Greece - The Athenian Press
( Originally Published 1899 )
A DOZEN daily newspapers, morning and evening, flourish in the air of Athens. I doubt if there is any other city which has so many in proportion to its population. It is a new evidence of the activity of the Greek intellect, and of the ramifications of Greek politics. News is not more plentiful in Athens than elsewhere, but nowhere, perhaps, are opinions so abundant. One of the restaurants bears the sign `H Koiy' I'P' q, Public Opinion; but the public opinion of Athens could not be concentrated in so small a space, and even a dozen newspapers cannot give it full expression. Its variety and abundance grows out of the independent, democratic character of the Greek mind. I know of no country on the face of the globe in which democracy is more rampant and more individualistic. To me this is one of the surest evidences that the Greeks are children of their fathers. Not even a dozen newspapers can express all the shades of party feeling or of public opinion. You must go to Constitution Square in times of political excitement, hear the hum of excited voices round the restaurants, and see the very air dizzy with discussion.
You will not be surprised, therefore, as you take your breakfast, to find one paper pitching into the Prime Minister without gloves, while another is returning blows dealt by its adversary in a previous issue. You will not be surprised to find editors making ugly faces at the royal family, shrugging their shoulders at the amount of the royal budget, bewailing the inefficiency of the army, or attacking the financial policy of the government; and you may be sure that somebody else will speak in their defence. In Germany these doughty editors would be put in prison after due or undue process of law; in Greece, criticism exhales freely into the air. The liberty of the press is not abridged. On account of the repeated attacks of that paper on the army, a club of army officers foolishly attacked the office of the Acropolis and destroyed a good deal of property; but they really damaged their own cause by this cowardly method of mob violence, and public opinion condemned them. The absurd practice of duelling still exists in Greece, but fortunately most of it is done with pen and ink.
The best papers furnish news as well as opinions. It is served in readable paragraphs, telegraphic flashes, in letters of correspondents, and industrious scissorings. There is an abstract of debates in Parliament. Loving discussion as much as they do, the wonder is that the Greeks have not two legislative chambers instead of one. There are the usual police items, reports of thefts, fires, accidents, murders and suicides, and a sufficient amount of social gossip. The journals have not reached the enormous proportions of our metropolitan dailies; the regular issue is not larger than four pages of an average American daily. A ministerial crisis, a revolution in Crete, a Zante earthquake will bring out an eruption of "scare heads; " but the journals are far less sensational and much more respectable than a great many American newspapers. They are generous too in aiding philanthropic enterprises. Wishing to stir, up public opinion in Athens in relation to the proper protection of animals, I found the columns of the newspapers freely open to me, and my communications were clinched and supported by the editorial pen.
The Greek newspapers draw freely from the French and English, and sometimes repeat their mistakes about America. But though it is natural to expect a little mythology in Greek journals, they cannot begin to compete with American newspapers in fabricating it.
It is in the advertisements that new things are strangely clothed in the raiment of the old speech. Here is an illustrated advertisement of a sewing machine, covering half a page; near to it an advertisement of , bicycles. The virtues of, a cereal food, are extolled as a diet for the sick and the aged. Patent medicines, hair restoratives, appeal for the faith once reposed in Athene Hygieia. There are "Rooms to Let,." and "Situations Wanted." Advertisements of new books, wine and whiskey, the opening of schools, the movements of steamers. The barber-shop, that indispensable adjunct and lounging place of the ancient Athenians, is announced in this attractive form : —
On the lower floor of the M— Building is the barber-shop of Spiridion K. Arranged in the most elegant European style. No one ever leaves it dissatisfied, so light and Parisian is the art of shaving and hair-cutting in this shop. Uniquely artistic, it is recommended by all, and continually resorted to by those who love a good-looking face.
That the Greeks have not wholly lost their faith in human nature, and that they have not accepted the communism which prevails in this country, is seen in an advertisement for a lost umbrella. Who would think of advertising for one in our land ?
Last night an umbrella was lost upon Stadion Street, opposite the Military Club. The finder is requested to leave it at the hat store of Mr. R., near the Parliament, and receive a reward.
The persistence of ancient forms in the literary idiom is seen in the Greek of this advertisement. There is only one word in it which would puzzle Xenophon, or which the modern schoolboy who has begun to read him will not find in Liddell and Scott.
Of course the Athenian newspaper has its funny man, but I am disposed to believe that a good deal of the Attic salt is imported, and is one of the few things which go into Greece free of duty. For example : —
A young man is hunting a girl with a good dowry. He puts this question to a lawyer who has learned to get cash payment for his advice : " I would like to ask, sir, if you think your daughter would make a suitable wife for me ?"
"No, I do not think she would. Seven and a half drachmas, if you please."
A preacher says to his cook, " You had a workman eating with you last evening, Mary."
"He was my brother."
But you told me that you had no brother."
"Yes, but didn't you preach last Sunday that we were all brothers and sisters ? "
These jokes have a decidedly American flavor. But I wonder if these Greek humorists have exhausted the treasures of the Greek anthology, and why they do not publish some of the witty sayings which made Athens laugh two thousand years ago. In the way of exaggeration, sarcasm and light banter, nothing could exceed the saltiness of some of the ancient epigrams.
Little Hermogenes, when he lets anything fall on the ground, has to drag it down to him with a hook at the end of a pole.
Lean Gaius yesterday breathed his very last breath, and left nothing at all for burial, but having passed down into Hades just as he was in life, flutters there the thinnest of the anatomies under earth ; and his kinsfolk lifted an empty bier on their shoulders, inscribing above it, " This is Gaius' funeral."
Marcus the doctor called yesterday on the marble Zeus; though marble, and though Zeus, his funeral is today.
All hail, seven pupils of Aristides the rhetorician, four walls and three benches.
Antiochus once set eyes on Lysimachus' cushion, and Lysimachus never set eyes on his cushion again.
Philo had a boat, the "Salvation," but not Zeus himself, I believe, can be safe in her ; for she was salvation in name only, and those on board her used either to go aground or to go underground.