| 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 |
 ONE of the most violent quarrels that ever disturbed the life of
the gods was between Neptune and Minerva.
Cecrops, one of the wisest of the Greeks, was founding
a city near the finest harbor in Greece. Neptune wished to
be the chief god of the city, and Minerva also desired the
Neptune said that as the city was going to be a great
seaport, busy with vessels sailing in and sailing out, it
was only right that he, the god of the ocean should be its
Minerva foresaw that in days to come the men of the city
would care much less about commerce than about art and
learning. She therefore thought that she, the goddess of
wisdom, should be its guardian.
The other gods became very weary of the quarrel, and to
bring it to an end Jupiter ordered that the one who should
offer the more useful gift to the city should become its
Neptune then struck with his trident a rock
 within the city’s bounds, and up sprang a war horse ready
for battle. Minerva touched the earth, and an olive tree
rose on the spot.
THE GIFTS OF MINERVA AND NEPTUNE
Now groves of olive trees, Jupiter knew well, would be far
more useful to the people than the finest of war horses. He
therefore decided in favor of Minerva. The city became the
most famous place in all the world for learning and art, and
from Athene, the Greek name of the goddess, it was called
The most noted of the early kings of Athens was
Theseus, the son of Ægeus, who
was himself a
 king of Athens. Theseus was born far away from Athens and
was brought up by his mother, Æthra, at the home of
Before parting with Æthra at her father's home,
Ægeus placed a sword and a pair of sandals under a
heavy stone and said to her:
"When the child is able to lift that stone, let him take the
sandals and sword and come to me."
Years went by, and when Theseus had grown up, his mother led
him one day to the stone and said to him:
"If you are a man, lift that stone."
Theseus lifted it with ease and saw a pair of sandals and a
His mother told him that the sandals and the sword had been
placed under the stone by his father, Ægeus, who was
king of Athens. "Put them on and seek him in Athens," she
He fastened the sword to his girdle and buckled the sandals
on his feet. Then he kissed his mother and set out for
He did not go far without an adventure. A robber called the
Club-bearer attacked him. A struggle followed, in which the
Club-bearer was killed. Then Theseus took the robber's club
and ever after that carried it himself.
A little farther on he met a robber called Sinis,  who was known as the Pine-bender. It was the Pine-bender's
sport to pull down pine trees, tie travelers to their tops,
and let the trees spring back. His victims dangled from the
tree-tops until they perished from pain and hunger. When
Theseus came along he bent a pine, fastened the Pine-bender
to it, let the tree spring back, and left the robber to
suffer the torture that he had inflicted on so many others.
Journeying still farther, the hero reached the dwelling of
Procrustes, the Stretcher. Procrustes had a bed which
he made all travelers fit. If a man's legs were too long,
Procrustes cut them to the right length. If they were too
short, he stretched them until they were long enough.
Theseus forced Procrustes to lie upon the bed himself and
chopped the Stretcher's legs to the right length.
In this manner, fighting often and bravely, Theseus made his
way to Athens. When he reached the city and showed his
sword to Ægeus, the king knew that the young man must
be his son. He was filled with joy and declared Theseus his
Every year the city of Athens had to send seven young men
and seven maidens to Minos, the king of Crete, to be
devoured by a terrible creature,
 called the Minotaur. It was kept in a place known as the
Labyrinth. The Labyrinth was full of winding paths, so
puzzling that a person, once in, could not find his way out.
VICTIMS OF THE MINOTAUR AT THE DOOR OF THE LABYRINTH
The day that the youths and maidens were to sail to Crete
was at hand, and Athens was filled with sorrow. Theseus
made up his mind that never again should the city have cause
for such grief. He determined to kill the Minotaur.
"Father," he said to Ægeus, "let me go to Crete as
one of the victims."
"No, no, my son!" cried Ægeus, "I could not bear to
 "Ah, but you will not lose me," answered Theseus. "Not only
shall I return, but I will bring back in safety all who go
Ægeus at last gave consent and Theseus went as one of
the fourteen victims.
The ship's sail was black, an emblem of mourning. As
Theseus bade farewell to his father, he said, "I am taking a
white sail with me to hoist when we come back. If the black
sail should still be set when the ship comes home you will
know that I have failed. But I shall not fail."
When the black-sailed vessel reached the shores of Crete
there was a great crowd gathered to see the victims. Among
the watchers was Ariadne, the lovely daughter of the king
of Crete. She was full of pity for those who were to be
devoured. When she was told that Theseus had determined to
fight the Minotaur, she made up her mind to help him. She
could see that he was very strong and she felt
 sure that he could kill the monster. But she feared that he
would starve to death in the Labyrinth because he would not
be able to find his way out. So when Theseus went into the
Labyrinth she gave him the end of a ball of thread and said:
"I will stand here at the entrance and let the ball unwind
as you go in. When you have killed the Minotaur follow the
thread back to me."
So Theseus took hold of the thread and went boldly into the
Labyrinth. When he reached the center of it the monster
came to attack him. Its weapons were stones. Stone after
stone was flung by the monster but each was warded off by
Theseus, just as a skilful batter wards off a swift ball.
At length Theseus was close enough to strike the Minotaur
with his sword and the creature fell dead.
Guided by the thread, Theseus quickly made his way back to
the entrance of the Labyrinth. There he was joyfully
received by Ariadne and the youths and maidens whom he had
saved from death.
Theseus and Ariadne had fallen in love with each other, and
when the tribute ship set sail for Greece Ariadne was one of
On the homeward voyage the ship touched at the island of
Naxos. There Theseus had a strange dream. In it he was
told by Minerva to leave
 Ariadne on the island because the
Fates intended her to be the wife of one of the gods.
Accordingly, on the island of Naxos he left her, and sailed
away to Greece. She afterward did become the bride of one
of the gods, who gave her a golden crown, which after her
death was changed to a crown of stars that is yet to be seen
in the sky on any bright night.
On the voyage from the island of Naxos to Athens, Theseus
was thinking so much of Ariadne that he quite forgot to
change the black sail for the white one, as he had promised
his father to do. This was a most unfortunate oversight,
for it brought death to Ægeus and sorrow to Theseus.
Day after day, while Theseus was away, Ægeus had sat on
a cliff which overlooked the sea, hoping to catch sight of
the white sail. When at last the ship appeared with its
black sail still spread, the poor king supposed of course
that his son had been
 devoured by the Minotaur. He threw up his hands in grief,
and falling from the cliff into the sea, was drowned. From
that day to this the sea has been called the
Ægean, or the sea of Ægeus.
When the ship reached the harbor of Athens, Theseus learned
of his father's death, and bitterly did he mourn that he had
forgotten to hoist the white sail.
He at once became king; and no king ever did more for Athens
than he. Yet in spite of his love and labor for the city,
the Athenians were not grateful. After a while he went on a
journey. He remained away for so long that they chose a new
king. When at last he came back and found that the people
whom he had loved so well had forgotten him, he left the
city and soon died.
The Athenians in later days repented that they had been so
ungrateful. They brought his bones to Athens and buried
them with great solemnity. Festivals were held in his
honor, and he was ranked almost with Minerva herself as a
guardian of the beautiful city.
The story is told that centuries after his death he left the
spirit-world and helped the Athenians to gain the victory in
the greatest battle they ever fought, the battle of
Marathon, of which you will read farther on in this book.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics