The Story of Cleon, the Greek Boy, Who Ran at the Olympic Games
WE have reached the third station on our road from Long Ago. See, it is a beautiful country, with mountains and valleys, and the blue Mediterranean surrounding it on all sides but the north. Lovely, green islands border it like a fringe, and a deep blue gulf almost cuts it in two.
Just south of the entrance to this gulf lies a Greek state called Elis, a peaceful state, where flocks feed, and grain is waving in the fields in these July days, and grapes are ripening in the sunshine, and nobody fears that some enemy will suddenly come by land or sea, to molest or destroy, for to all the people of Greece this is a sacred state and therefore safe from all harm.
I want to show you a valley in Elis before I begin to tell about Cleon.
It is almost shut in by mountains, and a river, the Alpheus, flows through it. Its hill-sides are green and wooded, and its fields covered with grass and flowers. In these old days, long ago, a temple stood in this valley, guarded by a golden statue of Victory, and beneath the statue hung a shield of gold.
Shall I let you pass between the long rows of pillars and look in at the great throne, and the gold and ivory statues of Zeus, the "father of gods and men."
See how beautiful the throne is; cedar-wood and ebony, and richly set with precious stones; but when we look at the mighty statue that sits upon it, we forget all the glory of the throne, and think only of the Olympian Zeus.
Those old Greeks used to say, "Not to have seen the Olympian Zeus was indeed a misfortune to any man." The great sculptor, Phidias, had done his finest work when he made this statue. He made it as beautiful and as grand as he could, because he said always to himself while he worked, "It is in honor of the mighty Zeus, the father of all the gods, and he will look with favor on my work if it is worthy." So he carved the face, the chest, the arms and the feet of ivory; the hair and beard of solid gold, the eyes were precious stones, and the robe was of gold with jewelled flowers. In one outstretched hand stood a golden figure of the Winged Victory, in the other was the mighty sceptre. Forty feet high was this grand statue (as high as the house I live in). He sat there with a look sublime and inapproachable, yet not stern nor angry.
And this statue our little Cleon is really going to see with his own eyes. I wish we could see it with him, for to us also, to you and to me, it would be very grand, though we know that no image can represent God, the father of us all; but the rows of pillars and the long lines of light and shadows that fall across the pavement, the costly throne, the gems and gold and ivory, the majestic figure and face, and the great golden Victory over the door, make us stand still with a solemn feeling and ask what it all means.
Can you see it like a picture, and will you not forget it, while I take you away to Cleon and the others, who are hastening over the long roads in the bright summer weather, towards this very valley, to take part in the great Olympic games?
From the south came the Spartan youths, marching (they always march instead of walking) over the rough road with their bare feet. A bit of black bread in their wallets, and water from a wayside spring, is food enough for the journey. Among them are four boys who trudge on silently behind their companions. It is not respectful for boys to speak in the presence of men.
Will the boys get very tired on this long walk, full sixty miles, I think? Or, if they do, will the men stop for them to rest or march slower for their sake? Oh no, they are used to such marches. If they can't keep up they had best go back, for none but vigorous athletes are wanted at Olympia. Few comforts these boys have had in their lives, and no luxuries. For this last year they have been left to their own resources, living upon what they could find or steal. Their bed is of rushes that they gathered by the river-side, and last winter, when it was very cold, they added to it thistle-down that they pulled in the fields.
Watch for these boys, you will see them again.
From Corinth and from Thebes they are coming, young men for the games, old men to look on, and recall the days when they too were young. And the islands are sending their bravest and best, and the distant colonies fit out ships with two or three rows of long oars, and carry the colonists home for the great games.
But we have chiefly to do with the travellers from Athens, among whom is Cleon.
That you may know Cleon well, I must tell you what he has been doing for the past few years, and I can't tell you that without introducing to you his pedagogue.
I sometimes wish the boys had pedagogues in these days. Perhaps you don't know what a pedagogue was, and can't tell whether you would like to have one or not.
Look in the dictionary and you find the definition, a teacher or schoolmaster; then you will say, "Why, yes indeed, I do have a pedagogue."
But if you look in the great unabridged dictionary, you will see, just after the word "pedagogue" and before the definition, two strange-looking words in Greek letters, and their meanings following them,—"to lead," and "a child." So you see that in Greece, where the word came from, a pedagogue was one who led a child.
