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A Day In Old Athens
by William Stearns Davis
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These feminine garments are all, as a rule, more elaborately embroidered, more adorned with fringes and tassels, than those of the men. In arranging her dress the Athenian lady is not bound by the rigid precepts of fashion. Every separate toilette is an opportunity for a thousand little niceties and coquetries which she understands exceedingly well. If there is the least excuse for an expedition outside the house, her ladyship's bevy of serving maids will have a serious time of it. While their mistress cools herself with a huge peacock-feather fan, one maid is busy over her hair; a second holds the round metallic mirror before her; a third stands ready to extend the jewel box whence she can select finger rings, earrings, gold armlets, chains for her neck and hair, as well as the indispensable brooches whereon the stability of the whole costume depends. When she rises to have her himation draped around her, the directions she gives reveal her whole bent and character. A dignified and modest matron will have it folded loosely around her entire person, covering both arms and hands, and even drawing it over her head, leaving eyes and nose barely visible. Younger ladies will draw it close around the body so as to show the fine lines of their waists and shoulders. And in the summer heat the himation (for the less prudish) will become a light shawl floating loose and free over the shoulders, or only a kind of veil drawn so as to now conceal, now reveal, the face.

Children wear miniature imitations of the dress of their elders. Boys are taught to toughen their bodies by refraining from thick garments in cold weather. In hot weather they can frequently be seen playing about with very little clothing at all!

36. Footwear and Head Coverings.—Upon his feet the Athenian frequently wears nothing. He goes about his home barefoot; and not seldom he enjoys the delight of running across the open greensward with his unsandaled feet pressing the springing ground; but normally when he walks abroad, he will wear SANDALS, a simple solid pair of open soles tied to his feet by leather thongs passing between the toes. For hard country walking and for hunting there is something like a high leather boot,[*] though doubtless these are counted uncomfortable for ordinary wear. As for the sandals, simple as they are, the Attic touch of elegance is often upon them. Upon the thongs of the sandals there is usually worked a choice pattern, in some brilliant color or even gilt.

[*]Actors, too, wore a leather boot with high soles to give them extra height—the COTHURNUS.

The Athenians need head coverings even less than footgear. Most of them have thick hair; baldness is an uncommon affliction; everybody is trained to walk under the full glare of Helios with little discomfort. Of course certain trades require hats, e.g. sailors who can be almost identified by their rimless felt caps. Genteel travelers will wear wide-brimmed hats; but the ladies, as a rule, have no headgear besides their tastefully arranged hair, although they will partly atone for the lack, by having a maid walk just behind them with a gorgeously variegated parasol.

37. The Beauty of the Greek Dress.—Greek Costume, then, is something fully sharing in the national characteristics of harmony, simplicity, individuality. It is easy to see how admirably this style of dress is adapted to furnish over ready models and inspiration for the sculptor.[*] Unconventional in its arrangement, it is also unconventional in its color. A masculine crowd is not one unmitigated swarm of black and dark grays or browns, as with the multitude of a later age. On the contrary, white is counted as theoretically the most becoming color on any common occasion for either sex;[+] and on festival days even grave and elderly men will appear with chitons worked with brilliant embroidery along the borders, and with splendid himatia of some single clear hue—violet, red, purple, blue, or yellow. As for the costume of the groom at a wedding, it is far indeed from the "conventional black" of more degenerate days. He may well wear a purple-edged white chiton of fine Milesian wool, a brilliant scarlet himation, sandals with blue thongs and clasps of gold, and a chaplet of myrtle and violets. His intended bride is led out to him in even more dazzling array. Her white sandal-thongs are embroidered with emeralds, rubies, and pearls. Around her neck is a necklace of gold richly set,—and she has magnificent golden armlets and pearl eardrops. Her hair is fragrant with Oriental nard, and is bound by a purple fillet and a chaplet of roses. Her ungloved fingers shine with jewels and rings. Her main costume is of a delicate saffron, and over it all, like a cloud, floats the silvery tissue of the nuptial veil.

[*]"The chiton became the mirror of the body," said the late writer Achilles Tatius.

[+]No doubt farmers and artisans either wore garments of a non-committal brown, or, more probably, let their originally white costume get utterly dirty.

38. Greek Toilet Frivolities.—From the standpoint of inherent fitness and beauty, this Athenian costume is the noblest ever seen by the world. Naturally there are ill-advised creatures who do not share the good taste of their fellows, or who try to deceive the world and themselves as to the ravages of that arch-enemy of the Hellene,—Old Age. Athenian women especially (though the men are not without their follies) are sometimes fond of rouge, false hair, and the like. Auburn hair is especially admired, and many fine dames bleach their tresses in a caustic wash to obtain it. The styles of feminine hair dressing seem to change from decade to decade much more than the arrangements of the garments. Now it is plaited and crimped hair that is in vogue, now the more beautiful "Psyche-knots"; yet even in their worst moods the Athenian women exhibit a sweet reasonableness. They have not yet fallen into the clutches of the Parisian hairdresser.

The poets, of course, ridicule the foibles of the fair sex.[*] Says one:—

The golden hair Nikylla wears Is hers, who would have thought it? She swears 'tis hers, and true she swears For I know where she bought it!

And again:—

You give your cheeks a rosy stain, With washes dye your hair; But paint and washes both are vain To give a youthful air. An art so fruitless then forsake, Which, though you much excel in, You never can contrive to make Old Hecuba young Helen.

[*]Translated in Falke's "Greece and Rome" (English translation, p. 69). These quotations probably date from a time considerably later than the hypothetical period of this sketch; but they are perfectly proper to apply to conditions in 360 B.C.

But enough of such scandals! All the best opinion—masculine and feminine—frowns on these follies. Let us think of the simple, dignified, and esthetically noble costume of the Athenians as not the least of their examples to another age.



Chapter VII. The Slaves.



39. Slavery an Integral Part of Greek Life.—An Athenian lady cares for everything in her house,—for the food supplies, for the clothing, yet probably her greatest task is to manage the heterogeneous multitude of slaves which swarm in every wealthy or even well-to-do mansion.[*]

[*]The Athenians never had the absurd armies of house slaves which characterized Imperial Rome; still the numbers of their domestic servants were, from a modern standpoint, extremely large.

Slaves are everywhere: not merely are they the domestic servants, but they are the hands in the factories, they run innumerable little shops, they unload the ships, they work the mines, they cultivate the farms. Possibly there are more able-bodied male slaves in Attica than male free men, although this point is very uncertain. Their number is the harder to reckon because they are not required to wear any distinctive dress, and you cannot tell at a glance whether a man is a mere piece of property, or a poor but very proud and important member of the "Sovereign Demos [People] of Athens."

No prominent Greek thinker seems to contest the righteousness and desirability of slavery. It is one of the usual, nay, inevitable, things pertaining to a civilized state. Aristotle the philosopher puts the current view of the case very clearly. "The lower sort of mankind are BY NATURE slaves, and it is better for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. The use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both by their bodies minister to the needs of life." The intelligent, enlightened, progressive Athenians are naturally the "masters"; the stupid, ignorant, sluggish minded Barbarians are the "inferiors." Is it not a plain decree of Heaven that the Athenians are made to rule, the Barbarians to serve?—No one thinks the subject worth serious argument.

Of course the slave cannot be treated quite as one would treat an ox. Aristotle takes pains to point out the desirability of holding out to your "chattel" the hope of freedom, if only to make him work better; and the great philosopher in his last testament gives freedom to five of his thirteen slaves. Then again it is recognized as clearly against public sentiment to hold fellow Greeks in bondage. It is indeed done. Whole towns get taken in war, and those of the inhabitants who are not slaughtered are sold into slavery.[*] Again, exposed children, whose parents have repudiated them, get into the hands of speculators, who raise them "for market." There is also a good deal of kidnapping in the less civilized parts of Greece like Aetolia. Still the proportion of genuinely GREEK slaves is small. The great majority of them are "Barbarians," men born beyond the pale of Hellenic civilization.

[*]For example, the survivors, after the capture of Melos, in the Peloponesian War.

40. The Slave Trade in Greece.—There are two great sources of slave supply: the Asia Minor region (Lydia and Phrygia, with Syria in the background), and the Black Sea region, especially the northern shores, known as Scythia. It is known to innumerable heartless "traders" that human flesh commands a very high price in Athens or other Greek cities. Every little war or raid that vexes those barbarous countries so incessantly is followed by the sale of the unhappy captives to speculators who ship them on, stage by stage, to Athens. Perhaps there is no war; the supply is kept up then by deliberately kidnapping on a large scale, or by piracy.[*] In any case the arrival of a chain gang of fettered wretches at the Peireus is an everyday sight. Some of these creatures are submissive and tame (perhaps they understand some craft or trade); these can be sold at once for a high price. Others are still doltish and stubborn. They are good for only the rudest kind of labor, unless they are kept and trained at heavy expense. These brutish creatures are frequently sold off to the mines, to be worked to death by the contractors as promptly and brutally as one wears out a machine; or else they become public galley slaves, when their fate is practically the same. But we need not follow such horrors.

