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

Festival of the Bear

"I wish I were old enough to go hunting," said Hiero, as a young man wearing a broad hat and high boots passed along the street, followed by several hunting dogs.

"How odd he looks," exclaimed Duris, for usually the men of Athens went about with bare heads and with sandals on the feet.

"Yes," replied Hiero, "he does look odd. But he will find need for the high boots to protect him from brush and thorns."

"I wonder what he expects to hunt," said Duris. "I see he carries a javelin."

"I suppose he will hunt bear and make an offering to Artemis," said Hiero. "It will not be long before the festival of Artemis, and bear skins will be in demand for that, though I think there are few bears near Athens. Helen and Chloris are to see the feast," he added. "I don't care about the festival, of course; that is only for girls. But I would like to join the hunt."

"How do the men hunt, here in Greece?" asked Duris.

"They usually have dogs, as this man has," replied Hiero, "and the dogs are splendidly trained. The men have nets spread, and when the dogs find the game they drive it toward the net. Some of the nets are made in the form of a bag, which can be drawn up to hold the animal after it is caught. Other nets hang from sticks. When an animal runs into one of these the net falls and the animal gets tangled in it. Then the hunter can easily throw his javelin and kill it.

"The hunters often have to go through thick brush to follow the dogs to the game. Sometimes the brush is thorny. That is why they have to wear the high boots. I have a pet hare which father brought me. He caught it in a bag net one day while hunting. I soon tamed it and it eats from my hands. Would you like to see it?"

"Yes, indeed," said Duris; "I like animals. Father sometimes tell me that I should live on a farm. At home I had several pigeons, and a pet monkey that was up to all sorts of mischief.

"I have always wanted to get a peep into the temple of Artemis," continued Duris with a laugh, "for I have been told that a live bear is kept there."

"Perhaps it is true," responded Hiero. "You know the sign of Artemis is a bear."

But if the boys were not interested in the coming festival of Artemis, the girls, Chloris and Helen, certainly were, and Chloris talked of it from morning till night. When Harmonia and the slaves grew tired of listening to her, or of answering her questions, she turned to her dolls. They never failed to listen quietly, no matter how many times she told them of the fun that was in store for her.

"You know," she began, one day, shaking her finger earnestly at the oldest doll, "that Artemis is goddess of the moon. Her sign is a bear. Wait and I will show you one."

Chloris looked among her treasures until she found the figure of a small bear, cut from stone.

Seating herself once more before her dolls, she continued: "This is a bear. See! It is the sign of Artemis. If you will listen I will tell you why.

"Once upon a time Artemis was changed into a bear. She had long claws and a growly voice and black hair all over her. And she walked on four feet, though sometimes she forgot and stood up straight. The reason she was changed into a bear was because the goddess Hera was angry with her.

"One day Artemis' son went into the woods to hunt. He didn't know his mother had been changed into a bear, so when he saw a bear in the woods he took up his bow and arrow to shoot it. But it was his own mother! She couldn't talk and tell him who she was, but Zeus saw what a dreadful thing was going to happen, so, before the boy could shoot, he snatched them both away, and placed them among the stars in the heavens. Up there they are called the Big and Little Bears, and the tip end of the Little Bear's tail is the North Star.

"Artemis, you know," continued Chloris, "has a beautiful temple in the Acropolis, and every year she has a festival.

"This year," Chloris added, shaking her finger impressively, "I am going to the festival. Only women and girls go. We dress in bear skins and dance the bear dance around the altar in the temple. Then we have a feast and I shall meet other girls. Oh! I am so glad that there are some festivals that we girls can go to!

"Come," she suddenly cried, catching up one of the dolls, "I shall dress you as Artemis, and these little dolls shall be bears, and we will play festival, just as soon as I get you dressed."