Appeals like this have swayed more than one jury during the last year, but the fates are all against Lamachus. From a back bench comes a dreaded shout that is instantly caught up by the front tiers also:
"Kataba! Kataba!—Go down! Go Down!"
Lamachus hesitates. If he obeys, he loses all the rest of his defense. If he continues now, he enrages many of the dicasts, who will be absolutely sure to find against him. The presiding archon vainly rises, and tries to say something about "fair play." Useless. The uproar continues. Like a flock of scared doves Lamachus and all his five children flee incontinently from the tribune, amid ironical cheers and laughter.
121. The First Verdict.—There is silence at length. "The dicasts will proceed to vote," announces the court crier. The huge urns (one of bronze, one of wood) with narrow mouths are passed among the benches. Each juror has two round bronze disks, one solid, one with a hole bored in the middle. The solid acquit, the pierced ones convict. A juror drops the ballot he wishes to count into the bronze urn; the other goes into the wooden urn. The bronze urn is carried to the archon, and there is an uneasy hush while the 401 ballots are counted by the court officers. As expected, more than 300 dicasts vote that Ariston is entitled to damages against Lamachus as an embezzler.
122. The Second and Final Verdict.—Ariston is smiling; his friends are congratulating him, but the trial is by no means over. If Lamachus had been found guilty of something for which the law provided an absolute fixed penalty, this second part of the proceedings would be omitted. But here, although the jury has said SOME damage or penalty or penalties are due, it has still to fix the amount. Ariston has now to propose to the dicasts a sum which he thinks is adequate to avenge his wrongs and losses; Lamachus can propose a smaller sum and try to persuade the court that it is entirely proper. Each side must act warily. Athenian jurors are fickle folk. The very men who have just howled down Lamachus may, in a spasm of repentance, vote for absurdly low damages. Again, Lamachus must not propose anything obviously inadequate, otherwise the jurors who have just voted against him may feel insulted, and accept Ariston's estimate.[*] Ariston therefore says that he deserves at least a talent. Lamachus rejoins that half a talent is more than ample, even conceding Arison's alleged wrongs. The arguments this time are shorter and more to the point. Then comes the second balloting. A second time a majority (smaller this time, but enough) is in favor of Ariston. The better cause has conquered; and there is at least this advantage to the Athenian legal system, there will be no appeal nor tedious technicalities before a "higher court." The verdict of the dicastery is final.
[*]Undoubtedly Socrates would have escaped with his life, if (after his original condemnation) he had proposed a real penalty to the jury, instead of an absurdly small fine. The only alternative for the dicasts was to accept the proposition of his opponents,—in his case, death.
123. The Merits and Defects of the Athenian Courts.—No doubt injustice is sometimes done. Sometimes it is the honest man who hears the dreaded "Kataba!" Sometimes the weeping children have their intended effect. Sometimes it is the arguments about "My opponent's scoundrelly ancestry" which win the verdict. At the same time, your Athenian dicast is a remarkably shrewd and acute individual. He can distinguish between specious rhetoric and a real argument. He is probably honestly anxious to do justice. In the ordinary case where his personal interests or prejudices do not come into play, the decision is likely to match with justice quite as often perhaps as in the intricate court system of a great republic many centuries after the passing of Athens.
Certain features of some Athenian trials have not explained themselves in the example just witnessed. To prevent frivolous or blackmailing litigation it is provided that, if the plaintiff in a suit gets less than one fifth of the ballots in his favor (thus clearly showing he had no respectable case), he is liable to a heavy fine or, in default thereof, exile. Again, we have not waited for the actual closing scene—the dicasts each giving up his colored staff as a kind of voucher to the court officers, and in return getting his three obols (9 cents) daily jury fee, which each man claps promptly in his cheek, and then goes off home to try the case afresh at the family supper.
124. The Usual Punishments in Athens.—Trials involving murder or manslaughter come before the special court of Areopagus, and cannot well be discussed here, but most other criminal cases are tried before the dicasts in much the same way as a civil trial. When the law does not have a set penalty, the jury virtually has to sentence the defendant after convicting him, choosing between one of two proposed penalties. Greek courts can inflict death, exile, fines, but almost never imprisonment. There is no "penitentiary" or "workhouse" in Athens; and the only use for a jail is to confine accused persons whom it is impossible to release on bail before their trial. The Athens city jail ("The House," as it is familiarly called—"Oikema") is a very simple affair, one open building, carelessly guarded and free to visitors all through the daylight. The inmates have to be kept in heavy fetters, otherwise they would be sure to take flight; and indeed escapes from custody are somewhat common.
125. The Heavy Penalty of Exile.—An Athenian will regard locking a criminal up for a term of years as a very foolish and expensive proceeding. If he has nothing wherewith to pay a round fine, why, simply send him into exile. This penalty is direful indeed to a Greek. The exile has often no protector, no standing in the courts of the foreign city, no government to avenge any outrage upon him. He can be insulted, starved, stripped, nay, murdered, often with impunity. Worse still, he is cut off from his friends with whom all his life is tied up; he is severed from the guardian gods of his childhood,—"THE City," the city of his birth, hopes, longings, exists no more for him. If he dies abroad, he is not sure of a decent funeral pyre; and meanwhile his children may be hungering at home. So long as the Athenians have this tremendous penalty of exile at their disposal, they do not feel the need of penitentiaries.
126. The Death Penalty at Athens.—There are also the stocks and whipping posts for meting out summary justice to irresponsible offenders. When the death penalty is imposed (and the matter often lies in the discretion of the dicasts), the criminal, if of servile or Barbarian blood, may be put to death in some hideous manner and his corpse tossed into the Barathron, a vile pit on the northwest side of Athens, there to be dishonored by the kites and crows. The execution of Athenian citizens, however, is extremely humane. The condemned is given a cup of poisonous hemlock juice and allowed to drink it while sitting comfortably among his friends in the prison. Little by little his body grows numb; presently he becomes senseless, and all is over without any pain.[*] The friends of the victim are then at liberty to give his body a suitable burial.
[*]No one can read the story of the death of Socrates in the prison, as told by Plato in the "Phedo," without feeling (aside from the noble philosophical setting) how much more humane were such executions by hemlock than is the modern gallows or electric chair.
An Athenian trial usually lasts all day, and perhaps we have been able to witness only the end of it. It may well happen, however, that we cannot attend a dicastery at all. This day may be one which is devoted to a meeting of the public assembly, and duty summons the jurors, not in the court room, but to the Pnyx. This is no loss to us, however. We welcome the chance to behold the Athenian Ecclesia in action.
Chapter XVI. The Ecclesia of Athens.
127. The Rule of Democracy in Athens.—The Ecclesia, or Public Assembly, of Athens is something more than the chief governmental organ in the state. It is the great leveling engine which makes Athens a true democracy, despite the great differences in wealth between her inhabitants, and the marked social pretensions of "the noble and the good"—the educated classes. At this time Athens is profoundly wedded to her democratic constitution. Founded by Solon and Clisthenes, developed by Themistocles and Pericles, it was temporarily overthrown at the end of the Peloponnesian War; but the evil rule then of the "Thirty Tyrants" has proved a better lesson on the evils of oligarchic rule than a thousand rhetoricians' declamations upon the advantages of the "rule of the many" as against the "rule of the few." Attica now acknowledges only one Lord—KING DEMOS—"King Everybody"—and until the coming of bondage to Macedon there will be no serious danger of an aristocratic reaction.
128. Aristocracy and Wealth. Their Status and Burdens.—True, there are old noble families in Athens,—like the Alcmeonide whereof Pericles sprang, and the Eumolpide who supply the priests to Demeter, the Earth Mother. But these great houses have long since ceased to claim anything but SOCIAL preeminence. Even then one must take pains not to assume airs, or the next time one is litigant before the dicastery, the insinuation of "an undemocratic, oligarchic manner of life" will win very many adverse votes among the jury. Nobility and wealth are only allowed to assert themselves in Athens when justified by an extraordinary amount of public service and public generosity.
Xenophon in his "Memorabilia" makes Socrates tell Critobuls, a wealthy and self-important individual, that he is really so hampered by his high position as to be decidedly poor. "You are obliged," says Socrates, "to offer numerous and magnificent sacrifices; you have to receive and entertain sumptuously a great many strangers, and to feast [your fellow] citizens. You have to pay heavy contributions towards the public service, keeping horses and furnishing choruses in peace times and in war bearing the expense of maintaining triremes and paying the special war taxes; and if you fail to do all this, they will punish you with as much severity as if you were caught stealing their money."
129. Athenian Society Truly Democratic up to a Certain Point.—Wealth, then, means one perpetual round of public services and obligations, sweetened perhaps with a little empty praise, an inscription, an honorary crown, or best of all, an honorary statue "to the public benefactor" as the chief reward. On the other hand one may be poor and be a thoroughly self-respecting, nay, prominent citizen. Socrates had an absurdly small invested fortune and the gods knew that he did little enough in the way of profitable labor.[*] He had to support his wife and three children upon this income. He wore no chiton. His himation was always an old one, unchanged from summer to winter. He seems to have possessed only one pair of good sandals all his life. His rations were bread and water, save when he was invited out. Yet this man was welcome in the "very best society." Alcibiades, leader of the fast, rich set, and many more of the gilded youth of Athens dogged his heels. One meets not the slightest evidence that his poverty ever prevented him from carrying his philosophic message home to the wealthy and the noble. There is no snobbishness, then, in this Athenian society. Provided a man is not pursuing a base mechanic art or an ignoble trade, provided he has a real message to convey,—whether in literature, philosophy, or statecraft,—there are no questions "who was your father?" or "what is your income?"[+] Athens will hear him and accept his best. For this open-mindedness—almost unique in ancient communities—one must thank King Demos and his mouthpiece, the Ecclesia.