[*]A small but fairly constant supply of slaves would come from the seizure of the persons and families of bankrupt debtors, whose creditors, especially in the Orient, might sell them into bondage.

The remainder are likely to be purchased either for use upon the farm, the factory, or in the home. There is a regular "circle" at or near the Agora for traffic in them. They are often sold at auction. The price of course varies with the good looks, age,[*] or dexterity of the article, or the abundance of supply. "Slaves will be high" in a year when there has been little warfare and raiding in Asia Minor. "Some slaves," says Xenophon, "are well worth two mine [$36.00 (1914) or $640.80 (2000)] and others barely half a mina [$9.00 (1914) or $160.20 (2000)]; some sell up to five mine [$90.00 (1914) or $1,602.00 (2000)] and even for ten [$180.00 (1914) or $3,204.00 (2000)]. Nicias, the son of Nicaretus, is said to have given a talent [over $1,000.00 (1914) or $17,800.00 (2000)] for an overseer in the mines."[+] The father of Demosthenes owned a considerable factory. He had thirty-two sword cutters worth about five mine each, and twenty couch-makers (evidently less skilled) worth together 40 mine [about $720.00 (1914) or $12,816.00 (2000)]. A girl who is handsome and a clever flute player, who will be readily hired for supper parties, may well command a very high price indeed, say even 30 mine [about $540.00 (1914) or $9,612.00 (2000)].

[*]There was probably next to no market for old women; old men in broken health would also be worthless. Boys and maids that were the right age for teaching a profitable trade would fetch the most.

[+]Xenophon, "Memorabilia," ii. 5, section 2.

41. The Treatment of Slaves in Athens.—Once purchased, what is the condition of the average slave? If he is put in a factory, he probably has to work long hours on meager rations. He is lodged in a kind of kennel; his only respite is on the great religious holidays. He cannot contract valid marriage or enjoy any of the normal conditions of family life. Still his evil state is partially tempered by the fact that he has to work in constant association with free workmen, and he seems to be treated with a moderate amount of consideration and good camaraderie. On the whole he will have much less to complain of (if he is honest and industrious) than his successors in Imperial Rome.

In the household, conditions are on the whole better. Every Athenian citizen tries to have at least ONE slave, who, we must grant, may be a starving drudge of all work. The average gentleman perhaps counts ten to twenty as sufficient for his needs. We know of households of fifty. There must usually be a steward, a butler in charge of the storeroom or cellar, a marketing slave, a porter, a baker, a cook,[*] a nurse, perhaps several lady's maids, the indispensable attendant for the master's walks (a graceful, well-favored boy, if possible), the pedagogue for the children, and in really rich families, a groom, and a mule boy. It is the business of the mistress to see that all these creatures are kept busy and reasonably contented. If a slave is reconciled to his lot, honest, cheerful, industrious, his condition is not miserable. Athenian slaves are allowed a surprising amount of liberty, so most visitors to the city complain. A slave may be flogged most cruelly, but he cannot be put to death at the mere whim of his master. He cannot enter the gymnasium, or the public assembly; but he can visit the temples. As a humble member of the family he has a small part usually in the family sacrifices. But in any case he is subject to one grievous hardship: when his testimony is required in court he must be "put to the question" by torture. On the other hand, if his master has wronged him intolerably, he can take sanctuary at the Temple of Theseus, and claim the privilege of being sold to some new owner. A slave, too, has still another grievance which may be no less galling because it is sentimental. His name (given him arbitrarily perhaps by his master) is of a peculiar category, which at once brands him as a bondsman: Geta, Manes, Dromon, Sosias, Xanthias, Pyrrhias,—such names would be repudiated as an insult by a citizen.

[*]Who, however, could not be trusted to cook a formal dinner. For such purpose an expert must be hired.

42. Cruel and Kind Masters.—Slavery in Athens, as everywhere else, is largely dependent upon the character of the master; and most Athenian masters would not regard crude brutality as consistent with that love of elegance, harmony, and genteel deliberation which characterizes a well-born citizen. There do not lack masters who have the whip continually in their hands, who add to the raw stripes fetters and branding, and who make their slaves unceasingly miserable; but such masters are the exception, and public opinion does not praise them. Between the best Athenians and their slaves there is a genial, friendly relation, and the master will put up with a good deal of real impertinence, knowing that behind this forwardness there is an honest zeal for his interests.

Nevertheless the slave system of Athens is not commendable. It puts a stigma upon the glory of honest manual labor. It instills domineering, despotic habits into the owners, cringing subservience into the owned. Even if a slave becomes freed, he does not become an Athenian citizen; he is only a "metic," a resident foreigner, and his old master, or some other Athenian, must be his patron and representative in every kind of legal business. It is a notorious fact that the MERE STATE of slavery robs the victim of his self-respect and manhood. Nevertheless nobody dreams of abolishing slavery as an institution, and the Athenians, comparing themselves with other communities, pride themselves on the extreme humanity of their slave system.

43. The "City Slaves" of Athens.—A large number of nominal "slaves" in Athens differ from any of the creatures we have described. The community, no less than an individual, can own slaves just as it can own warships and temples. Athens owns "city slaves" (Demosioi) of several varieties. The clerks in the treasury office, and the checking officers at the public assemblies are slaves; so too are the less reputable public executioners and torturers; in the city mint there is another corps of slave workers, busy coining "Athena's owls"—the silver drachmas and four-drachma pieces. But chiefest of all, THE CITY OWNS ITS PUBLIC POLICE FORCE. The "Scythians" they are called from their usual land of origin, or the "bowmen," from their special weapon, which incidentally makes a convenient cudgel in a street brawl. There are 1200 of them, always at the disposal of the city magistrates. They patrol the town at night, arrest evil-doers, sustain law and order in the Agora, and especially enforce decorum, if the public assemblies or the jury courts become tumultuous. They have a special cantonment on the hill of Areopagus near the Acropolis. "Slaves" they are of course in name, and under a kind of military discipline; but they are highly privileged slaves. The security of the city may depend upon their loyal zeal. In times of war they are auxiliaries. Life in this police force cannot therefore be burdensome, and their position is envied by all the factory workers and the house servants.



Chapter VIII. The Children.



44. The Desirability of Children in Athens.—Besides the oversight of the slaves the Athenian matron has naturally the care of the children. A childless home is one of the greatest of calamities. It means a solitary old age, and still worse, the dying out of the family and the worship of the family gods. There is just enough of the old superstitious "ancestor worship" left in Athens to make one shudder at the idea of leaving the "deified ancestor" without any descendants to keep up the simple sacrifices to their memory. Besides, public opinion condemns the childless home as not contributing to the perpetuation of the city. How Corinth, Thebes, or Sparta will rejoice, if it is plain that Athens is destroying herself by race suicide! So at least ONE son will be very welcome. His advent is a day of happiness for the father, of still greater satisfaction for the young mother.

45. The Exposure of Infants.—How many more children are welcome depends on circumstances. Children are expensive luxuries. They must be properly educated and even the boys must be left a fair fortune.[*] The girls must always have good dowries, or they cannot "marry according to their station." Public opinion, as well as the law, allows a father (at least if he has one or two children already) to exercise a privilege, which later ages will pronounce one of the foulest blots on Greek civilization. After the birth of a child there is an anxious day or two for the poor young mother and the faithful nurses.—Will he 'nourish' it? Are there boys enough already? Is the disappointment over the birth of a daughter too keen? Does he dread the curtailment in family luxuries necessary to save up for an allowance or dowry for the little stranger? Or does the child promise to be puny, sickly, or even deformed? If any of these arguments carry adverse weight, there is no appeal against the father's decision. He has until the fifth day after the birth to decide. In the interval he can utter the fatal words, "Expose it!" The helpless creature is then put in a rude cradle, or more often merely in a shallow pot and placed near some public place; e.g. the corner of the Agora, or near a gymnasium, or the entrance to a temple. Here it will soon die of mere hunger and neglect unless rescued. If the reasons for exposure are evident physical defects, no one will touch it. Death is certain. If, however, it seems healthy and well formed, it is likely to be taken up and cared for. Not out of pure compassion, however. The harpies who raise slaves and especially slave girls, for no honest purposes, are prompt to pounce upon any promising looking infant. They will rear it as a speculation; if it is a girl, they will teach it to sing, dance, play. The race of light women in Athens is thus really recruited from the very best families. The fact is well known, but it is constantly winked at. Aristophanes, the comic poet, speaks of this exposure of children as a common feature of Athenian life. Socrates declares his hearers are vexed when he robs them of pet ideas, "like women who have had their children taken from them." There is little or nothing for men of a later day to say of this custom save condemnation.[+]

[*]The idea of giving a lad a "schooling" and then turning him loose to earn his own living in the world was contrary to all Athenian theory and practice.

