22. The Age of Pericles Begins. All the Greeks rejoiced in the defeat of the Persians. Nearly all had had a share in the glory, but the Athenians had won the most praise. When her citizens returned home after the battle of Salamis they found Athens in ruins. But they were now so filled with hope and courage that they eagerly set to work to repair the damage. Soon the city rose, new and more beautiful than before.

More than ever Athens became the first city in Greece, and for about fifty years flourished to a degree hitherto unknown. During a part of this time her affairs were directed by a great statesman named Pericles. His ideas were so wise, and his fellow citizens had such confidence in him, they followed his advice in nearly everything. So people have called this golden period in the life of Athens the "Age of Pericles." (461-429 B.C.)

23. How Athens Looked in the Age of Pericles. In the very center of the city stood a rocky hill with steep sides called the Acropolis. In early times this had been the central fort, or "citadel," but its use was now very different. To the Athenian it seemed the most wonderful spot in the whole world, for upon it were the temples of his gods, the bright colors of which, shining in the clear Greek sunlight, could be seen for a long distance.

A great flight of marble steps, crowned by an imposing entrance adorned with columns, led to the summit of the Acropolis. As he passed through this, the visitor to the city might well pause in astonishment, for before him stood a gigantic bronze statue of the goddess Athena, the special protector of the city. Seventy feet high it towered. Yet it was even more notable for beauty than for size,

since it was the work of the famous Athenian, Phidias, probably the greatest sculptor that ever drove chisel.

Behind it, however, stood a mucth greater marvel. This was the temple of Athena, the far-famed Parthenon, the most celebrated building that the world has ever seen. Though not especially large, it was so perfect in its harmony and grace that it has never been equaled.

Like so many Greek buildings it was adorned by rows of simple but beautiful columns, while the spaces on its front and sides were filled by carvings designed by the matchless Phidias and executed by himself and his pupils. These carvings represented scenes from the Greek myths, and were colored so that they seemed almost alive.

Behind the columns on the temple wall ran another series of carvings representing the Athenians holding a great procession in honor of Athena, while inside the building stood a second statue of the goddess. This was made of ivory and gold, and the skill of Phidias had succeeded in making it even more imposing than the great bronze figure.

Other notable buildings also stood on the Acropolis. One of the most interesting had a splendid porch, the root of which was supported by columns carved to represent graceful maidens.

Under one side of the hill was erected the spacious open-air theater. Here all the people of the city often came together to see plays, for the Athenians were almost as skillful in writing and acting these as in carving statues and erecting buildings.

Though the Acropolis was the center of Athens, many striking objects were to be seen in other parts of the city. Among them was a huge unfinished temple of Zeus and another fine building, often called a temple of Theseus, though this is not its right name. In the outskirts of the city were several places where there were beautiful groves of trees, attractive walks, and exercise grounds for athletes-parks, we might now call them. Here the youth of Athens trained for the games or practiced in the use of arms. But older men came to listen to the wise sayings of the philosophers. In such places Socrates or Plato might have been seen seated upon a bench or walking to and fro in earnest conversation with friends and pupils.

Athens was not situated directly on the sea, but it had a good harbor five miles away. In ancient times this would have been seen filled with the white sails of the Athenian fleet. The port was connected with the city by the famous "Long Walls," so that no enemy could ever cut off Athens from supplies.

24. Socrates, the Philosopher. Many visitors to Athens would have been more eager to see the great men of the city than even its most splendid buildings. Among such notable citizens were Pericles the statesman, and Phidias the artist.

Especially famous were the philosophers, as the wise men were called, who in the groves and other public places used to teach such citizens as cared to listen to them. Most of the Athenians were very fond of hearing their debates.

Wisest among the philosophers was Socrates, who lived a little later than the time of Pericles. Though a man of great strength who had been a brave soldier, Socrates was a very ugly person to look at. Moreover, because he was really wise, he knew that the learning of even the greatest man is after all very little. So he put on no great airs, as some philosophers did, but mingled in a quiet way with the other Athenians, and asked questions.

But the questions Socrates asked made everybody think, and thus many became wiser and better. This great man knew that people learn far more by puzzling their brains about matters than by listening to lengthy speeches from others. Many loved him, and some of his pupils, like Plato, also became great philosophers. Yet there were Athenians who were annoyed by Socrates' questions. They thought they knew a great deal, and then became angry when he put questions to them in such a way as to show that they had made mistakes.

Finally his enemies accused him of not paying proper respect to the gods of the city. Since he would not defend himself, he was condemned to drink a cup of poison. His friends made a plan for his escape, but the brave old man said that it was his duty as an Athenian to obey the laws even if they were unjust. Teaching his pupils in his last conversation that there is another life beyond the grave, the wisest Athenian died just as bravely as the sternest Spartan of them all.


The Leading Facts. 1. Under the lead of Pericles Athens became the greatest city of Greece. 2. During the "Age of Pericles" Athens was adorned by wonderful buildings and statues. 3. On the Acropolis stood the famous Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena. 4. Other notable objects in Athens were the entrance to the Acropolis, the bronze figure of Athena, the porch of the maidens, the theater, the so-called temple of Theseus, and the "Long Walls." 5. Socrates the philosopher was one of the greatest men of Athens. 6. He taught by asking questions. 7. When unjustly condemned to death he thought it better to die than to break the laws.

Study Questions. 1. Who was Pericles? 2. Why has the world remembered how Athens looked in the "Age of Pericles"? 3. Make an imaginary visit to Athens, and tell what you see. 4. Where might the notable men of Athens have been seen? 5. How did Socrates show that he was really wise? 6. Why was his way of teaching a good one? 7. Why did some Athenians wish to put him to death? 8. Why did Socrates obey an unjust law?

Suggested Readings. Guerber, The Story of the Greeks, 136-152, 157-164, 173-179; Hall, Life in Ancient Greece, 167253; White, Plutarch for Boys and Girls, 136-167; Tappan, The Story of the Greek People; Harding, Stories of Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men; Yonge, Young Folks' History of Greece; Creighton, Heroes of European History.

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman