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Tag Archives: Delphi

The Conquerors 343 B. C. – 323 B. C.


In 343 B. C., the philosopher Aristotle left the quiet of his study and journeyed to Macedonia, a country in the mountain wilderness north of Greece. He had been hired to tutor the rowdy young son of a king. The boy, Alexander, was a yellow-haired thirteen-year-old. His manners were polite and he seemed to be clever enough, but he was wild. It was hard for him to pay attention to his studies. He much preferred galloping across the fields on his huge horse. He proudly told his new tutor that he had tamed the horse himself. When he did come to his lessons, instead of discussing arithmetic and Greek grammar, he chatted on about armies and his father’s campaigns and his own great plans to conquer the world. Alexander said he was a descendant of the family of Achilles – his mother had told him so. The Iliad, Achilles’ story, was the one book he loved. He carried it with him wherever he went and read it over and over until he knew it by heart. He dreamed of growing up to be a hero like the ones in Homer’s poem. He pestered Aristotle with questions about Greece and Athens, which he longed to visit. Aristotle said that it was very different from Macedonia. Philip of Macedon In those days Macedonia was just beginning to be a kingdom that civilized people talked about seriously. The Greeks still said it was a country of barbarians, but the Greeks called everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian. Macedonia was changing. Alexander’s father, King Philip, had spent his youth as a hostage in Greece and he had learned to love almost everything Greek. He had studied the language and tried to learn the ways of the people; but he had also heard the Greeks …

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Greece Fights for its Life 499 B. C.-479 B. C.


Across the Aegean, from the oriental court of King Darius of Persia, came messengers to all the city-states of mainland Greece. Their words were smooth, their smiles like sneers and they demanded gifts for their master – earth and water, the ancient tokens of tribute and surrender. The Greeks in Asia Minor already knew the Persians – too well; once the smiling messengers had come to the cities. After the messengers, the soldiers came, attacking the little poleis, one by one, until all of them were taken. Nothing could stop the Persian armies. From the capital, deep in Asia, they had pushed westward and they had gone so far that the journey home was counted in months instead of miles. They had conquered Egypt and Phoenicia, the kingdom of sailors. Now Darius, their king, meant to add Greece to his empire. He would do it quietly, if the Greeks gave up without a fight. If not, he would send his soldiers and take Greece by force. When the messengers arrived, the men of some poleis bowed their heads and gave the tokens; if Darius came, they would not fight. Others refused. The Spartans dropped the Persian ambassadors down a well and told them to find their earth and water there. At Athens, Darius’ messengers were thrown into a pit. Darius was not sorry that the Athenians were so bold. He had a grudge to settle with them and he looked forward to seeing his troops destroy their city. Seven years before, in 499 B. C., Athens and Eretria, another city on the mainland, had sent help to the Greeks in Asia Minor. When Darius was told about it, he had sneered, “The Athenians – who are they?” He had called for his bow and arrow, which he shot toward the …

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Athens: City of Wisdom and War 700 B. C. to 500 B. C.


Of all the city-states in Greece, Athens was the most fortunate. The city’s guardian was Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. Indeed, the Athenians did well in war and were blessed with wisdom. In the dark days, when barbaric invaders had conquered one city after another, Athens had not surrendered. Later, when Athens felt the growing pains that brought civil war and ruin to so many city-states, a series of wise men guided Athenians safely through their troubles. The right leaders always seemed to come along at the right time. It was more than good luck, ofcourse. The Athenians put their trust in men with new ideas and they were willing to experiment. The experiments changed an ordinary little town into a great brilliant polis that left an enduring mark on the world. Athens was old. Its story began with a list of kings so ancient that no one was quite sure when they had lived. The greatest of them was Theseus, the young hero who killed the monster at Crete. The storytellers said that he won the friendship of the neighbouring tribesmen and persuaded their chiefs to swear loyalty to his city. That was the beginning of the polis, but many years passed before it became important. In the seventh century B. C., Athens was only a second-rate, backwoods polis. Its king could do little more than dream of the glorious old days when their forefathers had defended the town’s acropolis – the Athenians called it the Rock – against the barbarians. Attica, the countryside around the old fortress on the Rock, was really ruled by a quarrelsome lot of rival noblemen, the chiefs of the clans. These barons ran their vast estates like private kingdoms. They owned the country villages and all but owned the people in …

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Gods and Heroes 800 B.C. – 550 B.C.


From island to island and town to town, across the wide new world of the Greeks, the minstrel wandered, with a harp slung across his back and a batch of stories in his hand. When he knocked at the gate of a palace or great house and offered to sing for his supper, he was never refused. There were no shows to see and no books to read. The people relied on the minstrels to entertain them and to tell their stories of the past, which otherwise might be forgotten. The minstrel’s stock of stories was a mixture of tall tales, half-remembered history and myths, the stories of the gods. He collected them wherever he travelled, usually from other minstrels. As the stories were passed along from singer to singer, the history grew a little fuzzier and the tales grew a great deal taller. In the great hall of a palace, where the lord and his guests gathered in the evening, the minstrel was given a place of honour. After dinner, he was invited to sing. Most of his songs began with the Achaean attack on Troy. First, he reminded his listeners of the reason for the war: Paris, a prince Troy, stole Helen, the wife of the king of Sparta, Menelaus and the most beautiful woman in the world. The minstrel told about Agamemnon’s call to arms and the fleet that was made ready to sail. Then he listed the famous heroes who boarded the ships. Each had his own adventures and the minstrel chose different ones to tell about every evening. He might sing about Agamemnon, who came home from Troy victorious, only to be killed by his wife; or Achilles, the greatest of Greek warriors, who slew the Trojan champion Hector; or Odysseus, the craftiest of the …

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