Every man in Athens who could afford it bought slaves. These slaves were the captives taken from other nations in war, and sold for greater or less prices according to their ability; a man or woman who could only cook might be bought for a mina of silver, while a learned man, who could oftentimes teach not only the children but the father himself, might cost a thousand drachmas.
Among the family slaves was always a pedagogue, who, as soon as the little boys of six left the care of their mothers and nurses, led them to school, went with them to their games, watched over them in every way, that they might form no bad habits, and that they might also notice and become interested in all that was best and most beautiful.
They led them to school, and then left them with the schoolmaster. When they were old enough, led them to the gymnasium, where there was always one room set apart for the boys, where they were trained in racing, wrestling, and all manly games.
But we shall understand it all better if we go to school with Cleon and see what he does there.
The pedagogue leads him to school at sunrise. On Monday morning do you suppose? Oh no, there were no Mondays and no weeks,—at least no weeks like ours. Three decades made a month. Some months had thirty days, and in those each decade was, as its name shows, ten days; but others had only twenty-nine days, and then the last decade had but nine; and as for the names of the days, they were only first, second, third, and so on.
School began at sunrise and ended at sunset, but I hope the same set of boys did not stay all that time.
Cleon is even earlier than usual this morning: for Glaucon—a boy two or three years older than himself—is still busy washing the benches with a great sponge, while Lysias grinds the ink for the parchment writing and waxes the tablets. These boys are too poor to pay a teacher, and yet they have a great love of learning, so they are working for the schoolmaster, who will pay them in teaching.
Little Cleon is still in the youngest class, learning to read and to repeat poetry, but next year he will begin to write on a little waxed tablet with a pen called a stylus. It is made of ivory, pointed at one end and flattened at the other. He writes with the pointed end, and afterwards rubs out the letters and smooths over the wax with the other, and the tablet is all ready for a new lesson.
He has a little classmate named Atticus, who found it almost impossible to learn his letters, although in the way of mischief there was nothing Atticus couldn't learn. So at last his father took him away from school and bought twenty-four little slaves of the same age as his son. These little fellows he named for the letters of the alphabet,—not A, B, C, but Alpha, Beta, etc.,—and he hired a schoolmaster to teach the whole twenty-five together, and it wasn't long before Atticus, who shouted to Gamma to catch the ball, or called Delta to run a race with him, had learned all the letters and begun to put them together to make words.
Before Cleon began to go to school, and when he was still a very little boy, only five years old, he one day climbed up the steps that led to his mother's bed; for you must know that going up stairs to bed was exactly what they always had to do in Athens, for the bedsteads were so high as to need several steps to reach them. Well, he climbed upstairs on to his mother's bed, and, wrapping his little chiton across his breast with one arm, held out the other as he had seen the orator do when his nurse led him past the marble porticos, where the people were often gathered to hear some wise man speak, and then, in his baby-talk, made a little speech, beginning, "Citizens of Athens."
Though his father and mother did not appear to take special notice of this at the time; they afterwards said one to the other, "Our boy will become an orator; we must see that he studies the works of the poets."
So, even before he can handle the stylus, he has begun to study the grand, heroic verses of Homer; not from a book, for I am sure you must know that there were no printed books in those days, and few written ones; but his master taught him, being quite as careful that he should stand gracefully, and hold his head erect, and his arms and hands at ease, as that he should understand the noble words and repeat them in a clear tone and with good expression.
Sometimes it is a speech of the wise Nestor to the Greeks
Or with Ajax he makes a stand to defend the ships, and
Or he learns by heart the brave old tales, and grows to
Inspired by such grand words the boys will grow up to do brave deeds in battle some day themselves.
When they can read and write and count, and reckon by numbers a little, the lessons in music will begin. For although the law of Solon teaches only that every Athenian must learn to read and to swim, no less surely must every Athenian learn to sing and to play on the lute or cithara; for he must be able to sing the great pæan when he goes into battle, to join in the sacred choruses in honor of the gods, and also, in time of peace, he must know how to play and sing for the pleasure of himself and his friends in company.
But of course Cleon does something besides study.
