The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like an incubus upon the brain of the living. — Karl Marx

Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles




The Acropolis

"Where are the boys?" asked Hermippos of Phorion, as they were about to leave the market-place.

"I think we will find them in yonder crowd," replied Phorion. "I see Philo and Theron near by."

As they stepped to the booth where the crowd had gathered Hermippos listened for a moment and then laughed.

"We will have to wait," he said. "Lysias, the merchant, who has just returned to Athens with a ship-load of goods from the Island of Rhodes, is telling of an encounter he had with pirates who tried to seize his vessel and rob him of his cargo. We cannot expect the boys to be interested in the Acropolis till that tale is finished."

"Surely not," replied Phorion with a smile.

"But fortunately," they heard Lysias saying in a shrill voice, "Ľa ship from the Island of Melos came to our rescue, and the pirates were driven off. And now, my friends," he continued, "I am here to show you the beautiful goods—"

"Come, boys," said Hermippos, touching Hiero upon the shoulder, "I think you have heard all of Lysias' story that you would be interested in."

The boys turned quickly and made their way through the crowd. "Did you hear Lysias tell of his fight with the pirates?" asked Hiero, with sparkling eyes, as he joined his father.

"I heard a part," replied Hermippos. "There are pirates enough on our seas, to be sure," he added, "but I think Lysias is not above inventing the story in order to draw a crowd about his booth. It is an excellent way to sell his goods."

The boys looked rather foolish for a moment, and then Hiero exclaimed with a laugh: "Well, I don't care. It was a good story, anyway!" And to this Duris heartily agreed.

But even pirates were forgotten when the boys reached the top of the broad marble steps that led to the Acropolis. Duris was eager to see the temples and statues of which he had heard so much, and Hiero was quite as eager to point them out to him.

A love of beauty was part of the Greek nature. It was to them like the fragrance of flowers or the warmth of the sunlight. Perhaps Hiero and Duris thought even more than most Greek boys of their age about the beauty of carvings, and statues, and temples. Both their fathers had taught them of these things all their lives.

The Parthenon was all of pure white marble. It was surrounded by fluted columns, which were simple, strong, and perfect in outline. All about the building were beautiful carvings showing a procession in honor of Athene, such as took place in Athens every four years. This was the festival of which Hiero had spoken to Duris. The Parthenon was built in honor of this goddess, who was called by the Romans Minerva. She was the Goddess of Wisdom.

Inside the temple there were many other carvings and statues, and Hiero pointed out with pride those which his father had made.

"Let us sit down for a time," said Phorion, "and look carefully at some of these groups of statuary. See," he said, turning to Hiero and Duris, "here, over the front of the Parthenon, is a group which tells us of the origin of Pallas Athene. Duris, can you tell us the story which it represents?"

Duris flushed a little, but he did not hesitate, for every Greek boy was supposed to know the stories of the gods and goddesses. These were among the first stories which their mothers told them as little children.

"Pallas Athene," began Duris simply, "was the daughter of Zeus. She sprang from his head, fully grown, and clad all in armor. The gods were astonished at the sight, and the earth and sea were shaken. Athene is the Goddess of Wisdom. She inspires men to defend their homes and their cities. She teaches women the arts of spinning and weaving."

"That is very well told," said Hermippos, as Duris finished. And then he added: "At the farther end of the temple we noticed another group of figures showing the conflict between Athene and Neptune. Hiero, can you tell us of that?"

"I think so," replied Hiero. "It was when Athens was first built, and had not yet been named. Both Athene and Neptune wanted the honor of naming the city, so the gods decided that the one who should create the most valuable gift for the people should give the city its name and guard it.

"Neptune struck the earth, and there sprang forth the horse. Then Neptune explained how powerful and strong the horse was, and how swiftly it could carry their men into battle.

"The people applauded Neptune, and declared that nothing more useful or more wonderful could be given them. But when they had ceased praising Neptune, Athene touched the ground, and an olive tree sprang up, with leaves and fruit.

"Then Athene explained to them that the fruit would yield them food and oil; the trunk would supply them with material to build their homes, and with fuel to keep them warm; the leaves would give them grateful shade; and the tree itself was a symbol of peace and prosperity, while war would cause bloodshed and sorrow.

"Athene's gift was seen to be more wonderful and more valuable than Neptune's, and she was chosen to rule over the city, and to give it her name."

"That is good!" exclaimed Phorion. "I am glad to see that you boys understand the old Greek stories and can tell them so well. Now," he added, "I think we will all enjoy better seeing the great statue of Athene for having heard these stories told again."

Athena in the Acropolis
DURIS GAZED IN WONDER AS HE STOOD BEFORE THE IMAGE OF THE GODDESS.


Duris gazed in wonder as he stood before the image of the goddess, while Hiero called his attention to its details.

"You see," he said, "all the flesh is made from ivory, and the drapery is of pure gold. And look at the eyes. See! the pupils are of jewels."

"What does the smaller statue, which she holds in her hand, represent?" asked Duris.

"That is the statue of Victory. Athene's shield and spear are in her other hand. Notice, too, the serpent coiled at her feet. The serpent, you know, is a symbol of wisdom."

"It is a wonderful statue," said Duris. "I hope that I may sometime see Phidias, the sculptor."

"You are quite likely to," answered Hiero, "for he visits the Acropolis often."

"You are fortunate to be in Athens this year," said Hiero, as the little procession at last turned toward home. "The festival of Athene occurs only once in four years. The frieze in the Parthenon shows you what the procession will be like. I am glad we can see it together."

"So am I," responded Duris heartily.

As they turned into the Street of the Sculptors he asked: "When does your school begin?"

"In two days," replied Hiero. "I hope that your father is planning to send you, too."

"What sort of master have you?" inquired Duris.

"Oh, he is good to the small boys," said Hiero, "but the rest of us have to mind our ways, for he is rather fond of using the cane."

"Well," said Duris, with a laugh, "I'll risk the cane, for I, too, hope that I am to go to school in Athens."