Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

The Greeks

F AR, far away from our own country, across wide seas and many strange lands, is a beautiful country called Greece. There the sky is bluer than our own; the winters are short and mild, and the summers long and pleasant. In whatever direction you look, in that land, you may see the top of some tall mountain reaching up toward the sky Between the mountains lie beautiful deep valleys, and small sunny plains, while almost all around the land stretches a bright blue sea.

The people who live in that country are called Greeks, and are not very different now from ourselves. But many centuries ago this was not true. In those long-ago days, there were no newspapers, no railroads, no telegraph lines, such as we are used to now. The people were obliged to live very simply then, and did not have a great many things that we think we could not possibly do without.

But although the old Greeks did not know anything of electric lights and steam engines, and ate the plainest food, and wore the simplest of woolen clothing, they were not at all a rude or savage people. In their cities were fine buildings, and pictures, and statues so beautiful that we can never hope to make better ones. And they had lovely thoughts and fancies, too, for all the world about them.

When they saw the sun rise, they thought that it was a great being called a god, who came up out of the sea in the east, and then journeyed across the sky toward the west. When they saw the grass and flowers springing up out of the dark cold earth, they fancied that there must be another god who made them grow. They imagined that the lightning was the weapon of a mighty god, who ruled the earth and sky. And so they explained everything about them, by thinking that it was caused by some being much greater than themselves. Sometimes they even imagined that they could see their gods in the clouds or in the waves of the sea, and sometimes they thought that they heard them speaking in the rustling leaves of the forest.

The Greeks believed that the whole world was divided among three great gods, who were brothers The first and greatest of these was the god of the heaven and earth. The second was the god of the ocean, the rivers, and the brooks. The third was the god of the under-world, or the dark space beneath the surface of the ground. But besides these, there were many other gods, most of whom were the children of these three or related to them in some way.

The gods were always thought of as larger than men and more beautiful in face and figure They remained always the same, never growing older or dying, as men do. They were not always good, but would often quarrel among themselves, and sometimes do very cruel things. Indeed, they were very much like the men and women who imagined them, except that they could do wonderful things which would have been impossible for the people of the earth.

Besides the greater gods, the Greeks believed that less powerful spirits were all about them. They thought that the trees had guardian spirits who cared for them. Lovely maidens, called Nymphs, were supposed to live in the springs and brooks, and even in the bright waves of the sea. There were spirits, too, who lived in the woods, and wandered among the trees day and night; and still others who made their homes upon the mountain sides.

The Greeks loved their gods, but feared them a little also. They tried to gain their good-will by building beautiful marble temples in their honor, and by offering wine and meat and precious things to them. They never grew tired of thinking and talking about their gods. So they made up many beautiful stories about them, which they told and re-told, and which their children and grandchildren repeated after them for many hundreds of years.

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