[*]Socrates's regular income from invested property seems to have been only about $12 per year. It is to be hoped his wife, Xanthippe, had a little property of her own!
[+]Possibly the son of a man whose parents notoriously had been slaves in Athens would have found many doors closed to him.
Athenians are intensely proud of their democracy. In Aeschylus's "Persians," Atossa, the Barbarian queen, asks concerning the Athenians:—
"Who is the lord and shepherd of their flock?"
Very prompt is the answer:—
"They are not slaves, they bow to no man's rule."
Again in Euripides's "Supplicants" there is this boast touching Athens:—
"No will of one Holdeth this land: it is a city and free. The whole folk year by year, in parity of service is our king."
130. The Voting Population of Athens.—Nevertheless when we ask about this "whole folk," and who the voters are, we soon discover that Athens is very far from being a pure democracy. The multitudes of slaves are of course without votes, and so is the numerous class of the important, cultivated, and often wealthy metics. To get Athenian citizenship is notoriously hard. For a stranger (say a metic who had done some conspicuous public service) to be given the franchise, a special vote must be passed by the Ecclesia itself; even then the new citizen may be prosecuted as undeserving before a dicastery, and disfranchised. Again, only children both of whose parents are free Athenian citizens can themselves be enrolled on the carefully guarded lists in the deme books. The status of a child, one of whose parents is a metic, is little better than a bastard.[*]
[*]Of course women were entirely excluded from the Ecclesia, as from all other forms of public life. The question of "woman's rights" had been agitated just enough to produce comedies like Aristophanes's "Parliament of Women," and philosophical theories such as appear in Plato's "Republic."
Under these circumstances the whole number of voters is very much less than at a later day will appear in American communities of like population. Before the Peloponneisan War, when the power of Athens was at its highest point, there were not less than 30,000 full citizens and possibly as many as 40,000. But those days of imperial power are now ended. At present Athens has about 21,000 citizens, or a few more. It is impossible, however, to gather all these in any single meeting. A great number are farmers living in the remote villages of Attica; many city dwellers also will be too busy to think the 3-obol (9-cent [1914 or $1.55 2000]) fee for attendance worth their while.[*] Six thousand seems to be a good number for ordinary occasions and no doubt much business can be dispatched with less, although this is the legal quorum set for most really vital matters. Of course a great crisis, e.g. a declaration of war, will bring out nearly every voter whose farm is not too distant.
[*]Payment for attendance at the Pnyx seems to have been introduced about 390 B.C. The original payment was probably only one obol, and then from time to time increased. It was a sign of the relative decay of political interest in Athens when it became needful thus to reward the commonalty for attendance at the Assembly.
131. Meeting Time of the Ecclesia.—Four times in every prytany[*] the Ecclesia must be convened for ordinary business, and oftener if public occasion requires. Five days' notice has to be given of each regular meeting, and along with the notice a placard announcing the proposals which are to come up has to be posted in the Agora. But if there is a sudden crisis, formalities can be thrown to the winds; a sudden bawling of the heralds in the streets, a great smoky column caused by burning the traders' flimsy booths in the Agora,—these are valid notices of an extraordinary meeting to confront an immediate danger.
[*]"A prytany" was one tenth of a year, say 35 or 36 days, during which time the 50 representatives of one of the ten Athenian tribes then serving as members of the Council of 500 (each tribe taking its turn) held the presidency of the Council and acted as a special executive committee of the government. There were thus at least 40 meetings of the Ecclesia each year, as well as the extraordinary meetings.
If this has been a morning when the Ecclesia has been in session, nothing unusual has occurred at first in the busy Agora, except that the jury courts are hardly in action, and a bright flag is whipping the air from the tall flagpole by the Pnyx (the Assembly Place). Then suddenly there is a shouting through the Agora. The clamor of traffic around the popular flower stalls ceases; everybody who is not a slave or metic (and these would form a large fraction of the crowd of marketers) begins to edge down toward one end of the Agora. Presently a gang of Scythian police-archers comes in sight. They have a long rope sprinkled with red chalk wherewith they are "netting" the Agora. The chalk will leave an infallible mark on the mantle of every tardy citizen, and he who is thus marked as late at the meeting will lose his fee for attendance, if not subject himself to a fine. So there is a general rush away from the Agora and down one of the various avenues leading to the Pnyx.
132. The Pnyx (Assembly Place) at Athens.—The Pnyx is an open space of ground due west from the Acropolis. It originally sloped gently away towards the northeast, but a massive retaining wall had been built around it, in an irregular semicircle, and the space within filled with solidly packed earth sloping inwards, making a kind of open air auditorium. It is a huge place, 394 feet long, and 213 feet at the widest. The earthen slope is entirely devoid of seats; everybody casts himself down sprawling or on his haunches, perhaps with an old himation under him. Directly before the sitters runs a long ledge hewn out of the rock, forming, as it were, the "stage" side of the theater. Here the rock has been cut away, so as to leave a sizable stone pulpit standing forth, with a small flight of steps on each side. This is the "Bema," the orator's stand, whence speak the "demagogues,"[*] the molders of Athenian public opinion. In front of the Bema there is a small portable altar for the indispensable sacrifices. In the rear of the Bema are a few planks laid upon the rock. Here will sit the fifty "Pryantes" in charge of the meeting. There is a handsome chair for the presiding officer upon the Bema itself. These are all the furnishings of the structure wherein Athens makes peace and war, and orders her whole civil and foreign policy. The Hellenic azure is the only roof above her sovran law makers. To the right, as the orators stand on the Bema, they can point toward the Acropolis and its glittering temples; to the left towards the Peireus, and the blue sea with the inevitable memories of glorious Salamis. Surely it will be easy to fire all hearts with patriotism!
[*]A "demagogue" (=people-leader) might well be a great statesman, and not necessarily a cheap and noisy politician.
133. The Preliminaries of the Meeting.—Into this space the voters swarm by hundreds—all the citizens of Athens, from twenty years and upward, sufficiently interested to come. At each crude entrance stands a crops of watchful LEXIARCHS and their clerks, checking off those present and turning back interlopers. As the entering crowds begin to thin, the entrance ways are presently closed by wicker hurdles. The flag fluttering on high is struck. The Ecclesia is ready for action.
Much earlier than this, the farmers and fishmen from the hill towns or from Salamis have been in their places, grumbling at the slowness of the officials. People sit down where they can; little groups and clans together, wedged in closely, chattering up to the last minute, watching every proceeding with eyes as keen as cats'. All the gossip left over from the Agora is disposed of ere the prytanes—proverbially late—scramble into their seats of honor. The police-archers move up and down, enforcing a kind of order. Amid a growing hush a suckling pig is solemnly slaughtered by some religious functionary at the altar, and the dead victim carried around the circuit of the Pnyx as a symbolic purification of the audience.
"Come inside the purified circuit," enjoins a loud herald to the little groups upon the edge.[*]
[*]Aristophanes's "Acharnians" (ll. 50 ff.) gives a valuable picture of this and other proceedings at the Pnyx, but one should never forget the poet's exaggerations for comedy purposes, nor his deliberate omission of matters likely to be mere tedious detail to his audience.
Then comes a prayer invoking the gods' favor upon the Athenians, their allies, and this present meeting in particular, winding up (the herald counts this among the chief parts of his duty) with a tremendous curse on any wretch who should deceive the folk with evil counsel. After this the real secular business can begin. Nothing can be submitted to the Ecclesia which has not been previously considered and matured by the Council of 500. The question to be proposed is now read by the heralds as a "Pro-bouleuma"—a suggested ordinance by the Council. Vast as is the audience, the acoustic properties of the Pnyx are excellent, and all public officers and orators are trained to harangue multitudes in the open air, so that the thousands get every word of the proposition.
134. Debating a Proposition.—"Resolved by the Boule, the tribe Leontis holding the prytany, and Heraclides being clerk, upon the motion of Timon the son of Timon the Eleusinian,[*] that"—and then in formal language it is proposed to increase the garrison of the allied city of Byzantium by 500 hired Arcadian mercenaries, since the king of Thrace is threatening that city, and its continued possession is absolutely essential to the free import of grain into Attica.
[*]This seems to have been the regular form for beginning a "probouleuma" although nearly all our information comes from the texts of proposals AFTER they have been made formal decrees by the sovran Demos.
There is a hush of expectancy; a craning of necks.
"Who wishes to speak?" calls the herald.
