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

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 262 pages of information about A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life.
The “Scythians” they are called from their usual land of origin, or the “bowmen,” from their special weapon, which incidentally makes a convenient cudgel in a street brawl.  There are 1200 of them, always at the disposal of the city magistrates.  They patrol the town at night, arrest evil-doers, sustain law and order in the Agora, and especially enforce decorum, if the public assemblies or the jury courts become tumultuous.  They have a special cantonment on the hill of Areopagus near the Acropolis.  “Slaves” they are of course in name, and under a kind of military discipline; but they are highly privileged slaves.  The security of the city may depend upon their loyal zeal.  In times of war they are auxiliaries.  Life in this police force cannot therefore be burdensome, and their position is envied by all the factory workers and the house servants.

Chapter VIII.  The Children.

44.  The Desirability of Children in Athens.—­Besides the oversight of the slaves the Athenian matron has naturally the care of the children.  A childless home is one of the greatest of calamities.  It means a solitary old age, and still worse, the dying out of the family and the worship of the family gods.  There is just enough of the old superstitious “ancestor worship” left in Athens to make one shudder at the idea of leaving the “deified ancestor” without any descendants to keep up the simple sacrifices to their memory.  Besides, public opinion condemns the childless home as not contributing to the perpetuation of the city.  How Corinth, Thebes, or Sparta will rejoice, if it is plain that Athens is destroying herself by race suicide!  So at least one son will be very welcome.  His advent is a day of happiness for the father, of still greater satisfaction for the young mother.

45.  The Exposure of Infants.—­How many more children are welcome depends on circumstances.  Children are expensive luxuries.  They must be properly educated and even the boys must be left a fair fortune.[*] The girls must always have good dowries, or they cannot “marry according to their station.”  Public opinion, as well as the law, allows a father (at least if he has one or two children already) to exercise a privilege, which later ages will pronounce one of the foulest blots on Greek civilization.  After the birth of a child there is an anxious day or two for the poor young mother and the faithful nurses.—­Will he ‘nourish’ it?  Are there boys enough already?  Is the disappointment over the birth of a daughter too keen?  Does he dread the curtailment in family luxuries necessary to save up for an allowance or dowry for the little stranger?  Or does the child promise to be puny, sickly, or even deformed?  If any of these arguments carry adverse weight, there is no appeal against the father’s decision.  He has until the fifth day after the birth to decide.  In the interval he can utter

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