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Jennie Hall

About Greece and the Greeks

G REECE is a beautiful country. Mountains and rivers and sea are all jumbled together. The farms are not flat. They slope down a mountain-side or run over a dozen little rocky hills, and everywhere the sea comes up into the land so that the whole country smells of the ocean.

The Greeks liked to walk among their mountains and they liked to sail on their sea. The climate was warm and sunny, and the people would not stay in the house; so they were strong, and tall, and straight. They walked like lions. They could run, they could leap, they could wrestle, they could swim. Their muscles were hard. Their skin was smooth. Their clothes, too, were beautiful.

"They must not bind our muscles," said the Greeks. "They must not be in our way when we run. Our arms must be free for throwing."


A Greek

So a man wore a loose chiton that had no sleeves and that came only to his knees. It was white, or gray, or yellow, and was belted and bloused at the waist. Then a short cape of some bright color was flung over the man's shoulders and fastened with a gold pin. He called this his chlamys. The clothes were made of linen or wool. They were often beautifully embroidered in gold or in colors.

Think of a Greek man or boy in white chiton, and purple, gold-trimmed chlamys. His clothes hung about him in soft folds. His head was bare. His right arm was bare, and his strong legs below the knees. He had sandals on his feet. He was all ready for any kind of work.

The women wore the same sort of clothes, but their chitons trailed on the ground and had longer blouses. They were of brighter colors, too, and were more gaily trimmed. The cloaks were called himations. These were sometimes like great shawls that the women could wrap themselves in from head to feet. But often the himation was long and narrow like a scarf and was thrown around the neck.


Three Greeks

When Greeks went to war they used spears and swords, and bows and arrows. They wore big bronze plates on their bodies — on the front, on their backs, on their thighs, on their shins. These were to keep off arrows and spears and sword cuts. The metal felt unpleasant to the skin, so the warrior had a suit of cloth or leather under it. On his head he wore a helmet of bronze or silver with a horse-hair plume on top. He carried a shield on his left arm. Sometimes this was made of bronze, inlaid with gold or silver, but sometimes it was only many thicknesses of leather.


A Greek Warrior

The people thought out their houses at a time when they were having many wars.

"An enemy can push in doors and windows," they said. "We will have no windows and only one door."

That left strong walls all around. Against these the rooms were built. But there must be light from somewhere, so a yard was left in the middle of the house, and every room had wide openings into it. Sometimes there was a porch around the four sides of this yard or court. That made it a pleasant place to sit in. The house was only one story high, with a flat roof of thatch or tile. The outside walls were sometimes of limestone or marble, but most often they were frame covered with plaster or mud. The mud-plastered houses were usually whitewashed.

The Greeks had no stoves. They cooked at an open fire-place in the court. Achilles had a bonfire in his great hall, built on the dirt floor. There was a hole in the roof above to let the smoke out. His house was lighted by pine torches. They were sticks smeared with pitch. They were stuck into the floor, or, sometimes, into beautiful holders, and were lighted.

Greek ships were small, carrying only about fifty men. There was a little deck at each end. In this place goods were stored, and the men sometimes slept there. The middle of the ship was uncovered. Here the crew worked, and everybody on board belonged to the crew. There was no room for idle people. The ship went by sail, and the great mast stood up from this middle space. But sometimes the wind would stop blowing when the boat was out at sea. Then the men rolled up the sail and took down the mast and laid it in the bottom of the ship. Then they sat down on the benches and put out their oars and rowed, while a man kept time for them. A pilot sat on the deck in the stern and steered. When the boat came to shore, the men did not throw an anchor overboard. They jumped out and pulled the ship up on the sand away from the water. The Greeks said of their boat:

"She is going on long voyages. She needs eyes."

So they painted one on each side of her prow.


A Greek Ship

All the pictures in this book are drawn from statues or vase-paintings that the Greeks made. If you go to our art stores or art galleries now you will find them full of pictures or casts of beautiful Greek things. There have been many wars in Greece since those old artists worked, so most of the statues are broken and the paint is rubbed off; for the marble figures used to be colored to appear like real men. Many of the dishes that we find are broken, too, but they tell us much about that old people; for there are pictures on them, "vase-paintings," we say. The colors of these vases are like the colors of this book-cover.


A Greek Vase

But best of all, we have many stories that the Greeks wrote. Some people of now-a-days have told them over for children. Here are the names of a few of their books:

"Tanglewood Tales," by Hawthorne.

"Wonder Book," by Hawthorne.

"The Greek Heroes," by Kingsley.

"Old Greek Stories," by Baldwin.

"The Story of Ulysses," by Cook.