After a decent pause Timon, the mover of the measure, comes forward. He is a fairly well-known character and commands a respectable faction among the Demos. There is some little clapping, mixed with jeering, as he mounts the Bema. The president of the prytanes—as evidence that he has now the right to harangue—hands him a myrtle wreath which he promptly claps on his head, and launches into his argument. Full speedily he has convinced at least a large share of the audience that it was sheer destruction to leave Byzantium without an efficient garrison. Grain would soon be at famine prices if the town were taken, etc., etc. The only marvel is that the merciful gods have averted the disaster so long in the face of such neglect.—Why had the board of strategi, responsible in such matters, neglected this obvious duty? [Cheers intermixed with catcalls.] This was not the way the men who won Marathon had dealt with dangers, nor later worthies like Nicias or Thrasybulus. [More cheers and catcalls.] He winds up with a splendid invocation to Earth, Sky, and Justice to bear witness that all this advice is given solely with a view to the weal of Athens.
"He had Isocrates teach him how to launch that peroration," mutters a crabbed old citizen behind his peak-trimmed beard, as Timon descends amid mingled applause and derision.
"Very likely; Iphicrates is ready to answer him," replies a fellow.
"Who wishes to speak?" the herald demands again. From a place directly before the Bema a well-known figure, the elderly general, Iphicrates, is rising. At a nod from the president, he mounts the Bema and assumes the myrtle. He has not Timon's smooth tones nor oratorical manner. He is a man of action and war, and no tool of the Agora coteries. A salvo of applause greets him. Very pithily he observes that Byzantium will be safe enough if the city will only be loyal to the Athenian alliance. Athens needs all her garrisons nearer home. Timon surely knows the state of the treasury. Is he going to propose a special tax upon his fellow countrymen to pay for those 500 mercenaries? [Loud laughter and derisive howls directed at Timon.] Athens needs to keep her strength for REAL dangers; and those are serious enough, but not at Byzantium. At the next meeting he and the other strategi will recommend—etc., etc. When Iphicrates quits the Bema there is little left of Timon's fine "Earth, Sky and Justice."
135. Voting at the Pnyx.—But other orators follow on both sides. Once Timon, egged on by many supporters, tries to gain the Bema a second time, but is told by the president that one cannot speak twice on the same subject. Once the derision and shouting becomes so violent that the president has to announce, "Unless there is silence I must adjourn the meeting." Finally, after an unsuccessful effort to amend the proposal, by reducing the garrison at Byzantium to 250, the movers of the measure realize that the votes will probably be against them. They try to break up the meeting.
"I hear thunder!" "I feel rain!" they begin shouting, and such ill omens, if really in evidence, would be enough to force an adjournment; but the sky is delightfully clear. The president simply shrugs his shoulders; and now the Pnyx is fairly rocking with the yell, "A vote! A vote!"
The president rises. Taking the vote in the Ecclesia is a very simple matter when it is a plain question of "yes" or "no" on a proposition.[*]
[*]When an INDIVIDUAL had to be voted for, then ballots were used.
"All who favor the 'probouleuma' of Timon will raise the right hand!"
A respectable but very decided minority shows itself.
"Those who oppose."
The adverse majority is large. The morning is quite spent. There is a great tumult. Men are rising, putting on their himatia, ridiculing Timon; while the herald at a nod from the president declares the Ecclesia adjourned.
136. The Ecclesia as an Educational Instrument.—Timon and his friends retire crestfallen to discuss the fortunes of war. They are not utterly discouraged, however. The Ecclesia is a fickle creature. What it withholds to-day it may grant to-morrow. Iphicrates, whose words have carried such weight now, may soon be howled down and driven from the Bema much as was the unfortunate litigant in the jury court. Still, with all its faults, the Ecclesia is the great school for the adults of Athens. All are on terms of perfect equality. King Demos is not the least respecter of wealth or family. Sophistries are usually penetrated in a twinkling by some coarse expletive from a remote corner of the Pnyx. Every citizen understands the main issues of the public business. HE IS PART OF THE ACTUAL WORKING GOVERNMENT, not once per year (or less often) at the ballot box, but at least forty times annually; and dolt he would be, did he not learn at least all the superficialities of statecraft. He may make grievous errors. He may be misled by mob prejudice or mob enthusiasm; but he is not likely to persist in a policy of crass blundering very long. King Demos may indeed rule a fallible human monarchy, but it is thanks to him, and to his high court held at the Pnyx, that Athens owes at least half of that sharpness of wit and intelligence which is her boast.
Chapter XVII. The Afternoon at the Gymnasia.
137. The Gymnasia. Places of General Resort.—The market is thinning after a busy day; the swarms of farmer-hucksters with their weary asses are trudging homeward; the schoolrooms are emptying; the dicasteries or the Ecclesia, as the case may be, have adjourned. Even the slave artisans in the factories are allowed to slacken work. The sun, a ball of glowing fire, is slowly sinking to westward over the slopes of Aegaleos; the rock of the Acropolis is glowing as if in flame; intense purple tints are creeping over all the landscape. The day is waning, and all Athenians who can possibly find leisure are heading towards the suburbs for a walk, a talk, and refreshment of soul and body at the several Gymnasia.
Besides various establishments and small "wrestling schools" for the boys, there are three great public Gymnasia at Athens,—the Lyceum to the east of the town; the Cynosarges[*] to the southward; and last, but at all least, the Academy. This is the handsomest, the most famous, the most characteristic. We shall do well to visit it.
[*]The Cynosarges was the only one of these freely opened to such Athenians as had non-Athenian mothers. The other two were reserved for the strictly "full citizens."
138. The Road to the Academy.—We go out toward the northwest of the city, plunging soon into a labyrinth of garden walls, fragrant with the fruit and blossoms within, wander amid dark olive groves where the solemn leaves of the sacred trees are talking sweetly; and presently mount a knoll by some suburban farm buildings, then look back to find that slight as is the elevation, here is a view of marvelous beauty across the city, the Acropolis, and the guardian mountains. From the rustling ivy coverts come the melodious notes of birds. We are glad to learn that this is the suburb of Colonus, the home of Sophocles the tragedian, and here is the very spot made famous in the renowned chorus of his "idipous at Colonus." It is too early, of course, to enjoy the nightingale which the poet asserts sings often amid the branches, but the scene is one of marvelous charm. We are not come, however, to admire Colonus. The numerous strollers indicate our direction. Turning a little to the south, we see, embowered amid the olive groves which line the unseen stream of the Cephissos, a wall, and once beyond it find ourselves in a kind of spacious park combined with an athletic establishment. This is the Academy,—founded by Hipparchus, son of Peisistratus the tyrant, but given its real embellishments and beauty by Cimon, the son of Militiades the victor of Marathon.
139. The Academy.—The Academy is worthy of the visit. The park itself is covered with olive trees and more graceful plane trees. The grass beneath us is soft and delightful to the bare foot (and nearly everybody, we observe, has taken off his sandals). There are marble and bronze statues skillfully distributed amid the shrubbery—shy nymphs, peeping fauns, bold satyrs. Yonder is a spouting fountain surmounted by a noble Poseidon with his trident; above the next fountain rides the ocean car of Amphitrite. Presently we come to a series of low buildings. Entering, we find them laid out in a quadrangle with porticoes on every side, somewhat like the promenades around the Agora. Inside the promenades open a series of ample rooms for the use of professional athletes during stormy weather, and for the inevitable bathing and anointing with oil which will follow all exercise. This great square court formed by the "gymnasium" proper is swarming with interesting humanity, but we pass it hastily in order to depart by an exit on the inner side and discover a second more conventionally laid out park. Here to right and to left are short stretches of soft sand divided into convenient sections for wrestling, for quoit hurling, for javelin casting, and for jumping; but a loud shout and cheering soon draw us onward. At the end of this park we find the stadium; a great oval track, 600 feet (a "stadium") for the half circuit, with benches and all the paraphernalia for a foot race. The first contest have just ended. The races are standing, panting after their exertions, but their friends are talking vehemently. Out in the sand, near the statue of Hermes (the patron god of gymnasia) is a dignified and self-conscious looking man in a purple edged chiton—the gymnasiarch, the official manager of the Academy. While he waits to organize a second race we can study the visitors and habitues of the gymnasium.
140. The Social Atmosphere and Human Types at the Academy.—What the Pnyx is to the political life of Athens, this the Academy and the other great gymnasia are to its social and intellectual as well as its physical life. Here in daily intercourse, whether in friendly contest of speed or brawn, or in the more valuable contest of wits, the youth of Athens complete their education after escaping from the rod of the schoolmaster. Here they have daily lessons on the mottoes, which (did such a thing exist) should be blazoned on the coat of arms of Greece, as the summing up of all Hellenic wisdom:—
Precept, example, and experience teach these truths at the gymnasia of Athens. Indeed, on days when the Ecclesia is not in session, when no war is raging, and they are not busy with a lawsuit, many Athenians will spend almost the whole day at the Academy. For whatever are your interests, here you are likely to find something to engross you.
It must be confessed that not everybody at the Academy comes here for physical or mental improvement. We see a little group squatting and gesticulating earnestly under an old olive tree—they are obviously busy, not with philosophic theory, but with dice. Again, two young men pass us presenting a curious spectacle. They are handsomely dressed and over handsomely scented, but each carries carefully under each arm a small cock; and from time to time they are halted by fiends who admire the birds. Clearly these worthies' main interests are in cockfighting; and they are giving their favorites "air and exercise" before the deadly battle, on which there is much betting, a the supper party that night. Also the shouting and rumbling from a distance tells of the chariot course, where the sons of the more wealthy or pretentious families are lessening their patrimonies by training a "two" or a "four" to contend at the Isthmian games or at Olympia.