Don't you want to go out with him to the sea-shore, three miles away, and skip shells (flat oyster-shells), as we do stones, on the blue water of the Mediterranean? And he can play leap-frog with the best of you. It is a Persian game, brought from that country years ago. To play ball is a part of his education, for the body must be educated as well as the mind, and makes one erect and agile to toss and catch and run.
A year or two ago he used to drive hoop, a lovely hoop with tinkling bells around the inside of it. Wouldn't that be a good Christmas present for somebody? Do you suppose it was a Christmas present to him?
No, there is no Christmas yet, any more than there was for Darius. He had the hoop on his birthday. He is too old for it now, but it is put away in case he should ever have a little brother.
It is only within a year that Cleon has been training for the foot-races.
Perhaps you don't see why every Athenian boy must be a swift runner, but when you remember that war was then the chief occupation of the people, and that a Greek army ran into battle shouting a grand pæan, you will realize that a soldier untrained in running was but half a soldier.
Cleon has been doing his very best in the racing, for this year he is going for the first time to the great Olympic games. Three of his neighbors and friends go with him, and of course his pedagogue, Diogenes, who has trained him so well, goes with him also. He will take care of them all, and the boys must be sure to obey him; for obedience is one of the duties of a good citizen, and good citizens they are all bound to become.
You and I have reason to be particularly interested in these Athenian boys; for Athens is a republic, the very first republic in the world, so far as we know, and all that you learn in becoming acquainted with Cleon will show you what was necessary in those old days to make boys into good citizens of a republic.
And now, at last, we set out on the journey to Olympia.
The dress of the boys is a simple chiton, a little garment of linen without sleeves, and they have sandals on their feet, because this journey is long, and they will not unfit their feet for the race; but often and often they have walked miles and miles barefooted. They need no hats, for one of their earliest lessons was to stand with uncovered head in the hottest sunshine, as well as to endure the coldest weather without any clothes at all. So they walk with a light step, and find little trouble in keeping up with their older brothers, who are going to join in the wrestling matches and the other games.
Eudexion, indeed, rides on horseback, wearing his white chlamys, purple-bordered and with four tasselled corners. But even that you would not think was much of a dress, for it is only an oblong strip of cloth with a button to fasten it together on the right shoulder, so as to leave the right arm bare, and free to use spear or bow.
You will see by and by, however, that this very simple way of dressing is exceedingly convenient to these Greeks.
It is the Seventy-seventh Olympiad. You remember that Kablu measured time by moons, Cleon measured by Olympiads. And what was an Olympiad? Why, it was four years; and it was counted from one celebration of the Olympic games to another.
If you asked Cleon at what time he began to go to school, he would have answered, "In the third year of the Seventy-fourth Olympiad." Now count back, and you will find out how old he is.
But we must go back to our journey. You and I should call such a journey a long, delightful pic-nic; camping at night in a sheltering cave; bathing every day in some clear stream; feasting on wild figs and olives and almonds; and stopping sometimes at a farm-house for barley-cakes and honey.
We join in the morning song of the farmer's
and we watch the toiling oxen, yoked with a maple yoke, curved like a serpent winding round their necks; and we listen to the half-naked, happy-looking lad who trudges beside them, singing to himself, "He who toils is beloved by gods and men." "Be industrious, for famine is the companion of the idle."
At noon we reach a hospitable farm-house, where the cook stands beside her fire, stirring a great pot of broth with a fig-tree ladle to give it a fine flavor; and in fact we find bowls of it delicious and refreshing as a preparation for the afternoon's march. You see we don't travel on the Spartan plan.
But we mustn't stop too long on the road. Only notice, as we come nearer and nearer to the beautiful valley, what troops of people we meet, all on their way to the same place. Some have come down from the mountains, and among them is an old man who has come all the way from a distant mountain hamlet, and only to-day joined the company in which we meet him.
"Were you not afraid to travel so far alone?" he was asked.
"Oh no," he answered; "I carry a laurel staff."
Though you and I don't see how a laurel staff should protect him, Cleon knows that the sacred laurel is a safeguard from all evil, and he looks curiously and with a sort of awe at the old man's staff.
But while we talk, Cleon is already in the valley, and stands gazing, for the first time in his life, at the golden Victory. On the morrow morning he will pray to Zeus for victory, and then take his place among the foot-racers.
There couldn't be a brighter morning than the next. How the sun shines on the golden statue and shield, and on the hundred bronze statues of Olympian victors that stand around the sacred place.
Perhaps you can't understand how games could be sacred. But I think there is a true meaning in thinking of it as Cleon had been taught to. The great god Zeus had given him a strong and beautiful body, and now he came to the temple of Zeus to show that he had used that body well, and trained it to feats of strength and skill, kept it sacred, not injured it by carelessness or ill-treatment, but made the most of it all the time.
All the boys who are to run are together on one side of the field. Cleon, who arrives very early, watches the others as they enter. He is thinking whether they will be worthy opponents in the race. He is not afraid of any of the Athenian boys. He has beaten them all many times already. But here are boys from all parts of Greece, and good runners too. Still he has little fear until he sees a rugged, sun-burned face under a shock of uncombed hair, keen eyes that look neither to the right nor to the left, and yet see everything; a light step, neither quick nor slow, but very sure, caring not for rough roads, wet or dry, trained to march in the darkest night as steadily as by day. It is Aristodemus, the Spartan boy,—not a very pleasing object beside the Athenian boys, in their clean linen chitons, and fresh from their morning bath.
Aristodemus has but one chiton a year, and he wears that until it is worn out. In summer he often goes without, in order that it may last through the winter; and this poor garment, I am sure, has never made the acquaintance of the washtub. This, however, is the boy—the one boy—that Cleon has reason to dread in the race.
And now the day begins with a solemn sacrifice to Zeus, the father of light. Ten bulls, their horns decked with oak wreaths, are led up to the altar and killed, and the priest prays. As the flame is kindled and curls up around the sacrifice, the people all join in the sacred chorus, ending with the prayer, "Zeus, our Lord, give unto us whatever is good, whether we ask it of thee or not; whatever is evil keep from us, even if we ask it of thee."
Then the games begin. The boys race first. Their pedagogues have already handed in their names and stated their parentage, for none who are not of pure Greek descent can enter, nor can any one who has committed crime.
A silver urn contains the lots which assign places to the racers. The boys move forward in order, and draw. Then the holders of the first four numbers take their places first upon the course.
And now you see how convenient is the Greek dress, for unfasten only one button and off falls the chiton, and the boy is ready for the race, with his agile limbs free from all clothes, and without the least feeling of shame, for you must remember that this has always been the custom with them.
The signal is given and they are off, like bright arrows from a bow.
The victor is Charicles, one of Cleon's Athenian friends. He stands now by himself, a proud and happy boy, to watch the next four.
Aristodemus is winner in the third race, Cleon in the fourth. And now all the winners are to run together for the olive crown.
Cleon stands erect, raises his hands towards heaven, and calls upon Zeus, Athene, and Apollo to help him.
Then once again the signal is given, and, with his bright locks blowing in the wind, Cleon is off.
These two boys—the Spartan and the Athenian—quickly outstrip the others. The Athenians cheer Cleon, calling upon Pallas Athene to aid him for the honor of Athens.
The Spartans shout to Aristodemus to conquer for Sparta.
When Cleon's foot is at the goal, Aristodemus is but one
pace behind him; so the olive crown is for the golden head
of Cleon instead of the tangled locks of the Spartan boy.
But Cleon turns to grasp the hand of his opponent,
understanding now, perhaps for the first
Now our boy will have his name inscribed first on the list of victors, for they always give the boys the first place. He has done honor to his parents and to his city, and he stands through the long summer day to watch the race of the young men in armor, the leaping, wrestling, and throwing the spear; and last, the great chariot race; and he has a new feeling of belonging to it all; and he shouts when Athens wins, and watches anxiously when the Corinthian and Theban youths throw the spear or the diskos, lest they should excel his dear Athenians.
The wrestling on the second day was perhaps the most skilful ever seen in Greece,—the young men, their bodies oiled and sprinkled with sand, seizing each other's slight forms with a grasp that would not let go.
At last two of them only remained to decide the contest, a Spartan and an Athenian. They were locked in each other's arms and neither would yield.
