( Originally Published 1910 )
ATHENS, by virtue of scenery and situation, was predestined to be the mother-land of the free reason of mankind, long before the Athenians had won by their great deeds the right to name their city. the ornament and the eye of Hellas. Nothing is more obvious to one who has seen many lands and tried to distinguish their essential characters than the fact that no one country exactly resembles another, but that, however similar in climate and locality, each presents a peculiar and well-marked property belonging to itself alone. The specific quality of Athenian landscape is light—not richness or sublimity or romantic loveliness or grandeur of mountain outline, but luminous beauty, serene exposure to the airs of heaven. The harmony and balance of the scenery, so varied in its details and yet so comprehensible, are sympathetic to the temperance of Greek morality, the moderation of Greek art. The radiance with which it is illuminated has all the clearness and distinction of the Attic intellect. From whatever point the plain of Athens with its semicircle of greater and lesser hills may be surveyed, it always presents a picture of dignified and lustrous beauty. The Acropolis is the centre of this landscape, splendid as a work of art with its crown of temples ; and the sea, surmounted by the long low hills of the Morea, is the boundary to which the eye is irresistibly led. Mountains and islands and plain alike are made of limestone, hardening here and there into marble, broken into delicate and varied forms, and sprinkled with a vegetation of low shrubs and brushwood so sparse and slight that the naked rock in every direction meets the light. This rock is gray. and colorless : viewed in the twilight of a misty day, it shows the dull, tame uniformity of bone. Without the sun it is asleep and sorrowful. But by reason of this very deadness, the limestone of Athenian landscape is always ready to take the col-ors of the air and sun. In noonday it smiles with silvery lustre, fold upon fold of the indented hills and islands melting from the brightness of the sea into the untempered brilliance of the sky. At dawn and sunset the same rocks array themselves with a celestial robe of rainbow-woven hues : islands, sea, and mountains, far and near, burn with saffron, violet, and rose, with the tints of beryl and topaz, sapphire and almandine and amethyst, each in due order and at proper distances. The fabled dolphin in its death could not have shown a more brilliant succession of splendors waning into splendors through the whole chord of prismatic colors. This sensitiveness of the Attic limestone to every modification of the sky's light gives a peculiar spirituality to the landscape. The hills remain in form and outline unchanged; but the beauty breathed upon them lives or dies with the emotions of the air from whence it emanates : the spirit of light abides with them and quits them by alternations that seem to be the pulses of an ethereally communicated life. No country, therefore, could be better fitted for the home of a race gifted with exquisite sensibilities, in whom humanity should first attain the freedom of self-consciousness in art and thought. pog—ever delicately moving through most translucent air—said Euripides of the Athenians; and truly the bright air of Attica was made to be breathed by men in whom the light of culture should begin to shine is an epithet of Aristophanes for his city ; and if not crowned with other violets, Athens wears for her garland the air-empurpled hills—Hymettus, Lycabettus, Pentelicus, and Barnes. Consequently, while still the Greeks of Homer's age were Achaians, while Argos was the titular seat of Hellenic empire, and the mythic deeds of the he-roes were being enacted in Thebes or Mycenae, Athens did but bide her time, waiting to manifest herself as the true godchild of Pallas, who sprang perfect from the brain of Zeus—Pallas, who is the light of cloudless heaven emerging after storms. And Pallas, when she planted her chosen people in Attica, knew well what she was doing. To the far-seeing eyes of the goddess, although the first-fruits of song and science and philosophy might be reaped upon the shores of the Aegean and the islands, yet the days were clearly descried when Athens should stretch forth her hand to hold the lamp of all her founder loved for Europe. As the priest of Egypt told Solon : " She chose the spot of earth in which you were born, because she saw that the happy temperament of the seasons in that land would produce the wisest of men. Where-fore the goddess who was a lover both of war and wisdom, selected and first of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men likest herself." This sentence from the Timae of Plato reveals the consciousness possessed by the Greeks of that intimate connection which subsists between a country and the temper of its race. To us the name Athenai—the fact that Athens by its title even in the prehistoric age was marked out as the appanage of her who was the patroness of culture—seems a fortunate accident, an undesigned coincidence of the