[+]About the only boon gained by this foul usage was the fact that, thanks to it, the number of physically unfit persons in Athens was probably pretty small, for no one would think of bringing up a child which, in its first babyhood, promised to be a cripple.

46. The Celebration of a Birth.—But assuredly in a majority of cases, the coming of a child is more than welcome. If a girl, tufts of wool are hung before the door of the happy home; if a boy, there is set out an olive branch. Five days after the birth, the nurse takes the baby, wrapped almost to suffocation in swaddling bands, to the family hearth in the "andron," around which she runs several times, followed doubtless, in merry, frolicking procession, by most of the rest of the family. The child is now under the care of the family gods. There is considerable eating and drinking. Exposure now is no longer possible. A great load is off the mind of the mother. But on the "tenth day" comes the real celebration and the feast. This is the "name day." All of the kinsmen are present. The house is full of incense and garlands. The cook is in action in the kitchen. Everybody brings simple gifts, along with abundant wishes of good luck. There is a sacrifice, and during the ensuing feast comes the naming of the child. Athenian names are very short and simple.[*] A boy has often his father's name, but more usually his grandfather's, as, e.g., Themistocles, the son of Neocles, the son of Themistocles: the father's name being usually added in place of a surname. In this way certain names will become a kind of family property, and sorrowful is the day when there is no eligible son to bear them!

The child is now a recognized member of the community. His father has accepted him as a legitimate son, one of his prospective heirs, entitled in due time to all the rights of an Athenian citizen.

[*]Owing to this simplicity and the relatively small number of Athenian names, a directory of the city would have been a perplexing affair.

47. Life and Games of Young Children.—The first seven years of a Greek boy's life are spent with his nurses and his mother. Up to that time his father takes only unofficial interest in his welfare. Once past the first perilous "five days," an Athenian baby has no grounds to complain of his treatment. Great pains are taken to keep him warm and well nourished. A wealthy family will go to some trouble to get him a skilful nurse, those from Sparta being in special demand, as knowing the best how to rear healthy infants. He has all manner of toys, and Aristotle the philosopher commends their frequent donation; otherwise, he says, children will be always "breaking things in the house." Babies have rattles. As they grow older they have dolls of painted clay or wax, sometimes with movable hands and feet, and also toy dishes, tables, wagons, and animals. Lively boys have whipping toys, balls, hoops, and swings. There is no lack of pet dogs, nor of all sorts of games on the blind man's bluff and "tag" order.[*] Athenian children are, as a class, very active and noisy. Plato speaks feelingly of their perpetual "roaring." As they grow larger, they begin to escape more and more from the narrow quarters of the courts of the house, and play in the streets.

[*]It is not always easy to get the exact details of such ancient games, for the "rules" have seldom come down to us; but generally speaking, the games of Greek children seem extremely like those of the twentieth century.

48. Playing in the Streets.—Narrow, dirty, and dusty as the streets seem, children, even of good families, are allowed to play in them. After a rain one can see boys floating toy boats of leather in every mud puddle, or industriously making mud pies. In warm weather the favorite if cruel sport is to catch a beetle, tie a string to its legs, let it fly off, then twitch it back again. Leapfrog, hide-and-seek, etc., are in violent progress down every alley. The streets are not all ideal playgrounds. Despite genteel ideas of dignity and moderation, there is a great deal of foul talk and brawling among the passers, and Athenian children have receptive eyes and ears. Yet on the other hand, there is a notable regard and reverence for childhood. With all its frequent callousness and inhumanity, Greek sentiment abhors any brutality to young children. Herodotus the historian tells of the falling of a roof, whereby one hundred and twenty school children perished, as being a frightful calamity,[*] although recounting cold-blooded massacres of thousands of adults with never a qualm; and Herodotus is a very good spokesman for average Greek opinion.

[*]Herodotus, VI. 27.

49. The First Stories and Lessons.—Athens has no kindergartens. The first teaching which children will receive is in the form of fables and goblin tales from their mothers and nurses,—usually with the object of frightening them into "being good,"—tales of the spectral Lamie, or of the horrid witch Mormo who will catch nasty children; or of Empusa, a similar creature, who lurks in shadows and dark rooms; or of the Kabaloi, wild spirits in the woods. Then come the immortal fables of Aesop with their obvious application towards right conduct. Athenian mothers and teachers have no two theories as to the wisdom of corporeal punishment. The rod is never spared to the spoiling of the child, although during the first years the slipper is sufficient. Greek children soon have a healthy fear of their nurses; but they often learn to love them, and funeral monuments will survive to perpetuate their grateful memory.

50. The Training of Athenian Girls.—Until about seven years old brothers and sisters grow up in the Gyneconitis together. Then the boys are sent to school. The girls will continue about the house until the time of their marriage. It is only in the rarest of cases that the parents feel it needful to hire any kind of tutor for THEM. What the average girl knows is simply what her mother can teach her. Perhaps a certain number of Athenian women (of good family, too) are downright illiterate; but this is not very often the case. A normal girl will learn to read and write, with her mother for school mistress.[*] Very probably she will be taught to dance, and sometimes to play on some instrument, although this last is not quite a proper accomplishment for young women of good family. Hardly any one dreams of giving a woman any systematic intellectual training.[+] Much more important it is that she should know how to weave, spin, embroider, dominate the cook, and superintend the details of a dinner party. She will have hardly time to learn these matters thoroughly before she is "given a husband," and her childhood days are forever over (see section 27).

[*]There has come down to us a charming Greek terra-cotta (it is true, not from Athens) showing a girl seated on her mother's knee, and learning from a roll which she holds.

[+]Plato suggested in his "Republic" (V. 451 f.) that women should receive the same educational opportunities as the men. This was a proposition for Utopia and never struck any answering chord.

Meantime her brother has been started upon a course of education which, both in what it contains and in what it omits, is one of the most interesting and significant features of Athenian life.



Chapter IX. The Schoolboys of Athens.



51. Athenians Generally Literate.—Education is not compulsory by law in Athens, but the father who fails to give his son at least a modicum of education falls under a public contempt, which involves no slight penalty. Practically all Athenians are at least literate. In Aristophanes's famous comedy, "The Knights," a boorish "sausage-seller" is introduced, who, for the purposes of the play, must be one of the very scum of society, and he is made to cry, "Only consider now my education! I can but barely read, just in a kind of way."[*] Evidently if illiterates are not very rare in Athens, the fellow should have been made out utterly ignorant. "He can neither swim[+] nor say his letters," is a common phrase for describing an absolute idiot. When a boy has reached the age of seven, the time for feminine rule is over; henceforth his floggings, and they will be many, are to come from firm male hands.

[*]Aristophanes, "Knights", II. 188-189.

[+]Swimming was an exceedingly common accomplishment among the Greeks, naturally enough, so much of their life being spent upon or near the sea.

52. Character Building the Aim of Athenian Education.—The true education is of course begun long before the age of seven. CHARACTER NOT BOOK-LEARNING, IS THE MAIN OBJECT OF ATHENIAN EDUCATION, i.e. to make the boy self-contained, modest, alert, patriotic, a true friend, a dignified gentleman, able to appreciate and participate in all that is true, harmonius and beautiful in life. To that end his body must be trained, not apart from, but along with his mind. Plato makes his character Protagoras remark, "As soon as a child understands what is said to him, the nurse, the mother, the pedagogue, and the father vie in their efforts to make him good, by showing him in all that he does that 'THIS is right,' and 'THAT is wrong'; 'this is pretty,' and 'that is ugly'; so that he may learn what to follow and what to shun. If he obeys willingly—why, excellent. If not, then try by threats and blows to correct him, as men straighten a warped and crooked sapling." Also after he is fairly in school "the teacher is enjoined to pay more attention to his morals and conduct than to his progress in reading and music."

53. The Schoolboy's Pedagogue.—It is a great day for an Athenian boy when he is given a pedagogue. This slave (perhaps purchased especially for the purpose) is not his teacher, but he ought to be more than ordinarily honest, kindly, and well informed. His prime business is to accompany the young master everywhere out-of-doors, especially to the school and to the gymnasium; to carry his books and writing tablets; to give informal help upon his lessons; to keep him out of every kind of mischief; to teach him social good manners; to answer the thousand questions a healthy boy is sure to ask; and finally, in emergencies, if the schoolmaster or his father is not at hand, to administer a needful whipping. A really capable pedagogue can mean everything to a boy; but it is asking too much that a purchased slave should be an ideal companion.[*] Probably many pedagogues are responsible for their charges' idleness or downright depravity. It is a dubious system at the best.

[*]No doubt frequently the pedagogue would be an old family servant of good morals, loyalty, and zeal. In that case the relation might be delightful.

The assigning of the pedagogue is simultaneous with the beginning of school days; and the Athenians are not open to the charge of letting their children waste their time during possible study hours. As early as Solon's day (about 590 B.C.) a law had to be passed forbidding schools to open BEFORE daybreak, or to be kept open after dusk. This was in the interest not of good eyesight, but of good morals. Evidently schools had been keeping even longer than through the daylight. In any case, at gray dawn every yawning schoolboy is off, urged on by his pedagogue, and his tasks will continue with very little interruption through the entire day. It is therefore with reason that the Athenian lads rejoice in the very numerous religious holidays.

54. An Athenian School.—Leaving the worthy citizen's home, where we have lingered long chatting on many of the topics the house and its denizens suggest, we will turn again to the streets to seek the school where one of the young sons of the family has been duly conducted (possibly, one may say, driven) by his pedagogue. We have not far to go. Athenian schools have to be numerous, because they are small. To teach children of the poorer classes it is enough to have a modest room and a few stools; an unrented shop will answer. But we will go to a more pretentious establishment. There is an anteroom by the entrance way where the pedagogues can sit and doze or exchange gossip while their respective charges are kept busy in the larger room within. The latter place, however, is not particularly commodious. On the bare wall hang book-rolls, lyres, drinking vessels, baskets for books, and perhaps some simple geometric instruments. The pupils sit on rude, low benches, each lad with his boxwood tablet covered with wax[*] upon his lap, and presumably busy, scratching letters with his stylus. The master sits on a high chair, surveying the scene. He cultivates a grim and awful aspect, for he is under no delusion that "his pupils love him." "He sits aloft," we are told, "like a juryman, with an expression of implacable wrath, before which the pupil must tremble and cringe."[+]

[*]This wax tablet was practically a slate. The letters written could be erased with the blunt upper end of the metallic stylus, and the whole surface of the tablet could be made smooth again by a judicious heating.

[+]The quotation is from the late writer Libanius, but it is perfectly true for classic Athens.

Athenian schoolboys have at least their full share of idleness, as well as of animal spirits. There is soon a loud whisper from one corner. Instantly the ruling tyrant rises. "Antiphon! I have heard you. Come forward!" If Antiphon is wise, he will advance promptly and submit as cheerfully as possible to a sound caning; if folly possesses him, he will hesitate. At a nod from the master two older boys, who serve as monitors, will seize him with grim chuckles. He will then be fortunate if he escapes being tied to a post and flogged until his back is one mass of welts, and his very life seems in danger. It will be useless for him to complain to his parents. A good schoolmaster is supposed to flog frequently to earn his pay; if he is sparing with the rod or lash, he is probably lacking in energy. Boys will be boys, and there is only one remedy for juvenile shortcomings.

This diversion, of course, with its attendant howling, interrupts the course of the school, but presently matters again become normal. The scholars are so few that probably there is only one teacher, and instruction is decidedly "individual," although poetry and singing are very likely taught "in concert."

55. The School Curriculum.—As to the subjects studied, the Athenian curriculum is well fixed and limited: letters, music, and gymnastics. Every lad must have a certain amount of all of these. They gymnastics will be taught later in the day by a special teacher at a "wrestling school." The "music" may also be taught separately. The main effort with a young boy is surely to teach him to read and write. And here must be recalled the relative infrequency of complete books in classic Athens.[*] To read public placards, inscriptions of laws, occasional epistles, commercial documents, etc., is probably, for many Athenians, reading enough. The great poets he will learn by ear rather than by eye; and he may go through a long and respected life and never be compelled to read a really sizable volume from end to end. So the teaching of reading is along very simple lines. It is perhaps simultaneous with the learning of writing. The twenty-four letters are learned by sheer power of memory; then the master sets lines upon the tablets to be copied. As soon as possible the boy is put to learning and writing down passages from the great poets. Progress in mere literacy is very rapid. There is no waste of time on history, geography, or physical science; and between the concentration on a singly main subject and the impetus given by the master's rod the Athenian schoolboy soon becomes adept with his letters. Possibly a little arithmetic is taught him, but only a little. In later life, if he does not become a trader or banker, he will not be ashamed to reckon simple sums upon his fingers or by means of pebbles; although if his father is ambitious to have him become a philosopher, he may have him taught something of geometry.

Once more we see the total absence of "vocational studies" in this Athenian education. The whole effort is to develop a fair, noble, free, and lofty character, not to earn a living. To set a boy to study with an eye to learning some profitable trade is counted illiberal to the last degree. It is for this reason that practical arithmetic is discouraged, yet a little knowledge of the art of outline drawing is allowed; for though no gentleman intends to train his son to be a great artist, the study will enable him to appreciate good sculpture and painting. Above all the schoolmaster, who, despite his brutal austerity, ought to be a clear-sighted and inspiring teacher, must lose no opportunity to instill moral lessons, and develop the best powers of his charges. Theoginis, the old poet of Megara, states the case well:—

To rear a child is easy; but to teach Morals and manners is beyond our reach. To make the foolish wise, the wicked good, That science never yet understood.

56. The Study of the Poets.—It is for the developing of the best moral and mental qualities in the lads that they are compelled to memorize long passages of the great poets of Hellas. Theoginis, with his pithy admonitions cast in semi-proverb form, the worldly wisdom of Hesiod, and of Phocylides are therefore duly flogged into every Attic schoolboy.[*] But the great text-book dwarfing all others, is Homer,—"the Bible of the Greeks," as later ages will call it. Even in the small school we visit, several of the pupils can repeat five or six long episodes from both the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," and there is one older boy present (an extraordinary, but by no means an unprecedented case) who can repeat BOTH of the long epics word for word.[+] Clearly the absence of many books has then its compensations. The average Athenian lad has what seems to be a simply marvelous memory.

[*]Phocylides, whose gnomic poetry is now preserved to us only in scant fragments, was an Ionian, born about 560 B.C. His verses were in great acceptance in the schools.

[+]For such an attainment see Xenophon's "Symposium," 3:5.

And what an admirable text-book and "second reader" the Homeric poems are! What characters to imitate: the high-minded, passionate, yet withal loyal and lovable Achilles who would rather fight gloriously before Troy (though death in the campaign is certain) than live a long life in ignoble ease at home at Phthia; or Oysseus, the "hero of many devices," who endures a thousand ills and surmounts them all; who lets not even the goddess Calypso seduce him from his love to his "sage Penelope"; who is ever ready with a clever tale, a plausible lie, and, when the need comes, a mighty deed of manly valor. The boys will all go home to-night with firm resolves to suffer all things rather than leave a comrade unavenged, as Achilles was tempted to do and nobly refused, and to fight bravely, four against forty, as Odysseus and his comrades did, when at the call of duty and honor they cleared the house of the dastard suitors. True, philosophers like Plato complain: "Homer gives to lads very undignified and unworthy ideas of the gods"; and men of a later age will assert: "Homer has altogether too little to say about the cardinal virtues of truthfulness and honesty."[*] But making all allowances the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" are still the two grandest secular text-books the world will ever know. The lads are definitely the better for them.

[*]The virtue of unflinching HONESTY was undoubtedly the thing least cultivated by the Greek education. Successful prevarication, e.g. in the case of Odysseus, was put at altogether too high a premium. It is to be feared that the average Athenian schoolboy was only partially truthful. The tale of "George Washington and the cherry tree" would never have found favor in Athens. The great Virginian would have been blamed for failing to concoct a clever lie.

Three years, according to Plato, are needed to learn the rudiments of reading and writing before the boys are fairly launched upon this study of the poets. For several years more they will spend most of their mornings standing respectfully before their master, while he from his chair reads to them from the roll of one author or another,—the pupils repeating the lines, time and again, until they have learned them, while the master interrupts to explain every nice point in mythology, in real or alleged history, or a moot question in ethics.

57. The Greeks do not study Foreign Languages.—As the boys grow older the scope of their study naturally increases; but in one particular their curriculum will seem strangely limited. THE STUDY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES HAS NO PLACE IN A GREEK COURSE OF STUDY. That any gentleman should learn say Persian, or Egyptian (unless he intended to devote himself to distant travel), seems far more unprofitable than, in a later age, the study of say Patagonian or Papuan will appear.[*] Down at the Peireus there are a few shipmasters, perhaps, who can talk Egyptian, Phoenecian, or Babylonish. They need the knowledge for their trade, but even they will disclaim any cultural value for their accomplishment. The euphonious, expressive, marvelously delicate tongue of Hellas sums up for the Athenian almost all that is valuable in the world's intellectual and literary life. What has the outer, the "Barbarian," world to give him?—Nothing, many will say, but some gold darics which will corrupt his statesmen, and some spices, carpets, and similar luxuries which good Hellenes can well do without. The Athenian lad will never need to crucify the flesh upon Latin, French, and German, or an equivalent for his own Greek. Therein perhaps he may be heavily the loser, save that his own mother tongue is so intricate and full of subtle possibilities that to learn to make the full use thereof is truly a matter for lifelong education.

