The Story of the Greeks
Page: 73Strange to relate, his manner was so fascinating that the grave councilors did as he wished, and dropped their important business to feast with him. It was on account of this influence that an Athenian citizen once bitterly exclaimed, "Go on, my brave boy! Your prosperity will bring ruin on this crowd."
Alcibiades was such a favorite among rich and poor, that the Athenians would gladly have made him king. Fortunately, however, the young man still had sense enough to refuse this honor; but, although he would not accept the title, he exercised much of the power of a king, and soon he and Nicias were the principal politicians of the day.
Alcibiades was as ambitious as Nicias was careful; and while the latter was always trying to keep the Athenians as quiet and contented as possible, Alcibiades was always ready to think of some plan by which the power of the city could be extended.
This ambition of Alcibiades was destined to have a very bad effect upon his own fortunes and upon those of his native land, as you will see by the end of his career.[Pg 165]
The Greeks, as you know, had founded colonies all along the coast of Asia Minor and on many of the islands. They had also sailed as far as Italy and Sicily, where they built many towns.
Little by little these colonies grew richer and stronger. As the Greek settlers increased in number, they claimed more and more land. In Sicily and southern Italy the soil was so fertile that the people soon grew very rich; and, as they had vessels in plenty, they traded everywhere, and became noted for their commercial enterprise.
The first of the Greek colonies in southern Italy was the city of Syb´a-ris. It was so prosperous that the people had more money than they knew what to do with; and they spent large sums in making their houses beautiful and in securing every comfort.
The Syb´a-rites soon became so luxurious in their habits, that they were noted all over the country for their love of ease. We are told that one Sybarite, for instance, once ordered his slaves to prepare a couch for him of fresh rose leaves.
When it was ready, he stretched himself out upon it and slept. In a short time he awoke with cries of great distress, saying that he could not sleep because a rose leaf was crumpled under him, and chafed his tender skin.
Ever since then, when people make a great fuss about a trifle, they are apt to hear the remark, "'Tis the crumpled rose leaf!" and when they spend too much thought upon their bodily comfort, and indulge in too much luxury, they are called Sybarites.
The people of this town continued to flourish for some time, but they finally quarreled with the neighboring colony of Croton. A war followed, in which the ease-loving Sybarites were defeated and their city was destroyed.