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

Preparing to be Soldiers

"What is the meaning of all these?" asked Duris, pointing to a large number of bronze pillars, which he and Hiero were passing as they walked along one of the streets of the city.

"Oh," replied Hiero, "those contain the names of the men of Athens who would have to serve in the army, if there should be war. See," he added, going close to one of the pillars, "you can read the names plainly.

"Every year," continued Hiero, "a new pillar is put up, and the oldest one is taken away. That is because a new class from the gymnasium has reached the age of eighteen, and is ready for service. The youths in this class are called ephebi. The men whose names are on the oldest pillar are then too old to serve, and their pillar is taken down. There are forty-two pillars in all.

"It is almost time for a new pillar to be set up. The youths are being drilled every day in the gymnasium. Shall we go and watch them?"

"Yes, I should like to," replied Duris, so Philo and Theron followed, as the boys turned toward the gymnasium.

The gymnasium, like the wrestling school, was built around a court, in which the young men exercised and drilled. Seats were provided for visitors.

"Do you see the tall man with the rod?" asked Hiero, after he and Duris had taken their places. "He has charge of the gymnasium and it is his business to keep order. He does not hesitate to use his rod if there is any trouble. Visitors are just as likely to feel the rod as any one else, if they are not well behaved."

"I see, you are warning me," laughed Duris. "I shall try to be as quiet as a girl," and he folded his hands and looked so solemn that Hiero laughed outright.

The boys found the gymnasium an interesting place. They watched the young men as they practised fencing, spear throwing, and shooting with bow and arrow. But, best of all, they enjoyed seeing them ride, for the horses were spirited, and it required skill to mount and handle them. No saddles were used and no stirrups. A blanket took the place of a saddle, and the rider placed the end of his spear upon the ground and leaped to the horse's back.

As a group of riders dashed past the boys, Duris exclaimed: "They look just like the sculptures on the Parthenon!"

"Yes," said Hiero, "there are many figures of youths on horseback in the Parthenon."

"Who is the man in the midst of that group of youths?" asked Duris, as he and Hiero were about to leave the gymnasium.

"That," said Hiero, "is Socrates, the philosopher. He teaches a class of young men here every day."

As the boys passed the group they heard Socrates saying earnestly, "It is better to be honest than to make sacrifices to the gods."

"My cousin's name is on the last pillar," Hiero said on the way home. "After he had finished his training in the gymnasium there was a great feast at his home. His hair had been cut short, and for the first time he put on the chlamys, which men alone may wear. I am glad we boys wear only the chiton. We are so much more free to run and jump and exercise.

"But, I suppose," he added, "that when we are eighteen, we will be glad to wear the chlamys, for that will show that we are men."

It was not many days after this that Hermippos said to the boys, "The new ephebi take the oath of allegiance to the state, to-morrow. I suppose you would like to go to the theatre and see them."

"Yes, indeed," answered the boys together.

The theatre consisted of row after row of stone seats rising in a semicircle about an open space which served as a stage. There was no covering over the seats or stage, but all was open to the sky.

When Hiero and Duris took their places, it seemed to them that all the citizens of Athens must be in the theatre.

"What a lot of people!" exclaimed Duris.

"Yes," said Hiero, and then he added, "Here come the ephebi."

The young men, with hair cut short and wearing the chlamys or cloak, marched upon the stage of the theatre and their names were written in the records of Athens. Then followed what, to them, seemed the most important part of the ceremony, for each one was given a shield and a spear. As they marched out, each one wearing his shield and carrying his spear, they bore themselves proudly, and the air was filled with the shouts and the applause of the people.

"Now they are soldiers!" said Hiero eagerly.

"What will they do now?" asked Duris.

"They will have to serve for a year in the country outside of Athens. They will ride and march, and go into camp, just as the soldiers do. But after that they will come back to Athens and take part in all the processions and celebrations. It must be fine!"

"But suppose there should be war?" questioned Duris.

"Then they would have to go into battle," said Hiero. "But there have been no wars since Pericles has been our ruler. And there is not likely to be soon, for he has made a treaty of peace which is to last for thirty years. The treaty is called the 'Peace of Pericles.'"