Title: Greece and the Ægean Islands
Author: Philip Sanford Marden
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ACROPOLIS, SHOWING PROPYLÆA
What follows makes no pretense whatever of being a scientific work on Greece, from an archæological or other standpoint. That it is written at all is the resultant of several forces, chief among which are the consciousness that no book hitherto published, so far as I am aware, has covered quite the same ground, and the feeling, based on the experience of myself and others, that some such book ought to be available.
By way of explanation and apology, I am forced to admit, even to myself, that what I have written, especially in the opening chapters, is liable to the occasional charge that it has a guide-bookish sound, despite an honest and persistent effort to avoid the same. In the sincere desire to show how easy it really is to visit Hellas, and in the ardent hope of making a few of the rough places smooth for first visitors, I have doubtless been needlessly prolix and explicit at the outset, notably in dealing with a number of sordid details and directions. Moreover, to deal in so small a compass with so vast a subject as that of ancient and modern Athens is a task fraught with many difficulties. One certainly cannot in such a book as this ignore Athens utterly, despite the fact that so much has been published hitherto about the city and its monuments that no further description is at all necessary. My object is not to make Athens more familiar, but rather to describe other and more remote sites in Greece for the information, and I hope also for the pleasure, of past and future travelers. Athens, however, I could not ignore; and while such brief treatment as is possible here is necessarily superficial, it may help to awaken an additional interest in that city where none existed before.
Aside from the preliminary chapters and those dealing with Athens itself, I hope to have been more successful. I have, at any rate, been free in those other places from the depressing feeling that I was engaged on a work of supererogation, since this part of the subject is by no means hackneyed even through treatment by technical writers. Since the publication of most of the better known books on Greek travel, a great deal has been accomplished in the way of excavation, and much that is interesting has been laid bare, which has not been adequately described, even in the technical works. In dealing with these additions and in describing journeys to less familiar inland sites, as well as cruises to sundry of the classic islands of the Ægean, I hope this book will find its real excuse for being.
In adopting a system for spelling the names of Greek cities, towns, and islands, I have been in something of a quandary, owing to the possibilities presented by the various customs of authors in this field, each one of which has something to recommend it and something, also, of disadvantage. If one spells Greek names in the more common Anglicized fashion, especially in writing for the average traveler, one certainly avoids the appearance of affectation, and also avoids misleading the reader by an unfamiliar form of an otherwise familiar word. Hence, after much debate and rather against my own personal preferences and usage in several instances, I have adhered in the main to the forms of name most familiar to American eyes and ears. In cases of obscure or little known sites, where it is occasionally more important to know the names as locally pronounced, I have followed the Greek forms. This, while doubtless not entirely logical, has seemed the best way out of a rather perplexing situation, bound to be unsatisfactory whichever way one attempts to solve the problem.
In mercy to non-Hellenic readers, I have likewise sought to exclude with a firm hand quotations from the Greek language, and as far as reasonably possible to avoid the use of Greek words or expressions when English would answer every purpose.
If, in such places as have seemed to demand it, I have touched upon archæological matters, I hope not to have led any reader far from the truth, although one admittedly an amateur in such matters runs grave risk in committing himself to paper where even the doctors themselves so often disagree. I hope especially to have escaped advancing mere personal opinions on moot points, since dilettanti in such a case have little business to own any opinions, and none at all to exploit them to the untutored as if they had importance or weight. Rather I have only the desire to arouse others to a consciousness that it is as easy now to view and enjoy the visible remnants of the glory that was Greece, as it is to view those of the grandeur that was Rome.
In the writing of these chapters an effort has been made to set forth in non-technical terms only what the writer himself has seen and observed among these haunts of remote antiquity, with the idea of confining the scope of this book to the needs of those who, like himself, possess a veneration for the old things, an amateur’s love for the classics, and a desire to see and know that world which was born, lived, and died before our own was even dreamed of as existing. If by what is written herein others are led to go and see for themselves, or are in any wise assisted in making their acquaintance with Greece, or, better still, are enabled the more readily to recall days spent in that most fascinating of all the bygone nations, then this book, however unworthily dealing with a great subject, will not have been written in vain.
Lowell, Mass., August, 1907.
|I.||TRAVELING IN GREECE||1|
|III.||THE ENTRANCE TO GREECE||37|
|IV.||ATHENS; THE MODERN CITY||50|
|V.||ANCIENT ATHENS: THE ACROPOLIS||76|
|VI.||ANCIENT ATHENS: THE OTHER MONUMENTS||96|
|VII.||EXCURSIONS IN ATTICA||123|
|IX.||MYCENÆ AND THE PLAIN OF ARGOS||169|
|X.||NAUPLIA AND EPIDAURUS||193|
|XII.||ANDHRITSÆNA AND THE BASSÆ TEMPLE||229|
|XIII.||OVER THE HILLS TO OLYMPIA||247|
|XIV.||THE ISLES OF GREECE: DELOS||272|
|XV.||SAMOS AND THE TEMPLE AT BRANCHIDÆ||286|
|XVI.||COS AND CNIDOS||304|
|XIX.||NIOS; PAROS; A MIDNIGHT MASS||351|
|ACROPOLIS, SHOWING PROPYLÆA||Frontispiece|
|LANDING-PLACE AT CANEA||20—|
|THRONE OF MINOS AT CNOSSOS||34|
|STORE-ROOMS IN MINOAN PALACE, CNOSSOS||36|
|OLD CHURCH IN TURKISH QUARTER, ATHENS||60|
|TEMPLE OF NIKÉ APTEROS||80|
|THE PARTHENON, WEST PEDIMENT||86|
|TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS||104|
|TOMB AMPHORA, CERAMICUS||116|
|TOMB RELIEF, CERAMICUS||118|
|BRONZE EPHEBUS, NATIONAL MUSEUM, ATHENS||120|
|THE TEMPLE AT SUNIUM||134|
|THE APPROACH TO ÆGINA||138|
|THE TEMPLE AT ÆGINA||138|
|PEASANT DANCERS AT MENIDI||142|
|THE PLAIN BELOW DELPHI||150|
|THE VALE OF DELPHI||156|
|WOMAN SPINNING ON ROAD TO EPIDAURUS||198|
|THEATRE AT EPIDAURUS||206|
|AN OUTPOST OF ARCADY||224|
|THE GORGE OF THE ALPHEIOS||226|
|AN ARBOREAL CAMPANILE. ANDHRITSÆNA||234|
|THRESHING FLOOR AT BASSÆ||240|
|TEMPLE AT BASSÆ, FROM ABOVE||244|
|TEMPLE AT BASSÆ, FROM BELOW||244|
|ENTRANCE TO THE STADIUM. OLYMPIA||262|
|DELOS, SHOWING GROTTO||282|
|GROTTO OF APOLLO, DELOS||282|
|COLUMN BASES. SAMOS||296|
|CARVED COLUMN-BASE. BRANCHIDÆ||296|
|TREE OF HIPPOCRATES. COS||306|
|CNIDOS, SHOWING THE TWO HARBORS||314|
|SCULPTURED TRIREME IN ROCK AT LINDOS.
(From a Sketch by the Author)
|ARCHED PORTAL OF ACROPOLIS. LINDOS||328|
|LANDING-PLACE AT THERA||338|
|A THERAN STREET||346|
|OLD COLUMNS IN CHURCH, PAROS||362|
|“SHIP OF ULYSSES.” CORFU||374|
The days in which a visit to Greece might be set down as something quite unusual and apart from the beaten track of European travel have passed away, and happily so. The announcement of one’s intention to visit Athens and its environs no longer affords occasion for astonishment, as it did when Greece was held to be almost the exclusive stamping-ground of the more strenuous archæologists. To be sure, those who have never experienced the delights of Hellenic travel are still given to wonderment at one’s expressed desire to revisit the classic land; but even this must pass away in its turn, since few voyage thither without awakening that desire.
It is no longer an undertaking fraught with any difficulty—much less with any danger—to visit the main points of interest in the Hellenic kingdom; and, what is more to the purpose in the estimation of many, it is no longer an enterprise beset with discomfort, to any greater degree than is involved in a journey through Italy. The result of the growing consciousness of this fact has been a steadily increasing volume of travel to this richest of classic lands—richest not alone in its intangible memories, but richest also in its visible monuments of a remote past, presenting undying evidence of the genius of the Greeks for expressing the beautiful in terms of marble and stone. One may, of course, learn to appreciate the beautiful in Greek thought without leaving home, embodied as it is in the imposing literary remains to be met with in traversing the ordinary college course. But in order fully to know the beauty of the sculptures and architecture, such as culminated in the age of Pericles, one must visit Greece and see with his own eyes what the hand of Time has spared, often indeed in fragmentary form, but still occasionally touched with even a new loveliness through the mellowing processes of the ages.
To any thinking, reading man or woman of the present day, the memories, legends, and history of ancient Greece must present sufficient attraction. Few of us stop to realize how much of our modern thought and feeling was first given adequate expression by the inhabitants of ancient Athens, or how much of our own daily speech is directly traceable to their tongue. Modern politics may still learn much tact of Pericles, and oratorical excellence of Æschines, as modern philosophy has developed from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Is it not even true that a large part of modern religious thought, the hope of glory at least, if not the means of grace, finds its strongest foreshadowing in the groping of the more enlightened Athenians for a hope of immortality and life beyond the grave? The transition of the crowning architectural glory of the Acropolis at Athens from a temple of the virgin (parthenos) Athena to a church of the Virgin Mary was, after all, not so violent, when it is remembered that the later paganism had softened from its old system of corrupt personal deities to an abstract embodiment of their chief attributes or qualities, such as wisdom, healing, love, and war. Down to this day the traces of the pagan, or let us say the classic period, are easy to discern, mingled with the modern Greek Christianity, often unconsciously, and of course entirely devoid of any content of paganism, but still unmistakably there. To this day festivals once sacred to Asklepios still survive, in effect, though observed on Christian holy days and under Christian nomenclature, with no thought of reverence for the Epidaurian god, but nevertheless preserving intact the ancient central idea, which impelled the worshiper to sleep in the sanctuary awaiting the healing visit of a vision. In every church in Greece to-day one may see scores of little metal arms, legs, eyes, and other bodily organs hung up as votive offerings on the iconastasis, or altar screen, just as small anatomical models were once laid by grateful patients on the shrine of Asklepios at Cos. It is most striking and impressive, this interweaving of relics of the old-time paganism with the modern Greek religion, showing as it does a well-marked line of descent from the ancient beliefs without violent disruption or transition. It has become a well-recognized fact that certain modern churches often directly replace the ancient temples of the spot in a sort of orderly system, even if it be hard occasionally to explain. The successors of the fanes of Athena are ordinarily churches of the Virgin Mary, as was the case when the Parthenon was used for Christian worship. In other sites the worship of Poseidon gave way to churches sacred to St. Nicholas. The old temples of Ares occasionally flowered again, and not inappropriately, as churches of the martial St. George. Dionysus lives once more in churches named “St. Dionysius,” though no longer possessing any suspicion of a Bacchic flavor. Most striking of all is the almost appalling number of hills and mountains in Greece named “St. Elias,” and often bearing monasteries or churches of that designation. There is hardly a site in all Greece from which it is not possible to see at least one “St. Elias,” and I have been told that this is nothing more nor less than the perpetuation of the ancient shrines of Helios (the sun) under a Christian name, which, in the modern Greek pronunciation, is of a sound almost exactly similar to the ancient one. The substitution, therefore, when Christianity came to its own, was not an unnatural, nor indeed an entirely inappropriate, one.
It all conspires to show that, while the modern Greek is sincerely and devoutly a Christian, his transition into his new faith from the religion of his remotest ancestors has been accompanied by a very considerable retention of old usages and old nomenclature, and by the persistence of ineradicable traces of the idealistic residuum that remained after the more gross portions of the ancient mythology had refined away and had left to the worshiper abstract godlike attributes, rather than the gods and goddesses his forefathers had created in man’s unworthy image. So, while nobody can call in question the Christianity of the modern Greek, his churches nevertheless often do mingle a quaint perfume of the ancient and classic days with the modern incense and odor of sanctity. To my own mind, this obvious direct descent of many a churchly custom or churchly name from the days of the mythical Olympian theocracy is one of the most impressively interesting things about modern Hellas and her people.
In a far less striking, but no less real way, we ourselves are of course the direct inheritors of the classic Greeks, legatees of their store of thought, literature, and culture, and followers on the path the Greeks first pioneered. They and not we have been the creators in civilization, with all its varied fields of activity from politics to art. Of our own mental race the Greeks were the progenitors, and it is enough to recognize this fact of intellectual descent and kinship in order to view the Athenian Acropolis and the Hill of Mars with much the same thrill that one to-day feels, let us say, in coming from Kansas or California to look upon Plymouth Rock, the old state house at Philadelphia, or the fields of Lexington and Concord.
All this by way of introduction to the thought that to visit Hellas is by no means a step aside, but rather one further step back along the highway traversed from east to west by the slow course of empire, and therefore a step natural and proper to be taken by every one who is interested in the history of civilized man, the better to understand the present by viewing it in the light of the past. The “philhellene,” as the Greeks call their friend of to-day, needs no apologist, and it is notable that the number of such philhellenes is growing annually.
Time was, of course, when the visit to Greece meant so much labor, hardship, and expense that it was made by few. To-day it is no longer so. One may now visit the more interesting sites of the Greek peninsula and even certain of the islands with perfect ease, at no greater cost in money or effort than is entailed by any other Mediterranean journey, and with the added satisfaction that one sees not only inspiring scenery, but hills and vales peopled with a thousand ghostly memories running far back of the dawn of history and losing themselves in pagan legend, in the misty past when the fabled gods of high Olympus strove, intrigued, loved, and ruled.
The natural result of a growing appreciation of the attractions of Greece is an increase in travel thither, which in its turn has begotten increasing excellence of accommodation at those points where visitors most do congregate. Railroads have been extended, hotels have multiplied and improved, steamers are more frequent and more comfortable. One need no longer be deterred by any fear of hardship involved in such a journey. Athens to-day offers hostelries of every grade, as does Rome. The more famous towns likely to be visited can show very creditable inns for the wayfarer, which are comfortable enough, especially to one inured to the hill towns of Italy or Sicily. Railway coaches, while still much below the standard of the corridor cars of the more western nations, are comfortable enough for journeys of moderate length, and must inevitably improve from year to year as the hotels have done already. As for safety of person and property, that ceased to be a problem long ago. Brigandage has been unknown in the Peloponnesus for many a long year. Drunkenness is exceedingly rare, and begging is infinitely more uncommon than in most Italian provinces and cities. Time is certain to remove the objection of the comparative isolation of Greece still more than it has done at this writing, no doubt. It is still true that Greece is, to all intents and purposes, an island, despite its physical connection with the mainland of Europe. The northern mountains, with the wild and semi-barbaric inhabitants thereamong, serve to insulate the kingdom effectually on the mainland side, just as the ocean insulates it on every other hand, so that one is really more out of the world at Athens than in Palermo. All arrival and departure is by sea; and even when Athens shall be finally connected by rail with Constantinople and the north, the bulk of communication between Greece and the western world will still be chiefly maritime, and still subject, as now, to the delays and inconveniences that must always beset an island kingdom. Daily steamers, an ideal not yet attained, will be the one effective way to shorten the distance between Hellas and Europe proper—not to mention America.
It may be added that one need not be deterred from a tour in Greece by a lack of knowledge of the tongue, any more than one need allow an unfamiliarity with Italian to debar him from the pleasures of Italy. The essential and striking difference in the case is the distinctive form of the Greek letters, which naturally tends to confuse the unaccustomed visitor rather more than do Italian words, written in our own familiar alphabet. Still, even one quite unfamiliar with the Hellenic text may visit the country with comparatively little inconvenience from his ignorance, if content to follow the frequented routes, since in these days perfect English is spoken at all large hotels, and French at large and small alike. Indeed, the prevalence of French among all classes is likely to surprise one at first. The Greeks are excellent linguists, and many a man or woman of humble station will be found to possess a fair working knowledge of the Gallic tongue. It is entirely probable that in a few more years the effect of the present strong tendency toward emigration to America will reflect even more than it does now a general knowledge of English among the poorer people. I have frequently met with men in obscure inland towns who spoke English well, and once or twice discovered that they learned it in my own city, which has drawn heavily on the population of the Peloponnesus within recent years.
If the traveler is fortunate enough to have studied ancient Greek in his school and college days, and—what is more rare—retains enough of it to enable him to recognize a few of the once familiar words, he will naturally find a considerable advantage therein. It is often stated that Greek has changed less since Agamemnon’s time than English has altered since the days of Chaucer; and while this generalization may not be strictly true, it is very near the fact, so that it is still possible for any student well versed in the ancient Greek to read a modern Athenian newspaper with considerable ease. The pronunciation, however, is vastly different from the systems taught in England and in America, so that even a good classical student requires long practice to deliver his Greek trippingly on the tongue in such wise that the modern Athenian can understand it. Grammatically speaking, Greek is to-day vastly simpler than it was in the days of Plato. It has been shorn of many of those fine distinctions that were, and are, such terrors to the American schoolboy. But the appearance of the letters and words, with their breathings and accents, is quite unchanged, and many of the ancient words are perfectly good in modern Greek with their old meanings unimpaired. When one has mastered the modern pronunciation, even to a very moderate degree, one is sure to find that the once despised “dead language” is not a dead language at all, but one in daily use by a nation of people who may claim with truth that they speak a speech as old as Agamemnon and far more homogeneous in its descent than modern Italian as it comes from the Latin.
It cannot be disguised, however, that it is very desirable at least to know the Greek alphabet, even if one does not speak or read the language, since this little knowledge will often serve to give one a clue to the names of streets or railroad stations. Aside from that, the few words the habitual traveler always picks up will serve as well in Greece as anywhere. One should know, of course, the colloquial forms of asking “how much?” and for saying “It is too dear.” These are the primal necessities of European travel, always and everywhere. With these alone as equipment, one may go almost anywhere on earth. In addition to these rudimentary essentials, the ever-versatile Bædeker supplies, I believe, phrases of a simple kind, devised for every possible contingency, remote or otherwise, which might beset the traveler—omitting, curiously enough, the highly useful expression for hot water, which the traveler will speedily discover is “zestò nerò.” Among the conveniences, though not essential, might be included a smattering of knowledge of the Greek numerals to be used in bargaining with merchants and cab-drivers. But since the Greek merchant, for reasons which will later appear, is never without his pad and pencil, and since the written figures are the same as our own, the custom is to conduct bargains with Europeans generally by written symbols. The inevitable haggling over prices in the small shops requires little more than the sign manual, plus a determination to seem indifferent at all hazards. The Greek merchant, like every other, regards the voyager from foreign parts as legitimate prey, and long experience has led him to expect his price to be questioned. Hence nothing would surprise a small dealer more than to be taken at his initial figure, and the process of arriving at some middle ground remotely resembling reasonableness is often a complicated but perfectly good-humored affair.
The cab-drivers present rather more difficulty. They seldom speak French and they carry no writing pads. The result is a frequent misunderstanding as to both price and destination, while in the settlement of all differences at the close of the “course” both cabby and his fare are evidently at a mutual linguistic disadvantage. The trouble over the destination is twofold, as a rule. Part of the time the cabman is “green” and not well acquainted with the city; and part of the time he is wholly unable to recognize, in the name pronounced to him, any suggestion of a street he may know perfectly well when pronounced with the proper accent. The element of accent is highly important in speaking Greek; for unless the stress is properly laid, a word will often elude entirely the comprehension of the native, although every syllable be otherwise correctly sounded. The names of the Greek streets are all in the genitive case, which makes the matter still worse. It is of small avail to say “Hermes Street” to a driver. He must have the Greek for “Street of Hermes” in order to get the idea clearly in mind. It is not safe to generalize, but I incline to rate the Greeks as rather slower than Italians at grasping a foreigner’s meaning, despite their cleverness and quickness at acquiring other languages themselves. However, this is getting considerably ahead of our narrative and in danger of losing sight of the main point, which is that Greece is easy enough to visit and enjoy, even if one is ignorant of the language. For those who feel safer to know a trifle of it, there is ample time on the steamer voyage toward the Grecian goal to acquire all that ordinary necessities demand.
Let it be said, in passing from these general and preliminary remarks to a more detailed discussion of Hellenic travel, that the modern Greek has lost none of his ancient prototype’s reverence for the guest as a person having the highest claims upon him and none of the ancient regard for the sacred name of hospitality. Whatever may be said of the modern Greek character, it cannot be called in question as lacking in cordiality and kindness to the stranger. The most unselfish entertainer in the world is the Greek, who conceives the idea that he may be able to add to your happiness by his courtesy, and this is true in the country as well as in the city. The native met on the highway has always a salutation for you. If it is the season for harvesting grapes, you are welcome to taste and see that they are good. He will welcome you to his house and set before you the best it affords, the sweet “sumadha” or almond milk, the rich preserved quince, the glass of pungent “mastika,” or perhaps a bit of smoke-cured ham from the earthen jar which is kept for just such occasions as this. If he sets out to entertain, nothing is done by halves. The Greek bearing gifts need cause no fear to-day, unless it be a fear of superabundant hospitality such as admits of no repayment. He will drive a hard bargain with you in business, no doubt. Occasionally an unscrupulous native will commit a petty theft, as in any other country where only man is vile. But once appear to him in the guise of friendship and he will prove himself the most obliging creature in the world. He may not be as well aware of the general history of his remote ancestors as you are yourself, but what he does know about his vicinity he will relate to you with pride and explicitness. Curiously enough, the Greek in ordinary station is likely to think you wish to see modern rather than ancient things. He cannot understand why you go every evening to the Acropolis and muse on the steps of the Parthenon while you omit to visit the villas of Kephissià or Tatoïs. He would rather show you a tawdry pseudo-Byzantine church than a ruined temple. But the cordial spirit is there, and everybody who ever visited Greece has had occasion to know it and admire it.
There remains necessary a word as to the choice of routes to Greece. As in the case of Venice, one may enter by either the front or the back door, so to speak; and probably, as in the case of Venice, more actually elect to enter by the rear. The two gateways of Hellas are the Piræus at the eastern front, and Patras at the back. Either may be selected as the point for beginning a land journey in the kingdom, and each has certain advantages. In any event the visitor should enter by one portal and leave by the other, and the direction may safely be left to be decided by the convenience and aims of each particular visitor’s case. Taking Naples as the natural starting-point of American travelers, two routes lie open. One is the railroad to Brindisi, traversing the mountainous Italian interior to the Adriatic coast, where on stated days very comfortable steamers ply between Brindisi and Patras, touching at Corfù. The other route is from Naples to the Piræus by sea on either French or Italian steamers, the latter lines being slower and enabling stops in Sicily and in Crete. To those fortunately possessed of ample time and willing to see something of Magna Graecia as well as of Greece proper, the slower route is decidedly to be recommended.
For the purposes of this book let us choose to enter Greece by her imposing main portal of the Piræus, setting at naught several considerations which incline us to believe that, on the whole, the advantage lies rather with the contrary choice. Whatever else may be said in favor of either selection, it remains true that in any case one immediately encounters mythology and legend in the shape of the wily Ulysses, and is thus at once en rapport with Grecian things. The steamers from Naples must sail through the Strait of Messina, between Scylla and Charybdis, once the terror of those mariners who had the experiences of Homer’s wandering hero before their eyes; while not far below Charybdis and just off the Sicilian shore they still show the wondering traveler a number of small rocks, rising abruptly from the ocean, as the very stones that Polyphemus hurled in his blind rage after the fleeing Odysseus, but fortunately without doing him any harm. If, on the contrary, we sail from Brindisi to Patras, we must pass Corfù, which as all the world knows was the island on which Odysseus was cast from his ship and where, after he had refreshed himself with sleep, he was awakened by the laughter of Nausicaa and her maids as they played at ball after the washing was done. Whichever way we go, we soon find that we have run into a land older than those with which we have been familiar, whose legends greet us even at this distance over miles of tossing waves. Let those who are content to voyage with us through the pages that follow, be content to reserve Corfù for the homeward journey, and to assume that our prow is headed now toward Crete, through a tossing sea such as led the ancients to exclaim, “The Cretan sea is wide!” The shadowy mountains on the left are the lofty southern prongs of the Grecian peninsula. Ahead, and not yet visible above the horizon, is the sharp, razor-like edge of Crete, and the dawn should find us in harbor at Canea.
The island of Crete, lying like a long, narrow bar across the mouth of the Ægean Sea, presents a mountainous and rugged appearance to one approaching from any side. Possessing an extreme length of about one hundred and sixty miles, it is nowhere more than thirty-five miles in width, and in places much less than that. A lofty backbone of mountain runs through it from end to end. In all its coast-line few decent harbors are to be found, and that of the thriving city of Canea, near the northwestern end of the island, is no exception. In ancient times the fortifications and moles that were built to protect the ports had in view the small sailing vessels of light draught which were then common, and today it is necessary for steamers of any size to anchor in the practically open roadsteads outside the harbor proper. Needless to say, landing in small boats from a vessel stationed at this considerable distance outside the breakwater is a matter largely dependent on the wind and weather, not only at Canea, with which we are at present concerned, but at Candia, of which we shall speak later. In a north wind, such as frequently blows for days together, a landing on the northern coast is often quite impossible, and steamers have been known to lie for days off the island waiting a chance to approach and discharge. This contretemps, however, is less to be feared at Canea because of the proximity of the excellent though isolated Suda Bay, which is landlocked and deep, affording quiet water in any weather, but presenting the drawback that it is about four miles from the city of Canea, devoid of docks and surrounded by flat marshes. Nevertheless, steamers finding the weather too rough off the port do proceed thither on occasion and transact their business there, though with some difficulty. The resort to Suda, however, is seldom made save in exceedingly rough weather, for the stout shore boats of the Cretans are capable of braving very considerable waves and landing passengers and freight before the city itself in a fairly stiff northwest gale, as our own experience in several Cretan landings has proven abundantly. It is not a trip to be recommended to the timorous, however, when the sea is high; for although it is probably not as dangerous as it looks, the row across the open water between steamer and harbor is certainly rather terrifying in appearance, as the boats rise and fall, now in sight of each other on the crest of the waves, now disappearing for what seem interminable intervals in the valleys of water between what look like mountains of wave tossing angrily on all sides. The boatmen are skillful and comparatively few seas are shipped, but even so it is a passage likely to be dampening to the ardor in more ways than one. On a calm day, when the wind is light or offshore, there is naturally no trouble, and the boatmen have never seemed to me rapacious or insolent, but quite ready to abide by the very reasonable tariff charge for the round trip. In bad weather, as is not unnatural, it often happens that the men request a gratuity over and above the established franc-and-a-half rate, on the plea that the trip has been "molto cattivo" and the labor consequently out of all proportion to the tariff charge—which is true. It is no light task for three or four stout natives to row a heavy boat containing eight people over such a sea as often is to be found running off Canea, fighting for every foot of advance, and easing off now and then to put the boat head up to an unusually menacing comber.
LANDING-PLACE AT CANEA
The landing at Canea, if the weather permits landing at all, is on a long curving stone quay, lined with picturesque buildings, including a mosque with its minaret, the latter testifying to the considerable residuum of Turkish and Mohammedan population that remains in this polyglot island, despite its present Greek rule under the oversight of the Christian powers of Europe. The houses along the quay are mostly a grayish white, with the light green shutters one learns to associate with similar towns everywhere in the Ægean. Behind the town at no very great distance may be seen rising lofty and forbidding mountains, snowcapped down to early May; but a brief ride out from the city to Suda Bay will serve to reveal some fertile and open valleys such as save Crete from being a barren and utterly uninviting land. The ordinary stop of an Italian steamer at this port is something like six or eight hours, which is amply sufficient to give a very good idea of Canea and its immediate neighborhood. The time is enough for a walk through the tortuous and narrow highways and byways of the city—walks in which one is attended by a crowd of small boys from the start, and indeed by large boys as well, all most persistently offering their most unnecessary guidance in the hope of receiving “backsheesh,” which truly Oriental word is to be heard at every turn, and affords one more enduring local monument to the former rule of the unspeakable Turk. These lads apparently speak a smattering of every known language, and are as quick and alert as the New York or Naples gamin. Incidentally, I wonder if every other visitor to Canea is afflicted with "Mustapha"? On our last landing there we were told, as we went over the side of the steamer to brave the tempestuous journey ashore in the boat which bobbed below, to be sure to look for “Mustapha.” The captain always recommended Mustapha, he said, and no Americano that ever enlisted the services of Mustapha as guide, philosopher, and friend for four Canean hours had ever regretted it. So we began diligent inquiry of the boatman if he knew this Mustapha. Yes, he did—and who better? Was he not Mustapha himself, in his own proper person? Inwardly congratulating ourselves at finding the indispensable with such remarkable promptitude, we soon gained the harbor, and the subsequent landing at the quay was assisted in by at least forty hardy Caneans, including one bullet-headed Nubian, seven shades darker than a particularly black ace of clubs, who exhibited a mouthful of ivory and proclaimed himself, unsolicited, as the true and only Mustapha,—a declaration that caused an instant and spontaneous howl of derision from sundry other bystanders, who promptly filed their claims to that Oriental name and all the excellences that it implied. Apparently Mustapha’s other name was Legion. Search for him was abandoned on the spot, and I would advise any subsequent traveler to do the same. Search is quite unnecessary. Wherever two or three Caneans are gathered together, there is Mustapha in the midst of them,—and perhaps two or three of him.
It is by no means easy to get rid of the Canean urchins who follow you away from the landing-place and into the quaint and narrow streets of the town. By deploying your landing party, which is generally sufficiently numerous for the purpose, in blocks of three or four, the convoy of youth may be split into detachments and destroyed in detail. It may be an inexpensive and rather entertaining luxury to permit the brightest lad of the lot to go along, although, as has been intimated, guidance is about the last thing needed in Canea. The streets are very narrow, very crooked, and not over clean, and are lined with houses having those projecting basketwork windows overhead, such as are common enough in every Turkish or semi-Turkish city. Many of the women go heavily veiled, sometimes showing the upper face and sometimes not even that, giving an additional Oriental touch to the street scenes. This veiling is in part a survival of Turkish usages, and in part is due to the dust and glare. It is a practice to be met with in many other Ægean islands as well as in Crete. It is this perpetual recurrence of Mohammedan touches that prevents Canea from seeming typically Greek, despite its nominal allegiance. To all outward seeming it is Turkish still, and mosques and minarets rise above its roofs in more than one spot as one surveys it from the harbor or from the hills. The streets with their narrow alleys and overshadowing archways are tempting indeed to the camera, and it may as well be said once and for all that it is a grave mistake to visit Greece and the adjacent lands without that harmless instrument of retrospective pleasure.
As for sights, Canea must be confessed to offer none that are of the traditional kind, “double-starred in Bædeker.” There is no museum there, and no ruins. The hills are too far away to permit an ascent for a view. The palace of the Greek royal commissioner, Prince George, offers slight attraction to the visitor compared with the scenes of the streets and squares in the town itself, the coffee-houses, and above all the curious shops. Canea is no mean place for the curio hunter with an eye to handsome, though barbaric, blankets, saddle-bags, and the like. The bizarre effect of the scene is increased by the manifold racial characteristics of face, figure, and dress that one may observe there; men and women quaintly garbed in the peasant dress of half a dozen different nations. In a corner, sheltered from the heat or from the wind, as the case may be, sit knots of weazen old men, cloaks wrapped about their shoulders, either drinking their muddy coffee or plying some trifling trade while they gossip,—doubtless about the changed times. From a neighboring coffeehouse there will be heard to trickle a wild and barbaric melody tortured out of a long-suffering fiddle that cannot, by any stretch of euphemism, be called a violin; or men may be seen dancing in a sedate and solemn circle, arms spread on each other’s shoulders in the Greek fashion, to the minor cadences of the plaintive “bouzouki,” or Greek guitar. There are shops of every kind, retailing chiefly queer woolen bags, or shoes of soft, white skins, or sweetmeats of the Greek and Turkish fashion. Here it is possible for the first time to become acquainted with the celebrated “loukoumi” of Syra, a soft paste made of gums, rosewater, and flavoring extracts, with an addition of chopped nuts, each block of the candy rolled in soft sugar. It is much esteemed by the Greeks, who are notorious lovers of sweetmeats, and it is imitated and grossly libeled in America under the alias of “Turkish Delight.”
From Canea a very good road leads out over a gently rolling country to Suda Bay. Little is to be seen there, however, save a very lovely prospect of hill and vale, and a few warships of various nations lying at anchor, representing the four or five jealous powers who maintain a constant watch over the destinies of this troublous isle. The cosmopolitan character of these naval visitants is abundantly testified to by the signs that one may see along the highroad near Suda, ringing all possible linguistic changes on legends that indicate facilities for the entertainment of Jack ashore, and capable of being summed up in the single phrase, “Army and Navy Bar.” The Greeks were ever a hospitable race.
The road to Suda, however, is far from being lined by nothing more lovely than these decrepit wine shops for the audacious tar. The three or four miles of its length lie through fertile fields devoted to olive orchards and to the cultivation of grain, and one would look far for a more picturesque sight than the Cretan farmer driving his jocund team afield—a team of large oxen attached to a primitive plow—or wielding his cumbersome hoe in turning up the sod under his own vine and olive trees. It is a pleasing and pastoral spectacle. The ride out to Suda is easily made while the steamer waits, in a very comfortable carriage procurable in the public square for a moderate sum. It may be as well to remark, however, that carriages in Greece are not, as a rule, anywhere nearly as cheap as in Italy.
It is a long jump from Canea to Candia, the second city of the island, situated many miles farther to the east along this northern shore. But it easily surpasses Canea in classic interest, being the site of the traditional ruler of Crete in the most ancient times,—King Minos,—of whom we shall have much to say. Candia, as we shall call it, although its local name is Megalokastron, is not touched by any of the steamers en route from the west to Athens, but must be visited in connection with a cruise among the islands of the Ægean. From the sea it resembles Canea in nature as well as in name. It shows the same harbor fortifications of Venetian build, and bears the same lion of St. Mark. It possesses the same lack of harborage for vessels other than small sailing craft. Its water front is lined with white houses with green blinds, and slender white minarets stand loftily above the roofs. Its streets and squares are much like Canea’s, too, although they are rather broader and more modern in appearance; while the crowds of people in the streets present a similar array of racial types to that already referred to in describing the former city. More handsome men are to be seen, splendid specimens of humanity clad in the blue baggy trousers and jackets of Turkish cut, and wearing the fez. Candia is well walled by a very thick and lofty fortification erected in Venetian times, and lies at the opening of a broad valley stretching across the island to the south, and by its topography and central situation was the natural theatre of activity in the distant period with which we are about to make our first acquaintance. Even without leaving the city one may get some idea of the vast antiquity of some of its relics by a visit to the museum located in an old Venetian palace in the heart of the town, where are to be seen the finds of various excavators who have labored in the island. Most of these belong to a very remote past, antedating vastly the Mycenæan period, which used to seem so old, with its traditions of Agamemnon and the sack of Troy. Here we encounter relics of monarchs who lived before Troy was made famous, and the English excavator, Evans, who has exhumed the palace of Minos not far outside the city gates, has classified the articles displayed as of the “Minoan” period. It would be idle in this place to attempt any detailed explanation of the subdivisions of “early,” “middle,” and “late Minoan” which have been appended to the manifold relics to be seen in the museum collection, or to give any detailed description of them. It must suffice to say that the period represented is so early that any attempt to affix dates must be conjectural, and that we may safely take it in general terms as a period so far preceding the dawn of recorded history that it was largely legendary even in the time of the classic Greeks, who already regarded Minos himself as a demi-god and sort of immortal judge in the realm of the shades. The museum, with its hundreds of quaint old vases, rudely ornamented in geometric patterns, its fantastic and faded mural paintings, its sarcophagi, its implements of toil, and all the manifold testimony to a civilization so remote that it is overwhelming to the mind, will serve to hold the visitor long. Nor is it to be forgotten that among these relics from Cnossos, Phæstos, and Gortyn, are many contributed by the industry and energy of the American investigator, Mrs. Hawes (née Boyd), whose work in Crete has been of great value and archæological interest.
Having whetted one’s appetite for the remotely antique by browsing through this collection of treasures, one is ready enough to make the journey out to Cnossos, the site of the ancient palace, only four miles away. There is a good road, and it is possible to walk if desired, although it is about as hot and uninteresting a walk as can well be imagined. It is easier and better to ride, although the Cretan drivers in general, and the Candian ones in particular, enjoy the reputation of being about the most rapacious in the civilized world. On the way out to the palace at Cnossos, the road winds through a rolling country, and crosses repeatedly an old paved Turkish road, which must have been much less agreeable than the present one to traverse. On the right, far away to the southwest, rises the peak which is supposed to be the birthplace of Zeus, the slopes of Mt. Ida. Crete is the land most sacred to Zeus of all the lands of the ancient world. Here his mother bore him, having fled thither to escape the wrath of her husband, the god Cronos, who had formed the unbecoming habit of swallowing his progeny as soon as they were born. Having been duly delivered of the child Zeus, his mother, Rhæa, wrapped up a stone in some cloth and presented it to Cronos, who swallowed it, persuaded that he had once more ridded the world of the son it was predicted should oust him from his godlike dignities and power. But Rhæa concealed the real Zeus in a cave on Ida, and when he came to maturity he made war on Cronos and deprived him of his dominion. Hence Zeus, whose worship in Crete soon spread to other islands and mainland, was held in highest esteem in the isle of his birth, and his cult had for its symbol the double-headed axe, which we find on so many of the relics of the Candia museum and on the walls of the ancient palaces, like that we are on the way to visit at Cnossos.
It is necessary to remark that there were two characters named Minos in the ancient mythology. The original of the name was the child of Zeus and Europa, and he ruled over Crete, where Saturn is supposed to have governed before him, proving a wise law-giver for the people. The other Minos was a grandson of the first, child of Lycastos and Ida. This Minos later grew up and married Pasiphaë, whose unnatural passion begot the Minotaur, or savage bull with the body of a man and an appetite for human flesh. To house this monster Minos was compelled to build the celebrated labyrinth, and he fed the bull with condemned criminals, who were sent into the mazes of the labyrinth never to return. Still later, taking offense at the Athenians because in their Panathenaic games they had killed his own son, Minos sent an expedition against them, defeated them, and thereafter levied an annual tribute of seven boys and seven girls upon the inhabitants, who were taken to Crete and fed to the Minotaur. This cruel exaction continued until Theseus came to Crete and, with the aid of the thread furnished him by Ariadne, tracked his way into the labyrinth, slaughtered the monster and returned alive to the light of day. Of course such a network of myths, if it does nothing else, argues the great antiquity of the Minoan period, to which the ruins around Candia are supposed to belong, and they naturally lead us to an inquiry whether any labyrinth was ever found or supposed to be found in the vicinity. I believe there actually is an extensive artificial cave in the mountains south of Cnossos, doubtless an ancient subterranean quarry, which is called “the labyrinth” to-day, though it doubtless never sheltered the Minotaur. It is sufficiently large to have served once as the abode of several hundred persons during times of revolution, they living there in comparative comfort save for the lack of light; and it is interesting to know that they employed Ariadne’s device of the thread to keep them in touch with the passage out of their self-imposed prison when the political atmosphere cleared and it was safe to venture forth into the light of day. It seems rather more probable that the myth or legend of the labyrinth of Minos had its origin in the labyrinthine character of the king’s own palace, as it is now shown to have been a perfect maze of corridors and rooms, through which it is possible to wander at will, since the excavators have laid them open after the lapse of many centuries. A glance at the plans of the Cnossos palace in the guide-books, or a survey of them from the top of Mr. Evans’s rather garish and incongruous but highly useful tower on the spot, will serve to show a network of passageways and apartments that might easily have given rise to the tale of the impenetrable man-trap which Theseus alone had the wit to evade.
The ruins lie at the east of the high road, in a deep valley. Their excavation has been very complete and satisfactory, and while some restorations have been attempted here and there, chiefly because of absolute necessity to preserve portions of the structure, they are not such restorations as to jar on one, but exhibit a fidelity to tradition that saves them from the common fate of such efforts. Little or no retouching was necessary in the case of the stupendous flights of steps that were found leading up to the door of this prehistoric royal residence, and which are the first of the many sights the visitor of to-day may see. It is in the so-called “throne room of Minos” that the restoring hand is first met. Here it has been found necessary to provide a roof, that damage by weather be avoided; and to-day the throne room is a dusky spot, rather below the general level of the place. Its chief treasure is the throne itself, a stone chair, carved in rather rudimentary ornamentation, and about the size of an ordinary chair. The roof is supported by the curious, top-heavy-looking stone pillars, that are known to have prevailed not only in the Minoan but in the Mycenæan period; monoliths noticeably larger at the top than at the bottom, reversing the usual form of stone pillar with which later ages have made us more familiar. This quite illogical inversion of what we now regard as the proper form has been accounted for in theory, by assuming that it was the natural successor of the sharpened wooden stake. When the ancients adopted stone supports for their roofs, they simply took over the forms they had been familiar with in the former use of wood, and the result was a stone pillar that copied the earlier wooden one in shape. Time, of course, served to show that the natural way of building demanded the reversal of this custom; but in the Mycenæan age it had not been discovered, for there are evidences that similar pillars existed in buildings of that period, and the representation of a pillar that stands between the two lions on Mycenæ’s famous gate has this inverted form.
THRONE OF MINOS AT CNOSSOS
Many hours may be spent in detailed examination of this colossal ruin, testifying to what must have been in its day an enormous and impressive palace. One cannot go far in traversing it without noticing the traces still evident enough of the fire that obviously destroyed it many hundred, if not several thousand, years before Christ. Along the western side have been discovered long corridors, from which scores of long and narrow rooms were to be entered. These, in the published plans, serve to give to the ruin a large share of its labyrinthine character. It seems to be agreed now that these were the store-rooms of the palace, and in them may still be seen the huge earthen jars which once served to contain the palace supplies. Long rows of them stand in the ancient hallways and in the narrow cells that lead off them, each jar large enough to hold a fair-sized man, and in number sufficient to have accommodated Ali Baba and the immortal forty thieves. In the centre of the palace little remains; but in the southeastern corner, where the land begins to slope abruptly to the valley below, there are to be seen several stories of the ancient building. Here one comes upon the rooms marked with the so-called “distaff” pattern, supposed to indicate that they were the women’s quarters. The restorer has been busy here, but not offensively so. Much of the ancient wall is intact, and in one place is a bath-room with a very diminutive bath-tub still in place. Along the eastern side is also shown the oil press, where olives were once made to yield their coveted juices, and from the press proper a stone gutter conducted the fluid down to the point where jars were placed to receive it. This discovery of oil presses in ancient buildings, by the way, has served in more than one case to arouse speculation as to the antiquity of oil lamps, such as were once supposed to belong only to a much later epoch. Whether in the Minoan days they had such lamps or not, it is known that they had at least an oil press and a good one. In the side of the hill below the main palace of Minos has been unearthed a smaller structure, which they now call the “villa,” and in which several terraces have been uncovered rather similar to the larger building above. Here is another throne room, cunningly contrived to be lighted by a long shaft of light from above falling on the seat of justice itself, while the rest of the room is in obscurity.
It may be that it requires a stretch of the imagination to compare the palace of Cnossos with Troy, but nevertheless there are one or two features that seem not unlike the discoveries made by Dr. Schliemann on that famous site. Notably so, it seems to me, are the traces of the final fire, which are to be seen at Cnossos as at Troy, and the huge jars, which maybe compared with the receptacles the Trojan excavators unearthed, and found still to contain dried peas and other things that the Trojans left behind when they fled from their sacked and burning city. Few are privileged to visit the site of Priam’s city, which is hard indeed to reach; but it is easy enough to make the excursion to Candia and visit the palace of old King Minos, which is amply worth the trouble, besides giving a glimpse of a civilization that is possibly vastly older than even that of Troy and Mycenæ. For those who reverence the great antiquities, Candia and its pre-classic suburb are distinctly worth visiting, and are unique among the sights of the ancient Hellenic and pre-Hellenic world.
STORE-ROOMS IN MINOAN PALACE, CNOSSOS
Leaving Crete behind, the steamer turns her prow northward into the Ægean toward Greece proper, and in the early morning, if all goes smoothly, will be found well inside the promontory of Sunium, approaching the Piræus. One ought most infallibly to be early on deck, for the rugged, rocky shores of the Peloponnesus are close at hand on the left, indented here and there by deep inlets or gulfs, and looking as most travelers seem to think “Greece ought to look.” If it is clear, a few islands may be seen on the right, though none of the celebrated ones are near enough to be seen with any satisfaction. Sunium itself is so far away to the eastward that it is impossible at this distance to obtain any idea of the ancient ruin that still crowns its summit.
Although to enter Greece by way of the Piræus is actually to enter the front door of the kingdom, nevertheless, as has been hinted heretofore, one may vote on the whole that it is better to make this the point of departure instead of that of initiation. Leaving Greece as most of us do with a poignant sense of regret, it is not unfitting that we depart with the benediction of the old Acropolis of Athens, crowned with its famous ruins, which are to be seen even when far at sea, glowing in the afternoon sun, and furnishing an ideal last view of this land of golden memories. Simply because it makes such an ideal last view, leaving the crowning “glory that was Greece” last in the mind’s eye, one may well regard this point as the best one for leaving, whatever may be said for it as a place of beginning an acquaintance with Hellas. It must be confessed that to one approaching for the first time, save in the clearest weather, the view of the Acropolis from the sea is likely to be somewhat disappointing, because the locating of it in the landscape is not an easy matter. Under a cloudy sky—and there are occasionally such skies even in sunny Greece—it is not at all easy to pick out the Acropolis, lying low in the foreground and flanked by such superior heights as Lycabettus and Pentelicus. Hence it is that the voyager, returning home from a stay in Athens, enjoys the seaward view of the receding site far more than the approaching newcomer; and it must be added that, however one may reverence the Acropolis from his reading, it can never mean so much to him as it will after a few days of personal acquaintance, when he has learned to know its every stone. What slight disappointment one may feel on first beholding the ancient rock of Athena from the ocean, is, after all, only momentary and due solely to the distance. It is certain to be removed later when closer acquaintance shows it to be the stupendous rock it really is, standing alone, and seen to better advantage than when the hills that wall the Attic plain overshadow it in the perspective.
As the steamer approaches, the loftier heights of Hymettus, Pentelicus, Parnes, Ægina, and Salamis intrude themselves and will not be denied, framing between them the valley in which Athens lies, obscured for the time being by the tall chimneys and the forest of masts that herald the presence of the Piræus in the immediate foreground. That city is as of yore the seaport of Athens, and is a thriving city in itself, although from its proximity to the famous capital it loses individual prestige, and seems rather like a dependence of the main city than a separate and important town, rivaling Athens herself in size, if not in history.
Perhaps the most trying experience to the newcomer is this landing at the Piræus and the labor involved in getting ashore and up to Athens; but, after all, it is trying only in the sense that it is a matter for much bargaining, in which the unfamiliar visitor is at an obvious disadvantage. As in all Greek ports, the landing is to be accomplished only by small boats, which are manned by watermen having no connection at all with the steamship companies. It would seem to be the reasonable duty of a steamer line to provide facilities for setting its passengers ashore, and in time this may be done; but it is an unfortunate fact that it is not done now, and the passenger is left to bargain for himself with the crowd of small craft that surrounds the vessel as she is slowly and painfully berthed. The harbor itself is seen to be a very excellent and sheltered one, protected by two long breakwaters, which admit of hardly more than a single large vessel at a time between their narrow jaws. Within, it opens out into a broad expanse of smooth water, lined throughout its periphery by a low stone quay. While the steamer is being warped to her position, always with the stern toward the shore, a fleet of small boats, most of them flying the flags of hotels in Athens or of the several tourist agencies, eagerly swarm around and await the lowering of the landing stairs, meantime gesticulating violently to attract the attention of passengers on deck. Little that is definite, however, can be done until the gangway is lowered and the boatmen’s representatives have swarmed on the deck itself. There is time and to spare, so that the voyager has no occasion to hurry, but may possess his soul in patience and seek to make the most advantageous terms possible with the lowest bidder. The boatmen, be well assured, know English enough to negotiate the bargain.
Despite the apparent competition, which ought by all the laws of economics to be the life of trade, it will doubtless be found quite impossible to make any arrangement for landing and getting up to the city for a sum much under twelve francs. That is the published tariff of the hotels which send out boats, and if one is certain of his stopping-place in Athens he will doubtless do well to close immediately with the boatman displaying the insignia of that particular hostelry. But it is entirely probable that any regular habitué would say that the hotel tariff is grossly out of proportion to the actual cost, since the boatman’s fee should be not more than a franc and the ride to Athens not more than six. As for the tourist agencies, they may be depended upon to ask more than the hotel runners do, and the only limit is the visitor’s credulity and ignorance of the place. Whatever bargain is made, the incoming passenger will, if wise, see to it that it is understood to cover everything, including the supposititious “landing tax” that is so often foisted upon the customer after landing in Athens as an “extra.” These are doubtless sordid details, but necessary ones, and matters which it may prove profitable to understand before venturing in. Having dismissed them as such, we may turn with more enjoyment to the prospect now presenting itself.