[*]This fact did not prevent the Greeks from having a considerable respect for the traditions and lore of, e.g., the Egyptians, and from borrowing a good many non-Greek usages and inventions; but all this could take place without feeling the least necessity for studying foreign languages.

58. The Study of "Music."—But the Athenian has a substitute for this omission of foreign language study: MUSIC. This is something more comprehensive than "the art of combining tones in a manner to please the ear" [Webster]. It is practically the study of whatever will develop the noble powers of the emotions, as contrasted to the mere intellect.[*] Indeed everything which comes within the ample provinces of the nine Muses, even sober history, might be included in the term. However, for special purposes, the study of "Music" may be considered as centering around playing instruments and singing. The teacher very likely resides in a house apart from the master of the school of letters. Aristophanes gives this picture of the good old customs for the teaching of music. "The boys from the same section of the town have to march thinly clad and draw up in good order—though the snow be thick as meal—to the house of the harp master. There he will teach them [some famous tune] raising a mighty melody. If any one acts silly or turns any quavers, he gets a good hard thrashing for 'banishing the Muses!'"[+]

[*]Aristotle ["Politics," V. (or VIII.) 1] says that the literary education is to train the mind; while music, though of no practical use, "provides a noble and liberal employment of leisure."

[+]Aristophanes's "The Clouds". The whole passage is cited in Davis's "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 252-255.

Learning to sing is probably the most important item, for every boy and man ought to be able to bear his part in the great chorals which are a notable element in most religious festivals; besides, a knowledge of singing is a great aid to appreciating lyric poetry, or the choruses in tragedy, and in learning to declaim. To learn to sing elaborate solo pieces is seldom necessary,—it is not quite genteel in grown-up persons, for it savors a little too much of the professional. So it is also with instrumental music. The Greeks lack the piano, the organ, the elaborate brass instruments of a later day. Their flutes and harps, although very sweet, might seem thin to a twentieth-century critic. But one can gain considerable volume by the great NUMBER of instruments, and nearly everybody in Athens can pick at the lyre after a fashion. The common type of harp is the lyre, and it has enough possibilities for the average boy. The more elaborate CITHERA is usually reserved for professionals.[*] An Athenian lad is expected to be able to accompany his song upon his own lyre and to play in concert with his fellows.

[*]For the details of these harp types of instruments see Dictionary of Antiquities.

The other instrument in common use is the FLUTE. At its simplest, this is a mere shepherd's pipe. Anybody can make one with a knife and some rushes. Then come elaborations; two pipes are fitted together into one wooden mouthpiece. Now, we really have an instrument with possibilities. But it is not in such favor in the schools as the lyre. You cannot blow day after day upon the flute and not distort your cheeks permanently. Again the gentleman's son will avoid "professionalism." There are amateur flute players moving in the best society, but the more fastidious frown upon the instrument, save for hired performers.

59. The Moral Character of Greek Music.—Whether it is singing, harp playing, or flute playing, a most careful watch is kept upon the CHARACTER of the music taught the lads. The master who lets his pupils learn many soft, dulcet, languishing airs will find his charges' parents extremely angry, even to depriving him of their patronage. Very soft music, in "Lydian modes," is counted effeminate, fit only for the women's quarters and likely to do boys no good. The riotous type also, of the "Ionic mode," is fit only for drinking songs and is even more under the ban.[*] What is especially in favor is the stern, strenuous Dorian mode. This will make boys hardy, manly, and brave. Very elaborate music with trills and quavers is in any case frowned upon. It simply delights the trained ear, and has no reaction upon the character; and of what value is a musical presentation unless it leaves the hearers and performer better, worthier men? Let the average Athenian possess the opportunity, and he will infallibly stamp with disapproval a great part of both the popular and the classical music of the later ages.[+]

[*]The "Phrygian mode" from which the "Ionic" was derived was still more demoralizing; it was counted "orgiastic," and proper only in certain excited religious rhapsodies.

[+]We have extremely few Greek melodies preserved to us and these few are not attractive to the modern ear. All that can fairly be said is that the Hellenes were obvious such esthetic, harmoniously minded people that it is impossible their music should have failed in nobility, beauty, and true melody.

60. The Teaching of Gymnastics.—The visits to the reading school and to the harp master have consumed a large part of the day; but towards afternoon the pedagogues will conduct their charges to the third of the schoolboys' tyrants: the gymnastic teacher. Nor do his parents count this the least important of the three. Must not their sons be as physically "beautiful" (to use the common phrase in Athens) as possible, and must they not some day, as good citizens, play their brave part in war? The palestras (literally "wrestling grounds") are near the outskirts of the city, where land is cheap and a good-sized open space can be secured. Here the lads are given careful instruction under the constant eye of an expert in running, wrestling, boxing, jumping, discus hurling, and javelin casting. They are not expected to become professional athletes, but their parents will be vexed if they do not develop a healthy tan all over their naked bodies,[*] and if they do not learn at least moderate proficiency in the sports and a certain amount of familiarity with elementary military maneuvers. Of course boys of marked physical ability will be encouraged to think of training for the various great "games" which culminate at Olympia, although enlightened opinion is against the promoting of professional athletics; and certain extreme philosophers question the wisdom of any extensive physical culture at all, "for (say they) is not the human mind the real thing worth developing?"[+]

[*]To have a pale, untanned skin was "womanish" and unworthy of a free Athenian citizen.

[+]The details of the boys' athletic games, being much of a kind with those followed by adults at the regular public gymnasia, are here omitted. See Chap. XVII.

Weary at length and ready for a hearty meal and sleep, the boys are conducted homeward by their pedagogues.

As they grow older the lads with ambitious parents will be given a more varied education. Some will be put under such teachers of the new rhetoric and oratory, now in vogue, as the famous socrates, and be taught to play the orator as an aid to inducing their fellow citizens to bestow political advancement. Certain will be allowed to become pupils of Plato, who has been teaching his philosophy out at the groves of the Academy, or to join some of his rivals in theoretical wisdom. Into these fields, however, we cannot follow them.

61. The Habits and Ambitions of Schoolboys.—It is a clear fact, that by the age say of thirteen, the Athenian education has had a marked effect upon the average schoolboy. Instead of being "the most ferocious of animals," as Plato, speaking of his untutored state describes him, he is now "the most amiable and divine of living beings." The well-trained lad goes now to school with his eyes cast upon the ground, his hands and arms wrapped in his chiton, making way dutifully for all his elders. If he is addressed by an older man, he stands modestly, looking downward and blushing in a manner worthy of a girl. He has been taught to avoid the Agora, and if he must pass it, never to linger. The world is full of evil and ugly things, but he is taught to hear and see as little of them as possible. When men talk of his healthy color, increasing beauty, and admire the graceful curves of his form at the wrestling school, he must not grow proud. He is being taught to learn relatively little from books, but a great deal from hearing the conversation of grave and well-informed men. As he grows older his father will take him to all kinds of public gatherings and teach him the working details of the "Democratic Government" of Athens. He becomes intensely proud of his city. It is at length his chief thought, almost his entire life. A very large part of the loyalty which an educated man of a later age will divide between his home, his church, his college, his town, and his nation, the Athenian lad will sum up in two words,—"my polis"; i.e. the city of Athens. His home is largely a place for eating and sleeping; his school is not a great institution, it is simply a kind of disagreeable though necessary learning shop; his church is the religion of his ancestors, and this religion is warp and woof of the government, as much a part thereof as the law courts or the fighting fleet; his town and his nation are alike the sovran city-state of Athens. Whether he feels keenly a wider loyalty to Hellas at large, as against the Great King of Persia, for instance, will depend upon circumstances. In a real crisis, as at Salamis,—yes. In ordinary circumstances when there is a hot feud with Sparta,—no.

62. The "Ephebi."—The Athenian education then is admirably adapted to make the average lad a useful and worthy citizen, and to make him modest, alert, robust, manly, and a just lover of the beautiful, both in conduct and in art. It does not, however, develop his individual bent very strongly; and it certainly gives him a mean view of the dignity of labor. He will either become a leisurely gentleman, whose only proper self-expression will come in warfare, politics, or philosophy; or—if he be poor—he will at least envy and try to imitate the leisure class.

By eighteen the young Athenian's days of study will usually come to a close. At that age he will be given a simple festival by his father and be formally enrolled in his paternal deme.[*] His hair, which has hitherto grown down toward his shoulders, will be clipped short. He will allow his beard to grow. At the temple of Aglaurus he will (with the other youths of his age) take solemn oath of loyalty to Athens and her laws. For the next year he will serve as a military guard at the Peireus, and receive a certain training in soldiering. The next year the state will present him with a new shield and spear, and he will have a taste of the rougher garrison duty at one of the frontier forts towards Boetia or Megara.[+] Then he is mustered out. He is an ephebus no longer, but a full-fledged citizen, and all the vicissitudes of Athenian life are before him.

[*]One of the hundred or more petty townships or precincts into which Attica was divided.

[+]These two years which the ephebi of Athens had to serve under arms have been aptly likened to the military service now required of young men in European countries.



