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




Days of Preparation

All Sparta was interested in the approaching celebration of the Carnea. This was a war-like festival to the god Apollo, who was regarded as the leader and founder of the Dorians, the race to which the Spartans belonged. He was worshipped as their chief god, and all the principal temples of the country were sacred to him.

Apollo was called the "far darting god," whose arrows never missed their mark. He was said to encourage the warriors, and "with a cloud wrapped about his shoulders," to lead them into the thick of battle.

Apollo was also regarded as the punisher of evil, and the avenger of wrong. He was most beloved of all the gods, for he was believed to be the most friendly to man, protecting him from evil, and healing him in sickness.

Many were the questions which the men of Sparta put to the boys during the days of preparation for the festival, for these celebrations were not intended to be simply a time of fun and frolic. They were regarded as a religious ceremony, pleasing to the god in whose honor they were given. For this reason the boys were expected to know the stories of the gods, and to understand the meaning of all the ceremonies connected with the celebration.

Outside the city, tents were being erected, and the plain on which they stood looked like the encampment of a miniature army.

There were nine tents in all. Each tent was to be occupied by nine men, who would live as though in a military camp, and the celebration would last for nine days.

The boys spent all their spare time watching the preparations for the festival. They saw the tents erected; they knew how they were furnished, and what men were to occupy each one. As they went about the plain, they amused themselves by imagining that they were visiting the tents of a great army, and that they, themselves, were soldiers.

As a group of the boys returned, one day, from an inspection of the camp, they took an unfrequented path that led them back to the city by a longer way.

"I heard a new story, this morning," said Chartas, as they walked on. "One of the soldiers told it to me. I liked it."

"Tell us! tell us!" exclaimed the boys in chorus.

"The story was of Sous, one of the warriors in the early days of Sparta. He was a king, and a real Spartan hero," said Chartas, with shining eyes. "One day he and his warriors were surrounded by their enemies. They had been fighting and marching on a hot day, without a drop of water to drink. Sous and his soldiers were almost perishing from thirst.

"In the valley, guarded by the enemy, there was a fountain of pure water. His soldiers were begging for a drink, and Sous knew that unless his men could obtain water, they must die. So he shouted, ` I will give up all my conquests if I, and my army, are but allowed to drink at your fountain.'

"His enemies were glad to recover so easily what they had lost, and they agreed.

"As the soldiers of Soils were about to rush to the fountain, he cried, ` Hold! I will give my crown to the man who can deny himself water to drink.'

"But the soldiers rushed on, and almost fought for the precious water which they had been so long without.

"Sous stood by and looked at them. Then, dipping his hand in the fountain, he moistened his skin with the water, and turned away without drinking.

"`I still can deny myself,' he said. The crown is mine! ' "

"Fine! fine!" exclaimed the boys, as Chartas finished.

"That is a good story," said Theognis, "and it was well told."

"Chartas will yet rival you in story-telling, if you are not careful," said Brasidas.

"Oh," replied Theognis, "he is already a worthy rival."

"Have you another story as good as that?" asked Dorus.

"No," replied Chartas with a laugh. "But perhaps some one else has."

No one volunteered, and just then Gelon gave a hasty exclamation.

"Look at that miserable hut!" he said. "Who can live in such a place? But see," he added, "there is a man coming out of the door."

The boys looked, and at once their gaze was held by the strange appearance of the man.

The men of Sparta wore their hair long, while that of the slaves was cropped close. But the hair of this man was long upon one side of his head, and cut close upon the other. His cloak hung upon him in rags.

He was hurrying along the path now, his eyes upon the ground. The boys were strangely quiet. As he drew near to them, he glanced up, and, seeing them, he stepped aside, and, with downcast eyes, waited for them to pass.

For some time longer the boys were silent as they walked on. Then Theron spoke. "Who is he?"

"A deserter!" said Dorus. "Did you not notice his half-cropped head? I remember of hearing my father tell about him. He ran away from the army during an attack. He might better have been killed, for then he would have been a hero. Now he is an outlaw. He cannot live in the city. No one will give him fire for his hearth. He cannot vote; he can take no part in the games or the festivals. No one will wrestle with him in the gymnasium. He lives alone."

"He even made way for us in the path!" exclaimed Theognis.

"Yes," added Dorus, "and if he were witnessing a game and one of us had no seat, he would have to give up his."

"What a terrible life!" exclaimed Brasidas. "So that is what it means to be a deserter from the Spartan army!"

"I have heard," said Chartas, "of a deserter who afterward rushed headlong into the most dangerous place in a battle in order that he might be killed."

"I should think that they would all do that!" exclaimed Gelon.

"So should I," responded Theron.

"Fortunately," said Dorus, "there are not many deserters from the Spartan army."