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What Kids Played Two Thousand Years Ago

by Hattie B. Crafts

Do you ever think about the little boys and girls who lived so long ago? Well, in the celebrated country of Greece they were as fond of sports as children of the present day, only they had not so many wonderful toys made for them as are manufactured now. But could we look back upon them at some of their sports, we should find them very happy children, and it might surprise you to know how many games have been played century after century, and are still played and enjoyed to-day.

The babies had their rattles and bright-colored balls, the children their hoops and balls, and what we call "Blindman's-buff" was a favorite game among them. Perhaps you know about the old giant Polyphemus, who was master of a race of one-eyed giants, and who devoured the Greeks that were round his cave, until they succeeded in putting out his eye, and how he still groped around and endeavored to find them, but in vain. Well, the boys and girls of Greece used to represent this story by this very game of "Blindman's-buff." The one blindfolded was called Polyphemus, and the others would hide and pretend they were the Greeks whom he was to find. Another way of playing this game was for the children to run round about the blindfolded person, and one of them touch him. If he could tell correctly who it was, the two exchanged places.

In Athens, and in other cities and towns as well, you might almost any day see a whole group of children hopping along on one foot, as though the other was hurt; but, no, it was only for the fun, as every child of every nation knows, of seeing who could hop the farthest. Sometimes one boy would be allowed the use of both his feet, and the others would try to overtake him by hopping on only one foot, and for those who could do this it was accounted a great victory.

In one of their games they set up a stone, called the Diorœ, and each of the players was to stand at a certain distance from it, and in turn throw stones at it. But the one who missed had rather a difficult task to perform, for the rule of the game was that he must be blindfolded and carry the successful player round on his back until he could go directly from the standing-point to the Diorœ. A sport not requiring quite so much skill, and one which many of you have perhaps practiced, consisted in setting a stick upright in the soil wherever it was loose and moist, and trying to dislodge it by throwing other sticks at it, keeping, of course, at a certain distance.

Who will attempt to enumerate the many games played by a ring of children running about one in the centre? There must be a wonderful charm about them, so much are they played by both boys and girls in every country. Whether little Sallie Waters had her origin in Greece I will not pretend to say, but we do know that games were played in a similar manner. Here are some, enjoyed especially by the boys. One boy sat on the ground, and the others, forming themselves into a ring, ran round him, one of them hitting him as they went; if the boy in the centre could seize upon the one who struck him, the captive took his place. This did very well for the smaller boys, but the older ones had an arrangement a little in advance of it. The one in the centre was to move about with a pot on his head, holding it with his left hand, and the others, running around, would strike him and cry, "Who has the pot?" To which he replied, "I, Midas," trying all the time to reach one of them with his foot, and the first one touched was obliged to carry the pot in his turn.

One of their most interesting games, and one which you would all enjoy, was the twirling of the ostrakon. A line was drawn on the ground, and the group of boys separated into two parties. A small earthenware disk, having one side black and the other white, was brought forward, and each party chose a side, black or white. It was then twirled along the line, the one throwing it crying, "Night, or day," the black side representing night, and the white day. The party whose side came up was called victorious, and ran after the others, who fled in all directions. The one first caught was styled "ass," and was obliged to sit down, the game proceeding without him. And so it was continued until the whole number were caught. This was excellent exercise, and often played by the hour together.

A favorite game among the girls was played with five little balls or pebbles. They would toss them into the air, and endeavor to catch many on the back of the hand or between the fingers. Of course some of them would often fall to the ground; but these they were allowed to pick up, provided they did so with the fingers of the same hand on which the others rested, which required considerable skill. The French girls have a very pretty game of this, which is played with five little glass balls.

We must not omit the ancestors of Punch and Judy, who lived in these early times, though probably under different names. But however they were called, they were just as queer-looking a family; and their arms would move, their shoulders shrug, their eyes roll, and their feet cut as strange capers as those of their descendants; and I have no doubt afforded the little ones, and perhaps some older persons, as much pleasure then as now.