A Little Happier: A Story from the Ancient World Reminds Me to Be Grateful for Literature

I love reading, I love libraries, I love words, I love stories.

It’s all too easy to take for granted the limitless treasure trove of art that we have access to these days, with the internet, public libraries, books, and not to mention, literacy itself. I was astonished by this example, from ancient times, about how much we love works of literature, and how we crave them.

Euripides, who was born in 480 BC, was one of the greatest writers of ancient Greece. Euripides is discussed by the ancient writer Plutarch, who was born a bit later, in 46 AD, in his renowned collection of biographies called Parallel Lives. In one section, Plutarch talks about Euripides, when he recounts the fate of the Athenians who were taken as prisoners in Syracuse after the defeat of an Athenian expedition.

Of the captured Athenians, Plutarch wrote:

Several were saved for the sake of Euripides, whose poetry, it appears, was in request among the Sicilians more than among any of the settlers out of Greece. And when any travelers arrived that could tell them some passage, or give them any specimen of his verses, they were delighted to be able to communicate them to one another. Many of the captives who got safe back to Athens are said, after they reached home, to have gone and made their acknowledgments to Euripides, relating how that some of them had been released from their slavery by teaching what they could remember of his poems, and others, when straggling after the fight, been relieved with meat and drink for repeating some of his lyrics. Nor need this be any wonder, for it is told that a ship of Caunus fleeing into one of their harbors for protection, pursued by pirates, was not received, but forced back, till one asked if they knew any of Euripides’s verses, and on their saying they did, they were admitted, and their ship brought into harbor.

This passage reminds me always to be grateful, that I have so many books, plays, poems, encyclopedias, interviews, articles, lyrics, and more waiting for me at any time. I never want to take this for granted, and I want to work to make sure other people have this access, too.




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