141. Philosophers and Cultivated Men at the Gymnasia.—All these things are true, and Athens makes full display here of the usual crop of knaves or fools. Nevertheless this element is in the minority. Here a little earlier or a little later than our visit (for just now he is in Sicily) one could see Plato himself—walking under the shade trees and expounding to a little trailing host of eager-eyed disciples the fundamental theories of his ideal Commonwealth. Here are scores of serious bearded faces, and heads sprinkled with gray, moving to and fro in small groups, discussing in melodious Attic the philosophy, the poetry, the oration, which has been partly considered in the Agora this morning, and which will be further discussed at the symposium to-night. Everything is entirely informal. Even white-haired gentlemen do not hesitate to cast off chiton and himation and spring around nimbly upon the sands, to "try their distance" with the quoits, or show the young men that they have not forgotten accuracy with the javelin, or even, against men of their own age, to test their sinews in a mild wrestling bout. It is undignified for an old man to attempt feats beyond his advanced years. No one expects any great proficiency from most of those present. It is enough to attempt gracefully, and to laugh merrily if you do not succeed. Everywhere there is the greatest good nature, and even frolicking, but very little of the really boisterous.
142. The Beautiful Youths at the Academy.—Yet the majority of the visitors to the Academy have an interest that is not entirely summed up in proper athletics, or in the baser sports, or in philosophy. Every now and then a little whisper runs among the groups of strollers or athlete "There he goes!—a new one! How beautiful!"—and there is a general turning of heads.
A youth goes by, his body quite stripped, and delicately bronzed by constant exposure to the sun. His limbs are graceful, but vigorous and straight, his chest is magnificently curved. He lifts his head modestly, yet with a proud and easy carriage. His hair is dark blonde; his profile very "Greek"—nose and forehead joining in unbroken straight line. A little crowd is following him; a more favored comrade, a stalwart, bearded man, walks at his side. No need of questioning now whence the sculptors of Athens get their inspiration. This happy youth, just out of the schoolroom, and now to be enrolled as an armed ephebus, will be the model soon for some immortal bronze or marble. Fortunate is he, if his humility is not ruined by all the admiration and flattery; if he can remember the injunctions touching "modesty," which master and father have repeated so long; if he can remember the precept that true beauty of body can go only with true beauty of soul. Now at least is his day of hidden or conscious pride. All Athens is commending him. He is the reigning toast, like the "belle" of a later age. Not the groundlings only, but the poets, rhetoricians, philosophers, will gaze after him, seek an introduction, compliment him delicately, give themselves the pleasure of making him blush deliciously, and go back to their august problems unconsciously stimulated and refreshed by this vision of "the godlike."[*]
[*]For pertinent commentary on the effect of meeting a beautiful youth upon very grave men, see, e.g., Plato's "Charmides" (esp. 158 a) and "Lysis" (esp. 206 d). Or better still in Xenophon's "Symposium" (I.9), where we hear of the beautiful youth Autolycus, "even as a bright light at night draws every eye, so by HIS beauty drew on him the gaze of all the company [at the banquet]. Not a man was present who did not feel his emotions stirred by the sight of him."
143. The Greek Worship of Manly Beauty.—The Greek worship of the beautiful masculine form is something which the later world will never understand. In this worship there is too often a coarseness, a sensual dross, over which a veil is wisely cast. but the great fact of this worship remains: to the vast majority of Greeks "beauty" does not imply a delicate maid clad in snowy drapery; it implies a perfectly shaped, bronzed, and developed youth, standing forth in his undraped manhood for some hard athletic battle. The ideal possess the national life, and effects the entire Greek civilization. Not beauty in innocent weakness, but beauty in resourceful strength—before this beauty men bow down.[*]
[*]Plato ("Republic," p. 402) gives the view of enlightened Greek opinion when he states "There can be no fairer spectacle than that of a man who combines the possession of MORAL beauty in his soul, with OUTWARD beauty of body, corresponding and harmonizing with the former, because the same great pattern enters into both."
It is this masculine type of beauty, whether summed up in a physical form or translated by imagery into the realm of the spirit, that Isocrates (a very good mouthpieces for average enlightened opinion) praises in language which strains even his facile rhetoric. "[Beauty] is the first of all things in majesty, honor, and divineness. Nothing devoid of beauty is prized; the admiration of virtue itself comes to this, that of all manifestations of life, virtue is the most beautiful. The supremacy of beauty over all things can be seen in our own disposition toward it, and toward them. Other things we merely seek to attain as we need them, but beautiful things inspire us with love, LOVE which is as much stronger than WISH as its object is better. To the beautiful alone, as to the gods, we are never tired of doing homage; delighting to be their slaves rather than to be the rulers of others."
Could we put to all the heterogeneous crowd in the wide gymnasium the question, "What things do you desire most?" the answer "To be physically beautiful" (not "handsome" merely, but "beautiful") would come among the first wishes. There is a little song, very popular and very Greek. It tells most of the story.
The best of gifts to mortal man is health; The next the bloom of beauty's matchless flower; The third is blameless and unfraudful wealth; The fourth with friends to spend youths' joyous hour.[*]
[*]Translation by Milman. The exact date of this Greek poem is uncertain, but its spirit is entirely true to that of Athens in the time of this sketch.
Health and physical beauty thus go before wealth and the passions of friendship,—a true Greek estimate!
144. The Detestation of Old Age.—Again, we are quick to learn that this "beauty" is the beauty of youth. It is useless to talk to an Athenian of a "beautiful old age." Old age is an evil to be borne with dignity, with resignation if needs be, to be fought against by every kind of bodily exercise; but to take satisfaction in it?—impossible. It means a diminishing of those keen powers of physical and intellectual enjoyment which are so much to every normal Athenian. It means becoming feeble, and worse than feeble, ridiculous. The physician's art has not advanced so far as to prevent the frequent loss of sight and hearing in even moderate age. No hope of a future renewal of noble youth in a happier world gilds the just man's sunset. Old age must, like the untimely passing of loved ones, be endured in becoming silence, as one of the fixed inevitables; but it is gloomy work to pretend to find it cheerful. Only the young can find life truly happy. Euripides in "The Mad Heracles" speaks for all his race:—
Tell me not of the Asian tyrant, Or of palaces plenished with gold; For such bliss I am not an aspirant, If YOUTH I might only behold:— Youth that maketh prosperity higher, And ever adversity lighter.[*]
[*]Mahaffy, translator. Another very characteristic lament for the passing of youth is left us by the early elegiac poet Mimnermus.
145. The Greeks unite Moral and Physical Beauty.—But here at the Academy, this spirit of beautiful youth, and the "joy of life," is everywhere dominant. All around us are the beautiful bodies of young men engaged in every kind of graceful exercise. When we question, we are told that current belief is that in a great majority of instances there is a development and a symmetry of mind corresponding to the glory of the body. It is contrary to all the prevalent notions of the reign of "divine harmony" to have it otherwise. The gods abhor all gross contradictions! Even now men will argue over a strange breach of this rule;—why did heaven suffer Socrates to have so beautiful a soul set in so ugly a body?—Inscrutable are the ways of Zeus!
However, we have generalized and wandered enough. The Academy is a place of superabounding activities. Let us try to comprehend some of them.
146. The Usual Gymnastic Sports and their Objects.—Despite all the training in polite conversation which young men are supposed to receive at the gymnasium, the object of the latter is after all to form places of athletic exercise. The Athenians are without most of these elaborate field games such as later ages will call "baseball" and "football"; although, once learned, they could surely excel in these prodigiously. They have a simple "catch" with balls, but it hardly rises above the level of a children's pastime. The reasons for these omissions are probably, first, because so much time is devoted to the "palestra" exercises; secondly, because military training eats up about all the time not needed for pure gymnastics.
The "palestra" exercises, taught first at the boys' training establishments and later continued at the great gymnasia, are nearly all of the nature of latter-day "field sports." They do not depend on the costly apparatus of the twentieth century athletic halls; and they accomplish their ends with extremely simple means. The aim of the instructor is really twofold—to give his pupils a body fit and apt for war (and we have seen that to be a citizen usually implies being a hoplite), and to develop a body beautiful to the eye and efficient for civil life. The naturally beautiful youth can be made more beautiful; the naturally homely youth can be made at least passable under the care of a skilful gymnastic teacher.
