Story of the Greek People - E. M. Tappan

The Age of Pericles

Pericles still hoped that the time would come when Greece would be ruled by Athens, although he believed that Sparta's jealousy would some day lead to war. Meanwhile there would be peace between the two states for some years, and he set to work to make his city both beautiful and powerful. The government had come more and more into the hands of the people, until now there was no office to which the poorest man might not be elected. In order that such a man might be able to leave his work to serve the state, Pericles brought it about that those who held the various offices should be paid, and also those who served in the army or navy, or as jurymen. There were several thousand of these jurymen, and all but the gravest offenses were judged by them. Sometimes hundreds of jurors sat on a single case. So it came about that for one service or another many thousand Athenians were receiving money from the state. The general assembly agreed to all these changes. They could not help seeing that Pericles was working, not for his own glory, but for that of his city; and he was so reasonable and could state his reasons so clearly, that the people fell in with whatever he proposed. He had more power than any king ever possessed; but this was not because the people were afraid of him, but because he was so skillful in war, so wise in peace, and, above all, so thoroughly unselfish. Of course he had enemies, but the greater part of the Athenians looked upon him as the ideal Greek.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Pericles was not only a good soldier and statesman, but he was a lover of what was beautiful. All the Greeks, indeed, loved beauty; they loved it as people love fresh air and sunshine. To have ugly things around them made them uncomfortable; they felt stifled and gloomy.



Long before this they had had beautiful buildings and statues, for there had been great artists in Greece for many years; but Pericles planned to cover the Acropolis with a group of temples that should be the masterpieces of Grecian architecture. The noblest of them all was the Parthenon, a magnificent structure of the purest white marble, sacred to Athene. It had marble columns around it, for the Greeks could not imagine a great temple without columns. There were three kinds to choose from. First, there was the Corinthian, which looks as if the top of the column were surrounded with a cluster of marble leaves most exquisitely carved; and, indeed, it is said that this style really was suggested to the artist by some one's dropping a basket into a cluster of acanthus leaves. The second was the Ionic, whose top, or capital, is carved into two coils, a little like snail-shells. And, third, there was the Doric, which has a plain, solid capital. The Doric always looks simple and strong; and this was what Pericles chose for the Parthenon.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Within was a statue of Athene, thirty-nine feet high. This was made of ivory, the drapery was were probably made of jewels. In one hand was a statue of Victory, and in the other a spear and a shield. Beside Athene coiled a serpent, representing Wisdom. Within the row of columns was a frieze, or band of sculpture, running around the building. This showed the famous procession that formed once in four years and marched to the temple of the goddess to present a costly robe for her statue. There was color, too, about the temple, blue and red and yellow, and also gold; but the tints were delicate and were used with the most perfect skill. This temple was built nearly twenty four hundred years ago. Hundreds of handsome structures have been reared since then; but even in the ruins of the Parthenon artists are constantly discovering some new beauty. They find, for instance, that in many places where later builders have used straight lines, the Parthenon has curves. They find that, if the columns had been a little thicker or a little higher, they would not have seemed so perfect. They find that the outer columns are not quite perpendicular, but slant inward. No one could discover this without the most careful measurements; but the slant, small as it is, helped to make the temple so graceful and firm and harmonious that, when it was completed, it looked as if it was the one building in all the world that had a right to be in that place.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The other buildings on the Acropolis were worthy to stand near the Parthenon. There was the Erechtheum, sacred to Athene and Poseidon, and within its bounds the sacred olive tree and the salt spring were still to be seen. There were wide marble steps leading up to the Acropolis; there were porticoes and colonnades; and there were porches whose roofs were upheld by strong and graceful caryatids. Out under the clear blue sky stood another statue of Athene even larger than the one in the Parthenon. This was made of the Persian bronze captured at Marathon.

The artist to whom the glory of the Acropolis is due was Phidias. Before him sculptors had made lifelike statues of people; Myron, for instance, had made a discus-thrower so true to life that one almost wonders why the discus does not fly from his hand; but artists had felt that statues of gods ought not to be very different from the stiff, formal figures that had represented them in earlier times. Phidias broke away from this notion. He made his gods like human beings, but more grand and majestic than any person. One of his most famous works was the Zeus of Olympia, so wonderful a statue that when a man died who had never been to Olympia, the Greeks used to say, "That man was truly unfortunate, for he died without seeing the Olympian Zeus." Phidias was so anxious to do his best that, when people came to see his work, he used to stand just out of sight and listen to every word that even the humblest of them might say in criticism. Then, whenever he thought any one had discovered a fault, however small, he did not rest until he had corrected it.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Pericles also built the Odeum, a great music hall, and he improved the theatre of Dionysus. In Greece, a theatre was not a covered building. It consisted of rows upon rows of stone seats rising up the side of a hill, and circling about a level space where the plays were acted. A theatre was generally large enough to hold all the people of the city in which it stood. Some of the plays presented stories of the lives of the gods or noble deeds of the early Greeks. These were called tragedies. They were usually serious and dignified and sad, but often they contained tender and beautiful verses. People came away from such plays feeling more inclined to honor the gods, or to be as brave and patriotic as their forefathers. Comedies were also acted. They were light and merry, and often full of jests about the men and actions of the day. The tragedies were so good teachers of religion and history and patriotism, and the comedies were of such value in setting people to thinking about what was going on around them, that Pericles wished even the poorest citizens to see them. Therefore it was ordered that the state should pay the admittance fee.



Plays were acted only twice a year; but at each festival there were enough of them to make up for the six months' waiting. Three poets were allowed to present four plays each. After the plays had all been acted, a committee chosen by the demes voted to which poet the state prize should be given. Thirteen times it was voted to a man who was soldier as well as writer, and had fought bravely at Marathon and Salamis and Platęa. This was the poet Ęschylus. His tragedies were exceedingly fine, but so grave and serious that, after some years, the people became a little tired of them and voted the prize to a handsome young poet named Sophocles, because his characters were not quite so serious and formal, and seemed more like real people. He could not only write plays but recite them, and this talent stood him in good stead in his old age. One of his sons became alarmed lest the father should give away his property to a favorite grandchild. The great dramatist was called into court, that the judges might see whether his intellect was so enfeebled that he did not realize what he was doing. Instead of making any reply, Sophocles recited a passage from one of his plays; and he did it so nobly that no one could fancy him weak in mind. The judges rebuked the greedy son and sent him away. The third great tragic poet was Euripides. He is said to have taken his name from the battle of the Euripus, which was fought not long before he was born. He seemed to understand people even better than Sophocles, and he loved nature. It gave him real pleasure to write about the ocean, the rivers, clouds, rocks, vines, and birds.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The greatest writer of comedy was Aristophanes, who lived a little later than these three tragic poets. He liked to make fun of his fellow citizens, and his fun was so keen and witty that the Athenians themselves could not help being amused by it. In one of his plays, "The Birds," two Athenians who are tired of the many lawsuits in their city flee from men to the birds and persuade them to build a city in the clouds. This was great sport for the Athenians, for nothing else seemed to them so entertaining as to go to court and listen to lawsuits. They must have laughed heartily when one of the characters said,—

"For grasshoppers sit only for a month

Chirping upon the twigs; but our Athenians

Sit chirping and discussing all the year,

Perched upon points of evidence and law."



The "city in the clouds" was another jest at the expense of the Athenians, for only two years before that time they had sent out a military expedition which was a decided failure.



There were also two fine old historians who lived in the time of Pericles, Herodotus and Thucydides. It is Herodotus who tells us most of what we know about the Persian War. The world was a small place in those days when civilized men had seen so little of it, and Herodotus roamed over much of what was then known. Wherever he went, he kept his eyes open and he asked questions. Then he wrote what he had seen and heard. He writes as if he were telling a story. For instance, when he describes the passing of Xerxes over the Hellespont, he stops to tell what sort of caps or helmets the different nations had, and what kind of weapons they carried—all the little things that help to make a book interesting. He lingers over every point, as if he enjoyed telling the tale and was sure that his readers would like to hear it.

