristophanes's
"Wasps." The pertinent passages are quoted in "Readings in Ancient
History," vol. I, p. 238-40.
"Ah! Gentlemen of the jury," whines their father, "if you are moved
by the voices of your lambs at home, pity these here. Acquit me
for THEIR sakes. Do not find against me and plunge these innocent
darlings into want and misery, by impoverishing their father."
Appeals like this have swayed more than one jury during the last
year, but the fates are all against Lamachus. From a back bench
comes a dreaded shout that is instantly caught up by the front
"Kataba! Kataba!--Go down! Go Down!"
Lamachus hesitates. If he obeys, he loses all the rest of his
defense. If he continues now, he enrages many of the dicasts, who
will be absolutely sure to find against him. The presiding archon
vainly rises, and tries to say something about "fair play." Useless.
The uproar continues. Like a flock of scared doves Lamachus and
all his five children flee incontinently from the tribune, amid
ironical cheers and laughter.
121. The First Verdict.--There is silence at length. "The dicasts
will proceed to vote," announces the court crier. The huge urns
(one of bronze, one of wood) with narrow mouths are passed among
the benches. Each juror has two round bronze disks, one solid,
one with a hole bored in the middle. The solid acquit, the pierced
ones convict. A juror drops the ballot he wishes to count into
the bronze urn; the other goes into the wooden urn. The bronze
urn is carried to the archon, and there is an uneasy hush while the
401 ballots are counted by the court officers. As expected, more
than 300 dicasts vote that Ariston is entitled to damages against
Lamachus as an embezzler.
122. The Second and Final Verdict.--Ariston is smiling; his
friends are congratulating him, but the trial is by no means over.
If Lamachus had been found guilty of something for which the
law provided an absolute fixed penalty, this second part of the
proceedings would be omitted. But here, although the jury has
said SOME damage or penalty or penalties are due, it has still to
fix the amount. Ariston has now to propose to the dicasts a sum
which he thinks is adequate to avenge his wrongs and losses; Lamachus
can propose a smaller sum and try to persuade the court that it is
entirely proper. Each side must act warily. Athenian jurors are
fickle folk. The very men who have just howled down Lamachus may,
in a spasm of repentance, vote for absurdly low damages. Again,
Lamachus must not propose anything obviously inadequate, otherwise
the jurors who have just voted against him may feel insulted,
and accept Ariston's estimate.[*] Ariston therefore says that he
deserves at least a talent. Lamachus rejoins that half a talent
is more than ample, even conceding Arison's alleged wrongs. The
arguments this time are shorter and more to the point. Then comes
the second balloting. A second time a majority (smaller this time,
but enough) is in favor of Ariston. The better cause has conquered;
and there is at least this advantage to the Athenian legal system,
there will be no appeal nor tedious technicalities before a "higher
court." The verdict of the dicastery is final.
[*]Undoubtedly Socrates would have escaped with his life, if (after
his original condemnation) he had proposed a real penalty to the
jury, instead of an absurdly small fine. The only alternative for
the dicasts was to accept the proposition of his opponents,--in
his case, death.
123. The Merits and Defects of the Athenian Courts.--No doubt
injustice is sometimes done. Sometimes it is the honest man who
hears the dreaded "Kataba!" Sometimes the weeping children have
their intended effect. Sometimes it is the arguments about "My
opponent's scoundrelly ancestry" which win the verdict. At the
same time, your Athenian dicast is a remarkably shrewd and acute
individual. He can distinguish between specious rhetoric and a
real argument. He is probably honestly anxious to do justice. In
the ordinary case where his personal interests or prejudices do
not come into play, the decision is likely to match with justice
quite as often perhaps as in the intricate court system of a great
republic many centuries after the passing of Athens.
Certain features of some Athenian trials have not explained
themselves in the example just witnessed. To prevent frivolous or
blackmailing litigation it is provided that, if the plaintiff in
a suit gets less than one fifth of the ballots in his favor (thus
clearly showing he had no respectable case), he is liable to a heavy
fine or, in default thereof, exile. Again, we have not waited for
the actual closing scene--the dicasts each giving up his colored
staff as a kind of voucher to the court officers, and in return
getting his three obols (9 cents) daily jury fee, which each man
claps promptly in his cheek, and then goes off home to try the case
afresh at the family supper.
124. The Usual Punishments in Athens.--Trials involving murder or
manslaughter come before the special court of Areopagus, and cannot
well be discussed here, but most other criminal cases are tried
before the dicasts in much the same way as a civil trial. When the
law does not have a set penalty, the jury virtually has to sentence
the defendant after convicting him, choosing between one of two
proposed penalties. Greek courts can inflict death, exile, fines,
but almost never imprisonment. There is no "penitentiary" or
"workhouse" in Athens; and the only use for a jail is to confine
accused persons whom it is impossible to release on bail before
their trial. The Athens city jail ("The House," as it is familiarly
called--"Oikema") is a very simple affair, one open building,
carelessly guarded and free to visitors all through the daylight.