Piræus, as all the world knows, is the port of Athens now as in classic times. Topographically it has three good harbors, the Piræus proper, Zea, and Munychia—the latter name also applying to the rocky promontory which juts out and separates the harbor from the Saronic Gulf. It was on the Munychia peninsula that Themistocles in 493 B.C. erected a town, and it was Themistocles, also, who conceived and carried out the scheme for the celebrated “long walls” which ran from the port up to Athens, and made the city practically impregnable by making it quite independent of the rest of Attica, so long as the Athenian supremacy by sea remained unquestioned. Thus it came to pass that, during the Peloponnesian War, when all the rest of the Attic plain had fallen into the hands of the Lacedæmonians, Athens herself remained practically undisturbed, thanks not only to the long walls and ships, but also to the fortifications of Cimon and Pericles. The Athenian navy, however, was finally overwhelmed in the battle of Ægospotamoi in 404 B.C., and the port fell a prey to the enemy, who demolished the long walls, to the music of the flute.
Ten years later, when Athens had somewhat recovered from the first defeat, Conon rebuilt the walls, and Athens, with Piræus, for a space enjoyed a return of her ancient greatness and prosperity. The Roman under Sulla came in 86 B.C., and practically put an end to the famous capital, which became an inconsiderable village, and so remained down to the Grecian risorgimento. The present city of Piræus, and the city of Athens also, practically date from 1836, though the old names had been revived the year previous. Up to that time the spot had for years passed under the unclassic name of Porto Leone.
Inasmuch as the fame of Athens and her empire rested on the navy as its foundation, and inasmuch as the navy made its home in the waters of the Piræus and Munychia, the locality has its glorious memories to share with the still more glorious traditions of the neighboring Salamis, where the Persians of Xerxes were put to such utter rout. It was from this harbor that the splendid, but ill-fated, Sicilian expedition set out, with flags flying, pæans sounding, and libations pouring. And it was to the Piræus that a lone survivor of that sorry campaign returned to relate the incredible news to the village barber.
The harbor of the Piræus is generally full of shipping of all sorts, including steamers of every size and nationality, as well as high-sided schooners that recall the Homeric epithet of the “hollow ships.” Some are en route to or from Constantinople, Alexandria, Naples, the ports of the Adriatic, the Orient,—everywhere. The Greek coastwise vessels often bear their names printed in large white letters amidships, familiar names looking decidedly odd in the Greek characters. All are busily loading or discharging, for the Piræus is, as ever, a busy port. Under the sterns of several such ships the shore boat passes, its occupants ducking repeatedly under the sagging stern cables, until in a brief time all are set ashore at the custom-house. That institution, however, need give the visitor little apprehension. The examination of reasonable luggage is seldom or never oppressive or fraught with inconvenience, doubtless because the visitor is duly recognized by the government as a being whose presence is bound to be of profit, and who should not, therefore, be wantonly discouraged at the very threshold of the kingdom. Little is insisted on save a declaration that the baggage contains no tobacco or cigarettes. The porters as a rule are more tolerant of copper tips than the present rapidly spoiling race of Italian facchini.
The sensible way to proceed to Athens is by carriage, taking the Phalerum road. The electric tram, which is a very commodious third-rail system resembling the subway trains of Boston or New York, is all very well if one is free from impedimenta. But for the ordinary voyager, with several valises or trunks, the carriage is not only best but probably the most economical in the end. The carriages are comfortable, and capable of carrying four persons with reasonable baggage.
Little of interest will be found in driving out of the Piræus, which is a frankly commercial place, devoid of architectural or enduring classical recommendations. The long walls that once connected the port with Athens have disappeared almost beyond recall, although the sites are known. Nor is the beach of New Phalerum (pronounced Fál-eron) much more attractive than the Piræus itself. It reminds one strongly of suburban beach places at home, lined as it is with cheap cottages, coffee-houses, restaurants, bicycle shops, and here and there a more pretentious residence, while at least one big and garish hotel is to be seen. The sea, varying from a light green to a deep Mediterranean blue, laps gently along the side of the highway toward the open ocean, while ahead, up the straight boulevard, appears the Acropolis of Athens, now seen for the first time in its proper light as one of the most magnificent ruins of the earth. The road thither is good but uncomfortably new. When its long lines of pepper trees, now in their infancy, shall have attained their growth, it will be a highway lined with shade and affording a prospect of much beauty. In its present state, however, which is destined to endure for some years to come, it is a long, straight, and rather dreary boulevard, relieved only by the glorious prospect of the crowning ruin of Athens something like four miles away, but towering alone and grand, and no longer dwarfed by the surrounding gray hills. Still this route seems to me infinitely better, even to-day, than the older road from Piræus, which approaches Athens from the western side without going near the sea, but which is not without its charms, nevertheless, and certainly does give the one who takes it a splendid view of the imposing western front of the Acropolis and its array of temples, across a plain green with waving grasses.
Approaching the city from the Phalerum side serves to give a very striking impression of the inaccessibility of the Acropolis, showing its precipitous southern face, crowned by the ruined Parthenon, whose ancient pillars, weathered to a golden brown, stand gleaming in the sun against the deep and brilliant blue of the Greek sky. Those who have pictured the temple as glistening white will be vastly surprised, no doubt, on seeing its actual color; for the iron and other metals present in the Pentelic marble, of which it was built, have removed almost entirely the white or creamy tints, and have given in their place a rich mottled appearance, due to the ripe old age of this shrine.
Aside from the ever present prospect of the Acropolis and its promise of interest in store, the road to Athens is devoid of much to attract attention. The long, gray ridge of Hymettus, which runs along just east of the road, of course is a famous mountain by reason of its well-known brand of honey, if for no other reason. Halfway up the gradual incline to the city there is a small and rather unattractive church, said to be a votive offering made by the king in thankfulness at escaping the bullets of two would-be assassins at this point. On the left, and still far ahead, rises the hill, crowned by the ruined but still conspicuous monument of Philopappus. Situated on a commanding eminence south of the Acropolis, this monument is a dominant feature of almost every view of Athens; but it is entirely out of proportion to the importance of the man whose vague memory it recalls.
Passing the eastern and most lofty end of the Acropolis, the carriage at last turns into the outskirts of the city proper and traverses a broad and pleasant avenue, its wide sidewalks shaded by graceful and luxuriant pepper trees, while the prosperous looking houses give an attractive first impression of residential Athens. The modern is curiously intermingled with the ancient; for on the right, in the fields which border the highway, are to be seen the few remaining colossal columns of the rather florid temple of Olympian Zeus and the fragmentary arch of Hadrian, the Roman emperor in whose reign that temple was at last completed. It is peculiarly fitting to enter Athens between these ruins on the one hand and the Acropolis on the other, for they are so characteristic of the great chief attraction of the place,—its immortal past.
The city proper now opens out before, and as the carriage enters the great principal square of Athens, the “Syntagma,” or Place de la Constitution, handsome streets may be seen radiating from it in all directions, giving a general impression of cleanly whiteness, while the square itself, spreading a wide open space before the huge and rather barnlike royal palace, is filled with humanity passing to and fro, or seated at small tables in the open air, partaking of the coffee so dear to the heart of the Greek; and carriages dash here and there, warning pedestrians only by the driver’s repeated growl of “empros, empros!” (εμπρός), which is exactly equivalent to the golf-player’s “fore!” And here in the crowded square we may leave the traveler for the present, doubtless not far from his hotel,—for hotels are all about,—with only the parting word of advice that he shall early seek repose, in the certitude that there will be some little noise. For the Athenians are almost as noisy and nocturnal creatures as the Palermitans or Neapolitans, and the nights will be filled with music and many other sounds of revelry. To be sure, there are no paved streets and no clanging trolley cars; but the passing throngs will make up for any lack in that regard, even until a late hour of the night.
Athens lies in a long and narrow plain between two rocky mountain ridges that run down from the north. The plain to-day is neither interesting nor particularly fertile, although it is still tilled with some success. Once when it was better watered by the Cephissus and Ilissus rivers, whose courses are still visible though in the main dry and rocky, it was doubtless better able to support the local population; but to-day it is rather a bare and unattractive intervale between mountains quite as bare—gray, rocky heights, covered with little vegetation save the sparse gorse and thyme. At that point in the plain where a lofty, isolated, and nearly oblong rock, with precipitous sides, invited the foundation of a citadel, Athens sprang into being. And there she stands to-day, having pivoted around the hoary Acropolis crag for centuries, first south, then west, then north, until the latter has become the final abiding place of the modern town, while the older sites to the southward and westward lie almost deserted save for the activities of the archæologists and students, who have found them rich and interesting ground for exploration. Always, however, the Acropolis was the fulcrum or focus, and it was on this unique rock that Poseidon and Athena waged their immortal contest for the possession of the Attic plain. Tradition says that Poseidon smote with his trident and a salt spring gushed forth from the cleft rock, thus proving his power; but that the judgment of the gods was in favor of Athena, who made to spring up from the ground an olive tree. Wherefore the land was allotted to her, and from her the city took its name. Under the northern side of the towering rock and around to the east of it runs the thriving city of to-day, thence spreading off for perhaps two miles to the northward along the plain, first closely congested, then widening into more open modernized streets, and finally dwindling into scattered suburbs out in the countryside.
The growth of Athens has left its marks of progress in well-defined strata. The narrow, squalid, slummy streets of the quarter nearest the Acropolis belong to the older or Turkish period of the city’s renascent life. Beyond these one meets newer and broader highways, lined in many cases with neat modern shops, called into life by the city’s remarkable growth of the past two decades, which have raised Athens from the rank of a dirty village to a clean and attractive metropolis—in the better sense of that much abused word. Still farther away are seen the natural products of the overflow of a thriving modern town—suburbs clustering around isolated mills or wine-presses. The present population is not far from a hundred thousand persons, so that Athens to-day is not an inconsiderable place. The population is chiefly the native Greek, modified no doubt by long submission to Turkish rule and mingled with a good deal of Turkish blood, but still preserving the language, names, and traditions that bespeak a glorious past. Despite the persistence of such names as Aristeides, Miltiades, Themistocles, Socrates, and the like among the modern Athenians, it would no doubt be rashly unreasonable to expect to find in a population that was to all intents and purposes so long enslaved by Turkey very much that savors of the traditional Greek character as it stood in the days of Pericles. But there have not been wanting eminent scholars, who have insisted that our exalted ideas of the ancient Greeks are really derived from a comparatively few exceptional and shining examples, and that the ancient population may have resembled the present citizens more than we are prone to think, in traits and general ability.
On his native heath the modern Greek openly charges his own race with a lack of industry and love of idling too much in the coffee-houses, although it is an indictment which has never struck me as just, and one which, if coming from a foreigner, would doubtless be resented. It is true that the coffeehouses are seldom deserted, and the possession of an extra drachma or two is generally enough to tempt one to abandon his employ for the seclusion that the kaffeneion grants, there to sip slowly until the cups of syrupy coffee which the money will buy are gone. Nevertheless, one should be slow to say that the race is indolent by nature, especially in view of its climatic surroundings; for there are too many thousand thrifty and hard-working Hellenes in Greece and in America as well to refute any such accusation. The one vast trouble, no doubt, is the lack of any spur to industrial ambition at home, or of any very attractive or remunerative employment compared with the opportunities offered by the cities of the newer world. The strong set of the tide of emigration to American shores has tended largely to depopulate Greece; but it is not unlikely that the return of the natives, which is by no means uncommon, will in time work large benefit to Hellas herself, and the attraction of her sons to foreign lands thus prove a blessing rather than, as was once supposed, a curse.
This, however, is rather aside from any consideration of the modern city of Athens. Let it be said at the outset that one may go freely anywhere in the city and be quite unmolested either by malicious or mendicant persons. It is not improbable, of course, that the increasing inundation of Athens by foreign visitors will tend somewhat to increase the tendency to begging, as it has elsewhere; but it is due the Greek race to say that it is infinitely less lazy and infinitely less inclined to proletarianism, or to seeking to live without work, than the Italian. Small children, as in all countries, will be found occasionally begging a penny, especially if they have gone out of their way to render a fancied service, by ostentatiously opening a gate that already stood ajar. But there are few of the lame, halt, and blind, such as infest Naples and many smaller Mediterranean cities, seeking to extort money from sheer pity of unsightliness. Here and there in Athens one may indeed see a cripple patiently awaiting alms, but generally in a quiet and unobtrusive way. Neither is the visitor bothered by the importunities of carriage drivers, although the carriages are numerous enough and anxious for fares—a contrast that is welcome indeed to one newly come from Italy and fresh from the tireless pursuit of warring Neapolitan cabbies. The offset to this welcome peace is the fact that carriage fares in Athens are undoubtedly high compared with the astonishingly low charges produced in Naples by active and incessant competition of the vetturini. The sole dangers of Athenian streets are those incident to the fast driving of carriages over the unpaved roadways; for the pedestrian has his own way to make and his own safety to guard, as is largely true in Paris, and it is incumbent on him to stop, look, and listen before venturing into the highway.
The street venders of laces, sponges, flowers, and postal cards are perhaps the nearest to an importunate class, though they generally await invitation to the attack, and their efforts are invariably good-humored. The region of the “Syntagma” square is generally full of them, lining the curb and laden with their wares. Men will be seen with long strips of fascinating island lace over their shoulders, baskets on baskets of flowers, heaps of curiously shaped, marvelously attractive sponges, fresh and white from the near-by ocean, or packets of well-executed postal cards picturing the city’s classic remains, all offered for sale to whomsoever will exhibit the faintest trace of interest. Needless to say, the initial prices asked are inevitably excessive and yield to treatment with surprising revelations of latitude.
Athens is a clean city. Its streets, while unpaved, are still fairly hard. Its buildings are in the main of stone, covered with a stucco finish and given a white color, or a tint of buff or light blue. The prevailing tone is white, and in the glare of the brilliant sun it is often rather trying to the eyes. To relieve the whiteness there is always the feathery green of the pepper trees, and the contrast of the clambering vines and flowers that in their season go far to make the city so attractive. Most notable of all the contrasts in color is unquestionably the rich purple of the bougainvillea blooms splashed in great masses against the immaculate walls and porticoes of the more pretentious houses. The gardens are numerous and run riot with roses, iris, and hundreds of other fragrant and lovely blossoms. The sidewalks are broad and smooth. It is an easy town in which to stroll about, for the distances are not great and the street scenes are interesting and frequently unusual to a high degree, while vistas are constantly opening to give momentary views of the towering Acropolis. It is not a hilly city, but rather built on rolling ground, the prevailing slope of which is toward the west, gently down from the pointed Lycabettus to the ancient course of the Cephissus, along which once spread the famous grove of Academe. The lack of a sufficient water supply is unfortunate, for one misses the gushing of fountains which makes Rome so delightful, and the restricted volume available for domestic uses is sometimes far from pleasant.
The Athenians had a prodigious mine to draw upon for the naming of their streets, in the magnificent stretch of their history and in the fabulous wealth of mythology. And it is a fact worth remarking that the mythological gods and heroes appear to have decidedly the better of the famous mortals in the selection of street names to do them honor. For example, Pericles, the greatest Athenian in many ways, is recalled by the name of a decidedly poor thoroughfare—hardly more than an alley; while Pheidias, Pindar, Homer, Solon, and a score of others fare but little better. On the contrary, the great gods of high Olympus, Hermes, Athena, Æolus, and others, give their names to the finest, broadest, most magnificent streets of this city that likes to call herself a little Paris. The result of it all is a curious mental state, for by the time one gets out of Athens and into the highlands of Delphi or of the Peloponnesus, where every peak and vale is the scene of some godlike encounter or amour, one is more than half ready to accept those ancient deities as actually having lived and done the things that legend ascribes to them. They become fully as real to the mind as William Tell or Pocahontas. The same illusion is helped on by the classic names affected for the engines of the Piræus-Athens-Peloponnesus Railroad, and by the time one has ridden for a day behind the “Hermes” or the “Hephaistos,” one is quite ready to expect to see Proteus rising from the sea, or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
It is at first a trifle perplexing to one not versed in the Greek language to find the streets all labeled in the genitive case, such as ὁδὸς Ἑρμοῦ (othòs Ermoù), “street of Hermes.” This soon becomes a matter of course, however. The main shopping district is confined to the greater highways of Hermes, Æolus, and Athena, and to Stadium Street—the latter so called because its length is about one kilometre, which is the modern “stadion,” instead of the lesser classic length of approximately six hundred feet. The name therefore has no reference to the magnificent athletic field of the city, in which the so-called modern “Olympic” games are occasionally held, and which in itself is a fine sight to see, as it lies in its natural amphitheatre east of the city, and brilliant in its newly built surfaces of purest marble. Stadium Street is perhaps the most modern and up-to-date street in Athens, lined with handsome stores, hotels, and cafés, thronged day and night, and perhaps even more gay and Parisian-looking by night, with its many lights and teeming life.
Athens at this writing has no system of trolley cars, but sticks obstinately to an old-fashioned and quite inadequate horse-railway, the several lines radiating from the Omonoia Square—pronounced much like "Ammonia"—which, being interpreted, means the same as Place de la Concorde. To master the intricacies of this tramway system requires a considerable acquaintance with Athens, but it is vastly less involved a problem than the omnibuses of London and Paris, and naturally so because of the smaller size of the town. Odd little carriages plying between stated points eke out the local transportation service, while the third-rail, semi-underground line to the Piræus and the antiquated steam tram to New Phalerum give a suburban service that is not to be despised. In a very few years no doubt the trolley will invade Athens, for it already has a foothold in Greece at the thriving port of Patras; and when it does, one may whirl incongruously about the classic regions of the Acropolis as one now whirls about the Forum at Rome.
The admirable Bædeker warns visitors to Hellas against assuming too hastily that Greece is a tropical land, merely because it is a southern Mediterranean country, and our own experiences have proved that even in April Athens can be as cold as in mid-winter, with snow capping Hymettus itself. But for the greater part of the year Athens is warm, and as in most southern cities business is practically at a standstill between the noon hour and two o'clock in the afternoon. In the summer months, which in Athens means the interval between May and late fall, this cessation is a practical necessity, owing to the heat and the glare of the noontide sun on the white streets and buildings. But the comparative compactness of the city makes it entirely possible to walk almost anywhere, even on a warm day, for the coolness of shade as compared with the heat of the sun is always noticeable. Thus the visitor who has plenty of time for his stay in the city is practically independent of cars and carriages. For those who find time pressing and who must cover the sites, or, as Bædeker sometimes says, “overtake” the points of interest in short order, the ingenious device once employed by a friend similarly situated may not come amiss. Having limited facilities of speech in the native tongue, and being practically without other means of communication with the cabman, this resourceful traveler supplied himself with a full set of picture post-cards dealing with the more celebrated features of Athens, and by dint of showing these one after another to his Jehu, he managed to “do” Athens in half a day—if one could call it that. He was not the only one to see the ancient capital in such short order, but it remains true that any such cavalier disposition of so famous a place is unfortunate and wholly inadequate. Athens is no place for the hasty “tripper,” for not only are the ancient monuments worthy of long and thoughtful contemplation, but the modern city itself is abundantly worthy of intimate acquaintance.
OLD CHURCH IN TURKISH QUARTER, ATHENS
It has been spoken of as a noisy city, and it is especially so after nightfall, when the streets are thronged with people until a late hour and the coffee-houses and open-air restaurants are in full swing. Long after the ordinary person has gone to bed, passing Athenians will be heard shouting or singing in merry bands of from three to a dozen, especially if it be election time. The Athenian takes his politics as he takes his coffee—in deliberate sips, making a little go a long way. The general election period usually extends over something like two weeks, during which time the blank walls of the city blossom with the portraits of candidates and the night is made vocal with the rallying cries of the free-born. “Rallying” carriages are employed much as our own practical politicians employ them, to convey the decrepit or the reluctant able-bodied voters to the polls, with the difference that the Athenian rallying conveyance is generally decorated with partisan banners and not infrequently bears on its box, beside the driver, a musical outfit consisting of a drum and penny whistle, with which imposing panoply the proud voter progresses grandly through the streets to the ballot box, attended by a shouting throng. Torchlight processions, which make up in noise for their lack of numbers, are common every night during the election. The Athenian, when he does make up his mind to shout for any aspirant, shouts with his whole being, and with a vigor that recalls the days of Stentor. Noisy enough at all times, Athens is more so than ever in days of political excitement or on high festivals—notably on the night before Easter, when the joy over the resurrection of the Lord is manifested in a whole-hearted outpouring of the spirit, finding vent in explosives, rockets, and other pyrotechnics. Religious anniversaries, such as the birthday of a saint, or the Nativity, or the final triumph of Jesus, are treated by the Greek with the same pomp and circumstance that we accord to the Fourth of July; and, indeed, the same is true of all Mediterranean countries. I have never experienced a night before Easter in Athens, but I have been told that this, one of the most sacred of the festivals of the Orthodox Church, is the one occasion when it is at all dangerous or disagreeable to be abroad in the streets of the capital, and it is so only because of the exuberant and genuine joy that the native feels in the thought of his salvation, the idea of which seems annually to be a perfectly new and hitherto unexpected one.
By day the chief tumult is from the ordinary press of traffic, with the unintelligible street-cries of itinerant peddlers offering fish, eggs, and divers vegetables, not to mention fire-wood. Nor should one omit the newsboys, for the Athenian has abandoned not a whit of his traditional eagerness to see or to hear some new thing, and has settled upon the daily paper as the best vehicle for purveying to that taste. Athens boasts perhaps half a dozen journals, fairly good though somewhat given to exaggeration, and it is a poor citizen indeed who does not read two or three of them as he drinks his coffee. Early morn and late evening are filled with the cries of the paper boys ringing clear and distinct over the general hubbub, and of all the street sounds their calls are by far the easiest to understand.
Most fascinating of all to the foreign visitor must always be the narrower and less ornate streets of the old quarter, leading off Hermes and Æolus streets, and paramount in attractiveness the little narrow lane of the red shoes, which is a perfect bazaar. It is a mere alley, lined from end to end with small open booths, or shops, and devoted almost exclusively to the sale of shoes, mostly of red leather and provided with red pompons, though soft, white leather boots are also to be had, and to the dealing in embroidered bags, coats, pouches, belts, and the like. The stock in trade of each is very similar to that of every neighbor, and the effect of the tout ensemble is highly curious and striking. To venture there once is to insure frequent visits, and one is absolutely certain sooner or later to buy. The wares seem rather Turkish than Greek in character. Of course, patience and tact are needful to enable one to avoid outrageous extortion. Nothing would surprise a shoe-lane dealer more, in all probability, than to find a foreigner willing and ready to accept his initial price as final. Chaffering is the order of the day, and after a sufficient amount of advancing and retreating, the intending purchaser is sure to succumb and return laden with souvenirs, from the inexpensive little embroidered bags to the coats heavy with gold lace, which are the festal gear of the peasant girls. The latter garments are mostly second-hand, and generally show the blemishes due to actual use. They are sleeveless over-garments made of heavy felt but gay with red and green cloth, on which, as a border, gold braid and tracery have been lavished without stint until they are splendid to see. Needless to say, they are the most expensive things in shoe lane. The process of bargaining between one who speaks no English and one who speaks no Greek is naturally largely a matter of dumb show, although the ever-ready pad and pencil figure in it. Madame looks inquiringly up from a handsome Greek coat, and is told by the pad that the price is 50 drachmas. Her face falls; she says as plainly as words could say it that she is very sorry, but it is out of the question. She turns and approaches the door. “Madame! madame!” She turns back, and the pad, bearing the legend 45, is shoved toward her. Again the retreat, and once more the summons to return and see a new and still lower price. Eventually the blank paper is passed to “madame,” and she writes thereon a price of her own—inevitably too low. Finally, however, the product of the extremes produces the Aristotelian golden mean, and the title passes. Indeed, it sometimes happens that the merchant will inform you of an outrageous price and add with shameless haste, “What will you give?” Experience will soon teach the purchaser that the easiest way to secure reasonable prices is to make a lump sum for several articles at a single sale.
Shoe lane, for all its narrowness and business, is far from squalid, and is remarkably clean and sweet. In this it differs from the market district farther along, where vegetables, lambs, pigs, chickens, and other viands are offered for sale. The sight is interesting, but its olfactory appeal is stronger than the ocular. One need not venture there, however, to see the wayside cook at his work of roasting a whole sheep on the curb. Even the business streets up-town often show this spectacle. The stove is a mere sheet-iron chest without a cover, and containing a slow fire of charcoal. Over this on an iron spit, which is thrust through the lamb from end to end, the roast is slowly turning, legs, ribs, head, eyes, and all, the motive power being a little boy. From this primitive establishment cooked meat may be bought, as in the days of Socrates, either to be taken home, or to be eaten in some corner by the Athenian quick-lunch devotee. Farther along in the old quarter, not far from the Monastiri Station of the Piræus Line, is the street of the coppersmiths, heralded from afar by the noise of its hammers. By all the rules of appropriateness this should be the street of Hephaistos. In the gathering dusk, especially, this is an interesting place to wander through, for the forge fires in the dark little shops gleam brightly in the increasing darkness, while the busy hammers ply far into the evening. It is the tinkers’ chorus and the armorer’s song rolled into one. Here one buys the coffee-mills and the coffee-pots used in concocting the Turkish coffee peculiar to the East, and any visitor who learns to like coffee thus made will do well to secure both utensils, since the process is simple and the drink can easily be made at home. The coffee-pots themselves are little brass or copper dippers, of varying sizes; and the mills are cylinders of brass with arrangements for pulverizing the coffee beans to a fine powder. This powder, in the proportion of about a teaspoonful to a cup, is put into the dipper with an equal quantity of sugar. Boiling water is added, and the mixture set on the fire until it “boils up.” This is repeated three times before pouring off into cups, the coffee being vigorously stirred or beaten to a froth between the several boilings. At the end it is a thick and syrup-like liquid, astonishingly devoid of the insomnia-producing qualities commonly attributed to coffee by the makers of American “substitutes.” In any event the long-handled copper pots and the mills for grinding are quaint and interesting to possess. At the coffee-houses the practice is generally to bring the coffee on in its little individual pot, to be poured out by the patron himself. It is always accompanied by a huge glass of rather dubious drinking water and often by a bit of loukoumi, which the Greek esteems as furnishing a thirst, or by a handful of salty pistachio nuts, equally efficacious for the same purpose. The consumption of coffee by the Greek nation is stupendous. Possibly it is harmful, too. But in any event it cheers without inebriating, and a drunken Greek is a rare sight indeed.
Walking homeward in the dusk of evening after a sunset on the Acropolis, one is sure to pass many out-of-door stoves set close to the entrances of humbler houses and stuffed with light wood which is blazing cheerily in preparation of the evening meal, the glow and the aromatic wood-smoke adding to the charm of the scene. Small shops, in the windows of which stand fresh-made bowls of giaourti (ya-oór-ti), are also to be seen, calling attention to that favorite Athenian delicacy, very popular as a dessert and not unlikely to please the palate of those not to the manner born. The giaourti is a sort of “junket,” or thick curd of goat’s milk, possessing a sour or acid taste. It is best eaten with an equal quantity of sugar, which renders the taste far from disagreeable. As for the other common foods of the natives, doubtless the lamb comes nearest to being the chief national dish, while chickens and eggs are every-day features of many a table. Unless one is far from the congested haunts of men, the food problem is not a serious one. That a visitor would find it rather hard to live long on the ordinary native cookery, however, is no doubt true; but fortunately there is little need to make the experiment. One other native dish deserves mention, in passing, and that is the “pilaffi,” or “pilaff,” which is rice covered with a rich meat gravy, and which almost any foreigner will appreciate as a palatable article of food.
Of the ruins and museums of Athens, it is necessary to speak in detail in another chapter. Of the modern city and its many oddities, it is enough to deal here. Rambles through the town in any direction are sure to prove delightful, not only in the older quarter which we have been considering, but through the more pretentious modern streets as well, with their excellent shops, their pseudo-classic architecture, and their constant glimpses of gardens or of distant ruined temples. Occasionally the classic style of building rises to something really fine, as in the case of the university buildings, the polytechnic school, or the national museum itself. The local churches are by no means beautiful, however. Indeed the ordinary Greek church makes no pretension to outward attractiveness, such as the cathedrals and minor churches of the Roman faith possess. Perhaps the most striking of the Athenian houses of worship is the little brown structure which has been allowed to remain in the midst of Hermes Street, recalling the situation of St. Clement Danes, or St. Mary le Strand in London. It is a squat Byzantine edifice, not beautiful, but evidently old, and a familiar sight of the city. Within, the Greek churches are quite different in arrangement from the Roman. At the entrance to the altar space there is always a high screen, pierced by a door leading to the altar itself, and used only by the officiating priest. The altar screen, or “iconastasis,” is richly adorned as a rule with embossed work, and the “icons,” or holy pictures, are generally painted faces set in raised silver-gilt frames, which supply the figure and robes of the saints, only the facial features being in pigment. Images are not allowed in the Orthodox worship, but the relief employed to embellish the faces in the icons goes far to simulate imagery.
The residential architecture of the city finds its best exemplification in the splendid marble mansions of the princes of the royal house, which are really fine, and which are surrounded by attractive grounds and gardens. The palace of the king is far less attractive, being a huge and barn-like structure in the centre of the city, relieved from utter barrenness only by a very good classic portico. But nothing could be lovelier than the deep dells of the palace gardens, which form a magnificent park well deserving the classic name of a παράδεισος, with its jungle of flowers, shrubs, and magnificent trees—the latter a welcome sight in treeless Attica.
One cannot pass from the subject of modern Athens without mentioning the soldiery, for the soldiers are everywhere, in all degrees of rank and magnificence of dress, from the humble private to the glittering and altogether gorgeous generalissimo. The uniforms are of a variety that would put to blush the variegated equipment of the famous Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston. These manifold uniforms have their proper signification, however, and they are undeniably handsome. If the Greek soldiers could only fight as well as they look, what could restrain the modern Athenian empire? The army clothes are admirably designed with an eye to fit and color, and the men carry themselves with admirable military hauteur. Most picturesque of all are the king’s body-guard, with their magnificent physique and national dress. They are big, erect fellows, clad in the short fustanella skirts of the ancient régime, the tight-fitting leggings, the pomponed shoes, the dark over-jacket, and the fez. These are the only troops that wear the old-time garb of the Greek. But the dress is a familiar sight in the outside country districts, often worn by well-to-do peasants, and still regarded as the national dress despite the general prevalence of ordinary European clothes.
It remains to speak briefly of the national money, for that is a subject the visitor cannot avoid. The drachma, which corresponds to the franc, is a peculiar thing. If one means the metal drachma, of silver, it is simple enough. It circulates at par with the franc. But the paper drachma varies in value from day to day at the behest of private speculation, and is almost never at par. I have experienced variations of it from a value of fourteen cents to eighteen. In small transactions, when the paper drachma is high, the difference is negligible. When it is low in value, or in large amounts, it is highly appreciable. The fluctuation of this money is the reason for the pads and pencils in the shops, for it is only by constant multiplication or division that the merchant is able to translate prices from francs into drachmas or vice versa, as occasion requires. Naturally when the drachma is worth only fourteen cents, the unsuspecting visitor is liable to pay more than he should, if assuming that a franc and a drachma are synonymous terms. In such a case a paper bill requires a considerable addition of copper lepta to make it equal the metal drachma or the French franc. The difference in value from day to day may be learned from the newspapers. Most bargains are made in francs, and the French money, both gold and silver, is freely used. Nevertheless, the local paper money is very useful, and it merely requires a little care in the use. Particularly is it desirable to know the status of the drachma in securing cash on a letter of credit or on a traveler’s cheque, in order that one may obtain the proper amount and not content himself with an inferior sum in paper; for although the principal banks may be relied upon as a rule to be honest, individual clerks may not be proof against the temptation to impose upon the ignorant and pocket the difference. I would advise the use of the Ionian Bank as far as possible, rather than the tourist agencies, for the latter often extort money quite without warrant, on the plea of needful stamps or fees for “accommodation,” that the bank does not require. Little trouble will be found to exist in the way of false coin—far less than in Italy. The one difficulty is to follow the paper drachma up and down, and not be mulcted to a greater or less extent in the exchange of silver for paper. The copper coins, which are either the five or ten lepta pieces, occasion no trouble, being like the Italian centesimi or English pence and ha' pennies.
One not uncommon sight to be met with in Athenian streets is the funeral procession—a sight which is liable at first to give the unaccustomed witness a serious shock, because of the custom of carrying the dead uncoffined through the city. The coffin and its cover are borne at the head of the procession, as a rule, while the body of the deceased, in an open hearse, rides joltingly along in the middle of the cortège. To those not used to this method of honoring the dead, the exposure of the face to the sight of every passer-by must seem incongruous and revolting. But it is the custom of the place, and the passing of a funeral causes no apparent concern to those who calmly view the passing corpse from the chairs where they sip their coffee, or idly finger their strings of beads. The beads which are to be seen in the hand of nearly every native have no religious significance, as might be thought at first sight, but are simply one of the innocuous things that the Hellene finds for idle hands to do. They are large beads, of various colors, though the strings are generally uniform in themselves, and their sole function is to furnish something to toy with while talking, or while doing nothing in particular. There is a sufficiency of loose string to give some play to the beads, and they become a familiar sight.
Royalty in Greece is decidedly democratic in its attitude. King George and his sons are frequently to be seen riding about town, much like ordinary citizens. Quite characteristic was an encounter of recent date, in which an American gentleman accosted one whom he found walking in the palace gardens with the inquiry as to what hour would be the best for seeing the royal children. The question elicited mutual interest and the two conversed for some time, the American asking with much curiosity for particulars of the household, with which his interlocutor professed to be acquainted. “What of the queen?” he inquired. "She’s exceedingly well beloved," was the reply. “She is a woman of high character and fills her high station admirably.” “And the king?” "Oh, the king! I regret to say that he is no good. He has done nothing for the country. He tries to give no offense—but as a king the less said of him the better!" Needless to say, this oracle was the king himself. Nobody else would have passed so harsh a judgment. King George I has been reigning since 1863, when the present government, with the sponsorship of the Christian powers, was inaugurated. He came from Denmark, being a son of the late King Christian, who furnished so many thrones of Europe with acceptable rulers and queens from his numerous and excellent family, so that the king is not himself a Greek at all. The years of successful rule have proved him highly acceptable to the Athenians and their countrymen, who have seen their land regain a large measure of its prosperity and their chief city grow to considerable proportions under the new order. The kingly office is hereditary, the crown prince reaching his majority at eighteen years.
Prince Constantine, the heir to the throne, lives on the street behind the palace gardens, and has a family of handsome children. Prince George is commissioner in charge of Crete. The royal family has embraced the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The visible remains of the ancient city of Athens, as distinguished from the city of to-day, lie mainly to the south and west of the Acropolis, where are to be seen many distinct traces of the classic town, close around the base of the great rock and the Hill of Mars. How far the ancient city had extended around to the eastward can only be conjectured by the layman, for there exist almost no remains in that direction save the choragic monument of Lysicrates and the ruins of the temple of Olympian Zeus; while on the northern side of the Acropolis, although it is known that there once lay the agora, or market place, little is left but some porticoes of a late, if not of Roman, date. Not being bent on exact archæology, however, it is not for us here to speculate much over the probable sites of the ancient metes and bounds, the location of the fountain of nine spouts called “Enneacrunus,” nor the famous spring of Callirrhoë, which furnish fertile ground for dissent among those skilled in the art. What must now concern us most is the mass of visible ruins, which provide the chief charm of the city to every visitor, and most of all to those possessed of the desirable historic or classical “background” to make the ruins the more interesting.
Despite her many inglorious vicissitudes, Athens has been so fortunate as to retain many of her ancient structures in such shape that even to-day a very good idea is to be had of their magnificence in the golden age of Hellenic empire. The Greek habit of building temples and fanes in high places, apart from the dwellings of men, has contributed very naturally to the preservation of much that might otherwise have been lost. The chief attractions of the classic city were set on high, and the degenerate modern town that succeeded the ancient capital did not entirely swallow them up, as was so largely the case at Rome. To be sure, the Turks did invade the sacred precincts of the Acropolis with their mosques and their munitions of war, and the latter ruined the Parthenon beyond hope of restoration when Morosini’s lamentable advisers caused the Venetian bomb to be fired at that noble edifice. Local vandalism and the greed of lime burners have doubtless destroyed much. But the whole course of these depredations has failed to remove the crowning treasures of Athens, and the Acropolis temples are still the inspiration and the despair of architects. In passing, then, to a more detailed and perhaps superfluous consideration of the monuments surviving from the ancient city, it may be remarked that the visitor will find more of the classic remains to reward and delight him than is the case at Rome, rich as that eternal city is.
The Acropolis is naturally the great focus of interest, not only for what remains in situ on its top, but because of many remnants of buildings that cluster about its base. The rock itself, if it were stripped of every building and devoid of every memory, would still be commanding and imposing, alone by sheer force of its height and steepness. As it is, with its beetling sides made the more precipitous by the artifices of Cimon and ancient engineers, whose walls reveal the use of marble column drums built into the fortifications themselves, it is doubly impressive for mere inaccessibility. Something like a hundred feet below its top it ceases to be so sheer, and spreads out into a more gradual slope, on the southern expanses of which were built the city’s theatres and a precinct sacred to Asklepios. Only on the west, however, was the crag at all approachable, and on that side to-day is the only practicable entrance to the sacred precincts.
A more magnificent approach it would be hard to conceive. One must exempt from praise the so-called “Beulé” gate at the very entrance, at the foot of the grand staircase, for it is a mere late patchwork of marble from other ancient monuments, and is in every way unworthy of comparison with the majestic Propylæa at the top. It takes its name from the French explorer who unearthed it. As for its claim to interest, it must found that, if at all, on the identification of the stones which now compose it with the more ancient monument of some choragic victor. Looking up the steep incline to the Propylæa, or fore gate of the Acropolis, the Parthenon is completely hid. Nothing is visible from this point but the walls and columns of the magnificent gateway itself, designed to be a worthy prelude to the architectural glory of the main temple of the goddess. The architect certainly succeeded admirably in achieving the desired result. He did not at all dwarf or belittle his chief creation above, yet he gave it a most admirable setting. Even to-day, with so much of the colonnade of the Propylæa in ruins, it is a splendid and satisfying approach, not only when seen from a distance, but at close range. Not alone is it beautiful in and of itself, but it commands from its platform a grand view of the Attic plain below, of the bay of Salamis gleaming in the sun beyond, of the long cape running down to Sunium, and of the distant mountains of the Argolid, rolling like billows in the southwest far across the gulf and beyond Ægina. To pause for a moment on gaining this threshold of the Acropolis and gaze upon this imposing panorama of plain, mountain, and sea, is an admirable introduction to Greece.
TEMPLE OF NIKÉ APTEROS
On either side of the stairway by which one climbs to the Propylæa are buttresses of rock, on one of which stands an object worthy of long contemplation. At the right, on a platform leveled from the solid rock, stands the tiny temple of Niké Apteros (the Wingless Victory), “restored” it is true, but nevertheless one of the most perfect little buildings imaginable. At one time entirely removed to make room for a Turkish watch-tower, it has been re-created by careful hands out of its original marbles; and it stands to-day, as it stood of old, on its narrow parapet beside the grand stairway of Athena. The process of rebuilding has not, indeed, been able to give the unbroken lines of the old temple. The stones are chipped at the corners here and there, and there are places where entirely new blocks have been required. But in the main everything, even to the delicately carved frieze around its top, is in place; and for once at least the oft-berated “restorer” of ancient buildings has triumphed and has silenced all his critics. The remnants of the incomparable carved balustrade, which once served as a railing for the parapet, are to be seen in the small museum of the Acropolis, revealing the extreme grace which the Greek sculptors had achieved in the modeling of exquisite figures in high relief. The slab, particularly, which has come to be known as “Niké binding her sandal” seems to be the favorite of all, though the others, even in their headless and armless state, are scarcely less lovely.
As for the isolated pedestal on the other side of the stairway, known as the “pedestal of Agrippa,” it is not only devoid of any statue to give it continued excuse for being, but it is in such a state of decrepitude as to cause the uncomfortable thought that it is about to fall, and seems an object rather for removal than for perpetuation, although it serves to balance the effect produced by the Niké bastion.
Standing on the Niké platform, the visitor finds the noble columns of the Propylæa towering above him close at hand. These Doric pillars give one for the first time an adequate idea of the perfection to which the column was carried by Ictinus and the builders and architects of his time; for although each pillar is built up drum upon drum, it is still true in many cases that the joints between them are almost invisible, so perfect are they, despite the lapse of ages and the ravages of war, not to mention the frequent earthquake shocks to which the whole region has been subjected. Age has been kind also to the Pentelic marble, softening its original whiteness to a golden brown without destroying its exquisite satin texture. Nothing more charming can well be imagined than the contrast of the blue Athenian sky with these stately old columns, as one looks outward or inward through their majestic rows.
The rock rises sharply as one passes within the precinct of the Acropolis, and the surface of it appears to have been grooved to give a more secure footing to pedestrians. Stony as is the place, it still affords soil enough to support a growth of grasses and struggling bits of greenery to cradle the many fallen drums. But one has eyes only for the Parthenon, the western front of which now appears for the first time in its full effect. From its western end, the havoc wrought in its midst being concealed, the Parthenon appears almost perfect. The pedimental sculptures, it is true, are gone save for a fragment or two, having been carried off to England. But the massive Doric columns still stand in an unbroken double row before one; the walls of the cella appear to be intact; the pediment rises almost unbroken above; frieze, triglyphs, and metopes remain in sufficient degree to give an idea of the ancient magnificence of the shrine—and all conspire to compel instant and unstinted admiration. Speculation as to the ethics of the removal of the Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgin has become an academic matter, and therefore one quite beyond our present purpose. Doubtless to-day no such removal would be countenanced for a moment. It is no longer possible to say, as former critics have said, that the local regard for the treasures of the place is so slight as to endanger their safety. The present custodianship of the priceless relics of antiquity in Athens is admirably careful and satisfactory. If, therefore, Greece had only come into her own a century or so earlier than she did, the famous sculptures of the miraculous birth of Athena, springing full grown from the head of Zeus, and the colossal representation of the strife between Athena and Poseidon for possession of the Attic land, might still adorn as of yore the eastern and western gables of the great temple; or if not that, might still be seen in the very excellent museum at the other end of the city. It is enough for us to know, however, that they are not in Athens but in London, and that there is no probability they will ever return to Greek soil; and to know, also, that had they not been removed as they were, they might never have been preserved at all. That is the one comfortable state of mind in which to view the vacant pediments of the Parthenon. To work up a Byronic frenzy over what cannot be helped, and may, after all, be for the best, is of no benefit.
Writers on Athens have often called attention to the curved stylobate of the Parthenon—a feature which is by no means confined to this temple, but which is to be noticed in almost every considerable ruin of the sort. The base of the building curves sufficiently to make the device visible, rising from either end to the centre of the sides; and the curious may easily prove it by placing a hat at one extremity and trying to see it from the other, sighting along the line of the basic stones. The curve was necessary to cure an optical defect, for a straight or level base would have produced the illusion of a decided sagging Similarly it has long been recognized that the columns must swell at the middle drums, lest they appear to the eye to be concaved. In fact, as Professor Gardner has pointed out, there is actually hardly a really straight line in the Parthenon—yet the effect is of absolute straightness everywhere.
Obviously this curvature of the base, slight though it was, imposed some engineering problems of no inconsiderable nature when it came to setting the column drums; for the columns must stand erect, and the bottom sections must be so devised as to meet the configuration of the convex stylobate. The corner columns, being set on a base that curved in both directions, must have been more difficult still to deal with. But the problem was solved successfully, and the result of this cunningly contrived structure was a temple that comes as near architectural perfection as earthly artisans are ever likely to attain. The columns were set up in an unfluted state, the fluting being added after the pillar was complete. Each drum is said to have been rotated upon its lower fellow until the joint became so exact as to be to all intents and purposes indistinguishable. In the centre of the fallen drums will be seen always a square hole, used to contain a peg of wood designed to hold the finished sections immovable, and in many cases this wooden plug has been found intact. All along the sides of the Parthenon, lying on the ground as they fell, are to be seen the fallen drums that once composed the columns of the sides, but which were blown out of position by the bomb from the Venetian fleet of Admiral Morosini. They lie like fallen heaps of dominoes or children’s building blocks, and the entire centre of the temple is a gaping void. Here and there an attempt has been made to reconstruct the fallen columns from the original portions, but the result is by no means reassuring and seems not to justify the further prosecution of the task. Better a ruined Parthenon than an obvious patchwork. The few restored columns are quite devoid of that homogeneity that marks the extant originals, and their joints are painfully felt, being chipped and uneven, where the old are all but imperceptible; so that the whole effect is of insecurity and lack of perfection entirely out of harmony with the Parthenon itself. Opinions, however, differ. Some still do advocate the rebuilding of the temple rather than leave the drums, seemingly so perfect still, lying as they now are amid the grasses of the Acropolis. It is one of those questions of taste on which debate is traditionally idle and purposeless.
THE PARTHENON, WEST PEDIMENT
For those who must demand restorations other than those constructed by the mind’s eye, there are models and drawings enough extant, and some are to be seen in the Acropolis Museum. Most interesting of the attempts are doubtless the speculations as to the pedimental sculptures, the remains of which are in the British Museum, but which are so fragmentary and so ill placed in their new home that much of the original grouping is matter for conjecture. With the aid of drawings made by a visitor long years ago, before Lord Elgin had thought of tearing them down, the two great pediments have been ingeniously reconstructed in miniature, showing a multitude of figures attending on the birth of the city’s tutelary goddess, as she sprang full armed from the head of Zeus assisted by the blow of Hephaistos’s hammer, or the concourse of deities that umpired the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the land. The Acropolis Museum has only casts of the Elgin marbles, but there is still to be seen a good proportion of the original frieze. It would be out of place in any such work as this to be drawn into anything like a detailed account of these famous sculptures, the subjects of a vast volume of available literature already and sources of a considerable volume also of controversial writing involving conflicts of the highest authority. It must therefore suffice to refer the reader interested in the detailed story of the Parthenon, its external adornment, its huge gold-and-ivory statue within, and the great Panathenaic festival which its frieze portrayed, to any one of those learned authors who have written of all these things so copiously and clearly—doubtless none more so than Dr. Ernest Gardner in his admirably lucid and readable “Ancient Athens,” or in his “Handbook of Greek Sculpture,” without which no one should visit the museum in that city.
One must remember that the Parthenon and the other features of the Acropolis are monuments of the age of Pericles, and not of an earlier day. The Persians who invaded Greece in 480 B.C. succeeded in obtaining possession of Athens and of the whole Attic plain, the inhabitants fleeing to the island of Salamis. The hordes of barbarians brought in by Xerxes were opposed by a very few of the citizens, some of whom erected a stockade around the Acropolis, thinking that thereby they satisfied the oracle which had promised the city salvation through the impregnability of its “Wooden Walls.” The Persians massed their forces on Mars Hill, just west of the larger rock, and a hot fight took place, the invaders attempting to fire the stockade by means of arrows carrying burning tow, while the besieged made use of round stones with considerable effect. Eventually the enemy discovered an unsuspected means of access to the citadel and took it by storm, after which they burned its temples and left it a sorry ruin. The rest of the Athenians with the allied navy at Salamis repulsed the Persian fleet, and Xerxes, disgusted, withdrew,—despite the fact that it would seem to have been quite possible for him to pursue his successes on land. It left Athens a waste, but on that waste grew up a city that for architectural beauty has never, in all probability, been surpassed. The reaction from the horrors of war gave us the Parthenon, the Propylæa, and the Erechtheum, all dating, perhaps, from the fifth century before Christ.
The Erechtheum, while properly entitled to the epithet “elegant” as a building, seems decidedly less a favorite than the Parthenon. It is extremely beautiful, no doubt, in a delicate and elaborate way, and its ornamentation is certainly of a high order. Unlike the Parthenon, it is not surrounded by a colonnade, but possesses pillars only in its several porticoes. The columns are not Doric, but Ionic. As for its general plan, it is so complicated and devoted to so many obscure purposes that the lay visitor doubtless will find it an extremely difficult place to understand. There appear to have been at least three precincts involved in it, and the name it bears is the ancient one, given it because in part it was a temple of Erechtheus. That deity was of the demi-god type. He was an ancient Attic hero, who had received apotheosis and become highly esteemed, doubtless because in part he had instituted the worship of Athena in the city and had devised the celebrated Panathenaic festival. Tradition says that he was brought up by Athena herself, and that she intrusted him as a babe, secreted in a chest, to the daughters of Cecrops to guard. They were enjoined not to open the chest, but being overcome with curiosity they disobeyed, and discovered the babe entwined with serpents—whereat, terrified beyond measure, they rushed to the steeper part of the Acropolis and threw themselves down from the rock. Therein they were not alone, for it is also related that the father of Theseus had also thrown himself down from this eminence in despair, because he beheld his son’s ship returning from Crete with black sails, imagining therefrom that the Minotaur had triumphed over his heroic son, when the reverse was the fact.