Herodotus and Thycidides


There is a tradition—so good that it ought to be true—that he read his history at the Olympic games; that among the hearers was a boy of fifteen named Thucydides; and that when the boy heard the repeated shouts of applause, the tears came into his eyes and he said to himself, "I, too, will be a historian." Thucydides became a historian as famous as Herodotus. He does not make his readers feel as if in telling a story he found quite so much pleasure as Herodotus; but he is so clear and fair, and sees so well the reasons for the events that he narrates, and states them so plainly and interestingly, that many later writers have read his works over and over, trying to learn to write as he wrote.

Thus it was that the Athenians flourished in the days of Pericles. They had slaves who did the hard work, and so left their masters time to enjoy poetry and art and their beautiful city. There was little poverty, for to rear all these handsome new buildings there must be men who could work in wood, stone, brass, gold, and ivory, and who knew how to use dyes. There was plenty of work at good wages for the common laborers, and there was always need of embroiderers and painters and artists of all kinds. Then, too, the Athenians knew how to make all sorts of earthenware and lamps, and indeed metal-work of many varieties. Captains and sailors were needed for the vessels that carried these to foreign lands and brought back loads of wine, glass, skins, salt fish, spices, dates, papyrus, carpets, gold, and slaves. Athens received every year large sums of money from the members of the Delian League. The other states declared that it was not fair for Athens to use this money for her own purposes, and some of the Athenians were of the same opinion; they said that Pericles had disgraced the city by taking possession of the Delian treasury. Pericles and his party replied that the other members of the League had given the money that they might be protected from the Persians and from pirates, and that since Athens protected them, it was only right for her to have the money and adorn the city with buildings and statues that would be a glory to the state forever. The opponents of Pericles retorted that there was now small danger from pirates or Persians; but no money was returned, and the allies were still treated as subjects. The Athenians loved their city, and were so proud of her being the most beautiful city in Greece, that perhaps even those who differed from Pericles in this did not oppose him as they might otherwise have done.

A Grecian Home


Much as the Athenians liked magnificent temples, they were satisfied to live in plain, simple, flat-roofed houses. They spent so much time out of doors that a house was to them only a safe place for their family and their property and a shelter from storm. The side of the house that faced the street had some windows in the second story, but in the first there was only a small door. Here people knocked when they wished to go in; and they also knocked when they were ready to come out, for the doors swung outward, and were so heavy that a passer-by might easily be injured if struck by one of them. A slave sat in the narrow hall, ready to open the door. At the other end of the hall was a court with a colonnade around it. The rooms of the house opened into this court. They were not often large, and they did not contain expensive furniture. The chairs and couches and stools were all well-formed and pretty, but not costly. The beds were mattresses of wool stretched on straps or girths. There were many kinds of bowls and jars and cups, but all were of pleasing shapes; and the lamps especially were exceedingly graceful and elegant.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The clothes of the Greeks were as simple as the houses. The Athenian gentleman wore a long shirt, or chiton, of woolen or linen, and over this was thrown a nearly square cloak. The cloak was generally white, but sometimes colors were worn. It must be draped in precisely the correct way, for a man who wore his cloak draped from right to left instead of from left to right was sure to be laughed at. The Greeks saw no need of hats or caps unless it rained or they were obliged to make a journey in the hot sunshine. The Greek gentleman wore sandals, or, if he preferred, he went barefooted, but he must be sure not to forget his walking stick and his seal ring. The Athenian lady wore a chiton with sleeves, and over it a long loose robe fastened with a girdle. She had rings, not only on her fingers, but often in her ears and on her ankles. Little girls wore long dresses, but small boys were not much troubled with clothes of any sort unless the weather was cold.

For food the Greeks had beef, lamb, pork, geese, ducks, and fish. They were especially fond of thrushes, and never ceased to be indignant with the dealers who blew air into the bodies of the birds to make them appear more plump. There were many kinds of vegetables and fruit. There was no sugar, but honey took its place so well that the Attic cooks were famous for their cakes. Much wine was used, but, just as in the days of Homer, the Greeks of the age of Pericles thought it greedy and vulgar to drink wine unmixed with water.

