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Buried Cities


Ariston, the Greek slave, was busily painting. He stood in a little
room with three smooth walls. The fourth side was open upon a court.
A little fountain splashed there. Above stretched the brilliant sky of
Italy. The August sun shone hotly down. It cut sharp shadows of the
columns on the cement floor. This was the master's room. The artist
was painting the walls. Two were already gay with pictures. They
showed the mighty deeds of warlike Herakles. Here was Herakles
strangling the lion, Herakles killing the hideous hydra, Herakles
carrying the wild boar on his shoulders, Herakles training the mad
horses. But now the boy was painting the best deed of all—Herakles
saving Alcestis from death. He had made the hero big and beautiful.
The strong muscles lay smooth in the great body. One hand trailed
the club. On the other arm hung the famous lion skin. With that hand
the god led Alcestis. He turned his head toward her and smiled. On
the ground lay Death, bruised and bleeding. One batlike black wing
hung broken. He scowled after the hero and the woman. In the sky
above him stood Apollo, the lord of life, looking down. But the picture
of the god was only half finished. The figure was sketched in outline.
Ariston was rapidly laying on paint with his little brushes. His eyes
glowed with Apollo's own fire. His lips were open, and his breath
came through them pantingly.
"O god of beauty, god of Hellas, god of freedom, help me!" he
half whispered while his brush worked.
For he had a great plan in his mind. Here he was, a slave in this
rich Roman's house. Yet he was a free-born son of Athens, from a
family of painters. Pirates had brought him here to Pompeii, and had
sold him as a slave. His artist's skill had helped him, even in this cruel
land. For his master, Tetreius, loved beauty. The Roman had soon
found that his young Greek slave was a painter. He had said to his
steward:
"Let this boy work at the mill no longer. He shall paint the walls of
my private room."
So he had talked to Ariston about what the pictures should be.
The Greek had found that this solemn, frowning Roman was really a
kind man. Then hope had sprung up in his breast and had sung of
freedom.
"I will do my best to please him," he had thought. "When all the
walls are beautiful, perhaps he will smile at my work. Then I will clasp
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