most striking sort. To the Greeks, steeped in mythologic faith, accustomed to regard their lineage as autochthonous and their polity as the fabric of a god, nothing seemed more natural than that Pallas should have selected for her own exactly that portion of Hellas where the arts and sciences might flourish best. Let the Boeotians grow fat and stagnant upon their rich marsh-lands ; let the Spartans form themselves into a race of soldiers in their mountain fortress ; let Corinth reign, the queen of commerce, between her double seas; let the Arcadians in their oak woods worship pastoral Pan ; let the plains of Ells be the meeting-place of Hellenes at their sacred games; let Delphi boast the seat of sooth oracular from Phoebus. Meanwhile the sunny but barren hills of Attica, open to the magic of the sky, and beautiful by reason of their nakedness, must be the home of a people powerful by might of intelligence rather than strength of limb, wealthy not so much by natural resources as by enterprise. Here, and here only, could stand the city sung by Milton :
Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil,
We who believe in no authentic Pallas, child of Zeus, may yet pause awhile, when we contemplate Athens, to ponder whether those old mythologic systems, which ascribed to godhead the foundation of states and the patronage of peoples, had not some glimpse of truth beyond a mere blind guess. Is not, in fact, this Athenian land the promised and predestined home of a peculiar people, in the same sense as that in which Palestine was the heritage by faith of a tribe set apart by Jehovah for his own ?
Unlike Rome, Athens leaves upon the memory one simple and ineffaceable impression. There is here no conflict between Paganism and Christianity, no statues of Hellas baptized by popes into the company of saints, no blending of the classical and mediaeval and Renaissance influences in a bewilderment of vast antiquity. Rome, true to her historical vocation, embraces in her ruins all ages, all creeds, all nations. Her life has never stood still, but has submitted to many transformations, of which the traces are still visible. Athens, like the Greeks of history, is isolated in a sort of self-completion : she is a thing of the past, which still exists, because the spirit never dies, because beauty is a joy forever. What is truly remarkable about the city is just this, that while the modern town is an insignificant mushroom of the present century, the monuments of Greek art in the best period—the masterpieces of Ictinus and Mnesicles, and the theatre on which the plays of the tragedians were produced—survive in comparative perfection, and are so far unencumbered with subsequent edifices that the actual Athens of Pericles absorbs our attention. There is nothing of any consequence intermediate between us and the fourth century B.C. Seen from a distance, the Acropolis presents nearly the same appearance as it offered to Spartan guardsmen when they paced the ramparts of Deceleia. Nature around is all unaltered. Except that more villages, en-closed with olive-groves and vineyards, were sprinkled over those bare hills in classic days, no essential change in the landscape has taken place, no transformation, for example, of equal magnitude with that which converted the Campagna of Rome from a plain of cities to a poisonous solitude. All through the centuries which divide us from the age of Hadrian—centuries unfilled, as far as Athens is concerned, with memorable deeds or national activity—the Acropolis has stood uncovered to the sun. The tones of the marble of Pentelicus have daily grown more golden ; decay has here and there invaded frieze and capital ; war, too, has done its work, shattering the Parthenon in 1687 by the explosion of a powder-magazine, and the Propylæa in 1656 by a similar accident, and seaming the colonnades that still remain with cannon-balls in 1827. Yet in spite of time and violence the Acropolis survives, a miracle of beauty : like an everlasting flower, through all that lapse of years it has spread its coronal of marbles to the air, unheeded. And now, more than ever, its temples seem to be incorporate with the rock they crown. The slabs of column and basement have grown together by long pressure or molecular adhesion into a coherent whole. Nor have weeds or creeping ivy invaded the glittering fragments that strew the sacred hill. The sun's kiss alone has caused a change from white to amber-hued or russet. Meanwhile, the exquisite adaptation of Greek building to Greek landscape has been enhanced rather than impaired by that " unimaginable touch of time," which has broken the regularity of outline, softened the chisel-work of the sculptor, and confounded the painter's fretwork in one tint of glowing gold. The Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the Propyleea have become one with the hill on which they cluster, as needful to the scenery around them as the everlasting mountains, as sympathetic as the rest of nature to the successions of morning and evening, which waken them to passionate life by the magic touch of color.
