10.What We Owe to the Greeks. The first civilized people in Europe were the Greeks, or Hellenes as they called themselves. Undoubtedly they themselves learned much from Egypt and from Asia, but as the Greeks learned they also invented and improved, so that all that they did seems new and wonderful. In some ways they did so well that no nation has ever equaled them, and even the wisest men of to-day are proud to follow their example.

Of many things which we now have the men of ancient Greece of course knew nothing. No screaming railway trains rushed across their land; no factories with their great machines were found in their cities; they did not dream of the telegraph or of electric light. As compared with ours, their lives were very simple.

But the Hellenes loved most, all that is beautiful. Their temples were small and simple, but so graceful and. so perfect that we still imitate them in our public buildings. They carved statues of such beauty that artists

still travel thousands of miles to see even broken pieces of them. They made stories and poems of such wonderful power that our best writers study them to learn how to improve their own work.

Yet the Greeks were not artists alone. Their wise men, or philosophers as they were called, thought deeply about many practical things, too. Sometimes, indeed, they made strange mistakes, yet they left to later peoples the beginnings of nearly all the subjects now taught in schools and colleges. They had noble thoughts, also, about how men should live. First of all civilized peoples, they learned to govern themselves without kings and princes. To them it seemed the duty of every man to benefit his country and even to lay down his life, if necessary, to save her from slavery.

11. Where the Greeks Lived. Greece itself is a peninsula indented by deep gulfs and bays which make it look on the map something like a man’s hand. It is only a small country, not so large as our state of New York or Virginia, and is all cut up by rugged mountains into narrow valleys and high plateaus. Even to-day the traveler journeys across the country with difficulty.

Yet Greece is a beautiful land. Against a deep blue sky, its bold hills and mountains, often powdered with snow, stand out in clear outline, and its fertile valleys please the eye with their green vineyards and groves of silver-gray olive trees. Above all, one can never get far from the sea, that same wonderful blue sea which seemed to call the ancient Greeks to voyages of adventure and trade.

Greece has the warm, balmy climate of all Mediterranean lands. Yet it knows the frosts of winter, which, however, is much shorter than with us.

But in ancient times "Greece" was really very much wider than the peninsula of the name. Scattered thickly in the sea on both sides of the mainland are many islands, both large and small, while to the south lies the large, mountainous island of Crete. In all of these lived Hellenes who took an active part in whatever went on, for to the Greek the sea, instead of being a barrier, was a natural road of communication.

But this was not all. As Greece was but a small land, the flourishing Greek cities very early began to send out colonies to neighboring coasts. Gathering about some strong leader, bands of citizens would sail forth in their long vessels perhaps to some neighboring island, perhaps to some distant and little known shore. Here, where some curving harbor gave advantage for commerce, they would build a new city.. In course of time many of these colonies grew into powerful states, often stronger and finer than the mother-city itself.

Thus the Greeks in very ancient days made many settlements along the coast of Asia Minor. Becoming still more daring, they voyaged through the straits into the Black Sea, on the shores of which they built many towns. Because this body of water took their ships to such pleasant coasts, the Greeks called it the Euxine Sea, a name which means "the sea friendly to strangers." They settled also along the northern coast of Africa, and especially in southern Italy and on the island of Sicily. Here was built Syracuse, the greatest of all Greek cities outside of Greece itself. The large peninsula of Italy was so filled with Greek towns that men often called it "Greater Greece." Still farther west, in what is now southern France and Spain, this race of seafarers had a foothold also.

When an ancient Greek spoke of Greece he meant not merely the small mountainous land which was the mother country of his people, but rather all places. everywhere where Greeks lived. The true Greece of ancient times was scattered all about the Mediterranean Sea.

Many cities founded by these ancient people still exist and are even yet among the world’s great centers

of commerce. Not only Athens in Greece itself, but Alexandria in Egypt, Constantinople in Turkey, and Marseilles in southern France were once Greek towns, and all but Constantinople still bear names very much like those which the Greeks gave. Few peoples, indeed, have known how to choose the places for their cities with such great foresight.

12. The Religion of the Greeks; Gods and Goddesses. Like most early peoples the Greeks once thought that the great powers of nature, --the sky, the sun, the sea, --were gods whose favor men must win if they were to succeed in what they undertook. But as time went on they gave names to these forces and spoke of them as persons --gods and goddesses who felt and acted, loved and hated, much as do human beings. Upon Mount Olympus, a huge, snowy mountain in northern Greece, these mighty beings held their court.

The Greeks thought that the gods often interfered in human affairs, aiding those who pleased them but heaping ruin upon their enemies. Sometimes the gods and goddesses even appeared in human shape and mingled with men. They might be wounded, but never died, and ill indeed fared those who injured them, even unintentionally.

The chief of all the gods was Zeus, or Jupiter, whose strong hand held the thunderbolts which none might resist. With him ruled his wife, the proud queen Juno, a jealous enemy to those who opposed her. But Zeus shared his power with his two brothers, --Neptune, the rough old god of the sea, and dark Pluto, king of "Hades," or the underworld, whither must go the souls of all the dead.

The court of Olympus was graced by Venus, the beautiful goddess of love; Diana, the moon, wild goddess of the chase; and the calm and brave Athena, daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom. High among the gods stood Vulcan, the strong but lame blacksmith, whose workshops were the volcanoes; the graceful Apollo, god of manly beauty, and the swift Mercury, with his winged sandals, who watched over merchants and thieves. Nor must we forget Mars, the fierce god of war, delighting in the clang of weapons and the blood of the slain.

Besides these greater gods and goddesses the ancient Greeks believed also in a host of lesser beings, such as unruly giants, beautiful nymphs delighting in the dance, and clumsy satyrs who had human bodies but the hoofs and horns of goats. Every hill, every stream, every waterfall, held within it a spirit which thought and felt.

Regarding these divinities and their doings many stories or "myths" were told among the Greeks. Many of these tales are indeed so fanciful that only a very simple people could believe them. Yet the stories and the poems in which they were put are so beautiful and interesting that the world can never forget them.

Absurd as a belief in such gods may seem to us, their religion was very real to the early Greeks, who began almost every act of life with a religious ceremony. To their gods and

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman