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Page 5

The Athenian Love of Country Life

 

    So the two friends had sat them down to delve in delightful profundities; but following the bridle path, the little brook and its groves end for us all too soon. We are in the open country around Athens, and the fierce rays of Helios beat strongly on our heads. We are outside the city, but by no means far from human life. Farm succeeds farm, for the land around Athens has a goodly population to maintain, and there is a round price for vegetables in the Agora. Truth to tell, the average Athenian, though he pretends to love the market, the Pnyx, the Dicasteries, and the Gymnasia, has a shrewd hankering for the soil, and does not care to spend more time in Athens then necessary. Aristophanes is full of the contrasts between "country life" and "city life" and almost always with the advantage given the former. Says his Strepsiades (in "The Clouds"), "A country life for me—dirty, untrimmed, lolling around at ease, and just abounding in bees and sheep and oil cake." His Diceæpolis ("Acharnians") voices clearly the independence of the farmer: "How I long for peace.[4] I'm disgusted with the city; and yearn for my own farm which never bawled out [as in the markets] 'buy my coals' or 'buy my vinegar' or 'oil,' or knew the word 'buy,' but just of itself produced everything." And his Trygæus (in "The Peace") states the case better yet: "Ah! how eager I am to get back into the fields, and break up my little farm with the mattock again...[for I remember] what kind of a life we had there; and those cakes of dried fruits, and the figs, and the myrtles, and the sweet new wine, and the violet bed next to the well, and the olives we so long for!"

    There is another reason why the Athenians rejoice in the country. The dusty streets are at best a poor playground for the children, the inner court of the house is only a respectable prison for the wife. In the country the lads can enjoy themselves; the wife and the daughters can roam about freely with delightful absence of convention. There will be no happier day in the year than when the master says, "Let us set out for the farm."

 

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