Greece - The Street And The Agora
( Originally Published 1899 )
ATHENS is not a city of magnificent distances; it does not take long to measure it off with wheels or shoe-leather. The difficulty is to keep mentally in the nineteenth century and in the Athens of today. You are almost sure to wander off into the Athens of yesterday and the day before. You start feeling that you are contemporaneous with yourself and with everybody else whom you meet, but you have not walked long before you begin to ask yourself whether you are not really contemporaneous with some of your distinguished and immortal ancestors. Are you living your life backwards? Has the clock begun to go the other way, or is it ticking both ways at once? Is this the present, or is it the past? Or are both throbbing together? Chronology seems to have lost its sequence, to have become an eddying whirl of repetitions and contradictions.
There would be no illusion, no disturbance of your sense of identity, if you were in a city wholly of ruins, like Pompeii, and devoid of any life of to-day. Then you might hold yourself aloof and view it as a spectator across the gulf of centuries. Or if you dreamed yourself back into it and imagined that you were the sole surviving Roman citizen, your dream would not be interrupted by nineteenth century contradictions and interpolations. There are places in Greece where you may have this experience, but in Athens your impressions cannot be kept so distinct. You are not visiting a mass of inert ruins. The new Athens, with its horse cars, steam trams, electric lights, clean white buildings and spacious squares, is so incisively modern and progressive that there is no doubt that you are living in your own day. The curious thing is that though the nineteenth century is alive, the centuries which have preceded it do not seem to be dead. The past and the present interchange their emphasis and are moving together in the same procession of events.
This chronological tangle comes not from dead stones, but from live people. Much of the double impression on your consciousness is made through the language and through your education in regard to it. You have been taught that this old language was dead and buried, but here are living people talking it as if it were just as much alive as your own. The newsboys are hawking papers through the streets. That is a familiar modern experience, but the names 'A.KpdTroXcs, 'AG-tv, Kacpoi are curiously ancient, and when you buy them and undertake to get the news of the day you find yourself in a morass of Homeric, Xenophontine, Hellenistic, mediaeval or later Greek words. The older the style, the better you understand it. Here is a vocabulary, the growth of centuries. It is not a fusion of old words in a modern crucible; it is not philological junk. The old words have not lost their vitality of form or meaning; they are simply put together in a different way. Even when clipped and elided, you find the old roots. Like the gardener's bulbs, they are constantly bursting into new bloom. Nothing is more curious at first than to find modern thought and events expressed in such archaic forms. These are not make-believe newspapers. The people are reading them. You step into the Boule and hear legislative debates in the same tongue. You have been used, however, to studying Greek with the eye, not with the ear, and at first the modern pronunciation is so strange that the language seems more barbarian than Greek. When accent and emphasis have become as familiar to the ear as the characters are to the eye, then the old Greek seems to be exuberantly alive, and after you have heard a finished oration by Trikoupes, a sermon by the Archbishop, a harangue by a carnival comedian in the Agora, a recitation in the school, you become so thoroughly HelIenized, and so saturated with antiquity, that you would not be surprised to meet Socrates in the Agora, Paul upon the Areopagus, Pericles coming down from the Acropolis, or to happen on Diogenes packed in his tub.
In a corner of the Odeion of Herodes Atticus is an enormous earthenware wine jar, a vessel which still goes by its ancient name of pithos. One day, as Professor Dorpfeld was concluding his lecture to a group of archaeologists in the ruins of the old theatre, they were suddenly startled by seeing a head thrust out of the jar which lay on its side. Then shoulders, body and legs slowly emerged. Inquiry showed that a half-witted man, driven about by the persecutions of a rabble of boys, had taken refuge in the old wine jar and had lived there most of the time for two weeks. A kind woman had brought him food and covered the mouth of the jar with a curtain. The poor wretch sadly lacked the wisdom of Diogenes and was more in need of merciful than of honest men. This modern Greek duplication of the life of the old cynic I offer in evidence against the scepticism of those who maintain that the philosopher could not have found a jar big enough to live in; and I have no doubt that if we could have got at the philosophy of this second Diogenes we should have found it sufficiently cynical.
