|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
HOW THE GREEKS LIVED
 BUT how, you will ask, did the ancient Greeks have time
to look after their families and their business if they were
forever running to the market-place to discuss affairs of state?
In this chapter I shall tell you.
In all matters of government, the Greek democracy recognised
only one class of citizens—the freemen. Every Greek
city was composed of a small number of free born citizens, a
large number of slaves and a sprinkling of foreigners.
At rare intervals (usually during a war, when men were
needed for the army) the Greeks showed themselves willing to
confer the rights of citizenship upon the "barbarians" as they
called the foreigners. But this was an exception. Citizenship
was a matter of birth. You were an Athenian because your
father and your grandfather had been Athenians before you.
But however great your merits as a trader or a soldier, if you
were born of non-Athenian parents, you remained a "foreigner"
until the end of time.
The Greek city, therefore, whenever it was not ruled by a
king or a tyrant, was run by and for the freemen, and this
would not have been possible without a large army of slaves
who outnumbered the free citizens at the rate of six or five
to one and who performed those tasks to which we modern
people must devote most of our time and energy if we wish to
provide for our families and pay the rent of our apartments.
 The slaves did all the cooking and baking and candlestick
making of the entire city. They were the tailors and the carpenters
and the jewelers and the school-teachers and the bookkeepers
and they tended the store and looked after the factory
while the master went to the public meeting to discuss questions
of war and peace or visited the theatre to see the latest
play of AEschylus or hear a discussion of the revolutionary ideas
of Euripides, who had dared to express certain doubts upon
the omnipotence of the great god Zeus.
Indeed, ancient Athens resembled a modern club. All the
freeborn citizens were hereditary members and all the slaves
were hereditary servants, and waited upon the needs of their
masters, and it was very pleasant to be a member of the
But when we talk about slaves, we do not mean the sort of
people about whom you have read in the pages of "Uncle
Tom's Cabin." It is true that the position of those slaves who
tilled the fields was a very unpleasant one, but the average
freeman who had come down in the world and who had been
obliged to hire himself out as a farm hand led just as miserable
a life. In the cities, furthermore, many of the slaves were
more prosperous than the poorer classes of the freemen. For
the Greeks, who loved moderation in all things, did not like to
treat their slaves after the fashion which afterward was so
common in Rome, where a slave had as few rights as an engine
in a modern factory and could be thrown to the wild animals
upon the smallest pretext.
The Greeks accepted slavery as a necessary institution,
without which no city could possibly become the home of a truly
The slaves also took care of those tasks which nowadays are
performed by the business men and the professional men. As
for those household duties which take up so much of the time
of your mother and which worry your father when he comes
home from his office, the Greeks, who understood the value of
leisure, had reduced such duties to the smallest possible minimum
by living amidst surroundings of extreme simplicity.
To begin with, their homes were very plain. Even the rich
nobles spent their lives in a sort of adobe barn, which lacked
all the comforts which a modern workman expects as his natural
right. A Greek home consisted of four walls and a roof.
There was a door which led into the street but there were no
windows. The kitchen, the living rooms and the sleeping quarters
were built around an open courtyard in which there was a
small fountain, or a statue and a few plants to make it look
bright. Within this courtyard the family lived when it did not
rain or when it was not too cold. In one corner of the yard the
cook (who was a slave) prepared the meal and in another
corner, the teacher (who was also a slave) taught the children
the alpha beta gamma and the tables of multiplication and in
still another corner the lady of the house, who rarely left her
 domain (since it was not considered good form for a married
woman to be seen on the street too often) was repairing her
husband's coat with her seamstresses (who were slaves,) and
in the little office, right off the door, the master was inspecting
the accounts which the overseer of his farm (who was a slave)
had just brought to him.
When dinner was ready the family came together but the
meal was a very simple one and did not take much time. The
Greeks seem to have regarded eating as an unavoidable evil
and not a pastime, which kills many dreary hours and eventually
kills many dreary people. They lived on bread and on
wine, with a little meat and some green vegetables. They
drank water only when nothing else was available because
they did not think it very healthy. They loved to call on each
other for dinner, but our idea of a festive meal, where everybody
is supposed to eat much more than is good for him, would
have disgusted them. They came together at the table for
the purpose of a good talk and a good glass of wine and water,
but as they were moderate people they despised those who
drank too much.
The same simplicity which prevailed in the dining room
also dominated their choice of clothes. They liked to be clean
and well groomed, to have their hair and beards neatly cut,
to feel their bodies strong with the exercise and the swimming
of the gymnasium, but they never followed the Asiatic fashion
which prescribed loud colours and strange patterns. They
wore a long white coat and they managed to look as smart as
a modern Italian officer in his long blue cape.
They loved to see their wives wear ornaments but they
thought it very vulgar to display their wealth (or their wives)
in public and whenever the women left their home they were as
inconspicuous as possible.
In short, the story of Greek life is a story not only of moderation
but also of simplicity. "Things," chairs and tables and
books and houses and carriages, are apt to take up a great
deal of their owner's time. In the end they invariably make
 him their slave and his hours are spent looking after their
wants, keeping them polished and brushed and painted. The
Greeks, before everything else, wanted to be "free," both in
mind and in body. That they might maintain their liberty, and
be truly free in spirit, they reduced their daily needs to the
lowest possible point.
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