Gateway to the Classics: Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles
 
Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago by  Julia Darrow Cowles

The New Slave

"Father," asked Hiero one morning, "did I hear you say that you needed another slave?"

"Yes," replied Hermippos. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I saw Cimon bringing a number of slaves into the city yesterday."

"That is good," said Hermippos. "I must visit his market to-day."

"May Duris and I go with you?" asked Hiero.

"Yes, if you wish," replied Hermippos, and Hiero ran quickly to tell Duris to be ready.

They were soon on their way, with the usual number of slaves. The purchase of a slave was always an event to Hiero, but he thought no more about his father's buying  one than an American boy or an English boy would think about his father's buying a new horse.

Every family had slaves, and even the poorest families had one. If any one had asked Hiero whether his father bought slaves, he would have answered, "Why, of course."  And he would have wondered why they should ask such a foolish question. But really there would have been no one to ask the question.

To the people of Athens, slaves seemed just as necessary as a house to live in, and they were bought and sold in much the same way.

When Hermippos reached the market he found it well filled with people. The slaves were upon a platform where they could be seen by those who wished to buy. Hermippos went among them, questioning one and another. Then he found Cimon, and pointed out one of the slaves with whom he had talked.


[Illustration]

The slaves were upon a platform where they could be seen by those who wished to buy.

"He is a vase-maker," said Cimon, "and worth much more than the common slave."

"I am willing to pay somewhat more," replied Hermippos.

After a time a price was agreed upon, and the money paid. Then Hermippos and the two boys returned home, the new slave taking his place among the others who had attended Hermippos.

When they reached the house, and the door was opened, they were met by a shower of sweetmeats.

"What does this mean?" asked Duris, catching some of the falling sweets in his hands.

"Oh," laughed Hiero, "it is the custom to scatter sweetmeats through the house when a new slave enters."

"Why do you do it?" asked Duris.

"It is a good omen," replied Hiero. "That is all I know about it, except that the sweetmeats are good to eat." With that he caught up a handful, and invited Duris to do the same.

"It is certainly a pleasant custom," exclaimed Duris.

"Yes, much pleasanter than another which we observe," Hero responded. "Once a year we choose a slave to represent everything that is mean and worthless. Then the other slaves run after him, beat him, and drive him out of doors. That," Hiero added, seriously, "is to drive poverty and trouble away from the home."

"Do you remember seeing a slave run into one of the temples in the Acropolis yesterday?" asked Duris, after a pause. "I intended to ask you about it then, but you were talking with your father, and I forgot about it. The fellow looked frightened, and he ran as though for his life."

"He probably was running for his life. Some of the slave owners are terribly cruel. If a master goes too far the slave can run to the altar of some god and claim protection. I am glad my father is good to our slaves."

"When we left the Island," said Duris, "my father gave one of our slaves his freedom. He had served us well, and was more like a friend than a slave. When he received his freedom he was the happiest man I ever saw.

"What is your new slave to do?" he added.

"He is to help my father in his studio," replied Hiero. "I heard Cimon say that he was a vase-maker by trade."

"Let us go into the studio and see him," suggested Duris.

"That is a good plan," responded Hiero. "Perhaps he will teach us how to make vases. That would be fun." And away the boys ran to the studio to form the acquaintance of the new slave.


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