The inmates have to be kept in heavy fetters, otherwise they would
be sure to take flight; and indeed escapes from custody are somewhat
125. The Heavy Penalty of Exile.--An Athenian will regard locking
a criminal up for a term of years as a very foolish and expensive
proceeding. If he has nothing wherewith to pay a round fine, why,
simply send him into exile. This penalty is direful indeed to a
Greek. The exile has often no protector, no standing in the courts
of the foreign city, no government to avenge any outrage upon him.
He can be insulted, starved, stripped, nay, murdered, often with
impunity. Worse still, he is cut off from his friends with whom
all his life is tied up; he is severed from the guardian gods of
his childhood,--"THE City," the city of his birth, hopes, longings,
exists no more for him. If he dies abroad, he is not sure of a
decent funeral pyre; and meanwhile his children may be hungering
at home. So long as the Athenians have this tremendous penalty of
exile at their disposal, they do not feel the need of penitentiaries.
126. The Death Penalty at Athens.--There are also the stocks and
whipping posts for meting out summary justice to irresponsible
offenders. When the death penalty is imposed (and the matter
often lies in the discretion of the dicasts), the criminal, if of
servile or Barbarian blood, may be put to death in some hideous
manner and his corpse tossed into the Barathron, a vile pit on the
northwest side of Athens, there to be dishonored by the kites and
crows. The execution of Athenian citizens, however, is extremely
humane. The condemned is given a cup of poisonous hemlock juice
and allowed to drink it while sitting comfortably among his friends
in the prison. Little by little his body grows numb; presently
he becomes senseless, and all is over without any pain.[*] The
friends of the victim are then at liberty to give his body a suitable
[*]No one can read the story of the death of Socrates in the prison,
as told by Plato in the "Ph�do," without feeling (aside from the
noble philosophical setting) how much more humane were such executions
by hemlock than is the modern gallows or electric chair.
An Athenian trial usually lasts all day, and perhaps we have been
able to witness only the end of it. It may well happen, however,
that we cannot attend a dicastery at all. This day may be one which
is devoted to a meeting of the public assembly, and duty summons
the jurors, not in the court room, but to the Pnyx. This is no
loss to us, however. We welcome the chance to behold the Athenian
Ecclesia in action.
Chapter XVI. The Ecclesia of Athens.
127. The Rule of Democracy in Athens.--The Ecclesia, or Public
Assembly, of Athens is something more than the chief governmental
organ in the state. It is the great leveling engine which makes
Athens a true democracy, despite the great differences in wealth
between her inhabitants, and the marked social pretensions of "the
noble and the good"--the educated classes. At this time Athens
is profoundly wedded to her democratic constitution. Founded by
Solon and Clisthenes, developed by Themistocles and Pericles, it
was temporarily overthrown at the end of the Peloponnesian War;
but the evil rule then of the "Thirty Tyrants" has proved a better
lesson on the evils of oligarchic rule than a thousand rhetoricians'
declamations upon the advantages of the "rule of the many" as
against the "rule of the few." Attica now acknowledges only one
Lord--KING DEMOS--"King Everybody"--and until the coming of bondage to
Macedon there will be no serious danger of an aristocratic reaction.
128. Aristocracy and Wealth. Their Status and Burdens.--True,
there are old noble families in Athens,--like the Alcm�onid�
whereof Pericles sprang, and the Eumolpid� who supply the priests
to Demeter, the Earth Mother. But these great houses have long
since ceased to claim anything but SOCIAL pre�minence. Even then
one must take pains not to assume airs, or the next time one is
litigant before the dicastery, the insinuation of "an undemocratic,
oligarchic manner of life" will win very many adverse votes among
the jury. Nobility and wealth are only allowed to assert themselves
in Athens when justified by an extraordinary amount of public
service and public generosity.
Xenophon in his "Memorabilia" makes Socrates tell Critobuls, a
wealthy and self-important individual, that he is really so hampered
by his high position as to be decidedly poor. "You are obliged,"
says Socrates, "to offer numerous and magnificent sacrifices; you
have to receive and entertain sumptuously a great many strangers,
and to feast [your fellow] citizens. You have to pay heavy contributions
towards the public service, keeping horses and furnishing choruses
in peace times and in war bearing the expense of maintaining triremes
and paying the special war taxes; and if you fail to do all this,
they will punish you with as much severity as if you were caught
stealing their money."
129. Athenian Society Truly Democratic up to a Certain Point.--Wealth,
then, means one perpetual round of public services and obligations,
sweetened perhaps with a little empty praise, an inscription, an
honorary crown, or best of all, an honorary statue "to the public
benefactor" as the chief reward. On the other hand one may be
poor and be a thoroughly self-respecting, nay, prominent citizen.
Socrates had an absurdly small invested fortune and the gods knew
that he did little enough in the way of profitable labor.[*] He
had to support his wife and three children upon this income. He
wore no chiton. His himation was always an old one, unchanged
from summer to winter. He seems to have possessed only one pair
of good sandals all his life. His rations were bread and water,
save when he was invited out. Yet this man was welcome in the "very
best society." Alcibiades, leader of the fast, rich set, and many
more of the gilded youth of Athens dogged his heels. One meets not
the slightest evidence that his poverty ever prevented him from
carrying his philosophic message home to the wealthy and the noble.
There is no snobbishness, then, in this Athenian society. Provided
a man is not pursuing a base mechanic art or an ignoble trade,
provided he has a real message to convey,--whether in literature,
philosophy, or statecraft,--there are no questions "who was
your father?" or "what is your income?"[+] Athens will hear him
and accept his best. For this open-mindedness--almost unique in
ancient communities--one must thank King Demos and his mouthpiece,
[*]Socrates's regular income from invested property seems to have
been only about $12 per year. It is to be hoped his wife, Xanthippe,
had a little property of her own!
[+]Possibly the son of a man whose parents notoriously had been
slaves in Athens would have found many doors closed to him.
Athenians are intensely proud of their democracy. In �schylus's
"Persians," Atossa, the Barbarian queen, asks concerning the
"Who is the lord and shepherd of their flock?"
Very prompt is the answer:--
"They are not slaves, they bow to no man's rule."
Again in Euripides's "Supplicants" there is this boast touching
"No will of one
Holdeth this land: it is a city and free.
The whole folk year by year, in parity of service is our king."
130. The Voting Population of Athens.--Nevertheless when we ask
about this "whole folk," and who the voters are, we soon discover
that Athens is very far from being a pure democracy. The multitudes
of slaves are of course without votes, and so is the numerous
class of the important, cultivated, and often wealthy metics. To
get Athenian citizenship is notoriously hard. For a stranger (say
a metic who had done some conspicuous public service) to be given
the franchise, a special vote must be passed by the Ecclesia itself;
even then the new citizen may be prosecuted as undeserving before
a dicastery, and disfranchised. Again, only children both of whose
parents are free Athenian citizens can themselves be enrolled on the
carefully guarded lists in the deme books. The status of a child,
one of whose parents is a metic, is little better than a bastard.[*]
[*]Of course women were entirely excluded from the Ecclesia, as from
all other forms of public life. The question of "woman's rights"
had been agitated just enough to produce comedies like Aristophanes's
"Parliament of Women," and philosophical theories such as appear
in Plato's "Republic."
Under these circumstances the whole number of voters is very much
less than at a later day will appear in American communities of
like population. Before the Peloponneisan War, when the power of
Athens was at its highest point, there were not less than 30,000
full citizens and possibly as many as 40,000. But those days of
imperial power are now ended. At present Athens has about 21,000
citizens, or a few more. It is impossible, however, to gather all
these in any single meeting. A great number are farmers living
in the remote villages of Attica; many city dwellers also will be
too busy to think the 3-obol (9-cent [1914 or $1.55 2000]) fee for
attendance worth their while.[*] Six thousand seems to be a good
number for ordinary occasions and no doubt much business can be
dispatched with less, although this is the legal quorum set for most
really vital matters. Of course a great crisis, e.g. a declaration
of war, will bring out nearly every voter whose farm is not too
[*]Payment for attendance at the Pnyx seems to have been introduced
about 390 B.C. The original payment was probably only one obol,
and then from time to time increased. It was a sign of the relative
decay of political interest in Athens when it became needful thus
to reward the commonalty for attendance at the Assembly.
131. Meeting Time of the Ecclesia.--Four times in every prytany[*]
the Ecclesia must be convened for ordinary business, and oftener
if public occasion requires. Five days' notice has to be given of
each regular meeting, and along with the notice a placard announcing
the proposals which are to come up has to be posted in the Agora.
But if there is a sudden crisis, formalities can be thrown to the
winds; a sudden bawling of the heralds in the streets, a great
smoky column caused by burning the traders' flimsy booths in the
Agora,--these are valid notices of an extraordinary meeting to
confront an immediate danger.
