A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 215 pages of information about A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life.

[*] Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.) required his soldiers to be shaved (as giving less grasp for the enemy!), and the habit then spread generally through the whole Hellenic world.

“How shall I cut your hair, sir?” once asked the court tonsure of King Archelaus of Macedon.

“In silence,” came the grim answer.

But the proprietor will not do all the talking.  Everybody in the little room will join.  Wits will sharpen against wits; and if the company is of a grave and respectable sort, the conversation will grow brisk upon Plato’s theory of the “reality of ideas,” upon Euripides’s interpretation of the relations of God to man, or upon the spiritual symbolism of Scopas’s bas-reliefs at Halicarnassus.

The barber shops by the Agora then are essential portions of Athenian social life.  Later we shall see them supplemented by the Gymnasia;—­but the Agora has detained us long enough.  The din and crowds are lessening.  People are beginning to stream homeward.  It lacks a little of noon according to the “time-staff” (gnomon), a simple sun dial which stands near one of the porticoes, and we will now follow some Athenian gentleman towards his dwelling.

Chapter IV.  The Athenian House and its Furnishings.

21.  Following an Athenian Gentleman Homeward.—­Leaving the Agora and reentering the streets the second impression of the residence districts becomes more favorable.  There are a few bay trees planted from block to block; and ever and anon the monotonous house walls recede, giving space to display some temple, like the Fane of Hephestos[*] near the Market Place, its columns and pediment flashing not merely with white marble, but with the green, scarlet, and gold wherewith the Greeks did not hesitate to decorate their statuary.

[*]Wrongly called the “Theseum” in modern Athens.

At street corners and opposite important mansions a Hermes-bust like those in the plaza rises, and a very few houses have a couple of pillars at their entrances and some outward suggestion of hidden elegance.

We observe that almost the entire crowd leaving the Agora goes on foot.  To ride about in a chariot is a sign of undemocratic presumption; while only women or sick men will consent to be borne in a litter.  We will select a sprucely dressed gentleman who has just been anointed in a barber’s shop and accompany him to his home.  He is neither one of the decidedly rich, otherwise his establishment would be exceptional, not typical, nor is he of course one of the hard-working poor.  Followed by perhaps two clean and capable serving lads, he wends his way down several of the narrow lanes that lie under the northern brow of the Acropolis[*].  Before a plain solid house door he halts and cries, “Pai!  Pai!” ["Boy!  Boy!"].  There is a rattle of bolts and bars.  A low-visaged foreign-born porter, whose business it is to show a surly front to all unwelcome visitors, opens and gives a kind of salaam to his master; while the porter’s huge dog jumps up barking and pawing joyously.

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A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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