Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/May 1911/The Services and Rewards of the Old Greek Volunteer
|THE SERVICES AND REWARDS OF THE OLD GREEK VOLUNTEER|
By FREDERIC EARLE WHITAKER, Ph.D.
RECENTLY ACTING PROFESSOR OF GREEK AT LEHIGH UNIVERSITY AND SOMETIME G. A. R. FELLOW AT BROWN UNIVERSITY
FROM Athens to America; from Marathon, Salamis and Chæronea to Bunker Hill, Gettysburg and Manila Bay, greatness and gratitude have been inseparable terms in national glory. From the earliest history of soldiery down to our day, martial renown and even long lease of national life have been won by those nations only which asked the greatest sacrifice and bestowed the greatest honors and rewards upon their citizen-soldiers.
The prestige of Roman arms has gone up and down the world, but the people of Greece showed a devotion to their warrior braves almost unequalled in the annals of civilization. We are apt to feel that the victories of Greece were those of the brain and not those of the sword, and, in her signal influence on posterity, little Greece doubtless won her greatest triumph in the realm of the intellect; for the chisel of Phidias, the brush of Apelles, the logic of Socrates, the speeches of Demosthenes, the tragedies of Æschylus and the inspired verses of Homer have become the legacy and inspiration of the nations. But the preservation, growth and dissemination of these treasures necessitated a perpetual war.
Greece, fighting for Europe and European civilization, met Asia in the longest defensive warfare known in history, and though all the nations constituting the Greek people were no larger than the state of West Virginia, they fought a winning fight with the countless hordes and uncounted treasure of the Persian Empire. From Agamemnon to Alexander, the conflict was felt to be on at every moment of their national life. The "Iliad" of Homer—call it fable or tradition, as you please—reveals the Greeks, a thousand years before our era, waging the Ten Years' War at Troy. Five centuries later the early historical record finds Miltiades victor at Marathon, where Europe worsted Asia and saved the world for progress. Though too early for reliable history, we may safely say that the five centuries between Troy and Marathon could not have been free from Asiatic transgression. Ten years of preparation but repeat the victory of Marathon in the naval fight at Salamis and Europe drives back Asia, Athens wins the leadership of Greece and, uniting the different states in a league against Persia, founds the so-called Athenian Empire. Revolution and interstate wars were rife, but were all for the one object—the leadership of Greece against Asia. In every war up to the time of Philip of Macedon, Persian gold and Asiatic sympathy had to be reckoned with. Greek unity was never attained and apparently hardly desired, but Greek supremacy was both desired and won. Greece was victor in the seven-century contest, and the gloomy conservatism of Asia yielded to the vitalizing progressiveness of Greece in the policy of Europe; the home triumphed over the harem; hierarchal dictation and monarch's whims gave way to national law on this side of the Ægean; and individual freedom was still possible.
Throughout military history, the volunteer has always fought the most momentous battles, and when the old Greek citizen-soldier drove back Asia he not only saved his people, but fixed the civilization of a continent. Great as was the warrior's service to his race, correspondingly liberal were the honors and awards bestowed by a grateful nation. By special decree of the Athenian Assembly—that national "town-meeting"—the soldier of conspicuous prowess was voted exemption from the financial exactions of state, which not only anticipated the exemption from taxes of estates up to $1,000 of our union soldiers—so patriotically granted by many of our states to-day—but extended further and covered all fiscal contributions imposed by government in either peace or war. Seats of honor at the national theater and great games were awarded; memorial statues were erected; and crowns for bravery, much like the Victoria Cross and Congressional medal of to-day, decorated the heroes of the Grand Army of the Republic of Athens.
And too, that martial state which bore the brave little band of Leonidas and the Spartan mother could hardly fail to do honor to her noble sons who fell fighting for their hearths and shrines. Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver, Plutarch tells us, ordered that none but soldiers who lost their lives in battle should have their names, origin and deeds inscribed on their tombs. With green boughs they were laid away and honored with an oration by their fellow-countrymen; but the champions of the host and those Spartan braves who were considered complete warriors were buried in their red coats, with their arms affixed upon their tombs.
How deeply the stern martial virtues of the old Spartan life were engraved on the hearts of her people the mother's treatment of her soldier-boy clearly reveals. It was customary for the Spartan matrons, after an engagement near home, to examine the dead bodies of their sons. Those who received more wounds behind than in front were carried away secretly or left in the common heap; but those who had the greatest number of wounds in their breasts were carried off with joy and triumph to be buried with their ancestors, to whom was offered a worship second only to that paid the gods. The shield was used as a bier on which the dead were carried home from the battle-field and from this custom tradition has handed down the famous appeal of the Spartan mother to her son, on his departure to the conflict, girt with this defensive arm: "Bring it with you or be brought on it," or better still "It or upon it."
Though the Spartans never wrote the history of their wars, fragments of their war-bard, Tyrtæus, singer of the Marseillaise of Greece, seven centuries before our era, ring with tones of Dorian loyalty and scornful pity for the recreant in battle:
Up! Youths of the Spartan nobles,
Ye citizen sons of the elders!
With the left hold out your targes,
And fling your spears with boldness.
Spare not your lives. To spare them
Was never known in Sparta.
How glorious fall the valiant, sword in hand.
In front of battle for their native land!
But oh! what ills await the wretch that yields,
A recreant outcast from his country's fields!
The mother whom he loves shall quit her home,
An aged father at his side shall roam;
His little ones shall weeping with him go.
And a young wife participate his woe;
While scorned and scowled upon by every face
They pine for food and beg from place to place.
But we will combat for our father's land
And we will drain the life-blood where we stand
To save our children.
A beautiful custom at Athens by which national gratitude was paid to the memory of her noble sons who fell in battle, was the solemn interment of their ashes in a public tomb in the National Cemetery, situated in the most beautiful portion of the outskirts, near the "Double Gate." This public distinction of the men who freely and deliberately offered up their lives on the field for the freedom and renown of their country and the maintenance of her constitution was considered by the nation a sacred duty not only of gratitude, but of justice. She therefore made provision that the memory of such citizens be fittingly celebrated by orations and perpetuated by monuments. Whether this custom originated at Athens with Solon, the sixth-century lawgiver—as seems very probable—or shortly after the Persian Wars (478 B.C.), it was, beyond question, the most laudable and valuable, in national influence, of all the excellent customs which the wisest people of antiquity sacredly guarded in its institutions. The tribute paid to the dead by a public acknowledgment of their services; the sympathetic bearing by the body-politic of those losses which burden individual families; the consolation offered by the orator, appointed by the state and speaking to the fathers and mothers, wives and children of the dead soldiers; and the general uplifting of the soul above the sorrows of the mourner to the holy, patriotic joys of the nation's heart, inspired crowds of her citizens with the spirit of deliberate martyrdom and gained for the first republic in the world that heroic devotion that other forms of government can but feebly understand.
The prelude to the splendid funeral oration of Pericles, political master of Athens, gives an interesting description of the ceremonies attending military funerals in the Peloponnesian War (431 B.C.).
The bones of the dead were laid out under an awning, two days before the funeral, and each man brought to his own relative whatever funeral offering he pleased. On the day of the funeral, coffins of cypress-wood were carried in wagons, one for each tribe—ten in number—and in these were laid the bones of each man, according to the tribe to which he belonged. One empty bier was carried, spread with a cloth, in honor of the missing whose bodies could not be found for burial. Any one who wished, whether citizen or stranger, joined in the procession and the women were present at the funeral to make "lamentation." The remains were then placed in the public tomb which was in the fairest suburb of the city—the Ceramicus—in which they always buried the warriors with the single exception of those who fell at Marathon, and to these, conspicuous for their valor, they gave burial on the very spot. After they had laid them in the ground, a man of high repute and eminent position, chosen by the nation, spoke a fitting eulogy over them. After that the people went home. Thus they buried them and through the whole of the war, on every occasion, they observed the custom.
The oration was repeated on the anniversary of the solemnity and, as Plato said in the Menexenus, "the nation never ceased honoring the dead every year, celebrating in public the rites proper to each and all; and in addition to this, holding gymnastic and equestrian festivals and musical festivals of every sort." Thus did all the different departments of national, religious and artistic life contribute to the glorification of the Memorial Day of the old Athenian volunteer.
A brief analysis of the military panegyric at Athens, together with a few extracts from her most celebrated funeral orations may be of value both as a mirror of the customs of the day and as an expression of the grateful sympathy of the nation's heart. As Bekker has said in his "Demosthenes as Statesman and Orator," "the subject was always the same—praise of the dead soldiers, mourning of their country for her loss and consolation for the nearest relatives. It was the duty of the orator, on such occasions, to celebrate the deeds of their ancestors, back to the mythical period and to connect them with the recent glorious achievements of the honored dead. Prescribed usage dictated the nature of the consolation offered—the renown of the departed; the happy lot of the deceased from a consciousness of duty well done on earth; the care the state will take of their families; and finally an appeal to the survivors to submit to their fate and prove themselves worthy of the example set by the fallen heroes. The introduction and conclusion of all the extant funeral speeches are practically alike, beginning with the declaration that the duty imposed on the orator surpasses his strength, which, at the most, can only equal the efforts of previous speakers; and ends with the words 'now go back to your homes after you have bewailed the dead according to custom.'" But after all, it is not hard to justify or difficult to approve the century-tested, ritualistic formality of the old Athenian funeral oration; for a deep feeling of sincere grief must be the dominant note in a funeral speech. Novel thought and fervid rhetoric could bring no comfort to the afflicted, whose hearts, rent with sorrow, respond only to that calm and beautiful language in which the poet has voiced our common and most agonizing woes. A master's task the poet-orator was forced to face!
Of the six funeral orations that have come down to us, two—sometimes assigned to Demosthenes and Lysias—are probably the work of other hands; two others—imaginary speeches but among the greatest specimens of their kind in the world's literature—are the stylistic and patriotic models of Plato in the "Menexenus," and the grand funeral speech Thucydides, the historian, has put into the mouth of the eloquent Pericles; the other two—fragments of funeral orations by Gorgias, the celebrated Sicilian orator and father of rhetoric, and Hypereides, the master-panegyrist of the ancient world—were actually delivered in honor of Athenians who fell in battle.
Pericles closes his celebrated memorial to the dead soldiers, substantially, as follows:
Sacrificing their lives for the common good, they gained each one their proper meed of never-dying praise and a most illustrious sepulchre—I speak not of that in which their bones lie moldering but of that in which their fame is enshrined, eternally remembered on every recurring occasion that calls for speech or action. The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men and not only is the epitaph on the funeral column in their home-land a proof of this, but there abides with all men, even in foreign lands, an unwritten memorial in the heart rather than on the external monument.
Now, from this day, taking these men for your models, judging freedom the only happiness and valor the only freedom, do not neglect the perils of war; for it is not the wretched, despairing of the good things of life, who may more properly be reckless but rather those for whom a change for the worse is the risk they must run while life lasts. They experience the greatest difference if any disaster befall the state. Cowardice and disgrace combined are more painful to a man of spirit than death, insensibly received and attended by courage and hope of the common good.
Wherefore I will not lament with the parents of our dead, who may be present here, but will offer only words of comfort. And they know that they are reared 'midst shifting vicissitudes of fortune. But happiness is gained only when men receive for their lot a most honorable death—as these heroes now—or sorrow like unto your sorrow and their life was finely allotted in the happiness they enjoyed on earth alike with their glorious death.
I know it is difficult to find words that will reach the heart because oftentimes you will be reminded in the happiness of others of those joys in which you yourselves did once exult; and your grief is not for blessings you have never experienced but because you have been deprived of those to which you have become accustomed. But those of you who are still of an age to have children ought to take comfort in the hope of others. The children, yet to be born, will be a private benefit to some in causing them to forget those who no longer live and they will be a double boon to their country in preventing desolation and providing for its security; for it is not fair or just that they should give counsel who may not, by having children too at stake, run the same risks as others. But those of you who are advanced in years may consider so much gain that longer past which you have so fortunately enjoyed and that the remainder of your life will be but short and will rest lightly upon you because of the glory these attained. The love of honor alone never grows old and in the useless period of life getting wealth does not please more, as some say, than being honored.
Before you, their sons and brothers, however many of you there are present here, I see a great contest; for everybody is accustomed to praise those who are no longer with us and you would find it difficult to secure a verdict of equality though you surpassed them in valor, but would be thought a little inferior. For the living suffer from the envy that proceeds from competition but the one who is no longer in the way is honored with a good will, far from all feeling of rivalry.
But if I must make any mention of female virtue to you, who will now be reduced to widowhood, I shall express it all in a brief admonition: your great glory is to be found not wanting in the virtue which belongs to your sex, and great will be her reputation of whom the gossip of men says least either in praise or blame.
I have now spoken, in accordance with the law, what I held appropriate, and by our action our dead have already been honored and their children the nation will henceforth nourish and support at the public expense till they become of age—the substantial crown of glory offered to the dead before us and to the survivors of such contests; for where the greatest prizes are offered for valor, there the citizens are the bravest men. But now let every one indulge his grief in becoming manner and then depart.
Plato, the philosopher, wishing to show by a pattern-speech how the eulogists might, on occasion, express themselves in a more exalted and patriotic manner, makes his old master, Socrates the Wise, repeat, as the mouthpiece of that wonderfully clever woman, Aspasia, the splendid address of which the following is the conclusion:
And on their behalf, I beseech you, the children, to imitate your fathers and you, parents, to be of good cheer about yourselves; for we will nourish your age and take care of you both publicly and privately in any place in which one of us may meet one of you who are the parents of the dead. And the care which the nation shows, you yourselves know; for she has made provision by law concerning the parents and children of those who die in war, and the highest authority is especially entrusted with the duty of watching over them, above all other citizens, in order to see that there is no wrong done to them.
She herself takes part in the nurture of the children, desiring as far as it is possible, that their orphanhood may not be felt by them; she is a parent to them while they are children and when they arrive at the age of manhood she sends them to their several duties, clothing them in complete armor; she displays to them and recalls to their minds the pursuits of their fathers and puts into their hands the instruments of their father's virtues; for the sake of the omen, she would have them begin and go to rule in the houses of their fathers arrayed in their strength and arms.
And she never ceases honoring the dead every year, celebrating in public the rites which are proper to each and all; and, in addition to this, holding gymnastic and equestrian festivals and musical festivals of every sort. She is to the dead in place of a son and heir, and to their sons in place of a father, and to their parents and elder kindred in the place of a protector, ever and always caring for them. Considering this you ought to bear your calamity the more gently; for thus you will be most endeared to the dead and to the living, and your sorrows will heal and be healed. And now do you and all, having lamented the dead together in the usual manner, go your ways.
The closing words of the beautiful oration, delivered by Hypereides over Leosthenes and his comrades who fell in the Lamian War (322 B.C.), pay due tribute to that orator's matchless merit. Far removed from the artificial grief, so common to the panegyric, there is a genuine, dignified sorrow, in the fragment preserved, which bears the mark of sincere though reticent sympathy, and the most expert of modern critics have found a tenderness and trust in this pagan martyr's patriotic exhortation to the kinsfolk of the dead that verges splendidly near the most touching Christian consolation:
More than this, if to die is to be as though we had never been, then these have passed away from sickness and pain and from all the accidents of the earthly life; or if there is consciousness in the next world and if—as we conjecture—the care of the Divine Power is over it, then it may well be that they who rendered aid to the worship of the gods, in the hour of its imminent desolation, are most precious to that Power's Providence.
Hardly less eloquent were the memorials perpetuated by the sculptor's chisel in handsome marbles and enduring bronze. The matchless, Athenian military relief, raised in the Ceramicus Cemetery to Dexileos, one of the Glorified Five in the dashing cavalry charge in the Corinthian War (394 B.C.) still stands, a noble testimonial in marble to the mighty triumph of The Last Battle, with its rearing charger and exultant knight transfixing with his spear the fallen foe. Though this may not be a monument erected by the nation, but the patriotic offering of some friend or admirer, it is valuable for our purpose as one of the few memorials to the individual as distinguished from the triumph of the cause.
But the long and notable list of monuments and trophies to the heroic dead began a century before, soon after Marathon (490 B.C., with the dedication of the little Doric treasure-house, set up by the Athenians out of the Persian spoils, in the holiest place of Greece, at the oracle of Delphi, "the Center of the Earth," and the point of pilgrimage of thousands, on religious mission bent, from all parts of the ancient world. The remains of this, the noblest memorial of the victory at Marathon, have been found in recent years and the sculptured reliefs of Pentelic marble, safely preserved, with their story of Theseus and Hercules, and the battle of gods and giants—symbolic of the recent contests—reveal a chaste grace that must have given an unique architectural delicacy to the whole structure.
The famous battle-pictures by Micon, in the Portico of Frescoes in the Athenian market-place, painted a quarter of a century later, furnished, however, a livelier idea and glorified most effectively the heroes of this most celebrated battle of history. In one scene, the Athenians charge the trousered Persians; in another, the Persians, in their confusion, rush into the marsh in their flight to their ships; in still another scene, Miltiades and the Persian admirals appear; Cynegirus, brother of the tragic poet, Æschylus, is there also, seizing the prow of the galley to which he held fast until the axe severed his arm and interfered with his determination to capture a whole ship, single handed. Theseus, hero-god, inspires their valor as he rises from out of the earth and the gods and goddesses, above the battle, on the quiet heights of Olympus, look down on the pictured scene—all of which furnished to the oncoming generations a most potent and patriotic reminder of the services and sacrifices of their citizen-soldiers.
But by far the most artistic and celebrated memorial to the achievements of the Athenian, in arms, was the beautiful little Temple of Victory, on the Acropolis, the Holy Hill of Athens. At the Fore-Gate, near the splendid flight of marble stairs—over seventy feet broad—stood, and stands to-day, the patriotic shrine on a mighty bastion twenty-six feet high. This lofty spot was a most appropriate site for a temple of Victory; for from this height the Athenian saw Salamis and Ægina near by and the distant coast of Argolis, the citadel of Corinth, and the mountains of Megara—memories of the glorious past and rosy hopes of future victories.
Other temples, by allegorical sculptures, represented indirectly the great struggle of the Persian wars, but little "Victory" wrote clear its motive in its marble-band, which portrayed the contest of actual Greeks and Persians in the decisive battle of Plataea (479 B.C.). The little Ionic temple of Pentelic marble is only twenty-seven feet long and eighteen feet wide, but its frieze, running around the whole structure in high relief, is eighty-six feet long, and the four fluted columns, at either end, thirteen feet high, are made from single blocks of marble. Within the temple-room was an ancient, wooden image of the goddess, Athena, wingless, with pomegranate and helment in either hand. The breast-high balustrade, about the three precipitous edges of the bastion, was adorned with marble slabs of winged Victories, erecting trophies and sacrificing to their queen, Athena—all clad in those wonderfully transparent robes of marble gauze, which, clinging to the figure or floating across the marble field, have remained the most renowned example of their kind in the history of sculpture.
