| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
 DURING the Peloponnesian War a very curious man lived in
Athens. His name was Socrates. He must have been the
ugliest person in all Greece. His nose was flat, his lips
were thick, his eyes were bulging, and his face was like a
comic mask; yet he was one of the best and wisest men that
ever lived. His father was a sculptor who carved beautiful
figures out of marble, and Socrates when a boy helped him
and learned the art.
When the Spartans sent their armies to burn the farm-houses
of Attica and capture cities that were friendly to Athens,
many of the young men of the city went forth to fight for
their country. Socrates laid down his hammer and chisel and
took up a shield
 and spear instead. He fought in several battles, and
Athens had no braver soldier. Once in winter he was ordered
to a country called Thrace. It was very cold and "camping
out" was not pleasant. However, Socrates bore the cold
cheerfully, although he went barefoot and wore the same
clothes that he wore in the warm weather in Athens.
After serving as a soldier for several years he left the
army and went home to Athens. Here he became a teacher. He
had no school-house. His school was wherever he met persons
who were willing to listen to him. It might be in the
market-place, or at the corner of streets. On a hot summer
day he would go to the harbor of Athens and chat with people
who were sitting there in the shade, enjoying the cool
sea-breeze. He talked to the young as well as the old, and
often he might be seen with a crowd of children about him.
The lessons that he gave were simple talks about the best
way of living, or what the Greeks called "philosophy."
Socrates was very unlike other teachers in Athens—and
almost everywhere else—for he never made any charge for his
teaching. This kept him poor. His clothes were often
threadbare and shabby, and so were those of his wife
Xanthippe. He cared nothing for this; but she did and it
is said that
 she often scolded Socrates because he did nothing to make
money, but idled away his time in talking. Once, when he
was going out of the house to escape from a severe scolding,
she threw a pitcher of water upon him. "I have often
noticed, Xanthippe, that rain comes after thunder," said the
No man ever had better friends than had Socrates. But no
man ever had worse enemies. Some people disliked him
because he used to ask them questions which they could not
answer without admitting that they were very foolish in
their way of living. Others said that he was teaching
people not to worship Jupiter and Minerva and the other gods
 Athens, and that he was misleading the young men of the
SOCRATES TEACHING YOUNG ALCIBIADES
One of his enemies was a poet called Aristophanes, who wrote the most humorous plays that were ever acted in
Athens. In one of them a wild young man is one of the
characters and Socrates is another. Aristophanes made it
seem that the teachings of Socrates had caused the young man
to become wild. The play did Socrates a great deal of harm,
for many people came to believe that he really was advising
young men to lead bad lives.
Yet one of the worst young men of Athens once said, "You
think that I have no shame in me, but when I am with
Socrates I am ashamed. He has only to speak and my tears
Finally, the enemies of Socrates brought against him in the
courts the charge of ruining young men and insulting the
gods. He was tried and condemned to drink the deadly juice
of a plant called hemlock. In Athens condemned persons were
 usually put to death by making them drink this poison.
COMEDIANS WITH MASKS
No man ever behaved more grandly when unjustly condemned to
die than did Socrates.
Before he left the court he said, "My judges, you go now to
your homes—I to prison and to death. But which of the two
is the better lot God only knows. It is very likely that
death is our greatest blessing."
Generally a person condemned to death had to drink the
poison the very next day after his trial. But a sacred ship
had just sailed from Athens to Delos. This ship carried
every year the offerings of the Athenians to Apollo, the
chief god of the island, and it was a law in Athens that no
person condemned to die should be put to death while she was
on her voyage to and fro. So for thirty days Socrates was
kept in prison.
During that time his friends were allowed to go to see him.
In the prison he talked to them just as he had done in the
market-place or on the streets.
Some of his friends told him how sorry they were that he
should die innocent.
THE DEATH OF SOCRATES
"What!" said Socrates, "would you have me die guilty?"
On the return of the ship from Delos he was told to prepare
himself for death. He invited his
 friends to come and be with him at the end. He took with
them his last meal and was as cheerful during it as if it
had been a feast.
One of his friends asked where he would like them to "bury
"Bury me?" he said. "You cannot bury Socrates. You can
bury my body; you cannot put me into a grave."
He spoke about death and the future life and said that death
was only the end of sorrow and the beginning of a nobler
When the jailer came with the cup of poison Socrates drank
it as cheerfully as if it had been a glass of wine. He
walked about the cell as he was bidden and then, beginning
to feel sleepy, lay down. Soon after this he ceased to
Plato, who was one of his pupils, says, "Thus died the man
who was in death the noblest we have ever known—in life, the
wisest and the best."
AFTER the death of Socrates (B.C. 399) his work was carried on by
his pupil, Plato, who became one of the most famous
philosophers of Greece. His lectures were given in the shade
of the trees planted by Cimon in the Academy years before.
THE SCHOOL OF PLATO
 Besides great philosophers Athens had some famous painters.
Two of the most celebrated were
Zeuxis and Parrhasius, who lived about 400 B.C. They were rivals. Once they gave
an exhibition of their paintings. Zeuxis exhibited a bunch
of grapes which had such a natural look that birds came and
pecked at them. The people exclaimed, "Astonishing! What
can be finer than Zeuxis' grapes?"
Zeuxis proudly turned to his rival's picture. A purple
curtain hung before it. "Draw aside your curtain,
Parrhasius," he said, "and let us look at your picture."
The artist smiled, but did not move. Some one else stepped
toward the curtain to draw it aside, and it was then
discovered that the curtain was part of the painting.
"I yield," said Zeuxis. "It is easy to see who is the
better artist. I have deceived birds. Parrhasius has
deceived an artist."
It is said the Zeuxis died laughing at a funny picture that
he had painted of an old woman.
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