| Three Greek Children|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|When events during the Peloponnesian War demand it, the three children of Leon and Elpinicé are dispatched quickly from their home in Athens to take refuge in Sparta. During their sojourn there they learn much about Spartan customs and hear stories from Spartan history, which, when added to their personal experience of Athenian customs and stories of Athenian history, give a full picture of life in ancient Greece as children experienced it in the 5th century B.C. Ages 9-11 |
GOOD-BYE TO SPARTA
 FOR a whole year Elpinicé and the children lived at Sparta without receiving a letter from Leon. They did hear,
however, two or three times from friends in Athens, that, though still shut up in prison, he was quite well. At
last a letter came, and, as you will see, it brought good news. This is what was written in it:
"Leon, son of Hipponax, to the dearest Elpinicé, greeting. Know that I am set free from prison, being wholly
acquitted of the charges brought against me. But of these things more hereafter. I judge it better not myself
to come to Sparta, which I would gladly do. Set out, therefore, as soon as you conveniently may; I will await
you at Tegea at the house of Pauson. Kiss Gorgo and Rhodium for me, and Hipponax also, who, I trust, has not
forgotten either Athens or his father. Farewell."
 This letter was written on a strip of parchment. At first sight one would have thought that it could not be
read, for the letters were straggling all over it in the strangest way. But Elpinicé rolled it round a little
stick which she had, and then the letters came together into words, and the words into sentences. Leon, you
see, had another stick of exactly the same size, and had rolled the parchment around that before he wrote on
it. This was one of the ways in which the people in those times kept what they had to write to each other
When Elpinicé had read the letter she sent for the postman, as I may call him, who had brought it. He had run
all the way from Athens with it. He was a short, spare man, about thirty-five years old, and was one of the
most famous runners, for a long distance, in all Greece. His family indeed had been great runners, from father
to son, for many generations. When he came into the room he looked so little tired with his journey that he
seemed quite ready to do it again.
 "Hail, Lagopus!" said Elpinicé. "When did you leave Athens?"
"Lagopus" was the name which the runner had taken for himself. It means "Harefoot."
"At noon the day before yesterday, most worshipful lady," answered the man. He had reached Sparta about four
o'clock in the afternoon.
"That is marvellously quick running," said Elpinicé.
"I know no man now alive that could better it," answered the messenger; "but it cannot be compared with what
has been done by those who have gone before me. Did not Pheidippides, my grandfather, do this same journey in
less than two days?"
"O tell us about him," cried Hipponax.
This was what Lagopus was very glad to do, for he was almost as proud of this famous run of his grandfather as
if he had done it himself.
"More than seventy years ago," he began, "the Persians brought a great army to fight against Greece, and they
landed at Marathon—"
 "Oh! I know all about Marathon and the great battle," broke in the little boy. "My great-grandfather fought
there, and so did old Sciton, and they conquered the Persians, and I have Sciton's sword, and I mean to conquer
the Persians myself when I am grown up."
"Be it so, young master," said the messenger. "Well, as soon as the magistrates at Athens knew that the
Persians had landed, they thought where they could get help. And it seemed to them that the most likely place
was here in Sparta. For the Spartans are not only the best soldiers in Greece, but they are always ready. So
they wrote a letter and sent for my grandfather to carry it. The news about the Persians came to them just at
midnight, and my grandfather was on his way two hours afterwards, and he got to Sparta just before midnight on
the next day."
"How far is it?" asked Gorgo.
"One thousand and ninety-six stadia," answered Lagopus. (This is about one hundred and thirty-seven miles.)
 "I do not remember hearing of any Spartans being at the battle," said Hipponax.
"No, young sir," replied the runner, "they were not in time. You see that when my grandfather reached Sparta it
was the ninth day of the moon, and their custom is not to set out on expeditions except at the full moon. So
they had to wait for five days. But they started as soon as ever they saw the full moon in the sky, and they
got to Athens early in the afternoon of the third day."
"Was that very quick?" asked Hipponax.
"Wonderful for men with heavy armor. Still they were too late, for the battle was over by the time they came.
So all they could do was to go on to Marathon, and see the Persians that had been killed lying on the field—for
they had not been buried yet,—and then march home again."
"I should like to be a great runner when I grow up," said Hipponax. Then he thought for a little time, and
changed his mind. "No, I will be a soldier, and fight with Sciton's sword."
 Elpinicé gave the messenger a gold-piece for his good news, and she wrote a letter which he was to carry back
to her husband.
"Elpinicé, to her most beloved and honored husband, Leon, son of Hipponax, greeting. The gods be thanked for
your deliverance! Your letter has made me and the children more happy than can be set forth in words. We set
out on the tenth day. Meanwhile let this parchment, which we have all kissed many times, carry our salutations.