Thus there is no intrusive element in Athens to distract the mind from memories of its most glorious past. Walk into the theatre of Dionysus. The sculptures that support the stage—Sileni bending beneath the weight of cornices, and lines of graceful youths and maidens—are still in their ancient station.* The pavement of the orchestra, once trodden by Athenian choruses, presents its tessellated marbles to our feet ; and we may choose the seat of priest or archon or herald or thesmothetes when we wish to summon before our mind's eye the pomp of the Agamemnon or the dances of the Birds and Clouds. Each seat still bears some carven name—and that of the priest of Dionysus is beautifully wrought with Bacchic bass-reliefs. One of them, inscribed proves, indeed, that the extant chairs were placed here in the age of Hadrian, who completed the vast temple of Zeus Olympius and filled its precincts with statues of his favorite, and named a new Athens after his own name.* Yet we need not doubt that their position round the orchestra is traditional, and that even in their form they do not differ from those which the priests and officers of Athens used from the time of Eschylus downwards. Probably a slave brought cushion and footstool to complete the comfort of these stately arm-chairs. Nothing else is wanted to render them fit now for their august occupants; and we may imagine the long-stoled, gray-bearded men throned in state, each with his wand, and with appropriate fillets on their heads. As we rest here in the light of the full moon, which simplifies all outlines and heals with tender touch the wounds of ages, it is easy enough to dream ourselves into the belief that the ghosts of dead actors may once more glide across the stage. Fiery-hearted Medea, statuesque Antigone, Prometheus silent beneath the hammer-strokes of Force and Strength, Orestes hounded by his mother's Furies, Cassandra aghast before the pal-ace of Mycenae, pure-souled Hippolytus, ruthful Alcestis, the di-vine youth of Helen, and Clytemnestra in her queenliness, emerge like faint gray films against the bluish background of Hymettus. The night air seems vocal with echoes of old Greek, more felt than heard, like voices wafted to our sense in sleep, the sound whereof we do not seize, though the burden lingers in our memory.
In like manner, when moonlight, falling aslant upon the Propylea, restores the marble masonry to its original whiteness, and the shattered heaps of ruined colonnades are veiled in shadow, and every form seems larger, grander, and more perfect than by day, it is well to sit upon the lowest steps, and, looking upward, to remember what processions passed along this way bearing the sacred peplus to Athene. The Panathenaic pomp, which Pheidias and his pupils carved upon the friezes of the Parthenon, took place once in five years, on one of the last days of July.* All the citizens joined in the honor paid to their patroness. Old men bearing olive-branches, young men clothed in bronze, chapleted youths singing the praise of Pallas in prosodial hymns, maidens carrying holy vessels, aliens bending beneath the weight of urns, servants of the temple leading oxen crowned with fillets, troops of horsemen reining in impetuous steeds—all these pass before us in the frieze of Pheidias. But to our imagination must be left what he has refrained from sculpturing—the chariot formed like a ship, in which the most illustrious nobles of Athens sat, splendidly arrayed, beneath the crocus-colored curtain or peplus outspread upon a mast. Some concealed machinery caused this car to move, but whether it passed through the Propylwa and entered the Acropolis admits of doubt. It is, how-ever, certain that the procession which ascended those steep slabs, and before whom the vast gates of the Propylæa swung open with the clangor of resounding bronze, included not only the citizens of Athens and their attendant aliens, but also troops of cavalry and chariots; for the mark of chariot-wheels can still be traced upon the rock. The ascent is so abrupt that this multitude moved but slowly. Splendid, indeed, beyond any pomp of modern ceremonial must have been the spectacle of the well-ordered procession advancing through those giant colonnades to the sound of flutes and solemn chants—the shrill clear voices of boys in antiphonal chorus rising above the confused murmurs of such a crowd, the chafing of horses' hoofs upon the stone, and the lowing of bewildered oxen.
To realize by fancy the many-colored radiance of the temple, and the rich dresses of the votaries illuminated by that sharp light of a Greek sun which defines outline and shadow and gives value to the faintest hue, would be impossible. All we can know for positive about the chromatic decoration of the Greeks is that whiteness artificially subdued to the tone of ivory prevailed throughout the stonework of the buildings, while blue and red and green in distinct yet interwoven patterns added richness to the fretwork and the sculpture of pediment and frieze. The sacramental robes of the worshippers accorded, doubtless, with this harmony, wherein color was subordinate to light and light was toned to softness.
