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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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THE LAND OF HELLAS

[72] THE stories of gods and heroes are not pure history. They are myths or legends which have grown with the ages, until sometimes they are told as though they were true.

Although the tales I have been telling you of the early days of Greece are myths, yet the Greeks who lived in later times would often speak of them as though they had actually happened.

I am going to tell you now, not of gods or heroes, but of the true deeds of mortal men. And first of all you will wish to hear a little about the land in which the ancient Greeks lived.

It was named, as you already know, Hellas, while the inhabitants were called Hellenes.

But Hellas and her people had another name given to them by the Romans, who called Hellas Graecia, and the Hellenes Graeci, from a tribe that dwelt in a part of the country known as Epirus. Epirus was not a very important region, but it was well known to the Romans who dwelt in the south of Italy. We have altered these Roman names a little and call Hellas Greece, the Hellenes Greeks.

If you open your atlas at the map of Europe, you will find in the south the little country of Greece, which although it is so small has yet flung its influence over all the wide world.

On three sides Greece is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, and the country is now usually known as the Balkan Peninsula.

[73] Greece is a land of great mountains. Of its loftiest summit, Olympus, which in ancient days was the abode of the gods, you have already read.

The coast-line is broken up much as is the coast of Scotland, by arms of the sea which run far inland, so far inland that it is easy to reach the water from any part of the country.

Close to the shores of Greece lie the islands of the Ægean Sea. In these islands many Greeks settled, so that they became an important part of Greece. The Ægean Sea we now call the Archipelago.

In the time of Homer all Greeks were called Achaeans. But in later days, only those Greeks were called Achaeans who lived in the narrow strip of land in northern Peloponnesus called Achaea.

The ancient Achaeans dwelt in the valleys, which were cut off from one another by great spurs of mountains. They were united by an ancient league, and quarrelled less with one another than did the other peoples of Greece.

Besides the Achaeans there were three other great races in Greece.

The Dorians came from a little country called Doris, near the famous Pass of Thermopylae, of which you have still to hear. The Ionians dwelt on the east side of the Ægean Sea, that is, they lived on the coast of Asia, while the Æolians were scattered here and there throughout Greece.

All these different tribes were Greeks, and they were proud of their name, counting all other peoples barbarians, and despising them because they were not Greeks. Many of them were traders or adventurers from Asia, and they entered the new country from the north-east, through Thessaly, and that was not a difficult journey.

Others crossed over from Asia by sea to search for a new home. But their galleys were rough, uncomfortable vessels, in which there was little room for the many who embarked. When storms arose they suffered great misery, huddled [74] closely together on their small and unseaworthy boats. Fear, too, took hold of them and the horror of death.

So the wanderers were glad when they saw the many little islands that were studded here and there over the Ægean Sea. Some of these islands, it is true, were mere rocks, desolate and without water. But there were others where people had already settled and made a home. On these the strangers landed to fight with the inhabitants, until, by the help of the gods, they had conquered and taken possession of them. Here they feasted, glad of heart that the perils of the sea were now at an end.

In the Heroic Age the kings of the different tribes were believed to have descended from the gods, and each country or state had its own king. And so it was when the Heroic Age had passed away. Each tribe or little nation, living in its own valley or plain, still had its own separate sovereign, and each soon built for itself a city. The city might be small, but it was always surrounded by a wall, which was built for defence. If there was no wall it was not a city but a village, however large it might be.

In those days kings were not ashamed to work. They were often to be seen in the fields at harvest time, not looking idly on, but toiling side by side with their people.

Odysseus, King of Ithaca, is said to have built his own bedroom as well as his own boats. He claimed too to be a skilful ploughman and reaper. And still, for many years after the age of Odysseus, kings worked as hard as he had done.

The queens and princesses were as diligent as the kings. Often they were to be found, like Penelope, sitting at a loom weaving or working beautiful embroideries. They even went to the well themselves to fetch water, and were sometimes to be seen by the riverside, where they helped to wash the linen of the household.

In battle the king was always on the field, riding before his army in a war chariot.

[75] When peace reigned he often sat in the market-place to judge his people. Each suppliant told his own tale and brought his own witnesses. The elders of the city then gave their judgment of the case, after which the king, taking his sceptre in his hand, stood up to pronounce sentence.

But above all else the king was the chief priest of his people, offering sacrifices for them, while they, with due reverence, looked upon him as a god.


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