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

How Pericles Made Athens Beautiful

A FTER the Persians had all been driven out of the land, the Athenians came back to their homes. But now there was only a mass of black and smoking ruins where their fair city had been. The houses were all burned, the walls were only heaps of stones, and even the temples of the gods had been torn down. You can imagine how the women and children felt when they came back from their hiding-places and found the city in ruins. Tears came even to the eyes of the men. But with stout hearts they set to work to clear away the stones and ashes, and before long they had begun the building of a city which was to be larger and fairer than the old one.

But while they were building it they felt they must take care that the Persians did not come back again to tear down what they were rebuilding. So the Athenians and the other Greeks sent ships to keep watch lest the Persians should come again. After a time the other Greeks decided to give the command of this fleet to the Athenians in place of the Spartans, who had always had the lead before. They did this partly because the Athenians had shown themselves to be so brave and wise in the war, but partly, also, because they felt that they could trust Aristides, who was now the Athenian commander. As you can guess, the Spartans did not like this, but they could not help it for a long time.

For many years the Athenians continued to hold the command. During this time their city grew to be rich and powerful, and became the chief city in all Greece. By and by, when Themistocles and Aristides were both dead, a man by the name of Pericles came to have the lead at Athens. He, too, was a great man, but in a way very different from that in which Themistocles and Aristides were great. He was great in his knowledge and love of what was noble and beautiful; and it was to make Athens surpass all other cities in these ways that he set himself to work.

In the midst of Athens there was a high, steep hill with a flat top. In olden times this had been the fort of the Athenians; and before the Persians came there had been a temple to the goddess Athena on it. This has been burned during the war. Now Pericles planned to build in its place not one, but many, temples; and it was on this steep hill that the beautiful buildings sprang up which have made his name famous in all times and in all countries.

Imagine yourself an Athenian boy, and that your father is taking you up this hill to the great festival of the goddess Athena. Only on one side can the hill be climbed, and up this the road winds and turns till it reaches the top. There you come to a gateway or porch of the finest marble, with great tall columns supporting the roof. On the left is a building with rooms filled with pictures and other precious things. Going through the gateway you come out on the top of the hill. Beyond the city you see the blue sea gleaming in the distance. All about you, you see temples and statues. Here is a beautiful temple to the goddess of Victory. Here is a row of statues in honor of heroes, or of Athenian citizens who have won the prize in the games at Olympia. Not far away is a great statue of Athena, the guardian of the city. This statue is taller than the tallest house, and is made out of the swords and shields taken from the Persians at Marathon. From far away at sea the sailors can see the tip of her spear, and then they know that they are nearing home.

Not far from this statue is a temple to Poseidon, the god of the sea. In it is a well of salt water which your father tells you gushed forth there when Poseidon struck the rock with his trident. Coming out of this temple, you walk through a beautiful porch. In this the roof is held up not by columns, but by the statues of six young maidens, clothed in long flowing garments.

But you hurry past these beautiful buildings, so that you may not miss the best part of the festival. You hasten over to the highest part of the hill, and there you come to the largest and most beautiful temple of all. Indeed, it is the most beautiful building that the world has ever seen. It is the temple of Athena, the "maiden goddess." All around it are rows of tall marble columns. Within it is a statue of the goddess, which reaches almost to the roof. This statue is made of ivory and pure gold, and it equaled in beauty and richness only by the statue of Zeus and Olympia. All about the temple are the finest carvings. Here they represent the birth of Athena from the head of father Zeus. There they show the Athenians fighting with the strange creatures, half horse and half man, called centaurs. Here is a long series of carvings showing the great procession of Athenian youths, some on horseback, some on foot, coming to celebrate the festival of Athena And as you gaze at them, longing for the time when you, too, may take part in the worship of the goddess, suddenly you hear your father call,—

"Look, look, my son!"

Then you turn about and look, and there, just coming through the gates and entering upon the top of the hill, you see the procession itself which you have climbed the hill to watch.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Aristides the Just  |  Next: Alcibiades, and the War between Athens and Sparta
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.