Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

Preparing for the Festival

Hiero's mother, Harmonia, belonged to one of the noblest families of Greece. She was famed for her beautiful handiwork, and she had taught Helen, her older daughter, to embroider as beautifully as she herself could do. So it came about that Hiero's older sister, Helen, was chosen as one of the girls who were to embroider a magnificent robe for the goddess Athene. Every fourth year a new robe was made, and during the celebration of the festival of Athene it was presented as an offering to the goddess.

Of course nothing was too beautiful, or too costly, or too elaborate for this gift to the goddess who ruled over Athens. The most expensive materials were chosen for the robe, and silks of richest colorings were used to embroider it, as well as threads of silver and gold. Only the best needle-workers of the city were allowed to work upon it.

Athene was the goddess who presided over the art of needlework, and so the young girls of Athens offered prayers to her daily, that their handiwork might be worthy of a place on the robe. Very happy and proud were those who were selected to do the work.

The figures embroidered upon the robe represented a great battle which was once fought between the gods and the giants, and it is only when we remember that the statue of Athene was forty feet high that we can understand how it would be possible to embroider such a scene upon her robe.

Hermippos was well pleased when he learned that his daughter Helen had been awarded so great an honor.

"My sister is an artist, as well as my father," declared Hiero laughingly.

There was one more in the family of Hermippos to be interested in the wonderful robe, and that was Chloris, the younger sister of Hero. Chloris was ten years old, while Helen was fifteen.

Perhaps you wonder why neither Helen nor Chloris had joined Hiero and Duris in their visits to the Acropolis or to the market-place, but this was a liberty never allowed to a girl of good family in Athens.

The girls never went out upon the streets except upon some special occasion, when they were accompanied by slaves belonging to Harmonia. They were never allowed to stand in the doorway that looked out upon the street. They might look from the windows in the second story of the house, if they did not go close enough to be seen by people in the street below.

The girls did not go to school, for the schools of Athens were for boys only. Their mother taught them at home all that a girl of those days needed to know. She taught them to spin and to weave, to sew and to embroider. She also taught them how to read and write, and how to play upon the lyre and sing. And this was much more than was taught to many of the girls of Athens.

From their earliest years they were told the stories of gods and goddesses, for this, as we have learned, was the religion of the Greeks.

When members of the family were alone they ate their meals together. Hermippos reclined upon a couch, and Harmonia sat upright at his feet. The younger members of the household sat upon chairs. Each one was furnished with a small table, upon which food was placed by the slaves.

When there were guests in the house Harmonia, Helen, and Chloris had their meals served in their own rooms, for the Grecian women did not mingle with men, except with those of their own family. In every Greek house certain rooms on the upper floor were set apart for the use of the women.

The women of Athens sometimes visited at the homes of relatives or friends, but not often, and when they went upon the street they were always accompanied by female slaves.

In some of the religious festivals, however, the women were allowed to take a part, and in the festival to Athene, which would soon occur, they carried a part of the offerings, and formed a very beautiful part of the procession.

It is no wonder, then, that Harmonia and Helen were now full of eager plans, for their life had, usually, so little of change or pleasure.

Chloris still played with dolls, of which she had several. One was a rag doll, and one was of clay painted in bright colors. One doll, which she especially loved, had movable arms and legs, and clothes which could be taken off. This doll had a bed, and a two-wheeled cart in which Chloris drew her about. Chloris called her Athene, and on the days of the great festival Chloris intended to have a play festival in the court of her home, for her doll. So while her sister worked among the older girls upon the magnificent robe for the goddess, Chloris sewed and embroidered busily upon a robe for her doll. She did the work just as carefully and as beautifully as she could, for before it would be time for another festival she would have put away her dolls, and, quite likely, would be thinking of getting married. Most Athenian girls were married between the age of fourteen and sixteen, and Chloris looked forward to this as a matter of course.

Her cousin, Nicarete, had been married the winter before, and Chloris had been very much interested in all the arrangements. Nicarete had played with and sewed for her dolls until she was obliged to give them up to help her mother and the maids prepare the clothing which she was to wear as a bride.

When this time came, Nicarete collected her dolls, with all the beautiful garments that she had made for them, and in the care of slaves she went to the temple of the goddess Artemis and there laid her girlhood treasures upon the altar. She offered a prayer to the goddess, and then returned home to prepare for the new life in her husband's home.

Then beautiful garments were made, and there was much excitement in the usually quiet rooms of the women's apartments. Nicarete often wondered what her husband would be like, for she had seen him only twice and then at public festivals. The marriage had been arranged by her father and his.

Chloris had gone to the wedding and she remembered the sacrifices that were offered to the marriage gods and the great feast that followed.

At this feast all the guests, both men and women, ate together, but the children were served apart from their elders, and with simpler food.

She remembered how pretty Nicarete had looked in her bridal clothes, with the veil, and ribbons, and flowers in her hair; and how Hiero had gone about among the guests, bearing proudly a basketful of cakes, and singing: "I fled from misfortune; I found a better lot."

Chloris had been away from home so few times during her life that this wedding had made a great impression upon her, and she had had weddings for her dolls many times since then. She wondered how she would feel when she should have to carry her dolls to the temple and leave them upon the altar, as her cousin Nicarete had done.

"It will be very exciting, I am sure," she confided to her doll, Athene, as she sewed upon her robe, "and I hope my husband will be a great artist, like my father."