Three Greek Children: A Story of Home in Old Time - Alfred J. Church

The Games

It need hardly be said that the children, and I may say their father and mother too, were very much interested in the games. Leon went to see them himself, and he might have taken his little boy with him as some fathers did, but he thought it would not be quite good for the little fellow, and accordingly left him at home, very much to his disappointment. Elpinicé and the girls, of course, had to be content with hearing what had happened, for women were not allowed to be present on these occasions.

On the great day of the games, when the "Contest of the Five Exercises" was to take place, the children were immensely excited. It was in this that young Hippocles, their cousin, was going to contend. (I should tell you that the five exercises were leaping, quoit-throwing, running, wrestling, and javelin-throwing.) All the afternoon Hipponax went on running to the door to see whether he could see or hear something. And at last he did see something. A little procession was coming up the street, with some flute-players playing very lively music in front. In the middle some one was being carried on a sort of little platform. "It is he! It is he!" Hipponax screamed out, and ran to tell his mother and sisters. And sure enough it was Hippocles, who was being carried home by his young companions. Very nearly all the Athenians in Corinth were with him, for every one was proud to see a countryman of his own win a prize at the games, especially so difficult and honorable a prize as this. When I say a "prize," I must tell you that it was only a garland of pine leaves. Men and boys were content in those days to do their best for the honor of winning, without thinking of what they would get for it.

Of course, as soon as the young man got into the house he had to tell the whole story to the children.

"How many were there against you?" asked Gorgo.

"There were nine. Two were Spartans; two were from Tegea, one of them the very tallest man that I ever saw,—he was four cubits, a palm, and two fingers high" (this would be about 6 ft. 7 in.); "and three came from other places in the Island. From other parts there came only one besides myself. He was a certain Theron, from Taras in Italy, who looked more like a woman than a man, but who was very hard to beat."

"Why should not a woman be hard to beat," said Gorgo, who was always ready to stand up for women. "You should have seen Manto, the Spartan. There was hardly a man that had a chance with her."

"I can quite believe," said Hippocles, "that the women would beat us, if they were allowed to enter. Well, we had the first contest at sunrise. It was of leaping over the bar. Now they have a way, as you may have heard, of having a flute-player to play a tune while the competitors leap. A very good custom it is, if only the man knows how to play. This fellow did not, and as I have a fine ear he baulked me very much. For every time that I was taking off for my jump he sounded a false note. I am sure he made me miss a couple of fingers" (an inch and a half). "However, I do not think that I could have won in any case, for the giant from Arcadia scrambled with his long legs over such a height as I have never been able to achieve. A more ugly jumper I never saw, but as he managed to get his legs over the bar somehow, that did not matter."

"Oh! but that was a bad beginning," said Rhodium; "didn't you feel very much disappointed?"

"No, little one; I never expected to win in the jumping match, for I knew exactly how much I could do, and it would not have been enough, except the other had been very bad. The next thing was the foot-race. And here the gods favored me, for when we drew lots for places I got the next place to the best, the best falling to the tall Arcadian, who was the slowest runner of all. I knew that if I could get to the turning point before him I could take his course. And this is exactly what I did. He was off with a wonderful leap, but I soon passed him, and was first at the turning point. If it had not been for this I could scarcely have won. As it was, the Tarentine was said by the judges to be equal to me.

"After the foot-race came the quoit-throwing. There was never any doubt how this would end. The tall Arcadian's great height gave him an advantage with which none of us could cope. Indeed, he threw the iron farther than it has ever been thrown before in the memory of man. His throw was seven fathoms (42 feet), a wonderful thing seeing that the quoit weighed twelve minas (about 10 lbs.). I myself only made a throw for form's sake, for I did not wish to weary myself to no purpose. Next came throwing javelins at a mark. There were now left only three of the nine, not one of the other six having won a single victory. The three were the tall Arcadian, who had won twice, the man from Taras and myself, who had each won once. If the Arcadian should win again he would have taken the prize, but of this in the javelin-throwing we had no fear, for it could easily be seen that the man had more strength than skill. Indeed, one could not but laugh to see how wide was his aim. It would have been safe to stand at the mark, but there was danger everywhere else, so much at random did the man throw. One of those that were looking on had, indeed, as narrow an escape of his life as ever I saw. With the Tarentine and myself there happened as strange a thing as ever was seen at the games. First we aimed at the large mark, which was the figure of a man, standing five fathoms off. This we each hit three times, twice on the head and once between the shoulders. Then we threw at the smaller mark. He aimed first and hit it, and I, aiming next, cleft his javelin with mine. And on a second trial the same thing happened again, only that this time it was I who first struck the mark, and he who cleft my javelin. Thereupon the judges said that we should both contend in the last trial, which was that of the wrestling.

"As there were three competitors it was necessary that two should contend and the third sit by. So there were put into a silver urn three lots marked with the letters A, B, and C, and the herald shouted: 'He that by favor of the gods shall draw the lot marked C shall be the sitter-by.' We each in turn put our hands into the urn, and when we opened the lots, which were pieces of parchment written on, the C was mine. Then the chief judge said to me 'Young man, without doubt the gods favor you. Twice you have narrowly escaped defeat, and now they give you this advantage. Be worthy of their goodness. Meanwhile come and sit by me.' So, wrapping myself in a cloak which your kind father lent me, I sat on the judges' bench.

"Then the tall Arcadian wrestled with the man from Taras. Their struggle was fierce but short, for the latter could not stand up against the giant. In the first bout the big man lifted the other clean from the ground, and threw him at full length. In the second they fell both together, the Tarentine very cleverly striking the giant's ankle with his foot. The third time was as the first, only that the fall was more violent, for the Tarentine lay upon the ground like one dead."

"Was he hurt?" cried the pitiful little Rhodium.

"Nothing to speak of, only one rib broken. Well, I must confess that I did not quite like the prospect of wrestling with this big fellow. However, it turned out well. The judges, seeing that the Arcadian was wearied, commanded that there should be a pause of an hour. If it had not been for this I could scarce have won.

"But how was that?" said Elpinicé. "Surely the man was the stronger for his rest."

"He should have been," answered Hippocles, "but he was not. For, being very hot and thirsty, the giant comforted himself with a large draught of wine and water. You see he had had one of those trainers who keep their pupils like so many slaves, and whom, of course, their pupils are always trying to deceive. But I have been trained as a free man should be, and knew that all the rules were made for my good, and that to break them would be to harm myself. Well, the end of it was that the man was so puffed and so out of breath that I felt he was not much to be feared. At the first, indeed, he almost carried me off my feet, but I held on to the ground with all my might, and he soon relaxed something of his strength. In the first bout we both fell, and the judges gave the victory to neither. After this, the man's strength failed, and as he had but little skill, I conquered him easily. Twice I tripped him up with a blow of my foot."

"Twice!" said Leon, "was he not better on his guard than to allow that?"

"He had little wit, as sometimes happens with giants; I did but change the foot with which I struck, and that at which I aimed."

"Well, it was well done, my dear cousin," said Elpinicé.

"But I must tell you what the first judge said to me, when he gave me the crown. It seemed to me to be very wise and true: 'Take this crown, which you have well deserved. It is not worth the less because the gods manifestly favor you. Health and strength pass away, but piety you can always cherish, and having piety, you have also the love of the gods."