Chapter X. The Physicians of Athens.



63. The Beginnings of Greek Medical Science.—As we move about the city we cannot but be impressed by the high average of fine physiques and handsome faces. Your typical Greek is fair in color and has very regular features. The youths do not mature rapidly, but thanks to the gymnasia and the regular lives, they develop not merely admirable, but healthy, bodies. The proportion of hale and hearty OLD men is great; and probably the number of invalids is considerably smaller than in later times and in more artificially reared communities.[*] Nevertheless, the Athenians are certainly mortal, and subject to bodily ills, and the physician is no unimportant member of society, although his exact status is much less clearly determined than it will be in subsequent ages.

[*]A slight but significant witness to the general healthiness of the Greeks is found in the very rare mention in their literature of such a common ill as TOOTHACHE.

Greek medicine and surgery, as it appears in Homer, is simply a certain amount of practical knowledge gained by rough experience, largely supplemented by primitive superstition. It was quite as important to know the proper prayers and charms wherewith to approach "Apollo the Healer," as to understand the kind of herb poultice which would keep wounds from festering. Homer speaks of Asclepius; however, in early days he was not a god, but simply a skilful leach. Then as we approach historic times the physician's art becomes more regular. Asclepius is elevated into a separate and important deity, although it is not till 420 B.C. that his worship is formally introduced into Athens. Long ere that time, however, medicine and surgery had won a real place among the practical sciences. The sick man stands at least a tolerable chance of rational treatment, and of not being murdered by wizards and fanatical exorcists.

64. Healing Shrines and their Methods.—There exist in Athens and in other Greek cities real sanataria[*]; these are temples devoted to the healing gods (usually Asclepius, but sometimes Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hera). Here the patient is expected to sleep over night in the temple, and the god visits him in a dream, and reveals a course of treatment which will lead to recovery. Probably there is a good deal of sham and imposture about the process. The canny priests know more than they care to tell about how the patient is worked into an excitable, imaginative state; and of the very human means employed to produce a satisfactory and informing dream.[+] Nevertheless it is a great deal to convince the patient that he is sure of recovery, and that nobody less than a god has dictated the remedies. The value of mental therapeutics is keenly appreciated. Attached to the temple are skilled physicians to "interpret" the dream, and opportunities for prolonged residence with treatment by baths, purgation, dieting, mineral waters, sea baths, all kinds of mild gymnastics, etc. Entering upon one of these temple treatments is, in short anything but surrendering oneself to unmitigated quackery. Probably a large proportion of the former patients have recovered; and they have testified their gratitude by hanging around the shrine little votive tablets,[$] usually pictures of the diseased parts now happily healed, or, for internal maladies, a written statement of the nature of the disease. This is naturally very encouraging to later patients: they gain confidence knowing that many cases similar to their own have been thus cured.

[*]The most famous was at Epidaurus, where the Asclepius cult seems to have been especially localized.

[+]The "healing sleep" employed at these temples is described, in a kind of blasphemous parody, in Aristophanes's "Plutus." (Significant passages are quoted in Davis's "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 258-261.)

[$]Somewhat as in the various Catholic pilgrimage shrines (e.g. Lourdes) to-day.

These visits to the healing temples are, however, expensive: not everybody has entire faith in them; for many lesser ills also they are wholly unnecessary. Let us look, then, at the regular physicians.

65. An Athenian Physician's Office.—There are salaried public medical officers in Athens, and something like a public dispensary where free treatment is given citizens in simple cases; but the average man seems to prefer his own doctor.[*] We may enter the office of Menon, a "regular private practitioner," and look about us. The office itself is a mere open shop in the front of a house near the Agora; and, like a barber's shop is something of a general lounging place. In the rear one or two young disciples (doctors in embryo) and a couple of slaves are pounding up drugs in mortars. There are numbers of bags of dried herbs and little glass flasks hanging on the walls. Near the entrance is a statue of Asclepius the Healer, and also of the great human founder of the real medical science among the Greeks—Hippocrates.

[*]We know comparatively little of these public physicians; probably they were mainly concerned with the health of the army and naval force, the prevention of epidemics, etc.

Menon himself is just preparing to go out on his professional calls. He is a handsome man in the prime of his life, and takes great pains with his personal appearance. His himation is carefully draped. His finger rings have excellent cameos. His beard has been neatly trimmed, and he has just bathed and scented himself with delicate Assyrian nard. He will gladly tell you that he is in no wise a fop, but that it is absolutely necessary to produce a pleasant personal impression upon his fastidious, irritable patients. Menon himself claims to have been a personal pupil of the great Hippocrates,[*] and about every other reputable Greek physician will make the same claim. He has studied more or less in a temple of Asclepius, and perhaps has been a member of the medical staff thereto attached. He has also become a member of the Hippocratic brotherhood, a semi-secret organization, associated with the Asclepius cult, and cheerfully cherishing the dignity of the profession and the secret arts of the guild.

[*]Who was still alive, an extremely old man. He died in Thessaly in 357 B.C., at an alleged age of 104 years.

66. The Physician's Oath.—The oath which all this brotherhood has sworn is noble and notable. Here are some of the main provisions:—

"I swear by Apollo the Physician, and Asclepius and Hygeia; a [Lady Health] and Panaceia [Lady All-Cure] to honor as my parents the master who taught me this art, and to admit to my own instruction only his sons, my own sons, and those who have been duly inscribed as pupils, and who have taken the medical oath, and no others. I will prescribe such treatment as may be for the benefit of my patients, according to my best power and judgment, and preserve them from anything hurtful or mischievous. I will never, even if asked, administer poison, nor advise its use. I will never give a criminal draught to a woman. I will maintain the purity and integrity of my art. Wherever I go, I will abstain from all mischief or corruption, or any immodest action. If ever I hear any secret I will not divulge it. If I keep this oath, may the gods give me success in life and in my art. If I break this oath, may all the reverse fall upon me."[*]

[*]For the unabridged translation of this oath, see Smith's "Dictionary of Antiquities" (revised edition), vol. II, p. 154.

67. The Skill of Greek Physicians.—Menon's skill as a physician and surgeon is considerable. True, he has only a very insufficient conception of anatomy. His THEORETICAL knowledge is warped, but he is a shrewd judge of human nature and his PRACTICAL knowledge is not contemptible. In his private pharmacy his assistants have compounded a great quantity of drugs which he knows how to administer with much discernment. He has had considerable experience in dealing with wounds and sprains, such as are common in the wars or in the athletic games. He understands that Dame Nature is a great healer, who is to be assisted rather than coerced; and he dislikes resorting to violent remedies, such as bleedings and strong emetics. Ordinary fevers and the like he can attack with success. He has no modern anesthetics or opium, but has a very insufficient substitute in mandragora. He can treat simple diseases of the eye; and he knows how to put gold filling into teeth. His surgical instruments, however, are altogether too primitive. He is personally cleanly; but he has not the least idea of antiseptics; the result is that obscure internal diseases, calling for grave operations, are likely to baffle him. He will refuse to operate, or if he does operate the chances are against the patient.[*] In other words, his medical skill is far in advance of his surgery.

[*]Seemingly a really serious operation was usually turned over by the local physician to a traveling surgeon, who could promptly disappear from the neighborhood if things went badly.

Menon naturally busies himself among the best families of Athens, and commands a very good income. He counts it part of his equipment to be able to persuade his patients, by all the rules of logic and rhetoric, to submit to disagreeable treatment; and for that end has taken lessons in informal oratory from Isocrates or one of his associates. Some of Menon's competitors (feeling themselves less eloquent) have actually a paid rhetorician whom they can take to the bedside of a stubborn invalid, to induce him by irrefutable arguments to endure an amputation.[*]

[*]Plato tells how Gorgias, the famous rhetorician, was sometimes thus hired. A truly Greek artifice—this substitution of oratory for chloroform!

No such honor of course is paid to the intellects of the poorer fry, who swarm in at Menon's surgery. Those who cannot pay to have him bandage them himself, perforce put up with the secondary skill and wisdom of the "disciples." The drug-mixing slaves are expected to salve and physic the patients of their own class; but there seems to be a law against allowing them to attempt the treatment of free-born men.

68. Quacks and Charlatans.—Unluckily not everybody is wise enough to put up with the presumably honest efforts of Menon's underlings. There appears to be no law against anybody who wishes to pose as a physician, and to sell his inexperience and his quack nostrums. Vendors of every sort of cure-all abound, as well as creatures who work on the superstitions and pretend to cure by charms and hocus-pocus. In the market there is such a swarm of these charlatans of healing that they bring the whole medical profession into contempt. Certain people go so far as to distrust the efficacy of any part of the lore of Asclepius. Says one poet tartly:—

The surgeon Menedemos, as men say, Touched as he passed a Zeus of marble white; Neither the marble nor his Zeus-ship might Avail the god—they buried him to-day.

