Gateway to the Classics: Three Greek Children by Alfred J. Church
Three Greek Children by  Alfred J. Church

A Marriage

About a year after the arrival of the children in Sparta they had the great joy of seeing their mother again, though it was very sad to hear from her that their father was still in prison. Her friends, who were great people in Athens, had been able to obtain her release; and, indeed, there was no sort of proof against her; but the wicked cousin still prevented Leon being set at liberty. At first Elpinicé had wanted to stay with her husband, but he would not allow it. "No," he said, "go and see after the children. The best comfort that I can have will be to know that things are going on well with them." So Elpinicé came to Sparta, and after thanking the children's hostess for all her kindness to them, hired a little house to which they all removed. But they still used to see a good deal of the Spartan family, of whom, indeed they were very fond.

One day, as Gorgo was sitting with her mother, the widow came to make a call. It was easy to see that she had a great piece of news to tell. Indeed, she hardly gave herself time to sit down before she told it.

"My Manto," she said "is going to be married; a most desirable match! The young man is very well thought of as a soldier; and besides, he is rich. And it is not impossible, you know," and here she dropped her voice to a whisper, "that he may be a king some day."

Elpinicé said something kind, and hoped that the young people would be happy.

The widow went on: "I have been a little anxious; she has been so hard to please. Do you know that I have sometimes been half inclined to be sorry that she is so strong and tall? I used, of course, to be very proud that she could hold her own with the young men in wrestling and running, but lately I have been doubtful whether it was not a mistake. You see that the young fellows don't like being beaten by a girl. A man may like a strong wife, but then he likes to be a little stronger himself. And Manto, too, she wanted a man whom she could respect, and I began to be afraid that there was not such a one in Sparta. Again and again I have said to her: 'So-and-so is a fine young fellow.' 'Pretty well,' she would answer, 'but I threw him this afternoon in the ring'; or: 'He didn't come near me in the foot race'; or: 'I had to spear a wild boar for him the other day; lucky for him that I was there, or he would have had the brute's tusk in his thigh.' You see, she thought herself too good for them, and I didn't know what would come of it. However, I am thankful to say that she has found her match at last. About a fortnight ago young Agis gave her such a fall at wrestling that she has been lame ever since; and it has positively made her quite fond of him. His father came yesterday to ask her for his son. So that is happily settled; and they are to be married at the next full moon."

When the widow was gone, Elpinicé said to her daughter: "Well, I hope, our Atalanta has found a good husband."

"But who was Atalanta?" said Gorgo. So her mother told her the story.

"Atalanta was an Arcadian girl, and a great huntress. Some say that her father was so much disappointed when she was born, for he had wished for a son, that he had her left out on the mountain-side to die, and that a she-bear suckled her. Anyhow she grew up in the woods, and was wonderfully strong and swift of foot. When all the best hunters in Greece were sent to kill the great boar of Calydon, she came with the rest, and she was the first to wound it. Indeed, the hero who killed it at last was so pleased with what she did that he gave her the skin, saying that she had done better than all the others. And very angry he made them by doing it.

"Atalanta was very beautiful; and a number of princes came, wishing to marry her (I should have told you that she, when she grew up, went back to her father). She always used to say: 'I will not marry a man who is not better than I am. Let him run a race with me. If he can beat me I will become his wife. But if not, he must lose his life, for a man is not fit to live if he can be beaten by a girl.' Some of the suitors did not like these terms, and went away to look for wives who were not so dangerous to court. But several took their chance, and suffered for it. There was no beating her; she ran like the wind. You see she had lived in the woods and was as strong as a wild creature. And when she had conquered them, she had no mercy on them. She had them tied up to a tree, and shot them to the heart with one of her arrows.

At last a young prince, named Milanion, came. Every one advised him not to have any thing to do with her; but he had quite made up his mind, he said, and would take his chance. So they started for a race. Now Milanion was a very swift runner, and he started off at such a pace that he was soon some way ahead. Now more than one of the princes had done this. You see it was not so much that Atalanta ran very fast, as that she never seemed to get out of breath, but went on as fast at the end of the race as she had at the beginning. After a time the prince found that the girl was overtaking him; so he dropped an apple of gold that he had hidden in his girdle. It rolled just in front of Atalanta, shining so beautifully that she could not help stopping to pick it up. That gave him time to get several yards ahead; and when she came up again he dropped another apple; and just before the end of the race, a third. And the end of it was that he came in first, and she became his wife."

"But that was not a fair way of beating her," cried Gorgo.

"Perhaps not," her mother answered, "but I dare say that it was better for her to lose the race than to win it."

When Gorgo repeated the story of Atalanta to her brother and sister, nurse remarked that Milanion must have had a very strange taste to want such a very savage young woman for his wife. Then she went on: "Listen to me, children, and I will tell you a story of two young people who fell in love without even having seen each other."