147. Professional Athletes: the Pancration.—Athletics, then, are a means to an end and should not be tainted with professionalism. True, as we wander about the Academy we see heavy and over brawny individuals whose "beauty" consists in flattened noses, mutilated ears, and mouths lacking many teeth, and who are taking their way to the remote quarter where boxing is permitted. Here they will wind hard bull's hide thongs around their hands and wrists, and pummel one another brutally, often indeed (if in a set contest) to the very risk of life. These men are obviously professional athletes who, after appearing with some success at the "Nemea," are in training for the impending "Pythia" at Delphi. A large crowd of youths of the less select kind follows and cheers them; but the better public opinion frowns on them. They are denounced by the philosophers. Their lives no less than their bodies "are not beautiful"—i.e. they offend against the spirit of harmony inherent in every Greek. Still less are they in genteel favor when, the preliminary boxing round being finished, they put off their boxing thongs and join in the fierce "Pancration," a not unskillful combination of boxing with wrestling, in which it is not suffered to strike with the knotted fist, but in which, nevertheless, a terrible blow can be given with the bent fingers. Kicking, hitting, catching, tripping, they strive together mid the "Euge! Euge!—Bravo! Bravo!" of their admirers until one is beaten down hopelessly upon the sand, and the contest ends without harm. Had it been a real Pancration, however, it would have been desperate business, for it is quite permissible to twist an opponent's wrist, and even to break his fingers, to make him give up the contest. Therefore it is not surprising that the Pancration, even more than boxing, is usually reserved for professional athletes.
148. Leaping Contests.—But near at hand is a more pleasing contest. Youths of the ephebus age are practicing leaping. They have no springboard, no leaping pole, but only a pair of curved metal dumb-bells to aid them. One after another their lithe brown bodies, shining with the fresh olive oil, come forward on a lightning run up the little mound of earth, then fly gracefully out across the soft sands. There is much shouting and good-natured rivalry. As each lad leaps, an eager attendant marks his distance with a line drawn by the pickaxe. The lines gradually extend ever farther from the mound. The rivalry is keen. Finally, there is one leap that far exceeds the rest.[*] A merry crowd swarms around the blushing victor. A grave middle-aged man takes the ivy crown from his head, and puts it upon the happy youth. "Your father will take joy in you," he says as the knot breaks up.
[*]If the data of the ancients are to be believed, the Greeks achieved records in leaping far beyond those of any modern athletes, but it is impossible to rely on data of this kind.
149. Quoit Hurling.—Close by the leapers is another stretch of yellow sand reserved for the quoit throwers. The contestants here are slightly older,—stalwart young men who seem, as they fling the heavy bronze discus, to be reaching out eagerly into the fullness of life and fortune before them. Very graceful are the attitudes. Here it was the sculptor Miron saw his "Discobolus" which he immortalized and gave to all the later world; "stooping down to take aim, his body turned in the direction of the hand which holds the quoit, one knee slightly bent as though he meant to vary the posture and to rise with the throw."[*] The caster, however, does not make his attempt standing. He takes a short run, and then the whole of his splendid body seems to spring together with the cast.
[*]The quotation is from Lucian (Roman Imperial period).
150. Casting the javelin.—The range of the quoit hurlers in turn seems very great, but we cannot delay to await the issue. Still elsewhere in the Academy they are hurling the javelin. Here is a real martial exercise, and patriotism as well as natural athletic spirit urges young men to excel. the long light lances are being whirled at a distant target with remarkable accuracy; and well they may, for every contestant has the vision of some hour when he may stand on the poop of a trireme and hear the dread call, "All hands repel boarders," or need all his darts to break up the rush of a pursuing band of hoplites.
151. Wrestling.—The real crowds, however, are around the wrestlers and the racers. Wrestling in its less brutal form is in great favor. It brings into play all the muscles of a man; it tests his resources both of mind and body finely. It is excellent for a youth and it fights away old age. The Greek language is full of words and allusions taken from the wrestler's art. The palestras for the boys are called "the wrestling school" par excellence. It is no wonder that now the ring on the sands is a dense one and constantly growing. Two skilful amateurs will wrestle. One—a speedy rumor tells us—is, earlier and later in the day, a rising comic poet; the other is not infrequently heard on the Bema. Just at present, however, they have forgotten anapests and oratory. A crowd of cheering, jesting friends thrusts them on. Forth they stand, two handsome, powerful men, well oiled for suppleness, but also sprinkled with fine sand to make it possible to get a fair grip in the contest.
For a moment they wag their sharp black beards at each other defiantly, and poise and edge around. Then the poet, more daring, rushes in, and instantly the two have grappled—each clutching the other's left wrist in his right hand. The struggle that follows is hot and even, until a lucky thrust from the orator's foot lands the poet in a sprawling heap; whence he rises with a ferocious grin and renews the contest. The second time they both fall together. "A tie!" calls the long-gowned friend who acts as umpire, with an officious flourish of his cane.
The third time the poet catches the orator trickily under the thigh, and fairly tears him to the ground; but at the fourth meeting the orator slips his arm in decisive grip about his opponent's wrist and with a might wrench upsets him.
"Two casts out of three, and victory!"
Everybody laughs good-naturedly. The poet and the orator go away arm in arm to the bathing house, there to have another good oiling and rubbing down by their slaves, after removing the heavily caked sand from their skin with the stirgils. Of course, had it been a real contest in the "greater games," the outcome might have been more serious for the rules allow one to twist a wrist, to thrust an arm or foot into the foeman's belly, or (when things are desperate) to dash your forehead—bull fashion—against your opponent's brow, in the hope that his skull will prove weaker than yours.
152. Foot Races.—The continued noise from the stadium indicates that the races are still running; and we find time to go thither. The simple running match, a straight-away dash of 600 feet, seems to have been the original contest at the Olympic games ere these were developed into a famous and complicated festival; and the runner still is counted among the favorites of Greek athletics. As we sit upon the convenient benches around the academy stadium we see at once that the track is far from being a hard, well-rolled "cinder path"; on the contrary, it is of soft sand into which the naked foot sinks if planted too firmly, and upon it the most adept "hard-track" runner would at first pant and flounder helplessly. The Greeks have several kinds of foot races, but none that are very short. The shortest is the simple "stadium" (600 feet), a straight hard dash down one side of the long oval; then there is the "double course" ("diaulos") down one side and back; the "horse race"—twice clear around (2400 feet); and lastly the hard-testing "long course" ("dolichos") which may very in length according to arrangement,—seven, twelve, twenty, or even twenty-four stadia, we are told; and it is the last (about three miles) that is one of the most difficult contests at Olympia.
At this moment a part of four hale and hearty men still in the young prime are about to compete in the "double race." They come forward all rubbed with the glistening oil, and crouch at the starting point behind the red cord held by two attendants. The gymnasiarch stands watchfully by, swinging his cane to smite painfully whoever, in over eagerness, breaks away before the signal. All is ready; at his nod the rope falls. The four fly away together, pressing their elbows close to their sides, and going over the soft sands with long rhythmic leaps, rather than with the usual rapid running motion. A fierce race it is, amid much exhortation from friends and shouting. At length, as so often—when speeding back towards the stretched cord,—the rearmost runner suddenly gathers amazing speed, and, flying with prodigious leaps ahead of his rivals, is easily the victor. His friends are at once about him, and we hear the busy tongues advising, "You must surely race at the Pythia; the Olympia; etc."
This simple race over, a second quickly follows: five heavy, powerful men this time, but they are to run in full hoplite's armor—the ponderous shield, helmet, cuirass, and greaves. This is the exacting "Armor Race" ("Hoplitodromos"), and safe only for experienced soldiers or professional athletes.[*] Indeed, the Greeks take all their foot races seriously, and there are plenty of instances when the victor has sped up to the goal, and then dropped dead before the applauding stadium. There are no stop watches in the Academy; we do not know the records of the present or of more famous runners; yet one may be certain that the "time" made, considering the very soft sand, has been exceedingly fast.
[*]It was training in races like these which enabled the Athenians at Marathon to "charge the Persians on the run" (Miltiades' orders), all armored though they were, and so get quickly through the terrible zone of the Persian arrow fire.
153. The Pentathlon: the Honors paid to Great Athletes.—We have now seen average specimens of all the usual athletic sports of the Greeks. Any good authority will tell us, however, that a truly capable athlete will not try to specialize so much in any one kind of contest that he cannot do justice to the others. As an all around well-trained man he will try to excel in the "Pentathlon," the "five contests." Herein he will successfully join in running, javelin casting, quoit throwing, leaping, and wrestling.[*] As the contest proceeds the weaker athletes will be eliminated; only the two fittest will be left for the final trial of strength and skill. Fortunate indeed is "he who overcometh" in the Pentathlon. It is the crown of athletic victories, involving, as it does, no scanty prowess both of body and mind. The victor in the Pentathlon at one of the great Pan-Hellenic games (Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, or Nemean) or even in the local Attic contest at the Panathenea is a marked man around Athens or any other Greek city. Poets celebrate him; youths dog his heels and try to imitate him; his kinsfolk take on airs; very likely he is rewarded as a public benefactor by the government. But there is abundant honor for one who has triumphed in ANY of the great contests; and even as we go out we see people pointing to a bent old man and saying, "Yes; he won the quoit hurling at the Nema when Ithycles was archon."[+]
[*]The exact order of these contests, and the rules of elimination as the games proceeded, are uncertain—perhaps they varied with time and place.
[+]This would make it 398 B.C. The Athenians dated their years by the name of their "first Archon" ("Archon eponymos").
...The Academy is already thinning. The beautiful youths and their admiring "lovers" have gone homeward. The last race has been run. We must hasten if we would not be late to some select symposium. The birds are more melodious than ever around Colonus; the red and golden glow upon the Acropolis is beginning to fade; the night is sowing the stars; and through the light air of a glorious evening we speed back to the city.
