Old World Hero Stories - E. M. Tappan

Pericles And His Age

After the Persians had been driven away from Greece, the Athenians returned to their city. It was in ruins; but they were so jubilant over their victories that they hardly thought of their losses. They rebuilt their homes, and then they began to rebuild the city walls. The Spartans were not pleased. They were willing that Athens should be almost as strong as Sparta, but not quite. They sent messengers to suggest that it was not well to wall in the city; for if the Persians should ever succeed in capturing it, the walls would make a strong shelter for them. But the Athenians only worked the faster; and before long the walls had risen so high that they could be as independent as they pleased.

The Athenians were then divided into two parties. One thought it best to keep on good terms with Sparta; the other believed that, no matter how hard they tried, Sparta would never be really friendly; and this party declared that the wisest course was to make Athens as strong as possible, and then Sparta might be friendly or unfriendly as she liked. The leader of this second party was Per'i-cles. He was calm and sensible, and when he spoke to the people, he was so reasonable and so eloquent that the Athenians were easily persuaded to follow his advice. Athens was an inland city, four miles from her seaport, Pi-rę'us. Pericles reminded the citizens that, although Athens was strong and Piraeus was strong, yet an enemy might come in between and shut the city from her port. He advised them to build two parallel walls from Athens to Piraeus. This was done. These walls were sixty feet high, and so wide that two chariots could drive abreast on them.

[Illustration] from Old World Hero Stories by E. M. Tappan


Next, Pericles induced the Spartans to make a treaty of peace that was to last for thirty years. He had made Athens strong, and now he was free to carry out his plan of making her the most beautiful city in the world. The Athenians loved everything beautiful, and they were ready to fall in with his wishes. It was nothing new to them to have handsome buildings and noble statues; but Pericles planned to build on the A-crop'o-lis a group of temples that should be more magnificent than anything the world had ever seen. The noblest of them all was the Par'the-non, or temple of A-the'ne. This was of pure white marble, with long rows of columns around it. Three styles of columns were used by the Greeks. On was the Co-rin'thi-an. The capital, or heading, of this looks as if the top of the column were surrounded with a cluster of marble leaves. The second style was the I-on'ic, whose capital is carved into two coils a little like snail shells. The third style was the Dor'ic, which has a plain, solid capital. The Corinthian and Ionic are beautiful, but the Doric looks strong and dignified; and therefore the Doric was chosen for Parthenon. A frieze, or band of sculpture, ran around the whole building. This showed the famous procession which took place every four years to present to the statue of Athene a new pep'lum, or robe. This robe was exquisitely embroidered by maidens from the noblest families in Athens. The statue was thirty-nine feet high. It was wrought of ivory and gold, and the pupils of the eyes were probably made of jewels. Another of the buildings on the Acropolis was the E-rech'the-um, which was sacred to Athene and Poseidon. Out under the open sky stood a second statue of Athene; and this was made of bronze captured from the Persians at Marathon.



Pericles intrusted this work to the artist Phid'i-as, and he could not have made a better choice, for from that day to this, people have never ceased to discover new beauties in the Parthenon. Phidias was so anxious to make everything as perfect as possible that when people came to see his work, he used to stand just out of sight and listen to what was said. If any one discovered a fault, he did not rest until he had corrected it.

theatre of Dionysus


Pericles also improved the theatre of Di-o-ny'sus. A Greek theatre was not a covered building, but consisted of many rows of stone seats rising up the side of a hill. At the base of the hill was a level space where the actors stood. Some of the plays were tragedies. These were serious and grave. They were most frequently about the gods or the noble deeds of the early Greeks. Others were merry comedies which made fun of the whims and fancies of the day. The tragedies taught the listeners to be religious and patriotic, and the comedies made them think about what was going on around them. Both were so valuable to the people that Pericles thought no one ought to be kept away by poverty. Therefore he brought it about that the state should pay the admittance fee. Twice a year twelve plays were acted, and a prize was given to the author whose work was counted best. Thirteen times it was presented to the poet Ęs'chy-lus. He was soldier as well as poet, and had fought bravely at Marathon and Salamis. Another poet was Soph'o-cles. The Athenians liked his plays because they were not quite so formal and his characters seemed more like real people. The third of the great tragic poets was Eu-rip'i-des. His plays were lighter than those of Sophocles, and were more like scenes in everyday life.

