General History in Outline and Story
III . THE GREAT DAYS OF GREECE
12 . HOMER AND THE STORY OF TROY
The arts and science of Egypt and Asia first came to the early Europeans through those living about the Aegean Sea. The earliest Aegean town, which has only come to light in our time, was Knossos, in the Island of Crete. This seems to have been the chief town of a great Sea Empire. Here, in Knossos, only a short time back, the discovery was made of a great King's house like those of the Egyptians and Babylonians. This building is clearly the work of men at a very high state of society. It was well drained, heated with covered fireplaces, and had baths in it ; wide steps went curving round from floor to floor, and there was a great room where special meals took place.
Under the building was a complex chain of storerooms for wine and oil which seemed to have no end. The Greeks gave this place the name 'labyrinth.' which was their word for a network of ways. They had a story of how, in the past, a great animal, the 'Minotaur,' half-man and half-bull, was living there, and how the cruel King Minos gave orders for seven boys and seven girls to be sent from Athens every nine years as food for it.
Knossos has the oldest stone road in Europe. Her potters made beautiful cups and other vessels. and her women, as seen in the wall-paintings, put us in mind of the society women of the early nineteen hundreds. They had wide hats shading their faces, and dresses tight round the body, with full skirts and worked with colored thread and bands round the middle.
The most noted of the early Aegean sea-towns was Troy, and Homer's story of the fall of Troy, The Iliad, is one of the greatest stories ever penned. Moved by Homer's work, about one hundred years back a boy named Schliemann made up his mind that when he was a man he would have a look for Troy. He went to the great mass of earth by which the place is marked, in the north-west of Asia Minor. There he went deeper and deeper down into the earth till, to the surprise of everyone, he came upon a town which was a thousand years older than Homer's Troy.
After four years he and his workmen had go to the foot of the mass, and in doing so they had gone through no less than nine towns. At the lowest level there was a group of late Stone Age houses made of earth bricks, and with them were stone fighting instruments more than five thousand years old. In the second town, the one over it, were copper and beautiful gold jewels. The sixth town (about 1500 BC) was that of the great rulers of Homer's time. Its old walls, which were made of wood, have been uncovered. These walls were put up to keep off the attacks of the Greeks, by whom, as Homer says, the town was taken and burned in the Trojan War. The ninth town, at the top, was Roman, and parts of its buildings are still in existence..
Another great Aegean town was Mycenae, in Greece itself. Agamemnon, its greatest King, so says Homer's story, took the chief part in the attack on Troy. Its walls were so thick that, to later Greek armies coming against them, it seemed impossible for them to have been made by any but the 'Titans' -- early gods living on earth and noted for their great size.
The destruction of these Aegean towns was the work of the early Greeks, rough keepers of sheep and goats, who first came south from across the Danube two or three hundred years after the time of Hammurabi and Abraham. They gave themselves the name of Hellenes. Zeus was their chief god, and his living-place was Olympus, which is high enough to be seen from almost anywhere in Greece. Moving slowly south, pushed on by wave after wave of newcomers from the north, they saw the strong buildings and high walls of the Aegean towns, and came in touch with new ideas. In the hundreds of years while they were forming a more fixed society and building towns for themselves, they were learning, in their frequent attacks on the Aegeans, the art of fighting with metal blades in place of stone hammers. By about 1500 BC they had put an end to Knossos, and by 1100 BC to Troy.
Homer's verse is our earliest record of the Greeks and their ideas about men and gods. It gives us a picture of them living in small groups of open houses, without iron, writing, or towns. They were ruled by chiefs or Kings, helped by the older men, and all important questions were put before a meeting of free men. From the noted old Greek stories -- of Circe, the Sirens, the Cyclops, and so on -- we are able to get some idea of their ways of living.
13 . THE LAUGHING MEN
The early nations of the East were ruled by Kings, like the Pharaohs of Egypt, and by men of religion. The Greeks had chiefs or Kings from the very first, and at one time or another (between 700 and 600 BC) they were ruled by 'tyrants' -- men who, though they were frequently good rulers, had taken the power by force and were responsible to no one.
But the Greeks, unlike the men of the East, had a very strong desire to be free. They were grouped in small towns with different gods. Every one of these towns was independent, and was, in fact, a country in itself. Every one had enough farm land round it to make it self-supporting. All together there were about a hundred and fifty of these small towns. Our name for them is city-states -- that is, towns which have a separate government and are not part of any greater organization.
When their numbers became greater the Greeks did not, like the nations of the East, overcome the other nations near them. What they did was to send out groups, like bees in the spring, to make new towns. By about 500 BC there were colonies of this sort all round the Mediterranean. In this way their towns, trade, language, and ideas went everywhere. Two of their traders even go as far as Britain and gave the Greeks an account of that far-off island, on the edge of the earth as it seemed to them.
But the Greeks were unable to keep peace among themselves. Though loose groups of towns were sometimes formed, they never became united in one nation. However, there were certain organizations which were common to all Greeks. The chief seat of their religion was the Oracle (a place where questions were answered by a god through the mouth of his servant) at Delphi, which, it was their belief, was the middle of the earth. Here they came in times of danger, together with men of Asia and of Rome, to get the opinion of the god, Apollo. The Greek gods were less cruel than the gods of the East, and men had less fear of them. They even had a sense of humor, and it has been said of the Greeks themselves that they were the only men of the time who ever gave way to uncontrolled laughing.
The Greeks did, for a time, become united against the Persians, and their long fight against the newcomers from Asia is another of the great stories in history, recorded by one of their most important writers, Herodotus, the 'Father of History.'
14 . THE STORY OF MARATHON
The 'Great King' of Persia gave orders that the Greek towns in Asia Minor were to make certain payments to him, and when they would not do so he sent an army against them. In this way was started the great war between Europe and Asia, the outcome of which had such an important effect on later developments. The Persians took the Greek towns on the Asiatic side of the Aegean Sea and then, because Athens had been helping them, Darius made up his mind to overcome Greece itself, as a punishment. His first move was to send men requesting "earth and water" as a sign that the Greeks had become the servants of Darius. In answer, the Greeks put these representatives down a water-hole, where as they said, they would get quite enough "earth and water."
The first ships sent against Greece went down in the sea with all the men in them. Two years later the Persians came across the Aegean and made a landing near Athens, at Marathon (490 B.C.). Here the great army of Persian archers, from all over the Empire, was overcome by the small Athenian army of spearmen fighting in a solid group. Only Plataea of all the other Greek towns sent any help to Athens in this hour of danger.
Only a short time before, the great runner Pheidippides had come back from a journey to Sparta -- one hundred and fifty miles from Athens -- which he had done in twenty-four hours. After taking part in the fight Pheidippides went running to Athens, a distance of twenty-six miles, which was the quickest way of giving news. When he got there he was only able to say "The day is ours !" before falling forward, dead, into the arms of the Athenians. No man, it seemed to them, had ever had so great a death.
There was a space of some years before another army was sent from Persia. In that time the Greeks had foolishly been wasting their forces in war among themselves, but Athens had been building more ships, and had put strong walls round her harbor. Then, in 480 B.C., the Persian King, Xerxes, made an attack on Greece by land and sea, helped by the ships of the Phoenicians, who were bitter about the competition of the Greek traders. In this time of great danger the town of Sparta was given control of the Greek forces.
The great Persian army had come from Asia to the country north of Greece. The only road into Greece was a narrow way between the mountains and the sea, named Themopylae. Leonidas, the Spartan King, and three hundred of his countrymen were stationed in this narrow way. But a false Greek gave the Persians knowledge of a road round the back of the Spartans, and so they were able to make a surprise attack. By the morning, after a great fight, Leonidas and all his men were dead. In memory of them the place was marked with these words cut in stone :
"Go, say to Sparta, you who come this way,
That here, true to her orders, still we keep our place."
And so a Greek had given the Greeks into the hands of the Persians. "The worst of all crimes," said the Greek writer Pausanias, "the giving away of country and countrymen for private profit, was the cause of bitter trouble to the Greeks, as it had been to others ! This sort of crime was in existence in Greece from the earliest times and was never rooted out."
The way to Athens was now open. The army was ordered by the Athenians to come down from its walled position on the slopes of the Acropolis. The military buildings were then burned, and all went to the island of Salamis near by. There seemed to be no hope. But on September 20, 480 B.C., the Persians were forced into a fight in the narrow sea between Salamis and Greece, and great was the destruction effected by the Athenian ships. Almost all the Persian vessels went down, and Xerxes had to go back to Persia. The land army, under its chief, went north, burning Athens on the way, but was later overcome by the united Greek forces, though it was three times their size (479 B.C.)
These great events area among the most important in history because they kept Greece and Europe from coming under the rule of Asia. The Athenians had made a great name for themselves, and had the feeling of being somehow different from all other nations. The rest were looked down on by them as 'barbarians' -- men without any true knowledge of the art of living.
15 . THE THEATRE AND THE PLAY
The time at which these wars took place was a great age in man's history (600-500 B.C.). About 500 B.C., Buddha, the father of the great religion which still has millions of supporters in the Far East, was living in India. A little earlier Confucius was working in China, where he is still respected almost as a god ; it was he who gave the great rule : "Do not do to others what you would not be pleased to have done to yourself." And somewhere about this time the early writings of the Jews, the 'Old Testament' of the Bible, were being put together in Jerusalem. Last, but not least, a certain town on the river Tiber -- Rome -- was now coming to the front.
The years between 500 and 400 B.C. were in addition, the great age of the Greek towns, or 'city-states.' The Greeks were very able in the government of their towns. They were experts, that is, in the political field, and our word 'political' comes from 'polis,' the Greek word for an independent town. At one time or another all the Greek towns had experience of certain different systems of government : 'Monarchy' (the rule of one man), 'Aristocracy' (the rule of the best men), 'Oligarchy' (the rule of a small number), 'Tyranny' (this word and idea -- of rule based on force -- at the back of it are from the East), and 'Democracy' (the rule of the 'demos,' or public). All but one of these forms of government are Greek ideas, with Greek names which have been handed down to the present day.
By 500 B.C. towns such as Athens, Sparta and Corinth were experiencing the growth of industry. The slave system -- which was in use all through these early times -- was increasing, and in time there were five or six slaves to very free man. Their condition was not unhappy. They did all the handwork and housework, and much of the teaching, while their owners went to pubic meetings, to the theater, or to the schools of physical training.
It is interesting to see how important the olive was, then as now, in Greece. This evergreen tree, with its narrow leaves and small, bitter stone-fruit, was valued by the Greeks from the earliest times. A circle of olive leaves placed on the head was the greatest reward given in the Olympic competitions. Olive oil was used in a great number of different ways in the house. "It was used for cooking, for washing, and for lighting." Even today no one in Greece (outside the great hotels in Athens) gets butter ; bread and olives, or bread and goat's cheese, are their 'bread and butter.' Herodotus gives a very detailed account of what to him was the uncommon process of butter-making or, in his words, 'cow-cheese-making.' Oil is still used in almost every form of cooking, and no Greek cook would be able to do much without it. Further, the Greeks had no soap for washing, but in place of that, made use of oil for rubbing their bodies, and if that wasn't enough, they put sweet-smelling substance with it. And last, if they were up after sun-down (which they were much less commonly then we are) they had no other light than burning oil or wood. This is the reason for the great number of oil vessels in every museum of early Greece. The wise housekeeper made use of a different quality of oil for every one of these purposes. The olives were crushed in machines three times ; first, oil for food was produced, then oil for the body, then oil for burning, and after that the rest of the fruit -- skins and all -- was used for fires.*
In the pubic existence of every free Greek the theatre was no less important than the selection of government representatives and the political meetings. The theater is a Greek invention, and most of the words used in connection with it come from the Greek. At first a Greek theater was nothing more than a grass circle (the 'orchestra') open to the sky, in which the chorus gave dances and songs to the god of wine. Round part of the orchestra there were seats for the onlookers, forming a half-circle ; at the side of it there was a rough building for the use of the actors, and the stage was a later development from this structure.
It is not surprising that the free Greeks came tot he theater in thousands to see the play named The Persians, by Aeschylus, which gives the story of their great fight against Persia. Aeschylus himself had taken part in the war.
Here are some lines form the play which will give an idea of its substance and structure though not of its form, which was very beautiful verse. Atossa, the Queen of Darius, is questioning the Persians about Athens before the fight at Marathon, and the chorus is answering her :
Atossa . Say, Persians, if you may, where on Earth's wide space is Athens ?
* - The substance of this account of the uses of oil is taken from Zimmern, The Greek Commonwealth.
Chorus . There, where our chief, the Sun-god, goes slowly down, far away.
Atossa . Why had my son such a great desire for power over Athens ?
Chorus . All parts of Hellas would then be under his rule
Atossa . Does Athens keep ever ready such a great army ?
Chorus . Such an army, of whose great fighters Persia has bitter memories.
Atossa . And in addition to their fighters, have they money enough to store ?
Chorus . Yes, a mine of silver have they in their land.
Atossa . Is it because they are such strong archers that they are so much to be feared ?
Chorus . Not strong archers only, but expert, and good spearmen fighting in line.
Atossa . Say, what ruler gives them orders ? Who is their army's king and chief ?
Chorus . They are under no chief or ruler, they take orders from no men.
Atossa . Then they have no chance against us, a strange attacking force.
Chorus . They overcame the army of Darius, great in number though it was.
Atossa . Words of fear for all mothers of our fighters far away.
16 . ATHENS IN HER GREATEST DAYS
The most noted Athenian politically was Pericles (495-429 B.C.,). After the Persian wars Pericles put up some of the most beautiful building ever seen, in place of those which had been burned down by the Persians. On the Acropolis he put the Parthenon, the temple of Athena, made of polished stone. It was ornamented with forms and pictures by the great worker in stone, Pheidias, who made for it, among other things, a most beautiful Athena in gold and bone. The roof was supported by Doric columns, the oldest, simplest, and strongest of the three sorts of Greek column. Near by, at the foot of the Acropolis, was the theater where the free Greeks came to see the plays of the Greek writers -- among the greatest verse-writers of all time.
Pericles, in a noted talk recording the great acts of a dead man, said these words about Athens ; "We are lovers of the beautiful, but we are simple in our tastes, and we give attention to things of the mind without any loss of the qualities which make us men. We make use of money, not for talk and unnecessary ornament, but when there is a true need for it. Among us it is no shame to say that one is poor ; the true shame is in doing nothing to put an end to that condition. A free Athenian does not give up his interest in public work because he has a house and family to take care of ; and even those of us who are business-men are politically-minded. It is only in our society that the man with no interest in pubic events is looked on, not as bad but as of no value ; and though only a small number of us have the power of guiding political developments, we are all good judges of political undertakings . . . because we are specially given to reasoning before acting."
Under Pericles Athens became a new and very beautiful town, and the meeting-place of the greatest men of letters, art, and science. It came to be, as he said, "the school of Greece."
In the streets of Athens the greatest of all Greeks, Socrates, went about teaching. He was a poor man, the son of a stone-cutter. By his questioning of all things he did his best to make a wiser person of the man in the street, because it is those living in a country who make it great. But his questions gave his hearers doubts about a great number of important things, even about the old Greek gods. So Socrates was taken before the judges and put to death by the Law of Athens. The story of his death (399 B.C.) is given by Plato, the greatest of those whose teacher he was. When Socrates was answering his judges he said that a man who was good for anything would not let the fear of death have any effect on his behavior. The only question he had to put to himself was, "Am I doing right or wrong -- acting the part of a good man or a bad ?"
The writings of Plato, whose teacher was Socrates, and those of Aristotle, whose teacher was Plato, still give us the wisest answers to some of the most important questions of existence.
If only Athens and Sparta had been able to come to an agreement after getting the better of the Persians, it would have been a great thing for Greece. But the Athenians were lovers of the beautiful, with a strong desire to be free ; the Spartans, on the other hand, had no respect for the arts, and their society was a military organization in which training in arms was the most important thing, and every man did as he was ordered. They were bitter against Athens, because her ships had control of the seas and she had kept together an organization of towns after the Persian wars. In a short time this organization became an Empire which was taxed by Athens. High walls were put up round the town, watched by the angry eyes of the Spartans.
After that came a most unhappy thirty years' war between the two towns, marked by very bitter feeling, and ending only when Athens was completely crushed. In the third year the Athenians were attacked by a disease which was responsible for the death of more than half their number. Some time later, after much violent argument and discussion. Athens took the unwise step of sending a force against a noted Greek colony in Sicily, Syracuse. And there, in the stone-mines, the flower of the young Athenians went to their death.
