LIGHT-HEARTED WORSHIP OF MANY GODS

The Greeks did not take their gods with the intense seriousness of the Hebrews, and they could joke about a god without being convicted of sin. The philosophers sneered at the many gods of the common people, but, besides inculcating morals, these gods inspired great compositions in music and drama and sculpture. In honour of them, numerous festivals were established. The best known was that celebrated every four years in honour of Zeus at Olympia, in the Western Peloponnese. Here athletic competitions were held which attracted entrants from the whole of the Greek world. (The modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896 in direct imitation of the old Greek festival.) At Athens the festival of the god Dionysus witnessed the rise and growth of Greek drama, which was originally an offering of worship to the god. The Greek views of an after-life were not optimistic. There was, for select heroes, the paradise of the Elysian plain, but for the rest, " youth and bloom and this delightful world " were replaced by a dim world of shadows. Achilles, the great Greek legendary hero, spoke for all the Greeks when, in the Odyssey of Homer, he said that he would rather be a hired servant of a poor farmer than king of all the dead. This people, which has left the world such an imperishable legacy in every branch of thought, had a standard of living which would be intolerable to even the poorest to-day. The towns had grown up haphazard, and consisted of narrow passages leading to the market-place. Their houses were little more than covered sheds, devoid of all sanitary conveniences. The climate made these conditions less harmful, at least for the men, because they could spend most of their time in the open air. The position of women, on the other hand, was unworthy of the race. The Athenian woman was a prisoner at home, busy in bringing up the children and weaving the clothes of the family. It was considered disgraceful for her to appear outside unattended by her husband. The best praise of a woman was that there was no talk about her amongst men whether for good or evil. The result was widespread immorality. Even Pericles openly kept a mistress, Aspasia, who was famous for her beauty and her wit. Although the material needs of life were few, there was still plenty of manual labour to be done; for this the Athenians depended, to a large extent, on slaves. We must never forget that these Greek states rested largely on a basis of slave labour. It is calculated that in Athens alone, the number of slaves was equal to that of the free citizens. But the slave did not have to suffer the hateful oppression which the Roman slave had to endure. He often worked side by side with his master in the pottery or the stonemason's yard, and was independent to the extent that a critic of Athenian democracy said the slaves were so impertinent that they would not get out of the way for one in the street.