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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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The Agora and its Denizens

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Page 4

The Booths and Shops in the Agora

 

    At length out of the chaos there seems to emerge a certain order. The major part of the square is covered with little booths of boards and wicker work, very frail and able to be folded up, probably every night. There are little lanes winding amid these booths; and each manner of huckster has its own especial "circle" or section of the market. "Go to the wine," "to the fish," "to the myrtles" (i.e. the flowers), are common directions for finding difficult parts of the Agora. Trade is mostly on a small scale,—the stock of each vendor is distinctly limited in its range, and Athens is without "department stores." Behind each low counter, laden with its wares, stands the proprietor, who keeps up a din from leathern lungs: "Buy my oil!" "Buy charcoal!" "Buy sausage!" etc., until he is temporarily silenced while dealing with a customer.

    In one "circle" may be found onions and garlic (a favorite food of the poor); a little further on are the dealers in wine, fruit, and garden produce. Lentils and peas can be had either raw, or cooked and ready to eat on the spot. An important center is the bread market. The huge cylindrical loaves are handed out by shrewd old women with proverbially long tongues. Whosoever upsets one of their delicately balanced piles of loaves is certain of an artistic tongue lashing. Elsewhere there is a pottery market, a clothes market, and, nearer the edge of the Agora, are "circles," where objects of real value are sold, like jewelry, chariots, good furniture. In certain sections, too, may be seen strong-voiced individuals, with little trays swung by straps before them, pacing to and fro, and calling out, not foods, but medicines, infallible cure-alls for every human distemper. Many are the unwary fools who patronize them.

 

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