The power of Athens was broken. First Sparta, and then Thebes, became the most important of the Greek towns. But the great Athens of the past still went on living in its university, the first of all universities.
Greek art, Greek science, Greek thought in almost every branch of knowledge, were to be the highwater-mark of European development for hundreds of years. Greece became the teacher of all Europe, and even today we are still learning from here. In power of thought and harmony of language the old Greek writings are equal to, if not better than, the best of later times, and it is still to them that we go for the clearest and most beautiful statement of some of the great questions by which man is troubled.
"As the flowers are the ornament of the earth, and the stars of the sky,
so Athens is the ornament of Greece, and Greece of the earth."
17 . ALEXANDER THE GREAT
The war with Sparta had put an end to the great days of Athens. When peace was made the mountain nation of Macedon, north of Greece, was ruled by an able king named Philip. Disgusted with the unending fighting among the Greek towns, he made up his mind to get Greece united under himself and then to overcome the old danger, Persia.
But his work was cut short by his sudden and violent death, and the undertaking was handed down to his son, Alexander the Great, whose teacher was Aristotle. Alexander was one of the greatest military chiefs in history, and one of the greatest Empire-builders. By a number of wars, stretching over seven years, he got control of a great Empire, crushing Phoenicia, which had long been in competition with Greece, overcoming Egypt, and forcing his way across Asia till he came to the Indus. The old ideas of the earth and the men living on it were greatly changed by these journeys of Alexander. Up to this time the countries round the Mediterranean had been looked on as 'the world' -- as all man's earth -- but now men became awake to the fact that this was only part of a greater 'world' stretching away on all sides.
But Alexander was much more than a fighter. Wherever he went he put up Greek towns and made Greek ideas current, so that all the East, as far as the Indus, became one family of nations with a common language -- Greek. He did all this while he was still a young man ; he was only thirty-three at the time of his death, which took place in the great house of Hammurabi in Babylon (328 B.C.).
Plutarch, the writer of a number of books about noted Greeks and Romans, gives some interesting stories about Alexander's good sense. At one time he went to see a wise man named Diogenes, whose teaching was that the way to be happy was to have as little as possible. Diogenes was stretched out having as sun-bath. When he saw the group of men coming in his direction, lifting himself a little, he gave Alexander a long look. Alexander, with great respect, said to him, "Is there anything of which you have need?" "Yes," said he, "there is -- of your getting out of my sun a little." Alexander was so pleased with this answer, and so surprised that Diogenes had no fear of him, that he said, "Say whatever you have a mind to ; truly, if I was not Alexander I would be happy to be Diogenes."
At another time and place they put a small chest in front of Alexander, which was said to be the most beautiful and to have the greatest value of all the things which wee taken after the fall of Darius. When he saw it he said to his friends, "What is the best thing to do with it?" Some said one thing and some said another, but Alexander said he would put Homer's Iliad into it as the thing having most right to be so housed.
After Alexander's death the great Empire was broken up among his military chiefs. One of them became King of Egypt and made the noted Museum of Alexandria (the town named after Alexander). The museum was a great library and university whose men from all over the earth came to the great teachers, such as Euclid, the writer on geometry.
In this way Greek ideas and Greek towns were still important. Greece had become the teacher of the East. And when the Romans overcame Greece and the East two hundred years later they took its art and learning back again to the west, even as far as Britain.
Where the Romans went there went with them, in time, a number of the religions of the East, among them the new Christian Church, at first the least, but in the end the greatest of them all. So the Old Testament of the Jews and the later New Testament of the Christians in Greek became the books from which first all Europe, and then America and other parts of the earth, took their religion.
DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK
I . -- THE FIRST STAGE
II . -- THE EARLY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EAST
III. -- THE GREAT DAYS OF GREECE top
IV . -- THE GREAT DAYS OF ROME
V . -- THE MIDDLE AGES
VI . -- THE 'NEW BIRTH' OF EUROPE
VII. -- NEW FORCES IN RELIGION AND THE GROWTH OF A NEW OUTLOOK
VIII -- THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE OVERSEAS
IX . -- THE 'GREAT KINGS' OF EUROPE
X . -- THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
XI . -- THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON
XII. -- THE BIRTH OF NEW NATIONS
XIII -- THE WORLD OF THE PRESENT DAY