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Old World Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan




THE little country of Greece was not without its neighbors. Far away to the east, too far for any intercourse, were China and India. In the valley of the Ti'gris and the Eu-phra'tes Rivers there were, first, the Chal-dę'ans, a learned folk who knew a good deal about astronomy and who collected great libraries. At the first glance, a library must have looked somewhat like a brick-kiln; for the Chaldęans wrote on little [25] tablets of clay in wedge-shaped letters. They built many temples with rough pyramids of brick for their foundations.

Chaldęa was at length conquered by the As-syr'i-ans. They were fierce warriors and terribly cruel to their captives. The kings had a fashion of inscribing on the walls of their palaces accounts of their greatest exploits; and one of them wrote proudly of a people whom he had conquered that he had cut off the hands and feet of some and the noses, ears, and lips of others, that he had built a tower of the heads of the old men, and had tossed the little children into the fires. The Assyrians built palaces of brick whose foundations were mounds eighty or ninety feet high and covered many acres.

The Assyrians as well as the Chaldęans made great collections of clay books. The most famous of these libraries was in the city of Nineveh. It is thought that it contained ten thousand tablets.



[26] After six centuries had passed, the Neb-u-chad-nez'zar whose story is told in the Old Testament conquered Je-ru'sa-lem, carried away the silver and gold from Sol'o-mon's temple, and burned the temple itself. The people he made slaves. Bab'y-lon became his capital, and such a capital as it was! He had taken so many thousand captives in his wars that there was no limit to the number of men that could be forced to work for him. He built and repaired temples by the score. He built himself a palace that was six miles in circumference. Around it were three walls, entered by three gates made of brass taken from Jerusalem. The most famous of his [27] structures were the Hanging Gardens, that were counted as one of the seven wonders of the world. Nebuchadnezzar's wife came from a country of mountains, and she had no liking for the level plains over which her husband ruled. Therefore he set to work to make a mountain for her. First, he had terraces built of earth resting on heavy piers. These formed a mound four hundred feet high. Trees were set out on this mound, which were moistened by water drawn up from the river Euphrates below. Whether the queen was pleased, no one can say; but in a flat country even a little hill seems lofty, and on the level plains of Babylonia the Gardens must have looked much like a real mountain.



In Syr'i-a was the kingdom of the He'brews, who in the midst of worshipers of many deities never yielded their belief in the one God. After the times of Solomon, the land was divided up into the Kingdom of Is'ra-el, whose capital was Sa-ma'ri-a, and the Kingdom of Ju'dah, whose capital was Jerusalem. The Assyrians overpowered the Kingdom of Israel, and Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Judah and destroyed the temple, as has been said.

Stretched along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea was Phœ-ni'ci-a with its chief cities, Tyre and Si'don. The Phœnicians were traders and fearless sailors. While most other nations hugged the shore and trembled at the terrors of the ocean, the hardy Phœnicians sailed boldly through what is now the Strait of Gibraltar, made their way to Britain, and loaded their vessels with the products of the British tin mines. Another article of which they sold a vast amount was the famous Tyrian purple, a deep red dye made of a shell-fish [28] that was found on the Phœnician coast. Then, too, they sold an enormous quantity of fir from the forests of Mount Leb'a-non, which lay on the eastern border of their country. When Solomon was about to build the temple in Jerusalem, he sent to Tyre for fir. The Assyrians and Babylonians, too, would not have been able to rear their great structures if they could not have obtained wood from the Phœnicians.

But of all the neighbors of Greece, the ancient country of E'gypt was the most interesting. Egypt was really the lands watered by the river Nile; and if there had been no Nile, there would have been no Egypt, for the land was formed by the soil brought down by the river. Every year, when the rains were heavy at the sources of the Nile, it rose and overflowed its banks. When the stream subsided, it left behind it a layer of rich mud. Seeds were planted in this, and as if by magic the bare mud-flats became covered with the rich green of fast-growing crops.



The Egyptians were skilled in astronomy and geometry. They wrote in hieroglyphics, that is, in rude pictures rather than in words. In one respect they were like the Hebrews, [29] namely, they believed in one God. At least, such is thought to have been the belief of the priests. It was supposed that the common folk could not understand this belief; and therefore they were taught to worship many gods and to show the utmost reverence to certain animals which were regarded as representing them. It was thought that people whose lives had not been good were obliged to return to earth over and over again in the forms of various animals. This was called the transmigration of souls. Another part of the general belief was that after many thousand years the spirits of the dead would return and would wish to live again in their former bodies. This is why bodies were carefully embalmed, that is, wrapped so closely in bandages with oils and gums that great numbers of them have been preserved to this day and are the mummies which are shown in our museums. One of these is the body of Ram'e-ses II, the king who held in bondage the Children of Israel.

As the Egyptian kings were so sure that they would need their bodies, they built elaborate tombs for them. The oldest and most wonderful of these are the pyramids. King Che'ops built the largest pyramid. Its base covers thirteen acres, and it is more than four hundred and fifty feet high. Cheops meant that this should last forever; but the beautifully polished stones of the outside and many of the, rougher stones under them were taken down centuries ago and carried to Cairo to be used in other building. Many pyramids have [30] been almost entirely destroyed, but about thirty are still standing.

Not far from the pyramid of Cheops is a great stone figure, seventy feet high, called the Sphinx. It has the face of a human being and the body of a lion. The Egyptian statues were not handsome in the least, but they were majestic and dignified. The Egyptians knew how to make some beautiful things; for instance, they could color glass far better than it can be done to-day; but in their statues they aimed chiefly at size. In the ruins of their cities there are great numbers of stone pillars, some of which are more than seventy feet high. At Thebes, there are two statues which are forty-seven feet high, and each is hewn from a single block of stone. Many of these great blocks were brought from a long distance, but we can only guess how this was done. The pyramids were built at least four thousand years ago. But no nation does such work while it is young; therefore we may be sure that even in those days Egypt was an old country; and when she was in the time of her youth no one can say.