Musing thus upon the staircase of the Propylaea, we may say with truth that all our modern art is but child's play to that of the Greeks. Very soul-subduing is the gloom of a cathedral like the Milanese Duomo when the incense rises in blue clouds athwart the bands of sunlight falling from the dome, and the crying of choirs upborne upon the wings of organ music fills the whole vast space with a mystery of melody. Yet such ceremonial pomps as this are as dreams and the shapes of visions when compared with the clearly defined splendors of a Greek procession through marble peristyles in open air beneath the sun and sky. That spectacle combined the harmonies of perfect human forms in movement with the divine shapes of statues, the radiance of carefully selected vestments with hues inwrought upon pure marble. The rhythms and the melodies of the Doric mood were sympathetic to the proportions of the Doric colonnades. The grove of pillars through which the pageant passed grew from the living rock into shapes of beauty, fulfilling by the inbreathed spirit of man Nature's blind yearning after absolute completion. The sun himself—not thwarted by artificial gloom or tricked with alien colors of stained glass—was made to minister in all his strength to a pomp the pride of which was the display of form in manifold magnificence. The ritual of the Greeks was the ritual of a race at one with Nature, glorying in its affiliation to the mighty mother of all life, and striving to add by human art the coping-stone and final touch to her achievement. The ritual of the Catholic Church is the ritual of a race shut out from Nature, holding no communion with the powers of earth and air, but turning the spirit inward and aiming at the concentration of the whole soul upon an unseen God. The temple of the Greeks was the house of a present deity ; its cell his chamber ; its statue his reality. The Christian cathedral is the fane where God who is a spirit is worshipped ; no statue fills the choir from wall to wall and lifts its forehead to the roof ; but the vacant aisles, with their convergent arches soaring upward to the dome, are made to suggest the brooding of infinite and omnipresent Godhead. It was the object of the Greek artist to preserve a just proportion between the god's statue and his house, in order that the worshipper might approach him as a subject draws near to his monarch's throne. The Christian architect seeks to affect the emotions of the votary with a sense of vastness filled with the unseen power. Our cathedrals are symbols of the universe where God is every where pavilioned and invisible. The Greek temple was a practical, utilitarian dwelling-house, made beautiful enough to suit divinity. The modern church is an idea expressed in stone, an aspiration of the spirit, shooting up from arch and pinnacle and spire into illimitable fields of air.
It follows from these differences between the religious aims of Pagan and Christian architecture that the former was far more favorable to the plastic arts. No beautiful or simple incident of human life was an inappropriate subject for the sculptor in adorning the houses of gods who were themselves but human on a higher level; and the ritual whereby the gods were honored was merely an exhibition, in its strength and joyfulness, of mortal beauty. Therefore the Panathenaic procession furnished Pheidias with a series of sculptural motives, which he had only. to ex-press according to the principles of his art. The frieze, three feet and four inches in height, raised forty feet above the pavement of the peristyle, ran for five hundred and twenty-four continuous feet round the outside wall of the cella of the Parthenon. The whole of this long line was wrought with carving of exquisite delicacy and supreme vigor in such low relief as its peculiar position, far above the heads of the spectators, and only illuminated by light reflected from below, required. Each figure, each attitude, and each fold of drapery in its countless groups is a study; yet the whole was a transcript from actual contemporary Athenian life. Truly, in matters of art we are but infants to the Greeks.
The topographical certainty which invests the ruins of the Acropolis with such peculiar interest belongs in a less degree to the whole of Athens. Although the most recent researches have thrown fresh doubt upon the exact site of the Pnyx, and though no traces of the agora remain, yet we may be sure that the Bema from which Pericles sustained the courage of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian war was placed upon the northern slope looking towards the Propylæa, while the wide irregular space between this hill, the Acropolis, the Areopagus, and the Theseum, must have formed the meeting-ground for amusement and discussion of the citizens at leisure. About Areopagus, with its tribunal hollowed in the native rock, and the deep cleft beneath, where the shrine of the Eumenides was built, there is no question. The extreme insignificance of this little mound may at first, indeed, excite incredulity and wonder; but a few hours in Athens accustom the traveller to a smallness of scale which at first seemed ridiculous. Colonus, for example—the Colonus which every student of Sophocles has pictured to himself in the solitude of unshorn meadows, where groves of cypresses and olives bent unpruned above wild tangles of narcissus-flowers and crocuses, and where the nightingale sang undisturbed by city noise or labor of the husbandman—turns out to be a scarcely appreciable mound, gently swelling from the cultivated land of the Cephissus. The Cephissus, even in a rainy season, may be crossed dry-shod by an active jumper; and the Ilissus, where it flows beneath the walls of the Olympieion, is now dedicated to washer-women instead of water-nymphs. Nature herself remains, on the whole, unaltered. Most notable are still the white poplars dedicated of old to Herakles and the spreading planes which whisper to the limes in spring. In the midst of so arid and bare a landscape, these umbrageous trees are singularly grateful to the eye and to the. sense oppressed with heat and splendor. Nightingales have not ceased to crowd the gardens in such numbers as to justify the tradition of their Attic origin. Nor have the bees of Hymettus forgotten their labors : the honey of Athens can still boast a quality superior to that of Hybla or any other famous haunt of hives.
Tradition points out one spot which commands a beautiful distant view of Athens and the hills as the garden of the Academy. The place is not unworthy of Plato and his companions. Very old olives grow in abundance to remind us of those sacred trees beneath which the boys of Aristophanes ran races, and reeds with which they might crown their foreheads are thickly scattered through the grass. Abeles interlace their murmuring branches overhead, and the planes are as leafy as that which invited Socrates and Phmdrus on the morning when they talked of love. In such a place we comprehend how philosophy went hand in hand at Athens with gymnastics, and why the poplar and the plane were dedicated to athletic gods. For the wrestling-grounds were built in groves like these; and their cool peristyles, the meeting-places of young men and boys, supplied the sages not only with an eager audience, but also with the leisure and the shade that learning loves.
It was very characteristic of Greek life that speculative philosophy should not have chosen "to walk the studious cloister pale," but should rather have sought out places where " the busy hum of men" was loudest, and where youthful voices echoed. The Athenian transacted no business, and pursued but few pleasures, under a private roof. Ile conversed and bargained in the agora, debated on the open rocks of the Pnyx, and enjoyed discussion in the courts of the gymnasium. It is also far from difficult to under-stand, beneath this over-vaulted and grateful gloom of bee-laden branches, what part love played in the haunts of runners and of wrestlers, why near the statue of Hermes stood that of Eros, and wherefore Socrates surnamed his philosophy the Science of Love. Is the boast of Pericles in his description of the Athenian spirit. Is Plato's formula for the virtues of the most distinguished soul. These two mottoes, apparently so contradictory, found their point of meeting and their harmony in the gymnasium.
The mere contemplation of these luxuriant groves, set in the luminous Attic landscape, and within sight of Athens, explains a hundred passages of poets and philosophers. Turn to the opening scenes of the Lysis and the Charmides. The action of the latter dialogue is laid in the palaestra of Taureas. Socrates has just returned from the camp at Potidaea, and, after answering the questions of his friends, has begun to satisfy his own curiosity:
"When there had been enough of this, I, in my turn, began to make inquiries about matters at home—about the present state of philosophy, and about the youth. I asked whether any of them were remarkable for beauty or sense—or both. Critias, glancing at the door, invited my attention to some youths who were coming in, and talking noisily to one another, followed by a crowd. 'Of the beauties, Socrates,' he said, `I fancy that you will soon be able to form a judgment ; for those who are just entering are the advanced guard of the great beauty of the day—and he is likely not to be far off himself.'
" `Who is he ?' I said ; `and who is his father ?'
"'Charmides,' he replied,' is his name; he is my cousin, and the son of my uncle Glaucon: I rather think that you know him, although he was not grown up at the time of your departure.'
"'Certainly I know him,' I said; 'for he was remarkable even then when he was still a child, and now I should imagine that he must be almost a young man'
"'You will see,' he said, 'in a moment what progress he has made, and what he is like.' He had scarcely said the word when Charmides entered.
