Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/142

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vanced nations of our century have come to the conclusion that the old Hellenic form of government by representatives of the people was the most sensible, after all; that armed citizens can fight as well as, if not better than, standing armies, and that the ancient method of appointing and removing public functionaries by a majority of votes was far superior to the par ordre du mufti system of Mohammedan and Christian sultans. Religious toleration, which the fearful experience of the middle ages has made the watchword of all liberals and reformers, was practised among the Greeks and republican Romans to an extent which we are as far yet from having reattained as their freedom of speech, of commercial affairs, and of domestic life. Popular education, the national stage, and all the fine arts, have to be emancipated from innumerable prejudices and paralyzing restrictions before they can be restored to their pristine prime, not to speak of the science of health nor of the science of happiness, which will, perhaps, never recover from their long neglect.

But, of all the national institutions of ancient Greece which we have abolished or altered to our disadvantage, there is none whose reintroduction would be attended with greater benefits than that system of physical education which so influenced the national spirit and reacted upon the character of the representative Grecian heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, that it may be considered as the distinguishing feature of their age. At a very early period the Greeks of Southern Europe and Asia Minor had recognized the truth that, with the advance of civilization and civilized modes of life, a regular system of bodily training must be substituted for the lost opportunities of physical exercise which Nature affords so abundantly to her children in the daily functions of their wild life. "It is impossible to repress luxury by legislation," says Solon, in Lucian's "Dialogues of Anacharsis," "but its influence may be counteracted by athletic games, which invigorate the body and give a martial character to the amusements of our young men."

The nature of ancient weapons and the use of heavy defensive armor made the development of physical force a subject of national importance, but military efficiency was by no means the exclusive object of gymnastic exercises. The law of Lycurgus provides free training-schools for the thorough physical education of both sexes, and cautions parents against giving their daughters in marriage before they had attained the prescribed degree of proficiency in certain exercises, which were less ornamental and probably less popular than what we call callisthenics. Greek physicians, too, prescribed a course of athletic sports against various complaints, and had invented a special curriculum of gymnastics, which, as Ælian assures us, never failed to cure obesity. When the increase of wealth and culture threatened to affect the manly spirit of the Hellenic race, physical education was taken in hand by the public authorities in almost every Grecian city; and the ablest statesmen at Athens, Thebes,