The Story of the Greeks
Page: 41Every citizen of Athens, whether rich or poor, was allowed to vote; and as a salary was now paid to the men who helped govern the city, even a man of small means, if elected to the Tribunal, could afford to give his time to public duties.
By Solon's order the people were encouraged to talk matters over in public in the market place; and, as the Athenians were fond of making speeches, many of them became very eloquent.
Solon saw that his reforms were likely to work all[Pg 92] the better if they were fairly tried, and if he were not there to see how the people did. He therefore made the Athenians promise to obey his laws for ten years, and again set out on his travels.
In the days of Solon, men were often to be seen wandering around the streets during the festival of Di-o-ny´sus, god of wine. They were clad in goatskins, were smeared with the dregs of wine, and danced and sang rude songs in honor of their god.
These songs were called tragedies, which in Greek means "goat songs," because the goat was sacred to the god whom they thus worshiped. The people were greatly amused by the rude songs and dances of these worshipers of Dionysus, and crowds gathered about them to listen to their singing and to watch their antics.
Thes´pis, a Greek of great intelligence, noticed how popular these amusements were, and to please the public taste he set up the first rude theater. In the beginning it was only a few boards raised on trestles to form a sort of stage in the open air; but Thespis soon built a booth, so that the actors, when not on the stage, could be hidden from public view.
The first plays, as already stated, were very simple, and consisted of popular songs rudely acted. Little by little, however, the plays became more and more elaborate, and the actors tried to represent some of the tales which the story-tellers had told.
Some people did not approve of this kind of amusement; and among them was Solon, who said that Thespis was teaching the Athenians to love a lie, because they liked the plays, which, of course, were not true.
In spite of Solon's displeasure, the actors went on playing, and soon the best poets began to write works for the stage. The actors became more and more skillful, and had many spectators, although no women were allowed on the stage, their parts being taken by men.
Finally, to make room for the ever-increasing number of theater goers, a huge amphitheater was built. It was so large, we are told, that there were seats for thirty thousand spectators. These seats were in semicircular[Pg 94] rows or tiers, of which there were one hundred, rising one above another. The lowest row of all, near the orchestra, was composed of sixty huge marble chairs. The amphitheater was open to the sky, the stage alone being covered with a roof; and all the plays were given by daylight. The ruins of this building, which is known as the Theater of Dionysus, were dug out in 1862, and are now often visited by people who go to Athens.