The greatest writer of comedy was Ar-is-toph'a-nes. He amused himself by making fun of his fellow citizens in a witty, good humored fashion which was vastly entertaining to them. The Athenians thought that to go to court and listen to lawsuits was the finest amusement in the world; and in Aristophanes's play "The Birds," he takes for chief characters two Athenians who are so tired of lawsuits that they have fled from men to the birds.

Herodotus, who gave so vivid a description of the crossing of the Hellespont by the forces of Xerxes, lived in the time of Pericles. So did another famous historian named Thu-cyd'i-des. Herodotus was a born story-teller; but Thucydides writes so simply and clearly that he is always interesting.

Pericles made some important changes in the laws. He believed that all citizens ought to have the same right to hold office. But as a poor man could not afford to leave his work in order to serve as a magistrate, he persuaded the Athenians to pass laws to give salaries to officeholders. More than this, if the men went to the meetings of the general assembly, they were paid; and if they served as jurymen, they were paid. Sometimes hundreds of jurymen sat on a single case. Soldiers had never received any wages before this time; they had defended their country as they would have defended their own houses; but now soldiers, too, were paid for their services. Indeed, in one way or another, a very large number of the citizens were paid by the state for doing what the Greeks had before this thought was only their duty. The years between 445 B.C. and 431 B.C. are known as the Age of Pericles. Athens was then the strongest of the states of Greece and the most beautiful. She had a protecting wall seven miles in length; she had the most powerful navy of the time, and the city was the richest in the world in superb temples and marvelous statues.

The Age of Pericles was a happy time for the citizens. With so much building going on, there was enough to do for workmen of all kinds; and if a man could work in gold, brass, stone, or wood, he was sure of good wages. There were ships enough for commerce, and there was commerce enough for the ships. The Athenians knew how to make all sorts of earthenware; they did wonderfully fine work in metal; and other countries were eager to trade with them.



The homes of the Athenians were comfortable, but very simple. The house was usually built around an open court, and into this all the rooms opened. The Greeks lived so much in the open air that they looked upon a house as being chiefly a shelter from stormy weather and a place for their property. Their furnishings were not expensive, but the chairs and couches and bowls and jars were sure to be of graceful form and color; for the Athenians were such lovers of beauty that anything ugly really made them uncomfortable. The children had tops and kites and carts and swings just like the children of to-day. The little girls learned at home to read and write and care for a house; but the boys were sent to school. Greek parents would not allow a boy to go to school alone, but always sent with him a slave called a pedagogue to see that he behaved properly on the street. The boy was taught to read clearly and well. He learned to write with a stylus, or pointed piece of metal or bone, on a tablet covered with wax. When his tablet was covered, the wax could be smoothed, and then it was ready for the next day's work. Boys wrote a great deal from dictation, and often this dictation was taken from the Iliad or the Odyssey. They learned to reckon, to sing, to play on the lyre, and perhaps to draw. They must learn to throw the discus, to wrestle, to leap, and to run. No one expected that all the boys would become champion athletes, but it was looked upon as disgrace for a boy not to be taught to carry himself well and use his muscles properly.

The peace which Pericles had arranged with Sparta lasted for only fifteen years. Then war broke out. Pericles was managing the defense of Athens with the greatest wisdom; but the plague came down upon the city, and soon the great Athenian lay dying. The friends about his bedside were talking of his victories, when he suddenly opened his eyes and said, "Many other generals have performed the like; but you take no notice of the most honorable part of my character, that no Athenian through my means ever put on mourning."


Athens is rebuilt. — Pericles persuades the Athenians to build walls to Piraeus. — The Parthenon. — The three styles of columns. —The statues of Athene. — The Erechtheum. — Phidias. — The Creek theatre. — Ęschylus. — Sophocles. — Euripides. — Aristophanes. — Herodotus. — Thucydides. — The changes in the laws. — The happiness of the Age of Pericles. — The Athenian homes. — How children were brought up and taught. — The death of Pericles.