It is natural enough that history should be mixed with myth, to make it interesting to the populace. But it is uttery unnatural that history or myth should not be interesting to the populace. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber




The Music of Tyrtaeus

After suffering great tortures under the Spartan yoke for forty long years, the Messenians began to plan a revolt.

One of their princes, Aristomenes, a man of unusual bravery, made up his mind to free the unhappy people, and to ruin the proud city of Sparta, which had caused them so much suffering.

He therefore secretly assembled all the Messenians, and, when his plans were ready, began to war openly against the Spartans, whom he defeated in several battles.

With his small army, he even pressed forward toward the city of Sparta, and camped within sight of its dwellings. The Spartan women could thus see a very unusual sight,—the light of the enemies' fires.

To frighten the Spartans still more, Aristomenes went secretly into the city one dark night, stole into the principal temple, and there hung up the arms he had taken during the war.

These weapons were arranged so as to form what the Greeks called a trophy, and right under them Aristomenes boldly wrote his name in letters so large that all could see it.

When morning dawned, and the Spartans came as usual into the temple to offer up their morning prayer and sacrifice, they were astonished and dismayed at the sight of this trophy. Aristomenes' bravery was so great that they despaired of conquering him without divine aid, and so they sent to ask an oracle what they should do.

The oracle answered that the Spartans would be victorious if they marched to war under the command of an Athenian general. Now, the Spartans were a proud people, and did not like to ask aid of any one; but they made up their minds to obey this command, and so sent a messenger to Athens to ask for a good leader.

Whether the Athenians, who were well known for their love of joking, wished to make fun of the Spartans, or whether they wanted to show them that the bodily beauty and strength which the Spartans prized so highly was not everything, no one now knows. The fact is, however, that the Athenians sent the Spartans a poor, lame schoolmaster, called Tyrtæus, to lead them in battle. This man had never handled a weapon in his life, and the Spartans were very angry when he placed himself at their head with a lyre instead of a sword; but when he suddenly began to sing one of those war songs which make one's blood tingle, it roused their patriotism to such a point that all were ready to conquer or die, and their scorn was soon changed to deep admiration.

Fired by these patriotic songs, and by the stirring music the lame schoolmaster played, the Spartans fought better than ever before, overcame the Messenians, and came home in triumph with their prisoners, among whom was the brave Aristomenes.

As it was then usual to put all prisoners of war to death, the Spartans threw all the Messenians down into a horrible pit called the Ceadas. This was a dark hole of great depth, and its sides were all covered with jagged rocks, against which the prisoners were dashed to pieces long before they reached the bottom.

The Messenians were cast into this place one after another, Aristomenes being thrown in last of all, so that he might have the sorrow of seeing his companions die. Of course, this was very cruel, but the Spartans had been brought up to think this mode of getting rid of their enemies quite right; and when they had thus killed them, they cheerfully went back to the city and celebrated their victory.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Greeks by Helene Guerber

Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province