It is in this way that old customs, words, ideas and traditions keep popping up and emerging from the human pottery in which they have been bottled. When you examine them you find that they are not dead; they have not. even been hermetically sealed; though a little wrinkled or a trifle rheumatic, they are living and breathing and frequently venture out in public.
Diogenes or not, you will not get very far in Athens before you meet more congenial notabilities. There, for example, coming down the steps of the American Legation is Alcibiades. He is tall, hand-some, with black curly hair and dark eyes, genial in manner, and with a perpetual smile on his dark face. He has an accomplishment which he did not possess twenty-three hundred years ago. He can speak French and English as well as Greek. He does not concern himself nowadays with Sparta or Sicily; lie does not get drunk with his young friends and deface the statues of Hermes at Athens. He will never be tried for impiety. He is the young and faithful interpreter at the American Legation, and is soon to try his fortunes in the new world. No one would take him to be twenty-three hundred years old. Then there is Constantine. Just by what sign he is conquering I do not know, but by the sign of the drachma or the dollar, I suppose. Strange to say, Constantine is a brother of Alcibiades, and it is likewise surprising to learn that they are both brothers of Miltiades, who has given up soldiering and is devoting himself to the arts of peace. Themistocles is not the Secretary of the Navy, as lie ought to be, and he would not advise Athens in these days to depend upon "wooden walls" when every other nation is using ironclads. Leonidas, his brother, no longer guards the pass of Thermopylae., but is hurling lightning with the Morse telegraph. As for Alexander, who is the brother of all the rest, he is not hunting men or beasts in Asia Minor, nor is he standing in front of the tub of Diogenes. He is an Athenian schoolboy riding not Bucephalus, but a bicycle. Voila! Alcibiades, Constantine, Miltiades, Themistocles, Leonidas, Emmanuel, Nicolas, Alexander,—eight brothers bearing the name, if not the fame, of statesmen and heroes! May some modern Plutarch write their lives. The single concession made to Hebrew and Christian nomenclature in the name Emmanuel, which breaks the set, shows that the parents value piety even more than symmetry.
This revival of ancient names is one expression of Greek patriotism, and some of these boys well deserve their heroic names. It all helps, however, to confuse the chronology, as when Demosthenes sent me a basket of fruit by the hands of still another Leonidas; and it was another Alexander—Alexander the Little—who used to read stories to me in modern Greek.
Of course the heroes and poets are honored in the names of the streets, and this veneration is even accorded to the gods. There is Homer Street, and I was not quite happy until I had taken my residence upon it; Solon Street, Hermes Street, and streets named after AEsculapius, Hippocrates, Athene, Constantine, Menander, Philip, Theseus, Euripides, Praxiteles, Thucydides, Aphrodite, Ares, Pan, Hebe, Hephaestus, Pericles, Apollo, Thrasybulus, and one named after the Holy Apostles, though none that I remember named after the Virgin or the Holy Ghost, as in France and Germany. The gods might be jealous enough if they compared the streets named after them with their own pretensions to youth, cleanliness and beauty. Some of these streets are so narrow and insignificant that it may be a grave question whether the gods were not slandered by the compliment. The Christian saints are not wholly forgotten, but the nomenclature of paganism is prevalent, and one might conjecture that the gods had left Olympus and come down to dwell with Athene in her beloved city. Is there not a hotel dedicated to Athene and one to Poseidon?
Modern topographers of Athens have disputed as to where the old Agora lay. Some indication of its site, supported by recent excavations, may be gathered from Pausanias. The so--called "Gate of the Agora" is still standing, and one may read on a tablet a long inscription of the time of Hadrian respecting the market price of oil and salt. There are remains too of the Stoa of Attalus, built by Attalus II., king of Pergamon (159—139 B. C.). It was a large building, more than three hundred feet long, with a colonnade of Doric and Ionic shafts. Between the gate of the Agora and the Theseion Dr. Dorpfeld and other topographers assume that the old market undoubtedly lay. In those days, as in ours, the shrines of God and Mammon were not far apart. Trinity stands at the head of Wall Street; so the Temple to the Mother of the Gods, the council chamber, with the statues to Zeus and Apollo, and various pictures and memorials, were within or close to the precincts of the old Agora. They are gone now, and it is not easy to tell where they were. From Greek literature we can reconstruct, however, a vivid picture of the old Agora, with its hair-dressers, wine shops, cheese shops, fruit and oil dealers, myrtle-sellers, bakers, perfumers, doctors, harness-makers, the potters, the venders of ribbons and fillets, the cooks with their cooking utensils, the fishwomen and slaves. We can see it and smell it, and hear the sound of the bell ringing in the tradesmen and customers. We can hear the buzz of discussion, the shrill voices of the fishwives screaming billingsgate when polite Greek was too dainty for their tongues or feelings. We can see the throngs at full market time when Socrates was pretty sure to be around and the loungers sauntering under the colonnade or loafing in the shops.
The new market is not very far from the old. It is not likely that the old Agora was wholly confined within certain definite precincts. The modern Agora is not very definite either, but its centre of activity falls within the limits of the old Agora, so that the Greeks of today may be said to be doing business almost over the very spot which their fathers used for the same purpose. On a dingy coffee-house is a daub of Socrates with so ugly a visage that if it were possible to libel the sage in a caricature of his face we might think that the painter had succeeded. There are plenty of loungers. Socrates would have no difficulty in drawing a crowd and Paul would find many there anxious to hear and learn some new thing. There are others who sit around with a stolid indifference, smoking long Turkish pipes, some using their own amber mouthpieces, which they can attach to the tube and pipe they have hired, others disdaining such formalities and puffing freely and democratically at the common mouthpiece, like Indians when they smoke the pipe of peace. I cannot say that I find such communism to my taste. Socrates might be surprised enough to see a new vender in the Agora and would naturally wonder what a "smoke shop," , really meant, and whether there was not some sophistry in the term. With his well-known views on temperance and physical health we might expect from him a sensible lecture on this modern habit.
Most of the occupations would, however, be perfectly familiar to him, and most of the terms by which they' are described. Now, as then, the wine-merchant is, the bread-deal, the cheesemonger the and the pottery shop the Aristophanes might mock the hawkers who go about crying their wares, and Plutarch might complain now, as then, that the Agora is a noisy place. They could hardly seek an article of food of the old time that might not be found in the Agora of today, and they would find just as much haggling over its price. It is no longer a shame for a woman to go to market in Athens; but is it a survival of the old Greek prejudice against women engaging in business, or because of the later Orientalism in which Greece has been submerged, that women are not generally found as clerks and attendants in the stores and shops of Athens? " Shall Women Work?" was a question thrown open to public discussion in the daily Acropolis. Several hundred letters were received on the subject, and more than half of them were in favor of extending the range of women's employments; and this change is certainly taking place.
Retail dealers and hucksters in the old Agora and the common pedlers did not have a high social position, and Socrates would find that the word, huckster, retains much of its old meaning, and that the adjective means rude and impolite today, while, merchant, and the derivatives of that word, are held in greater honor. Not far away from their old-time resort one finds today the trapezitai, the bankers and money-changers. If you want to know how the trade winds are blowing, walk through AEolus Street (the " Street of the Windy God "), — the fluctuations of the drachma are a pretty good gauge. Sitting out on the sidewalk are the money-changers. A small table supports a glass case in which their money is displayed. They do not sit in the temple or in its immediate court, but the church is not far away, and the tables at which they sit bear the same name, irpcivrsya, as in New Testament days. Indeed, this word used by the money-changer for his table has come to be the Greek word for bank, just as the English word bank is derived from the money-dealer's bench. This is the Athenian Wall Street, and not a little speculation is based on the ups and, downs of the drachma. The larger hotels and merchants with foreign trade fix their prices on a gold basis. In the smaller shops and at the market Greek paper is taken at its face value. The market soon adjusts itself to any rapid change in prices, but railroad rates and many other fixed charges are reckoned in drachmas; and as gold is sometimes at a premium of from sixty to eighty per cent the holders seek to sell it at a good advantage.
In the ancient Agora different sections were assigned to different goods, as in the best markets the world over. And so today they are grouped with more or less definiteness in the streets of Athens. The Bon Marche and the Magazin du Louvre or the Wanamaker establishment embracing the whole range of human wants have not absorbed and digested the small dealers, and these may be found in large numbers grouping their specialties in different streets. They are more picturesque in the poor part of the city. The winding lanes lined with little open shops, the out-of door fruit markets and the tempting sidewalk display of baskets, pottery and embroidery seemed to have a strange fascination for Mavilla and Taphylle. They soon labelled the picturesque streets with names of their own. What they called the "Street of the Red Shoes " was their favorite. Up and down both sides of the alley hung rows and rows of bright red shoes dangling from the eaves of the open shops and dancing perpetually like those in the fairy tale. They are of all sizes and of all qualities, but all of the Greek national type, — red, stitched with yellow, with silk-tufted toes which are turned up somewhat in the Elizabethan style. " A few loungers in fustanella," says Mavilla, " leaned in the doorways, playing with their beads and talking politics with the shoemakers within. Before we had walked half the length of the street, however, the shoemakers jumped from their benches, the loungers turned to stare, and we were suddenly surrounded and assailed with the cries of ` Madama.' At once the sleepy street was in a state of excitement. Foreign customers were coveted prey and must be captured. We usually took refuge in the nearest shop, leaving the rival dealers looking round the corner till we should emerge. Though apparently there was nothing for sale but red shoes, it was marvellous what quantities of other things the jealous shop-keepers brought into the street and flaunted before our bewildered eyes." Another street near by Ma-villa named the " Street of the Anvil." Here they used to watch the coppersmiths hammer their pretty wares, or hunted for curiosities in the old iron shops, or went into the dingy bell-foundry to buy tinkling goat bells. " There was always a goat in the shop, and I never knew whether he was kept as a milliner's model to try on the bells or to eat up the iron filings which fell to the floor." Nothing, however, seemed to exercise such a mysterious charm over these young ladies as a pottery shop, devoted to every form of earthenware. Just how many of these shops the family supported while in Athens I will not venture to say, but Taphylle's ambition was not satisfied until she had secured in Greece a pithos nearly as large as the one used by the modern Diogenes, and ever since it came to her home the question has been what to do with it.
The Boulevard of the University and the Boulevard of the Academy are two of the broadest and finest avenues. Stadion Street is one of the busiest, but many large houses and bookstores have sought the protection of Hermes.
Specialization is carried so far that there are Athenian bakers who confine themselves wholly to the making of bread, which is shaped frequently into great rings almost large enough to pass over one's head. Peripatetic street-hawkers are common enough; street cries of every sort make music on the air. Peddling is not confined to transient and perishable commodities such as fruit and fish. There are few things which are not sold by these street venders. You might find one of them confining himself wholly to stockings; another perambulates the fashionable streets almost buried under a load of ready-made shoes. Can it be that the ancient and honorable families at Athens buy their foot gear in this way, or is the vender basing his hopes upon the domestics? In the market proper, flowers and chaplets are sold as in the old time, and many of them are used now, as then, for religious purposes.
In the old Agora cooks could be found with their utensils ready to sell their services. I was surprised to find how much public cooking is still done in the market and on the streets. Some of these professional cooks go about with stoves on wheels. The stove is made of sheet iron. There is a glowing fire of coals inside, and above it are four spits arranged side by side, on which beef, cut up into small pieces, is spitted and roasted. Charcoal fires and braziers, over which meals are cooked, may be found on the streets, but they are most numerous round the Agora, where broiling fish and meat constantly blend their gastronomic incense. In this soft and genial climate why should a shoemaker work indoors, when, like Hans Sachs, he can just as well work out on the street? There are many other craftsmen who follow his example.
The slaves, thank Heaven, have gone from the markets, but there are plenty of boys with baskets. who are ready to take home the provisions which the man of the house has bought on his way to business.
To see the streets and the Agora at the liveliest time, one must stroll through them at Christmas or New Year's or at the height of the Carnival. The Christmas festival does not really culminate until New Year's. Far more presents are given then, and the jollity reaches a higher pitch. The streets of the Agora are hardly big enough for the crowd and trade is still more sharply specialized. The bread-dealer has added vastly to his stock, and the occupation of certain other bakers consists wholly in selling New Year's cake marked with the date of the year. Oranges, dates, figs, nuts, raisins, flowers, candies and sugar cakes abound; and of vegetables, cabbages, cauliflower, radishes, lettuce and onions there is a profusion. There are chickens, turkeys, lambs, hares and fish of every sort. The dealers from behind their stands are shouting ena, ena, "Come, come!" The portable stove is heated to the highest temperature. The fat in which the sausages are frying splutters with excitement, — look out for your clothes when you go by ! Cries of "twenty drachmas, forty drachmas," by sharp-voiced dealers rise above the general turmoil. The house-holder going home with his dressed hare, the head left on, is a common sight. In the butter and cheese shop what seems a dead pig is lying on its back with something oozing from its mouth. It is a pigskin filled with strained honey. You would rather buy your honey of Hymettus from something more sweetly suggestive.
Say not the modern Greek is devoid of the artistic spirit; for the dressed turkeys are adorned with rosettes and their legs gilded. But you can also buy turkeys " on the hoof; " for a turkey " shepherd " is driving a flock of twenty of them to the market-place. He is followed by a man with a large pole on which twenty or more bouquets are suspended. Others bear bunches of flowers done up in scalloped paper and tied to the branches of small trees or bushes, one bunch to each branch. You hear the tinkling of bells, breaking through the general hubbub. That is a classical sound. It is not the old Agora bell, but the music of a small herd of belled goats. The dairy-man with his milk measure in hand is following them. Lest there should be any lack of noise boys are whirling their rattles made of ratchet wheel and pawl. Everybody is good-natured. " It is all very jovial," you say, — forgetting perhaps that you are using a latinized expletive of Socrates and paying in several languages a tribute to Father Zeus.
I doubt if the streets are any dirtier than they used to be; and the marketmen of Athens, I suspect, are more honest today than in olden time, when their trickery was frequently too much for the law. But even to-day the police and the sanitary inspector must keep a sharp lookout at Athens, as in New York or London, for stale fish, for lambs which were killed younger than they should have been, and for adulterations and tricks in trade not confined to the market in Athens. A countryman is going through the Agora. He means to enrich his New Year's table with a little fish, and buys a small string from a dealer. Mountain bred, he does not know that these fish have been out of the water for at least three days. He puts them in his Turkish tagari or sack, when he is startled by the sudden appearance of a policeman. " Hallo, old man," says the officer, who is classically denominated. " Hallo, old man; what have you got in your sack?
" I'm no thief," says the frightened countryman; and with a sudden dart he makes his escape in the crowd.
" Ah, you stupid old fool," cries the officer, "you think you are smart, don't you, but you have bought a string of spoiled fish."
If Aristophanes were there he could find abundant material for comedy and satire, and perhaps, after he had become used to external changes, in no place would the life of Athens seem more natural to him than in the Agora. He would find that after twenty-three hundred years of history the Greek marketmen today, in flinging abuse, do not feel obliged to con-fine themselves to the slang of his day, but can find enough that is new and more familiar and which the great comedian would try in vain to understand.
Just what was the relation of the ancient shrine to the ancient Agora? Did the old marketmen have an " eye for business " when they sacrificed to the gods? The modern church is close enough to the modern market, but the pious merchant does not always content his soul with going to church; he gets the church to come to him. One day I stepped into a photographer's to see about some work. There behind the counter stood a priest; before him were various symbols of his religion, and a saucer in which incense was burning. Prayer-book in hand, he was going through a portion of the liturgy. The photographer and his son were apparently paying no attention to him or his prayers, but busied them-selves in arranging pictures. Nor did the priest appear to be greatly interested in his service. He went through it as if it were a matter of business; and so it was. The next day I asked the photographer what it all meant. " It means," said he, " that my mother is a pious old woman, and she likes to have the priest come round on the first day of the month and pray that business may be good." He smiled sceptically himself and confided to me that he thought the best way to help his trade was to do good work. I am glad to say that he lived up to this practical precept.
The life of the street is most bright and jubilant five or six weeks later, when the carnival begins. People pour in from the surrounding country. There is a great carnival procession, and you may find a large ship borne aloft, as in the Panathenaic procession. But this is really the modern Dionysia. Athens surrenders itself to unbridled merriment, but it is not lawless or vulgar. Jugglers, comedians, gymnasts, pedlers, and the Greek Punch and Judy abound in the streets, as they did in the ancient Dionysia. There is good testimony to the skill of the old Greek magicians. The modern performer repeats many of the same tricks. The sword-balancer and the sword-swallower are there, and we should no doubt find the cup-changer. Many in the procession wear masks. There is a small menagerie of make-believe animals, —one of them a gigantic and amusing caricature of a camel operated like the famous Trojan horse by a detachment of Greeks in the inside. There is much pantomime, but they do not divert themselves greatly with street music in Athens.
The old theatre of Dionysus is deserted except by the curious archeologist, but crowds fill the modern theatres. The street actors I found more interesting and archaic. One of the most popular representations is frequently given near the street of the money-changers. It is acted out by a group of five men, one of whom impersonates a usurer sitting at his desk and keeping his accounts. A man comes to him and begs a little more time in which to repay his loan, but the exacting and selfish banker will grant no grace. The banker dies. Two devils with long tails, costumed in black and with pitchforks in their hands, come to take him. Two angels with golden wings are watching near by. They rush to the scene, deliver the soul of the man from the devils and insure him a fair trial. They take his soul, which is represented by a little china doll, and after a harangue against selfishness hold up their balances and put it in. It is weighed and found wanting. They toss the soul to the black devils, who make off with it. This street play is a clear survival of an early tradition. On Byzantine pictures the soul appears as a small doll, and the spectacle of the last judgment with the scales and the demons is a favorite Byzantine representation.
As for games of children, the hoop and the top and the doll, the kite and the ball, are as modern as they are old, and I have played jackstones with girls in Athens in almost precisely the same manner as Pollux described the game.
But the street scenes are not always so gay. Posted on the walls you may often see an announcement with a margin of black nearly an inch broad notifying friends and relatives that mass will be celebrated in a designated church for the repose of the soul of a beloved father and brother. On Christmas Day the merry crowd on Stadion Street was hushed for a moment. Four men dressed uniformly in dark clothes of ecclesiastical cut, ornamented with crosses, were heading a cortege. They bore various ecclesiastical symbols, and one held aloft the white cover of the coffin. The corpse, dressed as in life and with the face exposed, was carried on a bier covered with flowers. An empty hearse followed, and four or five carriages. There was no music. The procession moved silently along, and people took off their hats as it passed. But sometimes priests march in advance, chanting a mournful threnody, and I have seen men and boys shabbily dressed bearing the cross and the white slab. I shall not forget the face of a beautiful boy who passed me one day on his bier. Death and sleep seemed to be twins. Without shroud or coverlet save the flowers around him, dressed as if for a fete, not a grave, it seemed as if the chant of the mourners had only soothed him to slumber.