The complicated character of the Erechtheum is further emphasized by the fact that a portion of it was supposed to shelter the gash made by Poseidon with his trident when he was contending with Athena for the land, as well as the olive tree that Athena caused to grow out of the rock. The two relics were naturally held in veneration, and it was the story that in the cleft made by the trident there was a salt spring, or “sea” as Herodotus calls it, which gave forth to the ear a murmuring like that of the ocean. The cleft is still there. The olive tree, unfortunately, has disappeared. It was there when the Persian horde came to Athens, however, if we may believe Herodotus; and tradition says that after the invaders had burned the Acropolis over, the tree-stump immediately put forth a shoot which was in length a cubit, as a sign that the deity had not abandoned the city. It had been the custom of the place to deposit a cake of honey at stated intervals in the temple door for the food of the sacred serpents; and when, on the arrival of the Persians, this cake remained untouched, the inhabitants were convinced that even the god had left the Acropolis and that naught remained but ruin. The renewed and miraculous life of the olive tree dispelled this error. The Erechtheum in part overlaps the oldest precinct sacred to Athena, where stood an earlier temple supposed to have contained the sacred image of the goddess, made of wood, which came down from heaven. For exact and detailed descriptions of the Erechtheum and its uses, the reader must once again turn to the archæologists. As for its external features, the most famous of all is unquestionably the caryatid portico, in which the roof is borne up by a row of graceful, but undeniably sturdy, marble maidens. The use of the caryatid, always unnatural, is here rather successful on the whole, for the beholder derives no sensation that the maidens are restive under the weight imposed on them. They are entirely free from any indictment of grotesqueness. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the portico is altogether pleasing. One of the figures is, as is well known, a reproduction of the one Lord Elgin carried away to the British Museum, but the remainder of the six are the original members.
The Acropolis Museum serves to house a great many interesting fragments found on the spot, including a host of archaic representations of Athena, still bearing ample traces of the paint which the Greeks used so lavishly on their marble statues. This use of pigment might seem to have been a very doubtful exhibition of taste, as judged by modern standards, not only in its application to statues, but in the decoration of marble temples as well. It is hard for us to-day, accustomed to pure white marble sculpture, to imagine any added beauty from painting the hair, eyes, and garments of a statue; or to conceive how the polychromy so commonly made use of in bedecking such masterpieces as the Parthenon could have been anything but a blemish. Nevertheless, the fact that the Greeks did it, and that they were in all else so consummately tasteful, makes it entirely probable that their finished statues and edifices thus adorned were perfectly congruous—especially under that brilliant sky and surrounded by so many brilliant costumes. From the surviving multitude of statues of Athena, it is evident that the Greeks conceived her as a woman of majestic mien, rather almond-eyed, and possessed of abundant braids of the ruddy hair later vouchsafed to Queen Elizabeth. The more rudimentary figure of the “Typhon,” also preserved in this museum, which was doubtless a pedimental sculpture from some earlier acropolitan temple, bears abundant traces of paint on its body and on the beards of its triple head. It is too grotesque to furnish much of an idea of the use of paint on such statues as the great masters later produced. The remnants of the Parthenon frieze give little or no trace of any of the blue background, such as was commonly laid on to bring out the figures carved on such ornaments, nor are there any traces remaining of polychrome decoration on the Parthenon itself.
The Acropolis, of course, has not escaped the common fate of all similar celebrated places—that of being “done” now and then by parties of tourists in absurdly hasty fashion, that to the lover of the spot seems little less than sacrilege. It is no infrequent sight to see a body of men and women numbering from a dozen to over a hundred, in the keeping of a voluble courier, scampering up the steps of the Propylæa, over the summit, through the two temples, in and out of the museum, and down again, amply satisfied with having spent a half hour or even less among those immortal ruins, and prepared to tell about it for the rest of their days. It is a pity, as it always is, to see a wonder of the world so cavalierly treated. Still, one hesitates to say that rather than do this, one should never visit the Acropolis of Athens. It is better to have looked for a moment than never to have looked at all. The Acropolis is no place to hurry through. Rather is it a spot to visit again and again, chiefly toward sunset, not merely to wander through the ruins, or to rest on the steps of the Parthenon musing over the remote past to which this place belongs, but also to see the sun sink to the west as Plato and Socrates must often have seen it sink from this very place, behind the rugged sky-line of the Argolid, which never changes, lengthening the purple shadows of the hills on the peaceful plain and touching the golden-brown of the temples with that afterglow which, once seen, can never be forgotten.
The gates of the Acropolis are closed at sunset by the guards, and lingering visitors are insistently herded into groups and driven downward to the gate like sheep by the little band of blue-coated custodians. Still, they are not hard-hearted, and if a belated visitor finds the outer gates locked a trifle before sunset, as often happens with the idea of preventing needless ascent, a plea for “pende lepta” (five minutes) is likely to be honored even without a petty bribe. But at last every one must go, and the holy hill of Athena is left untenanted for one more of its endless round of nights. A visit to the Acropolis by moonlight is traditionally worth while, and the needful permission is not difficult to obtain once the municipal office dealing with such things is located. The Parthenon on a clear, moonlit night must be indescribably lovely, even in its lamentable ruin.
Other sights of Athens, ancient and modern, are interesting, and many are magnificent. But the Acropolis is unquestionably the best that Athens has to show, and the Parthenon is incomparably the best of the Acropolis. It is the first and the last spot to seek in visiting Athena’s famous city, and the last glimpse the departing voyager—very likely with a not unmanly tear—catches from his ship as it sails out into the blue Ægean is of this hoary temple reposing in calm and serene indifference to mankind on its rocky height. It has seen the worship of Athena Parthenos give way to the reverence of another Virgin—a holier ideal of Wisdom set up in its own precincts, and worshiped there on the very spot where once the youth of Athens did honor to the pagan goddess. Gods and religions have risen and departed, despots have come and gone; but the Parthenon has stood unchanging, the unrivaled embodiment of architectural beauty to-day, as it was when Ictinus, Mnesicles, Pheidias, and those who were with them created it out of their combined and colossal genius, under the wise ordainment of Pericles.
There are two favorite ways whereby those leaving the Acropolis are wont to descend to the modern city. One lies around to the right as you leave the gates, passing between the Acropolis and Mars Hill to the north side of the former, where steps will be found leading down to the old quarter and thence past Shoe Lane to Hermes Street and home. The other passes to the south of the Acropolis along its southerly slopes, finally emerging through an iron gate at the eastern end, whence a street leads directly homeward, rather cleaner and sweeter than the other route but hardly as picturesque. Since, however, this way leads to some of the other notable remains of classic Athens, for the present let us take it.
Immediately on leaving the avenue in front of the gates of the Acropolis, one finds a path leading eastward directly behind and above the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is made conspicuous in the landscape by the lofty stone arches remaining at its front. These arches are blackened and bear every ear-mark of the later Roman epoch. Moreover they strike the beholder as rather unstable, as if some day they might fall unless removed. But their loss would be a pity, nevertheless, for they certainly present a striking and agreeable feature to the sight despite their lack of harmony with the received ideas of pure Greek architecture. It hardly repays one to descend to the pit of this commodious theatre, or rather concert hall, since one gets a very accurate idea of it from above looking down into its orchestra over the tiers of grass-grown seats. For more detailed inspection of ancient theatrical structures, the Dionysiac theatre farther along our path is decidedly more worth while, besides being much more ancient and more interesting by association.
On the way thereto are passed several remnants of a long “stoa,” or portico, called that of Eumenes, curiously intermingled with brick relics of the Turkish times, and the non-archæological visitor will hardly care to concern himself long with either. But he will doubtless be interested to turn aside from the path and clamber up to the base of the steeper rock to inspect the damp and dripping cave where once was an important shrine of Asklepios, with the usual “sacred spring” still flowing, and still surrounded with remains of the customary porticoes, in which the faithful in need of healing once reposed themselves by night, awaiting the cure which the vision of the god might be hoped to bestow. The cave is now a Catholic shrine, with a picture of its particular saint and an oil lamp burning before it. It is dank and dismal, and for one to remain there long would doubtless necessitate the services of Asklepios himself, or of some skillful modern disciple of his healing art—of which, by the way, Athens can boast not a few. The Greek seems to take naturally to the practice of medicine, and some of the physicians, even in remote country districts, are said to possess unusual talent.
Not far below the shrine lies the theatre of Dionysus, scooped out of the hillside as are most Greek theatres, with a paved, semi-circular “orchestra,” or dancing place, at its foot. Much of the original seating capacity is concealed by the overgrowth of grass, so that one is likely greatly to underestimate its former size. Once the seats rose far up toward the precinct of Asklepios, and the path that to-day traverses the slope passes through what was once the upper portion of the amphitheatre. It is only in the lower portions that the stones still remain in a fair state of preservation and serve to show us the manner of theatre that the Athenians knew—the same in which the earlier generations saw for the first time the tragedies of that famous trio of playwrights, Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. This theatre has undergone manifold changes since its first construction, as one will discover from his archæological books. It is idle for us here to seek to recall the successive alterations which changed the present theatre from that which the ancients actually saw, or to point out the traces of each transformation that now remain, to show that the “orchestra” was once a complete circle and lay much farther back. It will, however, be found interesting enough to clamber down over the tiers of seats to the bottom and inspect at leisure the carved chairs once allotted to various dignitaries, and bearing to this day the names of the officers who used them. Particularly fine is the chief seat of all, the carved chair of the high priest of Dionysus, in the very centre of the row, with its bas-relief of fighting cocks on the chair-arms still plainly to be seen. It is well to remember, however, that most of what the visitor sees is of a rather recent period as compared with other Athenian monuments, for it is stated that very little of the present visible theatre is of earlier date than the third century B.C., while much is of even a more recent time and is the work of the Romans. This is true, especially, of the conspicuous carved screen that runs along behind the orchestra space, and which may have supported the stage—if there was a stage at all. The paved orchestra will also strike one as unusual, contrasting with the greensward to be seen in other similar structures, such as the theatre at Epidaurus.
The vexed question of the use of any elevated stage in Greek theatres so divides the skilled archæologists into warring camps even to-day that it ill becomes an amateur in the field to advance any opinion at all, one way or the other, upon the subject. There are eminent authorities who maintain that the use of a raised stage in such a theatre was utterly unknown by the ancients, and that any such development can only have come in comparatively modern times, under Roman auspices. Others insist, and with equal positiveness, that some sort of a stage was used by the more ancient Greeks. The arguments pro and con have waxed warm for several years, without convincing either side of its error. It is safe to say that American students generally incline to the view that there was no such raised stage, agreeing with the Germans, while English scholars appear generally to believe that the stage did exist and was used. As just remarked, the views of mere laymen in such a case are of small account, and I shall spare the reader my own, saying only that in the few reproductions of Greek plays that I myself have seen, there has been no confusion whatever produced by having the principal actors present in the “orchestra” space with the chorus—and this, too, without the aid of the distinguishing cothurnos, or sandal, to give to the principals any added height. From this it seems to me not unreasonable to contend that, if a stage did exist, it was hardly called into being by any pressing necessity to avoid confusion, as some have argued; while, on the contrary, it does seem as if the separation of the chief actors to the higher level would often mar the general effect. Such a play as the “Agamemnon” of Æschylus would, it seems to me, lose much by the employment of an elevated platform for those actors not of the chorus. In fact, there was no more need of any such difference in level, to separate chorus from principal, in ancient times than there is to-day. The ancients did, however, seek to differentiate the principals from the chorus players, by adding a cubit unto their stature, so to speak, for they devised thick-soled sandals that raised them above the ordinary height. Besides this they employed masks, and occasionally even mechanism for aerial acting, and also subterranean passages.
Whatever we may each conclude as to the existence or non-existence of an elevated stage at the time of Pericles, we shall all agree, no doubt, that our modern stagecraft takes its nomenclature direct from the Greek. The “orchestra,” which in the old Greek meant the circle in which the dancing and acting took place, we have taken over as a word referring to the floor space filled with the best seats, and by a still less justifiable stretch of the meaning we have come to apply it to the musicians themselves. Our modern “scene” is simply the old Greek word σκηνή (skèné), meaning a “tent,” which the ancient actors used as a dressing-room. The marble or stone wall, of varying height, and pierced by doors for the entrance and exit of actors, was called by the Greeks the “proskenion,” or structure before the skèné, serving to conceal the portions behind the scenes and add background to the action. The word is obviously the same as our modern “proscenium,” though the meaning to-day is entirely different. In ancient times the proskenion, instead of being the arch framing the foreground of a “scene,” was the background, or more like our modern “drop” scene. Being of permanent character and made of stone, it generally represented a palace, with three entrances, and often with a colonnade. At either side of the proskenion were broad roads leading into the orchestra space, called the “parodoi,” by means of which the chorus entered and departed on occasion, and through which chariots might be driven. Thus, for instance, in the “Agamemnon,” that hero and Cassandra drove through one of the parodoi into the orchestra, chariots and all—a much more effective entrance than would have been possible had they been forced to climb aloft to a stage by means of the ladder represented on some of the vases as used for the purpose. The side from which the actor entered often possessed significance, as indicating whether he came from the country or from the sea. As for disagreeable scenes, such as the murders which form the motif of the Oresteian trilogy, it may not be out of place to remark that they were almost never represented on the stage in sight of the orchestra or spectators, but were supposed always to take place indoors, the audience being apprized of events by groans and by the explanations of the chorus. The ordinary theatrical performance was in the nature of a religious ceremony, the altar of the god being in the centre of the orchestra space, and served by the priest before the play began. And in leaving the subject, one may add that many Greek plays required sequels, so that they often came in groups of three, each separate from the other, but bearing a relation to each other not unlike our several acts of a single piece. So much for Greek theatres in general, and the theatre of Dionysus in particular.
Leaving it by the iron gate above and plunging into a labyrinthine mass of houses just outside, one will speedily come upon an interesting monument called the “choragic monument of Lysicrates.” This is the only remaining representative of a series of pedestals erected by victors in musical or dancing fêtes to support tripods celebrating their victories. This one, which is exceedingly graceful, has managed to survive and is a thing of beauty still, despite several fires and vicissitudes of which it bears traces. The street is still called the “Street of the Tripods.”
TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS
A few steps farther, and one emerges from the narrower lanes into the broader avenues of the city, and is confronted at once by the arch of Hadrian, which stands in an open field across the boulevard of Amalia. It is frankly and outspokenly Roman, of course, and does not flatter the Latin taste as compared with the Greek. It need delay nobody long, however, for the tall remaining columns of the temple of Olympian Zeus are just before, and are commanding enough to inspire attention at once. To those who prefer the stern simplicity of the Doric order of columns, the Corinthian capitals will not appeal. But the few huge, weathered pillars, despite the absence of roof or of much of the entablature, are grand in their own peculiar way, and the vast size of the temple as it originally stood may serve to show the reverence in which the father of the gods was held in the city of his great daughter, Athena. The more florid Corinthian capital seems to have appealed to the Roman taste, and it is to be remembered that this great temple, although begun by Greeks, was completed in the time of Hadrian and after the dawn of the Christian era: so that if it disappoints one in comparison with the more classic structures of the Acropolis, it may be set down to the decadent Hellenistic taste rather than to a flaw in the old Hellenic. As for the Corinthian order of capital, it is supposed to have been devised by a Corinthian sculptor from a basket of fruit and flowers which he saw one day on a wall, perhaps as a funeral tribute. The idea inspired him to devise a conventionalized flower basket with the acanthus leaf as the main feature, and to apply the same to the ornamentation of the tops of marble columns, such as these.
On the northern side of the Acropolis, down among the buildings and alleys of the so-called “Turkish” quarter, there exist several fragmentary monuments, which may be passed over with little more than a word. The most complete and at the same time the most interesting of these relics is unquestionably the “Tower of the Winds,” an octagonal building not unlike a windmill in shape and general size, but devoted originally to the uses of town clock and weather bureau. On its cornices, just below the top, are carved eight panels facing the different points of the compass, the figures in high relief representing the several winds. The appropriate general characteristics of each wind are brought out by the sculpture—here an old man of sour visage brings snow and storms; another, of more kindly mien, brings gentle rain; others bring flowers and ripening fruits. A weather-vane once surmounted the structure. Near by, scattered among the houses, are bits of old porticoes, sometimes areas of broken columns, and at others quite perfect specimens still bearing their pedimental stones, testifying to the former presence of ancient market places, or public meeting places, in large part belonging to the later, or Roman, period. It was in this general vicinity that the original agora, or market place, stood, no doubt. In some of the porticoes were often to be found teachers of one sort or another, and in one “stoa” of this kind, we are told, taught those philosophers who, from the location of their school, came to be called "stoics"—giving us an adjective which to-day has lost every vestige of its derivative significance. Nothing remains of the other famous structures that are supposed to have been located in this vicinity, or at least nothing has been unearthed as yet, although possibly if some of the congested and rather mean houses of the quarter could be removed, some vestiges of this important section of the classic city might be recovered. Nothing remains of the ancient “agora,” or market place, in which St. Paul said he saw the altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” But the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, where Paul is supposed to have stood when he made his noble speech to the men of Athens, is still left and well repays frequent visitation. Its ancient fame as the place where the god Ares, or Mars, was tried for his life, and as the place of deliberation over the gravest Athenian affairs, has been augmented by the celebrity it derived from the apostle’s eloquent argument, in which he commented on the activity of the Athenian mind and its fondness for theology, a characteristic rather inadequately brought out by the Bible’s rendering, “too superstitious.” The Areopagus to-day is a barren rock devoid of vegetation or of any trace of building, although rough-hewn steps here and there and a rude leveling of the top are visible. Of the great events that have passed on this rocky knoll not a trace remains. With reference to the Acropolis towering above and close at hand, Mars Hill seems small, but the ascent of it from the plain is long and steep enough. It is apparently no more than an outlying spur of the main rock of the Acropolis, from which it is separated by a slight depression; but it shares with the holy hill of Athena a celebrity which makes it the object of every thoughtful visitor’s attention. From its top one may obtain almost the best view of the afterglow of sunset on the temples and the Propylæa of the Acropolis, after the custodians of the latter have driven all visitors below; and sitting there as the light fades one may lose himself readily in a reverie in which the mighty ones of old, from Ares himself down to the mortal sages of later days, pass in grand review, only to fade away from the mind and leave the eloquent apostle of the newer religion saying to the citizens gathered around him, “Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” Let us, if we will, believe that it was “in the midst of Mars Hill” that Paul preached his sonorous sermon, despite a tendency among scholars to suggest that he probably stood somewhere else, “close by or near to” rather than “in the midst of” the spot. If we paid undue heed to these iconoclastic theories of scientists, what would become of all our cherished legends? The traveler in Greece loses half the charm of the place if he cannot become as a little child and believe a good many things to be true enough that perhaps can hardly stand the severe test of archæology. And why should he not do this?
Peopled with ghostly memories also is the long, low ridge of rocky ground to the westward, across the broad avenue that leads from the plain up to the Acropolis, still bearing its ancient name of the “Pnyx.” In the valley between lie evidences of a bygone civilization, the crowded foundations of ancient houses, perhaps of the poorer class, huddled together along ancient streets, the lines of which are faintly discernible among the ruins, while here and there are traces of old watercourses and drains, with deep wells and cisterns yawning up at the beholder. Thus much of the older town has been recovered, lying as it does in the open and beyond the reach of the present line of dwellings. Above this mass of ruin the hill rises to the ancient assembling place of the enfranchised citizens—the “Bema,” or rostrum, from which speeches on public topics were made to the assembled multitude. The Bema is still in place, backed by a wall of huge “Cyclopean” masonry. Curiously enough the ground slopes downward from the Bema to-day, instead of upward as a good amphitheatre for auditors should do, giving the impression that the eloquence of the Athenian orators must literally have gone over the heads of their audiences. That this was anciently the case appears to be denied, however, and we are told that formerly the topography was quite the reverse of modern conditions, made so artificially with the aid of retaining walls, now largely destroyed. Until this is understood, the Bema and its neighborhood form one of the hardest things in Athens to reconstruct in memory. It is from the rocky platform of this old rostrum that one gets the ideal view of the Acropolis, bringing out the perfect subordination of the Propylæa to the Parthenon, and giving even to-day a very fair idea of the appearance of the Acropolis and its temples as the ancients saw them. Fortunate, indeed, is one who may see these in the afternoon light standing out sharply against a background of opaque cloud, yet themselves colored by the glow of the declining sun. Of all the magnificent ruins in Greece, this is the finest and best,—the Acropolis from the Bema, or from any point along the ridge of the Pnyx.
Of course that temple which is called, though possibly erroneously, the Theseum, is one of the best preserved of all extant Greek temples of ancient date, and is one of the most conspicuous sights of Athens, after the Acropolis and the temples thereon. And yet, despite that fact, it somehow fails to arouse anything like the same enthusiasm in the average visitor. Just why this is so it may be rash to attempt to say, but I suspect it is chiefly because the Theseum is, after all, a rather colorless and uninspiring thing by comparison with the Parthenon, lacking in individuality, although doubtless one would look long before finding real flaws in its architecture or proportions. It simply suffers because its neighbors are so much grander. If it stood quite alone as the temple at Segesta stands, or as stand the magnificent ruins at Pæstum, it would be a different matter. As it is, with the Parthenon looking down from the Acropolis not far away, the Theseum loses immeasurably in the effect that a specimen of ancient architecture so obviously perfect ought, in all justice, to command. It seems entirely probable that the failure of this smaller temple to inspire and lay hold on Athenian visitors is due to the overshadowing effect of its greater neighbors, which it feebly resembles in form without at all equaling their beauty, and in part also, perhaps, to the uncertainty about its name. That it was really a temple of Theseus, an early king of Athens, seems no longer to be believed by any, although no very satisfactory substitute seems to be generally accepted. It will remain the Theseum for many years to come, no doubt, if not for all time. Theseus certainly deserved some such memorial as this, and it is not amiss to believe that the bones of the hero were actually deposited here by Cimon when he brought them back from Scyros. The services of Theseus to the city were great. If we may, in childlike trust, accept the testimony of legend, Theseus was the son of King Ægeus and Æthra, but was brought up in the supposition that he was a son of Poseidon, in the far city of Trœzen. When he grew up, however, he was given a sword and shield and sent to Athens, where his father, Ægeus, was king. Escaping poisoning by Medea, he appeared at the Athenian court, was recognized by his armor, and was designated by Ægeus as his rightful successor. He performed various heroic exploits, freed Athens of her horrid tribute of seven boys and seven girls paid to the Cretan Minotaur, came back triumphant to Athens only to find that Ægeus, mistaking the significance of his sails, which were black, had committed suicide by hurling himself in his grief from the Acropolis; and thereupon, Theseus became king. He united the Attic cities in one state, instituted the democracy and generously abdicated a large share of the kingly power, devised good laws, and was ever after held in high esteem by the city—although he died in exile at Scyros, to which place he withdrew because of a temporary coolness of his people toward him. Cimon brought back his bones, however, in 469 B.C., and Theseus became a demi-god in the popular imagination. The Theseum owes its splendid preservation to the fact that it was used, as many other temples were, as a Christian church, sacred to St. George of Cappadocia.
Infinitely more pregnant with definite interest is the precinct of the Ceramicus, near the Dipylon, or double gate, of the city, which gave egress to the Eleusis road on the western side of the town, the remains of which are easily to be seen to-day. The excavations at this point have recently been pushed with thoroughness and some very interesting fragments have come to light, buried for all these centuries in the “Themistoclean wall” of the city. It will be recalled that the Spartans, being jealous of the growing power of Athens, protested against the rebuilding of the walls. Themistocles, who was not only a crafty soul but in high favor at Athens at the time, undertook to go to Sparta and hold the citizens of that town at bay until the walls should be of sufficient height for defense. Accordingly he journeyed down to Sparta and pleaded the non-arrival of his ambassadorial colleagues as an excuse for delaying the opening of negotiations on the subject of the wall. Days passed and still the colleagues did not come, much to the ostensible anxiety and disgust of Themistocles, who still asserted they must soon arrive. Meantime every man, woman, and child in Athens was working night and day to build those walls, heaping up outworks for the city from every conceivable material, sparing nothing, not even the gravestones of the Ceramicus district, in their feverish anxiety to get the walls high enough to risk an attack. The Roman consul worked no more assiduously at hewing down the famous bridge, nor did Horatius labor more arduously at his task, than did Themistocles in diplomatic duel with the men of Sparta. At last the news leaked out—but it was too late. The walls were high enough at last, and all further pretense of a delayed embassy was dropped. The diplomacy of the wily Themistocles had triumphed—and by no means for the first time. Out of this so-called Themistoclean wall there have recently been taken some of the grave “stelae,” or flat slabs sculptured in low relief, from the places where the harassed Athenians cast them in such haste more than four centuries before Christ. They are battered and broken, but the figures on them are still easily visible, and while by no means sculpturally remarkable the relics possess an undoubted historical interest.
The tombs of the Ceramicus district, which form an important part of the sculptural remains of Athenian art, are still numerous enough just outside the Dipylon Gate, although many examples have been housed in the National Museum for greater protection against weather and vandals. Of those that fortunately remain in situ along what was the beginning of the Sacred Way to Eleusis, there are enough to give a very fair idea of the appearance of this ancient necropolis, while the entire collection of tombstones affords one of the most interesting and complete exhibits to be seen in Athens. The excellence of the work calls attention to the high general level of skill achieved by the artisans of the time, for it is hardly to be assumed that these memorials of the dead were any more often the work of the first Athenian artists of that day than is the case among our own people at present.
The whole question of the Greek tomb sculpture is a tempting one, and a considerable volume of literature already exists with regard to it. The artistic excellence of the stelae in their highest estate, the quaintness of the earlier efforts, the ultimate regulation of the size and style by statute to discourage extravagance, the frequent utilization of an older stone for second-hand uses, and a score of other interesting facts, might well furnish forth an entire chapter. As it is, we shall be obliged here briefly to pass over the salient points and consider without much pretense of detail the chief forms of tomb adornment that the present age has to show, preserved from the day when all good Athenians dying were buried outside the gates on the Eleusinian way. Not only carved on the stelae themselves, but also placed on top of them, are to be seen reliefs or reproductions of long-necked amphorae, or two-handled vases, in great numbers. These are now known to have had their significance as referring to the unmarried state of the deceased. They are nothing more nor less than reproductions of the vases the Greek maidens used to carry to the spring Callirrhoë for water for the nuptial bath, and the use of them in the tomb sculpture, on the graves of those who died unmarried, is stated to have grown out of the idea that “those who died unwed had Hades for their bridegroom.” These vases come the nearest to resembling modern grave memorials of any displayed at Athens, perhaps. The rest of the gravestones are entirely different both in appearance and in idea from anything we are accustomed to-day to use in our cemeteries, and it is likely to be universally agreed that they far eclipse our modern devices in beauty. The modern graveyard contents itself in the main with having its graves marked with an eye to statistics, rather than artistic effect, save in the cases of the very rich, who may invoke the aid of eminent sculptors to adorn their burial plots. In Athens this seems not to have been so. There is very little in the way of inscription on the stones, save for the name. The majority are single panels containing bas-reliefs, which may or may not be portraits of the departed.
TOMB AMPHORA, CERAMICUS
The usual type of tomb relief of this sort seems to be a group of figures, sometimes two, sometimes three or four, apparently representing a leave-taking, or frequently the figure of a person performing some characteristic act of life. Of the latter the well-known tomb of Hegeso, representing a woman attended by her maid fingering trinkets in a jewel casket, is as good a type as any, and it has the added merit of standing in its original place in the street of the tombs. Others of this kind are numerous enough in the museum. The aversion to the representation of death itself among the ancient Greeks is well understood, and many have argued from it that these tomb reliefs indicate an intention to recall the deceased as he or she was in life, without suggestion of mourning. Nevertheless, the obvious attitudes of sorrowful parting visible in many of the tomb stelae seem to me to do violence to this theory in its full strength. Among those which seem most indicative of this is a very well-executed one showing three figures,—an old man, a youth, and a little lad. The old man stands looking intently, but with a far-away gaze, at a splendidly built but thoughtful-visaged young man before him, while the lad behind is doubled up in a posture plainly indicating extreme grief, with his face apparently bathed in tears. The calm face of the youth, the grave and silent grief of the paternal-looking man, and the unbridled emotion of the boy, all speak of a parting fraught with intense sorrow. It might be any parting—but is it not more reasonable to assume that it means the parting which involves no return?
The more archaic gravestones are best typified by the not unfamiliar sculpture, in low relief, of a warrior leaning on a spear, or by the well-known little figure of Athena, similarly poised, mourning beside what appears to be a gravestone of a hero. It was one of the former type that we saw exhumed from the Themistoclean wall, with the warrior’s figure and portions of the spear still easily discernible.
TOMB RELIEF, CERAMICUS
It remains to speak, though very briefly and without much detail, of the National Museum itself, which is one of the chief glories of Athens, and which divides with the Acropolis the abiding interest and attention of every visitor. It is in many ways incomparable among the great museums of the world, although others can show more beautiful and more famous Greek statues. The British Museum has the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon, which one would to-day greatly prefer to see restored to Athens; the Vatican holds many priceless and beautiful examples of the highest Greek sculptural art; Munich has the interesting pedimental figures from the temple at Ægina; Naples and Paris have collections not to be despised; but nowhere may one find under a single roof so wide a range of Greek sculpture, from the earliest strivings after form and expression to the highest ultimate success, as in the Athenian National Museum, with its priceless treasures in marble and in bronze. The wealth of statues, large and small, quaintly primitive or commandingly lovely, in all degrees of relief and in the round, is stupendous. And while it may be heresy to pass over the best of the marbles for anything else, it is still a fact that many will turn from all the other treasures of the place to the “bronze boy” as we will call him for lack of a better name. This figure of a youth, of more than life size and poised lightly as if about to step from his pedestal, with one hand extended, and seemingly ready to speak, is far less well known than he deserves to be, chiefly because it is but a few years since the sponge divers found him in the bed of the ocean and brought him back to the light of day. At present nobody presumes to say whether this splendid figure represents any particular hero. He might be Perseus, or Paris, or even Hermes. His hand bears evidence of having at one time clasped some object, whether the head of Medusa, the apple, or the caduceus, it is impossible to say. But the absence of winged sandals appears to dismiss the chance that he was Hermes, and the other identifications are so vague as to leave it perhaps best to refer to him only as an “ephebus,” or youth. The bronze has turned to a dark green, and such restorations as had to be made are quite invisible, so that to all outward seeming the statue is as perfect as when it was first cast. The eyes, inlaid with consummate skill to simulate real eyes, surpass in lifelike effect those of the celebrated bronze charioteer at Delphi. That a more detailed description of this figure is given here is not so much that it surpasses the other statues of the museum, but because it is so recent in its discovery that almost nothing has been printed about it for general circulation.
National Museum, Athens
It would be almost endless and entirely profitless to attempt any detailed consideration of the multitude of objects of this general sculptural nature which the museum contains, and volumes have been written about them all, from the largest and noblest of the marbles to the smallest of the island gems. It may not be out of place, however, to make brief mention of the spoils of Mycenæ which are housed here, and which reproductions have made generally familiar, because later we shall have occasion to visit Mycenæ itself and to discuss in more detail that once proud but now deserted city, the capital which Agamemnon made so famous. In a large room set apart for the purpose are to be seen the treasures that were taken from the six tombs, supposed to be royal graves, that were unearthed in the midst of the Mycenæan agora, including a host of gold ornaments, cups, rosettes, chains, death masks, weapons, and human bones. Whether Dr. Schliemann, as he so fondly hoped and claimed, really laid bare the burial place of the conqueror of Troy, or whether what he found was something far less momentous, the fact remains that he did exhume the bodies of a number of personages buried in the very spot where legend said the famous heroes and heroines were buried, together with such an array of golden gear that it seems safe to assert that these were at any rate the tombs of royalty. If one can divest his mind of the suspicions raised by the ever-cautious archæologist and can persuade himself that he sees perhaps the skeleton and sword of the leader of the Argive host that went to recapture Helen, this Mycenæan room is of literally overwhelming interest. Case after case ranged about the room reveals the cunningly wrought ornaments that gave to Mycenæ the well-deserved Homeric epithet “rich-in-gold.” From the grotesque death masks of thin gold leaf to the heavily embossed Vaphio cups, everything bears testimony to the high perfection of the goldsmith’s art in the pre-Homeric age. Of all this multitude of treasures, the chief objects are unquestionably the embossed daggers and the large golden cups, notably the two that bear the exceedingly well-executed golden bulls, and the so-called “Nestor” cup, which, with its rather angular shape and its double handle, reproduces exactly the cup that Homer describes as belonging to that wise and reverend counselor.
As has been hinted, the scientific archæologists, less swept away by Homeric enthusiasm than was Schliemann, have proved skeptical as to the identification of the tombs which Schliemann so confidently proclaimed at first discovery. The unearthing of a sixth tomb, where the original excavator had looked for only five, is supposed to have done violence to the Agamemnonian theory. But what harm can it do if we pass out of the Mycenæan room with a secret, though perhaps an ignorant, belief that we have looked upon the remains and accoutrements of one who was an epic hero, the victim of a murderous queen, the avenger of a brother’s honor, and the conqueror of a famous city? It is simply one more of those cases in which one gains immeasurably in pleasure if he can dismiss scientific questionings from his mind and pass through the scene unskeptical of the heroes of the mighty past, if not of the very gods of high Olympus themselves. It may be wrong; to a scientific investigator such guileless trust is doubtless laughable. But on our own heads be it if therein we err!
As the admirable Baedeker well says, the stay in Athens is undoubtedly the finest part of a visit to Greece, and it is so not merely because of the many attractions and delights of the city itself, but because also of the numerous short trips aside which can be made in a day’s time, without involving a night’s absence. Such little journeys include the ascent of Pentelicus, whose massive peak rises only a few miles away, revealing even from afar the great gash made in his side by the ancients in quest of marble for their buildings and statues; the ride out to the battlefield of Marathon; the incomparable drive to Eleusis; the jaunt by rail or sea to Sunium; and last, but by no means least, the sail over to Ægina. Marathon has no ruins to show. Aside from the interest attaching to that famous battleground as a site, there is nothing to call one thither, if we except the tumulus, or mound, which marks the exact spot of the conflict which was so important to the history of western Europe. Neither Marathon nor Thermopylæ can offer much to-day but memories. But Sunium, Ægina, and Eleusis possess ruins decidedly worth a visit in addition to much scenic loveliness, and the last-named is a spot so interwoven with the highest and best in Greek tradition that it offers a peculiar charm.
It is perfectly possible to journey to Eleusis by train, but to elect that method of approach is to miss one of the finest carriage rides to be had in the vicinity of Athens. The road leads out of the city through its unpretentious western quarter, by the “street of the tombs” to the vale of the Cephissus, where it follows the line of the old “sacred way” to Eleusis, over which, on the stated festivals, the procession of torch-bearing initiates wended its way by night to the shrine of Demeter. From the river—which to-day is a mere sandy channel most of the year—the smooth, hard highway rises gradually from the Attic plain to the mountain wall of Parnes, making straight for a narrow defile still known as the Pass of Daphne. This pass affords direct communication between the Attic and Thriasian plains, and save for the loftier valley farther north, through which the Peloponnesian railroad runs, is the only break in the mountain barrier. Eleusis and Attica were always so near—and yet so far apart. When the Spartans invaded the region, Athens felt no alarm from their proximity until they had actually entered her own plain, so remote seemed the valley about Eleusis, despite its scant ten miles of distance, simply because it was so completely out of sight. As the carriage ascends the gentle rise to the pass, the plain of Attica stretches out behind, affording an open vista from the Piræus to the northern mountains, a green and pleasant vale despite its dearth of trees, while the city of Athens dominates the scene and promises a fine spectacle by sunset as one shall return from the pass at evening, facing the commanding Acropolis aglow in the after-light.
A halt of a few moments at the top of the pass gives an opportunity to alight and visit an old church just beside the road. It was once adjoined by some monastic cloisters, now in ruins. Unlike most of the Greek churches, this one possesses a quaint charm from without, and within displays some very curious old mosaics in the ceiling. On either side of its doorway stand two sentinel cypresses, their sombre green contrasting admirably with the dull brown tones of the building, while across the close, in a gnarled old tree, are hung the bells of the church. The use of the neighboring tree as a campanile is by no means uncommon in Greece, and a pretty custom it is. The groves were God’s first temples; and if they are no longer so, it is yet true in Greece at least that the trees still bear the chimes that call the devout to prayer. Inside the building, in addition to the quaint Byzantine decorations, one may find something of interest in the curious votive offerings, before referred to as common in Greek churches, suspended on the altar screen. Thanks for the recovered use of arms, eyes, legs, and the like seem to be expressed by hanging in the church a small white-metal model of the afflicted organ which has been so happily restored. I believe I have called attention to this practice as a direct survival of the old custom of the worshipers of Asklepios, which finds a further amplification in many churches farther west,—in Sicily, for example,—where pictures of accidents are often found hung in churches by those who have been delivered from bodily peril and who are desirous to commemorate the fact. In the church in Daphne Pass we found for the first time instances of the votive offering of coins, as well as of anatomical models. The significance of this I do not pretend to know, but by analogy one might assume that the worshiper was returning thanks for relief from depleted finances. The coins we saw in this church were of different denominations, all of silver, and representing several different national currency systems.
Behind the church on either side rise the pine-clad slopes of the Parnes range, displaying a most attractive grove of fragrant trees, through the midst of which Daphne’s road permits us to pass. And in a brief time the way descends toward the bay of Salamis, shining in the sun, directly at one’s feet, while the lofty and extensive island of that immortal name appears behind it. So narrow are the straits that for a long time Salamis seems almost like a part of the mainland, while the included bay appears more like a large and placid lake than an arm of a tideless sea. The carriage road skirts the wide curve of the bay for several level miles, the village of Eleusis—now called Levsina—being always visible at the far extremity of the bay and marked from afar by prosaic modern factory chimneys. It lies low in the landscape, which is a pastoral one. The highway winds along past a score of level farms, and at least two curious salt lakes are to be seen, lying close to the road and said to be tenanted by sea fish, although supplied apparently from inland sources. They are higher in level than the bay, and there is a strong outflow from them to the sea waters beyond. Nevertheless, they are said to be salt and to support salt-water life.
Eleusis as a town is not attractive. The sole claim on the visitor is found in the memories of the place and in the ruined temples, which are in the heart of the village itself. The secret of the mysteries, despite its wide dissemination among the Athenians and others, has been well kept—so well that almost nothing is known of the ceremony and less of its teaching. In a general way there is known only the fact that it had to do with the worship of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, and that the mysteries concerned in some way the legend of the rape of Kora (Proserpine) by Hades (Pluto). There are hints as to certain priests, sacred vessels, symbols and rites, some of which appear not to have been devoid of grossness—but nothing definite is known, and probably nothing definite ever will be. The general tone of the mysteries seems to have been high, for no less an authority than Cicero, who was initiated into the cult in the later and decadent days of the Greek nation, regarded the teachings embodied in the Eleusinian rites as the highest product of the Athenian culture, and averred that they “enabled one to live more happily on earth and to die with a fairer hope.” It was, of course, unlawful for anybody to reveal the secrets; and although the initiation was apparently open to any one who should seek it, so that the number of devotees was large during a long succession of years, the secret was faithfully kept by reason of the great reverence in which the mysteries were held. That some of the features verged on wanton license has been alleged, and it may have been this that inspired the wild and brilliant young Alcibiades to burlesque the ceremony, to the scandal of pious Athenians and to his own ultimate undoing. For it was a trial on this charge that recalled Alcibiades from Sicily and led to his disgrace.
The approach to the vast main temple is unusual, in that it is by an inclined plane rather than by steps. Even to-day the ruts of chariot wheels are to be distinguished in this approaching pavement. The temple itself was also most unusual, for instead of a narrow cella sufficient only for the colossal image of the deity, there was a vast nave, and room for a large concourse of worshipers. On the side next the hillock against which the temple was built there is a long, low flight of hewn steps, possibly used for seats, while the many column bases seem to argue either a second story or a balcony as well as a spacious roof. Much of the original building is distinguishable, despite the fact that the Romans added a great deal; for the Latin race seems to have found the rites to its liking, so that it took care to preserve and beautify the place after its own ideas of beauty. If the surviving medallion of some Roman emperor which is to be seen near the entrance of the Propylæa is a fair sample, however, one may doubt with reason the effectiveness of the later additions to the buildings on the spot. The Roman Propylæa was built by Appius Claudius Pulcher, but if the medallion portrait is his own, one must conclude that the “Pulcher” was gross flattery.
The ruins are extensive, but mainly flat, so that their interest as ruins is almost purely archæological. The ordinary visitor will find the chief charm in the memories of the place. Of course there is a museum on the spot, as in every Greek site. It contains a large number of fragments from the temples and Propylæa, bits of statuary and bas-relief having chiefly to do with Demeter and her attendant goddesses. By far the most interesting and most perfect of the Eleusinian reliefs, however, is in the national museum at Athens—a large slab representing Demeter and Proserpine bestowing the gift of seed corn on the youth Triptolemus, who is credited with the invention of the plow. For some reason, doubtless because of the hospitality of his family to her, Triptolemus won the lasting favor of Demeter, who not only gave him corn but instructed him in the art of tilling the stubborn glebe. It seems entirely probable that Triptolemus and Kora shared in the mystic rites at Eleusis. As for the dying with a “fairer hope” spoken of by Cicero as inculcated by the ceremonies of the cult, one may conjecture that it sprang from some early pagan interpretation of the principle later enunciated in the Scriptural “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die.”
Eleusis itself lies on a low knoll in the midst of the Thriasian plain, which in early spring presents a most attractive appearance of fertility on every side, appropriately enough to the traditions of the spot. From the top of the hillock behind the great temple and the museum, one obtains a good view of the vale northward and of the sacred way winding off toward Corinth by way of Megara. Where the plain stops and the mountain wall approaches once again close to the sea, this road grows decidedly picturesque, recalling in a mild way the celebrated Amalfi drive as it rises and falls on the face of the cliff. Nor should one pass from the subject of Eleusis without mentioning the numerous little kids that frisk over the ruins, attended by anxious mother-goats, all far from unfriendly. Kids are common enough sights in Greece, and to lovers of pets they are always irresistible; but nowhere are they more so than at Eleusis, where they add their mite of attractiveness to the scene. The grown-up goat is far from pretty, but by some curious dispensation of nature the ugliest of animals seem to have the most attractive young, and the frisking lambs and kids of Greece furnish striking examples of it.
The ride back to the city must be begun in season to get the sunset light on the west front of the Acropolis, which is especially effective from the Eleusis road all the way from Daphne’s Pass to the city proper. As for Salamis, which is always in sight until the pass is crossed, it is enough to say that, like Marathon, it is a place of memories only. The bay that one sees from the Eleusis road is not the one in which the great naval battle was fought. That lies on the other side, toward the open gulf, and is best seen from the sea. Few care to make a special excursion to the island itself, which is rocky and barren, and after all the chief interest is in its immediate waters. The account of the battle in Herodotus is decidedly worth reading on the spot, and to this day they will show you a rocky promontory supposed to have been the point where Xerxes had his throne placed so that he might watch the fight which resulted so disastrously to his ships. The battle, by the way, was another monument to the wiles of Themistocles, who recognized in the bulwarks of the ships the “wooden walls” which the oracle said would save Athens, and who, when he found the commanders weakening, secretly sent word to the Persians urging them to close in and fight. This was done; and the navy being reduced to the necessity of conflict acquitted itself nobly.
Of the other local excursions, that to Marathon is easily made in a day by carriage. There is little to see there, save a plain, lined on the one hand by the mountains which look on Marathon, and on the other by the sea, largely girt with marshes. The lion which once crowned the tumulus is gone, nobody knows whither. It is much, however, from a purely sentimental point of view, to have stood upon the site itself, the scene of one of the world’s famous battles. Some grudging critics, including the erudite Mahaffy, incline to believe that Marathon was a rather small affair, judged by purely military standards—a conflict of one undisciplined host with an even less disciplined one, in an age when battles ordinarily were won by an endurance of nerve in the face of a hand-to-hand charge rather than by actual carnage. These maintain that the chief celebrity of Marathon rests not on its military glories, but on the fame which the Athenians, a literary race, gave it in song and story. But even these have to admit that Marathon meant much to history, and that the psychological effect of it was enormous, as showing that the Persians were by no means invincible, so that ten years later Salamis put the finishing blow to Persian attempts on the west. For those who do not care to make the long ride to the field itself, it is quite possible to obtain a view of the plain from the summit of Pentelicus, something like fifteen miles away, although this does not reveal the mound marking the actual site.
That mountain’s chief celebrity is, of course, to be found in the great marble quarries from which came the stone for the Acropolis temples, and it is these rather than the view of Marathon that draw climbers to the famous height. The ancient quarries lie far up on the side of the slope, and the marks of the old chisels are still plainly to be discerned. The difficulties of getting out perfect stone in the ancient days seem to have been enormous; but that they were surmounted is obvious from the fact that the great blocks used in building the Parthenon and Propylæa were handled with comparative speed, as shown by the relatively few years occupied in erecting them. It seems probable that the stone was slid down the mountain side in chutes to the point where it was feasible to begin carting it. Inherent but invisible defects naturally occurred, and these the ancients managed to detect by sounding with a mallet. Samples of these imperfect blocks are to be seen lying where they fell when the builders rejected them, not only on the road by the quarries but on the Acropolis itself.
THE TEMPLE AT SUNIUM
Sunium, the famous promontory at the extremity of the Attic peninsula, may be reached by a train on the road that serves the ancient silver mines of Laurium, but as the trains are slow and infrequent it is better, if one can, to go down by sea. Our own visit was so made, the vessel landing us accommodatingly at the foot of the promontory on which a few columns of the ancient temple are still standing. The columns that remain are decidedly whiter than those on the Acropolis, and the general effect is highly satisfying to one’s preconceived ideas of Greek ruins. Dispute is rife as to the particular deity to whom this shrine was anciently consecrated, and the rivalry lies between those traditional antagonists, Athena and Poseidon, each of whom advances plausible claims. How the case can be decided without another contest between the two, like that supposed to have taken place on the Acropolis itself and depicted by Pheidias, is not clear. For who shall decide when doctors of archæology disagree?
The chief architectural peculiarity of the Sunium temple is the arrangement of its frontal columns "in antis,"—that is to say, included between two projecting ends of the side walls. And, in addition, one regrets to say that the ruin is peculiar in affording evidences of modern vandalism more common in our own country than in Hellas, namely, the scratching of signatures on the surface of the stone. All sorts of names have been scrawled there,—English, French, Italian, American, Greek,—and most famous of all, no doubt, the unblushing signature of no less a personage than Byron himself! Perhaps, however, it is not really his. There may be isolated instances of this low form of vandalism elsewhere, but I do not recall any that can compare with the volume of defacing scrawls to be seen at Sunium.
Lovelier far than Sunium is the situation of the temple in Ægina, occupying a commanding height in that large and lofty island on the other side of the gulf, opposite the Piræus and perhaps six or seven miles distant from that port. The journey to it is necessarily by sea, and it has become a frequent objective point for steamer excursions landing near the temple itself rather than at the distant town. In the absence of a steamer, it is possible to charter native boats for a small cost and with a fair breeze make the run across the bay in a comparatively brief time. From the cove where parties are generally landed the temple cannot be seen, as the slopes are covered with trees and the shrine itself is distant some twenty minutes on foot. Donkeys can be had, as usual, but they save labor rather than time, and the walk, being through a grove of fragrant pines, is far from arduous or fatiguing. The odor of the pines is most agreeable, the more so because after one has sojourned for a brief time in comparatively treeless Attica one is the more ready to welcome a scent of the forest. The pungency of the grove is due, however, less to the pine needles and cones than to the tapping, or rather “blazing,” of the trunks for their resin. Under nearly every tree will be found stone troughs, into which the native juice of the tree oozes with painful slowness. The resin, of course, is for the native wines, which the Greek much prefers flavored with that ingredient. The drinking of resinated wine is an acquired taste, so far as foreigners are concerned. Some solemnly aver that they like it,—and even prefer it to the unresinated kind; but the average man not to the manner born declares it to be only less palatable than medicine. The Greeks maintain that the resin adds to the healthfulness of the wines, and to get the gum they have ruined countless pine groves by this tapping process so evident in the Ægina woods, for the gashes cut in the trees have the effect of stunting the growth.
After a steady ascent of a mile or so, the temple comes suddenly into view, framed in a foreground of green boughs, which add immensely to the effectiveness of the picture, and which make one regret the passing of the Greek forests in other places. Once upon a time the ordinary temple must have gained greatly by reason of its contrast with the foliage of the surrounding trees; but to-day only those at Ægina and at Bassæ present this feature to the beholder. This Ægina temple is variously attributed to Athena and to Zeus Panhellenius, so that, as at Sunium, there is a chance for doubt. The chief peculiarity seems to be that the entrance door, which is as usual in the eastern side, is not exactly in the centre of the cella. The columns are still standing to a large extent, but the pedimental sculptures have been removed to Munich, so that the spot is robbed, as the Acropolis is, of a portion of its charm. It is a pity, because the Æginetan pedimental figures were most interesting, furnishing a very good idea of the Æginetan style of sculpture of an early date. The figures which survive, to the number of seventeen, in a very fair state of preservation, represent warriors in various active postures, and several draped female figures, including a large statue of Athena. Those who have never seen these at Munich are doubtless familiar with the reproductions in plaster which are common in all first-class museums boasting collections of Greek masterpieces.
THE APPROACH TO ÆGINA
THE TEMPLE AT ÆGINA
The island of Ægina, which is large and mountainous, forms a conspicuous feature of the gulf in which it lies. It is close to the Peloponnesian shore, and from the temple a magnificent view is outspread in every direction, not only over the mountains of the Argolid but northward toward Corinth,—and on a clear day it is said that even the summit of Parnassus can be descried. Directly opposite lies Athens, with which city the island long maintained a successful rivalry. The chief celebrity of the spot was achieved under its independent existence, about the seventh century B.C., and before Athens subjugated it. It was then tenanted by colonists from Epidaurus, who had the commercial instinct, and who made Ægina a most prosperous place. The name is said to be derived from the nymph Ægina, who was brought to the island by Zeus. The hardy Æginetan sailors were an important factor in the battle of Salamis, to which they contributed not only men but sacred images; and they were not entirely expelled from their land by the Athenian domination until 431 B.C. Thereafter the prominence of the city dwindled and has never returned.
It remains to describe an excursion which we made to the north of Athens one day shortly after Easter, to witness some peasant dances. These particular festivities were held at Menidi, and were rather less extensive than the annual Easter dances at Megara, but still of the same general type; and as they constitute a regular spring feature of Attic life, well worth seeing if one is at Athens at the Easter season, it is not out of place to describe them here. Either Megara or Menidi may be reached easily by train, and Menidi is not a hard carriage ride, being only six miles or so north of Athens, in the midst of the plain. It may be that these dances are direct descendants of ancient rites, like so many of the features of the present Orthodox church; but whatever their significance and history, they certainly present the best opportunity to see the peasantry of the district in their richest gala array, which is something almost too gorgeous to describe.
The drive out to the village over the old north road was dusty and hot, and we were haunted by a fear that the dances might be postponed, as occasionally happens. These doubts were removed, however, when Menidi at last hove in sight as we drove over an undulation of the plain and came suddenly upon the village in holiday dress, flags waving, peasant girls and swains in gala garb, and streets lined with booths for the vending of sweetmeats, Syrian peanuts, pistachio nuts, loukoumi, and what the New England merchant would call “notions.” Indeed, it was all very suggestive of the New England county fair, save for the gorgeousness of the costumes. The streets were thronged and everybody was in a high good-humor. What it was all about we never knew. Conflicting reports were gleaned from the natives, some to the effect that it was, and some that it was not, essentially a churchly affair; but all agreed apparently that it had no connection with the Easter feast, although it was celebrated something like five days thereafter. Others mentioned a spring as having something to do with it,—suggesting a possible pagan origin. This view gained color from the energy with which lusty youths were manipulating the town pump in the village square, causing it to squirt a copious stream to a considerable distance,—a performance in which the bystanders took an unflagging and unbounded delight. That the celebration was not devoid of its religious significance was evident from the open church close by thronged with devout people coming and going, each obtaining a thin yellow taper to light and place in the huge many-branched candelabrum. The number of these soon became so great that the priests removed the older ones and threw them in a heap below, to make room for fresh-lighted candles. Those who deposited coins in the baptismal font near the door were rewarded with a sprinkling of water by the attendant priest, who constantly dipped a rose in the font and shook it over those who sought this particular form of benison.
Outside, the square was thronged with merrymakers, some dancing in the solemn Greek fashion, in a circle with arms extended on each others’ shoulders, moving slowly around and around to the monotonous wail of a clarionet. Others were seated under awnings sipping coffee, and to such a resort we were courteously escorted by the local captain of the gendarmerie, whose acquaintance we had made in Athens and who proved the soul of hospitality. Here we sat and drank the delicious thick coffee, accompanied by the inevitable huge beaker of water drawn from the rocky slopes of Parnes, and watched the dancers and the passing crowds. The dress of the men was seldom conspicuous. Many wore European clothes like our own, although here and there might be seen one in the national costume of full white skirts and close-fitting leggings, leather wallet, and zouave jacket. But the women were visions of incomparable magnificence. Their robes were in the main of white, but the skirts were decked with the richest of woolen embroideries, heavy and thick, extending for several inches upward from the lower hem, in a profusion of rich reds, blues, and browns. Aprons similarly adorned were worn above. Most impressive of all, however, were the sleeveless overgarments or coats, such as we had seen and bickered over in Shoe Lane,—coats of white stuff, bordered with a deep red facing and overlaid with intricate tracery in gold lace and gold braid. These were infinitely finer than any we had seen in the Athens shops, and they made the scene gay indeed with a barbaric splendor. To add to the gorgeousness of the display, the girls wore flat caps, bordered with gold lace and coins, giving the effect of crowns, flowing veils which did not conceal the face but fell over the shoulders, and on their breasts many displayed a store of gold and silver coins arranged as bangles—their dowries, it was explained. Most of these young women were betrothed, it developed, and custom dictated this parade of the marriage portion, which is no small part of the Greek wedding arrangement. The cuffs of the full white sleeves were embroidered like the aprons and skirt bottoms, and the whole effect was such as to be impossible of adequate description.
PEASANT DANCERS AT MENIDI
One comely damsel, whose friends clamored us to photograph her, scampered nimbly into her courtyard, only to be dragged forth bodily by a proud young swain, who announced himself her betrothed and who insisted that she pose for the picture, willy-nilly,—which she did, joining amiably in the general hilarity, and exacting a promise of a print when the picture should be finished. The ice once broken, the entire peasant population became seized with a desire to be photographed, and it was only the beginning of the great dance that dissolved the clamoring throng.
The dance was held on a broad level space, just east of the town, about which a crowd had already gathered. We were escorted thither and duly presented to the demarch, or mayor, who bestowed upon us the freedom of the city and the hospitality of his own home if we required it. He was a handsome man, dressed in a black cut-away coat and other garments of a decidedly civilized nature, which seemed curiously incongruous in those surroundings, as indeed did his own face, which was pronouncedly Hibernian and won for him the sobriquet of "O'Sullivan" on the spot. His stay with us was brief, for the dance was to begin, and nothing would do but the mayor should lead the first two rounds. This he did with much grace, though we were told that he did not relish the task, and only did it because if he balked the votes at the next election would go to some other aspirant. The dance was simple enough, being a mere solemn circling around of a long procession of those gorgeous maidens, numbering perhaps a hundred or more, hand in hand and keeping time to the music of a quaint band composed of drum, clarionet, and a sort of penny whistle. The demarch danced best of all, and after two stately rounds of the green inclosure left the circle and watched the show at his leisure, his face beaming with the sweet consciousness of political security and duty faithfully performed.
How long the dance went on we never knew. The evening was to be marked by a display of fireworks, the frames for which were already in evidence and betokened a magnificence in keeping with the costumes of the celebrants. For ourselves, satiated with the display, we returned to our carriage laden with flowers, pistachio nuts, and strings of beads bestowed by the abundant local hospitality, and bowled home across the plain in time to be rewarded with a fine sunset glow on the Parthenon as a fitting close for a most unusual and enjoyable day.
The pilgrimage to Delphi, which used to be fraught with considerable hardship and inconvenience, is happily so no longer. It is still true that the Greek steamers plying between the Piræus and Itea, the port nearest the ancient oracular shrine, leave much to be desired and are by no means to be depended upon to keep to their schedules; but aside from this minor difficulty there is nothing to hinder the ordinary visitor from making the journey, which is far and away the best of all ordinary short rambles in Greece, not only because of the great celebrity of the site itself, but because of the imposing scenic attractions Delphi has to show. The old-time drawback, the lack of decent accommodation at Delphi itself, or to be more exact, at the modern village of Kastri, has been removed by the presence of two inns, of rather limited capacity, it is true, but still affording very tolerable lodging. Indeed, hearsay reported the newer of these tiny hostelries to be one of the best in Greece outside of Athens, while the other quaint resort, owned and operated by the amiable Vasili Paraskevas, one of the “local characters” of the place, has long been esteemed by Hellenic visitors. Vasili, in appearance almost as formidable as the ancient Polyphemus, but in all else as gentle as the sucking dove, has felt the force of competition, and his advertisements easily rival those of the Hotel Cecil. As a matter of fact, the establishment is delightfully primitive, seemingly hanging precariously to the very edge of the deep ravine that lies just under lofty Delphi, boasting several small rooms and even the promise of a bath-tub, although Vasili was forced to admit that his advertisement in that respect was purely prospective and indicative of intention rather than actuality.
The truly adventurous may still approach Delphi over the ancient road by land from the eastward, doubtless the same highway that was taken by old King Laios when he was slain on his way to the oracle, all unwitting of the kinship, by his own son Œdipus,—possibly because of a dispute as to which should yield the road. For the old road was a narrow one, with deep ruts, suitable for a single chariot, but productive of frequent broils when two such haughty spirits met on the way. To come to Delphi over this road and to depart by sea is doubtless the ideal plan. That we elected not to take the land voyage was due to the early spring season, with its snows on the shoulder of Parnassus, around which the path winds. For those less hindered by the season, it is said that the journey overland from Livadià to Delphi, passing through the tiny hamlet of Arákhova and possibly spending a night in the open air on Parnassus, is well worth the trouble, and justifies the expense of a courier and horses, both of which are necessary.
The way which we chose, besides being infinitely easier, is far from being devoid of its interesting features. We set sail in the early afternoon from the Piræus, passing over a glassy sea by Psyttalea, and the famous waters in front of Salamis, to Corinth, where the canal proved sufficiently wide to let our little craft steam through to the gulf beyond. It was in the gathering dusk that we entered this unusual channel, but still it was light enough to see the entire length of the canal, along the deep sides of which electric lamps glimmered few and faint as a rather ineffectual illuminant of the tow-path on either hand. The walls towered above, something like two hundred feet in spots, and never very low, making this four-mile ribbon of water between the narrow seas a gloomy cavern indeed. It was wide enough for only one craft of the size of our own, therein resembling the land highway to Delphi; but fortunately, owing to the system of semaphore signals, no Œdipus disputed the road with us, and we shot swiftly through the channel, between its towering walls of rock, under the spidery railroad bridge that spans it near the Corinth end, and out into the gulf beyond. It is rather a nice job of steering, this passage of the canal. Everybody was ordered off the bow, three men stood nervously at the wheel, and the jack staff was kept centred on the bright line that distantly marked the opening between the precipitous sides of the cleft, a line of light that gradually widened, revealing another sea and a different land as we drew near and looked out of our straight and narrow path of water into the Corinthian Gulf beyond. The magnificence of the prospect would be hard indeed to exaggerate. On either side of the narrow gulf rose billowy mountains, the northern line of summits dominated by the snowy dome of Parnassus, the southern by Cyllene, likewise covered with white. They were ghostly in the darkness, which the moon relieved only a little, shining fitfully from an overcast sky. The Corinthian Gulf is fine enough from the railway which skirts it all the way to Patras, but it is finer far from the sea, whence one sees both sides at once in all the glory of their steep gray mountains. Happily the night was calm, and the gulf, which can be as bad as the English Channel at its worst, was smooth for once as we swung away from the little harbor of modern Corinth and laid our course for the capes off Itea, something like forty miles away. And thus we went to rest, the steamer plowing steadily on through the night with Parnassus towering on the starboard quarter.
A vigorous blowing of the whistle roused the ship’s company at dawn. The vessel was at anchor off Itea, a starveling village not at all praised by those who have been forced to sample its meagre accommodations for a night. Fortunately it is no longer necessary to rely on these, for one may drive to Delphi in a few hours, and on a moonlight night the ride, while chilly, is said to be most delightful. Arriving as we did at early dawn, we were deprived of this experience, and set out from the village at once on landing to cover the nine miles to Kastri, some riding in carriages or spring carts,—locally called "sustas,"—some on mules, and others proceeding on foot. From afar we could already see the village, perched high on the side of the foothills of Parnassus, which rise abruptly some three miles away across a level plain. The plain proved to be delightful. Walled in on either hand by rocky cliffs, its whole bottom was filled with olive trees, through which vast grove the road wound leisurely along. Brooks babbled by through the grass of the great orchard, and the green of the herbage was spangled with innumerable anemones and other wild-flowers in a profusion of color. Far behind us in the background towered the Peloponnesian mountains, and before rose the forbidding cliffs that shut in Delphi. Above the distant Kastri, there was always the lofty summit of Parnassus, somewhat dwarfed by proximity and therefore a trifle disappointing to one whose preconceived notions of that classic mountain demanded splendid isolation, but still impressive.
THE PLAIN BELOW DELPHI
Naturally on this long, level plain the carriages soon passed us, and disappeared in the hills ahead, while the footpath left the highway and plunged off boldly into the olive grove in the general direction of Delphi. When it attained the base of the sharp ascent of the mountain-side, it went straight up, leaving the road to find its more gradual way by zigzags and détours,—windings so long that it soon developed that the carriages which so long ago had distanced us were in turn displaced and were later seen toiling up the steep behind us! The prospect rearward was increasingly lovely as we climbed and looked down upon the plain. It resembled nothing so much as a sea of verdure, the olive trees pouring into it from the uplands like a river, and filling it from bank to bank. No wonder this plain was deemed a ground worth fighting for by the ancients.
Despite the fact that the snows of Parnassus were apparently so near, the climb was warm. The rocky hillside gave back the heat of the April sun, although it was cloudy, and progress became necessarily slow, in part because of the warmth and in larger part because of the increasing splendor of the view. The path bore always easterly into a narrow gorge between two massive mountains, a gorge that narrowed and narrowed as the climb proceeded. Before very long we passed through a wayside hamlet that lies halfway up the road, exchanged greetings with the inhabitants, who proved a friendly people anxious to set us right on the way to Delphi, and speedily emerged from the nest of buildings on the path again, with Kastri always ahead and above, and seemingly as distant as ever. It was Palm Sunday, we discovered, and the populace of the tiny village all bore sprigs of greenery, which they pressed upon us and which later turned out to be more political than religious in their significance, since it was not only the day of the Lord’s triumphal entry but the closing day of the general elections as well.
Admiration for the green and fertile valley far behind now gave place to awe at the grim gorges before and the beetling cliffs towering overhead, up through which, like dark chimney flues, ran deep clefts in the rock, gloomy and mysterious, and doubtless potent in producing awe in the ancient mind by thus adding to the impressiveness of god-haunted Delphi. On the left the mountain rose abruptly and loftily to the blue; on the right the cliff descended sharply from the path to the dark depths of the ravine, while close on its other side rose again a neighboring mountain that inclosed this ever-narrowing gulch.
At last after a three-hour scramble over the rocks we attained Kastri, and found it a poor town lined with hovels, but, like Mount Zion, beautiful for situation. A brawling brook, fed by a spring above, dashed across the single street and lost itself in the depths of the ravine below. On either hand towered the steep sides of the surrounding cliffs, while before us the valley wound around a shoulder of the mountain and seemingly closed completely. Kastri did not always occupy this site, but once stood farther along around the mountain’s sharp corner, directly over the ancient shrine itself; and it was necessary for the French excavators who laid bare the ancient sites to have the village moved bodily by force and arms before any work could be done,—a task that was accomplished with no little difficulty, but which, when completed, enabled the exploration of what was once the most famous of all Pagan religious shrines. Curiously enough the restoration of the temples at Delphi fell to the hands of the French, the descendants of those very Gauls who, centuries before, had laid waste the shrines and treasuries of Loxias. We stopped long enough at Vasili’s to sample some "mastika,"—a native liqueur resembling anisette, very refreshing on a warm day,—and then walked on to the ruins which lie some few minutes’ walk farther around the shoulder of the mountain.
Nothing could well be more impressive than the prospect that opened out as we came down to the famous site itself. No outlet of the great vale was to be seen from this point, for the gorge winds about among the crags which rise high above and drop far below to the base of the rocky glen. Human habitation there is none. Kastri was now out of sight behind. On the roadside and in the more gradual slopes of the ravine below one might find olive trees, and here and there a plane. Beyond, through the mysterious windings of the defile runs the road to Arakhova. It was on this spot that Apollo had his most famous shrine, the abode of his accredited priestesses gifted with prophecy; and no fitter habitation for the oracle could have been found by the worshipers of old time than this gloomy mountain glen where nature conspires with herself to overawe mankind by her grandeur.
The legend has it that Apollo, born as all the world knows in far-off Delos, transferred his chief seat to Delphi just after his feat of slaying the Python. He is said to have followed that exploit by leaping into the sea, where he assumed the form of a huge dolphin (delphis), and in this guise he directed the course of a passing Cretan ship to the landing place at Itea, or Crissa. There, suddenly resuming his proper shape of a beautiful youth he led the wondering crew of the vessel up from the shore to the present site of Delphi, proclaimed himself the god, and persuaded the sailors to remain there, build a temple and become his priests, calling the spot “Delphi.” Tradition also asks us to believe that there then existed on the spot a cavern, from which issued vapors having a peculiar effect on the human mind, producing in those who breathed them a stupor in which the victim raved, uttering words which were supposed to be prophetic. Over this cave, if it existed, the temple was erected; and therein the priestess, seated on a tripod where she might inhale the vapors, gave out her answers to suppliants, which answers the corps of priests later rendered into hexameter verses having the semblance of sense, but generally so ambiguous as to admit of more than one interpretation. All sorts of tales are told of the effect of the mephitic gas on the pythoness—how she would writhe in uncontrollable fury, how her hair would rise on her head as she poured forth her unintelligible gibberish, and so forth; stories well calculated to impress a credulous race “much given to religion” as St. Paul so sagely observed. If there ever was any such cavern at all, it has disappeared, possibly filled with the débris of the ruins or closed by earthquake. Perhaps there never was any cave at all. In any event the wonders of the Delphic oracle were undoubtedly explicable, as such phenomena nearly always are, by perfectly natural facts. It has been pointed out that the corps of priests, visited continually as they were by people from all parts of the ancient world, were probably the best informed set of men on earth, and the sum total of their knowledge thus gleaned so far surpassed that of the ordinary mortal and so far exceeded the average comprehension that what was perfectly natural was easily made to appear miraculous. To the already awed suppliant, predisposed to belief and impressed by the wonderful natural surroundings of the place, it was not hard to pass off this world-wide information as inspired truth. Nor was it a long step from this, especially for clever men such as the priests seem to have been, to begin forecasting future events by basing shrewd guesses on data already in hand—these guesses being received with full faith by the worshiper as god-given prophecy. As an added safeguard the priests often handed down their predictions in ambiguous form, as, for example, in the famous answer sent to Crœsus, when he asked if he should venture an expedition against Cyrus—“If Crœsus shall attack Cyrus, he will destroy a great empire.” Such answers were of course agreeable to the suppliant, for they admitted of flattering interpretation; and it was only after trial that Crœsus discovered that the “great empire” he was fated to destroy was his own. At other times the guesses, not in ambiguous form, went sadly astray—as in the case where the Pythian, after balancing probabilities and doubtless assuming that the gods were always on the side of the heaviest battalions, advised the Athenians not to hope to conquer the invading Persians. This erroneous estimate was the natural one for informed persons to make,—and it is highly probable that it was influenced in part by presents from the Persian king, for such corruption of the oracle was by no means unknown. In fact it led to the ultimate discrediting of the oracle, and it was not long before the shrine ceased to be revered as a fountain of good advice. Nevertheless for many hundred years it was held in unparalleled veneration by the whole ancient world. Pilgrims came and went. Cities and states maintained rich treasuries there, on which was founded a considerable banking system. Games in honor of Pythian Apollo were celebrated in the stadium which is still to be seen high up on the mountain-side above the extensive ruins of the sacred precinct. Temple after temple arose about the great main shrine of the god. Even distant Cnidus erected a treasury, and victorious powers set up trophy after trophy there for battles won by land or sea—the politeness of the time preventing the mention of any Hellenic victim by name.
THE VALE OF DELPHI
All these remains have been patiently uncovered and laboriously identified and labeled, with the assistance of the voluminous writings of that patron saint of travelers, Pausanias. The work was done under the direction of the erudite French school, and the visitor of to-day, provided with the plan in his guide-book and aided by the numerous guide-posts erected on the spot, will find his way about with much ease. One of the buildings, the “treasury of the Athenians,” a small structure about the size of the Niké Apteros temple, is being “restored” by the excavators, but with rather doubtful success. Aside from this one instance, the ruins are mainly reconstructible only in the imagination from the visible ground-plans and from the fragments lying all about. In the museum close by, however, some fractional restorations indoors serve to give a very excellent idea of the appearance of at least two of the ancient buildings.
Space and the intended scope of this narrative alike forbid anything like a detailed discussion of the numerous ruins that line the zigzag course of the old “sacred way.” The visitor, thanks to the ability of the French school, is left in no doubt as to the identity of the buildings, and the wayfaring man, though no archæologist, need not err. One may remark in passing, however, the curious polygonal wall of curved stones still standing along a portion of the way and still bearing the remnant of a colonnade, with an inscription indicating that once a trophy was set up here by the Athenians,—possibly the beaks of conquered ships. Of course the centre and soul of the whole precinct was the great temple of Apollo, now absolutely flat in ruins, but once a grand edifice indeed. The Alcmæonidæ, who had the contract for building it, surprised and delighted everybody by building better than the terms of their agreement demanded, providing marble ends for the temple and pedimental adornment as well, when the letter of the contract would have been satisfied with native stone. Thus shrewdly did a family that was in temporary disfavor at Athens win its way back to esteem!
However easy it may be to explain with some plausibility the ordinary feats of the oracle at Delphi as accomplished by purely natural means, there was an occasional tour de force that even to-day would pass for miraculous—supposing that there be any truth in the stories as originally told. The most notable instance was one in which Crœsus figured. That wealthy monarch was extremely partial to oracles, and generally consulted them before any considerable undertaking. On the occasion in question he contemplated an expedition against Cyrus—the same which he eventually undertook because of the enigmatic answer before referred to—and made extraordinary preparations to see that the advice given him was trustworthy. For Crœsus, with all his credulity, was inclined to be canny, and proposed to test the powers of the more famous oracular shrines by a little experiment. So he sent different persons, according to Herodotus, to the various oracles in Greece and even in Libya, "some to Phocis, some to Dodona, others to Amphiaraus and Trophonius, and others to Branchidæ of Milesia, and still others to Ammon in Libya. He sent them in different ways, desiring to make trial of what the oracle knew, in order that, if they should be found to know the truth, he might send a second time to inquire whether he should venture to make war on the Persians. He laid upon them the following orders: That, computing the days from the time of their departure from Sardis, they should consult the oracles on the hundredth day by asking what Crœsus, the son of Alyattes, was then doing. They were to bring back the answer in writing. Now what the answers were that were given by the other oracles is mentioned by none; but no sooner had the Lydian ambassadors entered the temple at Delphi and asked the question than the Pythian spoke thus, in hexameter verse: 'I know the number of the sands and the measure of the sea; I understand the dumb and hear him that does not speak; the savor of the hard-shelled tortoise boiled in brass with the flesh of lambs strikes on my senses; brass is laid beneath it and brass is put over it.' Now of all the answers opened by Crœsus none pleased him but only this. And when he had heard the answer from Delphi he adored it and approved it, and was convinced that the pythoness of Delphi was a real oracle because she alone had interpreted what he had done. For when he sent out his messengers to the several oracles, watching for the appointed day, he had recourse to the following contrivance, having thought of what it was impossible to discover or guess at. He cut up a tortoise and a lamb and boiled them himself together in a brazen caldron, and laid over it a cover of brass."
Thus, on one occasion, the oracle is supposed to have performed a feat of what we should now set down as telepathy, and which, if it really happened, would be explicable in no other way. It sufficed to establish Delphi as a shrine to be revered, in the mind of Crœsus, and to propitiate the god he sent magnificent gifts. And as these may serve to give some idea of the vast riches of the spot in bygone ages, it may be well to relate here what Crœsus is supposed to have sent. Herodotus relates that he made a prodigious sacrifice, in the flames of which he melted down an incredible amount of gold and silver. "Out of the metal thus melted down he cast half-bricks, of which the longest was six palms in length, the shortest three; and in thickness, each was one palm. Their number was one hundred and seventeen. Four of these, of pure gold, weighed each two talents and a half. The other bricks, of pale gold, weighed two talents each. He made also the figure of a lion, of fine gold, weighing ten talents. This lion, when the temple at Delphi was burned down, fell from its pedestal of half-bricks, for it was placed upon them. It now lies in the treasury of the Corinthians, weighing only six talents and a half,—for three talents and a half were melted from it in the fire. Crœsus, having finished these things, sent them to Delphi, and with them the following: two large bowls, one of gold and one of silver. The golden one was placed on the right as one enters the temple, and that of silver on the left; but they were removed when the temple was burning, and the gold bowl was set in the treasury of the Clazomenæ; while the silver one, which contains six hundred amphorae, lies in a corner of the Propylæa, and is used for mixing wine on the Theophanian festival. The Delians said it was the work of Theodorus the Samian, which was probably true, for it was no common work. He sent also four casks of silver, which also stand in the Corinthian treasury; and he dedicated two lustral vases, one of gold and the other of silver. The Spartans claim that the golden one was their offering, for it bears an inscription, ‘From the Lacedæmonians;’ but this is wrong, for Crœsus gave it. He sent many other offerings, among them some round silver covers, and also a golden statue of a woman, three cubits high, which the Delphians say is the image of Crœsus’s baking-woman. And to all these things he added the necklaces and girdles of his wife."
Such is the account given by Herodotus of the gifts bestowed by the king regarded as the richest of all the ancient monarchs. In return for his gifts he got the answer that “if Crœsus shall make war on the Persians he will destroy a mighty empire.” Crœsus was so delighted at this that he sent more gifts, “giving to each of the inhabitants of Delphi two staters of gold.” A further question as to how long he was destined to rule elicited the response, “When a mule shall become king of the Medes, then, tender-footed Lydian, flee over the pebbly Hermus; nor delay, nor blush to be a coward.” There is even less of apparent enigma about that statement; yet nevertheless Crœsus lived to see the day when a man, whom he deemed a “mule,” did become ruler of the Medes, and he likewise saw his own mighty empire destroyed. The case of Crœsus is typical in many ways of the attitude of the ancients toward the oracle,—their belief in it as inspired, and their frequent attempts to predispose it to favor by gifts of great magnificence. Not everybody could give such offerings as Crœsus, to be sure. But the presents piled up in the buildings of the sacred precinct must have been of enormous value, and the contemplation of them somewhat overpowering. By the way, recent estimates have been published showing that the wealth of Crœsus, measured by our modern standards, would total only about $11,000,000.
Doubtless the awe felt for the spot sufficed in the main to protect the treasures from theft. When Xerxes came into Greece and approached the shrine, the inhabitants proposed that the valuables be buried in the earth. Phœbus, speaking through the priestess, forbade this, however, saying that “he was able to protect his own.” And, in fact, he proved to be so, for the approaching host were awed by the sight of the sacred arms of the god, moved apparently by superhuman means from their armory within the temple to the steps outside. And moreover while the invaders were approaching along the vale below, where the temple of Athena Pronoia still stands, a storm broke, and two great crags were dashed from the overhanging cliffs above, killing some and demoralizing the rest. A war shout was heard from the temple of Athena, and the Delians, taking heart at these prodigies, swept down from the hills and destroyed many of the fleeing Medes.
The most successful attempt to prejudice and corrupt the oracle seems to have been that of the Alcmæonidæ, who have been referred to as the builders of the great temple after its destruction by fire. They had been driven out of Athens by the Pisistratidæ, and during their exile they contracted with the Amphictyons to rebuild the great shrine of Apollo. That they imported Parian marble for the front of the edifice when the contract would have been amply satisfied with Poros stone seems to have been less a disinterested act than an effort to win the favor of the god. The Athenians long maintained that the builders still further persuaded the oracle by gifts of money to urge upon the Spartans the liberation of Athens from the tyrants; and in the end the Pisistratidæ were driven out, in obedience to this mandate, while the Alcmæonidæ came back in triumph, as had been their design from the first.
It was rather a relief at last to turn from the bewildering array of ruins to the museum itself. It is not large, but it contains some wonderfully interesting things, and chief of all, no doubt, the bronze figure of the charioteer. I cannot bring myself to believe that he surpasses the bronze “ephebus” at Athens, whom he instantly recalls both from the material and from the treatment of the eyes; but he is wonderful, nevertheless, as he stands slightly leaning backward as one might in the act of driving, the remnants of a rein still visible in one hand. His self-possession and rather aristocratic mien have often been remarked, and a careful examination will reveal what is doubtless the most curious thing about the whole statue—namely, the little fringe of eye-lashes, which those who cast the image allowed to protrude around the inlaid eye-ball. They might easily be overlooked by a casual observer, but their effect is to add a subtle something that gives the unusual naturalness to the eyes. One other statue, a marble replica of an original bronze by Lysippus, deserves a word of comment also, because it is held by good authorities to be a better example of the school of Lysippus than the far better known “Apoxyomenos” in the Braccio Nuovo at Rome. Each of the figures is the work of a pupil of Lysippus, but the claim is made that the copy of a youth at Delphi was doubtless made by a pupil working under the master’s own supervision, while the Apoxyomenos was carved after Lysippus had died. From this it is natural enough to infer that the Delphi example is a more faithful reproduction than the Vatican’s familiar figure. In this museum also is a carved stone which is known as the “omphalos,” because of its having marked the supposed navel of the earth. The legend is that Zeus once let fly two eagles from opposite sides of the world, bidding them fly toward one another with equal wing. They met at Delphi, which therefore shares this form of celebrity with Dodona in Epirus.
Of course we visited the Castalian spring, which still gushes forth from a cleft in the rock, as it did in the days when suppliants came thither first of all to purify themselves. After a long journey one is not loath to rest beside this ancient fount after washing and drinking deep of its unfailing supply, for the water is good and the chance to drink fresh water in Greece is rare enough to be embraced wherever met. The cleft from which the spring emerges is truly wonderful. It is narrow and dark enough for a colossal chimney, running far back into the bowels of the mountain heights behind. An old stone trough hewn out of the side of the cliff was once filled by this spring, but the flow has now been diverted and it runs off in a babbling stream over the pebbles. Not the least inspiring thing at Delphi is to stand here and reflect, as one enjoys the Castalian water, how many of the great in bygone ages stood on this very spot and listened to the same murmur of this brook which goes on forever.
Hard by the spring, under two great plane trees that we fondly believed were direct descendants of those planted on the spot by Agamemnon, we sat down to lunch, a stone khan across the way affording shelter and fire for our coffee. And in the afternoon we rambled among the ruins below on the grassy slopes of the lower glen, where are to be seen a ruined gymnasium, a temple of Athena Pronoia, and a fascinating circular “tholos,” all of which, though sadly shattered, still present much beauty of detail. If the site were devoid of every ruined temple it would still be well worth a visit, not merely from the importance it once enjoyed as Apollo’s chief sanctuary, but also for the grandeur and impressiveness of its setting, so typical of Greece at her best. Fortunate indeed are those who may tarry here awhile, now that local lodging has been robbed of its ancient hardships. To-day, as in the days of the priests, Delphi is in touch with the uttermost parts of the earth by means of the telegraph, the incongruous wires of which accompany the climber all the way from Itea, so that details of arrival, departure, or stay may be arranged readily enough from afar. Long sojourn, however, was not to be our portion, and we were forced to depart, though with reluctant steps, down along the rough side of the mountain, through the vast and silent olive groves, back into the world of men, to sordid Itea and our ship.
We journeyed down to Mycenæ from Athens by train. The moment the railroad leaves Corinth it branches southward into the Peloponnesus and into a country which, for legendary interest, has few equals in the world. Old Corinth herself, mother of colonies, might claim a preëminent interest from the purely historical point of view, but she must forever subordinate herself to the half-mythical charm that surrounds ruined and desolate Mycenæ, the famous capital of Atreus and his two celebrated sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon. As for Corinth herself, the ancient site has lately been explored under the auspices of the American school at Athens, and these excavations, with the steep climb to the isolated and lofty Acrocorinth, furnish the attractions of the place to-day. The train runs fairly close to the mountain, so that even from the car window the fortifications on its top may be distinguished; but evidently they are Venetian battlements rather than old Greek remains that are thus visible. As a purely natural phenomenon the Acrocorinth is immensely impressive, resembling not a little the Messenian Acropolis at Ithome. It is a precipitous rock, high enough to deserve the name of a mountain, and sufficiently isolated to be a conspicuous feature of the landscape for miles as you approach Corinth from the sea or from Athens by train. Circumstances have never permitted us to ascend it, but the view from the summit over the tumbling surface of the mountainous Peloponnesus is said to be indescribably fine, giving the same effect as that produced by a relief map, while the prospect northward across the Gulf of Corinth is of course no less magnificent.
Fate ordained that we should stick to the line of the railway and proceed directly to the site of Mycenæ, in which interest had been whetted by the remarkable display of Mycenæan relics in the museum at Athens, as well as by the consciousness that we were about to visit the home of the conqueror of Troy and of his murderous queen. The train did some steep climbing as it rounded the shoulder of the Acrocorinth, and for two hours or so it was a steady up-grade, winding around long valleys in spacious curves, the old road from Sparta generally visible below. At every station the mail car threw off bundles of newspapers, which the crowds gathered on the platform instantly snatched and purchased with avidity. The love of news is by no means confined to Athenians, but has spread to their countrymen; and every morning the same scene is enacted at every railroad station in Hellas on the arrival of the Athens train. At every stop the air was vocal with demands for this or that morning daily, and each, having secured the journal of his choice, retired precipitately to the shade of a near-by tree, while those who could not read gathered near and heard the news of the world retailed by the more learned, at second-hand. The peasant costumes were most interesting, for we were now in the country of the shepherds, far from the madding crowd and dressed for work. The dress of each was substantially the same,—a heavy capote of wool, if it was at all chilly, the tight drawers gartered below the knee, the heavy leather wallet on the front of the belt, the curious tufted shoes whose pompons at the toe, if large denoted newly bought gear, or if sheared small meant that the footwear was old. For the custom is to cut down these odd bits of adornment as they become frayed, a process that is repeated until the tuft is entirely removed, when it is time to buy new shoes.
The landscape was most striking now. The plains were small and separated from one another by walls of rugged hills, whose barriers were not to be despised in days when communication was primitive and slow, and which bore an important part in keeping the several ancient states so long apart, instead of allowing them permanently to unite. The neighboring peaks began to be increasingly redolent of mythology, chiefly relating to various heroic exploits of Herakles. Indeed the train stopped at Nemea itself, and the site of the struggle with the Nemean lion was indicated to us from afar, while a distant summit was said to be near the lake where were slain the Stymphalian birds. Shortly beyond the grade began to drop sharply, until, rushing through a pass of incredible narrowness,—the site of a bloody modern battle between the Greek patriots and the Turks,—the train dashed out into the broad plain of Argos, once famous as the breeder of horses. The narrow and rather sterile valleys hemmed in by bare hills of gray rock gave place to this immense level tract of sandy soil leading down to the sea, which gleamed in the distance under the noonday sun. On either side of the broad expanse of plain towered the mountain wall, always gray and bare of trees, though in the old days it was doubtless well wooded. With the departure of trees came the drouth, and to-day the rivers of the Argolid are mere sandy channels, devoid of water save in the season of the melting mountain snows.
The train halted at Phychtia, the station for Mycenæ, and there we found waiting a respectable carriage that had seen better days in some city, but which was now relegated to the task of conveying the curious to various points in the Argolic plain. It was there in response to the inevitable telegraph, which we had the forethought to employ. Otherwise we should have had to go over to the site of Mycenæ on foot, a task which the heat of the day rather than the distance would have made arduous. Mycenæ to-day is absolutely deserted and desolate, lying perhaps two miles eastward from the railway, on the spurs of two imposing mountain peaks. Toward this point the road rises steadily, and before long we had passed through a starveling village of peasant huts and came suddenly upon a two-story structure bearing the portentous sign, “Grand Hotel of Helen and Menelaus!” To outward view it was in keeping with the rest of the hamlet, which was chiefly remarkable for its children and dogs. It proved, on closer inspection, to be a queer little inn, boasting a few sleeping rooms in its upper story, to be reached only by an outside stairway. On the ground floor—which was a ground floor in the most literal sense of that overworked expression—was a broad room, used partly as a dining-room and partly as a store and office. The actual eating-place was separated from the remainder of the apartment by a grill-work of laths, or pickets, with a wicket gate, through which not only the guests and the proprietor, but sundry dogs, chickens, and cats passed from the main hall to the table. This, being the only available hotel in the region, and bearing so resounding and sonorous a title, proved irresistible. Lunch, consisting of very excellent broiled chickens, and sundry modest concomitants, was promptly served by a tall slip of a girl, the daughter of the house, and probably named Helen, too. During the meal various hens, perhaps the ancestors of our pièces de résistance, clucked contentedly in and out, and a mournful hound sneaked repeatedly through the gate, only to be as repeatedly thrust into the outer darkness of the office by the cook and waitress. In former times, before the “Grand Hotel of Helen and Menelaus” sprang into being, it was necessary to carry one’s food and eat it under the shadow of the famous Lion Gate on the site of the old town itself—a place replete with thrills. Nevertheless it seems well that the vicinity now has a place of public entertainment, and doubly well that it has been so sonorously named.
It may not have been more than half a mile farther to the ruins, but it was up hill and very warm work reaching them. On either side of the high road, where presumably once lay the real every-day city of Mycenæ, there was little in the way of remains to be seen, save for the remarkable avenue leading to the subterranean tomb, or treasury, of which it will be best to speak somewhat later. The slopes were covered with grass, and here and there a trace of very old “Cyclopean” masonry was all that remained to bear witness to the previous existence of a city wall, or possibly an ancient highway with a primitive arch-bridge spanning a gully. Back over the plain the view was expansive. The several strongholds of Agamemnon’s kingdom were all in sight,—Mycenæ, Nauplia, Argos, and Tiryns,—at the corners of the great plain, which one might ride all around in a day; so that from his chief stronghold on the height at Mycenæ Agamemnon might well claim to be monarch of all he surveyed. Behind the valley, the twin peaks at whose base the stronghold lay rose abruptly, bearing no trace of the forests of oak that once covered them; and on a rocky foothill stood the acropolis of the city, admirably fitted by nature for defense. It was on this high ground that the ruins were found, and the visitor is informed that this was the citadel rather than the main town—the place to which the beleaguered inhabitants might flock for safety in time of war, and in which Atreus and his line had their palace. It was here that Dr. Schliemann conducted his remarkable researches, of which we shall have much to say. It is a remarkable fact that the events of the past twenty years or so have given a most astonishing insight into the dimness of the so-called “heroic” age—the age that long after was sung by Homer—so that it is actually possible now to say that we know more of the daily life and conditions of the time of Troy’s besiegers than we do of the time of Homer himself, and more about the heroes than about those who sang their exploits. Knowledge of the more remote periods seems to vary directly with the distance. The dark ages, as has been sagely remarked, were too dark altogether to admit men to read the story told by the ancient monuments such as survived at Mycenæ, and it is only lately that light has increased sufficiently to enable them to be understood with such clearness that the dead past has suddenly seemed to live again. From the remains at Mycenæ the savants have unearthed the houses, walls, palaces, reservoirs, ornaments, weapons, and daily utensils of the pre-Homeric age. Bones and other relics cast aside in rubbish heaps give an idea of the daily food of the people. The tombs have revealed how they were buried at death, and have yielded a wealth of gold ornaments showing a marvelous skill in working metals.
This upper city of Mycenæ was built on a rock, which we soon discovered to be separated from the rest of the mountain by ravines, leaving the sides very steep and smooth, so that on nearly every hand the place was inaccessible. The gorges toward the mountains were natural moats, and wide enough to prevent assault or even the effective hurling of missiles from above into the citadel. The stronghold, however, was vastly strengthened by artificial construction and proved to be walled entirely about, the fortress being especially strong on the more exposed portions, and most especially at the main gate, where the enormous blocks of stone and the tremendous thickness of the wall were most in evidence. The road winds up the last steep ascent until it becomes a mere narrow driveway, scarcely wide enough for more than a single chariot, and right ahead appears suddenly the famed Lion Gate, flanked on one hand by a formidable wall facing the side of the native rock, and on the other by a projecting bastion of almost incredible thickness. The stones are of remarkable size, hewn to a sort of rough regularity by the Cyclopean builders, and the wonder is that, in so rude and primitive an age, men were able to handle such great blocks with such skill. No wonder the tale gained currency that it was the work of the Cyclopes, imported from abroad—and indeed the tale is not without its abiding plausibility, since there are evidences enough in scattered Phœnician sites elsewhere to warrant the assumption that the builders of these numerous fortresses in Argolis did come from over seas.
Of all the ruins at Mycenæ the “gate of the lions” is unquestionably the most impressive. It spans the end of the long and narrow vestibule between the walls of rock, its jambs made of huge upright stones that even to-day show the slots cut for hinges and the deep holes into which were shot the ancient bolts. Over the top is another massive single stone, forming the lintel. It is a peculiarity of the Cyclopean doorways at Mycenæ that the weight on the centre of the lintel is almost invariably lightened by leaving a triangular aperture in the stonework above, and in the main gate the immense blocks of the wall were so disposed as to leave such an opening. Even the massive lintel of this broad gate would probably have failed to support the pressure of the walls had not some such expedient been devised. As it is, the light stone slab that was used to fill the triangular opening is still in place, and it is what gives the name to the gateway, from the rudely sculptured lions that grace it. These two lions, minus their heads, are sitting facing each other—“heraldically opposed,” as the phrase is—each with his fore feet resting on the base of an altar bearing a sculptured column, which marks the centre of the slab. The column is represented as larger at the top than at the base, a peculiarity of the stone columns of the Mycenæan age, and recalling the fact that the first stone pillars were faithful copies of the sharpened stakes that had been used as supports in a still earlier day. The missing heads of the lions were doubtless of metal,—bronze, perhaps,—and were placed so as to seem to be gazing down the road. They are gone, nobody knows whither. It used to be stated that this quaint bas-relief was the “oldest sculpture in Europe,” but this is another of the comfortable delusions that modern science has destroyed. Nobody, however, can deny that the Gate of the Lions is vastly impressive, or that it is so old that we may, without serious error, feel that we are looking on something that Agamemnon himself perhaps saw over his shoulder as he set out for Troy. Just inside the gate we found a narrow opening in the stones, leading to a sort of subterranean chamber, presumably for the sentry. The impression produced by the gate and its massive flanking walls is that of absolute impregnability, and it was easy enough to fancy the Argive javelin-men thronging the bastion above and pouring death and destruction down upon the exposed right hands of the invaders jammed tight in the constricted vestibule below.
Inside the gate, the old market-place opens out, and it was here that were discovered the tombs from which came the numerous relics seen at Athens. The market place is still encircled by a curious elliptical structure, which is in effect a double ring of flat stones, with slabs laid flat across the top, forming what looks like a sort of oval bench all around the inclosure. We were asked to believe that these actually were seats to be occupied by the old men and councilors of the city; but if that is the truth, there were indeed giants in the land in those times. Other authorities conjecture that it was a retaining wall for a sort of mound heaped up over the graves within—an hypothesis which it seems almost as hard to adopt. Whatever the purpose of this remarkable circle of stone slabs, it is hardly to be doubted that it did once inclose an “agora,” and it was within this space that Schliemann sunk his shafts and brought up so much that was wonderful from the tombs below. Tombs in so central a spot, and filled with such a plethora of gold, certainly might well be deemed to have been the last resting-place of royalty, and it is agreeable to believe that they were sovereigns of the Agamemnonian line, if the “prince of men” himself be not one of them. It is the fashion to aver that Schliemann was too ready to jump at conclusions prompted by his own fond hopes and preconceived ideas, and to make little of his claim that he had unearthed the grave of the famous warrior who overcame Priam’s city; and perhaps this is justified. But one cannot forget that the old legend insisted that Atreus, Agamemnon, Cassandra, Electra, Eurymedon, and several others were buried in the market place of Mycenæ,—which was doubtless what prompted the excavation at this point; excavations which moreover proved to be so prolific of royal reward.
On the heights above, where it was far too steep for chariots to follow, there is a pathway direct to the royal palace itself, which it will doubtless do no harm to call Agamemnon’s. Of course it is practically flat to-day, with little more than traces of the foundation, save for a bit of pavement here and there, or a fragment of wall on which possibly one may detect a faint surviving touch of fresco. All around the citadel below are traces of other habitations, so congested as to preclude any application of Homer’s epithet, “Mycenæ of the broad streets,” to this particular section of the city. All around the summit ran the wall, even at points where it would seem no wall was necessary. As we explored the site the guide kept gathering handfuls of herbage that grew all about, and speedily led us to a curious Cyclopean “arch,” made by allowing two sloping stones to fall toward each other at the top of an approaching row of wall-blocks, which it developed was the entrance to a subterranean gallery that led down to the reservoir of the fort. It was a dark and tortuous place, and its descent to the bowels of the hill was quite abrupt, so that we did not venture very far, but allowed the guide to creep gingerly down until he was far below; whereupon he set fire to the grasses he had been accumulating and lighted up this interior gallery for us. The walls of this passageway had been polished smooth for centuries by passing goats which had rubbed against the stone, and it gleamed and glittered in the firelight, revealing a long tunnel leading downward and out of sight to a cavern far below, where was once stored the water supply conveyed thither from a spring north of the citadel. Stones cast down the tunnel reverberated for a long distance along its slippery floor, and at last apparently came against a final obstacle with a crash. Then came the upward rush of smoke from the impromptu torch, and we were forced hastily to scramble out into the open air. We returned later, however, for a passing shower swept down from the mountains and threatened a drenching, which rendered the shelter of the ancient aqueduct welcome indeed. It was soon over, however, and afforded us a chance to sit on the topmost rock of the acropolis, looking down over what was once the most important of the Greek kingdoms, from the mountains on the north and west down to the sea—a pleasing sight, which was cut short only by the reflection that we had still to visit the so-called “treasury of Atreus” beside the road below.
This is one more of the odd structures of the place over which controversy has raged long and fiercely, the problem being whether or not it was a tomb. There are a number of these underground chambers near by, but the most celebrated one just mentioned is the common type and is completely excavated so that it is easily to be explored. The approach is by a long cut in the hillside, walled on both sides with well-hewn stone, the avenue terminating only when a sufficient depth had been reached to excavate a lofty subterranean chamber. A tall and narrow door stands at the end of this curious lane, placed against the hill, its lintel made of a noticeably massive flat stone, with the inevitable triangular opening over it; but in this case the block which presumably once closed it is gone, and nobody knows whether it, like its mate at the main gateway, bore sculptured lions or not. Within, the tomb is shaped like an old-fashioned straw beehive, lined throughout with stone, which bears marks indicating that it in turn was once faced with bronze plates. It is a huge place, in which the voice echoes strangely, and it is lighted only from the door and its triangular opening above. Just off the northern side is a smaller chamber, where light is only to be had by lighting some more of the dry grasses gathered without. Those who adhere to the idea that this was a tomb maintain that the real sepulchre was in the smaller adjoining chamber. Respectable authority exists, however, for saying that these chambers were not tombs at all, but treasuries, and a vast amount of controversial literature exists on the subject, over which one may pore at his leisure if he desires. If it was a tomb, it is obvious from the other burial-place discovered on the acropolis above that there must have been at least two different styles of burial,—and the tombs above appear to have contained people of consequence, such as might be expected to have as honorable and imposing sepulchres as there were. No bones were found in the “treasury of Atreus,” and plenty of bones were found elsewhere, a fact which might seem significant and indeed conclusive if it were not known that bones had been found in beehive tombs like this elsewhere in Greece, notably near Menidi, where six skeletons were discovered in a similar structure. Of course it might be true that the bodies found on the heights at Mycenæ and taken to Athens belonged to an entirely different epoch from those that were buried in the beehive tombs, and that the beehive tombs might easily have been looted long before the existence of any such booty as the marketplace graves yielded had even been suspected. The layman is therefore left to suit himself, whether he will call this underground chamber a tomb or a treasury, and devote his time to admiring the ingenuity with which the stone lining of the place was built, each tier of stone slightly projecting above its lower fellow so as at last to converge at the top in a point. The perfection of this subterranean treasure-house seems no less remarkable than the ease with which the ancient builders managed large masses of rock.
As for the history of Mycenæ, its greatest celebrity is unquestionably that which it achieved in the time of the Atreidai, when it was the home of the kings of Argos. It is supposable that in the palace on the height Clytæmnestra spent the ten years of her lord’s absence at Troy, and that therein she murdered him on his return. The poets have woven a great web of song and story about the place, largely imaginative and legendary, to be sure. But the revelations of the later excavations have revealed that the poets came exceedingly close to fact in their descriptions of material things. The benches before the doors, the weapons and shields of heroes, the cups,—such as Nestor used, for example,—all these find their counterparts in the recently discovered actualities and give the more color to the events that the ancient writers describe. That Mycenæ was practically abandoned soon after her great eminence doubtless accounts for the wealth of relics that the excavators found, and her low estate during the centuries of neglect curiously but not unnaturally insured her return to celebrity, with a vast volume of most interesting testimony to her former greatness quite unimpaired.
From Mycenæ down to the Argive Heræum, the ancient temple of Hera which was once the chief shrine of this region, is something like two miles; but as it was over a rough ground, and as time failed us, it was found necessary to eliminate this, which to a strenuous archæologist might doubtless prove highly interesting as an excursion, and more especially so to Americans, since it was a site explored by the American school. It lies off on the hills that border the plain of Argos on the east, on the direct line between Mycenæ and Nauplia. Our own road led us back to Phychtia again and down the centre of the plain over a very good carriage road, passing through broad fields of waving grain, in the midst of which, breast deep, stood occasional horses contentedly munching without restraint. Almost the only buildings were isolated stone windmills, some still in use and others dismantled. At last the road plunged down a bank and into the sandy bed of what was doubtless at some time of year a river,—but at this season, and probably most of the year as well, a mere broad flat expanse of sand as destitute of water as the most arid part of Sahara. The railroad, which had borne us friendly company for a few miles, was provided with an iron bridge, spanning this broad desert with as much gravity as if it were a raging torrent, which doubtless it sometimes is. Just beyond we rattled into Argos.
Argos is a rather large place, but decidedly unattractive save for its many little gardens. Nearly every house had them, and from our high seats in the respectable but superannuated depot carriage we were able to look into the depths of many such, to marvel at their riot of roses and greenery. As for the houses, they were little and not over-clean. The populace, however, was exceeding friendly, sitting en masse along the highway, the young women blithely saluting and the children bombarding us with nosegays in the hope of leptà. Over Argos towers a steep hill, known as a “larisa” or acropolis, from the top of which we could imagine a wonderful view over the whole kingdom of the Argives and over the mountains as well, not to mention the Gulf of Nauplia; but as time was speeding on toward the dusk and we were still far from Nauplia, we had to be content with the imagination alone, and with the news that a little monastery about halfway up the hillside had been set on fire on the Easter Sunday previous by too enthusiastic celebrants, who had been over-free with the inevitable rockets and Roman candles. Also we had to give short shrift to the vast theatre, hewn out of the solid rock at the foot of the larisa, and said to be one of the largest in Greece. It was sadly grass-grown, however, and infinitely less attractive than the smallest at Athens, not to mention the splendid playhouse at Epidaurus, which we promised ourselves for the morrow. So we were not reluctant to swing away from old Argos, with her shouting villagers and high-walled gardens, and to skirt the harbor, now close at hand along the dusty Nauplia road. Across the dancing waters lay Nauplia herself, a white patch at the foot of a prodigious cliff far around the bay. By the roadside the country seaward was marshy, while inland rolled the great plain back to the gray hills which showed the northern bounds of the old kingdom, and the lofty rock of Mycenæ from which the sons of Atreus had looked down over their broad acres.
It was not long before we were aware that “well-walled” Tiryns was at hand and that we were not to close a day already well marked by memories of Cyclopean masonry without adding thereto the most stupendous of all, the memory of the great stones piled up in prehistoric ages at this ancient palace whose size impressed even that hardened sight-seer Pausanias. Tiryns proved to be a highly interesting place; in general appearance much like Mycenæ, but in detail sufficiently different to keep us exclaiming. It lies on what is little more than an isolated hillock beside the highroad, and there is nothing imposing about its height or length. It is a long, low rock, devoid of any building save for the solid retaining walls that may go back to the days of Herakles himself.
Whoever built the fortress at Tiryns had seen fit to make the front door face the plain rather than the sea; so that it was necessary to leave the road and go around to the north side of the rock, where a gradual incline afforded an easy approach to a sort of ramp, or terrace, defended by walls of the most astonishing Cyclopean construction. It has been stated that these great and rudely squared blocks of native rock, taken from the quarries in the hills northward, were once bonded together with a rude clay mortar, which has since entirely disappeared. How such enormous blocks were quarried in those primitive days, or how they were handled, is a good deal of a mystery. But it is claimed that swelled wedges of wet wood were used to separate the stones from their native bed.
As a ruin, Tiryns is rather difficult to reconstruct in the imagination from the visible remains. The inclined ramp and the gateway, remains of which are still standing, are interesting, but chiefly from the remarkable size of the stones employed in their construction. Within, the old palace is in a state of complete and comprehensive ruin. The lines of the former palace walls may, however, be seen on the rocky floor, with here and there a trace of an ancient column which has left its mark on the foundation rock. The outer and inner courts, megaron, men’s and women’s apartments, and even the remnants of a “bathroom” are to be made out, the last-named bearing testimony to the fact that even in the remote Mycenæan age the disposition of waste water was carefully looked to—perhaps more carefully than was the case with the later Greeks. The Tirynthian feature which eclipses everything else for interest, however, is the arrangement of covered galleries of stone on two sides of the palace, from which at intervals radiate side chambers supposed to have been used for storage. To-day they recall rather more the casements of our own old-fashioned forts. In these galleries the rude foreshadowings of the arch principle are even more clearly to be seen than in the underground conduit at Mycenæ which leads to the sunken reservoir. The sides of the corridor are vertical for only a short distance, and speedily begin to slope inward, meeting in an acute angle overhead. The side chambers are of a similar construction. Nowhere does it appear that the “Cyclopes,” if we may call them such, recognized the principle of the keystone, although they seem to have come very close to it by accident here and there, and notably so in the case of the little postern gate which is to be seen on the side of the citadel toward the modern highroad. As for the galleries, at the present day they are polished to a glassy smoothness within by the rubbing of sheltering flocks of sheep and goats. And they are interesting, not only because of the massive stones used in building them, but because the similarity of these corridors and storage chambers to the arrangements found near old Carthage and other Phœnician sites may well argue a common paternity of architecture, and thus give color to the tale that the ancient kings of Argos secured artisans of marvelous skill and strength from abroad. The immense size of the roughly hewn rocks easily enough begot the tradition that these alien builders were men of gigantic stature, called “Cyclopes” from the name of their king, Cyclops, and supposed to be a race of Thracian giants; quite distinct, of course, from the other mythological Cyclopes who served Hephaistos, or the Sicilian ones who made life a burden for Odysseus on his wanderings. It seems to be a plausible opinion now widely held that the foreign masons who erected the Cyclopean walls in the Argolid were not from Thrace, but from the southern shores of the Ægean—perhaps from Lycia. And it is interesting to know that there are examples of the same sort of stone work, bearing a similar name, to be found as far away as Peru.
A somewhat lower hillock just west of the main acropolis—if it deserves that name—is shown as once being the servants’ quarters. And we descended, as is the common practice, from the main ruin to the road, by a rude stone stairway at what was formerly the back of the castle, to the narrow postern, the stones of which form an almost perfect, but doubtless quite accidental, archway; and thence to our carriage, which speedily whirled us away to Nauplia. The road thither lay around a placid bay, sweeping in a broad curve through a landscape which was happily marked by some very creditable trees. Nauplia herself made a pleasant picture to the approaching eye, lying on her well-protected harbor at the base of an imposing cliff, on the top of which the frowning battlements of an old Venetian fortress proclaimed the presence of the modern state prison of Greece. The evening sun brought out the whiteness of the city against the forbidding rock behind, while far away westward across the land-locked bay the evening light touched with a rosy glow the snowy summit of Cyllene, and brought out the rugged skyline of the less lofty Peloponnesian mountains. And it was these that lay before us as our carriage rattled out of a narrow street and upon the broad esplanade of the quay at the doors of our hotel.
We were awakened in the morning by an unaccustomed sound,—a subdued, rapid, rhythmic cadence coming up from the esplanade below, accompanied by the monotonous undertone of a voice saying something in time with the shuffle of marching feet, the whole punctuated now and then by a word of command and less frequently by the unmistakable clang of arms. The soldiers from the fortress were having their morning drill. The words of command sounded strangely natural, although presumably in Greek, doubtless because military men the world over fall into the habit of uttering “commands of execution” in a sort of unintelligible grunt. The counting of “fours” sounded natural, too, despite the more marked Hellenism of the numbers. So far from being a disturbance, the muffled tread of the troops was rather soporific, which is fortunate, because I have been in Nauplia on several occasions, and this early drill appears to be the regular thing under the windows of the Hôtel des Étrangers.
The fine open space along the water front makes a tempting parade-ground, and at other hours an attractive place for general assemblage, especially at evening, when the people of Nauplia are to be seen lounging along the wharves or drinking their coffee in the shade under the white line of buildings. The quay curves for a long distance around the bay, and alongside it are moored many of those curious hollow schooners that do the coastwise carrying in Greece. Nauplia appears still to be something of a port, although infinitely smaller and less busy than either the Piræus or Patras. Her name, of course, is redolent of the sea. The beauty of her situation has often reminded visitors of Naples, but it is only a faint resemblance to the Italian city. In size she is little indeed. Scenically, however, her prospects are magnificent, with their inclusion of a panorama of distant and imposing peaks towering far away across the inner bay, so admirably sheltered from the outer seas by the massive promontory, on the inner shelf of which the city stands. The town is forced to be narrow because of the little space between the water and the great cliff rising precipitously behind. There is room for little more than three parallel streets, and in consequence Nauplia is forced to make up in length what she lacks in breadth, and strings along eastward in a dwindling line of buildings to the point where the marshy shore curves around toward Tiryns, or loses herself in the barren country that lies in the gray valleys that lead inland to Epidaurus.
From the windows of the hotel the most conspicuous object in the middle distance was a picturesque islet in the midst of the bay, almost entirely covered by a yellow fort of diminutive size and Venetian appearance—the home of an interesting functionary, though a gruesome one; to wit, the national executioner. For Nauplia at the present day is above all else the Sing-Sing of Hellas,—the site of the national prison, where are confined the principal criminals of the kingdom, and more especially those who are under sentence of death. The medieval fortifications on the summit behind the town have been converted to the base uses of a jail, and are locally known as the Palamide. We did not make the ascent to the prison, although it cannot be a hard climb, but contented ourselves with purchasing the small wares that are vended by street dealers in the lower town,—strings of “conversation beads,” odd knives, and such like things, which you are assured were made by “brigands” confined in the prison above. Somehow a string of beads made by a Greek “brigand” seems a possession to be coveted.
“M. de Nauplia,” if that is the proper way of referring to the headsman, is a criminal himself. He is generally, and probably always, one who has been convicted of murder, but who has accepted the post of executioner as the price of escaping the extreme penalty of the law. It is no small price to pay, for while it saves the neck of the victim it means virtual exile during the term of the service, and aversion of all good people forever. We were told that the executioner at the time was a man who had indulged in a perfect carnival of homicide—so much so that in almost any other country he would have been deemed violently and irreclaimably insane and would have escaped death by confinement in an asylum. But not so he. Instead he was sentenced to a richly deserved beheading by the guillotine, and the penalty was only commuted by his agreement to assume the unwelcome task of dispatching others of his kind—an office carrying with it virtual solitary imprisonment for a term variously stated as from five to eight years, and coupled with lasting odium. For all those years he must live on the executioner’s island, unattended save by the corporal’s guard of soldiers from the fort, which guard is changed every day or two, lest the men be contaminated or corrupted into conniving at the prisoner’s escape. Others told us that the term of his sanguinary employ was as long as twenty-five years, but this was far greater than the average story set as his limit. On liberation, it is said to be the ordinary practice for these unhappy men to go abroad and seek spots where their condition is unknown. On days when death sentences are to be executed the headsman is conveyed with solemn military pomp to the Palamide prison above the city, and there in the prison yard the guillotine is found set up and waiting for the hand that releases its death-dealing knife. Whether or not the executioner is paid a stated pittance in any event, or whether, as we were told by some, he was paid so much “per head,” we never found out. Meantime the executioner’s island undeniably proves one of the features of Nauplia, quaint to see, and shrouded with a sort of awesome mystery.
The narrow streets of Nauplia furnished diversion for a short time. They proved to be fairly clean, and the morning hours revealed a picturesque array of barbaric colored blankets and rugs hung out of the upper balconies to air. In one street a dense throng about an open door drew attention to the morning session of the municipal court. The men roaming the streets were mainly in European dress, although here and there a peasant from the suburbs displayed his quaint capote and pomponed shoes. It was one of these native-garbed gentry who approached us with a grin and stated in excellent English, that sorted strangely with his Hellenic clothes, that he was once employed in an electric light plant in Cincinnati. Did he like it? Oh, yes! In fact, he was quite ready to go back there, where pay was better than in Nauplia. And with an expressive shrug and comprehensive gesture that took in the whole broad sweep of the ancient kingdom of the Atreidai, he added, “Argos is broke; no good!” One other such deserves mention, perhaps; one who broke in on a reverential reverie one day, as we were contemplating a Greek dance in a classic neighborhood, with some English that savored of the Bowery brand, informing us that he had been in America and had traveled all over that land of plenty in the peregrinations of Barnum’s circus, adding as a most convincing passport to our friendship, "I was wit' old man Barnum w'en he died." Greeks who speak English are plentiful in the Peloponnesus, and even those who make no other pretensions to knowledge of the tongue are proud of being able to say “all right” in response to labored efforts at pidgin Greek.
WOMAN SPINNING ON THE ROAD TO EPIDAURUS
It did not take long to exhaust the interest of the city of Nauplia itself, including a survey of the massive walls that survive from the Middle Ages. And it was fortunate, too, because we had planned to spend the day at Epidaurus, which lies eighteen miles or so away, and was to be reached only by a long and arduous ride in a carriage—the same highly respectable old landau in which we had ridden the length of Agamemnon’s kingdom the day before. Owing to the grade and the considerable solidity of our party a third horse was in some miraculous way attached by ropes to the carriage, the lunch was loaded in the hood forward, and we rattled away through the narrow streets toward the open country east of the town—a country that we soon discovered to be made up of narrow valleys winding among gray and treeless hills, whose height increased steadily as the highway wound along. It was a good highway—the distances being marked in “stadia,” as the Greek classically terms his kilometres, and the stadium posts constantly reminding us that this was an “Odos Ethniké,” or national road. But we missed sadly the large trees that are to be seen in the close neighborhood of the city as we jogged out on the dusty road in the heat of the increasing April day.
The grade, while not steep, was mainly upward through the long valleys, making the journey a matter of more than three hours under the most favorable of conditions; and the general sameness of the scenery made it a rather monotonous drive. Of human habitation there was almost none, for although here and there one might find a vineyard, the greater part of the adjacent land is little more than rocky pasture. It soon developed, however, that the modern Greek shepherd is not afraid to play his pipes at noonday through any fear of exciting the wrath or jealousy of Pan, as was once the case; for from the mountain-sides and from under the scanty shade of isolated olive trees we kept hearing the plaintive wailing of the pipes, faint and far away, where some tender of the flocks was beguiling the time in music. This distant piping is indescribable. The tone is hardly to be called shrill, for it is so only in the sense that its pitch is high like the ordinary human whistling; in quality it is a soft note, apparently following no particular tune but wavering up and down, and generally ending in a minor wail that soon grows pleasant to hear. Besides, it recalls the idyls of Theocritus, and the pastorals and bucolics take on a new meaning to anybody who has heard the music of the shepherd lads of Greece. Nothing would do but we must buy pipes and learn to play upon them; so a zealous inquiry was instituted among the wayfaring men we met, with a view to securing the same. It was not on this day, however, but on the next that we finally succeeded in buying what certainly looked like pipes, but which turned out to be delusions and snares so far as music was concerned. They were straight wooden tubes, in which holes had been burned out at regular intervals to form “stops” for varying the tone. No reed was inserted in them, and if they were to be played upon at all it must be by reason of a most accomplished “lip.” We derived considerable amusement from them, however, by attempting to reproduce on them the mellifluous whistling of the natives; but the nearest approach to awakening any sound at all which any of our party achieved was so lugubriously melancholy that he was solemnly enjoined and commanded never to try it again, on pain of being turned over to “M. de Nauplia” as the only fitting punishment. Later we found that the flute-like notes that we heard floating down over the vales from invisible shepherds came from a very different sort of wind instrument—a reed pipe of bamboo not unlike the American boy’s willow whistle, with six or seven stops bored out of the tube.
The wayfarers were decidedly the most interesting sights on the Epidaurus road. Several stadia out of Nauplia a stalwart man came striding down a hill from his flocks and took the road to town. He was dressed in the peasant garb, and across his shoulders he bore a yoke, from either end of which depended large yellow sacks containing freshly made cheese, the moisture draining through the meshes of the cloth as he walked along to market. These cheeses we had met with in the little markets at Athens and found not unpleasant, once one grows accustomed to the goat’s milk flavor and the “freshness;” although it is probable that a taste for Greek cheese, like that for the resinated wine, is an acquired one.
Groups of shepherds were encountered now and then, especially at the few points along the way where buildings and shade were to be found. They were all picturesque in their country dress, but more especially the women, who spin flax as they walk and who probably ply a trade as old as Hellenic civilization itself in about the same general way that their most remote ancestors plied it. These little knots of peasants readily enough posed for the camera, and were contented with a penny apiece for drink-money. Not the least curious feature of these peasant herdsmen was the type of crook carried—not the large, curved crook that the ordinary preconceived ideal pictures, but straight sticks with a queer little narrow quirk in the end, with which the shepherd catches the agile and elusive goat or lamb by the hind leg and thus holds it until he is able to seize the animal in some more suitable part. These herdsmen proved hospitable folk, ready enough with offers of milk fresh from the herd, which is esteemed a delicacy by them, whatever it might have seemed to our uneducated palates.
Perhaps halfway out to Epidaurus one passes another remnant of the most remote time—a lofty fortification on a deserted hill. It is of polygonal masonry—that is, of angular stones fitted together without mortar, instead of being squared after the manner of the Cyclopes. Hard by, spanning a ravine which has been worn by centuries of winter torrents, there was a Cyclopean bridge, made of huge rocks so arranged as to form an enduring arch, and on this once ran no doubt the great highway from Epidaurus to the plain of Argos.
It was long after the noontide hour when the gray theatre of Epidaurus, a mere splash of stone in the distant side of a green hill, came in sight, lying a mile or so away across a level field, in which lay scattered the remnants of what was once the most celebrated hospital in the world. For Epidaurus boasted herself to be the birthplace of Æsculapius,—or, as we are on Greek soil, Asklepios,—and held his memory in deep reverence forever after by erecting on the site a vast establishment such as to-day we might call a “sanitarium.” After the heat and dust of the ride it was pleasant to stretch out in the shade of the scanty local trees, on the fragrant grass of the rising ground near the theatre, and look back down the long valley, with its distant blue mountains framed in a vista of massive gray hills. The nearer ones were impressive in their height, but absolutely denuded of vegetation, like the hills around Attica; and it was these mountains that formed the sole scenery for the background of plays produced in the great theatre close by. The theatre, of course, is the great and central attraction at Epidaurus to-day, for it is in splendid preservation while all else is a confusing mass of flat ruins. No ancient theatre is better preserved, or can surpass this one for general grace of lines or perfection of acoustic properties. Many were doubtless larger, but among all the old Greek theatres Epidaurus best preserves to the modern eye the playhouse of the ancients, circular orchestra and all. The acoustics anybody may test easily enough. We disposed ourselves over the theatre in various positions, high and low, along the half-a-hundred tiers of seats, and listened to an oration dealing with the points of interest in the theatre’s construction delivered in a very ordinary tone, from the centre of the orchestra, but audible in the remotest tier.
The circle of the orchestra is not paved, as had been the case with the theatres seen at Athens, but is a green lawn, in the centre of which a stone dot reveals the site of the ancient altar. It was stated that the circle is not actually as perfect as it looks, being shorter in one set of radii by something like two feet. But to all appearance it is absolutely round, and is easily the most beautiful type of the circular orchestra in existence to-day, if indeed it is not the only perfect one. The immense amphitheatre surrounding it was evidently largely a natural one, which a little artificial stonework easily made complete; and it is so perfect to-day that a very little labor would make it entirely possible to give a play there now before a vast audience. Some such plan was actually talked of a few years ago, but abandoned,—no doubt, because of the apparent difficulty of getting any very considerable company of auditors to the spot, or of housing them while there. It would be necessary, also, to rebuild the proskenion, the foundations of which are still to be seen behind the orchestra, and one may tremble to think of what might happen in the process should the advocates of the stage theory and their opponents fail to agree better than they have hitherto done.
From the inspection of the theatre and the enjoyment of the view across the plain to the rugged hills our dragoman called us to lunch, which was spread in a little rustic pergola below. He had thoughtfully provided fresh mullets, caught that morning off the Nauplia quay, and had cooked them in the little house occupied by the local custode. Hunger, however, was far less a matter of concern than thirst. We had been warned not to drink of the waters of the sacred well of Asklepios in the field below, and as there was no spring vouched for with that certitude that had attended the waters of Castalia, we were thrown back, as usual, on the bottled product of the island of Andros—a water which is not only intrinsically pure and excellent, but well worth the price of admission from the quaint English on its label. In rendering their panegyric on the springs of Andros into the English tongue, the translators have declared that it “is the equal of its superior mineral waters of Europe.”
The sacred well of the god, however, proved later in the day that it had not lost all its virtues even under the assaults of the modern germ theory; for while we were wandering through the maze of ruins in the strong heat of the early afternoon one of our company was decidedly inconvenienced by an ordinary "nose-bleed"—which prompt applications of the water, drawn up in an incongruous tin pail, instantly stopped. And thus did we add what is probably the latest cure, and the only one for some centuries, worked by the once celebrated institution patronized by the native divinity. It is related that the god was born on the hillside just east of the meadow, but this story is sadly in conflict with other traditions. It seems that Asklepios was not originally a divinity, but a mere human, as he seems to be in the Homeric poems. His deification came later, as not infrequently happened in ancient times, and with it came a network of legends ascribing a godlike paternity to him and assigning no less a sire than Apollo. Indeed, it is stated by some authorities that the worship of Asklepios did not originate in Epidaurus at all, but in Thessaly; and that the cult was a transplanted one in its chief site in the Peloponnesus, brought there by Thessalian adventurers.
THEATRE AT EPIDAURUS
All over the meadow below the great theatre are scattered the remains of the ancient establishment. The ceremony of healing at Epidaurus seems to have been in large part a faith-cure arrangement, although not entirely so; for there is reason to believe that, as at Delphi, there was more or less natural common sense employed in the miracle-working, and that the priests of the healing art actually acquired not a little primitive skill in medicine. It was a skill, however, which was attended by more or less mummery and circumstance, useful for impressing the mind of the patient; but this is not even to-day entirely absent from the practice of medicine with its “placebos” and “therapeutic suggestion” elements. The custom of sending the patient to rest in a loggia with others, where he might expect a nocturnal visitation of the god himself, has been referred to in these pages before, and survives even to-day in the island of Tenos at the eve of the Annunciation. The tales of marvelous cures at Epidaurus were doubtless as common and as well authenticated as the similar modern stories at Lourdes and Ste. Anne de Beaupré.
In addition to the actual apartments devoted to the sleeping patients, which were but a small part of the sanitarium’s equipment, there was the inevitable great temple of the god himself,—a large gymnasium suggestive of the faith the doctors placed in bodily exercise as a remedy, and a large building said to be the first example of a hospital ward, beside numerous incidental buildings devoted to lodgment. Satirical commentators have called attention to the presence of shrines to the honor of Aphrodite and Dionysus as bearing enduring witness to the part that devotion to those divinities seems to have been thought to bear in afflicting the human race. The presence of the magnificent theatre and the existence of a commodious stadium testify that life at Epidaurus was not without its diversions to relieve the tedium of the medical treatment. And in its day it must have been a large and beautiful agglomeration of buildings. To-day it is as much of a maze as the ruins at Delphi or at Olympia. The non-archæological visitor will probably find his greatest interest in the theatre and in the curious circular "tholos"—a remarkable building, the purpose of which is not clear, made of a number of concentric rings of stone which once bore colonnades. It stands in the midst of the great precinct, and in its ruined state it resembles nothing so much as the once celebrated “pigs-in-clover” puzzle. In the little museum on the knoll above, a very successful attempt has been made to give an idea of this beautiful temple by a partial restoration. Being indoors, it can give no idea either of the diameter or height of the original; but the inclusion of fragments of architrave and columns serve to convey an impression of the general beauty of the structure, as we had seen to be the case with similar fractional restorations at Delphi. The extensive ruins in the precinct itself do not lend themselves to non-technical description. They are almost entirely flat, and the ground plans serve to identify most of the buildings, without giving any very good idea of their appearance when complete. Pavements still remain intact in some of the rooms, and altar bases and exedral seats lie all about in apparent confusion. Nevertheless the discoveries have been plotted and identified with practical completeness, and it is easy enough with the aid of the plans to pass through the precinct and get a very good idea of the manifold buildings which once went to make up what must have been a populous and attractive resort for the sick. Whatever may be thought of the religious aspects of the worship of Asklepios, it is evident that the regimen prescribed by the cult at Epidaurus, with its regard for pure mountain air and healthful bodily exercise, not to mention welcome diversion and amusement for the mind, was furthered by ample facilities in the way of equipment of this world-famous hospital.
When we were there the Greek School of Archæology was engaged in digging near the great temple of the god, the foundations of which have now been completely explored to a considerable depth, and it was interesting to see the primitive way in which the excavation was being carried on. Men with curiously shaped picks and shovels were loosening the earth and tossing it into baskets of wicker stuff, which in turn were borne on the heads of women to a distance and there dumped. It was slow work, and apparently nothing very exciting was discovered. Certainly nothing was unearthed while we were watching this laborious toil.
With the benison of the landlord, who promised to send our luncheon over to the station “in a little boy,” we departed from Nauplia on a train toward noontime, headed for the interior of the Peloponnesus by way of Arcadia. The journey that we had mapped out for ourselves was somewhat off the beaten path, and it is not improbable that it always will be so, at least for those travelers who insist on railway lines and hotels as conditions precedent to an inland voyage, and who prefer to avoid the primitive towns and the small comforts of peasants’ houses. Indeed our own feelings verged on the apprehensive at the time, although when it was all over we wondered not a little at the fact. Our plan was to leave the line of the railway, which now entirely encircles the Peloponnesus, at a point about midway in the eastern side, and to strike boldly across the middle of the Peloponnesus to the western coast at Olympia, visiting on the way the towns of Megalopolis and Andhritsæna, and the temple at Bassæ. This meant a long day’s ride in a carriage and two days of horseback riding over mountain trails; and as none of us, including the two ladies, was accustomed to equestrian exercises, the apprehensions that attended our departure from the Nauplia station were perhaps not unnatural.
It had been necessary to secure the services of a dragoman for the trip, as none of us spoke more than Greek enough to get eggs and such common necessaries of life, and we knew absolutely nothing of the country into the heart of which we were about to venture. The dragoman on such a trip takes entire charge of you. Your one duty is to provide the costs. He attends to everything else—wires ahead for carriages, secures horses, guides, and muleteers, provides all the food, hotel accommodation, tips, railway tickets, and even afternoon tea. This comprehensive service is to be secured at the stated sum of ten dollars a day per person, and in our case it included not only the above things, but beds and bedding and our own private and especial cook. To those accustomed to traveling in luxury, ten dollars a day does not seem a high traveling average. To those like ourselves accustomed to seeing the world on a daily expenditure of something like half that sum, it is likely to seem at first a trifle extravagant. However, let it be added with all becoming haste, it is the only way to see the interior of Greece with any comfort at all, and the comfort which it does enable is easily worth the cost that it entails.
From the moment we left Nauplia we were devoid of any care whatever. We placed ourselves unreservedly in the keeping of an accomplished young Athenian bearing the name of Spyros Apostolis, who came to us well recommended by those we had known in the city, and who contracted to furnish us with every reasonable comfort and transportation as hereinbefore set forth, and also to supply all the mythology, archæology, geography, history, and so forth that we should happen to require. For Spyros, as we learned to call him, was versed not only in various languages, including a very excellent brand of English, but boasted not a little technical archæological lore and a command of ancient history that came in very aptly in traversing famous ground. It came to pass in a very few days that we regarded Spyros in the light of an old friend, and appealed to him as the supreme arbiter of every conceivable question, from that of proper wearing apparel to the name of a distant peak.
It was in the comfortable knowledge that for the next few days we had absolutely no bargaining to do and that for the present Spyros, who was somewhere in the train, had first-class tickets for our transportation, that we settled back on the cushions and watched the receding landscape and the diminishing bulk of the Nauplia cliffs. The train religiously stopped at the station of Tiryns—think of a station provided for a deserted acropolis!—and then jogged comfortably along to Argos, where we were to change cars. It was here that we bought our shepherd pipes; and we were practicing assiduously on them with no result save that of convulsing the gathered populace on the platform, when an urchin of the village spied a puff of steam up the line and set all agog by the classic exclamation, “ἔρχεται,” equivalent to the New England lad’s "she’s comin'!"
The comfort of being handed into that train by Spyros and seeing our baggage set in after us without a qualm over the proper fee for the facchini can only be realized by those who have experienced it. And, by the way, the baggage was reduced to the minimum for the journey, consisting of a suit case apiece. Our party was composed of those who habitually “travel light,” even on the regular lines of traffic; but for the occasion we had curtailed even our usual amount of impedimenta by sending two of our grips around to the other end of our route by the northern rail. Nobody would care to essay this cross-country jaunt with needless luggage, where every extra tends to multiply the number of pack mules.
The train, which was fresh from Athens and bound for the southern port of Kalamata, soon turned aside from the Ægean coast and began a laborious ascent along the sides of deep valleys, the line making immense horseshoes as it picked its way along, with frequent rocky cuts but never a tunnel. I do not recall that we passed through a single tunnel in all Greece. The views from the windows, which were frequently superb as the train panted slowly and painfully up the long grades, nevertheless were of the traditional rocky character—all rugged hills devoid of greenery, barren valleys where no water was, often suggesting nothing so much as the rocky heights of Colorado. It tended to make the contrast the sharper when the train, attaining the heights at last, shot through a pass which led us out of the barren rocks and into the heart of the broad plain of Arcady. It was the real Arcadia of the poets and painters, utterly different from the gray country which we had been sojourning in and had come to regard as typical of all Greece. It was the Arcadia of our dreams—a broad, peaceful, fertile plain, green and smiling, peopled with pastoral folk, tillers of the fields, shepherds, and doubtless poets, pipers, and nymphs. There is grandeur and beauty in the rugged hills and narrow valleys of the north, but it would be wrong to assume that Greece is simply that and nothing more. At least a portion of Arcadia is exactly what the poets sing. The hills retreated suddenly to the remote distance and left the railway running along a level plain dotted with farms. Water ran rejoicing through. Trees waved on the banks of the brooks. Far off to the south the rugged bulk of Taÿgetos marked from afar the site of Sparta, the long ridge of the mountain still covered with a field of gleaming snow.
Arcadia boasts two of these large, oval plains, the one dominated by Tripolis and the other by Megalopolis. Into the first-mentioned the train trundled early in the afternoon and came to a halt amid a shouting crowd of carriage drivers clamoring for passengers to alight and make the drive down to Sparta. The road is said to be an excellent one, and that we had not planned to lengthen our journey to that point, and thence westward by the Langada Pass to the country which we later saw, has always been one of the regrets which mark our Hellenic memories. Sparta has made little appeal to the modern visitor through any surviving remains of her ancient greatness, and has fallen into exactly the state that Thucydides predicted for her. For he sagely remarked, in comparing the city with Athens, that future ages were certain to underestimate Sparta’s size and power because of the paucity of enduring monuments, whereas the buildings at Athens would be likely to inspire the beholder with the idea that she was greater than she really was. That is exactly true to-day, although the enterprising British school has lately undertaken the task of exploring the site of the ancient Lacedæmonian city and has already uncovered remains that are interesting archæologically, whatever may be true of their comparison with Athenian monuments for beauty. In any event, Sparta, with her stern discipline, rude ideals, and martial rather than intellectual virtues, can never hope to appeal to modern civilization as Athens has done, although her ultimate overwhelming of the Athenian state entitles her to historical interest. Sparta lies hard by the mountain Taÿgetos, and to this day they show you a ravine on the mountain-side where it is claimed the deformed and weakly Spartan children were cast, to remove them from among a race which prized bodily vigor above every other consideration. It is a pity that Sparta, which played so vast a part in early history, should have left so little to recall her material existence. If she was not elegant or cultured, she was strong; and her ultimate triumph went to prove that the land where wealth accumulates and men decay has a less sure grip on life than the ruder, sterner nations.
So it was that we passed Sparta by on the other side and journeyed on from the smiling plain of Tripolis to the equally smiling one of Megalopolis, entering thoroughly into the spirit of Arcadia and vainly seeking the while to bring from those shepherd pipes melody fit to voice the joy of the occasion. It was apparent now that we had crossed the main watershed of Hellas, for the train was on a downward grade and the brakes shrieked and squealed shrilly as we ground into a tiny junction where stood the little branch-line train for Megalopolis. And in the cool of the afternoon we found ourselves in that misnamed town, in the very heart of Arcadia, the late afternoon light falling obliquely from the westering sun as it sank behind an imposing row of serrated mountains, far away.
To one even remotely acquainted with Greek roots, the name Megalopolis must signify a large city. As a matter of fact, it once was so. It was erected deliberately with the intention of making a large city, founded by three neighboring states, as a make-weight against the increasing power of the Lacedæmonians; but, like most places built on mere fiat, it dwindled away, until to-day it is a village that might more appropriately be called Mikropolis—if, indeed, it is entitled to be called a “polis” of any sort. The railway station, as usual, lay far outside the village, and in the station yard the one carriage of the town was awaiting us. Into it we were thrust; Spyros mounted beside the driver, a swarthy native; and with a rattle that recalled the famous Deadwood coach we whirled out of the inclosure and off to the town. The village itself proved to be but a sorry hole, to put it in the mildest form. It was made up of a fringe of buildings around a vacant common, level as a floor and sparsely carpeted with grass and weeds. As we passed house after house without turning in, hope grew, along with thankfulness, that we had at least escaped spending the night in any hovel hitherto seen. Nevertheless we did eventually stop before a dingy abode, and were directed to alight and enter there. Under a dark stone archway and over a muddy floor of stone pavement we picked our gingerly way, emerging in a sort of inner court, which Spyros pointed out was a "direct survival of the hypæthral megaron of the ancient Mycenæan house"—a glorified ancestry indeed for a dirty area around which were grouped the apartments of the family pig, cow, and sundry other household appurtenances and attachés. It was an unpromising prelude for a night’s lodging, but it made surprise all the greater when we emerged, by means of a flight of rickety stairs, on a little balcony above, and beheld adjoining it the apartments destined for our use. They had been swept and garnished, and the floors had been scrubbed until they shone. The collapsible iron beds had been erected and the bedding spread upon them, while near by stood the dinner table already laid for the evening meal; and presiding over it all stood the cook, to whose energy all these preparations were due, smiling genially through a forest of mustache, and duly presented to us as “Stathi.”
In the twilight we whetted our appetites for dinner by a brisk walk out of the village, perhaps half a mile away, to the site of the few and meagre ruins that Megalopolis has to show. Our progress thither was attended with pomp and pageantry furnished by the rabble of small boys and girls whose presence was at first undesirable enough, but who later proved useful as directing us to the lane that led to the ruins and as guards in stoning off sundry sheep dogs that disputed the way with us. The usual disbursement of leptá ensued, and we were left to inspect the remains of ancient greatness in peace. Those remains were few and grass-grown. They included little more than a theatre, once one of the greatest in Greece, with the structures behind the orchestra still largely visible, and a few foundations of buildings behind these, on the bank of a winding river. Aside from these the old Megalopolis is no more.
That night we sat down to a dinner such as few hotels in Athens could have bettered. The candlesticks on the table were of polished silver, which bore the monogram of the ancestors of Spyros. Our tablecloth and napkins were embroidered. Our dishes were all of a pattern, and we afterwards discovered that every piece of our household equipment, from soup plates to the humblest “crockery” of the family supply, bore the same tasteful decoration. Many a time we have laughed at the incongruity between our surroundings and the culinary panorama that Stathi conjured up from his primitive kitchen outside and served with such elegance. It was a masterpiece of the chef’s art, six courses following each other in rapid succession, all produced in the narrow oven where a charcoal fire blazed in answer to the energetic fanning of a corn broom. Soup gave place to macaroni; macaroni to lamb chops and green peas; chickens followed, flanked by beans and new potatoes from the gardens of the neighborhood; German pancakes wound up the repast; and coffee was served in an adjoining coffee-house afterward—the whole accompanied by copious draughts of the water of Andros, which cheers without inebriating, and beakers of the red wine of Solon, which I suspect is capable of doing both. A very modern-looking oil lamp helped furnish heat as well as light, for we were high above the sea and the night was chilly. Even to this remote district the product of the Rockefeller industry has penetrated, and no sight is more common than the characteristic square oil cans, with a wooden bar across the centre for carrying, which the peasants use for water buckets when the original oil is exhausted. They are useful, of course—more so than the old-fashioned earthen amphorae. But they are not as picturesque.
My companion, whom it will be convenient to call the Professor, and I adjourned to the coffee-house below for our after-dinner smoke, and demanded coffee in our best modern Greek, only to evoke the hearty response, “Sure,” from our host. It seemed he had lived in New York, where he maintained an oyster bar; and, like all who have ever tasted the joys of Bowery life, he could not be happy anywhere else, but yearned to hear the latest news from that land of his heart’s desire. We tarried long over our cups, and had to force payment on him. Thence we retired through the low-browed arch that led to our abode, barred and locked it with ponderous fastenings that might have graced the Lion Gate itself, and lay down to repose on our collapsible beds, which happily did not collapse until Spyros and Stathi prepared them for the next day’s ride. This they did while we breakfasted. The morning meal came into the bedrooms bodily on a table propelled by our faithful servitors, the food having been prepared outside; and as we ate, the chamber work progressed merrily at our table side, so that in short order we were ready for the road. The carriage for the journey stood without the main gate, manned by a dangerous-looking but actually affable native, and behind it lay a spring cart of two wheels, wherein were disposed our beds, cooking utensils, and other impedimenta. The word of command was given, and the caravan set out blithely for the western mountains, bowed out of town by the beaming face of the man who had kept an oyster bar.
The road had an easy time of it for many a level mile. It ran through a fertile plain, watered by the sources of the famous Alpheios River, which we skirted for hours, the hills steadily converging upon us until at last they formed a narrow gorge through which the river forced its way, brawling over rocks, to the Elian plains beyond. Beside the way was an old and dismantled winepress, which we alighted long enough to visit. Disused as it was, it was easy to imagine the barefooted maidens of the neighborhood treading out the juices of the grapes in the upper loft, the liquid flowing down through the loose flooring into the vats beneath. It is the poetic way of preparing wine; but having seen one night of peasant life already, we were forced to admit that modern methods of extracting the juice seem rather to be preferred.
Just ahead lay the gateway of Arcadia, guarded by a conspicuous conical hill set in the midst of the narrowing plain between two mountain chains and bearing aloft a red-roofed town named Karytæna. Time was too brief and the sun too hot to permit us to ascend thereto, but even from the highway below it proved an immensely attractive place, recalling the famous hill towns of Italy. Behind it lay the broadening plain of Megalopolis and before the narrow ravine of the Alpheios, walled in by two mighty hills. Karytæna seems like an inland Gibraltar, and must in the old days have been an almost impregnable defense of the Arcadian country on its western side, set as it is in the very centre of a constricted pass. But for some reason, possibly because the enemies of Greece came chiefly from the east, it seems not to have figured prominently as a fortress in history. Below the town the road wound down to the river’s edge and crossed the stream on a quaint six-arched bridge, against one pier of which some thankful persons had erected a shrine of Our Lady. And beyond the road began a steady ascent. We had left the plain for good, it appeared. Before us lay the deep and tortuous defile through which the river flows to the western seas, the roar of its rushing waters growing fainter and fainter below as the panting horses clambered upward with their burdens, until at last only a confused murmuring of the river was heard mingling with the rustle of the wind through the leaves of the wayside trees. The road was not provided with parapets save in a few unusually dangerous corners, and the thought of a plunge down that steep incline to the river so far below was not at all pleasant. Fortunately on only one occasion did we meet another wagon, and on that one occasion our party incontinently dismounted and watched the careful passage of the two with mingled feelings. It was accomplished safely and easily enough, but we felt much more comfortable to be on the ground and see the wheels graze the edge of the unprotected outside rim of the highway.
AN OUTPOST OF ARCADY
Every now and then a cross ravine demanded an abrupt descent of the road from its airy height, and down we would go to the bottom of a narrow valley, the driver unconcernedly cracking his whip, the bells of our steeds jangling merrily, and our party hanging on and trying hard to enjoy the view in a nervous and apprehensive way, although increasingly mindful of the exposed right-hand edge of the shelf. It bothered Stathi, the cook, not at all. He was riding behind on the baggage cart which followed steadily after, and at the steepest of the descent he was swaying from side to side on the narrow seat, his cigarette hanging neglected from his lips—sound asleep.
These occasional ravines appeared to be due to centuries of water action, and their banks, which were well covered with woods, were marked here and there by tiny threads of cascades which sang pleasantly down the cliffs from above, crossed the road, and disappeared into the wooded depths of the river valley below. Bædeker had mentioned a huge plane tree and a gushing spring of water as a desirable place to lunch, but we looked for them in vain. Instead we took our midday meal beside a stone khan lying deserted by the roadside, in which on the open hearth Stathi kindled a fire and produced another of his culinary miracles, which we ate in the open air by the road, under a plane tree that was anything but gigantic. We have never quite forgiven Bædeker that “gushing spring.” When one has lived for a month or more on bottled waters, the expectation of drinking at nature’s fount is not lightly to be regarded.
THE GORGE OF THE ALPHEIOS
The remainder of the ride was a steady climb to Andhritsæna, varied by few descents, although this is hardly to be deemed a drawback. The knowledge that one has two thousand feet to climb before the goal is reached does not conduce to welcome of a sudden loss of all the height one has by an hour’s hard climb attained. The tedium of the hours of riding was easily broken by descending to walk, the better thus to enjoy the view which slowly opened out to the westward. We were in the midst of the mountains of the Peloponnesus now, and they billowed all around. It was a deserted country. Distant sheep bells and occasional pipes testified that there was life somewhere near, but the only person we met was a woman who came down from a hill to ask the driver to get a doctor for her sick son when he should reach Andhritsæna. At last, well toward evening, the drivers pointed to a narrow cut in the top of the hill which we were slowly ascending by long sweeping turns of road and announced the top of the pass. And the view that greeted us as we entered the defile was one not easy to forget. Through the narrow passage in the summit lay a new and different country, and in the midst of it, nestling against the mountain-side, lay Andhritsæna, red roofed and white walled, and punctuated here and there by pointed cypress trees. Below the town, the hills swept sharply away to the valleys beneath, filled with green trees, while above the rocks of the mountain-side rose steeply toward the evening sky. In the western distance we saw for the first time Erymanthus and his gigantic neighbors, the mountains that hem in the plain about Olympia, the taller ones snow-clad and capped with evening clouds. We straightened in our seats. Stathi came out of his doze. The whips cracked and we dashed into the town with the smartness of gait and poise that seem to be demanded by every arrival of coach and four from Greece to Seattle. And thus they deposited us in the main square of Andhritsæna, under a huge plane tree, whose branches swept over the entire village street, and whose trunk lost itself in the buildings at its side. The carriage labored away. The dragoman and his faithful attendant sought our lodging house to set it in order. And in the meantime we stretched our cramped limbs in a walk around the town, attended as usual by the entire idle population of youths and maidens, to see the village from end to end before the sun went down.
I should, perhaps, add the remark that in my spelling of “Andhritsæna” I have done conscious violence to the word as it stands on the map—the added “h” representing a possibly needless attempt to give the local pronunciation of the name. It is accented on the second syllable.
We found the village of Andhritsæna fascinating in the extreme, from within as well as from without. It was obviously afflicted with a degree of poverty, and suffers, like most Peloponnesian towns, from a steady drain on its population by the emigration to America. Naturally it was squalid, as Megalopolis had been, but in a way that did not mar the natural beauty of its situation, and, if anything, increased its internal picturesqueness. This we had abundant opportunity to observe during our initial ramble through the place, starting from the gigantic plane tree which forms a sort of nucleus of the entire village, and which shelters with its spreading branches the chief centre of local activity,—the region immediately adjacent to the town pump. It was not exactly a pump, however. The term is merely conventional, and one must understand by it a stone fountain, fed by a spring, the water gushing out by means of two spouts, whither an almost continuous stream of townsfolk came with the inevitable tin oil-cans to obtain water for domestic uses.
The main, and practically the only, street of the town led westward from the plane, winding along through the village in an amiable and casual way. It was lined close on either side by the houses, which were generally two stories in height, and provided with latticed balconies above to make up for the necessary lack of piazzas below. Close to the great central tree these balconies seemed almost like the arboreal habitation made dear to the childish heart by the immortal Swiss Family Robinson; and in these elevated stations the families of Andhritsæna were disporting themselves after the burden and heat of the day, gossiping affably to and fro across the street, or in some cases reading.
We found it as impossible to disperse our body guard of boys and girls as had been the case the evening before at Megalopolis. Foreign visitors in Andhritsæna are few enough to be objects of universal but not unkindly curiosity to young and old; and the young, being unfettered by the insistent demands of coffee-drinking, promptly insisted on attending our pilgrimage en masse. It was cool, for the sun was low and the mountain air had begun to take on the chill of evening. We clambered up to a lofty knoll over the town and looked down over its slanting tiles to the wooded valley beneath, the evening smoke of the chimneys rising straight up in thin, curling wisps, while from the neighboring hills came the faint clatter of the herd bells and occasionally the soft note of some boy’s piping. Far away to the north we could see the snowy dome of Erymanthus, rising out of a tumbling mass of blue mountains, while between lay the opening and level plain of the Alpheios, widening from its narrows to form the broad meadows of Elis on the western coasts of the Peloponnesus. Here and there the house of some local magnate, more prosperous than the rest, boasted a small yard and garden, adorned with the sombre straightness of cypresses. Behind the town rose the rocky heights of the neighboring hills, long gorges running deep among them. Whichever way the eye turned, there was charm. The body guard of infantry retired to a respectful distance and stood watching us, finger bashfully to mouth in silent wonderment. Mothers with babies came out of near-by hovels to inspect us, and enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed the prospect that opened before.
From the aspect of the houses of the town we had adjudged it prudent to allow Spyros and Stathi a decent interval for the preparation of our abode before descending to the main street again and seeking out the house. Apparently the exact location of it was known by the entire population by this time, for, as we descended, willing natives pointed the way by gesticulations, indicating a narrow and not entirely prepossessing alley leading down from the central thoroughfare by some rather slimy steps, to a sort of second street, and thence to another alley, if anything less prepossessing than the first, where a formidable wooden gateway gave entrance to a court. Here the merry villagers bade adieu and retired to their coffee again. Once within, the prospect brightened. It was, of course, the fore-court of a peasant’s house, for hotels are entirely lacking in Andhritsæna. It was paved with stone flagging, and above the courtyard rose a substantial veranda on which stood the host—a bearded man, gorgeous in native dress, the voluminous skirt of which was immaculate in its yards and yards of fustanella. From tasseled fez to pomponed shoes he was a fine type of peasant, contrasting with his wife, who wore unnoticeable clothes of European kind. She was a pleasant-faced little body, and evidently neat, which was more than all. And she ushered us into the house to the rooms where Spyros and the cook were busily engaged in making up the beds, discreetly powdering the mattresses, and setting things generally to rights. The embroidered bed linen which had given us such delight by its contrast with the surroundings at Megalopolis at once caught the eye of the peasant woman, and she promptly borrowed a pillow-case to learn the stitch with which it was adorned. As for the rooms, they were scrubbed to a whiteness.
Just outside, overlooking the narrow by-way through which we had entered, was the inevitable balcony, whence the view off to the northern mountains was uninterrupted; and while supper was preparing we wrapped ourselves in sweaters and shawls and stood in mute admiration of the prospect—the deep valley below, the half-guessed plain beyond, and the rugged line of peaks silhouetted against the golden afterglow of the sunset. From this view our attention was distracted only by the sudden clamor of a church bell close at hand, which a priest was insistently ringing for vespers. The bell was hung, as so often happens, in a tree beside the church; and to prevent the unauthorized sounding of it by the neighborhood urchins the wise priest had caused the bell-rope to be shortened so that the end of it hung far up among the branches, and was only to be reached for the purposes of the church by a long iron poker, which the holy man had produced from somewhere within his sanctuary and which he was wielding vigorously to attract the attention of the devout. It may have been a sort of Greek angelus, designed to mark the hour of general sunset prayer; for nobody appeared in response to its summons, and after clanging away for what seemed to him a sufficient interval the priest unshipped the poker and retired with it to the inner recesses of the church, to be seen no more. The nipping and eager evening air likewise drove us to shelter, and the heat of the lamp and candles was welcome as lessening, though ever so slightly, the cold which the night had brought. It was further temporarily forgotten in the discussion of the smiling Stathi’s soups and chickens and flagons of Solon.
AN ARBOREAL CAMPANILE. ANDHRITSÆNA
The professor and I stumbled out in the darkness of the yard after the evening meal in search of a coffee-house, for the better enjoyment of our postprandial cigarettes, but we got no farther than the outer court before deciding to return for a lantern. Andhritsæna turned out to be not only chilly, but intensely dark o' nights. Its serpentine by-ways were devoid of a single ray of light, and even the main street, when we had found it, was relieved from utter gloom only by the lamps which glimmered few and faint in wayside shops that had not yet felt the force of the early-closing movement. The few wayfarers that we met as we groped our way along by the ineffectual fire of a square lantern, wherein a diminutive candle furnished the illuminant, likewise carried similar lights, and looked terrible enough hooded in their capotes. Diogenes-like, we sought an honest man,—and speedily discovered him in the proprietor of a tiny “kaffeneion,” who welcomed us to his tables and set before us cups of thick coffee, fervently disclaiming the while his intention to accept remuneration therefor. Indeed this generosity bade fair to be its own reward, for it apparently became known in a surprisingly short time that the foreign visitors were taking refreshment in that particular inn, with the result that patronage became brisk. The patrons, however, apparently cared less for their coffee than for the chance to study the newcomers in their midst at close range, and after we had basked for a sufficient time in the affable curiosity of the assembled multitude we stumbled off again through the night to our abode, the lantern casting gigantic and awful shadows on the wayside walls the while.
Now the chief reason for our visiting this quaint and out-of-the-way hamlet was its contiguity to the mountain on the flat top of which stands the ancient Bassæ temple. The correct designation, I believe, is really the “temple at Bassæ,” but to-day it stands isolated and alone, with no considerable habitation nearer than Andhritsæna, whatever was the case when it was erected. The evidence tended to show that Bassæ might be reached with about the same ease on foot as on horseback, or at least in about the same time; but as we were entirely without experience in riding, it was voted best that we begin our training by securing steeds for this minor side trip, in order to have some slight preparation for the twelve hours in the saddle promised us for the day following—a portentous promise that had cast a sort of indefinite shadow of apprehension over our inmost souls since leaving Nauplia. It was a wise choice, too, because it revealed to us among other things the difficulty of Greek mountain trails and the almost absolute sure-footedness of the mountain horse.
We were in the saddle promptly at nine, and in Indian file we set out through the village street, filled with the tremors natural to those who find themselves for the first time in their lives seated on horseback. But these tremors were as nothing to what beset us almost immediately on leaving the town and striking into the narrow ravine that led up into the hills behind it. It developed that while the prevailing tendency of the road was upward, this did not by any means preclude several incidental dips, remarkable alike for their appalling steepness and terrifying rockiness, for which their comparative brevity only partially atoned. The sensation of looking down from the back of even a small horse into a gully as steep as a sharp pitch roof, down which the trail is nothing but the path of a dried-up torrent filled with boulders, loose stones, smooth ledges, sand, and gravel, is anything but reassuring. It was with silent misgivings and occasional squeals of alarm that our party encountered the first of these descents. We had not yet learned to trust our mounts, and we did not know that the well-trained mountain horse is a good deal more likely to stumble on a level road than on one of those perilous downward pitches. From the lofty perches on top of the clumsy Greek saddles piled high with rugs, it seemed a terrifying distance to the ground; and the thought of a header into the rocky depth along the side of which the path skirted or down into which it plunged was not lightly to be shaken off. It was much better going up grade, although even here we found ourselves smitten with pity for the little beasts that scrambled with so much agility up cruel steeps of rock, bearing such appreciable burdens of well-nourished Americans on their backs. Spyros did his best to reassure us. He was riding ahead and throwing what were intended as comforting remarks over his shoulder to Mrs. Professor, who rode next in line. And as he was not aware of the exact make-up of the party’s mounts, he finally volunteered the opinion that horses were a good deal safer than mules for such a trip, because mules stumbled so. Whereupon Mrs. Professor, who was riding on a particularly wayward and mountainous mule, emitted a shriek of alarm and descended with amazing alacrity to the ground, vowing that walking to Bassæ was amply good enough for her. Nevertheless the mule, although he did stumble a little now and then, managed to stay with us all the way to Olympia, and no mishap occurred.
The saddles lend themselves to riding either astride or sidesaddle, and the ordinary man we met seemed to prefer the latter mode. The saddle frame is something the shape of a sawhorse, and after it is set on the back of the beast it is piled high with blankets, rugs, and the like, making a lofty but fairly comfortable seat. For the ladies the guides had devised little wooden swings suspended by rope to serve as stirrups for the repose of their soles. The arrangement was announced to be comfortable enough, although it was necessary for the riders to hold on fore and aft to the saddle with both hands, while a muleteer went ahead and led the beasts. In some of the steeper places the maintenance of a seat under these conditions required no little skill. As for the men, there were no special muleteers. We were supposed to know how to ride, and in a short time we had discovered how to guide the horses with the single rein provided, either by pulling it, or by pressing it across the horse’s neck. To stop the modern Greek horse you whistle. That is to say, you whistle if you can muster a whistle at all, which is sometimes difficult when a panic seizes you and your mouth becomes dry and intractable. In the main our progress was so moderate that no more skill was needed to ride or guide the steeds than would be required on a handcar. Only on rare occasions, when some of the beasts got off the track or fell behind, was any real acquaintance with Greek horsemanship required. This happened to all of us in turn before we got home again, and in each case the muleteers came to our aid in due season after we had completely lost all recollection of the proper procedure for stopping and were seeking to accomplish it by loud “whoas” instead of the soothing sibilant which is the modern Greek equivalent for that useful, and indeed necessary, word.
We found it highly desirable now and then to alight and walk, for to the unaccustomed rider the strain of sitting in a cramped position on a horse for hours at a time is wearying and benumbing to the lower limbs. On the ride up to Bassæ, those who did no walking at all found it decidedly difficult to walk when they arrived. The one deterrent was the labor involved in dismounting and the prospective difficulty of getting aboard again. In this operation the muleteers assisted our clumsiness not a little, and we discovered that the way to attract their attention to a desire to alight was to say “ka-tò,” in a commanding tone—the same being equivalent to “down.”
So much for our experiences as we wound along the sides of rocky ravines and gorges in the heart of the hills behind Andhritsæna. When we had grown accustomed to the manipulation of the horses and had learned that the beasts really would not fall down and dash us into the depths below, we began to enjoy the scenery. It was rugged, for the most part, although at the bottoms of the valleys there was frequently meadow land spangled with innumerable wildflowers and shrubbery, watered by an occasional brook. It was a lovely morning, still cool and yet cloudless. The birds twittered among the stunted trees. We passed from narrow vale to narrow vale, and at last, when no outlet was to be seen, we ceased to descend and began a steady climb out of the shady undergrowth along the side of a rocky mountain, where there was no wood at all save for scattered groves of pollard oaks—curious old trees, low and gnarled, covered with odd bunches, and bearing an occasional wreath of mistletoe. At the ends of their branches the trees put forth handfuls of small twigs, which we were told the inhabitants are accustomed to lop off for fagots. It is evident that the trees do not get half a chance to live and thrive. But they manage in some way to prolong their existence, and they give to the region at Bassæ and to the temple there a certain weird charm.
THRESHING FLOOR AT BASSÆ
Off to the west as we climbed there appeared a shining streak of silver which the guides saw and pointed to, shouting “Thalassa! Thalassa!” (the sea). And, indeed, it was the first glimpse of the ocean west of Greece. Shortly beyond we attained the summit and began a gentle descent along a sort of tableland through a sparse grove of the stunted oaks, among which here and there appeared round flat floors of stone used for threshing. Many of these could be seen on the adjacent hills and in the valleys, and the number visible at one time proved to be something like a score. All at once, as we wound slowly down through the avenue of oaks, the temple itself burst unexpectedly into view, gray like the surrounding rocks, from which, indeed, it was built. To approach a shrine like this from above is not common in Greece, and this sudden apparition of the temple, which is admirably preserved, seems to have struck every visitor who has described it as exceedingly beautiful, particularly as one sees it framed in a foreground of these odd trees. We were high enough above the structure to look down into it, for it is of course devoid of any roof; and unlike most of the other temples, it was always so, for it was of the “hypæthral” type, and intended to be open to the sky. Nor was this the only unusual feature of the temple at Bassæ. It was peculiar among the older shrines in that it ran north and south instead of east and west, which was the regular custom among the roofed structures of the Greeks. Of course this difference in orientation has given rise to a great deal of discussion and speculation among those whose opinions are of weight in such matters. Probably the casual visitor in Greece is well aware of the custom of so fixing the axes of temples as to bring the eastern door directly in line with the rising sun on certain appropriate days, for the better illumination of the interior on those festivals. Although such expedients as the use of translucent marble roofs were resorted to, the lighting of the interior of roofed temples was always a matter of some little difficulty, and this arrangement of the doorways was necessary to bring out the image of the god in sufficiently strong light. From this system of orientation it has occasionally been possible to identify certain temples as dedicated to particular deities, by noting the days on which the rising sun would have come exactly opposite the axis of the shrine. No such consideration would apply with the same force to a hypæthral temple, whatever else might have figured in the general determination of the orientation. But even at Bassæ, where the length of the temple so obviously runs north and south, it is still true that one opening in it was eastward, and it is supposed that in the end of the temple space was an older shrine to Apollo, which, like other temples, faced the rising sun. This older precinct was not interfered with in erecting the greater building, and it is still plainly to be seen where the original sacred precinct was.
The members of the single encircling row of columns are still intact, although in some cases slightly thrown out of alignment; and they still bear almost the entire entablature. The cella wall within is also practically intact, and inside it are still standing large sections of the unusual engaged half-columns which encircled the cella, standing against its sides. The great frieze in bas-relief, which once ran around the top, facing inward, is now in the British Museum, where it is justly regarded as one of the chief treasures of the Greek collection. It hardly needs the comment that such arrangement of the frieze was highly unusual, inside the building, instead of on the outer side of the cella, as was the case in the Parthenon. Ictinus, the architect of the Parthenon, also built the temple at Bassæ, which was dedicated by the Phigalians to “Apollo the Helper,” in gratification for relief from a plague. That fact has given rise to the conjecture that it was perhaps built at the same time that the plague ravaged Athens, during the early part of the Peloponnesian War. However that may be, it is evidently true that it belongs to the same golden age that gave us the Parthenon and the Propylæa at Athens. Unlike them, it does not glow with the varied hues of the weathered Pentelic marble, but is a soft gray, due to the native stone of which it was constructed. And this gray color, contrasting with the sombreness of the surrounding grove, gives much the same satisfactory effect as is to be seen at Ægina, where the temple is seen, like this, in a framework of trees.
Needless to say, the outlook from this lofty site—something like four thousand feet above the sea—is grand. The ocean is visible to the south as well as to the west. The rolling mountains to the east form an imposing pageant, culminating in the lofty Taÿgetos range. Looming like a black mound in the centre of the middle distance to the southward is the imposing and isolated acropolis of Ithome, the stronghold of the ancient Messenians. As usual, the builders of the temple at Bassæ selected a most advantageous site for their shrine. It was while we were enjoying the view after lunch that a solitary German appeared from the direction of Ithome, having passed through the modern Phigalia. He had a boy for a guide, but aside from that he was roaming through this deserted section of Greece alone. He knew nothing of the language. He had no dragoman to make the rough places smooth. He had spent several sorry nights in peasants’ huts, where vermin most did congregate. But he was enjoying it all with the enthusiasm of the true Philhellene, and on the whole was making his way about surprisingly well. We sat and chatted for a long time in the shade of the temple, comparing it with the lonely grandeur of the temple at Segesta, in Sicily. And as the sun was sinking we took the homeward way again, but content to walk this time rather than harrow our souls by riding down the excessively steep declivity that led from the mountain to the valleys below.
TEMPLE AT BASSÆ, FROM ABOVE
TEMPLE AT BASSÆ, FROM BELOW
At dinner that night in Andhritsæna an old man appeared with wares to sell—curiously wrought and barbaric blankets, saddlebags, and the like, apparently fresh and new, but really, he claimed, the dowry of his wife who had long been dead. He had no further use for the goods, but he did think he might find uses for the drachmæ they would bring. Needless to say, our saddlebags were the heavier the next day when our pack-mules were loaded for the journey over the hills to Olympia.
One other thing deserves a word of comment before we leave Andhritsæna, and that is the cemetery. We had seen many funeral processions at Athens, carrying the uncoffined dead through the streets, but we had never paid much attention to the burial places, because they are still mainly to be found outside the city gates, and not in the line commonly taken by visitors. At Andhritsæna we came upon one, however, and for the first time noticed the curious little wooden boxes placed at the heads of the graves, resembling more than anything else the bird-houses that humane people put on trees at home. Inside of the boxes we found oil stains and occasionally the remains of broken lamps, placed there, we were told, as a "mnemeion"—doubtless meaning a memorial, which word is a direct descendant. The lamps appear to be kept lighted for a time after the death of the person thus honored, but none were lighted when we saw the cemetery of Andhritsæna, and practically all had fallen into neglect, as if the dead had been so long away that grief at their departure had been forgotten. A little chapel stood hard by, and on its wall a metal plate and a heavy iron spike did duty for a bell.
Then the cold night settled down upon Andhritsæna, and we retired to the warmth of our narrow beds, ready for the summons which should call us forth to begin our fatiguing ride to the famous site of old Olympia.
At five o'clock the persistent thumping of Spyros on the bedroom doors announced the call of incense-breathing morn, though Phœbus had not yet by any means driven his horses above the rim of the horizon. The air outside was thick o' fog,—doubtless a low-lying cloud settling on the mountain,—and it was dark and cheerless work getting out of our narrow beds and dressing in the cold twilight. Nevertheless it was necessary, for the ride to Olympia is long, and Spyros had promised us a fatiguing day, with twelve hours in the saddle as a minimum. To this forecast the pessimistic Baedeker lent much plausibility by his reference to the road as being unspeakably bad; and besides we ourselves had on the previous day gathered much personal experience of the mountain trails of the region. Breakfast under these circumstances was a rather hasty meal, consumed in comparative silence.
By the time the last of the rolls and jam had disappeared and the task of furling up the beds was well advanced, a clatter of hoofs in the village street drew one of the party to the door, whence word was speedily returned that the street outside was full of horses. And it was. There were ten steeds, including four for our party, two for Spyros and Stathi, one for a muleteer relief conveyance, and the rest for the baggage—the latter being small and seemingly quite inadequate burros or donkeys, who proved more notable for their patient indifference than for size or animation. While these were being laden, four other beasts drew near, bearing our solitary German of the day before and another of his countrymen who had materialized during the night, with their impedimenta. They were welcomed to the caravan, which, numbering fourteen beasts and almost as many humans, took the road out of town with commendable promptitude at sharp six o'clock. The cloud had lifted as we rounded the western edge of the valley and looked back at Andhritsæna, glimmering in the morning light. We were streaming off in Indian file along a very excellent road, like that on which we had ridden up from Megalopolis two days before, and which promised well for a speedy removal of the apprehensions awakened by Bædeker. But the road did not last long. Before we had fairly lost Andhritsæna in the hills behind, the leading guide turned sharply to the left, through a rocky defile in the hillside, and precipitated us down one of those rocky torrent beds, with the nature of which we had become only too familiar the day before. It was the less disturbing this time, however, because we had learned to trust implicitly to the careful feet of our horses, with no more than a firm grip on bridle and pommel and an occasional soft whistle, or murmured "ochs', ochs'," to the intelligent beasts as an outward and audible sign of inward and spiritual perturbation. It was steep but short, and we came out below upon the road again, to everybody’s unconcealed delight.
The road, however, soon lost itself in a meadow. When it is ultimately finished, the journey will be much easier than we found it. In a few years I suppose it will be perfectly possible to ride to Olympia in a carriage, and the horseback problem will cease to deter visitors to Bassæ from continuing their journey westward. The way now lay along a pleasant and rolling meadow country, dotted with primitive farms, which glowed under the bright morning sun. We splashed through a narrow upland river and up another rocky ascent, beyond which another downward pitch carried us to a still lower meadow. Meantime the cold of morning gave place to a growing warmth, and the wraps became saddle blankets in short order. We rode and walked alternately, choosing the level stretches through the grass for pedestrianism and riding only when we came to sharp upward climbs, thus easing the fatigue that we should otherwise have found in continued riding. Always we could see the imposing peaks to the north, and the downward tendency of the trail soon brought out the altitude of the hills behind Andhritsæna. The immediate vicinity of our path was pastoral and agricultural, in the main, for the recurring ridges over which we scrambled served only as boundaries between well-watered vales in which small trees and bushes flourished, and where the occasional sharp whir of pressure from a primitive penstock called attention to the presence of a water mill. Aside from these isolated mills there was little sign of habitation, for the fields seemed mostly grown up to grass. In the far distance we could see the valley of the Alpheios, broadening out of its confining walls of rock to what seemed like a sandy reach in the plain far below, and we were told that at nightfall we should be ferried across it close to Olympia, provided we caught the boatmen before they left for home. It was this anxiety to be on time that led Spyros to urge us along, lest when we came out at the bank of the river we should find no response to the ferryman’s call of "Varka! Varka!"—the common mode of hailing boatmen in Greece. With this for a spur we wasted little time on the way, but proceeded steadily, now riding, now walking, up hill and down dale, through groves of low acacias or Judas trees, or along grassy meadows where a profusion of wild flowers added a touch of color to the green.
The pleasant valley, however, proved not to be the road for very long. In an hour or so the guides branched off again into a range of hills that seemed as high as those we had left, and there entered a tortuous ravine worn by a mountain brook, along which the path wound higher and higher toward a distant house which the muleteers pointed out and pronounced to be a "ξενοδοχεῖον,"—the Professor had long ago learned to call it "Senator Sheehan,"—at which wayside inn the mistaken impression prevailed that we were speedily to lunch. It was not so to be, however. When we had achieved the height and rested under two leafy plane trees that we found there, Spyros repeated his tale about the ferrymen and their departure at sundown; and we must away at once, with no more refreshment than was to be drawn from some crackers and a bottle of Solon. And so we pressed on again, still climbing, though more gradually. The path was not so bad after all, despite the Bædeker, and in one place we voted it easily the finest spot we had found in all our Peloponnesian rambles. We were riding along at the time through a shady grove when we came suddenly upon a collection of mammoth planes, whose branches spread far and wide, and from the midst of the cleft side of one of them a spring bubbled forth joyously, flooding the road. It was here that the king on one of his journeys the year before had stopped to rest and partake of his noonday meal. It seemed to us, famished by six hours of hard riding, that the king’s example was one all good citizens should follow; but Spyros was inexorable, and reminded us that ferrymen might wait for the King of Greece, but not for any lesser personages whatsoever. We must not halt until we got to Gremka; for at Gremka we should find a good road, and beyond there it was four hours of travel, and we might judge exactly how much time we had for rest by the hour of our reaching the place. So we obediently proceeded, joined now by two more beasts so laden with the empty oil-cans common to the region that only their legs were visible. These furnished the comedy element in the day’s experiences, for the donkeys thus loaded proved to be contrary little creatures, always getting off the trail and careering down the mountain-side through the scrubby trees and bushes, their deck-loads of tin making a merry din as they crashed through the underbrush, while our guides roared with derisive laughter at the discomfiture of the harassed attendants. When not engaged in ridiculing the owners of those numerous and troublesome oil-cans, the muleteers sang antiphonally some music in a minor key which Spyros said was a wedding song wherein the bridegroom and the bride’s family interchange sentiments. This seems to be the regular diversion of muleteers, judging by the unanimity with which travelers in Greece relate the experience. Anon our muleteers would likewise find amusement by stealing around behind and administering an unexpected smack on the plump buttocks of the horses, with the inevitable result of starting the beast out of his meditative amble into something remotely resembling a canter, and eliciting an alarmed squeal from the rider—at which the muleteer, with the most innocent face in the world, would appear under the horse’s nose and grasp the bridle, assuring the frightened equestrian that the beast was "kalà"—or “all right.”
All the steeds were small with the exception of the altitudinous mule ridden by one of the ladies, and they were not at all bothered by the low branches of the trees through which we wended our way. Not so, however, the riders. The thorny branches that just cleared the nonchalant horse’s head swept over the saddle with uncompromising vigor, and the effort to swing the beast away from one tree meant encountering similar difficulties on the other side of the narrow path. Through this arboreal Scylla and Charybdis it was extremely difficult navigation and the horses took no interest in our plight at all, so that long before we emerged from the last of the groves along the way we were a beraveled and bescratched company.
Shortly after noon two villages appeared far ahead, and we were engaged in speculating as to which one was Gremka, when the guides suddenly turned again and shot straight up the hill toward a narrow defile in the mountain wall we had been skirting. It proved as narrow as a chimney and almost as steep, and for a few moments we scrambled sharply, our little horses struggling hard to get their burdens up the grade; but at last they gained the top, and we emerged from between two walls of towering rock into another and even fairer landscape. The plain of the Alpheios spread directly below, but we were not allowed to descend to it. Instead we actually began to climb, and for an hour or two more we rode along the side of the range of hills through the midst of which we had just penetrated. The path was pleasantly wooded, and the foliage was thick enough to afford a grateful shade above and a soft carpeting of dead leaves below. The air was heavy with the balsamic fragrance of the boughs, and the birds sang merrily although it was midday. Through the vistas that opened in this delightful grove we got recurring glimpses of the Erymanthus range, now separated from us only by the miles of open plain, and vastly impressive in their ruggedness.
The sides of the range of hills along which our path wound were corrugated again and again by ravines, worn by the brooks, and our progress was a continual rising and falling in consequence. The footing was slippery, due to the minute particles of reddish gravel and sand, so that here even our mountain horses slipped and stumbled, and we were warned to dismount and pick our own way down, which we did, shouting gayly “Varka! Varka!” at the crossing of every absurd little three-inch brook, to the intense enjoyment of the muleteers. And thus by two in the afternoon we arrived at Gremka, a poor little hamlet almost at the edge of the great plain, and were told that we had made splendid time, so that we might have almost an hour of rest, while Stathi unlimbered the sumpter mules and spread luncheon under two pleasant plane trees beside a real spring.
From Gremka on, we found the road again. It was almost absolutely level after we left the minor foothill on which Gremka sits, and for the remainder of our day we were to all intents and purposes in civilization again. Curiously enough, it was here that our little horses, that had been so admirably reliable in precipitous trails of loose rock and sand, began to stumble occasionally, as if careless now that the road was smooth and doubtless somewhat weary with the miles of climbing and descending. The guides and muleteers, refreshed with a little food and a vast amount of resinated wine, began to sing marriage music louder than ever, and the most imposing figure of all, a man who in every-day life was a butcher and who carried his huge cleaver thrust in his leathern belt, essayed to converse with us in modern Greek, but with indifferent success. The landscape, while no longer rugged, was pleasant and peaceful as the road wound about the valley through low hillocks and knolls crowned with little groves of pine, the broad lower reaches of the rivers testifying that we were nearing the sea. And at last, toward sunset, we swung in a long line down over the sands that skirt the rushing Alpheios and came to rest on the banks opposite Olympia, whose hotels we could easily see across the swelling flood.
The Alpheios is not to be despised as a river in April. It is not especially wide, but it has what a good many Greek rivers do not,—water, and plenty of it, running a swift course between the low banks of the south and the steeper bluffs that confine it on the Olympia side. The ferry was waiting. It proved to be a sizable boat, of the general shape of a coastwise schooner, but devoid of masts, and mainly hollow, save for a little deck fore and aft. Three voluble and, as it proved, rapacious natives manned it, the motive power being poles. With these ferrymen Spyros and Stathi almost immediately became involved in a furious controversy, aided by our cohort of muleteers. It did not surprise us greatly, and knowing that whatever happened we should be financially scathless, we sat down on the bank and skipped pebbles in the water. It developed that the boatman had demanded thrice his fee, and that Spyros, who had no illusions about departed spirits, objected strenuously to being gouged in this way and was protesting vehemently and volubly, while Stathi, whose exterior was ordinarily so calm, was positively terrible to behold as he danced about the gesticulating knot of men. It finally became so serious that the Professor and I, looking as fierce as we could, ranged ourselves alongside, mentioning a wholly mythical intimacy with the head of the Hellenic police department in the hope of promoting a wholesome spirit of compromise, but really more anxious to calm the excited cook, who was clamoring for the tools of his trade that he might dispatch these thrice-qualified knaves of boatmen then and there. Eventually, as tending to induce a cessation of hostilities, we cast off the mooring—whereat the dispute suddenly ended and the beasts of burden went aboard. So also did the Professor, who was anxious to establish a strategic base on the opposite bank; and the rest of us sat and watched the craft pushed painfully out into the stream and well up against the current, until a point was reached whence the force of the river took her and bore her madly down to her berth on the Olympia bank. Here fresh difficulties arose,—not financial but mechanical. The heavily loaded little donkeys proved utterly unable to step over the gunwale and get ashore. It was an inspiring sight to watch, the Professor tugging manfully at the bridle and the remainder of the crew boosting with might and main; but it was of no avail, although they wrought mightily, until at the psychological moment and in the spot most fitted to receive it, a muleteer gave the needed impetus by a prodigious kick, which lifted the patient ass over the side and out on the bank. The rest was easy. We were ferried over in our turn and disappeared from the view of the boatmen, each side expressing its opinion of the other in terms which we gathered from the tones employed were the diametrical reverse of complimentary. It was twelve hours to a dot from the time of our departure from Andhritsæna when we strolled into our hotel—at which fact Spyros plumed himself not a little.
It had not been an unduly fatiguing day, after all. The frequent walking that we had done served to break up the tedium of long riding, which otherwise would have been productive of numb limbs and stiff joints. It is well to bear this in mind, for I have seen unaccustomed riders assisted from their saddles after too long jaunts utterly unable to stand, and of course much less to walk, until a long period of rest had restored the circulation in the idle members. Fortunately, too, we had been blessed with an incomparable day. Spyros confessed that he had secretly dreaded a rain, which would have made the path dangerous in spots where it was narrow and composed of clay. As it was, we arrived in Olympia in surprisingly good condition, and on schedule time, though by no means unready to welcome real beds again and the chance for unlimited warm water.
Olympia, like Delphi, is a place of memories chiefly. The visible remains are numerous, but so flat that some little technical knowledge is needed to restore them in mind. There is no village at the modern Olympia at all,—nothing but five or six little inns and a railway station,—so that Delphi really has the advantage of Olympia in this regard. As a site connected with ancient Greek history and Greek religion, the two places are as similar in nature as they are in general ruin. The field in which the ancient structures stand lies just across the tiny tributary river Cladeus, spanned by a footbridge.
Even from the opposite bank, the ruins present a most interesting picture, with its attractiveness greatly enhanced by the neighboring pines, which scatter themselves through the precinct itself and cover densely the little conical hill of Kronos close by, while the grasses of the plain grow luxuriantly among the fallen stones of the former temples and apartments of the athletes. The ruins are so numerous and so prostrate that the non-technical visitor is seriously embarrassed to describe them, as is the case with every site of the kind. All the ruins, practically, have been identified and explained, and naturally they all have to do with the housing or with the contests of the visiting athletes of ancient times, or with the worship of tutelary divinities. Almost the first extensive ruin that we found on passing the encircling precinct wall was the Prytaneum—a sort of ancient training table at which victorious contestants were maintained gratis—while beyond lay other equally extensive remnants of exercising places, such as the Palæstra for the wrestlers. But all these were dominated, evidently, by the two great temples, an ancient one of comparatively small size sacred to Hera, and a mammoth edifice dedicated to Zeus, which still gives evidence of its enormous extent, while the fallen column-drums reveal some idea of the other proportions. It was in its day the chief glory of the inclosure, and the statue of the god was even reckoned among the seven wonders of the world. Unfortunately this statue, like that of Athena at Athens, has been irretrievably lost. But there is enough of the great shrine standing in the midst of the ruins to inspire one with an idea of its greatness; and, in the museum above, the heroic figures from its two pediments have been restored and set up in such wise as to reproduce the external adornment of the temple with remarkable success. Gathered around this central building, the remainder of the ancient structures having to do with the peculiar uses of the spot present a bewildering array of broken stones and marbles. An obtrusive remnant of a Byzantine church is the one discordant feature. Aside from this the precinct recalls only the distant time when the regular games called all Greece to Olympia, while the “peace of God” prevailed throughout the kingdom. Just at the foot of Kronos a long terrace and flight of steps mark the position of a row of old treasuries, as at Delphi, while along the eastern side of the precinct are to be seen the remains of a portico once famous for its echoes, where sat the judges who distributed the prizes. There is also a most graceful arch remaining to mark the entrance to the ancient stadium, of which nothing else now remains. Of the later structures on the site, the “house of Nero” is the most interesting and extensive. The Olympic games were still celebrated, even after the Roman domination, and Nero himself entered the lists in his own reign. He caused a palace to be erected for him on that occasion—and of course he won a victory, for any other outcome would have been most impolite, not to say dangerous. Nero was more fortunately lodged than were the other ancient contestants, it appears, for there were no hostelries in old Olympia in which the visiting multitudes could be housed, and the athletes and spectators who came from all over the land were accustomed to bring their own tents and pitch them roundabout, many of them on the farther side of the Alpheios.
ENTRANCE TO THE STADIUM. OLYMPIA
The many treasuries, to which reference has been made as running along the terrace wall at the very foot of the hill of Kronos, are spoken of by Pausanias. Enough of them is occasionally to be found to enable one to judge how they appeared—somewhat, no doubt, like the so-called “treasury of the Athenians” that one may see in a restored form at Delphi. In these tiny buildings were kept the smaller votive gifts of the various states and the apparatus for the games. Not far from this row of foundations and close by the terrace wall that leads along the hill down to the arch that marks the stadium entrance, are several bases on which stood bronze statues of Zeus, set up by the use of moneys derived from fines for fracturing the rules of the games. Various ancient athletes achieved a doubtful celebrity by having to erect these “Zanes,” as they were called, one of them being a memorial of the arrant coward Sarapion of Alexandria, who was so frightened at the prospect of entering the pankration for which he had set down his name that he fled the day before the contest.
Within the precinct one may still see fragments of the pedestal which supported Phidias’s wonderful gold-and-ivory image of Zeus. The god himself is said to have been so enchanted with the sculptor’s work that he hurled a thunderbolt down, which struck near the statue; and the spot was marked with a vase of marble. Just how approval was spelled out of so equivocal a manifestation might seem rather difficult to see; but such at any rate was the fact. Of the other remaining bases, the most interesting is doubtless the tall triangular pedestal of the Niké of Pæonius, still to be seen in situ, though its graceful statue is in the museum.
Just above the meadows on the farther bank, there runs a range of hills, through which we had but recently ridden. And it was there that the ancients found a convenient crag from which to hurl the unfortunate women who dared venture to look on at the games. The law provided that no woman’s eye should see those contests, and so far as is known only one woman caught breaking this law ever escaped the penalty of it. She was the mother of so many victorious athletes that an unwonted immunity was extended to her. Other women, whose disguise was penetrated, were made stern examples to frighten future venturesome maids and matrons out of seeking to view what was forbidden.
The games at Olympia were celebrated during a period of about a thousand years, throughout which time they furnished the one recognized system of dates. They recurred at four-year intervals. Long before the appointed month of the games, which were always held in midsummer, duly accredited ambassadors were sent forth to all the cities and states of Hellas to announce the coming of the event and to proclaim the “peace of God,” which the law decreed should prevail during the days of the contest, and in which it was sacrilege not to join, whatever the exigency. On the appointed date the cities of all Greece sent the flower of their youth to Olympia, runners, wrestlers, discus throwers, chariot drivers, boxers, and the like, as well as their choicest horses, to contend for the coveted trophy. During the first thirteen Olympiads there was but one athletic event,—a running race. In later times the number was added to until the race had grown to a “pentathlon,” or contest of five kinds, and still later to include twenty-four different exercises. None but Greeks of pure blood could contest, at least until the Roman times, and nobles and plebeians vied in striving for the victor’s wreath, although the richer were at a decided advantage in the matter of the horse races. The prize offered, however, was of no intrinsic value at all, being nothing but a crown of wild olive, and it astonished and dismayed the invading Persians not a little to find that they were being led against a nation that would strive so earnestly and steadfastly for a prize that seemed so little. As a matter of fact it was not as slight a reward as it appeared to be, for in the incidental honors that it carried the world has seldom seen its equal. The man who proved his right to be crowned with this simple wreath was not only regarded as honored in himself, but honor was imputed to his family and to his city as well; and the city generally went wild with enthusiasm over him, some even going so far as to raze their walls in token that with so gallant sons they needed no bulwarks. Special privileges were conferred upon him at home and even abroad. In many cities the victor of an Olympic contest was entitled to maintenance at the public charge in the utmost honor, and the greatest poets of the day delighted to celebrate the victors in their stateliest odes. Thus, although games in honor of the gods were held at various other points in Greece, as for example at Delphi and at the isthmus of Corinth, none surpassed the Olympic as a national institution, sharing the highest honors with the oracle at Delphi as an object of universal reverence.
Of course the origin of these great games is shrouded in mystery, which has, as usual, crystallized into legend. And as the pediment in one end of the temple of the Olympian Zeus, preserved in the museum near by, deals with this story, it may be in order to speak of it. Tradition relates that King Œnomaus had a splendid stud of race horses of which he was justly proud, and likewise was possessed of a surpassingly beautiful daughter whom men called Hippodameia, who was naturally sought in marriage by eligible young men from all around. The condition precedent set by Œnomaus to giving her hand was, however, a difficult one. The suitor must race his horses against those of Œnomaus, driving the team himself; and if he lost he was put to death. One version relates that Œnomaus, if he found himself being distanced, was wont to spear the luckless swains from behind. At any rate nobody had succeeded in winning Hippodameia when young Pelops came along and entered the contest. He had no doubt heard of the king’s unsportsmanlike javelin tactics, for he adopted some subterfuges of his own,—doing something or other to the chariot of his opponent, such as loosening a linchpin or bribing his charioteer to weaken it in some other part,—with the result that when the race came off Œnomaus was thrown out and killed, and Pelops won the race and Hippodameia—and of course lived happily ever after.
The pedimental sculptures from the great temple reproduce the scene that preceded the race in figures of heroic size, with no less a personage than Zeus himself in the centre of the group, while Œnomaus and Pelops with their chariots and horses and their attendants range themselves on either side, and Hippodameia stands expectantly waiting. The restorations have been liberal, but on the whole successful; and besides giving a very good idea of the legend itself, they are highly interesting from a sculptural point of view as showing a distinctive style of carving in marble. The other pediment, preserved in about the same proportion, is less interesting from a legendary standpoint, but is full of animation and artistic interest. It represents the contest between the Centaurs and Lapiths, with Apollo just in the act of intervening to prevent the rape of the Lapith women. This episode had little appropriateness to the Olympic site, so far as I know, but the ease with which the Centaur lent himself to the limitations of pedimental sculpture might well explain the adoption of the incident here. The head of Apollo is of the interesting type with which one grows familiar in going through museums devoted to early work, the most notable thing being the curious treatment of hair and eyes.
The precinct about the great temple was once filled with votive statues, and Pliny relates that he counted something like three thousand. Of these it appears that few remain sufficiently whole to add much interest. But out of all the great assemblage of sculptures there is one at least surviving that must forever assuage any grief at the loss of the rest. That, of course, is the inimitable Hermes of Praxiteles, which everybody knows through reproductions and photographs, but which in the original is so incomparably beautiful that no reproduction can hope to give an adequate idea of it, either in the expression of body and features, its poise and grace, or in the exquisite sheen of marble. They have wisely set it off by itself in a room which cannot be seen from the great main hall of the museum, and the observer is left to contemplate it undistracted. It seems generally to be agreed that it is the masterpiece of extant Greek sculpture. It is nearly perfect in its preservation, the upraised arm and small portions of the legs being about all that is missing. The latter have been supplied, not unsuccessfully, to join the admirable feet to the rest. No effort has been made, and happily so, to supply the missing arm. The infant Dionysus perched on the left arm is no great addition to the statue, and one might well wish it were not there; but even this slight drawback cannot interfere with the admiration one feels for so perfect a work. Hermes alone fully justifies the journey to Olympia, and once seen he will never be forgotten. The satin smoothness of the marble admirably simulates human (or god-like) flesh, doubtless because of the processes which the Greeks knew of rubbing it down with a preparation of wax. No trace of other external treatment survives, save a faint indication of gilding on the sandals. If the hair and eyes were ever painted, the paint has entirely disappeared in the centuries that the statue lay buried in the sands that the restless Alpheios and Cladeus washed into the sacred inclosure. For the rivers frequently left their narrow beds in former times and invaded the precincts of the gods, despite the efforts of man to wall them out. They have done irreparable damage to the buildings there, but since they at the same time preserved Hermes almost intact for modern eyes to enjoy, perhaps their other vandalisms may be pardoned.
The museum also includes among its treasures a number of the metopes from the great temple of Zeus, representing the labors of Hercules. But probably next after the incomparable Hermes must be reckoned the Niké of Pæonius, standing on a high pedestal at one end of the great main hall, and seemingly sweeping triumphantly through space with her draperies flowing free—a wonderful lightness being suggested despite the weight of the material. This Niké has always seemed to me a fair rival of her more famous sister from Samothrace, suggesting the idea of victory even more forcibly than the statue on the staircase of the Louvre, which has an Amazonian quality suggestive of actual conflict rather than a past successful issue. The unfortunate circumstance about the Niké at Olympia is that her head is gone, and they have sought to suspend the recovered portion of it over the body by an iron rod. A wrist is in like manner appended to one of the arms, and the two give a jarring note, by recalling Ichabod Crane and Cap'n Cuttle in most incongruous surroundings. Nevertheless the Niké is wonderful, and would be more so if it were not for these lamentable attempts to restore what is not possible to be restored.
Of all the many little collections in Greece, that in Olympia is doubtless the best, and it is fittingly housed in a building in the classic style, given by a patriotic Greek, M. Syngros. Aside from the artistic remnants, there are a number of relics bearing on the athletic aspect of Olympia—its chief side, of course. And among these are some ancient discs of metal and stone, and a huge rock which bears an inscription relating that a certain strong man of ancient times was able to lift it over his head and to toss it a stated distance. It seems incredible—but there were giants in the land in those days.
The modern Olympic games, such as are held in Athens every now and then, are but feeble attempts to give a classic tone to a very ordinary athletic meet of international character. There is none of the significance attached to the modern events that attended the old, and the management leaves much to be desired. Former visitors are no longer maintained at the Prytaneum; but, on the contrary, are even denied passes to witness the struggles of their successors. The games fill Athens with a profitable throng and serve to advertise the country, but aside from this they have no excuse for being on Greek soil, and mar the land so far as concerns the enjoyment of true Philhellenes. Fortunately there is no possible chance of holding any such substitute games at Olympia herself. Her glory has departed forever, save as it survives in memory.
It was a gray morning—for Greece. The sky was overcast, the wind blew chill from the north, and anon the rain would set in and give us a few moments of downpour, only to cease again and permit a brief glimpse ahead across the Ægean, into which classic sea our little steamer was thrusting her blunt nose, rising and falling on the heavy swell. We had borne around Sunium in the early dawn, and our course was now in an easterly direction toward the once famous but now entirely deserted island of Delos, the centre of the Cyclades. Ahead, whenever the murk lifted, we could see several of the nearer and larger islands of the group,—that imposing row of submerged mountain peaks that reveal the continuation of the Attic peninsula under water as it streams away to the southeast from the promontory of Sunium. The seeming chaos of the Grecian archipelago is easily reducible to something like order by keeping this fact in mind. It is really composed of two parallel submerged mountain ranges, the prolongations of Attica and of Eubœa respectively, the summits of which pierce the surface of the water again and again, forming the islands which every schoolboy recalls as having names that end in “os.” Just before us, in a row looming through the drifting rain, we saw Kythnos, Seriphos, and Siphnos, while beyond them, and belonging to the other ridge, the chart revealed Andros, Tenos, Naxos, Mykonos, and Paros, as yet impossible of actual sight. This galaxy of islands must have proved highly useful to the ancient mariners, no doubt, since by reason of their numbers and proximity to each other and to the mainland, as well as by reason of their distinctive shapes and contours, it was possible always to keep some sort of landmark in sight, as was highly desirable in days when sailors knew nothing of compasses and steered only by the stars. Lovers of Browning will recall the embarrassment that overtook the Rhodian bark that set sail with Balaustion for Athens, only to lose all reckoning and bring up in Syracuse. No ancient ship was at all sure of accurate navigation without frequent landfalls, and even the hardy mariners of Athens were accustomed, when en route to Sicily, to hug the rugged shores of the Peloponnesus all the way around to the opening of the Corinthian Gulf, and thence to proceed to Corfu before venturing to strike off westward across the Adriatic to the “heel” of Italy, where one could skirt the shore again until Sicily hove in sight near the dreaded haunts of Scylla. Of course other considerations, such as food and water, added to the desirability of keeping the land in sight most of the time on so long a voyage; but not the least important of the reasons was the necessity of keeping on the right road.
We had set sail on a chartered ship, in a party numbering about forty, most of whom were bent on the serious consideration of things archæological, while the inconsiderable remainder were unblushingly in search of pleasure only slightly tinged by scientific enthusiasm. In no other way, indeed, could such a journey be made in anything like comfort. The Greek steamers, while numerous, are slow and small, and not to be recommended for cleanliness or convenience; while their stated routes include much that is of no especial interest to visitors, who are chiefly eager to view scenes made glorious by past celebrity, and are less concerned with the modern seaports devoted to a prosaic traffic in wine and fruits. To one fortunate enough to be able to number himself among those who go down to the sea in yachts, the Ægean furnishes a fruitful source of pleasure. To us, the only recourse was to the native lines of freight and passenger craft, or to join ourselves to a party of investigators who were taking an annual cruise among the famous ancient sites. We chose the latter, not merely because of the better opportunity to visit the islands we had long most wished to see, but because of the admirable opportunity to derive instruction as well as pleasure from the voyage. So behold us in our own ship, with our own supplies, our own sailing master and crew, sailing eastward over a gray sea, through the spring showers, toward the barren isle where Phœbus sprung.
Delos is easy enough to find now, small as it is. It long ago ceased to be the floating island that legend describes. If we can permit ourselves a little indulgence in paganism, we may believe that this rocky islet was a chip, broken from the bed of the ocean by Poseidon, which was floating about at random until Zeus anchored it to afford a bed for Leto, that she might be comfortably couched at the birth of Apollo, despite the promise of Earth that the guilty Leto should have no place to lay her head. Thus the vow which the jealousy of Hera had procured was brought to naught, and in Delos was born the most celebrated of the sons of Zeus, together with his twin sister, Artemis.
Delos is in fact a double island, divided by a narrow strait into Greater and Lesser Delos. And it was with the lesser portion that we had to do, as also did ancient history. For despite its insignificant size and remoteness, Delos the Less was once a chief seat of empire and a great and flourishing city, as well as the repository of vast wealth. Distant as it seems from Athens, the island is really quite central with reference to the rest of the archipelago, and from its low summit may be seen most of the Cyclades on a clear day. The narrow strait before referred to furnishes about all the harbor that is to be found at Delos to-day. Into this sheltered bit of water we steamed and dropped anchor, happy in the favoring wind that allowed us a landing where it is occasionally difficult to find water sufficiently smooth for the small boats; for here, as in all Greek waters, small boats furnish the only means of getting ashore. There was a shallow basin just before what was once the ancient city, and doubtless it was considered good harborage for the triremes and galleys of small draught; but for even a small steamer like ours it was quite insufficient in depth, and we came to rest perhaps a quarter of a mile from the landing, while the clouds broke and the afternoon sun came out warm and bright as we clambered down to the dories and pulled for the shore.
There proved to be little or no habitation save for the French excavators and their men, who were completing a notable work in uncovering not only the ancient precincts of Apollo and of the headquarters of the Delian league, but the residence portion of the ancient city as well, which we later discovered to lie off to the east on the high ground. We landed on a sort of rocky mole erected along the edge of what was once the sacred harbor and picked our way along a narrow-gauge track used by the excavators, to the maze of ruins that lay beyond. It proved as bewildering a mass of fallen marbles as that at Olympia. The main part of the ruin is apparently a relic of the religious side of the place, dominated, of course, by the cult of Apollo. Centuries of reverence had contributed to the enrichment of the environs of the shrine. All about the visitor finds traces of porticoes and propylæa, the largest of these being erected by Philip V. of Macedon, as is testified to by an extant inscription. Little remains standing of any of the buildings, but the bits of capital and entablature that lie strewn about serve to give a faint idea of the nature of the adornment that attended the temples in their prime. It is not difficult to trace the course of the sacred way leading from the entrance around the sacred precinct to the eastern façade of the main temples, lined throughout most of its course by the bases of statues, altars, and remnants of the foundations of small rectangular buildings which are supposed to have been treasuries, as at Delphi and Olympia. Not far away from the main temple of the god is still to be seen the base of his colossal statue, an inscription reciting that the Naxians made it, and that they carved statue and base from the same stone. Whether this means that the figure and base were actually a single block, or only that the figure and base were made of the same specific material, has caused some little speculation. As for the statue itself, there are at least two large fragments on the ground not far away, easily identified by the modeling as parts of the huge back and breast of the colossus. One of his feet is preserved in the British Museum, and a hand is at the neighboring island of Mykonos. The rest is either buried in the earth near by, or has been carried off by vandals. That the earth has many treasures still to yield up is evident by the occasional accidental discoveries recently made on the site by the diggers. When we were there the construction of a trench for the diminutive car-track had unearthed a beautifully sculptured lion deep in the soil; and since that time I have heard that several other similar finds have been made. So it may be that the lime burners have not made away with the great Apollo entirely.
There are three temples, presumably all devoted to the cult of Apollo, and one of them no doubt to the memory of his unfortunate mother, Leto, who bore him, according to tradition, on the shores of the sacred lake near by. Not far from the Apollo group are two other ruined shrines, supposed to have been sacred to Artemis. More interesting than either, however, to the layman is the famous “hall of the bulls,” which is the largest and best preserved of all the buildings, and which takes its name from the carved bullocks on its capitals. It is not saying much, however, to say that it is better preserved than the others. It is only so in the sense that its extent and general plan are easier to trace. Its altar, known as the “horned altar of Apollo,” from the rams’ heads with which it was adorned, was accounted by the ancients one of the seven wonders of the world. We were well content to leave the sacred precinct, and to wander along toward the north, past the Roman agora, in the general direction of the sacred lake. It proved to be a sorry pool, stagnant and unattractive compared with what it must have been when it was in its prime, with its banks adorned with curbing. Not far from its shores we were shown the remains of several ancient houses, also of the Roman period, in which the rooms were still divided by walls of a considerable height. These walls gave occasional evidence of having been adorned with stucco and frescoes, and the rooms revealed fragments of tessellated pavement, while under each house was a capacious cistern for the preservation of rain water. Of course these dwellings, while recalling Pompeii, were far less perfect in the way of artistic revelations, being so much older.
These houses, interesting as they were, did not compare with those which we were later shown on the hill above the precinct. These we passed on our way up to the theatre, and to those of us who were unskilled in archæological science they proved to be the most absorbing of all the ruins on the little island. There are a good many of them, lining several old streets, as at Pompeii. Their walls are of sufficient altitude to give even an idea of the upper stories, and in one case, at least, we were able to mount, by a sadly ruined stone staircase, to what was once the upper landing. The general arrangement of the rooms was quite similar to that made familiar by the excavated houses at Pompeii, the great central court, or atrium, being adorned with a most remarkable mosaic representing Dionysos riding on a dragon of ferocious mien. It is kept covered, but a guard obligingly raised the heavy wooden door that shields it from the weather, and propped it up with a stick so that it resembled nothing so much as a huge piano lid. The coloring of the mosaic was lively in spite of its sombreness, and the eyes of the figures were admirably executed.
All around the atrium were traces of a colonnade, pieces of the columns remaining intact. The walls were apparently decorated with bits of stone set deep in a coating of mortar, and once adorned with a colored wash of red, yellow, and blue. Mural paintings naturally were wanting, for these houses were not only older than those of the Neapolitan suburb, but they perished by a slow weathering process instead of by a sudden overwhelming such as overtook Pompeii. What traces of painting there are left on the Delian walls are indistinct and rather unsatisfactory, and recall the childish scrawls of our own day. But the houses themselves, with their occasional pavements and the one admirable mosaic, leave little to be desired. Particularly interesting was the revelation of the drainage system. The houses were not only carefully provided with deep cisterns for preserving rain water; they had also well-designed channels for carrying waste water away. Every house in these streets had its drain covered with flat stones running out to the main sewer of the street, while those in turn converged in a trunk sewer at the foot of the slope. It is evident enough that Delos was a dry sort of place, both by nature and by artifice, and that in the period of the city’s greatest celebrity it would be impossible for the historian to refer to the muddy condition existing at that period of the month just before the streets underwent their regular cleaning.