When the year 600 B.C. had come, the strongest of these neighboring kingdoms was Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar was on the throne. Egypt fell under his power. Little [31] Phœnicia, with her narrow strip of seacoast, had never been able to stand alone, but had paid tribute to one country after another; and she, too, came into the hands of Babylon. With the capture of Jerusalem Nebuchadnezzar had put an end to the Hebrew kingdom. He ruled not only in the valley of the Tigris and the Euphrates, but westward to the Mediterranean, and he also held Egypt. He was very proud of his conquests and his wide-spreading territories; but long before the year 500 B.C. had come, Babylon had lost them all.

The new conqueror was the kingdom of the Medes and Per'sians, which had grown up to the east of the Tigris and [32] the Euphrates valley. At first the Medes were the stronger of the two peoples, then the Persians. In the year 500, King Da-ri'us was on the Persian throne. He already held all that had belonged to Babylon; he had pushed to the east and conquered northwestern In'di-a; he had forced many towns in Thrace and Mac-e-do'ni-a to yield to him; and now he was ready to attack Greece. He had a good excuse for making the attack. Some time before this, the I-o'ni-ans, an ancient name for the people of Athens, had made settlements on the coast of Lyd'i-a. These had fallen into the hands of the Persians. In course of time they had revolted against Persia, and the Athenians had helped them. When Darius heard what the Athenians had done, he vowed that he would be revenged upon them, and he gave to a slave the command, "Whenever I seat myself to eat, do you cry aloud thrice, 'O king, remember the Athenians!'"



Darius remembered them. Just as soon as he could make ready, he sent a fleet and an army against them. The fleet had to pass a long rocky promontory, not very safe in a calm and extremely dangerous in bad weather. Just as the vessels were off Mount Ath'os, the end of the promontory, a furious storm arose and dashed them upon the rocks. So many ships were destroyed and so many men were drowned that there was nothing for the Persians to do but to call back the army that had been sent by land and return to Persia.



[33] Darius was not the kind of man to give up, and before long he was ready to try again. First, however, he sent envoys to the different states of Greece to demand that they send him earth and water. This was a token of submission. Some of the states yielded, but the Athenians were so indignant that they hurled the envoys into a chasm. The Spartans were quite as regardless of the rights of messengers and threw the envoys sent to them into a well, crying out, "There's your earth and water. Take your fill."



A very angry man was King Darius of Persia. He did not [34] wait for a calm day to sail around Mount Athos, but went straight across the sea to Attica. His troops knew just where to land, for on board of one of the vessels was a Greek named Hip'pi-as who knew the country well. He was the son of Pisistratus; and after his father's death, he had become ruler of Athens; but he was so tyrannical that he was driven out of the kingdom. He fled to Persia; and now he thought that if Darius could only conquer Athens, he himself might again become its ruler. Hippias told the Persians to land at the plain of Mar'a-thon. It was so wide and level, he said, that it would give plenty of room for using the cavalry.

The Athenian army was commanded by ten generals, who took turns in ruling for one day. Five of them wished to engage in battle; the other five did not think this was wise. There was one other person who had a vote, the minister of war. Mil-ti'a-des, a general who wished to fight, went to him secretly and persuaded him to favor a battle. So it was that the famous battle of Marathon was fought. Miltiades was in command. He drew up his lines in front of the hills at the edge of the plain. The Persians, ten times the number of the Greeks; were on the plain between them and the sea. Off the shore were the ships and the chains in which they planned to carry away the Greeks into captivity. The first charge was a vast surprise to the Persians, for the Greeks dashed upon them with no bowmen and no cavalry for protection. Then the two lines met in deadly conflict. Near the end of the engagement, the Greek wings routed the Persian wings; but the Persian centre broke through the Greek centre. Then the Greek wings faced about and burst upon the enemy so [35] furiously that the Persians, who had felt so sure of their victory, ran for their lives across the plain and down the slope of the shore. They splashed through the shallow water and clambered into their vessels as if fiends instead of Greeks were after them; but before they could get away, the Greeks had captured seven of their vessels.

The Persians did not give up, but hurried away as fast as their oars could drive them. Not a moment's rest was there for the weary Greeks, for the vessels were pointed toward Athens. The soldiers marched off at full speed; and when the Persians arrived and saw them encamped on a little river close to the city, they went back to their own country.

Sometimes a small battle is far more important than many a large one. The number of men who fought at Marathon was not great; but it was a momentous engagement, because it saved the liberty-loving Greeks from becoming the slaves of the Persians.

All honor was shown to Miltiades and to the minister of war, who had been slain in the battle. Their statues were even placed among those of the gods. It was the custom to bring home for burial the bodies of men who had fallen; but as a mark of special honor the Greeks agreed to bury the heroes of Marathon on the field. Over them were raised two mighty mounds of earth. Stately marble pillars were reared, whereon was written the name of every man, be he commander or slave, who had died in that place to save the freedom of Greece. The pillars have long since disappeared, but the great mounds of earth still remain and are pointed out to every one who visits the battlefield.


[36] The Chaldęans. — The Assyrians. — Nebuchadnezzar and the Hanging Gardens. — The Hebrews. — Phœnicia. — Egypt and the Nile. — Hieroglyphics. — Transmigration of souls. — The pyramids. — The sphinx. — The great size of Egyptian sculpture. — The victories of the Medes and Persians. — The expedition of Darius against the Athenians. — His second expedition. — The battle of Marathon.

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