Many festivals were held in Athens, for the people loved the processions and games and contests. But there was another reason for them. Each festival was held in honor of some god or goddess, and so was intended to win their protection and favor.
Of all the many festivals no other was half so splendid as the one held in honor of Pallas Athene. This festival was held once in four years. It was called the Panathenæa, and the celebration lasted for many days.
As the time for it drew near, Hiero and Duris grew more and more eager.
Duris had now been in Athens nearly a year, and he had made fine progress in both the grammar and wrestling schools. He no longer found it difficult to go about the streets of the city, with their many turns. Almost every day he and Hiero went to the market-place, or to the Acropolis, where they watched the building of the music hall which Phorion had planned.
Hiero had told Duris all that he could remember about the last Panathenæa, and little else was talked of among the boys at school. Both Hiero and Duris were to take part in the contests this year—Hiero in the running race for boys, and Duris in the torch race. Four years before, Hiero had thought it wonderful to watch the great festival. Now he was proud and happy to think that he was to take part in it himself.
At last the great day came. Even Chloris was to see the procession, and she was placed under the care of trusted slaves belonging to her mother. Harmonia and Helen were to have a prominent place among the women who were to take part in the sacrifices, and in the great procession.
The first day was given up to musical contests. The chief event was the singing of a hymn to Apollo. This was sung to the music of the lyre, and the hymn told of the victory of Apollo, the god of music and of light, over the Python, which represented darkness.
There were choruses of men's voices; and poems were recited to music.
Judges called the name of the winner in each contest, and he received a sum of money, while a beautiful wreath of gold was placed upon his head.
"Of course the music was fine," said Hiero, as he and Duris returned home, "but I can scarcely wait for to-morrow."
The boys were up the next morning before daylight, for the gymnastic contests began at sunrise. The first one was the running race for boys, and Hiero was to take part.
"Don't forget any of the rules," cautioned Duris, as he left Hiero, "and be sure to save strength for the final dash. I'll cheer you on with all my might," he added, "and I hope you'll win."
Hiero stood among the boys who were to enter the race, and oh! how he did hope he might win, so that some time he might be thought worthy to compete in the Olympic games.
The boys were soon given their places at the starting line; they took the position which had been taught them at the wrestling school, the signal was given, and away they darted. Each one put forth his best efforts, but Hiero remembered Duris' parting words, "Remember to save strength for the final dash," and within a few feet of the line he sped like an arrow away from the one boy who had kept abreast of him—and touched the goal.
How Duris cheered! And all the people cheered; while Hiero, flushed and happy, saw his name written, the first victor in the gymnastic contests. A prize would be given him at the close of the day.
The boys of the wrestling school crowded around to shake his hand, and wherever he went during the remainder of the festival, he was greeted with smiles and congratulations.
After the races of the boys, came those of the young men, and later, those of the older men. Besides running, there were wrestling and boxing contests, and it was several days before all were finished.
Then came contests of another sort, in which horses were used. There were horseback races, with spear throwing, and chariot races, in which four horses were driven abreast, hitched to a two-wheeled chariot. The driver stood upright, and a second man rode in the chariot. While the horses were running at full speed, the latter jumped from the chariot to the ground, and up again to his place.
Next came chariot races by soldiers dressed in armor; and then a dance by warriors with glittering shields, and spears, and helmets, who moved to the music of the flute, and at times sang a stirring chorus.
The torch race took place in the evening.
"Now," said Hiero to Duris, "you must show your skill in handling the torch. I shall cheer for you, and I expect you to win."
Duris laughed. "I will do my best," he answered, as he took his place among the torch bearers.
As the signal was given, each boy lighted his torch at the altar fire, and then they sped toward the goal—but not too swiftly, lest their flame should be blown out. It was a merry race, and a pretty one, too.
One by one the racers stopped, as their speed put out their flames, while others dropped far behind, hoping thus to keep their torches burning, and so win in the end.
Duris and another boy named Callias were in the lead. As they drew near the goal they were side by side. Still abreast, they had almost reached it when Callias dashed ahead. But the sudden dash put out the flame of his torch, and Duris, with his torch still burning, touched the goal.
Then it was Hiero's turn to cheer, and Duris' turn to flush with pleasure at the great shout that went up from all the people.
"Ah, we have each won a prize," said Hiero, as he grasped Duris' hand. "I am glad of that."
But the greatest day of the festival was yet to come. That was the day upon which the sacrifices were offered, and the great procession went up to the temple of Pallas Athene.