We had passed well up toward the theatre on the slopes of the height called Kythnos before we cleared the ancient dwellings. The theatre itself proved to be roomy, but largely grass-grown and exceedingly steep to clamber over. The portion devoted to seats was chiefly notable for occupying considerably more than the traditional semicircle, and for having its ends built up with huge walls of masonry. Only the lower seats are preserved. The colonnaded proskenion, which may have supported a stage, is, however, highly unusual and interesting.
Sundry venturesome spirits climbed to the summit of Kythnos, but it was no day for the view for which that eminence is celebrated. On a clearer day a great many of the Cyclades could be seen, no doubt, because of the central location of the island and the marvelous clarity of the Greek atmosphere, when it is clear at all. We were unfortunate enough to meet with a showery April day, which promised little in the way of distant prospects. Halfway down the side of Kythnos, however, was easily to be seen the grotto of Apollo. In fact, it is the most constantly visible feature of the island. It is a sort of artificial cave in the side of the hill toward the ruins, and here was the earliest of the temples to the god. Ancient hands added to what natural grotto there was by erecting a primitive portal for it. Two huge slabs of stone seem to have been allowed to drop toward one another until they met, forming a mutual support, so that the effect is that of a gable. Other slabs have been arranged to form a pitch roof over the spot, and a marble lintel and gate posts have also been added,—presumably much later than the rest. It is even probable that this venerable shrine was also the seat of an oracle, for certain of the internal arrangements of the grotto bear a resemblance to those known to have existed at Delphi; but if there was one in Delos, it never attained to the reputation that attended the later chief home of the far-darting god.
DELOS, SHOWING GROTTO
GROTTO OF APOLLO. DELOS
The births of Apollo and Artemis appear to have been deemed quite enough for the celebrity of Delos; for in after years, when the Athenians felt called upon to “purify” the city, they enacted that no mortal in the future should be permitted to be born or to die on the island. In consequence, temporary habitations were erected across the narrow strait on the shores of Greater Delos for the use of those in extremis or those about to be confined. Aside from this fact, the larger island has little or no interest to the visitor.
There is, of course, a museum at Delos. Some day it will be a very interesting one indeed. At the time of our visit it was only just finished, and had not been provided with any floor but such as nature gave. In due season it will probably rank with any for its archæological value, although it will be infinitely less interesting than others to inexpert visitors, who generally prefer statues of fair preservation to small fragments and bits of inscription. Of the notable sculptures that must have abounded in Delos once, comparatively little remains; certainly nothing to compare with the charioteer and the Lysippus at Delphi, or with the Hermes and pedimental figures at Olympia. The great charm of Delos to the unskilled mind is to be found in its history and in its beautiful surroundings. As a birthplace of one of the major gods of high Olympus, the seat of the Delian league against the Persians, and the original treasury of the Athenian empire, Delos has history enough to satisfy an island many times her size. Traces still remain of the dancing place where the Delian maidens performed their wonderful evolutions during the annual pilgrimage, which was a feature during the Athenian supremacy; and the temples and treasuries, ruined as they are, forcibly recall the importance which once attached to the spot. The memory still survives of the so-called “Delian problem” of the doubling of the cube, a task that proved a poser for the ancient mathematicians when the oracle propounded, as the price of staying a plague, that the Delians should double the pedestal of Parian marble that stood in the great temple. But it is almost entirely a place of memories, deserted by all but the excavators and an occasional shepherd. To-day it is little more than the bare rock that it was when Poseidon split it from the bed of the sea. Apollo gave it an immortality, however, which does not wane although Apollo himself is dead. Athens and Corinth gave it a worldly celebrity, which proved but temporary so far as it depended on activity in the world of affairs. Delos, washed by the Ægean, has little to look forward to but to drowse the long tides idle, well content with her crowded hour of glorious life, and satisfied that her neighbors should have the age without a name.
The stiff north wind, which was known to be blowing outside, counseled delaying departure from Delos until after the evening meal, for our course to Samos lay through the trough of the sea. In the shelter of the narrow channel between Greater and Lesser Delos the water was calm enough to enable eating in comfort, and it was the commendable rule of the cruise to seek shelter for meals, owing to the lack of “racks” to prevent the contents of the tables from shifting when the vessel rolled. Hence it was well along in the evening before the anchor was weighed; and as the engines gave their first premonitory wheezes, word was passed from the bridge that all who did not love rough weather would better retire at once, as we were certain to “catch it” as soon as we rounded the capes of the neighboring Mykonos and squared away for Samos across a long stretch of open water. The warning served to bring home to us one of the marked peculiarities about cruising in the Ægean, namely, the succession of calm waters and tempestuous seas, which interlard themselves like the streaks of fat and lean in the bacon from the Irishman’s pig, which was fed to repletion one day and starved the next. This, of course, is due to the numerous islands, never many miles apart, which are forever affording shelter from the breezes and waves, only to open up again and subject the craft to a rolling and boisterous sea as it crosses the stretches of open channel between them. When the experiences due to these sudden transitions were not trying, they were likely to be amusing, we discovered, as was the case on one morning when the tables had been laid for breakfast rather imprudently just before rounding a windy promontory. The instant the ship felt the cross seas she began to roll heavily, and the entire array of breakfast dishes promptly left the unprotected table, only to crash heavily against the stateroom doors that lined the saloon, eliciting shrieks from those within; while the following roll of the vessel sent the débris careering across the floor to bring up with equal resonance against the doors on the other side, the stewards meantime being harassed beyond measure to recover their scudding cups and saucers.
In the morning of our arrival off Samos we found ourselves moving along on an even keel, under the lee of that extensive island and close also to the shores of Asia Minor, the famous promontory of Mykale looming large and blue ahead. We coasted along the Samian shore, close enough to distinguish even from a distance the ruins of the once famous Heræum, which was among the objects of our visit. It was marked from afar by a single gleaming column, rising apparently from the beach. For the present we passed it by, the ship heading for the little white town farther ahead and just opposite the bay made by the great bulk of Mykale. It was historic ground, for it was at Mykale that the pursuing Greeks, under Leotychides and Xantippus, made the final quietus of the Persian army and navy in the year 479 B.C., just after Salamis, by the final defeat of Tigranes. Mykale, however, we viewed only from afar. The ship rounded the mole protecting the harbor of what was once the chief city of Samos, and came to anchor for the first time in Turkish waters. While the necessary official visits and examination of passports were being made, there was abundant opportunity to inspect the port from the deck. It lay at the base of a rugged mountain, and the buildings of the city lined the diminutive harbor on two sides, curving along a low quay. In general appearance the town recalled Canea, in Crete, by the whiteness of its houses and the pale greenness of its shutters and the occasional slender tower of a mosque. Technically Samos is a Turkish island. Practically it is so only in the sense that it pays an annual tribute to the Sultan and that its Greek governor is nominated by that monarch. It was sufficiently Turkish, in any event, to require passports and the official call of a tiny skiff flying the crescent flag and bearing a resplendent local officer crowned with a red fez. The formalities were all arranged by proxy ashore, and in due time the ship’s boat returned, bearing the freedom of the city and a limited supply of Samian cigarettes, which retailed at the modest sum of a franc and a half the hundred.
Herodotus devotes a considerable space to the history of the Samians in the time of the Persian supremacy and especially to the deeds of the tyrant Polycrates, who seized the power of the island and proved a prosperous ruler. In fact the rampant successes of Polycrates alarmed his friend and ally, King Amasis of Egypt, who had the wholesome dread of the ancients for the “jealousy” of the gods; and in consequence Amasis sent a messenger up to Samos to tell Polycrates that he was too successful for his own good. Amasis was afraid, according to the messenger, that some evil would overtake the Samian ruler, and he advised Polycrates to cast away whatever thing he valued the most as a propitiation of the gods. The advice so impressed Polycrates that he recounted his possessions, selected a certain emerald seal-ring that he cherished exceedingly, took it aboard a fifty-oared galley and, when sufficiently far out at sea, hurled the treasured ring into the water. Whereat he returned content that he had appeased the presumably jealous gods. In less than a week a fisherman, who had taken an unusually beautiful fish in those waters, presented it as a great honor to Polycrates, and in dressing it for the table the servants found in its belly the ring that Polycrates had tried so hard to cast away! The event was held to be superhuman, and an account of it was promptly sent to Amasis in Egypt. He, however, judging from it that Polycrates was inevitably doomed by heaven, ended his alliance with Samos on the naïve plea that he should be sorry to have anything happen to a friend, and therefore proposed to make of Polycrates an enemy, that he need not grieve when misfortune overtook him! Misfortune did indeed overtake Polycrates, and Herodotus describes at some length how it occurred, ending his discourse with the remark that he feels justified in dealing at such length with the affairs of the Samians because they have accomplished "three works, the greatest that have been achieved by all the Greeks. The first is of a mountain, one hundred and fifty orgyiæ in height, in which is dug a tunnel beginning at the base and having an opening at either side of the mountain. The length of the tunnel is seven stadia, and the height and breadth are eight feet respectively. Through the whole length of the tunnel runs another excavation three feet wide and twenty cubits deep, through which cutting the water, conveyed by pipes, reaches the city, being drawn from a copious fount on the farther side of the mountain. The architect of this excavation was a Megarian, Eupalinus the son of Naustrophus. This, then, is one of the three great works. The second is a mound in the sea around the harbor, in depth about a hundred orgyiæ and in length about two stadia. The third work of theirs is a great temple, the largest we ever have seen, of which the architect was Rhœcus, son of Phileos, a native Samian. On account of these things I have dwelt longer on the affairs of the Samians."
It was, then, inside this mole, two stadia in length, that we were anchored. Doubtless the modern mole is still standing on the ancient foundation, but it would not be considered anything remarkable in the way of engineering to-day, whatever it may have been deemed in the childhood of the race. Something in the air of Samos must have bred a race of natural engineers, no doubt, for not only were these artificial wonders constructed there, but Pythagoras, the mathematical philosopher, was born in the island.
From the city up to the remnants of the ancient aqueduct in the mountain is not a difficult climb, and the tunnel itself affords a great many points of interest. In an age when tunneling was not a common or well-understood art, it must indeed have seemed a great wonder that the Samians were able to pierce the bowels of this considerable rocky height to get a water supply that could not be cut off. The source of the flowage was a spring located in the valley on the side of the mountain away from the town, and it would have been perfectly possible to convey the water to the city without any tunnel at all, merely by following the valley around. For some reason this was deemed inexpedient—doubtless because of the evident chance an enemy would have for cutting off the supply. The obvious question is, what was gained by making the tunnel, since the spring itself was in the open and could have been stopped as readily as an open aqueduct? And the only answer that has been suggested is that the spring alone is so concealed and so difficult to find that, even with the clue given by Herodotus, it was next to impossible to locate it. And in order to conceal the source still further, the burial of the conduit in the heart of the mountain certainly contributed not a little. Nevertheless it is a fact that the farther end of the tunnel was discovered some years ago by tracing a line from the site of this spring, so that now the aqueduct has been relocated and is found to be substantially as described by Herodotus in the passage quoted.
Most visitors, possessed of comparatively limited time like ourselves, are content with inspecting only the town end of the tunnel, which lies up in the side of the mountain. It is amply large enough to enter, but tapers are needed to give light to the feet as one walks carefully, and often sidewise, along the ledge that borders the deeper cutting below, in which once ran the actual water pipes. The depth of the latter, which Herodotus calls “twenty cubits,” is considerably greater at this end of the tunnel than at the other,—a fact which is apparently accounted for by the necessity of correcting errors of level, after the tunnel was finished, to give sufficient pitch to carry the water down. In those primitive days it is not surprising that such an error was made. There is evidence that the tunnel was dug by two parties working from opposite ends, as is the custom to-day. That they met in the centre of the mountain with such general accuracy speaks well for the engineering skill of the time, and that they allowed too little for the drop of the stream is not at all strange. The result of this is that, in the end commonly visited by travelers, there is need of caution lest the unwary slip from the narrow ledge at the side into the supplementary cut thirty feet below—a fall not to be despised, either because of its chance of injury or because of the difficulty of getting the victim out again. So much, as Herodotus would say, for the water-conduit of the Samians.
From the tunnel down to the ancient Heræum, whither our ship had sailed to await us, proved to be a walk of something over two miles along a curving beach, across which occasional streams made their shallow way from inland to the sea. It was a pleasant walk, despite occasional stony stretches; for the rugged mountain chain inland presented constantly changing views on the one hand, while on the other, across the deep blue of the Ægean, rose the commanding heights of Asia Minor, stretching away from the neighboring Mykale to the distant, and still snow-crowned, peaks of the Latmian range. Under the morning sun the prospect was indescribably lovely, particularly across the sea to the bold coasts of Asia, the remote mountains being revealed in that delicate chiaroscuro which so often attends white peaks against the blue. Ahead was always the solitary column which is all that remains standing of the once vast temple of Hera, “the largest we ever have seen,” according to the ingenuous and truthful Herodotus.
There is a reason for holding the spot in an especial manner sacred to Hera, for it is said by legend that she was born on the banks of one of the little streams whose waters we splashed through in crossing the beach to her shrine. The temple itself we found to lie far back from the water’s edge, its foundations so buried in the deposited earth that considerable excavation has been necessary to reveal them. The one remaining column is not complete, but is still fairly lofty. It bears no capital, and its drums are slightly jostled out of place, so that it has a rather unfinished look, to which its lack of fluting contributes; for, as even the amateur knows, the fluting of Greek columns was never put on until the whole pillar was set up, and every joint of it ground so fine as to be invisible. We walked up to the ruin through the inevitable cutting, in which lay the inevitable narrow-gauge track for the excavator’s cars, but there was no activity to be seen. The excavation had progressed so far as to leave little more to be done, or there was no more money, or something had intervened to put an end to the operations for the time. Not far away, however, along the beach, lay a few houses, which constituted the habitation of the diggers and of a few fishermen, whose seine boats were being warped up as we passed.
The exploration of the great temple of Hera has revealed the not unusual fact that there had been two temples on the same spot at successive periods. They were not identical in location, but the later overlapped the earlier, traces of the latter being confined to its lowest foundation stones. Of the ruins of the later temple there was but slightly more visible, save for the one standing column and a multitude of drums, capitals, and bases lying about. The latter were of a type we had not previously seen. They were huge lozenges of marble ornamented with horizontal grooves and resembling nothing so much as great cable drums partially wound—the effect of a multitude of narrow grooves in a slightly concave trough around the column. They were of a noticeable whiteness, for the marble of which this temple was composed was not so rich in mineral substances as the Pentelic, and gave none of that golden brown effect so familiar in the Athenian temples.
COLUMN BASES. SAMOS
CARVED COLUMN-BASE. BRANCHIDÆ
It was in this great Heræum, which in size rivaled the great temples at Ephesus and at Branchidæ, that the Samians deposited the brazen bowl filched from the Spartans, of which the ancients made so much. It appears that because of Crœsus having sought an alliance with Lacedæmonia, the inhabitants of that land desired to return the compliment by sending him a present. They caused a huge brass bowl to be made, adorned with many figures and capable of holding three hundred amphoræ. This they dispatched to Sardis. But as the ship bearing it was passing Samos on her way, the Samians came out in force, seized the ship, and carried the great bowl off to the temple, where it was consecrated to the uses of the goddess. That the Samians stole it thus was of course indignantly denied,—the islanders retorting that the bowl was sold them by the Spartans when they discovered that Crœsus had fallen before Cyrus and was no longer an ally to be desired. No trace of any such relic of course is to be seen there now. In fact there is very little to recall the former greatness of the place but the silent and lonely column and a very diminutive museum standing near the beach, which contains disappointingly little. It is, as a matter of fact, no more than a dark shed, similar in appearance to the rest of the houses of the hamlet.
The steamer was waiting near by in the sheltered waters of the sound, and as we were desirous of visiting the temple at Branchidæ that same afternoon, we left Samos and continued our voyage. Under that wonderfully clear sky the beauty of both shores was indescribable. The Asian coast, toward which we now bore our way, was, however, the grander of the two, with its foreground of plains and meadows and its magnificent background of imposing mountains stretching far into the interior and losing themselves in the unimagined distances beyond. The sun-kissed ripples of the sea were of that incredible blue that one never ceases to marvel at in the Mediterranean, and it was the sudden change from this color to a well-defined area of muddy yellow in the waters through which we glided that called attention to the mouth of the Mæander on the shore. That proverbially crooked and winding stream discharges so large a bulk of soil in projecting itself into the sea that the surface is discolored for a considerable distance off shore; and through this our steamer took her way, always nearing the low-lying beach, until we descried a projecting headland, and rounded it into waters as calm as those of a pond. Here we dropped anchor and once again proceeded to the land, setting our feet for the first time on the shores of Asia.
Samos was, of course, still to be seen to the northwest, like a dark blue cloud rising from a tossing sea. Before us, glowing in the afternoon sun, stretched a long expanse of open seashore meadow, undulating here and there, almost devoid of trees, but thickly covered with tracts of shrubs and bushes, through which we pushed our way until we came upon an isolated farmhouse and a path leading off over the moor. It was a mere cart-track through the green of the fields, leading toward a distant hillock, on which we could from afar make out the slowly waving arms of windmills and indications of a small town. None of the many rambles we took in the Greek islands surpassed this two-mile walk for pure pleasure. The air was balmy yet cool. The fields were spangled with flowers,—wild orchids, iris, gladioli, and many others. There were no gray hills, save so far in the distance that they had become purple and had lost their bareness. All around was a deserted yet pleasant and pastoral country—deserving, none the less, the general name of moor.
What few people we met on the way were farmers and shepherds, leading pastoral lives in the little brush wigwams so common in Greek uplands in the summer months. They gave us the usual cheerful good-day, and looked after our invading host with wondering eyes as we streamed off over the rolling country in the general direction of Branchidæ.
That ancient site appeared at last on a hillock overlooking the ocean. A small and mean hamlet had largely swallowed up the immediate environs of the famous temple that once stood there, contrasting strangely with the remaining columns that soon came into view over the roofs, as we drew near, attended by an increasing army of the youth. The name of the little modern village on the spot we never knew. Anciently this was the site of the temple of Apollo Didymeus, erected by the Branchidæ,—a clan of the neighborhood of ancient Miletus who claimed descent from Branchus. The temple of Apollo which had formerly stood upon the site was destroyed in some way in the sixth century before Christ, and the Branchidæ set out to erect a shrine that they boasted should rival the temple of Diana at Ephesus in size and in ornamentation. Nor was this an inappropriate desire, since Apollo and Diana—or Artemis, as we ought to call her—were twins, whence indeed the name “Didymeus” was applied to the temple on the spot. Unfortunately the great temple which the Branchidæ designed was never completed, simply because of the vastness of the plan. Before the work was done, Apollo had ceased to be so general an object of veneration, and what had been planned to be his most notable shrine fell into gradual ruin and decay.
It has not been sufficient, however, to destroy the beauty of much that the Branchidæ accomplished during the centuries that the work was progressing, for it is stated that several hundred years were spent in adorning the site. The fact that one of the few columns still standing and still bearing its crowning capital is unfluted bears silent testimony to the fact that the temple never was completed. Of the finished columns it is impossible to overstate their grace and lightness or the elegance of the carving on their bases, which apparently were designed to be different one from another. The pillars that remain are of great height and remarkable slenderness. Nineteen drums were employed in building them. The bases, of which many are to be seen lying about, and some in situ, display the most delicate tracery and carving imaginable, some being adorned with round bands of relief, and others divided into facets, making the base dodecagonal instead of round, each panel bearing a different and highly ornate design. Close by we found the remains of a huge stone face, or mask, apparently designed as a portion of the adornment of the cornice and presumably one of the metopes of the temple.
The mass of débris of the great structure has been heaped up for so long that a sort of conical hill rises in the midst of it; and on this has been built a tower from which one may look down on the ground plan so far as it remains. The major part of the ruin, however, is at its eastern end, the front, presumably, where the only standing columns are to be seen, rising gracefully from a terrace which has been carefully uncovered by the explorers. Enough remains to give an idea of the immense size projected for the building, and better still enough to give an idea of the elegance with which the ancients proposed to adorn it, that the Ephesians need not eclipse the Milesians in honoring the twin gods. Of the rows of statues that once lined the road from the sea to the shrine, one is to be seen in the British Museum—a curious sitting colossus of quaintly archaic workmanship, and somewhat suggestive, to my own mind, of an Egyptian influence in the squat modeling of the figure.
As one might expect of a shrine sacred to Apollo, there seems to have been an oracle of some repute here; for Crœsus, who was credulous in the extreme where oracles were concerned, sent hither for advice on various occasions, and dedicated a treasure here that was similar to the great wealth he bestowed upon the shrine at Delphi. Furthermore one Neco, who had been engaged in digging a canal to connect the Nile with the Red Sea,—a prototype of the Suez,—dedicated the clothes he wore during that period to the god at the temple of the Branchidæ. Thus while the site never attained the fame among Grecians that was accorded the Delphian, it nevertheless seems to have inspired a great deal of reverence among the inhabitants of Asia Minor and even of Egypt, which may easily account for the elaborate care the Branchidæ proposed to bestow and did bestow upon it.
Our inspection of the temple and the surrounding town was the source of immense interest upon the part of the infantile population, of which the number is enormous. The entire pit around the excavations was lined three deep with boys and girls, the oldest not over fifteen, who surveyed our party with open-mouthed amazement. They escorted us to the city gates, and a small detachment accompanied us on the way back over the moor to the landing, hauling a protesting bear-cub, whose mother had been shot the week before somewhere in the mountains of Latmos by some modern Nimrod, and whose wails indicated the presence of a capable pair of lungs in his small and furry body. He was taken aboard and became the ship’s pet forthwith, seemingly content with his lot and decidedly partial to sweetmeats.
The walk back over that vast and silent meadow in the twilight was one never to be forgotten. There was something mystical in the deserted plain, in the clumps of bushes taking on strange shapes in the growing dusk, in the great orb of the moon rising over the serrated tops of the distant mountains of the interior—and last, but not least, in the roaring fire which the boatmen had kindled on the rocks to indicate the landing place as the dark drew on. We pushed off, three boatloads of tired but happy voyagers, leaving the fire leaping and crackling on the shore, illuminating with a red glare the rugged rocks, and casting gigantic and awful shadows on the sea.
From the little harbor where we had found shelter for our landing to visit Branchidæ it proved but a few hours’ steaming to Cos, which was scheduled as our next stopping place. Like Samos, Cos lies close to the Asia Minor shore. The chief city, which bears the same name as the island, unchanged from ancient times, proved to be a formidable looking place by reason of its great walls and moles, recalling the Cretan cities much more forcibly than the Samos town had done; for the yellowish-white fortresses which flank the narrow inner harbor of Cos resemble both in color and architecture the outworks that were thrown up to protect the ports of Candia and Canea. Later in the day it was borne in upon us that these walls were by no means uncommon in the vicinity, and that they bore witness to the visits of the Crusaders; for the great walls and castle at Halicarnassus not far away were very similar to the forts of Cos, and with the best of reasons, since they were the work of the same hands,—of the so-called “Knights of Rhodes,” who once settled in these regions and built strongholds that for those times were impregnable enough. Our next day or two brought us often in contact with the relics of these stout old knights, who were variously known as of Rhodes, or of St. John, and, last of all, of Malta. As far as Cos was concerned, the knightly fortress was chiefly remarkable from the water, as we steamed past the frowning battlements of buff and dropped anchor in the open roadstead before the city; for, as is generally the case with these old towns, there is at Cos no actual harborage for a steamer of modern draught, whatever might have been the case anciently when ships were small.
The morning sun revealed the city itself spreading out behind the fortress, in a great splash of dazzling white amidst the green of the island verdure, its domes and minarets interspersed with the tops of waving trees. Behind the city, the land rose gradually to the base of a long range of green hills stretching off to the southward and into the interior of the island. It was easily the most fertile and agreeable land we had yet encountered in our Ægean pilgrimage, and so lovely that we almost forgot that it was Turkish and that we had been warned not to separate far from one another on going ashore for fear of complications and loss of the road. However it was Turkish, this time, pure and unadulterated, and the examination of our papers and passports was no idle formality, but was performed with owl-like solemnity by a local dignitary black-mustachioed and red-fezzed. While this was proceeding the members of our party stood huddled behind a wicket gate barring egress from the landing stage and speculated on the probability of being haled to the dungeons, which might easily be imagined as damp and gloomy behind the neighboring yellow walls of stone.
The Sultan’s representative being fully satisfied that we might safely be permitted to enter the island, the gate was thrown back, and in a quaking body we departed through a stone arcade in which our feet echoed and reëchoed valiantly, past rows of natives sipping coffee and smoking the nargileh in the shade, and thence through a stone archway into a spacious public square, paved with cobble-stones and dominated by the most gigantic and venerable plane tree imaginable. Its enormous trunk stood full in the centre of the square, rising from a sort of stone dais, in the sides of which were dripping stone fountains, deeply incrusted with the green mildew of age. Overhead, even to the uttermost parts of the square, the branches spread a curtain of fresh green leaves. They were marvelous branches—great, gnarled, twisted limbs, that were as large in themselves as the trunk of a very respectable tree, and shored up with a forest of poles. Actual measurement of the circumference of the trunk itself revealed it to be something over forty feet in girth, and it was not difficult to believe the legend that this impressive tree really did date back to the time of Hippocrates, the great physician of Cos, who was born in the island long before the dawn of the Christian era. In any event, the great plane of Cos is called to this day the “tree of Hippocrates,” whether it has any real connection with that eminent father of medicine or not.
TREE OF HIPPOCRATES. COS
We left the shady square by a narrow and roughly paved street, little wider than an alley and lined with whitewashed houses, closely set. It wound aimlessly along through the thickly settled portion of the city, and at last opened out into the country-side, where the houses grew fewer and other splendid trees became more numerous, generally shading wayside fountains, beside which crouched veiled native women gossiping over their water-jars. A pair of baggy-trousered soldiers went with us on the road, partly as overseers, no doubt, but chiefly as guides and protectors—the latter office proving quite needless save for the occasional expert kicking of a barking cur from some wayside hovel. They proved to be a friendly pair, although of course conversation with them was impossible, and a lively exchange of cigarettes and tobacco was kept up as we walked briskly along out of the city and into the open country that lay toward the hills. Their chief curiosity was a kind of inextinguishable match, which proved exceedingly useful for smokers bothered by the lively morning breeze. They were flat matches, seemingly made of rude brown paper such as butchers at home used to employ for wrapping up raw meat. The edges were serrated, and when once the match was lighted it burned without apparent flame and with but little smoke until the entire fabric was consumed.
The object of this walk, which proved to be of something like three or four miles into the suburbs of Cos, was to view the remnants of the famous health temple, sacred, of course, to Asklepios. We found it situated on an elevation looking down across a smiling plain to the sea, with the white walls and roofs of Cos a trifle to one side. It was not a prospect to be forgotten. It was a bright day, but with sufficient haze in the air to give to the other islands visible across the intervening water an amethystine quality, and to make the distant summits in Asia Minor faint and ethereal. The nearer green of the fields, the purple of the sea, and the delicate hues of the islands and far-away peaks, held us for a long time before turning to the curious ruin of the temple, which, as usual, was less a temple than a hospital.
Little remains of it, save for the foundations. Three enormous terraces, faced with flights of steps of easy grade, led up to the main sanctuary of the god, comparatively little of which remains to be seen. Various smaller buildings, shrines for allied divinities, porticoes for the sick, apartments for the priests, treasuries and the like, are readily distinguishable, and serve to reveal what an extensive establishment the health temple was in its time. Restorations of it, on paper, reveal it as having been probably most impressive, both architecturally and by reason of its commanding position, which was not only admirable by nature but accentuated by the long approach over the three successive terraces to the many-columned main building above.
Of the numerous smaller structures lying about the precinct, the most curious and interesting were the subterranean treasuries—if that is the proper name for them—which have been discovered at the foot of the slope. They apparently consist of vaults in the earth, each covered over with a massive stone slab. The slab is removable, but only at great pains. A circular hole pierces it through the centre, suitable for dropping money or other valuables into the receptacle beneath and for inserting the tackle with which to lift the rock when the treasury was to be opened. The vast weight of the stone and the time required for raising it would have been ample guarantee against unauthorized visits to the treasury. Other theories accounting for these underground chambers and their curious coverings have been advanced—the most fantastic one being the supposition that these were the chambers devoted to housing the sacred serpents of the god, the holes serving for their emergence and for the insertion of food! But while the cult of Asklepios certainly does appear to have made use of the sacred snakes as a part of its mummery, it seems hardly likely that these subterranean cavities were used for any such purpose.
As for the practice of medicine in Cos, it is widely believed to have been of a sensible and even of an “ethical” sort, largely devoid of mere reliance on idle superstition or religious formalism for its curative effects, though unquestionably employing these, as was not only the case in ancient times, but as even persists to-day in some localities of the archipelago. The religious ceremonies, which generally took the form of sleeping in the sacred precincts in the hope of being divinely healed, appear to have been supplemented at Cos by the employment of means of healing that were rudely scientific. Hippocrates, the most celebrated of the Coan physicians, has left abundant proof that he was no mere charlatan, but a common-sense doctor, whose contributions to medical science have not by any means entirely passed out of esteem. Reference has been made hitherto to the custom of depositing in the temple anatomical specimens representing the parts healed, as votive offerings from grateful patients—a custom which persists in the modern Greek church, as everybody who examines the altar-screen of any such church will speedily discover.
The extreme veneration of Asklepios at Cos is doubtless to be explained by the fact that Cos was an Epidaurian colony; for the Epidaurians claimed that the healing god was born in the hills overlooking their valley in the Peloponnesus. At any rate the health temple at Cos and the great sanitarium at Epidaurus shared the highest celebrity in ancient times as resorts for the sick; and in each case there are traces to show that they were sites devoted not only to the worship of a deity, but to the ministration unto the ailing by physical means, as far as such means were then understood.
Cos, however, was far from basing her sole claim to ancient celebrity on her physicians and hospitals. Her embroideries rivaled the more famous Rhodian work, and she was an early home of culture and resort of noted students, not only of medicine, but of rhetoric, grammar, poetry, philosophy, and science. Ptolemy II, otherwise known as Ptolemy Philadelphus, is known to have studied here, and it is not at all improbable that the Sicilian poet, Theocritus, was a fellow student with him. For it is known that Theocritus was a student at Cos at some time, and he was later summoned to Ptolemy’s Egyptian court, where he wrote the epithalamium for the unholy marriage between Philadelphus and his sister. Not a little of the present knowledge of ancient Cos is due to the writings that Theocritus left as the result of his student days in the island.
The curator of antiquities in charge of the excavations at the Asklepeion took us in charge on our return walk and led us through the city to his own home, where, although we were on Turkish soil, we had a taste of real Greek hospitality. Our party was numerous enough to appall any unsuspecting hostess, but we were ushered into the great upper room of the house, with no trace of dismay on the part of the wife and daughter. It was a huge room, scrupulously neat and clean, and the forty or so included in our number found chairs ranged in line about the apartment, where we sat at ease examining the fragments that the curator had to show from the mass of inscriptions recovered from the temple. Meantime, after the national custom, the eldest daughter served refreshment to each in turn, consisting of preserved quince, glasses of mastika, and huge tumblers of water. It was a stately ceremony, each helping himself gravely to the quince from the same dish, and sipping the cordial, while the mother bustled about supplying fresh spoons. And with a general exchange of cards and such good wishes as were to be expressed in limited traveler’s Greek, we departed to the landing and again embarked.
We designed to push on to Cnidos at once, and to climb the heights of that ancient promontory of Asia Minor in the late afternoon. But inasmuch as Halicarnassus, the native city of Herodotus, lay directly on the way, we sailed into its capacious harbor and out again without stopping, for the sake of such glance at the site as might be had from the water. The bay on which the city lies—it is now called Boudrun—is wonderfully beautiful, running well into the mainland, while the city itself, with its great white castle of the Knights of St. John as the central feature, lies at the inmost end. Of the castle we were able to get a very good view, going close enough to arouse the violent excitement of a gesticulating Turkish official who came out in a tiny boat, bravely decked with the crescent flag, to show us where to anchor if we so desired. The site of the famous Mausoleum was pointed out from the deck, and most of us were confident that we saw it, although it was not easy to find. The remains of this incomparably magnificent tomb, designed for King Mausolus, are, as everybody knows, to be seen in the British Museum to-day.
It was but a few miles farther to the promontory of Cnidos, and we dropped anchor there in mid-afternoon, in one of the double bays for which the ancient naval station was famous. The bays are still separated by a narrow isthmus—the same which the ancients tried in vain to sever. The story goes that the drilling of the rocks caused such a flying of fragments as to endanger the eyes of the workmen, and the oracle when questioned dissuaded them from continuing the work, saying “Zeus could have made the land an island if he had intended so to do.” Hence the two little harbors remain, one on either side of the neck of land that juts into the sea. They were used as anchorage for triremes and merchant ships respectively, when Cnidos was a power in the world. To-day the spot is absolutely deserted, and we found both the diminutive bays devoid of all trace of life, until at evening a passing fisherman came in and made all snug for the night.
CNIDOS, SHOWING THE TWO HARBORS
Above the waters of the harbor towered the commanding rock of the Cnidian acropolis, something like twelve hundred feet in height—a bare and forbidding rock, indeed. Of the town and the temples that once clustered along its base nothing was to be seen. Man has long ago abandoned this spot and left it absolutely untenanted save by memories. It was in ancient times a favorite haunt of Aphrodite, and three temples did honor to that goddess on the knolls above the sea. Here also stood the marble Aphrodite carved by Praxiteles, and esteemed his masterpiece by many. It was carried off to Constantinople centuries ago, and perished miserably in a fire in that city in 1641.
Our three boatloads landed with no little difficulty on the abrupt rocks of the shore, being somewhat put to it to avoid sundry submerged boulders lying just off the land. It was a sharp scramble from the water’s edge to the narrow and ascending shelf above, on which the temples had stood. The ruins of them lay buried in tall grasses and in huge clumps of daisies, the latter growing in the most remarkable profusion. With a single sweep of the knife I cut a prodigious armful of them, and the dining saloon that night was made a perfect bower by the wild flowers that the returning party brought back with them.
It was one of the days when the non-archæological section of the party hastily left the remnants of ancient greatness below and set out precipitately for a climb, for the prospect of a view from the overshadowing cliff above was promising. It proved the most formidable ascent that we undertook in all our Ægean cruising. Anciently there was a gradual ascent by means of a zigzag causeway to the fortified heights above, but the majority of us disregarded it and struck off up the steep toward the summit. It is not a wise plan for any but hardened climbers, for the slope soon became so sharp that it made one giddy to look back down the mountain, and the footing was often difficult because of the shelving stone and fragments of loose rock. Small bushes were the only growth, and they were often eagerly seized upon to give the needful purchase to lift us onward and upward. The summit, however, amply rewarded our toil. It was easier going toward the top, for we found the old road and rose more gradually toward the point where the ancient walls began.
From the pinnacle of the rock the sweep of the view was indescribably fine. The sun was sinking rapidly to the horizon, illuminating the islands and the sea. The wind had dropped, the haze had disappeared, and the shore line of Asia Minor stretched away, clear cut, in either direction. We were practically at the southwest corner of the peninsula. The rugged headlands retreated to the north and to the east from our feet, while inland piled the impressive interior mountains rearing their snow-capped heads against the blue evening dusk. Over the Ægean, dark blue and violet islands rose from a sea of molten gold. At our feet lay the twin harbors and our steamer, looking like a toy ship, the thin smoke of her funnel rising in a blue wisp into the silent evening air. The fishermen from the tiny smack that had sought a night’s berth there had kindled a gleaming fire on the beach. Along the sharp spine of the promontory we could see the ancient line of wall, rising and falling along the summit and flanked here and there by ruined towers—a stupendous engineering work of a nation long dead. It was all impressively silent, and deserted save for ourselves. The course of empire had indeed taken its westward way and left once powerful Cnidos a barren waste.
But the darkness coming suddenly in these latitudes at this season warned us to descend in haste to the fire that was signaling us from the landing, and we slipped and slid down the old causeway to the boats. That night the moon was at the full, and we sat late on the after-deck enjoying the incomparable brilliancy of the light on sea and cliffs, shining as of old on a time-defying and rock-bound coast, but on a coast no longer teeming with life and harbors no longer alive with ships. And at midnight the wheezing of the engines and the jarring of the screw gave notice that we were slipping out of the harbor of Cnidos and out into the sea, to Rhodes.
It was our purpose to land on Rhodes the isle, not at Rhodes the town. To visit the famous northern city where once stood the Colossus would have been highly agreeable had opportunity presented itself; but as it was we planned to coast along the southeasterly side of Rhodes and make our landing at the little less celebrated and probably even more picturesque site of Lindos. So in the morning we woke to find our vessel rolling merrily in a cross sea just off the entrance to the little bay that serves Lindos for a harbor,—a sea that stripped our breakfast table of its few dishes and converted the floor of the saloon into a sea of broken crockery. The waters of the bay proved calm enough when we had slid past the imposing promontory on which stood the acropolis of ancient Lindos, and felt our way across the rapidly shoaling waters to a safe anchorage. The water was of a wonderful clarity as well as of remarkable blueness, the bottom being visible for many fathoms and seeming much more shoal than was the case in fact. We were able to go quite close to shore before anchoring, and found ourselves in good shelter from the wind that was then blowing, although well outside the tiny inner port which lay at the foot of a steep bluff. Towering above the whole town stood the precipitous and seemingly inaccessible acropolis, its steep sides running down to the sea, the rich redness of the rock contrasting on the one hand with the matchless blue of the Ægean, and on the other with the pure whiteness of the buildings of the town. The summit of the promontory was crowned with the ruin of a castle of the Knights of Rhodes, who had once made this a famous stronghold in the Middle Ages. In fact the residence of the knights had obliterated the more ancient remnants of the classic period, which included a temple of Athena; and the work of exhuming the Greek ruins from under the débris of the Crusaders’ fortress was only just beginning when we landed there.
From the ship, the most conspicuous object on the heights was the ruined castle of St. John, the portal of which, giving the sole means of access to the plateau on top of the promontory, was plainly to be seen as we sailed in. It gave the impression of yellowish-brown sandstone from below, a color which it shared with the goodly battlements that frowned down from all sides of the citadel, even where the abruptness of the declivity for something like three hundred feet made battlements a seeming work of supererogation. Nestling under the shadow of the mighty rock on the landward side lay the modern village of Lindos itself, apparently freshly whitewashed and gleaming in the sun wherever the rock failed to shelter it from the morning warmth. It was one of those marvelously brilliant days that have made the Greek atmosphere so famous—cloudless and clear, with that clearness that reveals distant objects so distinctly, yet so softly withal. As for the nearer prospects, they were almost trying to the eyes, under the forenoon glare beating down on that immaculate array of close-set white houses and shops.
Our boats set off shoreward across a placid sheet of water that varied from a deep indigo at the ship to the palest of greens as it surged among the fringes of slippery rock along the foot of the bluff. The landing stage was but a narrow shelf of pebbly beach, from which a rough paved way led steeply up to the town just above the sea. The contrast of the blue sky and the white purity of the town was dazzling in the extreme, and the glare accounted in a measure for the veiled women and sore-eyed children we met in the courtyards of the town. Our own eyes soon ached sufficiently to make us walk in single file along the shady side of the high-walled streets, looking chiefly at the shadow and only occasionally at the houses and shops as we wound along into the heart of the village. But even these occasional glimpses revealed the most fascinating of little details in the local architecture, curious Gothic and Moorish windows surviving from a bygone day and ornamented with the border of “rope” pattern worked in the stone. Almost everything had been covered with the dazzling whitewash, save here and there a relic of former days which was allowed to retain the natural color of the native rock.
In most of the cases the actual dwellings were set well back from the streets, which were extremely narrow and crooked. Between the highway and the house was invariably a tiny courtyard, screened from the view of passers by a lofty wall, always of white. The yards were occasionally to be peered into, however, through a gate left temptingly ajar. These diminutive courts were floored with pebble work in black and white designs throughout their extent, save where the matron of the house had a flower bed under cultivation. These beds and boxes of flowers were a riot of color and filled the air with fragrance, while the green foliage furnished a lively contrast with the dead white of the walls behind.
In the doorways of the dwellings within could be seen groups of bashful women, and shy children hiding in their mothers’ skirts, who looked furtively at us as we stopped hesitatingly before their gates. Growing bolder we finally ventured to set foot within the courtyards now and then, charmed with the sweetness of the tiny gardens; and at length we made bold to enter and to walk over the pleasant firmness of the pebbly pavements of white and black tracery to the doorways, where the women gave a timid but welcoming good-day and bade us come in. The absence of men was notable. We were later told that the male population of Lindos was temporarily away, being largely employed in the construction of the great dam at Assouan, on the Nile; and that in consequence the women had practically the sole charge in Lindos at the time, which may have accounted for the immaculateness of everything. We were likewise told that in the evening a certain hour was reserved for the sole use of the women, who might be free to wander at will through the streets, chiefly to get water for their households, without fear of molestation. Lindos for the time was an Adamless Eden, and as spick and span a town as it would be possible to find on earth.
The houses into which we were welcomed proved to be as clean within as without. The lower story apparently consisted as a general thing of a single great room, with possibly a smaller apartment back of it for cooking. This large room was the living room and sleeping room as well. The floor was scrubbed until its boards shone. The walls were of the universal white. On one side of the room—and occasionally on both sides—was to be seen a sort of dais, or elevated platform, which apparently served for the family bed. The bedding, including blankets and rugs of barbaric splendor, was neatly piled on the platform or hung over the railing of it. And it was here, according to all appearance, that the entire household retired to rest in a body at night, in harmonious contiguity.
What interested us most of all, however, was the decoration of the rooms. Nearly every one that we entered was adorned with numerous plates hung on the wall in great profusion, seldom more than two being of the same pattern, and including all sorts of designs, from the valuable Rhodian down to the common “willow” patterns of our own grandmothers’ collections at home. This heterogeneous array of plates puzzled us not a little at first. It was so universal among the householders, and representative of so wide a field of the ceramic art, that some explanation of the presence of these plates seemed necessary. Later it developed that the Rhodian custom has long been to mark the birth of each child by the addition of a plate to the family collection, the fewer duplicates the better. The agglomeration of these dishes that we saw represented the family trees for generations. Despite the connection presumably existing between the plates and the family history, however, we found the women not reluctant to part with specimens for a price, and we carried away not a few. The comparatively rare instances in which we found any of the genuine and celebrated Rhodian ware, however, proved that its great value was well known by the native women. Their prices in such cases proved prohibitive, especially in view of the risk of breakage involved in getting the plates home from so distant an island. These plates, notable for the beauty of their design and for the distinguishing rose pattern in the centre, are often to be found in museum collections, and their great rarity and consequent value unfits them for other uses than those of the collector. The few that we found in Lindos were to be had for prices equivalent to about eighty dollars apiece in our money, which seemed exorbitant until we were later told that even one hundred dollars would have been reasonable enough for some of the finer specimens. Indeed, it is getting to be rather unusual to find one of these for sale at all.
There are opportunities enough, as we discovered, to purchase the famous Rhodian embroidery; but we were cautioned to leave the bargaining to experts familiar with values, for the infrequent visitor is almost certain to be imposed upon in any such transaction. These embroideries, or at least the older ones, are very elaborate creations of colored wools on a background of unbleached linen, the colors being remarkably rich and fresh despite their age, an age that is eloquently testified to by the stains and worn places in the cloth. The subject of Rhodian embroidery is a most interesting one, but too intricate and technical to be gone into here. The study of the growth of certain well-defined groups of conventionalized figures might well furnish material for a considerable body of literature, if it has not already done so. We were informed that the wealth of Rhodian embroidery was due to the ancient custom—which may still exist among the Rhodian girls—to begin the preparation of the nuptial gear at a tender age, they plying their needles almost daily, until by the time they are marriageable they have accumulated a surprising amount of bizarre blankets, cloths, and bits of finery for their dower chests.
The leisurely progress through the town required some time, occupied as we were by frequent visits to the odd little houses in the quest of curious wares to carry away. And by the time we had reached the centre of the town, the hot sun made us glad indeed to step under a spacious arch, washed underneath with a sky-blue tint which was restful to our tired eyes, and thence to go into the cool and aromatic quiet of a very old Greek church, where the glare of the sun on the white buildings could be forgotten. Most notable of all the curious things shown us by the attendant priest was the quaintly carved roof, which, after so much excessive light out of doors, it was decidedly difficult to see at all in the grateful gloom of the church.
We delayed but a little while there, for the acropolis above was the ultimate goal of our visit to the spot. Thither we were conducted by the Danish gentleman who had charge of the investigations being prosecuted there. The way led out of the dense buildings of the town and along the base of the overhanging cliff to the side toward the open sea, always upward and above the flat roofs of the little town below, until we came to the foot of the stairway of stone leading up through a defile in the rock to the arched portal of the castle on the height. It was a long flight of steps, one side against the smooth face of the rock, the other unprotected. And at the foot of the impressive approach to the citadel was one of the most interesting of the discoveries made on the site. It was a gigantic sculpture in bas-relief hewn out of the face of the cliff itself and representing, in “life size,” so to speak, the stern of an ancient trireme. The relief was sufficiently high to give a flat space on what was intended to be the deck of the ship, supposably as a pedestal for some statue which has disappeared. The curved end of the trireme with its sustaining bolt, the seat of the helmsman, and a blade of one of the oars, were still intact, and as a large representation of a classic ship the sculpture is doubtless unique, To all intents and purposes it is as perfect to-day as when the artists first carved it.
SCULPTURED TRIREME IN ROCK AT LINDOS
From a Sketch by the Author
In the grateful shade of the rock we sat and listened to the description of the archæological work done on the spot by the Danes, which has not, at this writing, been officially published, and therefore seems not proper matter for inexpert discussion here. One interesting fact, however, which we were told, was that, by means of certain records deciphered from tablets found on the acropolis, it had been possible to fix definitely the date of the statue of the Laocoön as a work of the first century before Christ. This was established by the list of the names of the priests, and of the sculptors who worked for them, at periods which it proved possible to fix with a remarkable degree of exactness.
ARCHED PORTAL OF ACROPOLIS. LINDOS
We ascended to the height above, where we were permitted to wander at will among the ruins. As from below, the chief features were those of the medieval period, which had so largely swallowed up the temple of Athena. Nevertheless the excavators had restored enough of the original site from its covering of débris to reveal the vestiges of the old temple and an imposing propylæa, with traces enough in fragmentary form to enable making drawings of the structures as they probably appeared to the ancient eye. For the rest the chief interest centred in the relics of the abode of the knights. Just at the head of the grand entrance stairway was the tower which defended the acropolis on its one accessible side. The arched portal is very nearly perfect still, and one passes under it, across a sort of moat, by means of an improvised bridge of planks, where once, no doubt, a drawbridge served to admit or to bar out at the will of the Grand Master of the ancient commandery. Beyond the entrance hall lay a succession of vaulted halls and chambers leading around to the open precincts of the acropolis, the most evidently well-preserved buildings being the chapel of St. John and the house once occupied by the Grand Master himself. All were of the brownish native rock, and were unmistakably medieval in their general style of architecture. On the open terraces above the entrance, little remained to be seen save the heaps of débris and the faint traces of the classic temples. But most impressive of all was the sheer drop of the rock on all sides around the acropolis and the views off to sea and inland over Rhodes. The precipices everywhere, save at the entrance alone, fell away perpendicularly to the sea, which murmured two or three hundred feet below. Nevertheless, despite the evident hopelessness of ever scaling the height, the painstaking knights had built a wall with battlements all about, less serviceable as protecting the inhabitants against assault than for preserving them from falling over to a certain and awful death themselves. The drop on the landward side was considerably less, but quite as steep and quite as impregnable to would-be scaling parties. Even a few munitions of war, in the shape of rounded stones about the size of old-fashioned cannon balls seen in our modern military parks, were to be found about the summit.
The views from this elevated height were superb, not only off across the sea to the mountainous land of Asia Minor, but inland toward the rocky interior of Rhodes herself. The land just across the little depression in which the white town lay, rose to another though less commanding height, in the slopes of which the excavator said they had but recently unearthed some ancient rock tombs. Beyond, the country rolled in an undulating sea of green hills—a pleasant land as always, and doubtless as flowery as of old when she took her name from the rose (rhodos) and when the wild pomegranate flower gave Browning’s “Balaustion” her nickname. As a colony of the Athenian empire she stood loyal to the Attic city down to 412 B.C., in those troublous days of the Peloponnesian war, when the star of Athens waned and most of the Rhodians at last revolted. Those who still clung to Athens probably went away as Balaustion did, and returned, if at all, only after Athens had been laid waste to the sound of the flute. Under the Roman domination Rhodes enjoyed a return to high favor, and Tiberius selected the smiling isle as his place of banishment. For siding with Cæsar, Cassius punished the island by plundering it. For centuries after, it was overrun by the Arabs; and from them it was taken by the Byzantines, who turned it over to the Knights of St. John, who took the new name of the Knights of Rhodes, fortified the spot as we saw, and held it for a long time against all comers, down to 1522, when the Sultan Solyman II. reduced it. It is still Turkish territory, and of the finds made by the archæologists on the site of Lindos, the great bulk have been sent to Constantinople, including several hundred terra cotta figurines. The zealous Turks, the excavators complained, had taken away their books on landing, with the result that they had led a lonely life of it, their only diversion being their labors on the acropolis.