"Now you know, my friend, that I cannot measure anything, and of the beautiful I am simply such a measure as a white line is of chalk; for almost all young persons are alike beautiful in my eyes. But at that moment when I saw him coming in I must admit that I was quite astonished at his beauty and stature ; all the world seemed to be enamoured of him ; amazement and confusion reigned when he entered, and a troop of lovers followed him. That grown-up men like ourselves should have been affected in this way was not surprising, but I observed that there was the same feeling among the boys ; all of them, down to the very least child, turned and looked at him as if he had been a statue.
"Chaerephon called me and said: 'What do you think of him, Socrates? Has he not a beautiful face?'
"`That he has, indeed,' I said.
"'But you would think nothing of his face,' he replied, ' if you could see his naked form : he is absolutely perfect.' "
This Charmides is a true Greek of the perfect type. Not only is he the most beautiful of Athenian youths, he is also temperate, modest, and subject to the laws of moral health. His very beauty is a harmony of well-developed faculties in which the mind and body are at one. How a young Greek managed to preserve this balance in the midst of the admiring crowds described by Socrates is a marvel. Modern conventions unfit our minds for realizing the conditions under which he had to live. Yet it is indisputable that Plato has strained no point in the animated picture he presents of the palmstra. Aristophanes and Xenophon bear him out in all the details of the scene. We have to imagine a totally different system of social morality from ours, with virtues and vices, temptations and triumphs, unknown to our young men. The next scene from the Lysis introduces us to another wrestling-ground in the neighborhood of Athens. Here Socrates meets with Hippothales, who is a devoted lover, but a bad poet. Hippothales asks the philosopher's advice as to the best method of pleasing the boy Lysis :
"' Will you tell me by what words or actions I may become endeared to my love ?'
"' That is not easy to determine,' I said ; 'but if you will bring your love to me, and will let me talk with him, I may perhaps be able to show you how to converse with him, instead of singing and reciting in the fashion of which you are accused.'
"' There will be no difficulty in bringing him,' he replied ; ' if you will only go into the house with Ctesippus, and sit down and talk, he will come of him-self; for he is fond of listening, Socrates. And as this is the festival of the Hermaea, there is no separation of young men and boys, but they are all mixed up together. He will be sure to come. But if he does not come, Ctesippus, with whom he is familiar, and whose relation Menexenus is, his great friend, shall call him.'
" ` That will be the way,' I said. Thereupon I and Ctesippus went towards the Palaestra, and the rest followed.
"Upon entering we found that the boys had just been sacrificing ; and this part of the festival was nearly come to an end. They were all in white array, and games at dice were going on among them. Most of them were in the outer court amusing themselves ; but some were in a corner of the Apodyterium playing at odd-and-even with a number of dice, which they took out of little wicker baskets. There was also a circle of lookers-on, one of whom was Lysis. He was standing among the other boys and youths, having a crown upon his head, like a fair vision, and not less worthy of praise for his goodness than for his beauty. We left them, and went over to the opposite side of the room, where we found a quiet place, and sat down ; and then we began to talk. This attracted Lysis, who was constantly turning round to look at us—he was evidently wanting to come to us. For a time he hesitated and had not the courage to come alone ; but first of all, his friend Menexenus came in out of the court in the interval of his play, and when he saw Ctesippus and myself, came and sat by us ; and then Lysis, seeing him, followed and sat down with him ; and the other boys joined. I should observe that Hippothales, when he saw the crowd, got behind them, where he thought that he would be out of sight of Lysis, lest he should anger him ; and there he stood and listened."