[*]"A prytany" was one tenth of a year, say 35 or 36 days, during
which time the 50 representatives of one of the ten Athenian tribes
then serving as members of the Council of 500 (each tribe taking
its turn) held the presidency of the Council and acted as a special
executive committee of the government. There were thus at least
40 meetings of the Ecclesia each year, as well as the extraordinary
If this has been a morning when the Ecclesia has been in session,
nothing unusual has occurred at first in the busy Agora, except
that the jury courts are hardly in action, and a bright flag is
whipping the air from the tall flagpole by the Pnyx (the Assembly
Place). Then suddenly there is a shouting through the Agora. The
clamor of traffic around the popular flower stalls ceases; everybody
who is not a slave or metic (and these would form a large fraction
of the crowd of marketers) begins to edge down toward one end of
the Agora. Presently a gang of Scythian police-archers comes in
sight. They have a long rope sprinkled with red chalk wherewith
they are "netting" the Agora. The chalk will leave an infallible
mark on the mantle of every tardy citizen, and he who is thus marked
as late at the meeting will lose his fee for attendance, if not
subject himself to a fine. So there is a general rush away from
the Agora and down one of the various avenues leading to the Pnyx.
132. The Pnyx (Assembly Place) at Athens.--The Pnyx is an open
space of ground due west from the Acropolis. It originally sloped
gently away towards the northeast, but a massive retaining wall
had been built around it, in an irregular semicircle, and the space
within filled with solidly packed earth sloping inwards, making a
kind of open air auditorium. It is a huge place, 394 feet long,
and 213 feet at the widest. The earthen slope is entirely devoid
of seats; everybody casts himself down sprawling or on his haunches,
perhaps with an old himation under him. Directly before the sitters
runs a long ledge hewn out of the rock, forming, as it were, the
"stage" side of the theater. Here the rock has been cut away, so
as to leave a sizable stone pulpit standing forth, with a small
flight of steps on each side. This is the "Bema," the orator's
stand, whence speak the "demagogues,"[*] the molders of Athenian
public opinion. In front of the Bema there is a small portable
altar for the indispensable sacrifices. In the rear of the Bema
are a few planks laid upon the rock. Here will sit the fifty
"Pryantes" in charge of the meeting. There is a handsome chair
for the presiding officer upon the Bema itself. These are all the
furnishings of the structure wherein Athens makes peace and war,
and orders her whole civil and foreign policy. The Hellenic azure
is the only roof above her sovran law makers. To the right, as
the orators stand on the Bema, they can point toward the Acropolis
and its glittering temples; to the left towards the Peir�us, and
the blue sea with the inevitable memories of glorious Salamis.
Surely it will be easy to fire all hearts with patriotism!
[*]A "demagogue" (=people-leader) might well be a great statesman,
and not necessarily a cheap and noisy politician.
133. The Preliminaries of the Meeting.--Into this space the voters
swarm by hundreds--all the citizens of Athens, from twenty years
and upward, sufficiently interested to come. At each crude entrance
stands a crops of watchful LEXIARCHS and their clerks, checking
off those present and turning back interlopers. As the entering
crowds begin to thin, the entrance ways are presently closed by wicker
hurdles. The flag fluttering on high is struck. The Ecclesia is
ready for action.
Much earlier than this, the farmers and fishmen from the hill
towns or from Salamis have been in their places, grumbling at the
slowness of the officials. People sit down where they can; little
groups and clans together, wedged in closely, chattering up to the
last minute, watching every proceeding with eyes as keen as cats'.
All the gossip left over from the Agora is disposed of ere the
prytanes--proverbially late--scramble into their seats of honor.
The police-archers move up and down, enforcing a kind of order.
Amid a growing hush a suckling pig is solemnly slaughtered by some
religious functionary at the altar, and the dead victim carried
around the circuit of the Pnyx as a symbolic purification of the
"Come inside the purified circuit," enjoins a loud herald to the
little groups upon the edge.[*]
[*]Aristophanes's "Acharnians" (ll. 50 ff.) gives a valuable
picture of this and other proceedings at the Pnyx, but one should
never forget the poet's exaggerations for comedy purposes, nor his
deliberate omission of matters likely to be mere tedious detail to
Then comes a prayer invoking the gods' favor upon the Athenians,
their allies, and this present meeting in particular, winding up
(the herald counts this among the chief parts of his duty) with
a tremendous curse on any wretch who should deceive the folk with
evil counsel. After this the real secular business can begin.
Nothing can be submitted to the Ecclesia which has not been previously
considered and matured by the Council of 500. The question to be
proposed is now read by the heralds as a "Pro-bouleuma"--a suggested
ordinance by the Council. Vast as is the audience, the acoustic
properties of the Pnyx are excellent, and all public officers and
orators are trained to harangue multitudes in the open air, so that
the thousands get every word of the proposition.
134. Debating a Proposition.--"Resolved by the Boule, the tribe
Leontis holding the prytany, and Heraclides being clerk, upon the
motion of Timon the son of Timon the Eleusinian,[*] that"--and then
in formal language it is proposed to increase the garrison of the
allied city of Byzantium by 500 hired Arcadian mercenaries, since
the king of Thrace is threatening that city, and its continued
possession is absolutely essential to the free import of grain into
[*]This seems to have been the regular form for beginning a
"probouleuma" although nearly all our information comes from the
texts of proposals AFTER they have been made formal decrees by the
There is a hush of expectancy; a craning of necks.