One of the most unique soldier's monuments in military annals is the serpent-column of bronze which once supported the golden tripod, dedicated by the Greeks, at Delphi, nearly twenty-four centuries ago, in commemoration of the victory of Platæa. Emperor Constantino removed it to his new capital and it still stands in the Hippodrome at Constantinople with the muster-roll of the loyal peoples inscribed upon its coils.
Among the many memorials erected by the Greeks, surely the most characteristically ancient, in religious motive and martial emphasis, is the Soros or funeral mound, raised by the Athenians, at Marathon, as a tomb for their fellow countrymen who fell on the spot in battle. The marble lion, which originally stood guard upon its summit, long ago disappeared but the tumulus itself, thirty feet high and two hundred paces in circumference, was excavated by the Greek government in 1890. Nine feet below the present surface of the surrounding plain was found an artificial floor, 85 feet long and 20 feet wide, upon which rested a layer of ashes, charcoal and human bones. A trench was subsequently discovered which contained the remains of the victims sacrificed to the dead heroes. The black figured vases, found with the bones and ashes of the dead, belong to the period of the Persian "Wars, and there is no doubt but that the human remains are those of the one hundred and ninety-two Athenians that Herodotus says (Book 6, Sec. 117) fell at Marathon on the glorious day.
And more than this, the Greek showed his devotion to his citizen-soldier not only in the flush of victory but also when defeat turned the splendid anticipations of the patriot into a "Lost Cause," in which the commonwealth went down to its doom in the train of Philip, King of Macedon. The Sacred Band, at Chæronea (338 B.C.), fell fighting to a man, and they made "Chæronea," forever, the symbol of a struggle for liberty. Here, too, the Athenians raised a tomb to their heroes, glorious in their defeat, and the mound and fragments of the Marble Lion of Chæronea are still to be seen on the road to Thebes. The Greek raised his monument to the glorious deeds performed by the volunteer in arms, and in it did not seem to be aware of death or defeat which are apt to characterize the modern testimonial, but looked beyond and above all those inevitable incidents and reared a memorial of incomparable value to the national cause and a miraculous inspiration to brilliant patriotic endeavor—a symbol not of gloom, but of glory, fame and triumph.
Nor did the spirit of democratic Athens content itself with cheers for the dying and offer but a crust for the living; for at a very early period—at least twenty-five centuries ago—a systematic provision for the disabled veteran soldier of the people was entered upon by Solon and continued in apparently unbroken observance down to the day of Chæronea, when the nation lost her sovereignty, soon to be merged in the world-projects of Alexander the Great. In the sixth century before Christ, Solon had a law passed in the case of the wounded soldier, Thersippus—the first name on a pension-roll in history—by which it was decreed that he and all others thereafter "who were maimed in war should be supported at the public expense."
Even Peisistratus, constitutional tyrant at Athens that he was, subsequently endorsed and followed the precedent set by Solon, in this respect, either from motives of pure patriotism or as a concession to the popular will and as a profitable asset for use among those who followed and were to follow him. The people were so in sympathy with the old soldier that the mere mention of military service by a veteran of the wars was thought to have a magic influence with the jury in almost any kind of a case, whatever the issue might be, and this can hardly be cited as an instance of looseness of court-practise in old Greek law; for our American juryman has been known to award a verdict in a contract case to the plaintiff "who guarded our liberties," "risked his life," etc., as Wellman, in his recent "Day in Court," interestingly cites.
The liberal and complete assistance, above bestowed on the disabled warrior by the little Athenian republic, stands out a conspicuous example of popular gratitude and sacrifice, especially when we realize that Rome, mighty mistress of militarism, granted no pension and offered no financial aid to her veteran soldier or to his family till after her republic came to a close and loyalty to the public weal had yielded to allegiance to an emperor.