Elpinicé would have started sooner, but that she had made an engagement with a Spartan lady of her acquaintance
to go with her to the temple of Artemis (or Diana, to use the name by which she is best known). This lady's
child had been very ill, and Elpinicé and nurse had helped her with it very much. The Spartan mother did not
know much about nursing, for when a child was weakly it was not allowed to live. This baby had been strong and
healthy enough when it was born and for some months afterwards. Then it began to ail, and could
 hardly have been saved but for the skill and patience with which Elpinicé nursed it. Now it was quite well,
and, indeed, was a particularly fine and strong boy, whom the mother was very proud to present, after the
Spartan fashion, in the temple of "Artemis the Child-Rearer."
A CHILD PRESENTED IN THE TEMPLE
This picture shows you the mother holding the boy in her arms. He is older than the children usually were when
they were presented. This is because his illness had prevented his being brought before. The other lady is
Elpinicé herself. In one hand she is holding a square basket of small loaves made of the very finest
wheat-flour. (The bread that the Spartans used commonly to eat was made of barley or rye.) In the other hand
she has a jar of wine. The loaves and the wine were always offered on these occasions: and there was also
offered what you do not see in the picture, a sucking-pig. The very poorest Spartan mother was not content
unless she could do this. First a portion of these things were burnt in the fire. This was the goddess' share,
 The smoke went up into the air with the smell of what had been burnt, and the goddess was supposed to smell it,
and be pleased with the worshippers who offered it. Then what was left was divided, put into baskets, and sent
round to friends. Elpinicé's friend, who had the same name, by the way, as the Gorgo we know, was the wife of
one of the Ephors, and was rich. She offered I do not know how many sucking-pigs, and loaves of wheaten bread,
and jars of wine, so that she feasted half Sparta with them. This was how she tried to show her thankfulness
for being able to bring her little son safe and sound to the temple; and though it was an ignorant way we may
hope that it was not refused.
The next day Elpinicé and the children started for Tegea, which was a city, as you may see from a map, a little
way inside the borders of Arcadia. Manto went with them. She was now the mother of a fine boy, and she had not
been very strong since its birth. She was recommended to try the air of the Arcadian mountains for a change.
 The journey did not occupy more than one day. The distance, indeed, was something less than thirty miles, and
so the party were able to reach Pauson's house, which was a mile outside the town, a little before nightfall.
Leon, who had been detained by business in Athens longer than he had expected, happened to arrive about noon
the same day. How glad the family were to be together again after a separation of more than two years I cannot
pretend to describe.
A very delightful time they all had with the kind old Arcadian host, the very same Pauson, you must know, who
had given Leon his hunting spear. Hipponax saw with a little shudder the very skin of the bear which had almost
killed his father twenty years before, and was very much pleased to find dogs that were great-nephews or, it
may have been, great-great-nephews of their own Hylax. So like were they to the old dog that one would have
thought he had come to life again. It was too early in the year for hunting; but then there was plenty of what
was far better fun for the children,—
 fishing. A stream ran through Pauson's garden; and there was a little waterfall with a pool below it in which
the girls and Hipponax, with a slave lad to look after them, were never tired of fishing. Then one day the
whole party, which had now been joined by Manto's husband, went on an expedition to a beautiful sheet of water
that there was three or four miles from the town. It was a bright, calm day, too bright and calm for fishing,
for you could see the fish far down in the clear water, and, of course, the fish could see you and your line,
and all your little tricks for catching them. Hipponax was getting excited when he looked over the edge of the
boat and saw the big fishes swim up to his bait and look just as if they were just going to take it. But when
this had happened twenty or thirty times, and the fish always ended by sailing away again, he lost his
patience, and began to grow quite angry. However, he caught two or three little ones, who were less cautious
than their elders, and at last one of the elders themselves. The creature was smelling at
 the bait for at least the tenth time when the fisherman said to Hipponax, "Now's the time, sir," and at the
same time laid hold of the little boy's hand and gave the line a sideways jerk. And there, sure enough, the
fish was hooked. What pulling and struggling there was before he could be got into the boat! but at the last
moment he seemed to be lost, for the hook came out of his mouth. But he was quite spent with struggling, and
lay on his side without moving, so that the fisherman could slip a small net under him. Hipponax's delight at
his fish was beyond all expression.
Towards noon, when the sun grew very hot, the party took shelter under a grove of trees that grew by the side
of the lake. There they had their mid-day meal, and when this was over they were entertained by a playing and
singing match between two shepherds. Pauson offered a kid and a skin of wine for a prize. First the two men
played on their shepherd's pipes. These were something like what is now called a mouth organ, a number of
pipes, of unequal size,
 joined together, each with a stop on which the player could put his finger. Then they sang each a verse of a
song. These were sometimes funny, sometimes serious; but as they were in a very rude country dialect no one but
Pauson, who was an Arcadian born, understood much about them. After all, the contest was never decided. Pauson,
who was judge, said that they were both so good that he did not know which was the better. So he ended by
giving a kid and a skin of wine to both.
Altogether the day at the lake was a very pleasant one.
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