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The Greek Slave Who Won The Olive Crown
by [?]

The teeming life of the streets has vanished; the voices of the children have died away into silence; the artisan has dropped his tools, the artist has laid aside his brush, the sculptor his chisel. Night has spread her wings over the scene. The queen city of Greece is wrapped in slumber.

But, in the midst of that hushed life, there is one who sleeps not, a worshiper at the shrine of art, who feels neither fatigue nor hardship, and fears not death itself in the pursuit of his object. With the fire of genius burning in his dark eyes, a youth works with feverish haste on a group of wondrous beauty.

But why is this master artist at work, in secret, in a cellar where the sun never shone, the daylight never entered? I will tell you. Creon, the inspired worker, the son of genius, is a slave, and the penalty of pursuing his art is death.

When the Athenian law debarring all but freemen from the exercise of art was enacted, Creon was at work trying to realize in marble the vision his soul had created. The beautiful group was growing into life under his magic touch when the cruel edict struck the chisel from his fingers.

“O ye gods!” groans the stricken youth, “why have ye deserted me, now, when my task is almost completed? I have thrown my soul, my very life, into this block of marble, and now–“

Cleone, the beautiful dark-haired sister of the sculptor, felt the blow as keenly as her brother, to whom she was utterly devoted. “O immortal Athene! my goddess, my patron, at whose shrine I have daily laid my offerings, be now my friend, the friend of my brother!” she prayed.

Then, with the light of a new-born resolve shining in her eyes, she turned to her brother, saying:–

“The thought of your brain shall live. Let us go to the cellar beneath our house. It is dark, but I will bring you light and food, and no one will discover our secret. You can there continue your work; the gods will be our allies.”

It is the golden age of Pericles, the most brilliant epoch of Grecian art and dramatic literature.

The scene is one of the most memorable that has ever been enacted within the proud city of Athens.

In the Agora, the public assembly or market place, are gathered together the wisdom and wit, the genius and beauty, the glory and power, of all Greece.

Enthroned in regal state sits Pericles, president of the assembly, soldier, statesman, orator, ruler, and “sole master of Athens.” By his side sits his beautiful partner, the learned and queenly Aspasia. Phidias, one of the greatest sculptors, if not the greatest the world has known, who “formed a new style characterized by sublimity and ideal beauty,” is there. Near him is Sophocles, the greatest of the tragic poets. Yonder we catch a glimpse of a face and form that offers the most striking contrast to the manly beauty of the poet, but whose wisdom and virtue have brought Athens to his feet. It is the “father of philosophy,” Socrates. With his arm linked in that of the philosopher, we see–but why prolong the list? All Greece has been bidden to Athens to view the works of art.

The works of the great masters are there. On every side paintings and statues, marvelous in detail, exquisite in finish, challenge the admiration of the crowd and the criticism of the rival artists and connoisseurs who throng the place. But even in the midst of masterpieces, one group of statuary so far surpasses all the others that it rivets the attention of the vast assembly.

“Who is the sculptor of this group?” demands Pericles. Envious artists look from one to the other with questioning eyes, but the question remains unanswered. No triumphant sculptor comes forward to claim the wondrous creation as the work of his brain and hand. Heralds, in thunder tones, repeat, “Who is the sculptor of this group?” No one can tell. It is a mystery. Is it the work of the gods? or–and, with bated breath, the question passes from lip to lip, “Can it have been fashioned by the hand of a slave?”

Suddenly a disturbance arises at the edge of the crowd. Loud voices are heard, and anon the trembling tones of a woman. Pushing their way through the concourse, two officers drag a shrinking girl, with dark, frightened eyes, to the feet of Pericles. “This woman,” they cry, “knows the sculptor; we are sure of this; but she will not tell his name.”

Neither threats nor pleading can unlock the lips of the brave girl. Not even when informed that the penalty of her conduct was death would she divulge her secret. “The law,” says Pericles, “is imperative. Take the maid to the dungeon.”

Creon, who, with his sister, had been among the first to find his way to the Agora that morning, rushed forward, and, flinging himself at the ruler’s feet, cried “O Pericles! forgive and save the maid. She is my sister. I am the culprit. The group is the work of my hands, the hands of a slave.”

An intense silence fell upon the multitude, and then went up a mighty shout,–“To the dungeon, to the dungeon with the slave.”

“As I live, no!” said Pericles, rising. “Not to the dungeon, but to my side bring the youth. The highest purpose of the law should be the development of the beautiful. The gods decide by that group that there is something higher in Greece than an unjust law. To the sculptor who fashioned it give the victor’s crown.”

And then, amid the applause of all the people, Aspasia placed the crown of olives on the youth’s brow, and tenderly kissed the devoted sister who had been the right hand of genius.