The help, originally given in the case of wounded soldiers, was extended to all those infirm in body who were rendered less able to make a living because of their disabilities and were, at the same time, rated on the census-rolls at less than three minæ—fifty-four dollars, but with great purchasing power: If the modes of appointment to both the civic and military pensions were similar—as is now commonly implied and quite generally admitted—we possess interesting data of the way in which the people at Athens kept a patriotic yet prudent hand on the situation at all stages of the administration of state-aid, including the grant to the veteran citizen-soldier. The people themselves might examine every case both on the original allowance and at its renewal each year, so that there was but slight danger of abuse from imposition on the part of the unworthy.
Action could be brought by any citizen before the Boulé or unicameral Senate of the Five Hundred, against any suspect who was liable to an annual examination by the body or the public. Lysias, the celebrated Athenian speech-writer, wrote his famous defense of "The Cripple" (oration 24) for a poor but unabashed pensioner, the slinging and stinging nature of which fits so well the subject on trial that the speech is probably the best example of keen character-study ever produced by an expert, and has, despite its oftentimes ludicrous utterances, a bathos—and a pathos too—that justifies its being adjudged the most typical and may be the best of Lysian achievements. The virtually direct award and renewal of the grant by the people—possible in a limited community, if not practical in a larger nation—with one's neighbors, friends or, may be, rivals, helping the worthy or hindering the worthless, has a democratic flavor that smacks of fair play as well as political thrift and popular control. So far as the ancient authorities at present reveal, the pension to the old Athenian volunteer himself was awarded solely on the basis of disability and financial need—a simple yet satisfactory rule for a small nation where gratitude to the patriot came to mean sacrifice on the part of the people.
The law of the land reflected the humanity and patriotism of the loyal Athenian still further by offering complete support and protection to the fathers and mothers and elder kindred of the dead soldier, as noted in the above quotations from the funeral speeches. This pension, which furnished a substantial consolation to the dying warrior and an incentive and exhortation to those left behind, was put under the immediate supervision of the Archons—the highest authority in the land—who were especially entrusted with the duty of watching over the parents and children of those who died in war that they, above all other citizens, might be free from harm and wrong.
The nation also assumed the guardianship of the sons of veterans together with the daughters of the dead soldiers of the republic of Athens. These orphans were cared for during their minority and were trained and educated at the public expense, and with a completeness of compliance with the best standards of the day that the most progressive military powers of our twentieth century can hardly claim to have surpassed in their patriotic treatment of the survivors of the defenders of their lands and laws.
Although we can not prove the date of this Athenian regulation, Aristotle's censure in his "Politics," of the scheme for support of veterans' children, proposed by the engineer and reformer, Hippodamos, shows that a law like this was already in force at Athens before Pericles's day, the fifth century before Christ. In the same passage the philosopher also claims the existence of similar legislation in other cities (city-states) of Greece. It is now thought quite possible that Hippodamos—who originated the rectangular system of streets in Europe; occupied himself minutely with the improvement of the judicial system at Athens; and possessed a legal mind of such originality as to present the pioneer idea in history of a supreme court of appeals—was not a dilatory mover of a law already in force, Aristotle to the contrary notwithstanding, but suggested new and improved proposals in pension legislation, which, in its old form, had already proved of great civic and patriotic value. The subject most certainly received widespread and intelligent consideration.
Though the offspring of citizens, who fell in the wars of freedom at Athens, was exceedingly numerous and their care no light task in a small nation, she took part in their nurture with a striking delicacy of treatment, "desiring, as far as it was possible," as Plato has said in the Menexenus, "that their orphanhood might not be felt by them," and, in addition to support and education during her youth, the laws bestowed on the veteran's daughter, on her marriage day, a marriage portion or dower which was not only a substantial symbol of parental love and protection, but the very badge of legitimacy in the ancient society.