Chapter XVIII. Athenian Cookery and the Symposium.
154. Greek Meal Times.—The streets are becoming empty. The Agora has been deserted for hours. As the warm balmy night closes over the city the house doors are shut fast, to open only for the returning master or his guests, bidden to dinner. Soon the ways will be almost silent, to be disturbed, after a proper interval, by the dinner guests returning homeward. Save for these, the streets will seem those of a city of the dead: patrolled at rare intervals by the Scythian archers, and also ranged now and then by cutpurses watching for an unwary stroller, or miscreant roisterers trolling lewd songs, and pounding on honest men's doors as they wander from tavern to tavern in search of the lowest possible pleasures.
We have said very little of eating or drinking during our visit in Athens, for, truth to tell, the citizens try to get through the day with about as little interruption for food and drink as possible. But now, when warehouse and gymnasium alike are left to darkness, all Athens will break its day of comparative fasting.
Roughly speaking, the Greeks anticipate the latter-day "Continental" habits in their meal hours. The custom of Germans and of many Americans in having the heartiest meal at noonday would never appeal to them. The hearty meal is at night, and no one dreams of doing any serious work after it. When it is finished, there may be pleasant discourse or varied amusements, but never real business; and even if there are guests, the average dinner party breaks up early. Early to bed and early to rise, would be a maxim indorsed by the Athenians.
Promptly upon rising, our good citizen has devoured a few morsels of bread sopped in undiluted wine; that has been to him what "coffee and rolls" will be to the Frenchmen,—enough to carry him through the morning business, until near to noon he will demand something more satisfying. He then visits home long enough to partake of a substantial dejeuner ("ariston," first breakfast = "akratisma"). He has one or two hot dishes—one may suspect usually warmed over from last night's dinner—and partakes of some more wine. This "ariston" will be about all he will require until the chief meal of the day—the regular dinner ("deipnon") which would follow sunset.
155. Society desired at Meals.—The Athenians are a gregarious sociable folk. Often enough the citizen must dine alone at home with "only" his wife and children for company, but if possible he will invite friends (or get himself invited out). Any sort of an occasion is enough to excuse a dinner-party,—a birthday of some friend, some kind of family happiness, a victory in the games, the return from, or the departure upon, a journey:—all these will answer; or indeed a mere love of good fellowship. There are innumerable little eating clubs; the members go by rotation to their respective houses. Each member contributes either some money or has his slave bring a hamper of provisions. In the find weather picnic parties down upon the shore are common.[*] "Anything to bring friends together"—in the morning the Agora, in the afternoon the gymnasium, in the evening they symposium—that seems to be the rule of Athenian life.
[*]Such excursions were so usual that the literal expression "Let us banquet at the shore" ([Note from Brett: The Greek letters are written out here as there is no way to portray them properly] sigma eta mu epsilon rho omicron nu [next word] alpha kappa tau alpha sigma omega mu epsilon nu [here is a rough transliteration into English letters "semeron aktasomen"]) came often to mean simply "Let us have a good time."
However, the Athenians seldom gather to eat for the mere sake of animal gorging. They have progressed since the Greeks of the Homeric Age. Odysseus[*] is made to say to Alcinous that there is nothing more delightful than sitting at a table covered with bread, meat, and wine, and listening to a bard's song; and both Homeric poems show plenty of gross devouring and guzzling. There is not much of this in Athens, although Boeotians are still reproached with being voracious, swinish "flesh eaters," and the Greeks of South Italy and Sicily are considered as devoted to their fare, though of more refined table habits. Athenians of the better class pride themselves on their light diet and moderation of appetite, and their neighbors make considerable fun of them for their failure to serve satisfying meals. Certain it is that the typical Athenian would regard a twentieth century "table d'hote" course dinner as heavy and unrefined, if ever it dragged its slow length before him.
[*]"Odyssey," IX. 5-10.
156. The Staple Articles of Food.—However, the Athenians have honest appetites, and due means of silencing them. The diet of a poor man is indeed simple in the extreme. According to Aristophanes his meal consists of a cake, bristling with bran for the sake of economy, along with an onion and a dish of sow thistles, or of mushrooms, or some other such wretched vegetables; and probably, in fact, that is about all three fourths of the population of Attica will get on ordinary working days, always with the addition of a certain indispensable supply of oil and wine.
Bread, oil, and wine, in short, are the three fundamentals of Greek diet. With them alone man can live very healthfully and happily; without them elaborate vegetable and meat dishes are poor substitutes. Like latter-day Frenchmen or Italians with their huge loaves or macaroni, BREAD in one form or another is literally the stuff of life to the Greek. He makes it of wheat, barley, rye, millet, or spelt, but preferably of the two named first. The barley meal is kneaded (not baked) and eaten raw or half raw as a sort of porridge. Of wheat loaves there are innumerable shapes on sale in the Agora,—slender rolls, convenient loaves, and also huge loaves needing two or three bushels of flour, exceeding even those made in a later day in Normandy. At every meal the amount of bread or porridge consumed is enormous; there is really little else at all substantial. Persian visitors to the Greeks complain that they are in danger of rising from the table hungry.
But along with the inevitable bread goes the inevitable OLIVE OIL. No latter-day article will exactly correspond to it. First of all it takes the place of butter as the proper condiment to prevent the bread from being tasteless.[*] It enters into every dish. The most versatile cook will be lost without it. Again, at the gymnasium we have seen its great importance to the athletes and bathers. It is therefore the Hellenic substitute for soap. Lastly, it fills the lamps which swing over very dining board. It takes the place of electricity, gas, or petroleum. No wonder Athens is proud of her olive trees. If she has to import her grain, she has a surplus for export of one of the three great essentials of Grecian life.
[*]There was extremely little cow's butter in Greece. Herodotus (iv. 2) found it necessary to explain the process of "cow-cheese-making" among the Scythians.
The third inevitable article of diet is WINE. No one has dreamed of questioning its vast desirability under almost all circumstances. Even drunkenness is not always improper. It may be highly fitting, as putting one in a "divine frenzy," partaking of the nature of the gods. Museus the semi-mythical poet is made out to teach that the reward of virtue will be something like perpetual intoxication in the next world. Aeschines the orator will, ere long, taunt his opponent Demosthenes in public with being a "water drinker"; and Socrates on many occasions has given proof that he possessed a very hard head. Yet naturally the Athenian has too acute a sense of things fit and dignified, too noble a perception of the natural harmony, to commend drunkenness on any but rare occasions. Wine is rather valued as imparting a happy moderate glow, making the thoughts come faster, and the tongue more witty. Wine raises the spirits of youth, and makes old age forget its gray hairs. It chases away thoughts of the dread hereafter, when one will lose consciousness of the beautiful sun, and perhaps wander a "strengthless shade" through the dreary underworld.
There is a song attributed to Anacreon, and nearly everybody in Athens approves the sentiment:—
Thirsty earth drinks up the rain, Trees from earth drink that again; Ocean drinks the air, the sun Drinks the sea, and him, the moon. Any reason, canst thou think, I should thirst, while all these drink?[*]
[*]Translation from Von Falke's "Greece and Rome."
157. Greek Vintages.—All Greeks, however, drink their wine so diluted with water that it takes a decided quantity to produce a "reaction." The average drinker takes three parts water to two of wine. If he is a little reckless the ratio is four of water to three of wine; equal parts "make men mad" as the poet says, and are probably reserved for very wild dinner parties. As for drinking pure wine no one dreams of the thing—it is a practice fit for Barbarians. There is good reason, however, for this plentiful use of water. In the original state Greek wines were very strong, perhaps almost as alcoholic as whisky, and the Athenians have no Scotch climate to excuse the use of such stimulants.[*]
[*]There was a wide difference of opinion as to the proper amount of dilution. Odysseus ("Odyssey," IX. 209) mixed his fabulously strong wine from Maron in Thrace with twenty times its bulk of water. Hesiod abstemiously commended three parts of water to one of wine. Zaleucus, the lawgiver of Italian Locri, established the death penalty for drinking unmixed wine save by physicians' orders ("Atheneus," X. 33).
No wine served in Athens, however, will appeal to a later-day connoisseur. It is all mixed with resin, which perhaps makes it more wholesome, but to enjoy it then becomes an acquired taste. There are any number of choice vintages, and you will be told that the local Attic wine is not very desirable, although of course it is the cheapest. Black wine is the strongest and sweetest; white wine is the weakest; rich golden is the driest and most wholesome. The rocky isles and headlands of the Aegean seem to produce the best vintage—Thasos, Cos, Lesbos, Rhodes, all boast their grapes; but the best wine beyond a doubt is from Chios.[*] It will fetch a mina ($18 [1914 or $310.14 2000]) the "metreta," i.e. nearly 50 cents [1914 or $8.62 2000] per quart. At the same time you can buy a "metreta" of common Attic wine for four drachmae (72 cents [1914 or $12.41 2000]), or say two cents [1914 or 34 cents 2000] per quart. The latter—when one considers the dilution—is surely cheap enough for the most humble.
