THE SEAFARERS OF THE CITY-STATES

THE Greek spirit of adventure and independence was fostered by the geographical conditions. The east and south coasts are everywhere cut up by bays and inlets of the sea, and the Aegean Isles are so near to each other that one can cross to Asia Minor without losing sight of land. In such a land-locked region, men easily went down to the sea in ships. Seafaring was also encouraged because the mountains everywhere barred easy intercourse by their height and ruggedness. " Little town by river or seashore, or mountain-built with peaceful citadel." These words of Keats well describe the sites on which the Greek city-states were built. These city-states were a great contrast to the large empires of the Assyrians and the Persians. Here were small communities, entirely self-sufficient and not desirous of extending their privileges to others. Even the largest of them was only about the same size as an average English county, yet they had their own systems of government and their political parties debating home and foreign affairs. The result was an intense interest in the problems of government. Every citizen took an active part in the state and thought that a man who was uninterested in politics was useless. The original constitution of the Greeks, as revealed in the Homeric poems about 900 B.C., consisted of a king, who was leader in peace and war and religion, a council of chiefs whom he consulted, and the assembly of the people, who were summoned together to hear the decisions of the king and council. Membership of the state was confined to those who belonged to the tribes by birth. Already in Homer we see the king largely controlled by the council of chiefs. The people, however, are still unable to make themselves heard, for Odysseus, one of the Homeric chiefs, tells the heckler, Thersites, that " the rule of many is not good," and enforces the lesson with a beating.