"Who wishes to speak?" calls the herald.
After a decent pause Timon, the mover of the measure, comes forward.
He is a fairly well-known character and commands a respectable
faction among the Demos. There is some little clapping, mixed with
jeering, as he mounts the Bema. The president of the prytanes--as
evidence that he has now the right to harangue--hands him a myrtle
wreath which he promptly claps on his head, and launches into his
argument. Full speedily he has convinced at least a large share
of the audience that it was sheer destruction to leave Byzantium
without an efficient garrison. Grain would soon be at famine
prices if the town were taken, etc., etc. The only marvel is that
the merciful gods have averted the disaster so long in the face of
such neglect.--Why had the board of strategi, responsible in such
matters, neglected this obvious duty? [Cheers intermixed with
catcalls.] This was not the way the men who won Marathon had dealt
with dangers, nor later worthies like Nicias or Thrasybulus. [More
cheers and catcalls.] He winds up with a splendid invocation to
Earth, Sky, and Justice to bear witness that all this advice is
given solely with a view to the weal of Athens.
"He had Isocrates teach him how to launch that peroration," mutters
a crabbed old citizen behind his peak-trimmed beard, as Timon
descends amid mingled applause and derision.
"Very likely; Iphicrates is ready to answer him," replies a fellow.
"Who wishes to speak?" the herald demands again. From a place
directly before the Bema a well-known figure, the elderly general,
Iphicrates, is rising. At a nod from the president, he mounts the
Bema and assumes the myrtle. He has not Timon's smooth tones nor
oratorical manner. He is a man of action and war, and no tool of
the Agora coteries. A salvo of applause greets him. Very pithily
he observes that Byzantium will be safe enough if the city will only
be loyal to the Athenian alliance. Athens needs all her garrisons
nearer home. Timon surely knows the state of the treasury. Is
he going to propose a special tax upon his fellow countrymen to
pay for those 500 mercenaries? [Loud laughter and derisive howls
directed at Timon.] Athens needs to keep her strength for REAL
dangers; and those are serious enough, but not at Byzantium. At
the next meeting he and the other strategi will recommend--etc.,
etc. When Iphicrates quits the Bema there is little left of Timon's
fine "Earth, Sky and Justice."
135. Voting at the Pnyx.--But other orators follow on both sides.
Once Timon, egged on by many supporters, tries to gain the Bema
a second time, but is told by the president that one cannot speak
twice on the same subject. Once the derision and shouting becomes
so violent that the president has to announce, "Unless there is
silence I must adjourn the meeting." Finally, after an unsuccessful
effort to amend the proposal, by reducing the garrison at Byzantium
to 250, the movers of the measure realize that the votes will
probably be against them. They try to break up the meeting.
"I hear thunder!" "I feel rain!" they begin shouting, and such ill
omens, if really in evidence, would be enough to force an adjournment;
but the sky is delightfully clear. The president simply shrugs
his shoulders; and now the Pnyx is fairly rocking with the yell,
"A vote! A vote!"
The president rises. Taking the vote in the Ecclesia is a very
simple matter when it is a plain question of "yes" or "no" on a
[*]When an INDIVIDUAL had to be voted for, then ballots were used.
"All who favor the 'probouleuma' of Timon will raise the right
A respectable but very decided minority shows itself.
"Those who oppose."
The adverse majority is large. The morning is quite spent. There
is a great tumult. Men are rising, putting on their himatia,
ridiculing Timon; while the herald at a nod from the president
declares the Ecclesia adjourned.
136. The Ecclesia as an Educational Instrument.--Timon and his
friends retire crestfallen to discuss the fortunes of war. They
are not utterly discouraged, however. The Ecclesia is a fickle
creature. What it withholds to-day it may grant to-morrow.
Iphicrates, whose words have carried such weight now, may soon be
howled down and driven from the Bema much as was the unfortunate
litigant in the jury court. Still, with all its faults, the Ecclesia
is the great school for the adults of Athens. All are on terms of
perfect equality. King Demos is not the least respecter of wealth
or family. Sophistries are usually penetrated in a twinkling
by some coarse expletive from a remote corner of the Pnyx. Every
citizen understands the main issues of the public business. HE IS
PART OF THE ACTUAL WORKING GOVERNMENT, not once per year (or less
often) at the ballot box, but at least forty times annually; and
dolt he would be, did he not learn at least all the superficialities
of statecraft. He may make grievous errors. He may be misled by
mob prejudice or mob enthusiasm; but he is not likely to persist
in a policy of crass blundering very long. King Demos may indeed
rule a fallible human monarchy, but it is thanks to him, and to
his high court held at the Pnyx, that Athens owes at least half of
that sharpness of wit and intelligence which is her boast.
