Then, with the light of a new-born resolve shining in her eyes, she turned to her brother, saying:—
“The thought of your brain shall live. Let us go to the cellar beneath our house. It is dark, but I will bring you light and food, and no one will discover our secret. You can there continue your work; the gods will be our allies.”
It is the golden age of Pericles, the most brilliant epoch of Grecian art and dramatic literature.
The scene is one of the most memorable that has ever been enacted within the proud city of Athens.
In the Agora, the public assembly or market place, are gathered together the wisdom and wit, the genius and beauty, the glory and power, of all Greece.
Enthroned in regal state sits Pericles, president of the assembly, soldier, statesman, orator, ruler, and “sole master of Athens.” By his side sits his beautiful partner, the learned and queenly Aspasia. Phidias, one of the greatest sculptors, if not the greatest the world has known, who “formed a new style characterized by sublimity and ideal beauty,” is there. Near him is Sophocles, the greatest of the tragic poets. Yonder we catch a glimpse of a face and form that offers the most striking contrast to the manly beauty of the poet, but whose wisdom and virtue have brought Athens to his feet. It is the “father of philosophy,” Socrates. With his arm linked in that of the philosopher, we see— but why prolong the list? All Greece has been bidden to Athens to view the works of art.
The works of the great masters are there. On every side paintings and statues, marvelous in detail, exquisite in finish, challenge the admiration of the crowd and the criticism of the rival artists and connoisseurs who throng the place. But even in the midst of masterpieces, one group of statuary so far surpasses all the others that it rivets the attention of the vast assembly.
“Who is the sculptor of this group?” demands Pericles. Envious artists look from one to the other with questioning eyes, but the question remains unanswered. No triumphant sculptor comes forward to claim the wondrous creation as the work of his brain and hand. Heralds, in thunder tones, repeat, “Who is the sculptor of this group?” No one can tell. It is a mystery. Is it the work of the gods? or—and, with bated breath, the question passes from lip to lip, “Can it have been fashioned by the hand of a slave?”
Suddenly a disturbance arises at the edge of the crowd. Loud voices are heard, and anon the trembling tones of a woman. Pushing their way through the concourse, two officers drag a shrinking girl, with dark, frightened eyes, to the feet of Pericles. “This woman,” they cry, “knows the sculptor; we are sure of this; but she will not tell his name.”
Neither threats nor pleading can unlock the lips of the brave girl. Not even when informed that the penalty of her conduct was death would she divulge her secret. “The law,” says Pericles, “is imperative. Take the maid to the dungeon.”