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

The Drill

The next morning, after their regular duties, and their plunge in the river, the boys went to the gymnasium. They were making good progress in their practice of the Pyrrhic war dance, and they found it by far the most interesting of their daily drills.

When they were in readiness, the flute player sounded the notes to which the Spartan soldiers led an attack when in battle. The boys were divided for the dance into smaller groups, and, at the sound of the flute, each boy placed upon his head a crown, and grasped his shield. Then, as the stirring notes continued, they advanced by divisions, and went through the evolutions of an army going into battle.

Their step was not the steady marching step of the soldier of to-day. It was, rather, a springing, dancing movement, light, and quick, and graceful. Indeed, the soldiers of Sparta were often spoken of as dancers, even in actual war.

There were many positions for the boys to learn. There was the attitude of defence, and the movement of attack. They must learn to crouch behind their shields; to spring up; to thrust as with a spear. It was splendid exercise for the muscles, and these lithe, sinewy boys tingled with the joy and the exhilaration of the play. But it exercised more than the muscles. It made them alert, quick to hear, quick to think, quick to act.

Chartas was foremost among the boys of his company in the grace of his movements, and the readiness with which he responded to the commands of the leader. But although this was partly due to his own natural aptitude, he owed much to the careful private drill of Orestes.

"You dance well!" exclaimed Dorus, admiringly, as he and Chartas left the gymnasium together.

"But Orestes deserves most of the credit," Chartas answered frankly.

"I know that you are the favorite of Orestes," said Dorus, making the statement in the matter-of-fact manner in which a captain's preference was always accepted, "and, to my mind, you are the most favored boy in Sparta. There is no other captain in the city to compare with Orestes."

"That is true," said Chartas, with shining eyes, for he loved to hear his captain praised. And then he added, "I am glad we have you in our company."

"I was pleased, I can tell you!" exclaimed Dorus, "and so was my father, the king."

"We are to spend the rest of the day outside the city," said Chartas. "Where shall we go."

"I should like to follow the river below Sparta," responded Dorus. "What do you say to that?"

"It suits me," answered Chartas. "Shall we ask Brasidas to join us?"

"Yes," replied Dorus readily. "I like Brasidas. He is a good companion, and a true Spartan."

Both above and below Sparta, the bed of the Eurotas lay between high, hilly lands, and on the west towered the rocky heights of the mountain. Here the stream was swift, and below the city it tumbled over rocks, forming a rapid cascade. But lower down the river broadened out over a level plain. Here grew the reeds and the rushes which the boys were sent to gather for their beds.

To follow the Eurotas was one of the favorite excursions of the boys.

Several miles below Sparta, there were the ruins of ancient temples and statues, and a vaulted underground cemetery.

The three boys ran races, climbed over rocks, or forded the river, as the impulse directed them. Occasionally they sat down to watch the water, or to talk.

"I wonder what gave the river its name," said Brasidas, as they sat watching the swift eddies between some great rocks.

"Don't you know?" asked Dorus. "'Tis named for Eurotas, son of Myles. The water used to rise and overflow the level plain below us, destroying the crops. Eurotas had a canal dug to keep the river in its bed. That was a great many years ago, but the stream was named in his honor."

"'Tis well you told us the story," said Chartas. "Some of the men might have asked us the question, and we could not have answered. They like to catch us when they can."

"There are other interesting things about the river," said Dorus. "But you, of course, know about them."

"Tell us," responded Brasidas. "We may not know, and even if we do, 'twill do no harm to hear of them again."

"Yes, do tell us," added Chartas, for he had already learned that Dorus was a good storyteller.

"We all know of Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta," said Dorus. "We know that she was stolen by Paris and taken to the city of Troy; and that the siege of Troy, of which Homer tells in the Iliad, was for the purpose of restoring Helen to her husband and to Sparta. That much we learn from Homer."

Chartas and Brasidas nodded, but they did not interrupt.

"But did you know," continued Dorus, "that farther below us, on the Eurotas, there is a temple dedicated to this same Helen?"

"No," exclaimed Chartas and Brasidas together. "How far is it? Can we not go to it to-day?"

"Hardly, to-day, I think," said Dorus, "but perhaps Orestes will take all our company some day, and let us follow the river to the sea. That would be an expedition worth while!"

"It is twenty miles!" exclaimed Brasidas. "Could we return by nightfall?"

"Possibly," said Chartas, "or we might stay over the night and have more time to look over the country, and to see the old temples and statues."

"You have heard of the underground cemetery of Castor and Pollux, and of the temple erected to them?" asked Dorus.

"Yes," replied Chartas, "but I never have seen them. Tell us the story of the Twin Brothers, Dorus, before we return to the city."

"'Tis not fair," said Dorus. "You and Brasidas can tell stories as well as I."

"Brasidas, then!" cried Chartas. "Tell us the story, Brasidas!"

"I would rather run a race, or wrestle, than tell a story," laughed Brasidas, but for all that he began:

"Castor and Pollux," he said, "were twin brothers, sons of Zeus. Castor was a famous horseman, and Pollux was a wrestler. They both sailed with Jason when he went in search of the Golden Fleece. They had power over the winds and the sea.

"Pollux, only, was immortal, and when his Twin Brother died, he begged Zeus, his father, that he be allowed to divide his brother's fate. Zeus gave consent, and for a long time the Twin Brothers alternated between life and death. But later, Zeus set them together among the stars of the heavens. To this day the images of these gods are carried by our kings when they go into war."

"And it was their images that the colonists asked for, a while ago," added Chartas, "when the war was going against them."

"Yes," assented Brasidas. "The request nearly caused a riot in the Assembly!"

"It is the tomb of the Twin Brothers that we will see down the river," said Dorus.

"I am more eager than ever for the trip," said Chartas. "I will ask Orestes to take our company."

"Good! good!" exclaimed the boys. "He will be sure to do it if you ask him."