And again even to dream of the quacks is dangerous:—

Diophantes, sleeping, saw Hermas the physician: Diophantes never woke From that fatal vision.[*]

[*]Both of these quotations probably date from later than 360 B.C., but they are perfectly in keeping with the general opinion of Greek quackery.

All in all, despite Menon's good intentions and not despicable skill, it is fortunate the gods have made "Good Health" one of their commonest gifts to the Athenians. Constant exercise in the gymnasia, occasional service in the army, the absence of cramping and unhealthful office work, and a climate which puts out-of-door existence at a premium, secure for them a general good health that compensates for most of the lack of a scientific medicine.



Chapter XI. The Funerals.



69. An Athenian's Will.—All Menon's patient's are to-day set out upon the road to recovery. Hipponax, his rival, has been less fortunate. A wealthy and elderly patient, Lycophron, died the day before yesterday. As the latter felt his end approaching, he did what most Athenians may put off until close to the inevitable hour—he made his will, and called in his friends to witness it; and one must hope there can be no doubt about the validity, the signets attached, etc., for otherwise the heirs may find themselves in a pretty lawsuit.

The will begins in this fashion: "The Testament of Lyophron the Marathonian.[*] May all be well:—but if I do not recover from this sickness, thus do I bestow my estate." Then in perfectly cold-blooded fashion he proceeds to give his young wife and the guardianship of his infant daughter to Stobiades, a bachelor friend who will probably marry the widow within two months or less of the funeral. Lycophron gives also specific directions about his tomb; he gives legacies of money or jewelry to various old associates; he mentions certain favorite slaves to receive freedom, and as specifically orders certain others (victims of his displeasure) to be kept in bondage. Lastly three reliable friends are names as executors.

[*]In all Athenian legal documents, it was necessary to give the deme of the interested party or parties.

70. The Preliminaries of a Funeral.—An elaborate funeral is the last perquisite of every Athenian. Even if Lycophron had been a poor man he would now receive obsequies seemingly far out of proportion to his estate and income. It is even usual in Greek states to have laws restraining the amount which may be spent upon funerals,—otherwise great sums may be literally "burned up" upon the funeral pyres. When now the tidings go out that Lycophron's nearest relative has "closed his mouth," after he has breathed his last, all his male kinsfolk and all other persons who HOPE to be remembered in the will promptly appear in the Agora in black himatia[*] and hasten to the barber shops to have their heads shaved. The widow might shave her hair likewise, with all her slave maids, did not her husband, just ere his death, positively forbid such disfigurements. The women of the family take the body in charge the minute the physician has declared that all is over. The customary obol is put in the mouth of the corpse,[+] and the body is carefully washed in perfumed water, clothed in festal white; then woolen fillets are wound around the head, and over these a crown of vine leaves. So arrayed, the body is ready to be laid out on a couch in the front courtyard of the house, with the face turned toward the door so as to seem to greet everybody who enters. In front of the house there stands a tall earthen vase of water, wherewith the visitors may give themselves a purifying sprinkling, after quitting the polluting presence of a dead body.

[*]In the important city of Argos, however, WHITE was the proper funeral color.

[+]This was not originally (as later asserted) a fee to Charon the ferryman to Hades, but simply a "minimum precautionary sum, for the dead man's use" (Dr. Jane Harrison), placed in the mouth, where a Greek usually kept his small change.

71. Lamenting of the Dead.—Around this funeral bed the relatives and friends keep a gloomy vigil. The Athenians after all are southern born, and when excited seem highly emotional people. There are stern laws dating from Solon's day against the worst excesses, but what now occurs seems violent enough. The widow is beating her breast, tearing her hair, gashing her cheeks with her finger nails. Lycophron's elderly sister has ashes sprinkled upon her gray head and ever and anon utters piteous wails. The slave women in the background keep up a hideous moaning. The men present do not think it undignified to utter loud lamentation and to shed frequent tears. Least commendable of all (from a modern standpoint) are the hired dirge singers, who maintain a most melancholy chant, all the time beating their breasts, and giving a perfect imitation of frantic grief. This has probably continued day and night, the mourners perhaps taking turns by relays.

All in all it is well that Greek custom enjoins the actual funeral, at least, on the second day following the death.[*] The "shade" of the deceased is not supposed to find rest in the nether world until after the proper obsequies.[+] To let a corpse lie several days without final disposition will bring down on any family severe reproach. In fact, on few points are the Greeks more sensitive than on this subject of prompt burial or cremation. After a land battle the victors are bound never to push their vengeance so far as to refuse a "burial truce" to the vanquished; and it is a doubly unlucky admiral who lets his crews get drowned in a sea fight, without due effort to recover the corpses afterward and to give them proper disposition on land.

[*]It must be remembered that the Greeks had no skilled embalmers at their service, and that they lived in a decidedly warm climate.

[+]See the well-known case of the wandering shade of Patrocius demanding the proper obsequies from Achilles (Iliad, XXIII. 71).

72. The Funeral Procession.—The day after the "laying-out" comes the actual funeral. Normally it is held as early as possible in the morning, before the rising of the sun. Perhaps while on the way to the Agora we have passed, well outside the city, such a mournful procession. The youngest and stoutest of the male relatives carry the litter: although if Lycophron's relatives had desired a really extravagant display they might have employed a mule car. Ahead of the bier march the screaming flute players, earning their fees by no melodious din. Then comes the litter itself with the corpse arrayed magnificently for the finalities, a honey cake set in the hands,[*] a flask of oil placed under the head. After this come streaming the relatives in irregular procession: the widow and the chief heir (her prospective second husband!) walking closest, and trying to appear as demonstrative as possible: nor (merely because the company is noisy and not stoical in its manner) need we deny that there is abundant genuine grief. All sorts of male acquaintances of the deceased bring up the rear, since it is good form to proclaim to wide Athens that Lycophon had hosts of friends.[+]

[*]The original idea of the honey cake was simply that it was a friendly present to the infernal gods; later came the conceit that it was a sop to fling to the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to Hades.

[+]Women, unless they were over sixty years of age, were not allowed to join in funeral processions unless they were first cousins, or closer kin, of the deceased.

73. The Funeral Pyre.—So the procession moves through the still gloomy streets of the city,—doubtless needing torch bearers as well as flute players,—and out through some gate, until the line halts in an open field, or better, in a quiet and convenient garden. Here the great funeral pyre of choice dry fagots, intermixed with aromatic cedar, has been heaped. The bier is laid thereon. There are no strictly religious ceremonies. The company stands in a respectful circle, while the nearest male kinsman tosses a pine link upon the oil-soaked wood. A mighty blaze leaps up to heaven, sending its ruddy brightness against the sky now palely flushed with the bursting dawn. The flutists play in softer measures. As the fire rages a few of the relatives toss upon it pots of rare unguents; and while the flames die down, thrice the company shout their farewells, calling their departed friend by name—"Lycophron! Lycophron! Lycophron!"

So fierce is the flame it soon sinks into ashes. As soon as these are cool enough for safety (a process hastened by pouring on water or wine) the charred bones of the deceased are tenderly gathered up to be placed in a stately urn. The company, less formally now, returns to Athens, and that night there will probably be a great funeral feast at the house of the nearest relative, everybody eating and drinking to capacity "to do Lycophron full honor"; for it is he who is imagined as being now for the last time the host.

74. Honors to the memory of the Dead.—Religion seems to have very little place in the Athenian funeral: there are no priests present, no prayers, no religious hymns. But the dead man is now conceived as being, in a very humble and intangible way, a deity himself: his good will is worth propitiating; his memory is not to be forgotten. On the third, ninth, and thirtieth days after the funeral there are simple religious ceremonies with offerings of garlands, fruits, libations and the like, at the new tomb; and later at certain times in the year these will be repeated. The more enlightened will of course consider these merely graceful remembrances of a former friend; but there is a good deal of primitive ancestor worship even in civilized Athens.

BURNING is the usual method for the Greeks to dispose of their dead, but the burial of unburned bodies is not unknown to them. Probably, however, the rocky soil and the limited land space around Athens make regular cemeteries less convenient than elsewhere: still it would have been nothing exceptional if Lycophron had ordered in his will that he be put in a handsome pottery coffin to be placed in a burial ground pertaining to his family.

75. The Beautiful Funeral Monuments.—If the noisy funeral customs permitted to the Athenians may repel a later day observer, there can be only praise for the Athenian tombs, or rather the funeral monuments (stele) which might be set over the urns or ashes or the actual coffins. Nearly every Athenian family has a private field which it uses for sepulchral purposes: but running outside of the city, near the Itonian Gate along the road to the Peireus, the space to either side of the highway has been especially appropriated for this purpose. Waling hither along this "Street of the Tombs" we can make a careful survey of some of the most touching memorials of Athenian life.

