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

Hiero the Victor

The time for the Olympic festival had come. Truce-bearers, wearing olive wreaths, and carrying herald's staves, went through all the streets of Greece. They proclaimed that the sacred games in honor of Zeus were soon to begin : that for three months war must cease. They invited all citizens of Greece to come to Olympia and witness the contests.

There was great joy in Athens when the truce-hearers arrived. Every one who possibly could made preparations to go to Olympia. All were glad that for three months, at least, there was to be no war.

"The truce-bearers have come," called Hiero, excitedly, as he reached home from the market-place, where the news had been proclaimed.

Harmonia, Helen and Chloris listened eagerly. "Now you will leave us," said Harmonia, "but you will do your best in the races, and I trust you may win the victory. Remember your father, my son. If you win you will add great honor to his name, as well as to your own."

For many months Hiero had been training eagerly and faithfully, for he was at last to enter the running race for boys at Olympia. A few days later he left Athens with a company of men and boys, his trainers, and others who were to take part in the games.

It was a pleasant journey in spite of a hot sun and dusty roads, for they stopped often under the trees to eat, or to dash into a stream for a cooling bath. They marched to the music of the cithara, or to the chorus of a song in which they all joined.

Others were added to their number as they went on, until, as they drew near to Olympia, they formed a great company. Among them were people from every station of life. Peasants and fishermen, poets and statesmen—all were bound for the great festival. Many were on foot, others rode horses, some drove in chariots. When they reached the river they found it covered with rich barges carrying wealthy merchants and high officials from distant states.

"I have never seen such a splendid gathering of people!" exclaimed Hiero to one of his companions. "Nor I," replied the boy. "Even the Panathenaea seems a quiet affair compared with this."

When they reached Olympia those who were to take part in the contests were placed in the care of the rulers of the Olympic games. They were examined and questioned, to make sure that they were fitted by birth and training to enter the races.

When Hiero was asked his parentage he replied proudly, "I am the son of Hermippos, the sculptor, and of Harmonia, of the house of Solon."

After all had been examined, a sacrifice was offered, and each one solemnly promised to use no unfair means to win the contests.

"I am glad the foot races come first," said Hiero to one of his companions. "I should be too anxious to enjoy the other contests, if ours came last."

Early in the morning the rulers of the games, clothed in purple robes, and wearing garlands upon their heads, marched to the stadium, or open space in which the contests were to take place. They were followed by the boys who were to compete in the running race.

As Hiero glanced about him he felt almost dizzy at the sea of faces that rose upon all sides of the stadium.

Then he heard the herald announcing the running race, and he turned quickly away from the vast throng of people in order that he might give all his thought to the contest that was before him.

Soon he heard his own name called by the herald, "Hiero, son of Hermippos, of the city of Athens." Then, as Hiero stepped forward, the challenge rang out, "Has any one here a charge to make against this youth? Has he committed any action unworthy of a competitor in the sacred games of the Olympian Zeus?"

There was no response as the voice of the herald died away, and Hiero stepped back to his place.

At length all was ready, and the boys drew up in line for the race. The signal was given, and they sped away, each one trying his utmost to follow the teaching of his trainer; to attain the greatest speed without waste of strength.

On down the course they sped, and the people shouted and cheered, sprang upon their seats and waved their arms, as the favorite of one group and then another forged ahead of his competitors.

As they neared the end one after another of the racers fell back. Others, who had saved their strength, dashed forward. There was a moment's stillness over all the vast throng of people, then—one boy had touched the goal.

"Hiero! Hiero! Son of Hermippos, of Athens!" rang the cry; and the people clapped their hands and cheered and shouted.

For a moment Hiero struggled for breath, then he drew himself up gladly and proudly, as he realized that the honor of the race was his, and that it was his name that the people were shouting.

Beside the head ruler of the games stood a beautiful tripod of gold and ivory. Upon this tripod were laid the olive wreaths with which the victors were crowned as soon as their contests were over.

The branches from which these crowns were made had been freshly cut from the sacred olive tree. The cutting of the branches was done with a golden sword by a boy of pure Greek birth, both of whose parents were living.

This boy, with the golden sword in his hand, now stood beside the tripod.

Hiero was the first victor.

As the herald called his name he stepped before the chief ruler and bowed his head to receive the victor's wreath.

What a thrill of joy and pride passed over him as he felt its touch!

He lifted his head—then he started! He looked straight into the eyes of the boy who carried the golden sword, and the boy was—Duris!

Once more the people cheered and shouted, but for the moment Hiero forgot the crowd and the cheering. His hands were clasped in those of Duris, and the fatherly arm that lay across his shoulders was that of Phorion, his father's friend.

"You are victor once more!" cried Duris. And then he added, "We are going now to Athens to live."

"We can return together then!" exclaimed Hiero. "Oh! I am glad!"

But they had time to say no more, for the people were throwing garlands and flowers and gifts at Hiero's feet.

Flushed and proud and happy, he bowed to right and left as he gathered up his treasures, and when his arms overflowed it was Phorion who stepped to his side to help him.

During the remaining days of the festival Hiero and Duris spent most of the time together. They sang together the hymns of victory, they marched side by side in the processions, and they feasted at the same banquets.

But it was on the long march back to Athens that they had the most time in which to tell of all that had happened during their time of separation.

At length the triumphal procession drew near the city. "Athens!" exclaimed Hiero, and Duris added: "The city that we both love!"

Hiero's heart beat fast. "How glad my mother and sisters will be," he thought, and a great happiness surged over him.

As they entered the city gates there was music and singing and joyous laughter.

"Ah," exclaimed Duris, "how proud I am! It is good to return to Athens by the side of 'Hiero the Victor.'"