The silent, almost breathless, people watch them as the minutes go by. At last, the Spartan, as if he had summoned all his strength for this one effort, slowly forces his antagonist to the ground, and then falls beside him—dead. There is a great shout. "The crown of the dead victor for Sparta!" And the Spartans themselves are loudest in the applause. Nobody sorrows over him.
They will carry back his crown, to hang it over his grave in Sparta. His name will be written among the victors; perhaps, even, he will have a statue in his honor. So they despatch a swift runner to Sparta to tell the good news to his father, and then the games go on.
When they are finished, all these people disperse until the next Olympiad, and wherever they go they will be eagerly asked, "Who has won at the games?" and they will tell the names with pride, and rehearse the story of the dead victor.
Cleon goes home to Athens, and he finds the door of his father's house decorated with garlands, while that of Theognis, his next neighbor, has a little flock of soft, white wool hanging over it. He shouts for joy when he sees the garlands, for he knows the meaning of such a decoration, a baby brother has been born to him, and this is the festival day in honor of the happy event.
The Spartan nurse who has been hired to take care of him has this morning carried the tiny baby, in her arms, two or three times around the burning altar of the hearth, while all the household united in the worship of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. In a few days will come the name-day, and the festival for the friends and relatives.
Cleon is glad to be at home before this feast-day, for he likes to see the guests in their rich dresses, with golden grasshoppers fastening the heavy curls on their foreheads, to hear the music, and perhaps to get a taste of the fruits left from their tables.
And what was the meaning of the flock of wool on the door of Theognis? Oh, that meant a baby too, but a girl, not a boy. I suppose they put wool because she would be a spinner and weaver, as all Greek women were.
And now I am reminded by the wreath on the door that I have never taken you into Cleon's home, and you don't even know at all what kind of house it is.
Let us go out into the street and see just how the outside looks.
I should call it a blank wall built up close to the street, with a door in the middle of it. Do you think Cleon's little sister Thratta will be looking out at the front windows to see the people pass in the streets. Oh no, indeed, people don't look out of their front windows in Athens. The front rooms are only for the porters, and sometimes even for the stables, so we pass quickly through the narrow entry that lies between them, and reach what I should call the real, true house.
Did you notice that the door, unlike ours, opens outwards, and, as the house stands directly on the street, the opening of the door may knock down some person who is passing, and yet there are very few such accidents, for whoever goes out knocks loudly on the inside of the door before he opens it, and the passers by hear the knock, understand its meaning, and keep out of the way.
Do you wonder why they made the doors in this way? So did I, until they showed me how well a house might be defended against an enemy, if the door opened outwards—and in those old times, you know, there were many wars, and much fighting even in the streets of cities sometimes.
But we are friends, not enemies, and now we are fairly inside the house and looking at the beautiful statue that stands at the inner doorway. It is Apollo, god of the silver bow. He stands there to guard and to bless the house.
We pass him and follow Cleon as he runs through the door at the end of the passage to seek his mother. Here we stand in a fine open courtyard, right in the middle of the house. The blue sky is overhead, rows of marble pillars form a colonnade around it, and pleasant rooms open from it on both sides.
But neither the mother nor little Thratta is here; and out through the door at the other end runs Cleon. Another open hall, but not half so large as the first, and in it the sacred hearth of stone round which the baby was carried to-day.
See, just as we come in, a slave girl who has in her hand the fragments of a beautiful porcelain pitcher, has run to the hearth and knelt upon it, while she looks up tearfully to the hand that is about to strike her for her carelessness. She has run to the altar of the hearth for protection, and she is safe; no one will punish her there.
Cleon even remembers how one wild, stormy night, when he was a very little child, a poor stranger, lost in the storm, entered the house and claimed the protection of the hearth, and how his father had said kindly, "If you were my enemy, you were safe on the asylum of the hearth."
I think we, who are strangers, will wait beside the hearth while Cleon opens the door at the left side of the hall and finds his mother with the little new baby brother.
But I hear the sound of the loom, and presently Cleon will lead us still on through another door at the back of the hall, to the rooms where the maids are spinning and weaving, and then out into the garden, where little Thratta is playing at hide-and-seek with her playmate Cadmea.
But we must not forget that Cleon has brought home the crown of wild olive. He is an honor to his parents and to Athens. His father and mother praise him, his sister Thratta makes him a myrtle wreath, and he begins to feel himself growing into a good citizen.
