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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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Page 7

The Leisured Class in Athens

 

    Evidently Athens, more than many later-day cities, draws clear lines between the workers and the "gentlemen of leisure." There is no distinction of dress between the numerous slaves and the humbler free workers and traders; but there is obvious distinction between the artisan of bent shoulders who shambles out of yonder pungent tannery, with his scant garments girded around him, and the graceful gentleman of easy gestures and flowing drapery who moves towards the Tholos. There is great political democracy in Athens, but not so much social democracy. "Leisure," i.e. exemption from every kind of sordid, money-getting, hard work, is counted the true essential for a respectable existence, and to live on the effort of others and to devote oneself to public service or to letters and philosophy is the open satisfaction or the private longing of every Athenian.

    A great proportion of these, therefore, who frequent the Agora are not here on practical business, unless they have official duties at the government offices.[6] But in no city of any age has the gracious art of doing nothing been brought to such perfection. The Athenians are an intensely gregarious people. Everybody knows everybody else. Says an orator, "It is impossible for a man to be either a rascal or an honest man in this city without your all knowing it." Few men walk long alone; if they do keep their own company, they are frowned on as "misanthropes." The morning visit to the Agora "to tell or to hear some new thing"[7] will be followed by equally delightful idling and conversation later in the day at the Gymnasia, and later still, probably, at the dinner-party. Easy and unconventional are the personal greetings. A little shaking out of the mantle, an indescribable flourish with the hands. A free Greek will despise himself for "bowing," even to the Great King. To clasp hands implies exchanging a pledge, something for more than mere salutation.

    "Chaire, Aristomenes!"

    "Chaire, Cleandros!"

    Such is the usual greeting, using an expressive word which can mean equally well "hail!" and "farewell!"

 

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