Greece - A Composite Day
( Originally Published 1899 )
HOMER liked to begin his day with the "rosy fingered dawn," and so did the cock that crowed on Homer Street. In this he differed much from my friend the diplomat, who probably did not see a sun-rise while he was in Athens. I tried to make myself believe that this cock was crowing hexameters with a caesura in the third foot, — although we might more naturally expect of a rooster the bucolic diaeresis. But in fact he did not seem to be talking Greek at all; nothing but good barnyard English. The Greeks refuse to say that a rooster crows "; nor do they, like the French, describe him as singing. They speak of him as " phoning," using today exactly the same term which the Evangelist applied to the cock that woke the conscience of Peter. Oddly enough, we have adopted the word in English, and now speak in good Greek of " phoning" to our friends. " In Greece," says Mr. Edward A. Freeman, " animals seem to send forth louder and clearer notes than in other parts of the world," and he assumes that in Corinth the cocks crow even louder than in Athens. If the distinguished historian intended this as a challenge for a vocal contest I would match the Doric rooster in Athens against any cock of the Corinthian order. It helps to make one feel at home, however, to find roosters crowing, dogs barking, children laughing, birds singing, horses neighing, in your own language. I did find one bird talking Greek. It was a parrot at Salamis:
" Pretty Polly." The effect was startling, especially to hear a modern Italian noun coupled with an adjective which Pindar and Plato used. Even parrots in two words remind you of the new Greece and its hoary past.
If the phoning of the rooster did not call me up," Spiridion was sure to do so when he brought my cup of hot milk and a breakfast roll with the morning paper. Scarcely was the breakfast finished at eight, when the step of Georgios was heard on the stairs, and an hour was spent in reading or talking Greek. Martial music on the street at nine o'clock every morning announced the guard mount at the war office.
Then one had a chance to decide in what century he would spend the next few hours. You could ascend the Acropolis and live in the age of Pericles, or step into the Museum and live in pre-Persian days. You could return by way of the Areopagus, walk into the Christian era, preserve your historic continuity by passing through the stoa of Hadrian in your Roman toga, and enter the Byzantine era at the little Metropolitan Church. From this you could stride again into the nineteenth century in time for luncheon at half-past twelve. If you are making a specialty of epigraphy, ancient inscriptions in the Museum are legible indeed compared with the task of deciphering a Greek bill of fare in an average restaurant. But, like the Rosetta Stone, one often finds it bilingual, and if he cannot read the Greek scrawl for kreas, psomi, and avga, he can get his bearings with viande, pain, and oeufs. In the larger hotels one finds Gallic cooking as well as Gallic speech ; but to know and appreciate the mysteries and possibilities of Greek cooking one must live in a family.
Of course you may have preferred to spend your morning in the charming reading-room of the American Archaeological School, or with Professor Tarbell and his students wandering like belated ghosts among the Attic grave reliefs at the National Museum, or in gayer mood disporting yourself among the exquisite Tanagra figures or making a somersault into still more ancient history among the treasures of Mycenae. Becoming all things to all men, you pricked up your French ears when you attended the opening session of the French Archaeological School, became a Teuton when you went to the German Institute, Hellenized yourself at the University when you heard its professors, and Anglicized yourself at some meeting of the British Archeological School. Every Saturday afternoon at two o'clock, from October to March, a band of archaeologists gathered round Dr. Dorpfeld to hear his lecture on the monuments of Athens. It was a peripatetic school like that of the Stagirite; and Aristotle himself, the forerunner of modern science, would have been delighted at the lecturer's marvellous command of facts and his wonderful skill in putting them together. Beginning with the Acropolis, all the principal monuments in Athens above ground, and some below ground, were visited by this pilgrim band. There were days when chill bleak winds blustered over the ancient hill or gathered up the dust in spirals and swept round the theatre of Dionysus. There were days when the ground was damp and the stones were cold, but not a single week for five months was a lecture omitted on account of weather. It helps us to understand how Plato, Sophocles, and Aristotle used to teach out of doors !
On Sunday one could go to the Greek Church in the morning, and then have time to hear Dr. Kalopothakes preach a sermon in his little chapel near the Arch of Hadrian and hear the Greeks sing " Old Hundred," Missionary Chant," and " Greenville," among two hundred other tunes from American and English hymnals, the words themselves mostly translated from the same sources. Among them you would recognize " Nearer, my God, to thee."
Beyond the Arch of Hadrian, in imposing contrast to this humble evangelical chapel, stand the fifteen colossal Corinthian columns of the great temple of the Olympian Zeus, like an echo from the past to Miss Adams's hymn voicing the soul's aspiration for God.
As for your Attic nights, if you did not spend them with Aulus Gellius, you could go to the American Archaeological School and hear Professor J. R. Wheeler's valuable lectures on the Athens of the Middle Ages, or drop into the Parnassus Club and hear Professor Lambros on "The Early Agora," or listen to the one event of the season in chamber music,—the concert of the Vienna string quartet; or, if you were fortunate enough to get a ticket, go to see Sarah Bernhardt, over whom Athens goes crazy. As Greek plays and operas seldom begin before half-past eight, and sometimes do not get fairly launched before nine, and then last until after midnight, you might sometimes hear the Homeric cock crowing again before you got to bed.