The period of hot, violent grief seems now over; the mourners have settled down in their dumb sense of loss. This spirit of calm, noble resignation is what is expressed upon these monuments. All is chaste, dignified, simple. There are no labored eulogies of the deceased; no frantic expressions of sorrow; no hint (let it be also said) of any hope of reunions in the Hereafter. Sometimes there is simply a plain marble slab or pillar marked with the name of the deceased; and with even the more elaborate monuments the effort often is to concentrate, into one simple scene, the best and worthiest that was connected with the dear departed. Here is the noble mother seated in quiet dignity extending her hand in farewell to her sad but steadfast husband, while her children linger wonderingly by; here is the athlete, the young man in his pride, depicted not in the moment of weakness and death, but scraping his glorious form with his strigil, after some victorious contest in the games; here is the mounted warrior, slain before Corinth whilst battling for his country, represented in the moment of overthrowing beneath his flying charger some despairing foe. We are made to feel that these Athenians were fair and beautiful in their lives, and that in their deaths they were not unworthy. And we marvel, and admire these monuments the more when we realize that they are not the work of master sculptors but of ordinary paid craftsmen. We turn away praising the city that could produce such noble sculpture and call it mere handicraft, and praising also the calm poise of soul, uncomforted by revealed religion, which could make these monuments common expressions of the bitterest, deepest, most vital emotions which can ever come to men.[*]

[*]As Von Falke (Greece and Rome, p. 141) well says of these monuments, "No skeleton, no scythe, no hour-glass is in them to bring a shudder to the beholder. As they [the departed] were in life, mother and daughter, husband and wife, parents and children, here they are represented together, sitting or standing, clasping each other's hands and looking at one another with love and sympathy as if it were their customary affectionate intercourse. What the stone perpetuates is the love and happiness they enjoyed together, while yet they rejoiced in life and the light of day."



Chapter XII. Trade, Manufactures, and Banking.



76. The Commercial Importance of Athens.—While the funeral mourners are wending their slow way homeward we have time to examine certain phases of Athenian life at which we have previously glanced, then ignored. Certain it is, most "noble and good" gentlemen delight to be considered persons of polite uncommercial leisure; equally certain it is that a good income is about as desirable in Athens as anywhere else, and many a stately "Eupatrid," who seems to spend his whole time in dignified walks, discoursing on politics or philosophy, is really keenly interested in trades, factories, or farms, of which his less nobly born stewards have the active management. Indeed one of the prime reasons for Athenian greatness is the fact that Athens is the richest and greatest commercial city of Continental Hellas, with only Corinth as a formidable rival.[*]

[*]Syracuse in distant Sicily was possibly superior to Athens in commerce and economic prosperity, although incomparably behind her in the empire of the arts and literature.

To understand the full extent of Athenian commercial prosperity we must visit the Peireus, yet in the main city itself will be found almost enough examples of the chief kinds of economic activity.

77. The Manufacturing Activities of Athens.—Attica is the seat of much manufacturing. Go to the suburbs: everywhere is the rank odor of the tanneries; down at the harbors are innumerable ship carpenters and sail and tackle makers, busy in the shipyards; from almost every part of the city comes the clang of hammer and anvil where hardware of all kinds is being wrought in the smithies; and finally the potter makers are so numerous as to require special mention hereafter. But no list of all the manufacturing activities is here possible; enough that practically every known industry is represented in Athens, and the "industrial" class is large.[*] A very large proportion of the industrial laborers are slaves, but by no means all. A good many are real Athenian citizens; a still larger proportion are "metics" (resident foreigners without political rights). The competition of slave labor, however, tends to keep wages very low. An unskilled laborer will have to be content with his 3 obols (9 cents [1914] or $1.51 [2000]) per day; but a trained workman will demand a drachma (18 cents [1914] or $3.02 [2000]) or even more. There are no labor unions or trade guilds. A son usually, though not invariably, follows his father's profession. Each industry and line of work tends to have its own little street or alley, preferably leading off the Agora. "The Street of the Marble Workers," the "Street of the Box Makers," and notably the "Street of the Potters" contain nearly all the workshops of a given kind. Probably you can find no others in the city. Prices are regulated by custom and competition; in case any master artisan is suspected of "enhancing" the price of a needful commodity, or his shady business methods seem dangerous to the public, there is no hesitation in invoking an old law or passing a new one in the Assembly to bring him to account.

[*]For a very suggestive list of the numerous kinds of Greek industries (practically all of which would be represented in Athens) see H. J. Edwards, in Whibley's "Companion to Greek Studies," p. 431.

Manufacturers are theoretically under a social ban, and indeed yonder petty shoemaker, who, with his two apprentices, first makes up his cheap sandals, then sells them over the low counter before his own ship, is very far from being a "leisurely" member of the "noble and the good." But he who, like the late Lycophron, owns a furniture factory employing night threescore slaves, can be sure of lying down on his couch at a dinner party among the very best; for, as in twentieth century England, even manufacture and "trade," if on a sufficiently large scale, cover a multitude of social sins.[*]

[*]Plato, probably echoing thoughtful Greek opinion, considered it bad for manufacturers to be either too wealthy or too poor; thus a potter getting too rich will neglect his art, and grow idle; if, however, he cannot afford proper tools, he will manufacture inferior wares, and his sons will be even worse workmen then he. Such comment obviously comes from a society where most industrial life is on a small scale.

78. The Commerce of Athens.—Part of Athenian wealth comes from the busy factories, great and small, which seem everywhere; still more riches come in by the great commerce which will be found centered at the Peireus. Here is the spacious Deigma, a kind of exchange-house where ship masters can lay out samples of their wares on display, and sell to the important wholesalers, who will transmit to the petty shopkeepers and the "ultimate consumer."[*]

[*]Of course a very large proportion of Greek manufactures wares were never exported, but were sold direct by the manufacturer to the consumer himself. This had various disadvantages; but there was this large gain: ONLY ONE PROFIT was necessary to be added to the mere cost of production. This aided to make Greece (from a modern standpoint) a paradise of low prices.

There are certain articles of which various districts make a specialty, and which Athens is constantly importing: Boetia sends chariots; Thessaly, easy chairs; Chios and Miletos, bedding; and Miletos, especially, very fine woolens. Greece in general looks to Syria and Arabia for the much-esteemed spices and perfumes; to Egypt for papyri for the book rolls; to Babylonia for carpets. To discuss the whole problem of Athenian commerce would require a book in itself; but certain main facts stand out clearly. One is that Attica herself has extremely few natural products to export—only her olive oil, her Hymettus honey, and her magnificent marbles—dazzling white from Pentelicos, gray from Hymettus, blue or black from Eleusis. Again we soon notice the great part which GRAIN plays in Athenian commerce. Attica raises such a small proportion of the necessary breadstuffs, and so serious is the crisis created by any shortage, that all kinds of measures are employed to compel a steady flow of grain from the Black Sea ports into the Peireus. Here is a law which Domsthenes quotes to us:—

"It shall not be lawful for any Athenian or any metic in Attica, or any person under their control [i.e. slave or freedman] to lend out money on a ship which is not commissioned to bring grain to Athens."

A second law, even more drastic, forbids any such person to transport grain to any harbor but the Peireus. The penalties for evading these laws are terrific. At set intervals also the Public Assembly (Ecclesia) is in duty bound to consider the whole state of the grain trade: while the dealers in grain who seem to be cornering the market, and forcing up the price of bread, are liable to prompt and disastrous prosecution.

79. The Adventurous Merchant Skippers.—Foreign trade at Athens is fairly well systematized, but it still partakes of the nature of an adventure. The name for "skipper" (naukleros) is often used interchangeably for "merchant." Nearly all commerce is by sea, for land routes are usually slow, unsafe, and inconvenient[*]; the average foreign trader is also a shipowner, probably too the actual working captain. He has no special commodity, but will handle everything which promises a profit. A war is breaking out in Paphlagonia. Away he sails thither with a cargo of good Athenian shields, swords, and lances. He loads up in that barbarous but fertile country with grain; but leaves enough room in his hold for some hundred skins of choice wine which he takes aboard at Chios. The grain and wine are disembarked at the Pireus. Hardly are they ashore ere rumor tells him that salt herring[+] are abundant and especially cheap at Corcyra; and off he goes for a return cargo thereof, just lingering long enough to get on a lading of Athenian olive oil.

[*]Naturally there was a safe land route from Athens across the Isthmus to Corinth and thence to Sparta or towards Ellis; again, there would be fair roads into Boetia.

[+]Salt fish were a very usual and important article of Greek commerce.

80. Athenian Money-changers and Bankers.—An important factor in the commerce of Athens is the "Money-changer." There is no one fixed standard of coinage for Greece, let alone the Barbarian world. Athens strikes its money on a standard which has very wide acceptance, but Corinth has another standard, and a great deal of business is also transacted in Persian gold darics. The result is that at the Peireus and near the Agora are a number of little "tables" where alert individuals, with strong boxes beside them, are ready to sell foreign coins to would-be travelers, or exchange darics for Attic drachme, against a pretty favorable commission.

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