Chapter XVII. The Afternoon at the Gymnasia.
137. The Gymnasia. Places of General Resort.--The market is thinning
after a busy day; the swarms of farmer-hucksters with their weary
asses are trudging homeward; the schoolrooms are emptying; the
dicasteries or the Ecclesia, as the case may be, have adjourned.
Even the slave artisans in the factories are allowed to slacken
work. The sun, a ball of glowing fire, is slowly sinking to westward
over the slopes of �galeos; the rock of the Acropolis is glowing
as if in flame; intense purple tints are creeping over all the
landscape. The day is waning, and all Athenians who can possibly
find leisure are heading towards the suburbs for a walk, a talk,
and refreshment of soul and body at the several Gymnasia.
Besides various establishments and small "wrestling schools" for
the boys, there are three great public Gymnasia at Athens,--the
Lyceum to the east of the town; the Cynosarges[*] to the southward;
and last, but at all least, the Academy. This is the handsomest,
the most famous, the most characteristic. We shall do well to
[*]The Cynosarges was the only one of these freely opened to such
Athenians as had non-Athenian mothers. The other two were reserved
for the strictly "full citizens."
138. The Road to the Academy.--We go out toward the northwest of
the city, plunging soon into a labyrinth of garden walls, fragrant
with the fruit and blossoms within, wander amid dark olive groves
where the solemn leaves of the sacred trees are talking sweetly;
and presently mount a knoll by some suburban farm buildings, then
look back to find that slight as is the elevation, here is a view
of marvelous beauty across the city, the Acropolis, and the guardian
mountains. From the rustling ivy coverts come the melodious notes
of birds. We are glad to learn that this is the suburb of Colonus,
the home of Sophocles the tragedian, and here is the very spot made
famous in the renowned chorus of his "�dipous at Colonus." It is
too early, of course, to enjoy the nightingale which the poet asserts
sings often amid the branches, but the scene is one of marvelous
charm. We are not come, however, to admire Colonus. The numerous
strollers indicate our direction. Turning a little to the south, we
see, embowered amid the olive groves which line the unseen stream
of the Cephissos, a wall, and once beyond it find ourselves in
a kind of spacious park combined with an athletic establishment.
This is the Academy,--founded by Hipparchus, son of Peisistratus
the tyrant, but given its real embellishments and beauty by Cimon,
the son of Militiades the victor of Marathon.
139. The Academy.--The Academy is worthy of the visit. The park
itself is covered with olive trees and more graceful plane trees.
The grass beneath us is soft and delightful to the bare foot (and
nearly everybody, we observe, has taken off his sandals). There
are marble and bronze statues skillfully distributed amid the
shrubbery--shy nymphs, peeping fauns, bold satyrs. Yonder is a
spouting fountain surmounted by a noble Poseidon with his trident;
above the next fountain rides the ocean car of Amphitrite. Presently
we come to a series of low buildings. Entering, we find them laid
out in a quadrangle with porticoes on every side, somewhat like the
promenades around the Agora. Inside the promenades open a series
of ample rooms for the use of professional athletes during stormy
weather, and for the inevitable bathing and anointing with oil
which will follow all exercise. This great square court formed by
the "gymnasium" proper is swarming with interesting humanity, but
we pass it hastily in order to depart by an exit on the inner side
and discover a second more conventionally laid out park. Here to
right and to left are short stretches of soft sand divided into
convenient sections for wrestling, for quoit hurling, for javelin
casting, and for jumping; but a loud shout and cheering soon draw
us onward. At the end of this park we find the stadium; a great
oval track, 600 feet (a "stadium") for the half circuit, with benches
and all the paraphernalia for a foot race. The first contest have
just ended. The races are standing, panting after their exertions,
but their friends are talking vehemently. Out in the sand, near
the statue of Hermes (the patron god of gymnasia) is a dignified
and self-conscious looking man in a purple edged chiton--the
gymnasiarch, the official manager of the Academy. While he waits
to organize a second race we can study the visitors and habitu�s
of the gymnasium.
140. The Social Atmosphere and Human Types at the Academy.--What
the Pnyx is to the political life of Athens, this the Academy and
the other great gymnasia are to its social and intellectual as
well as its physical life. Here in daily intercourse, whether in
friendly contest of speed or brawn, or in the more valuable contest
of wits, the youth of Athens complete their education after escaping
from the rod of the schoolmaster. Here they have daily lessons
on the mottoes, which (did such a thing exist) should be blazoned
on the coat of arms of Greece, as the summing up of all Hellenic
Precept, example, and experience teach these truths at the gymnasia
of Athens. Indeed, on days when the Ecclesia is not in session,
when no war is raging, and they are not busy with a lawsuit, many
Athenians will spend almost the whole day at the Academy. For
whatever are your interests, here you are likely to find something
to engross you.
