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

The Great Procession

The procession started at sunrise. Hiero and Duris, as victors in the races, were to march; Hermippos and Phorion would ride on horseback; and Harmonia and Helen were to carry offerings and garlands.

There were great preparations in the home of Hermippos, and all the household rose long before daylight. Even Chloris was not forgotten. She was placed in the care of some of Harmonia's most faithful slaves, who were to see that she had a good place from which to view the great procession.

The priests, who were to offer the sacrifices, took their places at the head of the long line. Then followed the foremost men of Athens, and after these the men from other states and colonies, who had been sent to do honor to the goddess. These bore offerings which were to be placed upon the altar.

After them came the younger women, who bore incense, and costly vessels of silver and gold, which were to be used when the offerings were made. Helen was among the younger women, and they formed a beautiful part of the procession. They wore garlands upon their heads and girdles to bind the graceful drapery of their garments.

Other women, carrying cakes, and fruit, and wine, for offerings, came after. Among these, Harmonia walked with dignity and grace.

Following these were the older men of the city, and then came the four-horse chariots with the drivers that had taken part in the races.

One part of the procession was made up of a great number of cows and sheep that were to be sacrificed upon the altar, and with them were the herders who kept them in order.

Then came the cavalry, with generals and soldiers on horseback; and private citizens riding fine horses that danced and pranced to the music of the fifes and citharas. Among this group road Hermippos and Phorion.

Following these were the soldiers on foot, and the victors in the contests, with Hiero and Duris walking side by side, and bearing themselves proudly, as victors should.

But the most wonderful part of the procession was the great ship, set upon rollers, so that it could be drawn through the streets. Stretched like a sail from its mast was the splendid robe which had been made for the goddess. The figures of the gods and the giants in their terrific battle had been so wonderfully embroidered that the whole seemed more like a great painting than like a piece of needlework. The people looked upon it in wonder, and felt that it was, indeed, an offering worthy of Athene.

The procession passed the market-place, moved slowly about the Acropolis, and then stopped at the foot of the broad, marble steps.

At this point, while all the people waited, the robe was taken from the ship, and then, as it was carried up the steps to the temple of Athene, the procession again moved forward.

Upon the altar which stood before the temple the women placed their offerings; the priests presented the animals as a sacrifice to the goddess; the new robe was brought forth and placed in the temple before the wonderful statue of the goddess, and the great pageant of the Panathenaea was ended.

Then the people formed themselves into family groups, and seated themselves here and there for the banquets which always followed the sacrifices. The meat of the animals offered upon the altar was divided among the people, and a great feast finished the chief day of the festival.

Two tired boys stretched themselves upon their couches that night, but before they slept, Hiero called, "Don't you dare to over-sleep, Duris, for you know we go, to-morrow, to the regatta at the Piraeus!" "Call me if you waken first," replied Duris; and in another moment they were both asleep.

The next that they knew there was the clatter of hoofs, the rumble of chariot wheels, and the shouts and calls of men in the streets outside.

"The people are already on their way to the Pira;us," called Hiero, springing up.

In a few moments he and Duris were eating a hasty breakfast. It had not taken them long to dress, for each boy had only to slip into a single garment, called a chiton, and he was ready for the day. The boys wore sandals upon their feet outside the house, but no hats at any time.

Their pedagogues were ready to attend them, and they soon joined the gay throng in the streets.

"This is the last day of the festival," said Hiero, "and we must make the most of it."

On the two great walls which connected Athens with its seaport were soldiers on horseback, chariots, and bands of musicians, all moving toward the Piraeus. In the wide space between the walls throngs of people on foot were pressing eagerly in the same direction. It was not an orderly procession, like that of the day before, but a great mass of pleasure-seekers, bent upon making the most of the last day of the festival.

The boys ran in and out among the people. Philo and Theron found it difficult to keep them in sight. The strange dress of the men from other states, the gay trappings of the soldiers, and the prancing of the horses, kept them looking first upon one side and then upon the other. Hiero was startled when Duris at length exclaimed, "Oh, Hiero, look! The sea!"

Blue and sparkling, the waters of the Mediterranean stretched away before him, as far as he could see. For a moment he stood quite still, enjoying the beauty of it. Then he darted swiftly down to the water's edge.

The harbor was filled with ships. Some were sailing slowly before a lazy breeze, while others were rowed briskly by hundreds of glistening oars.

The great bows of the ships, rising high above the water, were carved into the figures of gods or of heroes.

Presently the ships drew up into line. "They are getting ready for the race!" exclaimed Hiero.

After what seemed to the boys a long time, the signal was given, the oars of each ship struck the water together, and the race had begun.

It was a beautiful sight, and the boys watched it with breathless interest.

The crowds cheered as one vessel and then another led in the race. And when one ship came back into the harbor far ahead of the others, there was a great shout from all the people. The crew of this vessel were declared the victors, and were presented with costly gifts, after which a great feast was made for them.

When the race was over, the boys suddenly discovered that they were hungry. So they found a comfortable place upon the shore, and soon were enjoying the lunch which Philo and Theron had brought from home.

Late in the afternoon Hiero and Duris, tired but happy, returned to Athens.

"The big festival is ended," said Duris with a sigh.

"Yes," replied Hiero, "but in Athens there are festivals every month—though none quite so fine as the Panathenaea."