In the hearts of these busy Greeks there was a warm place for the children, and they were carefully watched and trained. They had as good a time playing as the boys and girls of to-day, and they played many of the same games. The girls had dolls made of wax or clay, and the boys had tops and iron hoops and. hobby-horses and carts and kites. There were stilts and swings and see-saws, there were different games of ball, and there were tag and blind-man's-buff. Until the children were about seven years old, the boys and girls played together and were treated much alike; but after that time matters became quite different, for now the boys must go to school. So while the little girl stayed at home and learned of her mother to read and write and care for a house, the boy was put into the care of a slave, called a pedagogue, who took him to school, brought him home, carried his tablets, and saw that he behaved well on the street and kept out of mischief.



The boy learned the alphabet and then he learned to read. No slipshod reading was allowed. Every word must ring clear and true, and every thought must be brought out properly before the master was satisfied. The boy learned to write on a tablet covered with wax. He drew the letters with a little pointed instrument of metal or bone called a stylus; then the wax was smoothed and made ready for him to follow another copy. After he had learned to write, he had to write whatever the master read. These dictations were not simple stories for children; they were selections from the Iliad or the Odyssey, some of the proverbs of Hesiod, or some graceful lyric of Pindar or Simonides. The boy need not write rapidly, but he must write clearly and well, for on the following day the master would call upon him to read what he had written. Finally, he was obliged to learn it by heart. He was also taught to reckon, to sing, to play on the lyre, and perhaps to draw. He learned to dance, to run, to leap, to wrestle, and to throw the javelin and the discus. It was not probable that many of the boys would ever gain an Olympian prize, but every one was expected to make his body strong and to learn how to use his muscles. A boy might not be able to win a foot-race, but he could learn to carry himself well and to run with such ease that it was a pleasure to watch him. This was the teaching of young boys which the Greeks of the noblest years of Greece believed would train them to become good men and good citizens. When the boy was eighteen or nineteen years old, he became a citizen. His name was enrolled as a member of a deme. A sword and a shield were given him, and he was called upon to take a solemn oath to honor religion, to fight for his country, and to strive to leave it better than he found it.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The age of Pericles, or that part of it during which Greece was at the height of her glory, is counted as lasting only from 445 B.C. to 431 B.C. because, although it had been agreed that the treaty should last for thirty years, it was only fifteen before it was broken. During those fifteen years there was peace in the land of the Greeks, in Persia, Spain, Italy, Gaul, in all the countries that were then known. The one exception was the revolt of two members of the Delian League, Byzantium and Samos; but Pericles succeeded in crushing these rebellions. Those fifteen years were the proudest time in the history of Athens. The city was rich and strong and beautiful and happy; and yet in only a few short years, the Athenians had become so wretched and miserable as narrowly to escape being sold as slaves.



Pericles brought it about that all who held office or worked for the state should be paid. Among these were several thousand jurors.

Pericles planned a wonderful group of buildings and statues on the Acropolis. The noblest was the Parthenon.

Phidias made statues of the gods like human beings, but more grand and majestic.

Pericles also built the Odeum, and adorned the theatre of Dionysus.

Tragedies made the people wish to honor the gods and be brave and patriotic. Comedies made them think about public events. The state paid the admittance fees that all might see the plays.

Ęschylus took the state prize for the best play thirteen times; then it fell to Sophocles. A third tragic poet was Euripides. Aristophanes was the greatest writer of comedy.

Herodotus and Thucydides were famous historians.

Athens was now rich and prosperous. Much money came to her from the Delian League.

The Athenians lived in simple houses and wore simple clothes. They had a variety of food. Honey took the place of sugar.

Children played many of the games of to-day. They were carefully trained. The little girl was taught by her mother; the boy went to school.

The Age of Pericles lasted from 445 B.C. to 431 B.C. It was the proudest time in the history of Athens.

Suggestions For Written Work

A visit to the Acropolis.

A visit to an Athenian home.

A Greek boy describes a day at school.