We had no chance to inspect the interior of the island, which other visitors have described in glowing colors as most attractive in the profusion of its almost tropic verdure and its growths of cactus, oleander, myrtle, figs, and pomegranates. Like Cos, Rhodes was an ancient seat of culture, greatly favored by students, and the site of a celebrated university. Æschines founded here a famous school of oratory, and in later years the institution was honored by the patronage of no less a personage than the Roman Cicero. Of these, of course, we saw no trace.
Neither had we any opportunity to visit the ancient capital, “Rhodes the town,” which boasts the ruins of a very similar castle of the knights. As for the famous Colossus, which nearly everybody remembers first of all in trying to recall what were the wonders of the world, it no longer exists. But in passing one may remark that the notion that this gigantic statue bestrode the harbor has been exploded, destroying one of the most cherished delusions of childhood which the picture in the back of Webster’s Unabridged contributed not least of all in producing, in the past two generations.
There were three celebrated cities in Rhodes in its golden age—Lindos, Ialysos, and Kameiros—which, with Cos, Cnidos, and Halicarnassus, formed the ancient Dorian “hexapolis,” or six cities, four of which it had been our good fortune to visit within the past two days. The city of Rhodes was formed comparatively late by inhabitants from the three original cities of the island, and became a prosperous and influential port. The inhabitants were seafaring people and developed a high degree of skill in navigation, with an interesting corollary in their code of maritime law, from which a faint survival is found in the doctrine of “general average” in our own admiralty practice, sometimes referred to as the Rhodian law, and having to do with the participation of all shippers in such losses as may be occasioned by throwing a part of the cargo overboard to save the whole from loss. To visit Kameiros and the interior would have been interesting but impossible, and we found our consolation for the inability to visit other Rhodian sites in the loveliness of Lindos, with its acropolis above and its pure white walls below, its gardens, its courtyards, and its collections of plates. And we left it with regret—a regret which was shared no doubt by the lonely Danish explorer whom we left waving adieu to us from the shore as we pulled away across the shallow waters of the harbor to the steamer, and turned our faces once more toward the west and that Athens of which Balaustion dreamed.
No island that we visited in our Ægean cruise was more interesting than Thera proved to be, when we had steamed across the intervening ocean from Rhodes and into the immense basin that serves Thera—or modern Santorin—for a harbor. No more remarkable harbor could well be conceived.
If Vesuvius could be imagined to sink into Naples bay until there were left protruding only about a thousand feet of the present altitude; if the ocean should be admitted to the interior of the volcano by two great channels or fissures in the sides—one at the point where the ubiquitous Mr. Cook has—or did have—his funicular railway, and the other in the general locality represented by the ill-starred Bosco Trecase; and if the present awesome crater, into which so many thousand visitors have peered, should thus be filled throughout its extent by the cooling waters, so as to form a great and placid bay within the mountain,—then we should have an almost exact reproduction of what happened at Thera something like four thousand years ago. Furthermore, if we may add to our Vesuvian hypothesis the supposition that there be built along the eastern lip of the crater a long white town, stretching for perhaps a mile along the sharp spine of the summit, we should have an equally exact reproduction of what exists at Thera to-day.
Thera lies at the end of the chain of submerged peaks that reveal the continuation of the Attic peninsula under the waters of the Ægean. The same rocky range of mountains that disappears into the sea at Sunium rises again and again as it stretches off to the southeast to form the islands of Cythnos, Seriphos, Siphnos, and their fellows, and the series closes, apparently, in the volcanic island of Santorin, under which name the moderns know the island which the ancients called successively Kallista (most beautiful) and Thera. Considering her beauty as an island and her comparative nearness to the mainland of Greece or to Crete, Thera is surprisingly little known. Historically Thera had small celebrity compared with her neighbors; but in every other way it seemed to us that she surpassed them all. Legend appears to have left the island comparatively unhonored, and poetry has permitted her to remain unsung. No Byron has filled high his bowl with Theran wine. No burning poetess lived or sang in her single tortuous street. No god of Olympus claimed the isle for his birthright. But for beauty of every kind, from the pastoral to the sublimely awful, Thera has no fellow in the Ægean; and for extraordinary natural history and characteristics, it is doubtful if it has a fellow in the world. For it is a sunken volcano, with a bottomless harbor, where once was the centre of fiery activity,—a harbor, rimmed about with miles of encircling precipices, on the top of one of which lies the town of Thera, a thousand feet straight up above the sea, and reachable only by a steep and winding mule track which connects it with the diminutive landing stage below.
There appears to be a wide divergence of opinion as to the exact date when the original mountain was blown to pieces and sunk in the ocean, but it may be roughly stated to have occurred in the vicinity of the sixteenth century before Christ, although some authorities incline to believe the eruption to have come to pass at a still earlier period. As to the inhabitants before the time of that extraordinary upheaval, little is known save what may be gleaned from a multitude of pottery vases left behind by those early settlers, and bearing ornamentation of a rude sort that stamps them as belonging to the remote pre-Mycenæan age, the age that preceded the greatness of Agamemnon’s city and the sack of Troy. It seems entirely probable that the early Therans were from Phœnicia, and tradition says that they came over under the leadership of no less a personage than Cadmus himself. What we know for a certainty, however, is that at some prehistoric time the original volcano underwent a most remarkable change and subsided, with a blaze of glory that can hardly be imagined, into the waters of the Ægean, until only the upper rim and three central cones are now to be seen above the water’s edge. Through two enormous crevices torn in the northern and southern slopes the irresistible ocean poured into the vast central cavity, cooling to a large extent the fiery ardor of the mountain and leaving it as we found it, a circle of frowning cliffs, nearly a thousand feet in height and something like eighteen miles in periphery, inclosing a placid and practically bottomless harbor in what was once the volcano’s heart, the surface of the bay pierced by only three diminutive islands, once the cones of the volcano, and not entirely inert even to-day. In fact one of these central islands appeared as recently as 1866 during an eruption that showed the fires of Santorin not yet to be extinguished by any means—a fact that is further testified to by the heat of certain portions of the inclosed waters of the basin.
LANDING-PLACE AT THERA
Into this curious harbor our little chartered ship glided in the early light of an April morning, which dimly revealed the walls of forbidding stone towering high above in cliffs of that black, scarred appearance peculiar to volcanic formation, marred by the ravages of the ancient fires, yet none the less relieved from utter sullenness here and there by strata of rich red stone or by patches of grayish white tufa. Nevertheless it was all sombre and forbidding, especially in the early twilight; for the sun had not yet risen above the horizon, much less penetrated into the cavernous depths of Thera’s harbor. High above, however, perched on what looked like a most precarious position along the summit of the cliff, ran the white line of the city, already catching the morning light on its domes and towers, but seeming rather a Lilliputian village than a habitation of men; while far away to the north, on another portion of the crater wall, a smaller city seemed rather a lining of frost or snow gathered on the crater’s lip.
A few shallops made shift to anchor close to the foot of the precipice, where a narrow submarine shelf projects sufficiently to give a precarious holding ground for small craft; and near them were grouped a few white buildings showing duskily in the morning half-light and serving to indicate the landing stage. In the main, however, there is little anchorage in the entire bay, which is practically bottomless. No cable could fathom the depth of the basin a few rods off shore, and fortunately none is needed, since the shelter is perfect. The steamer held her own for hours by a mere occasional lazy turning of her screw. To the southward lay the broad channel through which our ship had entered, and to the north lay the narrow passage through which at nightfall we proposed to depart for Athens. Everywhere else was the encircling wall of strangely variegated rock, buttressed here and there by enormous crags of black lava, which sometimes seemed to strengthen it and sometimes threatened to fall crashing to the waters directly below. Indeed landslides are by no means uncommon in Thera, and several persons have been killed even at the landing place by masses of stone falling from above.
As the light increased at the base of the cliff, it became possible to see the donkey track leading in a score or more of steep windings up the face of the rock from the landing to the city high above, arched here and there over old landslips or ravines, while near by were to be seen curious cave-dwellings, where caverns in the tufa had been walled up, provided with doors and windows, and inhabited.
There was some little delay in landing, even after our small boats had set us ashore on the narrow quay, slippery with seaweed and covered with barnacles. We were herded in a rather impatient group behind a row of shore boats drawn up on the landing stage, and detained there until “pratique” had been obtained, which entitled us to proceed through the devious byways of the tiny village close by to the beginning of the ascent. The wharf was covered with barrels, heaps of wood, carboys covered with wicker, and all the paraphernalia to be expected of the port of a wine-exporting, water-importing community; for Thera has to send abroad for water, aside from what she is able to collect from the rains, and also relies largely on her neighbors for wood. There are almost no native trees and no springs at all; and one French writer apparently has been greatly disturbed by this embarrassing difficulty, saying, “One finds there neither wood nor water, so that it is necessary to go abroad for each—and yet to build ships one must have wood, and to go for water ships are necessary!”
On emerging from the cluster of small buildings at the base of the cliff and entering upon the steep path which leads to the city above, we at once encountered the trains of asses that furnish the only means of communication between the village of Thera above and the ships below—asses patiently bearing broad deck-loads of fagots, or of boards, or of various containers useful for transporting liquids. It was easily possible to hire beasts to ride up the winding highway to Thera, but as the grade was not prohibitive and as the time required for a pedestrian to ascend was predicted to be from twenty minutes to half an hour, these were voted unnecessary, especially as it was still shady on the bay side of the cliff and would continue so for hours. So we set out, not too briskly, up the path. It proved to be utterly impracticable for anything on wheels, being not only steep but frequently provided with the broad steps so often to be seen in Greek and Italian hill towns, while it was paved throughout with blocks of basalt which continual traffic had rendered slippery in the extreme. The slipperiness, indeed, renders the ascent to Thera if anything easier than the coming down, for on the latter journey one must exercise constant care in placing the feet and proceed at a pace that is anything but brisk, despite the downward grade.
The only care in going up was to avoid the little trains of donkeys with their projecting loads and their mischievous desire to crowd pedestrians to the parapet side of the road, a propensity which we speedily learned to avoid by giving the beasts as wide a berth as the constricted path would allow, choosing always the side next the cliff itself; for the sheer drop from the parapet soon became too appalling to contemplate as the way wound higher and higher, turn after turn, above the hamlet at the landing. The view speedily gained in magnificence, showing the bay in its full extent, with the two entrance channels far away and the detached portion of the opposite crater wall, now called Therasia, as if it were, as it appears to be, an entirely separate island of a small local archipelago, instead of one homogeneous but sunken mountain. Directly below lay the landing stage with its cluster of white warehouses, the scattered cave-dwellings, and the tiny ships moored close to the quay—small enough at close range, but from this height like the vessels in a toy-shop. So precipitous is the crater wall that one could almost fling a pebble over the parapet and strike the settlement at the foot of the path. The varying colors of the rock, when brought out by the growing sunlight, added a sombre liveliness to the view, the red tones of the cliff preponderating over the forbidding black of the lava, while here and there a long gash revealed the ravages of a considerable landslip.
It was, indeed, a half-hour’s hard climb to Thera. But when the town did begin, it stole upon us ere we were aware, isolated and venturesome dwellings of the semi-cave type dropping down the face of the cliff to meet the highway winding painfully up, these in turn giving place to more pretentious dwellings with flat or domed roofs, all shining with immaculate whitewash and gleaming in the morning sun, in sharp contrast with the dark rocks on which they had their foundation. The scriptural architect who built his house upon the sand might well have regarded that selection as stable and secure compared with some of these Theran dwellings; for although they are founded upon a rock and are in some cases half sunk in it, there seems to be little guarantee that the rock itself may not some day split off and land them down among the ships.
When the winding path finally attained the summit, it was found to debouch into a narrow public square, flanked by the inevitable museum of antiquities and a rather garish church; the latter painfully new, and, like all Greek houses of worship, making small pretense of outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. It may be sacred to St. Irene, and very likely is, for the island takes its modern name from that saint and boasts innumerable shrines to her memory. We take credit to ourselves that, although Thera called loudly with manifold charms, we first sought the sanctuary; but to our shame we did not remain there long. A venerable priest, perspiring under a multitude of gorgeous vestments, was officiating in the presence of a very meagre congregation, composed of extremely young boys and a scant choir. Fortunately for our peace of mind, this particular church’s one foundation was on the side of the square away from the precipice, giving a sense of security not otherwise to be gained. But the mountain, even on its gentler side, is far from being gradual, and is only less steep than toward the inner basin. The “blessed mutter of the mass” in Greek is so unintelligible to foreign ears that it soon drove us forth into the air outside and then to the little museum next door, where were displayed the rather overwhelming antiquities of the place,—mainly vases that had been made and used long before the eruption which destroyed the island’s original form so many thousand years before. Many of these were graceful in form, and some are in quite perfect preservation despite their fragility and the enormous lapse of time, revealing still the rude efforts of the early artist’s brush in geometric patterns, lines, angles, and occasionally even primitive attempts to represent animal shapes. Doubtless these relics are no more ancient than those to be seen by the curious in the palace of Minos in Crete, and are paralleled in antiquity by pottery remnants in other pre-Mycenæan sites; but for some reason the lapse of ages since they were made and used comes home to one with more reality in Thera than elsewhere, I suppose because of the impressive story of the eruption at such a hazy distance before the dawn of recorded history. So overpowering did these silent witnesses of a bygone day prove, that we disposed of them with a celerity that would have shocked an archæologist, and betook ourselves straightway to the modern town without, which ran temptingly along the ridge of the summit northward, presenting, like Taormina, a single narrow street lined with the whitest of shops and dwellings, with here and there narrow byways of steps leading up or down, as the case might be, to outlying clusters of buildings. This main thoroughfare, hardly wider than a city sidewalk, follows the uneven line of the mountain top, winding about and dodging up and down, sometimes by inclined planes and sometimes by flights of steps, such as are common enough in side streets of Italian or Greek hill towns.
From the higher points the city presented a sea of undulating white, the roofs divided almost evenly between the flat, parapeted style, designed to catch the falling rain, which is doubly precious in the island, and the dome, or half-barrel style, which bears witness to the local scarcity of timber, making necessary this self-supporting arch of cement. Thus over and over again is the lack of wood and water brought to mind. At a turn in the main street there disclosed itself a fascinating vista of white walls, inclosing neat courtyards, pebble-paved in black and white after the island manner, and framing in the distance a many-arched campanile in clear relief against the brilliant sky, the glare of the whiteness mitigated by the strong oblique shadows and the bronze green of the bells.
A THERAN STREET
Two things prevented our tarrying in Thera indefinitely. One was the urgent need of returning to our steamer and pursuing our cruise through the Ægean; the other was the lack of suitable lodging. However, it is likely that the latter would have proved anything but an insuperable obstacle if tested by an irresistible force of intrepid determination, for lodging we could have found, despite the fact that Thera boasts no hotel. Wandering along the street and stopping now and then to inspect the curious wayside shops, or to gaze in wonder through gaps in the walls of dwellings at the incredible gulf yawning beyond and beneath, we came suddenly upon a coffee-house which completed our capture. The proprietor, as it developed, spoke Italian enough to give us common ground, ushered us out upon a balcony that looked toward the water, and produced a huge flagon of the wine of the country. Ah, the wine of the country! It was yellow. It was not sickish sweet, like the Samian that Byron praised so. It was warming to the midriff and made one charitable as one sipped. Overhead flapped a dingy awning in the lazy western breeze. Below wound the donkey path, with its trains of asses silently ascending and descending through the shimmering heat of the April morning. Far, far beneath, and indeed almost directly at our feet, lay the toy-ships and the steamer, close by the little hamlet of the landing stage, where tiny people, like ants, scurried busily, but at this distance made no sound. Across the sea of rising and falling roofs came the tinkle of an insistent church bell, calling the congregation of some church of St. Irene. Bliss like this is cheap at three drachmas, with a trifling addition of Greek coppers for good-will! It was on this narrow balcony overlooking the bay that we fell in love with Thera. Before we had been merely prepossessed.
The Greek word for hotel sounds suspiciously like “Senator Sheehan” in the mouth of the native, as we had long ago learned; so we instituted inquiry as to that feature of the town, in the hope some day of returning thither for a more extended stay, with opportunity to explore the surrounding country. A distant and not unpromising edifice was pointed out, a coffee-house like our own, but provided with a large room where rather dubious beds were sometimes spread for the weary, according to our entertainer; and it may be that his shrug was the mere product of professional jealousy. Inexorable fate, however, decreed that we should not investigate, but content ourselves with rambling through the town from end to end, enjoying its quaint architecture, its white walls relieved only by touches of buff or the lightest of light blues, its incomparable situation on this rocky saddle, and its views, either into the chasm of the harbor or outward across the troubled expanse of the Ægean to other neighboring islands.
At the north end of the city, where the houses ceased and gave place to the open ridge of the mountain, there stood an old mill, into the cavernous depths of which we were bidden enter by an aged crone. It revealed some very primitive machinery, the gearing being hewn out of huge slices of round logs in which rude cogs were cut. Just outside stood a sooty oven, for the miller not only ground the neighborhood corn, but converted it into bread. Beyond the mill there was nothing in the way of habitation, although on a distant bend of the crater there was visible a white patch of basalt that bore the appearance of a populous city with towers and battlements. Still farther to the north, at the cape next the channel out to sea, lies an inconsiderable town, similarly situated on the ridge, while along the bay to the south are occasional settlements and windmills. But Thera town is the only congested centre of population.
In attempting to analyze the impression that Thera made on us, we have come to the conclusion that its chief charm, aside from its curious position, is its color; and that the difficulty of describing it is due in large part to the inability to paint in words the amazing contrasts of rock, city, and sky, not to mention the sea. One may depict, although feebly, the architectural charm, with the aid of his camera, or, if duly gifted, may chant the praise of Theran wine. With the aid of geological statistics one may tell just how the mountain would appear if we could draw off the ocean and expose its lower depths, leaving a circle of mountain inclosing a three-thousand foot cup, and jagged central cones. One might, by a superhuman effort, do justice to the importunity of the begging children of the town. But to give a true account of Thera demands the aid of the artist with his pigments, while best of all is a personal visit, involving little time and trouble to one visiting Greece—little trouble, that is to say, in comparison with the charms that Thera has to show. And it is safe to say that every such visitor will pick his way gingerly down over the slippery paving stones to the landing below with a poignant sense of regret at leaving this beauty spot of the Ægean, and sail out of the northern passage with a sigh, looking back at the lights of Thera, on the rocky height above the bay, mingling their blinking points with the steady stars of the warm Mediterranean night.
We spent Easter Sunday at Paros. It proved to be a mild and not especially remarkable day in the local church, which was old and quaint and possessed of many highly interesting features within and without, of which we must speak later on, for some of its portions date back to the pagan days. Its floor was littered with the aromatic leaves which had been dropped and trampled under foot the night before by the worshipers at the midnight mass; for it appeared that the chief observance of the feast in the Greek church was on the night before Easter, rather than on the day itself. Indeed we ourselves had been so fortunate, on the previous evening, as to attend this quaint nocturnal ceremony at the neighboring island of Ios, or Nios, as it is variously called.
Our little ship, as is the usual custom among the Greeks, had a shrine in the end of its saloon, with an icon, and a lamp was perpetually burning before it. The Greek takes his religion seriously, and makes it a part of his life afloat and ashore, it would seem. On Good Friday, for example, our national flag was lowered to half-mast and kept there in token of mourning for the crucified Lord, until the church proclaimed His rising from the dead, when it once again mounted joyously to the peak. The men seemed religiously inclined, and it was in deference to a request of the united crew, preferred while we lay in the harbor of Santorin, that it was decided to run north from that island to Nios, which was not far away and which possessed one of the best harbors in the Ægean, in order that the native sailors and the captain might observe the churchly festival according to custom—a request that was the more readily granted because we were all rather anxious to see the Easter-eve ceremony at its climax. Those who had witnessed it in previous years vouched for it as highly interesting, and such proved to be the fact; for between the ceremony itself and the excitement of reaching the scene, this evening furnished one of the most enjoyable of all our island experiences.
In reply to questions touching upon the remoteness of the church at Nios from the landing, the second officer, who spoke Italian, had assured us with a high disregard of the truth that it was “vicino! vicino!” It was pitch dark before we neared Nios, however, and as the moon was due to be late in rising that night we got no warning glimpse of the land, but were made aware of its approach only by a shapeless bulk in the dark which suddenly appeared on either hand, the entrance to the harbor being vaguely indicated by a single light, past which we felt our way at little more than a drifting pace until we were dimly conscious of hills all about, half-guessed rather than visible in the gloom. Then, faint and far away, we began to hear the clamor of the village bells, rung with that insistent clatter so familiar to those acquainted with southern European churches. That their notes sounded so distant gave us some idea at the outset that the mate’s “vicino” might prove to be a rather misleading promise, but very little was to be told by the sound, save that the churches from which the bells were pealing lay off somewhere to the right and apparently up a hill. Light there was none, not even a glimmer; and our three dories put off for the shore over an inky sea in becoming and decorous silence, toward the point where a gloom even more dense than the sky showed that there was land. The effect of it all was curious and had not a little of solemnity in it, as we groped our way to shore with careful oars and then felt about in the dark for the landing. The forward boat soon announced that some stone steps leading upward from the water had been found, and the rowers immediately raised a shout for lights, as one by one we were handed up the slimy stairs to the top of a broad stone quay, on which some white buildings could be dimly seen. A lantern did materialize mysteriously from some nook among the ghostly houses, and came bobbing down to the water’s edge, serving little purpose, however, save to make the rest of the darkness more obscure. By its diminished ray the party were assembled in a compact body, and received admonition to keep together and to follow as closely as possible the leader, who bore the light.
These instructions, while simple enough to give, proved decidedly difficult to follow. The moon was far below the horizon, and the stars, while numerous and brilliant, gave little aid to strangers in a strange land, who could see no more than that they were on a deserted pier flanked by dim warehouses, and a long distance from the bells which were calling the devout to midnight prayer. The lantern set off along the flagstones of the deserted hamlet; and after it in single file clattered the rest of us, keeping up as best we could. We emerged in short order from the little group of huts by the wharf and came out into a vast and silent country, where all was darker than before, save where the leading lantern pursued its fantastic way upward over what turned out to be a roughly paved mule track leading into a hill. Like most mule tracks, it mounted by steps, rather than by inclines, and the progress of the long file of our party was slow and painful, necessitating frequent halts on the part of the guide with the lantern, while a warning word was constantly being passed back along the stumbling line of pedestrians as each in turn stubbed his toes over an unlooked-for rise in the grade. There was little danger of wandering off the path, for it was bordered by high banks. The one trouble was to keep one’s feet and not to stumble as we climbed in the dark, able scarcely to see one another and much less to see anything of the path. The bells ceased to ring as we proceeded, and even that dim clue to the distance of the town was lost. Decidedly it was weird, this stumbling walk up an unknown and unfrequented island path in the dead of night; for it was long past eleven of the clock, and the Easter mass, as we knew, should reach its most interesting point at about twelve. Knowing this we made such haste as we could and the little town of Nios stole upon us ere we were aware, its silent buildings of gray closing in upon the road and surrounding us without our realizing their presence, until a sudden turning of the way caused the lantern far ahead to disappear entirely from our view in the mazes of the town.
It was as deserted as the little wharf had been. Moreover it was as crooked as it was dark. Here and there an open doorway gave out across the way a single bar of yellow light, but most of the habitations were as silent as the tomb, their owners and occupants being in church long before. On and on through a seeming labyrinth of little streets we wound, the long thread of the party serving as the sole clue to the way, as did Ariadne’s cord; for the lantern was never visible to the rear guard now, owing to the turns and twists of the highway. Twice we met belated church-goers coming down from side paths with their tiny lanterns, and the utter astonishment on their faces at beholding this unexpected inundation of foreigners at that unearthly hour of night was as amusing as it was natural. Once the thread of the party was broken at a corner, and for an anxious moment there was a council of war as to which street to take. It was a lucky guess, however, for a sudden turn brought the laggards out of the obscurity and into a lighted square before the doors of the church itself—a tiny church, white walled and low roofed, and filled apparently to its doors, while from its open portals trickled the monotonous chant of a male choir, the voices always returning to a well-marked and not unmelodious refrain.
In some mysterious way, room was made for us in the stifling church, crowded as it was with men and women. Candles furnished the only light. On the right a choir of men and boys, led by the local schoolmaster, chanted their unending, haunting minor litany. An old and bespectacled priest peered down over the congregation from the door of the iconostasis. Worshipers came and went. The men seemed especially devout, taking up the icon before the entrance and kissing it passionately and repeatedly. On each of us as we entered was pressed a slender taper of yellow wax, perhaps a foot in length, and we stood crowded in the little auditorium holding these before us expectantly, and regarded with lively and good-humored curiosity by the good people within. Presently the priest came forward from the door of the altar-screen with his candle alight, which was the signal for an excited scramble by a dozen small boys nearest him to get their tapers lighted first—after which the fire ran from candle to candle until everybody bore his tiny torch; and following the old priest, we all trooped out into the square before the church, where the service continued.
That was a sight not easily to be forgotten—the tiny square, in the centre of which stood the catafalque of Christ, while all around stood the throng of worshipers, each bearing his flaring taper, the whole place flooded with a yellow glow. The monotone of the service continued as before. The gentle night breeze sufficed now and then to put out an unsheltered candle here and there, but as often as this occurred the bystanders gave of their fire, and the illumination was renewed as often as interrupted.
The quaint service culminated with the proclamation of the priest that Christ had risen,—"Christos anéste,"—at which magic words all restraint was thrown off and the worshipers abandoned themselves to transports of holy joy. A stalwart man seized the bell-rope that dangled outside the church and rang a lively toccata on the multiple bells above, while exuberant boys let fly explosive torpedoes at the walls of neighboring houses, making a merry din after the true Mediterranean fashion; for the religious festivals of all southern countries appear to be held fit occasions for demonstrations akin unto those with which we are wont to observe our own national birthday. We were soon aware that other churches of the vicinity had reached the “Christos anéste” at about the same hour, for distant bells and other firecrackers and torpedoes speedily announced the rising of the Lord.
Doubtless a part of the Easter abandon is due to the reaction from the rigorous keeping of Lent among the Greeks, as well as to a devout sentiment that renews itself annually at this festival with a fervor that might well betoken the first novel discovery of eternal salvation as a divine truth. The Greek Lent is an austere season, in which the abstinence from food and wine is astonishingly thorough. Indeed, it has been reported by various travelers in Hellas in years past that they were seriously inconvenienced by the inability they met, especially in Holy Week, to procure sufficient food; for the peasantry were unanimously fasting, and unexpected wayfarers in the interior could find but little cheer. The native manages to exist on surprisingly little sustenance during the forty days. On the arrival of Easter it is not strange that he casts restraint to the winds and manifests a delight that is obviously unbounded. However, it need not be inferred from this that undue license prevails, for this apparently was not the case—not in Nios, at any rate. The service, after the interruption afforded by bells and cannonading, resumed its course, and was said to endure until three o'clock in the morning; a fact which might seem to indicate that the Easter pleasuring was capable of a decent restraint and postponement, although the Lord had officially risen and death was swallowed up in victory.
Our own devotion was not equal to the task of staying through this long mass, as it was already well past the midnight hour, and we had made a long and strenuous day of it. So, with repeated exchanges of “Christos anéste” between ourselves and the villagers, we set out again through the narrow byways of the town, and down over the rough mule path to the ship, each of us bearing his flaring taper and shielding it as well as possible from the night wind; for the sailors were bent on getting some of that sacred flame aboard alive, and in consequence saw to it that extinguished candles were promptly relighted lest we lose altogether the precious fire. We made a long and ghostly procession of winking lights as we streamed down over the hillside and out to the boats—a fitting culmination to one of the most curious experiences which the Ægean vouchsafed us.
We found the “red eggs” peculiar to the Greek Easter awaiting us when we came aboard—eggs, hard-boiled and colored with beet juice or some similar coloring matter, bowls of which were destined to become a familiar sight during the week or two that followed the Easter season. The Greeks maintain that this is a commemoration of a miracle which was once performed to convince a skeptical woman of the reality of the resurrection. She was walking home, it seems, with an apron full of eggs which she had bought, when she met a friend whose countenance expressed unusual rejoicing, and who ran to meet her, crying, “Have you heard the news?” “Surely not,” was the reply. “What is this news?” “Why, Christ the Lord is risen!” “Indeed,” responded the skeptic, "that I cannot believe; nor shall I believe it unless the eggs that I carry in my apron shall have turned red." And red they proved to be when she looked at them!
Owing to the exhaustion due to the festivities of the night before, we found Easter Sunday at Paros a quiet day indeed. The streets of the little town proved to be practically deserted, for it was a day of homekeeping, and no doubt one of feasting. The occasional vicious snap of a firecracker was to be heard as we landed on the mole that serves the chief town of Paros for a wharf and started for a short Sunday morning ramble through the streets. From the landing stage the most conspicuous object in Paros was a large white church not far from the water, rejoicing in the name of the “Virgin of a Hundred Gates,” as we were told we should interpret the epithet “hekatonpyliani.” It proved to be a sort of triple church, possessing side chapels on the right and left of the main auditorium, and almost as large. In that at the right was to be seen a cruciform baptismal font, very venerable and only a little raised from the level of the floor, indicating the uses to which this apartment of the church was put. The presence of ancient marble columns incorporated into this early Christian edifice was likewise striking. In the main church the most noticeable thing was the employment of a stone altar-screen, or iconostasis, with three doors leading into the apse behind instead of the customary single one, an arrangement which has often been commented upon as resembling the proskenion of the ancient theatre. It was all deserted, and the air was heavy with old incense and with the balsamic perfume of the leaves and branches that had fallen to the floor and been trampled upon during the mass of the previous night. It was all very still, very damp and cool, and evidently very old, doubtless supplanting some previous pagan shrine.
In the court before the church stood a sort of abandoned monastery, as at the pass of Daphne, only this one was spotless white, and with its walls served to shut in completely the area in front of the church itself. In a portion of the buildings of this inclosure is a small museum, chiefly notable for inscriptions, one of which refers to Archilochus, the writer of Iambic verse, who lived in Paros in the seventh century before the birth of Christ.
OLD COLUMNS IN CHURCH. PAROS
The chief fame of Paros was, of course, for its marbles. The quarries whence these superb blocks came lay off to the northeast, we were aware; and had time only allowed, they might have been explored with profit. The Parian marble was the favorite one for statues, owing to its incomparable purity and translucence, and the facility with which it could be worked up to a high finish. It was quarried under ground, and thus derived its designation, “lychnites,” or “quarried-by-candlelight.” Those who have visited the subterranean chambers formed by the men who anciently took marble from the spot relate that the exploration of the quarries is fraught with considerable interest and with not a little danger, owing to the complex nature of the galleries and the varying levels.
In wandering around the little modern town which occupies the site of the ancient city of Paros, and bears the name of Paroikia, we found not a little color to delight the eye, although the streets were generally rather muddy and squalid. On the southerly side of the harbor, where the basic rock of the island rises to a considerable height, there was anciently a small acropolis, which is still crowned with a rather massive tower built by the Franks out of bits of ancient marble structures. From the outside, the curious log-cabin effect caused by using marble columns for the walls, each drum laid with ends outward, was most apparent and striking. Within we found a tiny shrine, deserted as the great church had been, but still giving evidence of recent religious activity. Aside from the remnants of old temples, serving as the marble logs of this Frankish stronghold, there seemed to be little in Paros to recall the days when she was one of the richest of all the Athenian tributaries. A few prehistoric houses have been uncovered and several ancient tombs. But the most lasting of all the classic monuments are the quarries, now deserted, but still revealing the marks of the ancient chisels, whence came the raw material for most of the famous Greek sculptures preserved to us.
To us, seated on the pebbly beach and idly listening to the lapping of the Ægean waves, as we sunned ourselves and awaited the time for embarking, there appeared a native, gorgeous in clothes of a suspiciously American cut. He drew near, smiling frankly, and with a comprehensive gesture which explicitly included the ladies in his query, said: “Where do you fellers come from?” He had served in the American navy, it appeared, and had voyaged as far as the Philippines. Other Parians ranged themselves at a respectful distance and gazed in open-mouthed admiration at their fellow townsman who understood how to talk with the foreigners, and who walked along with a lady on either side, whom he constantly addressed as “you fellers” to their unbounded amusement and delight. We convoyed him to a wayside inn near the quay, under two spindling plane trees, and plied him with coffee as a reward for his courtesy and interest; and later we left him standing with bared head watching our little ship steam away westward, toward the setting sun and that land to which he hoped one day to follow us once more.
Our return to Athens from our island cruise was by way of the southeastern shore of the Peloponnesus, touching at Monemvasía, a rocky promontory near the most southern cape, and connected with the mainland by a very narrow isthmus, which it has even been necessary to bridge at one point; so that, strictly speaking, Monemvasía is an island, rather than a promontory or peninsula. It is a most striking rock, resembling Gibraltar in shape, though vastly smaller. In fact, like Gibraltar, it has the history of an important strategic point, though it is such no longer. Its summit is still crowned by a system of defenses built by the Franks, and the inclosure, which includes the entire top of the rock, also contains a ruined church. A narrow and not unpicturesque town straggles along the shore directly beneath the towering rock itself, much as the town of Gibraltar does, and in it may be seen other ruined churches, belonging to the Frankish period largely, and unused now. The entrance to this village is through a formidable stone gateway in the wall, which descends from the sheer side of the cliff above. A steep zig-zag path leads up from the town to the fort, which although deserted is kept locked, so that a key must be procured before ascending.
Those who have seen the Norman defenses at the promontory of Cefalù, on the northern coast of Sicily, will recognize at once a striking similarity between that place and this Grecian one, not only from a topographical standpoint, but from the arrangement of the walls at the top and lower down at the gateway that bars the upward path. Cefalù, however, is in a more ruinous condition than this Frankish fortress to-day. In point of general situation and view from the summit the two are certainly very similar, with their broad outlook over sea and mainland. The sheer sides of the promontory made it a practically inaccessible citadel from nearly every direction, save that restricted portion up which the path ascends, and the defense of it against every foe but starvation was an easy matter. Even besiegers found it no easy thing to starve out the garrison, for it is on record that the stout old Crusader Villehardouin sat down before the gates of Monemvasía for three years before the inhabitants were forced to capitulate.
The name of Monemvasía is derived from the fact that the isolated rock crowned with the fortress is connected with the mainland by a single narrow neck affording the only entrance. Hence the Greek μόνη ἔμβασις (moné emvasis) was combined in the modern pronunciation to form the not unmusical name of the place and has a perfectly natural explanation. Moreover the same name, further shortened, lives again in the name of “Malmsey” wine, which is made from grapes grown on rocky vineyards and allowed to wither before gathering, as was the custom in the old Monemvasía wine industry.
Of course the village at the base of the cliff is wholly unimportant now. Malmsey wine is no longer the chief product of this one solitary spot, but comes from Santorin, Portugal, Madeira, and a dozen other places, while Monemvasía and the derivation of the word are largely forgotten. The town has sunk into a state of poverty, and as for the fort, it is capable neither by artifice nor by natural surroundings of defending anything of value, and hence is of no strategic importance. It has had its day and probably will never have another. It is, however, ruggedly beautiful, and the town, if degraded and half ruined, is still highly picturesque, though unfortunately seldom visited by Greek pilgrimages. It formed a fitting close for our island cruise, and indeed it is, as we discovered, really an island itself, the ribbon of isthmus connecting it with the Peloponnesus having been severed years ago, when Monemvasía was worthy to be counted a stronghold. The gap in the land is now spanned by a permanent bridge, so that practically Monemvasía is a promontory still, lofty and rugged, but not ungraceful; and its imposing bulk loomed large astern as we steamed back along the coast toward the Piræus and home.
The city of Patras, from which port we are about to take leave of Greece, is probably the most incongruous city in the kingdom. To be sure it is second in importance to Piræus, and the latter city is quite as frankly commercial. But the proximity of the Piræus to Athens and the presence of the Acropolis, crowned with its ruined temples always in the field of view, conspire to take a little of the modern gloss off the major port, and thus prevent it from displaying an entire lack of harmony with those classic attributes which are the chief charm of Hellas. Patras has no such environment. It has no such history. It is a busy seaport town, a railroad centre, and it is about everything that the rest of Greece is not. It even has a trolley line, which no other Greek city at this writing has, although of course the years will bring that convenience to Athens, as they have already brought the third-rail inter-urban road to the sea.
Patras appears to have been as uninteresting in antiquity as it is to-day, though doubtless from its advantageous position on the Gulf of Corinth it was always a more or less prosperous place. A very dubious tradition says that the Apostle Andrew was crucified here; and whether he was or not, St. Andrew has remained the patron saint of the town. In any event, Patras shares with Corinth the celebrity of being one of the earliest seats of Christianity in Greece, although it is a celebrity which Corinth so far overshadows that poor Patras is generally forgotten. It probably figures to most Hellenic travelers, as it has in our own case, as either an entrance or an exit, and nothing more. Still, after one has spent a fortnight or more in the wilds of the Peloponnesian mountains, an evening stroll through the brilliantly lighted streets of the city comes not amiss, and gives one the sense of civilization once more after a prolonged experience of the pastoral and archaic.
It was stated early in this book that probably the ideal departure from Greece is by way of the Piræus, as by that route one leaves with the benediction of the Acropolis, which must be reckoned the crowning glory of it all. But since we have elected to enter by the eastern gate in voyaging through these pages, it is our lot to depart by the western, and to journey back to Italy by way of Corfu, the island of Nausicaa. It is not to be regretted, after all. One might look far for a lovelier view than that to be had from the harbor of Patras. The narrow strait that leads into the Corinthian Gulf affords a splendid panorama of mountain and hill on the farther side, as the northern coast sweeps away toward the east; while outside, toward the setting sun, one may see the huge blue shapes of “shady Zakynthos,” and “low-lying” Ithaca—which it has always struck me is not low-lying at all, but decidedly hilly. Through the straits and past these islands the steamers thread their way, turning northward into the Adriatic and heading for Corfu—generally, alas, by night.
The redeeming feature of this arrangement is that, while it robs one of a most imposing view of receding Greece, it gives a compensatingly beautiful approach to Corfu on the following morning; and there is not a more charming island in the world. It lies close to the Albanian shore, and with reference to the voyage between Patras and Brindisi it is almost exactly half way. In Greek it still bears the name of Kerkyra, a survival of the ancient Corcyra, the name by which it was known in the days when Athens and Corinth fought over it. The ancients affected to believe it the island mentioned in the Odyssey as “Scheria,” the Phæacian land ruled over by King Alcinoös; and there is no very good reason why we also should not accept this story and call it the very land where the wily Odysseus was cast ashore, the more especially since his ship, converted into stone by the angry Poseidon, is still to be seen in the mouth of a tiny bay not far from the city! We may easily drive down to it and, if we choose, pick out the spot on shore where the hero was wakened from his dreams by the shouts of Nausicaa and the maids as they played at ball on the beach while the washing was drying.
In the ancient days, when navigation was conducted in primitive fashion without the aid of the mariner’s compass, and when the only security lay in creeping from island to island and hugging the shore, Corcyra became a most important strategic point. In their conquest of the west, the Greeks were wont to sail northward as far as this island, skirting the mainland of Greece, and thence to strike off westward to the heel of Italy, where the land again afforded them guidance and supplies until they reached the straits of Messina. So that the route of Odysseus homeward from the haunts of Scylla and Charybdis and the isle Ortygia was by no means an unusual or roundabout one. This course of western navigation gave rise to continual bickering among the great powers of old as to the control of Corcyra, and Thucydides makes the contention over the island the real starting-point of the difficulties that culminated in the Peloponnesian war and in the overthrow of the Athenian empire.
Modern Corfu has a very good outer harbor, suitable for large craft, although landing, as usual, is possible only by means of small boats. The declaration in Bædeker that the boatmen are insolent and rapacious appears no longer to be true. The matter of ferriage to shore seems to have been made the subject of wise regulation, and the charge for the short row is no longer extortionate. From the water the city presents a decidedly formidable appearance, being protected by some massive fortifications which were doubtless regarded as impregnable in their day, but which are unimportant now. They are of Venetian build, as are so many of the fortresses in Greek waters. Aside from the frowning ramparts of these ancient defenses, the town is a peaceful looking place in the extreme, with its tall white and gray houses, green-shuttered and trim. It is a town by no means devoid of picturesqueness, although it will take but a few moments’ inspection to convince the visitor that Corfu is by nature Italian rather than Greek, despite its incorporation in the domains of King George. Corfu has always been in closer touch with western Europe than with the East, and it is doubtless because she has enjoyed so intimate a connection with Italy that her external aspects are anything but Hellenic. Moreover the English were for some years the suzerains of the island, and have left their mark on it, for the island’s good, although it is many years since the British government honorably surrendered the land to Greece, in deference to the wish of the inhabitants.
Despite the Venetian character of the fortresses, they remind one continually of Gibraltar, although of course infinitely less extensive. Particularly is this true of the "fortezza nuova," which it is well worth while to explore because of the fine view over the city and harbor to be had from its highest point. A custodian resides in a tiny cabin on the height and offers a perfectly needless telescope in the hope of fees, although it is doubtful that many ever care to supplement the eye by recourse to the glass. The prospect certainly is incomparably beautiful. Below lies the city with its narrow streets and lofty buildings, and before it the bay decked with white ships, contrasting with the almost incredible blue of the water, for the ocean is nowhere bluer than at Corfu. Across the straits not many miles away rises the bluff and mountainous mainland of Albania and Epirus, stretching off north and south into illimitable distances. Behind the town the country rolls away into most fertile swales and meadows, bounded on the far north by a high and apparently barren mountain. All the narrow southern end of the island is a veritable garden, well watered, well wooded, covered with grass and flowers, and rising here and there into low, tree-clad hills. Trim villas dot the landscape, and on a distant hill may be seen from afar the gleaming walls of the palace which belonged to the ill-fated Empress of Austria.
From the fortress southward toward the bay where lies the “ship of Ulysses,” there runs a beautiful esplanade along the water front, lined with trees and flanked on the landward side by villas with most luxuriant gardens. Even though the British occupation came to an end as long ago as 1865, the roadways of the island bear the marks of the British thoroughness, and make riding in Corfu a pleasure. The houses along the way are largely of the summer-residence variety, the property of wealthy foreigners rather than of native Corfiotes; and their gardens, especially in the springtime, are a riot of roses, tumbling over the high walls, or clambering all over the houses themselves, and making the air heavy with their fragrance. The trees are no less beautiful, and the roads are well shaded by them. After a month or so of the comparatively treeless and often barren mainland of Greece, this exuberant Eden is a source of keen enjoyment with its wanton profligacy of bloom.
“SHIP OF ULYSSES.” CORFU
It cannot be more than two miles, and perhaps it is rather less, over a smooth road and through a continuous succession of gardens, from the town of Corfu out to the little knoll which overlooks the bay and “ship of Ulysses,” and the view down on that most picturesque islet and across the placid waters of the narrow arm of the sea in which it lies, furnishes one of the most beautiful prospects in the island. The “ship” itself is a rather diminutive rock not far from shore, almost completely enshrouded in sombre, slender cypresses, which give it its supposed similarity to the Phæacian bark of the wily Ithacan. Nor is it a similarity that is entirely imaginary. Seen from a distance, the pointed trees grouped in a dark mass on this tiny isle do give the general effect of a vessel. Those who know the picture called the “Island of Death” will be struck at once with the similarity between the “ship” and the painter’s ideal of the abode of shades; and with the best of reasons, for it is said that this island was the model employed. Amidst the dusk of the crowded trees one may distinguish a monastery, tenanted we were told by a single monk, while on a neighboring island, closer to the shore and connected therewith by a sort of rocky causeway, there is another monastery occupied by some band of religious brothers. This island also is not without its charms, but the eye always returns to that mournful abandoned “ship,” which surpasses in its weird fascination any other thing that Corfu has to show.
The Villa Achilleion, which lies off to the southward on a lofty hill, shares with the ship of Ulysses the attention of the average visitor, and worthily so, not only because of the great beauty of the villa itself, with its mural paintings of classic subjects and its wonderful gardens, but because of the exquisite view that is to be had over the island from the spot. The lively verdure, the vivid blueness of the sea, and the gloomy rocks of the Turkish shore, all combine to form a picture not soon to be forgotten. As for the Achilleion itself, it was built for the Empress of Austria, who was assassinated some years ago, and the estate has now, I believe, passed into private hands. The road to it is excellent, and occasional bits of the scenery along the way are highly picturesque, with now and then an isolated and many-arched campanile, adorned with its multiple bells in the Greek manner, obtruding itself unexpectedly from the trees.
There are unquestionably many rides around the island that are quite as enjoyable as this, but the ordinary visitor is doubtless the one who stops over for a few hours only, during the stay of his steamer in the port, and therefore has little time for more than the sights described. Those who are able to make the island more than a brief way-station on the way to or from Greece express themselves as enchanted with it, and the number of attractive villas built by foreigners of means would seem to emphasize the statement. Corfu as an island is altogether lovely.
The city itself has already been referred to as more Italian than Greek in appearance. Nevertheless it is really Greek, and its shops are certainly more like those of Athens than like those of Italy, while the ordinary signboards of the street are in the Greek characters. It is the height of the houses, the narrowness of the streets, the occasional archways, and the fact that almost everybody can speak Italian, that give the unmistakable Italian touch to Corfu after one has seen the broader highways and lower structures of Athens. But Greco-Italian as it is, one cannot get away from the fact that, after all, it reminds one quite as much of Gibraltar as of anything. The town does this, quite as much as the fortresses, with its narrow ways and its evident cosmopolitanism. The shops, although devoted largely to Greek merchandise, are a good deal like the Gibraltar bazaars, and make quite as irresistible an appeal to the pocket, with their gorgeous embroidered jackets, blue and gold vestments, and other barbaric but incredibly magnificent fripperies, fresh from the tailor’s hand, and not, as at Athens, generally the wares of second-hand dealers. To see peasant jackets and vests of red and blue, and heavily ornamented with gold tracery, go to Corfu. Nothing at Athens approaches the Corfiote display.
There are some archæological remains at Corfu, but not of commanding prominence; and the average visitor, busied with the contemplation of the loveliness of the country and the quaintness of the town for a few brief hours, probably omits to hunt them up, as we ourselves did. The most obvious monuments of the past are those of the medieval period, the Venetian strongholds that served to protect Corfu when the island was an important bulwark against the Saracens. Of the days when the rival powers of classic Greece warred over the Corcyreans and their fertile island, little trace has survived. There is a very old tomb in the southerly suburb of Kastradès and the foundation of an ancient temple, but neither is to be compared for interest with the host of monuments of equal antiquity to be seen in Greece and even in Sicily. Corfu, like Italy, has suffered a loss of the evidences of her antiquity by being so constantly on the great highway to western Europe. She has never been left to one side, as Greece so long was. Her fertility prevented her degenerating into mere barren pasturage, as happened in Hellas proper, and her situation made her important all through the Middle Ages, just as it made her important during the expansion period of the Athenian empire. And as Rome, through active and continuous existence, has gradually eaten up her own ancient monuments before they achieved the value of great age, so Corfu has lost almost entirely all trace of what the ancient Corcyreans built; while Athens, through her long ages of unimportance, preserved much of her classic monumental glories unimpaired, and thanks to an awakened appreciation of them will cherish them for all time.
The long years in which Greece lay fallow and deserted now appear not to have been in vain. Through that period of neglect her ancient sites and monuments lay buried and forgotten, but intact. Men were too busy exploring and expanding elsewhere to waste a thought on the dead past. Even the revival of learning, which exhumed the classic writings from the oblivion of monkish cells and made the literature of Greece live again, was insufficient to give back to the world the actual physical monuments of that classic time. It has remained for the present day, when the earth has been all but completely overrun and when men have found a dearth of new worlds to conquer, that we have had the time and the interest to turn back to Greece, sweep away the rubbish of ages, and give back to the light of day the palaces of Agamemnon, the strongholds of Tiryns, and the hoary old labyrinth of Minos. On the fringes of Magna Græcia, where the empire was in touch with the unceasing tides of western civilization, as in Sicily and at Corfu, the remnants of the older days fared but ill. It was in the mountain fastnesses of the Peloponnesus and in the gloomy glens of Delphi that so much of the ancient, and even of the prehistoric and preheroic days, survived as to give us moderns even a more definite knowledge of the times of the Achæans and Trojans than perhaps even Homer himself had.
1. Herodotus, Book I, sections 46-48.
2. Herodotus, Book I, sections 50-51.
3. Herodotus, Book III, section 60.
The table at the end of this note summarizes any corrections to the text that have been deemed to be printer’s errors.
The spelling of Greek place-names may occasionally use the terminal ‘-us’ interchangeably with the Greek ‘-os’, especially in the Index. Both are retained.
The latinized Greek word ‘lepta’ is occasionally given with an accented ‘a’, either ‘à’ or ‘á’. All have been retained as printed.