The sons of veterans were not treated as mere dependent charges of the government but, besides receiving their support from the nation, were taught a trade or trained in business to equip them for the battle of life, and were honored with signal marks of public favor in the gymnasia and especially in the sacred choruses of the great national festivals, in which the proud sons of the most prominent families of the Athenian republic felt it a distinction to appear and participate. And finally, when the veterans' sons, who had been wards of the nation, reached manhood, they were released from state control to take their places as ordinary citizens among their fellow countrymen, but amid scenes and ceremonies which were the most dramatic and inspiring on the religious and patriotic calendar.
No more conspicuous place and surely no more auspicious time could have been selected for this glorification day of the soldier's boy; for he was emancipated from his happy tutelage at the March season of the presentations in the great stone theater of Dionysus, which seated thirty thousand people, when filled, as it was sure to be at this time, when, in addition to the large attendance from the Athenian city and nation, many thousands were drawn from all parts of the Greek-speaking world. Here, at this time, the great tragedies of--Æschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the epoch-making comedies of Aristophanes, and the plays of the other noted dramatists were brought out, just across the way from the temple of the wine-god, with whom the ceremonies always began, and in whose honor and worship drama originated and developed.
Amid such surroundings and in the midst of such a multitude, on the gala day of the year, these orphans were presented, clad in full armor, as a symbol and memento of their fathers' valor and as an exhortation to follow their fathers' example. Just before the tragedy proper began, and after the sacrifice, the bestowing of civic and military crowns on the nation's greatest and bravest, and the sacred deposit of the tribute from the "Athenian Empire"—the safety-fund from the protective league against the Persian King—these youths were introduced to the assembled audience by the herald, who proclaimed with loud voice, what the orator Æschines—Demosthenes's great rival— regarded as a most glorious and valor-inspiring proclamation, recounting that "the fathers of these youths, like brave and good men, had fallen in their country's battles, wherefore the nation had taken charge of their bringing-up, and now on the verge of manhood, having adorned them with an entire suit of armor, dismissed them under happy auspices to watch over their own affairs, granting them likewise most honorable seats in the theatre."
Though the services rendered by the old Greek volunteer were not only national, but even continental in their influence, their recognition by the most celebrated and artistic memorials of the day, and by pension legislation—which, even in the fragmentary laws and references preserved, suffers little, if at all, by comparison with the finished product of the twentieth century—shows a devotion and sacrifice on the part of the people, unique in their loyalty to the constitution of that first republic in the world, political prototype of the great American republic in nearly everything but size. The people of Athens knew no king but law, and early learned that the stability and very existence of a republic, more than any other form of government, depend on gratitude to the citizen-soldier who defends the constitution, and on the creation and cultivation of a spirit of loving allegiance to and loyal observance of the supremacy and sanctity of the law of the land; and the little republic insisted on that truth and taught her citizens that lesson—which all republics must learn sooner or later—but probably never with more striking or exemplary emphasis than in the oath the youth was required to take at the Temple of Aglauros, when, as citizen and soldier, he swore
That he would not disgrace his arms nor desert his comrade in battle but would fight for his country's shrines; and leave his fatherland not feebler than he found it but greater and mightier; that he would obey the orders of his commanders; that he would keep the laws, not stand idly by if any one violated or disregarded them, but do his best to maintain them; and that he would honor the shrines of his native land.
- Plutarch, "Apothegm."
- Private funerals often took place the next day after the decease, of Demosthenes, Or. 43, Sec. 62, in a law attributed to Solon. Note similar custom in the gulf states of our country.
- Thucydides, Bk. 2, Sec. 34 seq.
- Thucydides, Bk. 2, Sec. 43.
- Plato, "Menexenus," 249 C. Jowett trans.
- Hypereides in Jebb's "Attio Orators."
- Plutarch, "Lives," Solon, Chap. 31.
- Page 197, edition 1909.
- Aristotle, "Resp. Ath.," 49, 4.
- Aristotle's "Politics," Bk. II., 8, V., 4, and notes, p. 272, of Susemihl and Hicks's edition.
- Lycurgus, "Leocrates," § 76.