[*]Naturally certain foreign vintages had a demand, just because they were foreign. Wine was imported from Egypt and from various parts of Italy. It was sometimes mixed with sea water for export, or was made aromatic with various herbs and berries. It was ordinarily preserved in great earthen jars sealed with pitch.
158. Vegetable Dishes.—Provided with bread, oil, and wine, no Athenian will long go hungry; but naturally these are not a whole feast. As season and purse may afford they will be supplanted by such vegetables as beans (a staple article), peas, garlic, onions, radishes, turnips, and asparagus; also with an abundance of fruits,—besides figs (almost a fourth indispensable at most meals), apples, quinces, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, blackberries, the various familiar nuts, and of course a plenty of grapes and olives. The range of selection is in fact decidedly wide: only the twentieth century visitor will miss the potato, the lemon, and the orange; and when he pries into the mysteries of the kitchen a great fact at once stares him in the face. The Greek must dress his dishes without the aid of sugar. As a substitute there is an abundant use of the delicious Hymettus honey,—"fragrant with the bees,"—but it is by no means so full of possibilities as the white powder of later days. Also the Greek cook is usually without fresh cow's milk, and most goat's milk probably takes its way to cheese. No morning milk carts rattle over the stones of Athens.
159. Meat and Fish Dishes.—Turning to the meat dishes, we at once learn that while there is a fair amount of farm poultry, geese, hares, doves, partridges, etc., on sale in the market, there is extremely little fresh beef or even mutton, pork, and goat's flesh. It is quite expensive, and counted too hearty for refined diners. The average poor man in fact hardly tastes flesh except after one of the great public festivals; then after the sacrifice of the "hecatomb" of oxen, there will probably be a distribution of roast meat to all the worshipers, and the honest citizen will take home to his wife an uncommon luxury—a piece of roast beef. But the place of beef and pork is largely usurped by most excellent fish. The waters of the Aegean abound with fish. The import of salt fish (for the use of the poor) from the Propontis and Euxine is a great part of Attic commerce. A large part of the business at the Agora centers around the fresh fish stalls, and we have seen how extortionate and insolent were the fishmongers. Sole, tunny, mackerel, young shark, mullet, turbot, carp, halibut, are to be had, but the choicest regular delicacies are the great Copaic eels from Boeotia; these, "roasted on the coals and wrapped in beet leaves," are a dish fit for the Great King. Lucky is the host who has them for his dinner party. Oysters and mussels too are in demand, and there is a considerable sale of snails, "the poor man's salad," even as in present-day France.
Clearly, then, if one is not captious or gluttonous, there should be no lack of good eating in Athens, despite the reputation of the city for abstemiousness. Let us pry therefore into the symposium of some good citizen who is dispensing hospitality to-night.
160. Inviting Guests to a Dinner Party.—
Who loves thee, him summon to they board; Far off be he who hates.
This familiar sentiment of Hesiod, one Prodicus, a well-to-do gentleman, had in mind when he went to the Agora this morning to arrange for a dinner party in honor of his friend Hermogenes, who was just departing on a diplomatic mission to the satrap of Mysia. While walking along the Painted Porch and the other colonnades he had no difficulty in seeing most of the group he intended to invite, and if they did not turn to greet him, he would halt them by sending his slave boy to run and twitch at their mantles, after which the invitation was given verbally. Prodicus, however, deliberately makes arrangements for one or two more than those he has bidden. It will be entirely proper for his guests to bring friends of their own if they wish; and very likely some intimate whom he has been unable to find will invite himself without any bidding.
At the Agora Prodicus has had much to do. His house is a fairly large and well-furnished one, his slaves numerous and handy, but he has not the cook or the equipment for a really elaborate symposium. At a certain quarter on the great square he finds a contractor who will supply all the extra appointments for a handsome dinner party—tables, extra lamps, etc. Then he puts his slave boy to bawling out:
"Who wants an engagement to cook a dinner?"
This promptly brings forward a sleek, well-dressed fellow whose dialect declares that he is from Sicily, and who asserts he is an expert professional cook. Prodicus engages him and has a conference with him on the profound question of "whether the tunnies or the mullets are better to-day, or will there be fresh eels?" This point and similar minor matters settled, Prodicus makes liberal purchases at the fish and vegetable stalls, and his slaves bear his trophies homeward.
161. Preparing for the Dinner. The Sicilian Cook.—All that afternoon the home of Prodicus is in an uproar. The score of slaves show a frantic energy. The aula is cleaned and scrubbed: the serving girls are busy handing festoons of leaves and weaving chaplets. The master's wife—who does not dream of actually sharing in the banquet—is nevertheless as active and helpful as possible; but especially she is busy trying to keep the peace between the old house servants and the imported cook. This Sicilian is a notable character. To him cookery is not a handicraft: it is the triumph, the quintessence of all science and philosophy. He talks a strange professional jargon, and asserts that he is himself learned in astronomy—for that teaches the best seasons, e.g. for mackerel and haddock; in geometry,—that he might know how a boiler or gridiron should be set to the best advantage; in medicine, that he might prepare the most wholesome dishes. In any case he is a perfect tyrant around the kitchen, grumbling about the utensils, cuffing the spit-boy, and ever bidding him bring more charcoal for the fire and to blow the bellows faster.[*]
[*]The Greeks seem to have cooked over a rather simple open fireplace with a wood or charcoal fire. They had an array of cooking utensils, however, according to all our evidence, elaborate enough to gladden a very exacting modern CHEF.
By the time evening is at hand Prodicus and his house are in perfect readiness. The bustle is ended; and the master stands by the entrance way, clad in his best and with a fresh myrtle wreath, ready to greet his guests. No ladies will be among these. Had there been any women invited to the banquet, they would surely be creatures of no very honest sort; and hardly fit, under any circumstances, to darken the door of a respectable citizen. The mistress and her maids are "behind the scenes." There may be a woman among the hired entertainers provided, but for a refined Athenian lady to appear at an ordinary symposium is almost unthinkable.[*]
[*]In marriage parties and other strictly family affairs women were allowed to take part; and we have an amusing fragment of Menander as to how, on such rare occasions, they monopolized the conversation.
162. The Coming of the Guests.—As each guest comes, he is seen to be elegantly dressed, and to wear now, if at no other time, a handsome pair of sandals.[*] He has also taken pains to bathe and to perfume himself. As soon as each person arrives his sandals are removed in the vestibule by the slaves and his feet are bathed. No guest comes alone, however: every one has his own body servant with him, who will look after his footgear and himation during the dinner, and give a certain help with the serving. The house therefore becomes full of people, and will be the scene of remarkable animation during the next few hours.
[*]Socrates, by way of exception to his custom, put on some fine sandals when he was invited to a banquet.
Prodicus is not disappointed in expecting some extra visitors. His guest of honor, Hermogenes, has brought along two, whom the host greets with the polite lie: "Just in time for dinner. Put off your other business. I was looking for you in the Agora and could not find you."[*] Also there thrusts in a half genteel, half rascally fellow, one Palladas, who spends all his evenings at dinner parties, being willing to be the common butt and jest of the company (having indeed something of the ability of a comic actor about him) in return for a share of the good things on the table. These "Parasites" are regular characters in Athens, and no symposium is really complete without them, although often their fooleries cease to be amusing.[+]
[*]It is with such a white fib that the host Agathon salutes Aristodemus, Socrates's companion in Plato's "Symposium."
[+]Of these "Parasites" or "Flies" (as owing to their migratory habits they were sometimes called), countless stories were told, whereof the following is a sample: there was once a law in Athens that not over thirty guests were to be admitted to a marriage feast, and an officer was obliged to count all the guests and exclude the superfluous. A "fly" thrust in on one occasion, and the officer said: "Friend, you must retire. I find one more here than the law allows." "Dear fellow," quoth the "fly," "you are utterly mistaken, as you will find, if you kindly count again—only BEGINNING WITH ME."
163. The Dinner Proper.—The Greeks have not anticipated the Romans in their custom of making the standard dinner party nine persons on three couches,—three guests on each. Prodicus has about a dozen guests, two on a couch. They "lie down" more or less side by side upon the cushioned divans, with their right arms resting on brightly striped pillows and the left arms free for eating. The slaves bring basis of water to wash their hands, and then beside each couch is set a small table, already garnished with the first course, and after the casting of a few bits of food upon the family hearth fire,—the conventional "sacrifice" to the house gods,—the dinner begins.
Despite the elaborate preparations of the Sicilian cook, Prodicus offers his guests only two courses. The first consists of the substantial dishes—the fish, the vegetables, the meat (if there is any). Soups are not unknown, and had they been served might have been eaten with spoons; but Athens like all the world is innocent of forks, and fingers take their place. Each guest has a large piece of soft bread on which he wipes his fingers from time to time and presently casts it upon the floor.[*] When this first course is finished, the tables are all taken out to be reset, water is again poured over the hands of the guests, and garlands of flowers are passed. The use of garlands is universal, and among the guests, old white headed and bearded Sosthenes will find nothing more undignified in putting himself beneath a huge wreath of lilies than an elderly gentleman of a later day will find in donning the "conventional" dress suit. The conversation,—which was very scattering at first,—becomes more animated. A little wine is now passed about. Then back come the tables with the second course—fruits, and various sweetmeats and confectionary with honey as the staple flavoring. Before this disappears a goblet of unmixed wine is passed about, and everybody takes a sip: "To the Good Genius," they say as the cup goes round.
