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

New Adventures

Every household in Sparta had its slaves. These slaves, or Helots, had been conquered in battle, and for all the succeeding years they were slaves to the Spartans. They could not be sold, as the slaves of Athens could, neither could they be freed, for, in a way, they were considered the property of the State.

As we have learned, no Spartan citizen took part in any manual labor, nor even engaged in business. His time was spent in the gymnasium, practising military and athletic exercises; in hunting; in the management of public affairs; and in religious ceremonies and festivals. He regarded freedom from labor as freedom from pain—as complete liberty. Yet the Spartans were by no means indolent, and a lazy man was severely punished, and held in contempt.

Sparta's laws were not written laws. It was said that they were "written in the hearts of her citizens," and they were administered by the senators. The laws provided that a certain number of slaves were to be allowed to each Spartan, and so the slaves cultivated the farm lands belonging to the citizens, and carried on the household duties in the homes of the city.

Now, even the slaves of Sparta had caught, from the festival, the desire to play.

"Come, Chartas," said Gelon quietly, as he met him in the street, late in the day. "There is fun in store for us. Come."

"What is going on?" asked Chartas, following.

"The slaves of some of the neighboring households are about to give a play. I have found a place where we can watch without their seeing us. Hurry!"

"Wait," said Chartas. "There go Brasidas and Ceos. I will call them."

"But be quick," said Gelon anxiously.

A moment later, the four boys, hidden from the sight of the slaves, were eagerly watching the strange sight.

The play of the slaves could hardly be called a play; it was, rather, a wild and extravagant dance, without rhythm or beauty; and yet, in a rude way, they imitated various actions and occupations of men. Some of the imitations were funny, while others were simply awkward and common.

"See!" said Chartas, touching Brasidas' arm. "Watch the slave yonder. He has been drinking too much. He can scarcely keep upon his feet. Yet he is still trying to dance."

"See him stagger!" said Brasidas. "He will fall yet."

The interest of all four of the boys was now centered upon the drunken Helot.

As they looked, the man almost lost his balance, and tumbled against another of the company. This man turned quickly and struck him.

"See his face," said Brasidas, "how stupid he looks."

"And how foolish he acts," added Ceos.

"Bah!" exclaimed Chartas, "it is no wonder the men of Sparta think it a disgrace to become drunk."

"Look again!" said Gelon. "He has fallen."

It was true. The man lay stupidly upon the ground, making no effort to rise again. The rest of the company danced on, for most of them had been drinking, and their steps, too, were beginning to be unsteady, and their faces bloated and stupid, while some were growing quarrelsome.

"What a sight!" exclaimed Chartas, as he turned away. "It seems strange that wine can turn men into such beasts as that!"

"'Tis a good thing to know that it does," said Gelon.

"Yes," responded Chartas, "it is a good thing. I am glad that Spartans are taught to despise drunkenness.

"Ah, here is Orestes," he cried, as they started down the street, and, darting forward, he was soon at the side of his captain.

"Well!" exclaimed Orestes, "where did you come from so suddenly?"

"Oh,” answered Chartas, “we boys have been watching the Helots give one of their plays. But it was disgusting, for they became drunk at the last, and acted like beasts.”

"'Tis good that you saw it!" exclaimed Orestes. "Drunkenness surely does make men like animals, or worse, for it stupefies the brain."

"Hark! Do you hear the music?" asked Brasidas suddenly, for the other boys had also overtaken their captain.

"Listen!" said Orestes.

The boys stood still for a moment.

"It is a cithara," said Orestes, "but different. I cannot make out what the difference is."

"Let us see who is playing," suggested Ceos. So, together they hurried down the street.

It was not long before they came in sight of a great crowd of boys, and in their midst was the musician. Among the crowd were the other boys of their company—in fact it soon seemed as though all the boys and youths of Sparta had been drawn to the spot by the music.

The player kept on, gratified by the attention which he was receiving. His music, as Orestes had said, was different from that usually heard in Sparta. Its harmonies were fuller, stronger, and yet there was a soft, tender cadence which was strangely in contrast to the music of Sparta.

"I have it!" exclaimed Orestes at length, turning to Chartas. "See! We have seven strings on our citharas: his has nine. That is what gives the fuller harmonies."

"Yes, but still 'tis different," returned Chartas. "It is not the music of the paeans; 'tis softer, more quiet."

"You are right," said Orestes. "I should say it was more the music of Athens than of Sparta."

He had scarcely finished speaking when a strong voice commanded the musician to stop, and strong hands sent the crowd of boys scattering in all directions.

"Stop!" said the voice—and Orestes saw that it was one of the ephors of the city speaking. "Cut from your instrument its added strings! You are not to poison the ears of our youth by the music of a luxury-loving people. The Spartans are not of such! Our music is free, bold, inspiring. We will keep it so!"

Abashed, the musician placed his instrument in the outstretched hand of the ephor, who cut from it the added strings, while the boys who had listened sped away to their quarters, and dropped—still half-frightened at the anger in the ephor's voice–upon their hard little beds.