Athens - The Acropolis
( Originally Published 1913 )
"The miracle of life, the glory of the world.
SIR RENNELL RODD.
IT is no marvel that the poets, from Pindar and Aristophanes to those of the present time, unite in celebrating the Acropolis. Its unsurpassed beauty of situation, overlooking the entire Attic plain; the splendor and brilliancy of its temples; its rich and elaborate sculptures; its significance as the center of Athenian life, combine to make its appeal to the imagination an irresistible one. It is perhaps hardly realized that the Parthenon was standing in almost perfect preservation until nearly seventy years after the landing of the Pilgrims in America. The Parthenon was destroyed on Friday, September 26, 1687, until which comparatively recent date it was virtually intact. With what interest does one realize that this ideal creation might still be in almost perfect preservation even after the lapse of twenty-five centuries, had it not been for the bomb thrown into it by Morosini, some two hundred and twenty-five years ago. Nor was the Parthenon, as has more than once been stated and more or less widely believed, destroyed by the Turks. Its destruction was due to those worshipers of beauty, the Venetians. The Turks had utilized it for a powder magazine, but the bomb that caused the terrific explosion was sent, accidentally or intentionally (history has never been able to fully determine which), by Morosini during the Venetian siege.
The Parthenon was completed in 438 B.C. Ictinus is supposed to have been the architect. For the succeeding six centuries it fulfilled its purpose as a holy temple ; at the close of this period it became the church of "the Virgin Mother of God," under the Roman emperor, Justinian. Later it was used as a Turkish mosque; then the Turks converted it into a magazine for ammunition, and the ruin followed.
Never was architectural forni so ethereal in its loveliness. It seems to change, even in its ruins, with every hour of the day. It is as evanescent as a wraith by night. In the moonlight it is all alabaster and pearl, a dream, a fantasy of the moment,
"Based on the crystalline sea
It is as elusive as a phantom. Volumes have been written of the Parthenon and its sculptures, but to every visitor it is a new and original discovery. To no two persons is its aspect ever the same. No words can interpret it into graphic picturing, and rhapsody is out of place. The idea that thought persistently records itself upon the atmosphere; that hopes, aspirations, prayers, endow their locality with a certain energy that is fadeless, cannot but recur to the lingerer within the ruins of the Parthenon. Yet who may translate the mystic messages that are borne upon the air? It is not fantasy, but reality that one treads in the very footsteps of Socrates and Plato. Emerson has declared that Plato "stands on a path that has no end, but runs continually around the universe," and this may suggest why the kingdom of his time is immortal; that it is a part of the world's life to-day, and contributes a vitality that never grows less. The element of persistence that is inherent in change, and the inevitable change that pervades persistence, are factors of the problem that the Parthenon has become in the history, of the world.
With the explosion that caused its ruin began the disintegration of its sculptures. Morosini himself made every effort to secure the statue of Poseidon, and the horses and chariot of Athena, in order that he might convey these to Venice. In the effort to detach them from their places they fell to the ground and were shattered to fragments. Later, some of the sculptures were carried to Rome, and in 1787 many were secured by France and are now in the Louvre, the most notable of these being the Venus of Melos, the Nike of Samothrace, and the Dance of the Maidens. At the Vatican in Rome are some of the choice works; a few other of these sculptures from the Parthenon are in the Museo delle Terme, and in the Capitoline in Rome; in the Museo Nazionale in Naples is the grand Head of Homer, the beautiful Orpheus, Eurydice, and Hermes, the Paris and Helen, and the Young Athlete. Palermo has one — the Hera and Zeus — metope, ascribed to Silenus. A Head of Athena, attributed to Pheidias, is at the museum in Bologna. The British Museum contains the most complete collection of the sculptures of the Parthenon, among which are Zeus with Sceptre and Thunderbolt, the Dance of Nymphs in the Grotto of Pan, the Mourning Woman (which must not be confounded with the Mourning Athena), the Three Fates, a reclining figure of Theseus, from the east pediment of the Parthenon; the three sitting figures, Poseidon, Apollo, and Artemis; the Centaur and Lapith; a section of the Phigaleian frieze with Combat of Greeks and Amazons; the impressive Harpy Tomb, and other originals, together with a number of casts.
The highest conception of life among the Greeks was embodied in their plastic art. It is their magic of informing these creations with such virile power, such a sense of movement and joyous activity, that has conferred upon their marbles the spell of immortality. The mystery of inner life achieving outward embodiment pervades all their forms. Then, the conditions were favorable. The end of the Persian wars and of a long period of desolation caught the spirit of rebound; in Pericles was a ruler whose sympathies and influence were a source of artistic enthusiasm; and in Pheidias was the genius whose spirit communicated and incited artistic vitality.