The children were all attention in a moment, and nurse told them—

The Story of Crantor and Rhodope

Crantor was a prince of Thrace. On his twenty-fifth birthday his chief nobles came to him and said that it was time for him to marry. So he promised that he would look out for a wife. That very night he dreamed that he was at a great feast, and that a very beautiful girl was standing mixing a great bowl of wine. So beautiful a girl he had never seen in his life, and he said to himself in his sleep: "That girl shall be my wife." Most dreams we forget when we wake; but this he did not forget. And when the next night he dreamed the very same thing again he began to think that it must mean something. So he sent for his wisest counsellor, and told him what he had seen, and asked his advice. "We must find out who she is," said the counsellor. "Tell me, if you can, how the people were dressed who were sitting at the feast." "They were dressed like Scythians," said the prince. "Yes," said the counsellor, "but there are many Scythians. Tell me something more." Then the prince remembered the kind of ornaments they had on their dress, and how they wore their hair. And the counsellor said: "These must be Scythians of the Tyras" (the Dneister). So Crantor said: "You shall go and ask the king for his daughter to be my wife; only manage to see the girl first, and be sure that she is the lady whom I saw in my dream." And he described her to his counsellor exactly as he had seen her in his dream,—her height, the color of her hair and her eyes, her dress, and every ornament that she wore. A picture could not have shown her more plainly. So the counsellor went with all the haste he could, and came to the court of the Scythian king, and delivered him his master's message. The king answered: "I would gladly give my daughter to Crantor the Thracian, for the fame of his valor and wisdom has reached us even here. But it may not be. For see now: I have no son to come after me, nor any near kinsman. Therefore my kingdom must go to him who shall be my daughter's husband. What think you will happen should I give her to a stranger? Would the nobles of Scythia suffer it? not so. They would rebel against him, and there would be war in the land. And whether they prevailed or he, my land would suffer. Therefore my daughter shall marry one of her own people. Tell this to your master. But if I had had a son to sit upon my throne after me, nothing had pleased me better than that my daughter should be wife to Crantor of Thrace." So the counsellor took back the message to his master, and when he heard it, he was at the first much cast down, but afterwards comforted himself saying: "I shall yet have that which I desire. The gods would not have mocked me with this dream, if it had not been their will that Rhodope the Scythian should be my wife."

About half a year after this the father of Rhodope said to himself: "I am growing old, and I would willingly see my daughter given to some good man. It is time that this matter should be settled." So he invited all the nobles of Scythia that were unmarried to a feast. And when the feast was at its height, he sent for Rhodope his daughter to come into the hall. She came in with two of her maids with her.

Now Rhodope also had had a dream in which she saw a very tall, handsome prince. She seemed to be riding with him in a chariot across the plain, and to hear the noise of other chariots pursuing them. This dream came to her every new moon; and she thought to herself: "This prince shall be my husband; or why have the gods sent me this dream?"

When she came into the hall, her father said to her: "Daughter, look round and see your suitors. Choose whom you will to be your husband. And when you have made your choice, mix the great cup from which I drink, and from which my fathers before me have drunk, and give it to the man of your choice." Rhodope looked about the hall to see whether she could spy out the prince of her dream. But she could not see him; and she was at her wits' end to know what to do. So she went to the table on which the cup stood, and began to mix a draught of wine very slowly, and while she stood mixing it the tears ran down her cheeks.


The Omen

Now it so happened that at this time Prince Crantor had heard a report that an enemy was going to attack him, and he marched out with his army, and was encamped on the bank of a certain river that was the boundary of his kingdom. And the night before the day of the feast he dreamed again of the princess, of whom he had not dreamed since he had sent to ask her in marriage of her father. He saw her just as he had seen her before, standing by the table mixing wine in a cup; only this time he could see that she was crying. When he woke he said to himself: "She wants me; I will go to her." It was still dark when he woke; but he had his best horses harnessed to his chariot, and drove them as fast as he could to the town where the Scythian king had his palace. It was evening when he got there. He left his chariot with the charioteer outside the town, and went into the palace, having first put on the dress of a Scythian noble. There was such an uproar in the hall that no one took any notice of him. The feast had been going on since noonday, and at this time there were few of the guests that were not half tipsy. And the first person that he saw was the princess of his dreams, standing by the table with the cups, and mixing a draught and crying as she stood. And she looked up and saw the prince of her dreams. Just at that moment the king stood up in his place, and ordered that every cup should be filled, and that every man should drink a bumper (that is the whole of his cup) to his daughter's husband. All the guests jumped to their feet, and shouted, and drained their cups to the bottom. And while they were doing this Crantor and Rhodope stole out of the hall, and ran as fast as they could to the place where he had left his chariot. Nobody ever saw them again in the Scythian country, for they got safe away, and lived happily ever after.

Two or three days after, the widow asked Elpinicé and Gorgo to go with her on a visit which she and her daughter were to pay to a certain temple. It was a temple of Aphrodité (or Venus, as we commonly call her, using the Latin name), who was the goddess of love and beauty. The image of the goddess was the most curious old bit of wood carving that can be imagined. As for beauty, nothing could be more ugly. It had a flat nose and thick lips, and cheeks daubed with red, while the rest of the face was painted yellow. The oldest and most battered doll that any one of you ever had would be a beauty compared with this image of the goddess. But it would have been thought a most unlucky thing if a bride that was to be did not pay respect to it. So Manto put a couple of her old dolls on the knees of the goddess. This was to signify that she was no longer a child. Then she poured a little wine into a fire that was burning in front of the image, and every one thought it a sign of good luck when it blazed up without any kind of splutter.

About ten days after this visit to the temple the marriage took place, and a very fine scene it was, though not so fine as it would have been at Athens. I wish that I could tell you how the bride was dressed. But I only know that she wore a veil which was fastened to her hair with a gold pin, and that her mother gave her as the last present the ornaments that she herself had worn—a gold necklace set with sapphires and emeralds, and bracelets shaped like serpents.

The carriage that was to take the bride to her husband's house was drawn by four handsome mules. Their harness was gilded, and their hoofs had been carefully polished. The mother lighted the torch that was carried in front. A troop of women friends of the family followed, carrying some of the presents that had been given to the bride, and singing, in concert with another troop of young men, the marriage song. When the procession reached the bridegroom's house, the bride was lifted across the doorstep. It would have been bad luck for her to have touched it with her feet. As soon as she and her husband were inside the house, a quantity of sweetmeats and little coins mixed together were thrown at them, just as we see rice thrown nowadays when a bride and bridegroom are going away.

So Manto was happily married.

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