[*]Napkins were not used in Greece before Roman days.
164. Beginning the Symposium.—Prodicus at length gives a nod to the chief of his corps of servers.
"Bring in the wine!" he orders. The slaves promptly whisk out the tables and replace them with others still smaller, on which they set all kinds of gracefully shaped beakers and drinking bowls. More wreaths are distributed, also little bottles of delicate ointment. While the guests are praising Prodicus's nard, the servants have brought in three huge "mixing bowls" ("craters") for the wines which are to furnish the main potation.
So far we have witnessed not a symposium, but merely a dinner; and many a proper party has broken up when the last of the dessert has disappeared; but, after all, the drinking bout is the real crown of the feast. It is not so much the wine as the things that go with the wine that are so delightful. As to what these desirable condiments are, opinions differ. Plato (who is by no means too much of a philosopher to be a real man of the world) says in his "Protagoras" that mere conversation is "the" thing at a symposium. "When the company are real gentlemen and men of education, you will see no flute girls nor dancing girls nor harp girls; they will have no nonsense or games, but will be content with one another's conversation."[*] But this ideal, though commended, is not always followed in decidedly intellectual circles. Zenophon[+] shows us a select party wherein Socrates participated, in which the host has been fain to hire in a professional Syracusian entertainer with two assistants, a boy and a girl, who bring their performance to a climax by a very suggestive dumb-show play of the story of Bacchus and Ariadne. Prodicus's friends, being solid, somewhat pragmatic men—neither young sports nor philosophers—steer a middle course. There is a flute girl present, because to have a good symposium without some music is almost unimaginable; but she is discreetly kept in the background.
[*]Plato again says ("Politicus," 277 b), "To intelligent persons, a living being is more truly delineated by language and discourse than by any painting or work of art."
[+]In his "Symposium"—which is far less perfect as literature than Plato's, but probably corresponds more to the average instance.
165. The Symposiarch and his Duties.—"Let's cast for our Symposiarch!" is Prodicus's next order, and each guest in turn rattles the dice box. Tyche (Lady Fortune) gives the presidency of the feast to Eunapius, a bright-eyed, middle-aged man with a keen sense of humor, but a correct sense of good breeding. He assumes command of the symposium; takes the ordering of the servants out of Prodicus's hands, and orders the wine to be mixed in the craters with proper dilution. He then rises and pours out a libation from each bowl "to the Olympian Gods," "to the Heroes," and "to Zeus the Saviour," and casts a little incense upon the altar. The guests all sing a "Pean," not a warrior's charging song this time, but a short hymn in praise of the Wine-God, some lilting catch like Alceus's
In mighty flagons hither bring The deep red blood of many a vine, That we may largely quaff and sing The praises of the God of wine.
166. Conversation at the Symposium.—After this the symposium will proceed according to certain general rules which it is Eunaius's duty to enforce; but in the main a "program" is something to be avoided. Everybody must feel himself acting spontaneously and freely. He must try to take his part in the conversation and neither speak too seldom nor too little. It is not "good form" for two guests to converse privately among themselves, nor for anybody to dwell on unpleasant or controversial topics. Aristophanes has laid down after his way the proper kind of things to talk about.[*] "[Such as]'how Ephudion fought a fine pancratium with Ascondas though old and gray headed, but showing great form and muscle.' This is the talk usual among refined people [or again] 'some manly act of your youth; for example, how you chased a boar or a hare, or won a torch race by some bold device.' [Then when fairly settled at the feast] straighten your knees and throw yourself in a graceful and easy manner upon the couch. Then make some observations upon the beauty of the appointments, look up at the ceiling and praise the tapestry of the room."
[*] "Wasps," 1174-1564.
As the wine goes around, tongues loosen more and more. Everybody gesticulates in delightful southern gestures, but does not lose his inherent courtesy. The anecdotes told are often very egoistic. The first personal pronoun is used extremely often, and "I" becomes the hero of a great many exploits. The Athenian, in short, is an adept at praising himself with affected modesty, and his companions listen good-humoredly, and retaliate by praising themselves.
167. Games and Entertainments.—By the time the craters are one third emptied the general conversation is beginning to be broken up. It is time for various standard diversions. Eunapius therefore begins by enjoining on each guest in turn to sing a verse in which a certain letter must not appear, and in event of failure to pay some ludicrous forfeit. Thus the bald man is ordered to begin to comb his hair; the lame man (halt since the Mantinea campaign), to stand up and dance to the flute player, etc. There are all kinds of guessing of riddles—often very ingenious as become the possessors of "Attic salt." Another diversion is to compare every guest present to some mythical monster, a process which infallibly ends by getting the "Parasite" likened to Cerberus, the Hydra, or some such dragon, amid the laughter of all the rest. At some point in the amusement the company is sure to get to singing songs:—"Scolia"—drinking songs indeed, but often of a serious moral or poetic character, whereof the oft-quoted song in praise of Harmodius and Aristogeiton the tyrant-slayers is a good example.[*] No "gentleman" will profess to be a public singer, but to have a deep, well-trained voice, and to be able to take one's part in the symposium choruses is highly desirable, and some of the singing at Proicus's banquet is worth hearing.
[*]Given in "Readings in Ancient History," Vol. I, p. 117, and in many other volumes.
Before the evening is over various games will be ordered in, especially the "cottabus," which is in great vogue. On the top of a high stand, something like a candelabrum, is balanced rather delicately a little saucer of brass. The players stand at a considerable distance with cups of wine. The game is to toss a small quantity of wine into the balanced saucer so smartly as to make the brass give out a clear ringing sound, and to tilt upon its side.[+] Much shouting, merriment, and a little wagering ensues. While most of the company prefer the cottabus, two, who profess to be experts, call for a gaming board and soon are deep in the "game of towns"—very like to latter-day "checkers," played with a board divided into numerous squares. Each contestant has thirty colored stones, and the effort is to surround your opponent's stones and capture them. Some of the company, however, regard this as too profound, and after trying their skill at the cottabus betake themselves to the never failing chances of dice. Yet these games are never suffered (in refined dinner parties) to banish the conversation. That after all is the center, although it is not good form to talk over learnedly of statecraft, military tactics, or philosophy. If such are discussed, it must be with playful abandon, and a disclaimer of being serious; and even very grave and gray men remember Anacreon's preference for the praise of "the glorious gifts of the Muses and of Aphrodite" rather than solid discussions of "conquest and war."
[+]This was the simplest form of the COTTABUS game; there were numerous elaborations, but our accounts of them are by no means clear.
168. Going Home from the Feast: Midnight Revellers.—At length the oil lamps have begun to burn dim. The tired slaves are yawning. Their masters, despite Prodicus's intentions of having a very proper symposium, have all drunk enough to get unstable and silly. Eunapius gives the signal. All rise, and join in the final libation to Hermes. "Shoes and himation, boy," each says to his slave, and with thanks to their host they all fare homeward.
Such will be the ending to an extremely decorous feast. With gay young bloods present, however, it might have degenerated into an orgy; the flute girl (or several of them) would have contributed over much to the "freedom"; and when the last deep crater had been emptied, the whole company would have rushed madly into the street, and gone whirling away through the darkness,—harps and flutes sounding, boisterous songs pealing, red torches tossing. Revellers in this mood would be ready for anything. Perhaps they would end in some low tavern at the Peireus to sleep off their liquor; perhaps their leader would find some other Symposium in progress, and after loud knockings, force his way into the house, even as did the mad Alcibiades, who (once more to recall Plato) thrust his way into Agathon's feast, staggering, leaning on a flute girl, and shouting, "Where's Agathon!" Such an inroad would be of course the signal for more and ever more hard drinking. The wild invaders might make themselves completely at home, and dictate all the proceedings: the end would be even as at Agathon's banquet, where everybody but Socrates became completely drunken, and lay prone on the couches or the floor. One hopes that the honest Prodicus has no such climax to his symposium.
...At length the streets grow quiet. Citizens sober or drunken are now asleep: only the vigilant Scythian archers patrol the ways till the cocks proclaim the first gray of dawn.
Chapter XIX. Country Life Around Athens
169. Importance of his Farm to an Athenian.—We have followed the doings of a typical Athenian during his ordinary activities around the city, but for the average gentleman an excursion outside the town is indispensable at least every two or three days, and perhaps every day. He must visit his farm; for his wealth and income are probably tied up there, rather than in any unaristocratic commercial and manufacturing enterprises. Homer's "royal" heroes are not ashamed to be skilful at following the plow[*]: and no Athenian feels that he is contaminating himself by "trade" when he supervises the breeding of sheep or the raising of onions. We will therefore follow in the tracks of certain well-to-do citizens, when we turn toward the Itonian gate sometime during the morning, while the Agora is still in a busy hum, even if thus we are curtailing our hypothetical visits to the Peireus or to the bankers.
[*]See Odysseus's boasts, "Odyssey," XVIII. 360 et passim. The gentility of farming is emphasized by a hundred precepts from Hesiod.