It must be confessed that not everybody at the Academy comes here
for physical or mental improvement. We see a little group squatting
and gesticulating earnestly under an old olive tree--they are
obviously busy, not with philosophic theory, but with dice. Again,
two young men pass us presenting a curious spectacle. They are
handsomely dressed and over handsomely scented, but each carries
carefully under each arm a small cock; and from time to time they
are halted by fiends who admire the birds. Clearly these worthies'
main interests are in cockfighting; and they are giving their
favorites "air and exercise" before the deadly battle, on which
there is much betting, a the supper party that night. Also the
shouting and rumbling from a distance tells of the chariot course,
where the sons of the more wealthy or pretentious families are
lessening their patrimonies by training a "two" or a "four" to
contend at the Isthmian games or at Olympia.
141. Philosophers and Cultivated Men at the Gymnasia.--All these
things are true, and Athens makes full display here of the usual
crop of knaves or fools. Nevertheless this element is in the
minority. Here a little earlier or a little later than our visit
(for just now he is in Sicily) one could see Plato himself--walking
under the shade trees and expounding to a little trailing host
of eager-eyed disciples the fundamental theories of his ideal
Commonwealth. Here are scores of serious bearded faces, and heads
sprinkled with gray, moving to and fro in small groups, discussing
in melodious Attic the philosophy, the poetry, the oration, which
has been partly considered in the Agora this morning, and which
will be further discussed at the symposium to-night. Everything
is entirely informal. Even white-haired gentlemen do not hesitate
to cast off chiton and himation and spring around nimbly upon the
sands, to "try their distance" with the quoits, or show the young
men that they have not forgotten accuracy with the javelin, or
even, against men of their own age, to test their sinews in a mild
wrestling bout. It is undignified for an old man to attempt feats
beyond his advanced years. No one expects any great proficiency
from most of those present. It is enough to attempt gracefully,
and to laugh merrily if you do not succeed. Everywhere there is
the greatest good nature, and even frolicking, but very little of
the really boisterous.
142. The Beautiful Youths at the Academy.--Yet the majority of
the visitors to the Academy have an interest that is not entirely
summed up in proper athletics, or in the baser sports, or in
philosophy. Every now and then a little whisper runs among the
groups of strollers or athlete "There he goes!--a new one! How
beautiful!"--and there is a general turning of heads.
A youth goes by, his body quite stripped, and delicately bronzed by
constant exposure to the sun. His limbs are graceful, but vigorous
and straight, his chest is magnificently curved. He lifts his head
modestly, yet with a proud and easy carriage. His hair is dark
blonde; his profile very "Greek"--nose and forehead joining in
unbroken straight line. A little crowd is following him; a more
favored comrade, a stalwart, bearded man, walks at his side. No
need of questioning now whence the sculptors of Athens get their
inspiration. This happy youth, just out of the schoolroom, and
now to be enrolled as an armed ephebus, will be the model soon for
some immortal bronze or marble. Fortunate is he, if his humility
is not ruined by all the admiration and flattery; if he can remember
the injunctions touching "modesty," which master and father have
repeated so long; if he can remember the precept that true beauty
of body can go only with true beauty of soul. Now at least is his
day of hidden or conscious pride. All Athens is commending him.
He is the reigning toast, like the "belle" of a later age. Not the
groundlings only, but the poets, rhetoricians, philosophers, will
gaze after him, seek an introduction, compliment him delicately,
give themselves the pleasure of making him blush deliciously,
and go back to their august problems unconsciously stimulated and
refreshed by this vision of "the godlike."[*]
[*]For pertinent commentary on the effect of meeting a beautiful
youth upon very grave men, see, e.g., Plato's "Charmides" (esp.
158 a) and "Lysis" (esp. 206 d). Or better still in Xenophon's
"Symposium" (I.9), where we hear of the beautiful youth Autolycus,
"even as a bright light at night draws every eye, so by HIS beauty
drew on him the gaze of all the company [at the banquet]. Not a
man was present who did not feel his emotions stirred by the sight
143. The Greek Worship of Manly Beauty.--The Greek worship of the
beautiful masculine form is something which the later world will
never understand. In this worship there is too often a coarseness,
a sensual dross, over which a veil is wisely cast. but the great
fact of this worship remains: to the vast majority of Greeks
"beauty" does not imply a delicate maid clad in snowy drapery; it
implies a perfectly shaped, bronzed, and developed youth, standing
forth in his undraped manhood for some hard athletic battle. The
ideal possess the national life, and effects the entire Greek
civilization. Not beauty in innocent weakness, but beauty in
resourceful strength--before this beauty men bow down.[*]
[*]Plato ("Republic," p. 402) gives the view of enlightened Greek
opinion when he states "There can be no fairer spectacle than that
of a man who combines the possession of MORAL beauty in his soul,
with OUTWARD beauty of body, corresponding and harmonizing with
the former, because the same great pattern enters into both."
