National Geographic : 1920 Jan
ASIA MINOR IN THE TIME OF THE SEVEN WISE MEN and were employed for public and private religious festivals-to celebrate, perhaps, a victory, a death, a holy day, a birth, or a marriage. We are told that Alkman, who lived as early as 650 B. C., wrote a choir song for girls which was a dramatic part song. RHAPSODISTS PRECEDED DRAMATISTS AND ACTORS There was, however, no drama strictly speaking; the place which the drama sub sequently occupied was filled by the rhap sodists. A rhapsodist was one who sang professionally or intoned to music the poems of his age and of earlier ages. For this purpose some part of the so called Homeric poems was usually se lected, an introduction and some closing words added, and it was presented to companies of people in private houses. A professional rhapsodist would nat urally choose the most popular parts of Homer; but if he were a man of some thought power, he might present his own compositions, although that would hap pen more rarely. Whenever a banquet was given, the best rhapsodist to be procured was en gaged, one who could recite not only Homeric poems, but those of Hesiod and Archilochus, not neglecting the lyric com posers of his own time. In this way the best of the world's poetry became a part of the familiar thinking of the common people, and it was surely a much easier and pleasanter way of learning than through studying from books. There were so many rhap sodists in the latter part of the period that they were organized into guilds and schools. PREPARATIONS FOR A BANQUET The room in the house which was used for entertaining was usually rather large, with an earthen floor, which was care fully swept before a feast was given. Before the guests arrived, the hosts and hostesses washed their hands and the goblets were all rinsed. In the center of the room stood an altar, which was cov ered with wreaths of flowers. The large wine bowl was filled to the brim. The guests arrived wearing crowns of flowers, and the wine-cup, with wine and water, usually mixed half and half, was passed around, but not before libations were poured upon the ground for the gods. There was very free use of many kinds of ointments and perfumes, some of which were very costly, made from all kinds of flowers. As a poet of the age writes: From the slender vase A willing youth presents to each in turn A sweet and costly perfume. Honey and cheese were given the place of honor among the refreshments. The house resounded with music and song. Now the rhapsodist enters, wearing his white robe and golden crown. There is a man or woman with him who also wears a crown and who sings or plays a low accompaniment to the poetry which the rhapsodist recites. He begins, perhaps, with selections from Homer, whose poems always had first place in the literary life of the day, and then follow some of the lyric poems of Ternander and Archilochos, Sappho, and others. He naturally selects the poet that belongs to the place where the feast is given. In Lesbos one would sing of Terpan der, Alkaios, or Sappho, and in Paros of Archilochos, and in Smyrna or Chios of Homer. WOMEN SHARED IN ALL CIVIC ACTIVITIES Social life in Ionia and the islands was the life of men and women together, for women were free in that age to share in all the activities, even in public athletic exercises in the gymnasium of the town, as we read of their doing in the Island of Chios. There were, to be sure, no suffragettes, for formal voting by citizens of any class was a thing of later times, but the life of all was free and open and natural, and the standards of morality were much higher than in subsequent periods of Greek history. It is to the corruption of later times that we owe the calumnies that injured the fame of Sappho, for the free life of the era of the Seven Wise Men was not appreciated by succeeding ages.