Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Glorious Days

Pericles was the greatest statesman Athens ever had. When he was a boy he was timid and shy, afraid to talk before strangers. But when he grew up and went to battle no man was braver.

He had an excellent education. Music and philosophy were his favorite studies. Most of all he loved oratory, the art of public speaking. He spoke with such force and energy that he was said to thunder and lighten.

Although he was good looking his head was of such a strange shape that he was called "peaked head."

While yet a very young man he began to take an interest in politics, placing himself on the side of the poor rather than of the rich. For about forty years he was a leader. In all that time he was never seen in the streets except on his way to the senate or public meetings. He was too busy to idle about the market place, hearing and telling news like most of the Athenians. He never went to feasts and had only a few close friends. Because he was not rich enough to grant the citizens many gifts he used the public money to amuse and feed them. By his orders every citizen of Athens received the price of a theater ticket whenever a play was given. Every soldier and every citizen who served in the courts was paid. He had grand gardens laid out for public use, and in the time of his greatest power he caused the most beautiful buildings in the world to be erected on the Acropolis, the highest point of the city.

He thought all the Greek states ought to unite and help one another. A congress was called at Athens to consider about rebuilding the temples which the Persians had destroyed, and to arrange that any Greek ship should sail, free of cost or danger, into and out of any Greek port. This was a wise and excellent plan, but it could not be carried out because Sparta was jealous and would not agree to it.

The Phocians attacked the temple at Delphi and seized its treasures. The Spartans drove away the Phocians and, as a reward, were given the first right to consult the oracle. When the Spartans were gone home Pericles went to Delphi, put the Phocians again in power, and took for Athens the right which Sparta had gained.

In time of great danger he paid one enemy to march away. Then with fifty vessels and fifty thousand men he fought and defeated other foes.

He paid much attention to the navy. Every year he had sixty galleys sent out for a cruise of eight months, so that their crews might be well trained in the management of vessels. No other state of Greece had so many ships or such good sailors.

Through his wisdom and courage, peace and prosperity were given to Athens. He built the Long Walls which joined the city to its seaport, Piraus. They were sixty feet high and more than four miles in length.

In the war with Sparta he advised the country people to bring their goods inside these walls so that they might be safe from their enemies.

He made the people feel that they were great and powerful and need not be afraid of any foe. They were always ready for war, yet well satisfied to be at peace. He caused the treasures of the united cities to be brought from Delos to Athens, and used them freely in making that city stronger and more splendid.

Under his care the arts flourished. There were many more fine buildings and statues in Athens than ever before. He built a theater called the Odeon, where musical festivals were to be held. The Parthenon, erected by his orders, was the grandest temple ever raised by human hands. When some persons blamed him for using so much of the public money he answered, "Very well. The buildings must be put up but my name shall be placed upon them instead of yours." The crowd answered, "Spend all the money you choose."

Sparta was jealous and angry at this splendor and made war on Athens. At the same time the plague, a dreadful sickness of which people died in a few hours, broke out in the crowded city. For this Pericles was blamed and fined, yet he was elected one of the generals for the next year. His son, a sister, and his most intimate friends died of the disease. When his second son died the heart of Pericles seemed broken. As he placed the funeral garland on the young man's head the father burst into tears.

Shortly afterwards he also died. While he was sick and his friends around him were telling what good he had done he said, "Do not forget that I never caused any Athenian to put on mourning."

When his property was settled it was found that he had never kept or used for himself a penny of the public money. Athens built his tomb and set up a statue in his memory. She saw her brightest glory in the days of Pericles.