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

Chartas' Home

The boys were awakened the next morning by the voice of Orestes.

"Up, boys," he called. "Throw out the reeds. After our morning meal you are to gather fresh material for beds."

It did not take the boys long to carry out Orestes' command, for there was no time spent in dressing and undressing among the boys of Sparta. They hastily gathered up the reeds upon which they had slept, and soon were back with hearty appetites.

There were no dainties set before them, but they had plenty of coarse, plain food, and after they had finished the meal they raced down to the river bank. They then followed the stream until it broadened out over a marsh. Here the reeds grew thickly, and the boys were soon wading in the water and pulling great armfuls of them, for these were the only beds they were allowed. In the winter they gathered down from thistles, and with this down made their beds softer and warmer. But this was the only difference, although the winters were cold. If a boy pulled too much down for his bed, he was ridiculed by the others.

"I wonder how it fares with Theron," said Chartas, as he bent to pull another bunch of reeds.

"And with Gelon," added Brasidas.

Although the boys of Sparta were taught to be hardy, and to despise a lack of courage in any of their number, yet the fifteen boys who made up each company were bound together very closely by their constant association.

Nearly all the boys of Orestes' company had homes and parents in the city, but as we have learned, after a boy reached the age of seven, he became a son of the State, and his education and training were in charge of the State. He no longer lived at the home of his parents.

"I wonder what adventures they are having," Chartas said a moment later, as he returned for another armful of reeds. He had scarcely finished speaking when he heard a shout, and, looking up, he discovered Gelon and Theron running down the river bank.

"Here they are," exclaimed Brasidas, "and together! And look, look! They are carrying a young pig between them!"

"It is squealing yet," laughed Chartas. "How did they ever manage to get away with that? Well," he added, "one thing is certain. The pig will save them from a flogging!"

Later that day, when the boys had had their daily swim in the river and had practised at the gymnasium, those who wished to do so were allowed to visit their homes.

Chartas and Theognis started off together, for their homes were in the same part of the city.

"'Twill soon be time for the festival," said Theognis.

"Yes," replied Chartas, "and I suppose my sister is practising for the dances."

"And mine, too," responded Theognis, as he ran on, for Chartas had reached his home.

The house of Danaus, the father of Chartas, was a large but plain building, with an outer court which was separated from the street by a wall. Inside this court stood a rude image of the god Apollo, who was believed by the Spartans to protect and bless all who entered the house.

As Chartas passed the image, he laid before it a cluster of flowers which he had picked for an offering. As he did so he murmured, "Grant to me, oh, Apollo, that which is honorable and good." He then pushed open the door of the house and entered.

The door of this, as of all the houses of Sparta, was roughly made. It had been sawed from boards, without other finish. The ceilings were hewed with an axe. Only the temples and public buildings of Sparta could be beautifully finished and ornamented. Lycurgus, who had given the city its laws, wanted the people to love simplicity.

As Chartas entered the house, he heard the sound of merry shouts and laughter, and saw his father prancing about astride a stick, while his younger brother and sister ran after, clapping their hands and trying to imitate his steps.

Chartas laughed, too, and he wondered whether the other men of Sparta, who seemed—as his father did—so quiet and grave in the Assembly and at the public tables, ever played with their children like this.

"Ah, Chartas, my son!"

Chartas turned as he heard the words, for he knew that it was his mother's voice, and then she threw her arms about him.

The children stopped their play to greet him, and soon he was recounting, to them all, the adventures of his company. They laughed heartily when he told them how Brasidas had chased him down the mountain.

"But you held to your jar of grapes!" his mother, Helen, exclaimed.

"Yes, Mother," answered Chartas.

"That was best of all," said his mother, and the eyes of Danaus shone, too, with approval, for they saw that Chartas had shown the hardihood and endurance which were the traits most admired in a Spartan boy.

Then he told them about Theron and Gelon, and of how they had returned after their night in the mountain, carrying the squealing pig. This story, too, was received with hearty laughter.

As Chartas finished his story, the door again opened, and a beautiful young girl entered. It was Melissa, the older sister of Chartas.

"Ah, Chartas!" she exclaimed, "I am glad to see you at home. We so seldom see you now.

"It seems good to be at home," said Chartas. "And where have you been?"

"I have just come from the gymnasium," answered Melissa. "We have been practising the dances for the festival, and, oh, Chartas!" she added, "I am learning to play well upon the lyre."

"Let me hear you play," said Chartas eagerly.

Melissa brought her lyre and played as she sang, and presently they all joined their voices with hers, even the children singing with the rest.

[Illustration] from Our Little Spartan Cousin by Julia D. Cowles


"I am sorry," said Chartas, when the song was ended, "but I must go back, for it will not do to be late. Orestes is such a splendid captain, I would not want him blamed for any fault of mine."

"I will go with you," said Danaus, rising. "It will soon be time for our evening meal. Perhaps," he added with a smile, "we may have a bit of pork for our supper!"

As they were walking along the street, Chartas pointed to an image that stood near a temple. "Why is that image placed there?" he asked.

"I cannot tell you why," Danaus replied, "but I suppose you know that it represents the God of Laughter. We Spartans are considered a grave and severe people, and so, in a way, we are. But, so far as I know, we are the only people who have ever erected a statue to the God of Laughter."