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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Agora and its Denizens













Page 5

The Flower and the Fish Vendors


    Two circles attract especial attention, the Myrtles and the Fish. Flowers and foliage, especially when made up into garlands, are absolutely indispensable to the average Greek. Has he a great family festival, e.g. the birth of a son, then every guest should wear a crown of olives; is it a wedding, then one of flowers.[4] Oak-leaves do the honors for Zeus; laurel for Apollo; myrtle for Aphrodite (and is not the Love-Goddess the favorite?). To have a social gathering without garlands, in short, is impossible. The flower girls of Athens are beautiful, impudent, and not at all prudish. Around their booths press bold-tongued youths, and not too discreet sires; and the girls can call everybody familiarly by name. Very possibly along with the sale of the garlands they make arrangements (if the banquet is to be of the less respectable kind) to be present in the evening themselves, perhaps in the capacity of flute girls.

    More reputable, though not less noisy, is the fish market. Athenians boast themselves of being no hearty "meat eaters" like their Bœotian neighbors, but of preferring the more delicate fish. No dinner party is successful without a seasonable course of fish. The arrival of a fresh cargo from the harbor is announced by the clanging of a bell, which is likely to leave all the other booths deserted, while a crowd elbows around the fishmonger. He above all others commands the greatest flow of billingsgate, and is especially notorious for his arrogant treatment of his customers, and for exacting the uttermost farthing. The "Fish" and the "Myrtles" can be sure of a brisk trade on days when all the other booth keepers around the Agora stand idle.

    All this trade, of course, cannot find room in the booths of the open Agora. Many hucksters sit on their haunches on the level ground with their few wares spread before them. Many more have little stands between the pillars of the stoæ; and upon the various streets that converge on the market there is a fringe of shops, but these are usually of the more substantial sort. Here are the barbers' shops, the physicians' offices (if the good leech is more than an itinerant quack), and all sorts of little factories, such as smithies, where the cutler's apprentices in the rear of the shop forge the knives which the proprietor sells over the counter, the slave repositories, and finally wine establishments of no high repute, where wine may not merely be bought by the skin (as in the main Agora), but by the potful to be drunk on the premises.


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