Enough has been quoted to show that beneath the porches of a Greek pakestra, among the youths of Athens, who wrote no exercises in dead languages, and thought chiefly of attaining to perfect manhood by the harmonious exercise of mind and body in temperate leisure, divine philosophy must indeed have been charming both to teachers and to learners:
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
There are no remains above ground of the buildings which made the Attic gymnasia splendid. Nor are there in Athens itself many statues of the noble human beings who paced their porches and reclined beneath their shade. The galleries of Italy and the verses of the poets can alone help us to repeople the Academy with its mixed multitude of athletes and of sages. The language of Simaetha, in Theocritus, brings the younger men be-fore us : their cheeks are yellower than helichrysus with the down of youth, and their breasts shine brighter far than the moon, as though they had but lately left the "fair toils of the wrestling-ground." Upon some of the monumental tablets exposed in the burying-ground of Cerameicus and in the Theseum may be seen portraits of Athenian citizens. A young man holding a bird, with a boy beside him who carries a lamp or strigil ; a youth, naked, and scraping himself after the games ; a boy taking leave with clasped hands of his mother, while a dog leaps up to fawn upon his knee ; a wine-party ; a soul in Charon's boat ; a husband parting from his wife : such are the simple subjects of these monuments; and under each is written —Friend, farewell ! The tombs of the women are equally plain in character : a nurse brings a baby to its mother, or a slave helps her mistress at the toilet-table. There is nothing to suggest either the gloom of the grave or the hope of heaven in any of these sculptures. Their symbolism, if it at all exist, is of the least mysterious kind. Our attention is rather fixed upon the commonest affairs of life than on the secrets of death.
As we wander through the ruins of Athens, among temples which are all but perfect, and gardens which still keep their ancient greenery, we must perforce reflect how all true knowledge of Greek life has passed away. To picture to ourselves its details, so as to become quite familiar with the way in which an Athenian thought and felt and occupied his time, is impossible. Such books as the Charicles of Becker or Wieland's Agathon only increase our sense of hopelessness, by showing that neither a scholar's learning nor a poet's fancy can pierce the mists of antiquity.
We know that it was a strange and fascinating life, passed for the most part beneath the public eye, at leisure, without the society of free women, without what we call a home, in constant exercise of body and mind, in the duties of the law courts and the assembly, in the toils of the camp and the perils of the sea, in the amusements of the wrestling-ground and the theatre, in sportful study and strenuous play. We also know that the citizens of Athens, bred up under the peculiar conditions of this artificial life, be-came impassioned lovers of their city ;* that the greatest generals, statesmen, poets, orators, artists, historians, and philosophers that the world can boast were produced in the short space of a century and a half by a city numbering about twenty thousand burghers. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say with the author of Hereditary Genius, that the population of Athens, taken as a whole, was as superior to us as we are to the Australian savages. Long and earnest, therefore, should be our hesitation before we condemn as pernicious or unprofitable the instincts and the customs of such a race.
The permanence of strongly marked features in the landscape of Greece, and the small scale of the whole country, add a vivid charm to the scenery of its great events. In the harbor of Peireus we can scarcely fail to picture to ourselves the pomp which went forth to Sicily that solemn morning when the whole host prayed together and made libations at the signal of the herald's trumpet. The nation of athletes and artists and philosophers were embarked on what seemed to some a holiday excursion, and for others bid fair to realize unbounded dreams of ambition or avarice. Only a few were heavy-hearted; but the heaviest of all was the general who had vainly dissuaded his countrymen from the endeavor, and fruitlessly refused the command thrust upon him. That was " the morning of a mighty day, a day of crisis " for the destinies of Athens. Of all that multitude, how few would come again ; of the empire which they made so manifest in its pride of men and arms, how little but a shadow would be left, when war and fever and the quarries of Syracuse had done their fore-appointed work ! Yet no commotion of the elements, no eclipse or authentic oracle from heaven, was interposed between the arrogance of Athens and sure-coming Nemesis. The sun shone, and the waves laughed, smitten by the oars of galleys racing to AEgina. Meanwhile Zeus from the watch-tower of the world held up the scales of fate, and the balance of Athens was wavering to its fall.
A few strokes of the oar carry us away from Peiraeus to a scene fraught with far more thrilling memories. That little point of rock emergent from the water between Salamis and the mainland, bare, insignificant, and void of honor among islands to the natural eye, is Psyttaleia. A strange tightening at the heart assails us when we approach the centre-point of the most memorable battle-field of history. It was again " the morning of a mighty day, a day of crisis" for the destinies, not of Athens alone, but of humanity, when the Persian fleet, after rowing all night up and down the channel between Salamis and the shore, beheld the face of Phoebus flash from behind Pentelicus and flood the Acropolis of Athens with fire. The Peiræus recalls a crisis in the world's drama whereof the great actors were unconscious : fair winds and sunny waves bore light hearts to Sicily. But Psyttaleia brings before us the heroism of a handful of men, who knew that the supreme hour of ruin or of victory for their nation and themselves had come. Terrible therefore was the energy with which they prayed and joined their pecan to the trumpet-blast of dawn that blazed upon them from the Attic hills. And this time Zeus, when he heard their cry, saw the scale of Hellas mount to the stars. Let Æschylus tell the tale ; for he was there.
