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 child is now a recognized member of the community.  His father has accepted him as a legitimate son, one of his prospective heirs, entitled in due time to all the rights of an Athenian citizen.

[*]Owing to this simplicity and the relatively small number of Athenian names, a directory of the city would have been a perplexing affair.

47.  Life and Games of Young Children.—­The first seven years of a Greek boy’s life are spent with his nurses and his mother.  Up to that time his father takes only unofficial interest in his welfare.  Once past the first perilous “five days,” an Athenian baby has no grounds to complain of his treatment.  Great pains are taken to keep him warm and well nourished.  A wealthy family will go to some trouble to get him a skilful nurse, those from Sparta being in special demand, as knowing the best how to rear healthy infants.  He has all manner of toys, and Aristotle the philosopher commends their frequent donation; otherwise, he says, children will be always “breaking things in the house.”  Babies have rattles.  As they grow older they have dolls of painted clay or wax, sometimes with movable hands and feet, and also toy dishes, tables, wagons, and animals.  Lively boys have whipping toys, balls, hoops, and swings.  There is no lack of pet dogs, nor of all sorts of games on the blind man’s bluff and “tag” order.[*] Athenian children are, as a class, very active and noisy.  Plato speaks feelingly of their perpetual “roaring.”  As they grow larger, they begin to escape more and more from the narrow quarters of the courts of the house, and play in the streets.

[*]It is not always easy to get the exact details of such ancient games, for the “rules” have seldom come down to us; but generally speaking, the games of Greek children seem extremely like those of the twentieth century.

48.  Playing in the Streets.—­Narrow, dirty, and dusty as the streets seem, children, even of good families, are allowed to play in them.  After a rain one can see boys floating toy boats of leather in every mud puddle, or industriously making mud pies.  In warm weather the favorite if cruel sport is to catch a beetle, tie a string to its legs, let it fly off, then twitch it back again.  Leapfrog, hide-and-seek, etc., are in violent progress down every alley.  The streets are not all ideal playgrounds.  Despite genteel ideas of dignity and moderation, there is a great deal of foul talk and brawling among the passers, and Athenian children have receptive eyes and ears.  Yet on the other hand, there is a notable regard and reverence for childhood.  With all its frequent callousness and inhumanity, Greek sentiment abhors any brutality to young children.  Herodotus the historian tells of the falling of a roof, whereby one hundred and twenty school children perished, as being a frightful calamity,[*] although recounting cold-blooded massacres of thousands of adults with never a qualm; and Herodotus is a very good spokesman for average Greek opinion.

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