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"The People of Uncontrollable Laughter"

The ancient peoples of the East were ruled by monarchs, like the Pharaohs of Egypt, and by priests. The Greeks had chieftains or kings at the outset, and at one time or another (between 700 and 600 B.C.) they were governed by "tyrants" -- a kind of "benevolent despot," with whom we shall meet again in the story of Europe.

But the Greeks, unlike the men of the East, loved freedom above all things. They lived in little cities, each under its protecting deity. Each city was independent and a state in itself, so we call them city-states, and each had sufficient farmland around to support the people. Altogether there were about 150 of these little cities.

As the population grew, the Greeks did not -- like the Eastern peoples -- conquer their neighbours. Instead, they sent out colonies all round the Mediterranean shores to form new cities, and by 500 B.C. these colonies were scattered along the coastline of the Great Sea. Thus they spread their cities and trade, their language and ideas. Two of their traders came even as far as Britain, and they told the civilized world something about that far-off island, on the edge of the world as they thought it to be.

The Greeks, however, were a quarrelsome people. Though they sometimes formed leagues of cities, they never united to form a single nation. However, there were certain institutions common to all the Greeks. The centre of their religion was the Oracle, at Delphi, which they thought was the centre of the earth. Here they, as well as men of Asia and of Rome, consulted the god Apollo in time of danger. The Greek gods were more humane and less terror-striking than those of the East. They could even make jokes, and it has been said that the Greeks were the only people that could break out into "uncontrollable laughter."

But the Greeks did, in time, combine to fight the Persians, and their successful struggle against Asia is another of the immortal stories of the world, told by one of their great writers, Herodotus, the "Father of History."