Upon this triumphal note it were well, perhaps, to pause. Yet since the sojourner in Athens must needs depart by sea, let us advance a little way farther beyond Salamis. The low shore of the isthmus soon appears; and there is the hill of Corinth and the site of the city, as desolate now as when Antipater of Sidon made the sea-waves utter a threnos over her ruins. " The death-less Nereids, daughters of Oceanus," still lament by the shore, and the Isthmian pines are as green as when their boughs were plucked to bind a victor's forehead. Feathering the gray rock now as then, they bear witness to the wisdom and the moderation of the Greeks, who gave to the conquerors in sacred games no wreath of gold, or title of nobility, or land, or jewels, but the honor of an illustrious name, the guerdon of a mighty deed, and branches taken from the wild pine of Corinth, or the olive of Olympia, or the bay that flourished like a weed at Delphi. What was indigenous and characteristic of his native soil, not rare and costly things from foreign lands, was precious to the Greek. This piety, after the lapse of centuries and the passing away of mighty cities, still bears fruit. Oblivion cannot wholly efface the memory of those great games while the fir-trees rustle to the sea-wind as of old. Down the gulf we pass, between mountain-range and mountain. On one hand, two-peaked Parnassus rears his cope of snow aloft over Delphi ; on the other, Erymanthus and Hermes' home, Cyllene, bar the pastoral glades of Arcady. Greece is the land of mountains, not of rivers or of plains. The titles of the hills of Hellas smite our ears with echoes of ancient music—Olympus and Cithæron, Taygetus, Othrys, Helicon, and Ida. The headlands of the mainland are mountains, and the islands are mountain summits of a submerged continent. Austerely beautiful, not wild with an Italian luxuriance, nor mournful with Sicilian monotony of outline, nor yet again overwhelming with the sublimity of Alps, they seem the proper home of a race which sought its ideal of beauty in distinction of shape and not in multiplicity of detail, in light and not in richness of coloring, in form and not in size.
At length the open sea is reached. Past Zante and Cephalonia we glide " under a roof of blue Ionian weather ;" or, if the sky has been troubled with storm, we watch the moulding of long glittering cloud-lines, processions and pomps of silvery vapor, fretwork and frieze of alabaster piled above the islands, pearled promontories and domes of rounded snow. Soon Santa Ahura comes in sight :
Leucatae nimbosa cacumina montis,
Here Sappho leaped into the waves to cure love-longing, according to the ancient story; and he who sees the white cliffs chafed with breakers and burning with fierce light, as it was once my luck to see them, may well, with Childe Harold, "feel or deem he feels no common glow." All through the afternoon it had been raining, and the sea was running high beneath a petulant west wind. But just before evening, while yet there remained a hand's-breadth between the sea and the sinking sun, the clouds were rent and blown in masses about the sky. Rain still fell fretfully in scuds and fleeces ; but where for hours there had been nothing but a monotone of grayness, suddenly fire broke and radiance and storm-clouds in commotion. Then, as if built up by music, a rainbow rose and grew above Leucadia, planting one foot on Actium and the other on Ithaca, and spanning with a horseshoe arch that touched the zenith the long line of roseate cliffs. The clouds upon which this bow was woven were steel-blue beneath and crimson above ; and the bow itself was bathed in fire—its violets and greens and yellows visibly ignited by the liquid flame on which it rested. The sea beneath, stormily dancing, flashed back from all its crest the sanie red glow, shining like a ridged lava-torrent in its first combustion. Then, as the sun sank, the crags burned deeper with scarlet blushes as of blood, and with passionate bloom as of pomegranate or oleander flowers. Could Turner rise from the grave to paint a picture that should bear the name of " Sappho's Leap," he might strive to paint it thus ; and the world would complain that he had dreamed the poetry of his picture. But who could dream anything so wild and yet so definite? Only the passion of orchestras, the fire-flight of the last movement of the C minor symphony, can in the realms of art give utterance to the spirit of scenes like this.