By the way, do you notice that he wears golden ear-rings? Don't you think that is odd for a boy? I thought so, and I wondered why, until he told me this story about it.
"Have you ever heard," he said, "of the sacred oracle of Apollo at Delphi? When anything of importance is to be decided, the Greeks always go and ask the wise counsel of the oracle. So once when the wise men were trying to find out what they should do to make their sons grow up into good citizens, they decided to send two men—my father was one and Polycles the other—to ask the oracle.
"This was the answer, I have heard it often and know it by heart: 'If the Athenians desire good citizens, let them put whatever is most beautiful into the ears of their sons.'
"Gold was the most beautiful, so after that we all had ear-rings of gold; but last summer I heard Pericles say in the assembly that it was not ear-rings of gold that the oracle meant, but jewels of thought set in golden words."
And now that we are at home again in Athens, Cleon will not let us go until we have been up to the Acropolis to see the statue of Pallas Athene, the guardian goddess of the city. If we had come by sea we could have seen the crest of her helmet and the point of her spear shining like gold, while we were still many miles away.
Every year there is a festival held in her honor at Athens, but last year it was grander than usual; the third year of each Olympiad being especially sacred to her.
The Athenians love her well. They believe that it is she who made the olive-tree and blessed their land with it, and so, on the Acropolis, they cherish always her sacred olive-tree, and they go to ask her help in war and in peace; for she can inspire their warriors to do glorious deeds, and she has also taught the peaceful arts of spinning and weaving, and all manner of industries. I think we might call her the goddess of intelligence or wisdom.
In her honor there are processions and dances and games,—one race that I should particularly like to see, the torch-race; the runners carry lighted torches, and the victor is he who reaches the goal with his torch still alight. That is not an easy thing to do, I fancy,—could you do it?
Cleon is still too young for the torch race, but his brother Eudexion took part in it. He ran, but he did not win. Do you want to know who did? It was Daldion, and they were all glad of his success, for he deserved it, and besides he was an orphan; and in Athens, if a boy lost his parents, the state became father and mother to him, and instead of having only one father he had a hundred. So Daldion had been brought up and educated by the state, and at this festival of Pallas Athene he came of age. It was a grand celebration of his birthday. He was taken into the theatre, and, in the presence of all the people, clad in a complete suit of armor, a gift from the state, in memory of his brave father who fell in battle, and to-day he has quickly won renown by this victory in the race, and everybody rejoices with him.
He is also expert in the Pyrrhic dance, a beautiful stately dance with poised spear and shield, the dancers moving to the sound of martial music. This, too, is a service in honor of the gods.
But we must not linger too long in Athens; we will only stay for the naming-day festival of Cleon's baby brother.
His father went, early in the morning, to the market to hire cooks and to buy fish, for in Athens fish is a great delicacy and much prized. Skins of wine he bought, too, and baskets of fruit, and garlands also, enough for all the guests; and he hired dancing-girls and flute-players for their entertainment.
The guests came in dresses of fine, white wool, bordered with purple or scarlet. Their hair was curled and fastened with golden grasshoppers. When they came in, the slaves brought perfumed waters for their hands, and then set out tables with dishes and drinking-cups of silver.
There were roasted pike, and barley-cakes and bread carried about in baskets, and eaten with cheese from Sicily, or the honey of Hymettus. There were figs from the island of Rhodes, where the great Colossus bestrides the harbor; dates brought across the sea from Egypt, and almonds and melons and other fruits.
Cleon himself is admitted to the dining-room for the first time, because he has honored himself and his family by his victory.
He cannot, of course, come as the equal of his father and the guests. They will recline on the soft-cushioned couches, and the slaves will serve them; while he sits upright upon a bench and listens in respectful silence to the talk and the music.
He does not share the feast, but he knows very well that a boy should not expect it; and I fancy he enjoys quite as well his supper of pancakes and honey, after the dinner is over and the guests are gone.
It is night. Cleon goes through the courtyard, passes between the tall pillars of the colonnade to his little bedroom, and falls quickly asleep on his bed, which is hardly more than a hard bench. And we—the strangers—will sail away to Italy, and up the Yellow Tiber, to Rome.