Crown of Pine - Alfred J. Church

The Games

The action of Aristagoras, as described in the last chapter, was known to but very few, but the affair of the bandits was no secret, and the failure of the attempt made an immense sensation in Corinth. The popularity of the young man was worked up into something like frenzy. That very dignified person, the Roman Governor, condescended to send one of his lictors with a message of sympathy and congratulation. A great number of the townspeople formed themselves into a Committee of Vigilance. The trainer's house was guarded day and night by companies of volunteers, who took their time of duty and were relieved in regularly military fashion. The place of exercise was similarly protected. Eubulus himself, as soon as he showed himself outside the trainer's house, became the object of popular demonstrations which were certainly flattering, but which caused him no little annoyance. Happily this state of affairs soon came to a natural end. The first day of the Games—they lasted five days in all—arrived, and it might be assumed that for the present at least the machinations of the young man's enemies had failed.

At an early hour in the morning, which, appropriately enough, was one of brilliant sunshine, all Corinth, crowded as it was to its utmost capacity of reception, was astir. The spot where the Games were celebrated was about six miles from the city in a south-easterly direction, and about a mile from the sea. The road was crowded with pedestrians. Over and above the multitude of sight-seers there was a great number of itinerant dealers in wine, sweetmeats and a variety of other articles suited to the wants or caprices of a crowd bent on making holiday. Now and then a public conveyance, heavily laden with passengers, would come along, or the chariot of some wealthy citizen. A little later in the day the carriages of the magistrates of the city and of the Roman Governor himself were to be observed. It may be remarked that the crowd consisted entirely of men; no women were allowed to be present at the Games, with the single exception of the Priestess of Athené. Even this exception was maintained only in form. The priestess asserted her right by taking her seat in the marble chair assigned for her use opposite the enclosure occupied by the judges of the Games. She was very properly unwilling to surrender a privilege which had come down to her from an immemorial antiquity. This done, she vacated her place, naturally not caring to be the sole representative of her sex in a company which must have numbered at least a hundred thousand. This remark, however, does not apply to the fifth day, when there was a competition of music and singing. At this women were permitted both to compete and to assist as spectators, and this, as may be supposed, was one of the most popular and brilliant spectacles of the festival.

The first day of the Games was spent for the most part in ceremonial. The judges formally took their seats. It was their business to decide any point of difference that might arise. They were all Corinthian citizens. The right of presiding had belonged to Corinth from time immemorial, and was, as may be supposed, most jealously guarded. It had passed to Sicyon during that dismal century of desolation which succeeded the destruction of the city by Mummius, but it had been given back to the new foundation of Caesar. The chief of the company was, of course, the Archon, who occupied the place in right of his official position. In a matter which concerned sentiment rather than important interests the Roman Governor discreetly gave way to the traditional dignity of his subordinate. Then came the solemn reception of the envoys sent by the other cities of Greece. It was a ceremony sadly shorn of its old splendour, for, alas! some of the cities which had been wont in former times to send embassies to the Isthmus were by this time little better than heaps of ruins. Argos was still able to furnish representatives; but Sparta, which no longer could claim any supremacy over other towns of Laconia, had been obliged to abandon the custom. The envoys from Athens carried off the palm for splendour of equipment, for Athens, long since become insignificant as regards political power, was still important in the domain of letters and learning. Some new visitor might be noticed, representing some city which had but recently acquired its wealth and was all the more eager to assert its connection with the ancient celebrations of Greece. All the envoys were magnificently attired in purple robes richly embroidered with gold, and wore jewelled diadems. After the reception of the embassies came the customary sacrifices, ceremonies which it is not necessary to describe. Every archaic detail from the stone knife downwards was strictly observed, all the more strictly the more completely the old spirit of reverence and worship had passed away. The sacrifices finished, came the midday meal, an affair which varied from the splendid banquet served to the judges by the command of Gallio to the very simple al fresco  meal of the poorer spectators, bread and olives or onions, with possibly a relish of salt fish. After the meal came a review of the candidates. They presented themselves to the judges, gave their names, parentage and birthplace; no person of non-Greek descent was permitted to enter, and some few places were by tradition excluded. These were solemnly entered in a register by the official who acted as secretary to the judges. This done, the president of the judges addressed an exhortation to the candidates. He warned them against all dishonourable practices; told them to look beyond the mere distinction of victory, and said some wise words of advice, calculated to temper undue exultation in the successful, and unreasonable depression in those who might fail. This address finished, the spectators were warned, under the threat of severe punishment, not to interfere in any way with the competitors. They were reminded that the one thing all ought to desire and strive for was the welfare and glory of the Hellas that was the mother of them all; that every Greek ought always—and especially on these occasions, which were, as they had been from time immemorial, the great festivals of the race—to forget his own tribe, his own city, to desire the victory of the best man, the swiftest, strongest, most agile, most ready of wit and nimble of limb, whether he were Ionian or Dorian, Athenian or Spartan, Greek of the mainland or of the Peloponnese, of the Islands, or the far-off Colonies of East or West.

This brought the regular proceedings of the day to a close. The vast meeting then resolved itself into a great social gathering. At the same time business was not forgotten. The Greek, with all his sentiment, had always a keen eye to the main chance. These occasions were convenient for the meeting of those who had transactions to conclude or schemes to talk over, and a detached observer, had he passed from group to group, might have heard the most multifarious variety of affairs discussed. The great Isthmian assembly rivalled, or even surpassed in this respect, even its great Olympian rival. It had, it is true, no such splendid associations as had the little town on the coast of Ells, but it was far more conveniently situated for the commerce of the world.

The second day was given to the boys' competitions. The lads ran and wrestled and boxed, to the intense interest of their fathers and other kindred. This part of the festival was, in one sense, the most satisfactory. Both the competitors and their friends took a frank and simple interest in the struggle, and there was very little of the noxious element of betting.

On the third day began the competitions of the men, and the first of these to be taken were the foot races. The reason for this is obvious. A foot race did not interfere with any other competitions, but it might itself be interfered with by others. A wrestler might wrench an ankle; a boxer might receive some blow that would seriously damage his chances as a runner.

The short race was the first run. Here the distance was two hundred yards or thereabouts. Eubulus had at one time intended to compete, and would in all probability have won it, for he was known to have for a short distance an unrivalled speed. But his trainer had persuaded him to stand out. The two adverse experiences through which he had passed had not, to all appearance, left any traces behind. Still it was possible that they had told upon him in some way which would show itself only when the reserve of strength was called upon. There was a certain disappointment in the crowd of spectators when his well-known figure was missed in the line of starters, but it was generally recognized that his action in reserving all his energies for the great effort of the long race was judicious.

When that important event came on, it was seen that the reputation of Eubulus had had the effect of diminishing the number of competitors. We have seen how Dromeus disappeared; others retired for the more creditable reason that they were manifestly outpaced by the young Corinthian, that it was only by the merest accident they could hope to beat him, and that such an accident was not worth waiting for. The consequence was that the starters were not numerous enough to make it necessary to have more heats than one.

An admirable start was effected, Eubulus being, if anything, a little later than his competitors in springing from the line. This he did by the trainer's instruction. With a well-grounded confidence in his favourite pupil's superiority to his rivals, the man had said, "Don't give them a chance to complain; you will soon have it all your own way." And have it his own way he certainly did. The race, in fact, was a surprise, to his most confident backers, and nearly went to the extent of revolutionising the pedestrian art in Corinth. Eubulus "sprinted," to use the technical term of foot-racing, from the beginning. To the astonishment and even dismay of his friends he started at full speed, and to the astonishment of his enemies he kept up this speed with but the slightest slackening, if any, to the end. Whether any demonstration of the adverse party had been intended can never be known. This amazing performance took the whole assembly by storm. There was a dead silence as he shot in front of the rank of runners, took at once a manifest lead, and increased it every second. "Making the pace" was a dodge known on the stadia of antiquity as it is on the modern running path, but this competitors plodding on in the stolid way which was no dodge. It was ludicrous to see the other was a second nature to them, while this latter-day Achilles sprang lightly forward. One could hardly think that they and he were engaged in the same contest. Of the issue, there could, of course, be no doubt. Sheer astonishment kept the assembly silent till the end was reached; but when Eubulus came in at least a hundred yards ahead—he accomplished the distance, it may be said, in 3 min. 36 sec.—there went up such a shout as had never before been heard on the Isthmus.

foot race


The rest of the contests that took place that day need not be described. The wrestlers, the boxers, the competitors in that most arduous of all the competitions, the Pancratium, received perhaps less attention than usual. The victory of Eubulus had taken off the edge, so to speak, of the popular interest. Still there was a sufficiency of applause, and the meeting, as a whole, might be safely pronounced to be a success. But the great sensation of the day was yet to come. When at the close of the competitions a herald proclaimed the names of the successful competitors, and announced as "Victor in the Long Race, Eubulus, son of Eumenes," and one of the spectators stepped forth from the crowd that stood round, and said, "I object to Eubulus, reputed son of Eumenes," with an emphasis on the word "reputed," there ensued, as may be easily supposed, a prodigious tumult.