It is this masculine type of beauty, whether summed up in a physical
form or translated by imagery into the realm of the spirit, that
Isocrates (a very good mouthpieces for average enlightened opinion)
praises in language which strains even his facile rhetoric. "[Beauty]
is the first of all things in majesty, honor, and divineness. Nothing
devoid of beauty is prized; the admiration of virtue itself comes
to this, that of all manifestations of life, virtue is the most
beautiful. The supremacy of beauty over all things can be seen in
our own disposition toward it, and toward them. Other things we
merely seek to attain as we need them, but beautiful things inspire us
with love, LOVE which is as much stronger than WISH as its object
is better. To the beautiful alone, as to the gods, we are never
tired of doing homage; delighting to be their slaves rather than
to be the rulers of others."
Could we put to all the heterogeneous crowd in the wide gymnasium
the question, "What things do you desire most?" the answer "To
be physically beautiful" (not "handsome" merely, but "beautiful")
would come among the first wishes. There is a little song, very
popular and very Greek. It tells most of the story.
The best of gifts to mortal man is health;
The next the bloom of beauty's matchless flower;
The third is blameless and unfraudful wealth;
The fourth with friends to spend youths' joyous hour.[*]
[*]Translation by Milman. The exact date of this Greek poem is
uncertain, but its spirit is entirely true to that of Athens in
the time of this sketch.
Health and physical beauty thus go before wealth and the passions
of friendship,--a true Greek estimate!
144. The Detestation of Old Age.--Again, we are quick to learn
that this "beauty" is the beauty of youth. It is useless to talk
to an Athenian of a "beautiful old age." Old age is an evil to
be borne with dignity, with resignation if needs be, to be fought
against by every kind of bodily exercise; but to take satisfaction
in it?--impossible. It means a diminishing of those keen powers
of physical and intellectual enjoyment which are so much to every
normal Athenian. It means becoming feeble, and worse than feeble,
ridiculous. The physician's art has not advanced so far as to
prevent the frequent loss of sight and hearing in even moderate age.
No hope of a future renewal of noble youth in a happier world gilds
the just man's sunset. Old age must, like the untimely passing
of loved ones, be endured in becoming silence, as one of the fixed
inevitables; but it is gloomy work to pretend to find it cheerful.
Only the young can find life truly happy. Euripides in "The Mad
Heracles" speaks for all his race:--
Tell me not of the Asian tyrant,
Or of palaces plenished with gold;
For such bliss I am not an aspirant,
If YOUTH I might only behold:--
Youth that maketh prosperity higher,
And ever adversity lighter.[*]
[*]Mahaffy, translator. Another very characteristic lament for
the passing of youth is left us by the early elegiac poet Mimnermus.
145. The Greeks unite Moral and Physical Beauty.--But here at the
Academy, this spirit of beautiful youth, and the "joy of life,"
is everywhere dominant. All around us are the beautiful bodies
of young men engaged in every kind of graceful exercise. When
we question, we are told that current belief is that in a great
majority of instances there is a development and a symmetry of
mind corresponding to the glory of the body. It is contrary to all
the prevalent notions of the reign of "divine harmony" to have it
otherwise. The gods abhor all gross contradictions! Even now men
will argue over a strange breach of this rule;--why did heaven
suffer Socrates to have so beautiful a soul set in so ugly a
body?--Inscrutable are the ways of Zeus!
However, we have generalized and wandered enough. The Academy is
a place of superabounding activities. Let us try to comprehend
some of them.
146. The Usual Gymnastic Sports and their Objects.--Despite all
the training in polite conversation which young men are supposed
to receive at the gymnasium, the object of the latter is after all
to form places of athletic exercise. The Athenians are without
most of these elaborate field games such as later ages will call
"baseball" and "football"; although, once learned, they could
surely excel in these prodigiously. They have a simple "catch"
with balls, but it hardly rises above the level of a children's
pastime. The reasons for these omissions are probably, first,
because so much time is devoted to the "pal�stra" exercises;
secondly, because military training eats up about all the time not
needed for pure gymnastics.
The "pal�stra" exercises, taught first at the boys' training
establishments and later continued at the great gymnasia, are nearly
all of the nature of latter-day "field sports." They do not depend
on the costly apparatus of the twentieth century athletic halls;
and they accomplish their ends with extremely simple means. The
aim of the instructor is really twofold--to give his pupils a body
fit and apt for war (and we have seen that to be a citizen usually
implies being a hoplite), and to develop a body beautiful to the
eye and efficient for civil life. The naturally beautiful youth
can be made more beautiful; the naturally homely youth can be made
at least passable under the care of a skilful gymnastic teacher.
147. Professional Athletes: the Pancration.--Athletics, then, are