The statue of the Athena Parthenos has been the tradition of the ages, and although this work remained untouched for only eight centuries, a fairly accurate description is believed to exist. The Athena was the gem of the temple. In this marvelous figure Pheidias embodied the goddess who was the tutelary deity of Athens, the inspirer and protector of all that made for the nobler life of the people. It was placed in that part of the Parthenon known as the Hekatompedon, and the figure was intended to be always viewed from below. This place was held as the inner sanctuary of the temple, and consecrated to the immortal goddess. Of this gold and ivory creation the description given by that pre-eminent authority on classical archaeology, Sir Charles Waldstein (formerly known as Dr. Charles Waldstein), is so vivid as almost to bring the statue before the eye. In the greatest work on Pheidias known to literature' Sir Charles thus refers to the sculptor's most famous creation:
"The chryselephantine image faced the door-way in the east so as to catch the rays of the rising sun. The face, hands, and feet were covered with ivory; the pupils of the eyes were of precious stones; while the rest of the image was embossed with gold amounting to upward of forty talents (about a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, or three quarters of a million dollars), which could be taken off when desired and loaned to the State in any need. The statue was thirty-six feet high, standing on a pedestal eight feet in height, the position of which can still easily be recognized from the setting of dark stone in the marble pavement. The line of the parapet in front is quite distinct. The statue was intended to be the embodiment of the energy, freedom, and dignity of Athens, as reproducing the genius of the young Athenian Empire. She stood erect, having on her head a helmet with a triple crest; her left hand held a spear, and in her right hand she carried a beautiful winged victory."
A small replica of the statue of the Athena Parthenos, held by some authorities as being an exact copy on a reduced scale (the height being three and a half feet), is in the National Museum in Athens, in the center of a gallery known as the "Room of the Athena." This statue was excavated in 1881. The Mayor of Athens considered it of sufficient importance to announce by telegraph to the Lord Mayor of London, who acknowledged his great interest in the discovery. Sir Charles Waldstein, however, received the tidings with some reservation of entire confidence in the work being a reduced copy of the famous Athena. As the authority of Sir Charles in all matters of archaeological art is so unquestionable, and the more valuable from his remarkable gift of penetration into hidden mysteries to a degree that might be al-most termed artistic clairvoyance, his comments on this discovery are interesting. Sir Charles felt that it incited perplexity and scepticism; as "the exaltation of mood invariably accompanying a new discovery inevitably leads to exaggeration," he said, and added :
"It is also evident in the second place that of all the Athene statues by Pheidias, it could not possibly be the gold and ivory Athene Parthenos, which, even if it had not been destroyed, could not well have lain hidden, large in dimensions as it was, under the ground, near the Athene Promachos, which stood on the Acropolis and must have been at least forty or fifty feet in height. The only statue that could have been meant was the bronze Lemnian Athene, so highly praised by ancient authors. But this statue was not a Nikephoros, it did not hold a Victory. . . . The statue soon turned out to be nothing more than an inferior late Roman copy of the Athene Parthenos, important in many ways in confirming or modifying the views which archaeologists had already formed with regard to the arrangement and disposition of the details of this statue, yet otherwise quite incapable of assisting a well-guided imagination in arriving at any conception of the original work and its spirit. It has been the subject of careful articles by learned Greek, French, German, English, and American archaeologists. Nevertheless it appears to me that two points still require to be definitely stated. On the one hand the novelty of the discovery, as is generally the case, has led to a somewhat exaggerated estimate of the artistic value of this Athene . . . on the other an accessory in the statuette has been held to be ascribable to the original Athene Parthenos, by some authorities, and, it seems to me, has not been conclusively shown by others to be a superfluous addition.
"Both these points have an important bearing upon this great work of sculpture; the one, upon the spirit of the composition itself, the other, upon the nature of these gold and ivory statues. . . ."
The work in question was found in a house of the Roman period, near the north wall of Athens. It is of Pentelic marble, which probably came from the mountain near Athens. Sir Charles Waldstein enumerates many details of the figure, and adds that as regards others he may as well repeat what has been well stated by Mr. Newton :
"'A gorgon's head ornaments the center of the aegis and also the center of the shield. Within the concave of the shield the serpent which Pausanias supposed to be Erichthonios is coiled; the Nike, who holds out some object in both hands, is half turned toward the goddess. . . . On its discovery the marble showed traces of gilding, of the application of color and a high polish of the surface. . . . The right arm is supported by a pillar. The base on which the figure stands is plain. . .
"'On comparing the statuette with the description in Pausanias and in Pliny we see a very satisfactory coincidence in most of the de-tails. But the following features in the original design are wanting: the spear in the left hand of the goddess; the battles of the Greeks and Amazons on the outside; the relief on the base representing the birth of Pandora; the battile of Lapithae and Centaurs on the soles of the sandals. . The column below the right hand of the goddess which we find associated with the newly discovered statue is an unwelcome addition to this composition, which I feel very reluctant to recognize as a feature in the original design of Pheidias; such an adjunct seems a very clumsy expedient and unworthy of his genius.'"
The value of this discovery and of others discussed is, in the opinion of Sir Charles Waldstein, at most negligible. Of the matter he writes:
"Of the actual spirit and artistic character of the Athene Parthenos these works can give us nothing. They are but weak and, in part, vulgar reminders which may call forth a some-what inadequate picture in our imagination if, through other channels, we have been able to form some conception of the art of Pheidias. If the Sistine Madonna of Raphael were destroyed, a reminder of this work, corresponding somewhat to the statuettes in question, would be the figure of this virgin and child painted on a common china cup in some Saxon village. Or the relation between the original Athene Parthenos and these statuettes would be like that between the Choral Symphony of Beethoven performed by a perfect orchestra and chorus, and the great work rendered in part by unskilled hands on a piano out of tune. Both these vulgarized reminders would be of use if, through other channels, we had been able to form some idea of what the art of the great painter and musician was like. . In our case these statuettes furnish us with a solid basis of fact; yet an idea of the spirit of the great work itself will only be conveyed when the impulse is given to our imagination and the direction for its ascent prescribed by the records of the effect which the work produced upon the ancient authors who saw it, and above all, by the spirit of the art of Pheidias as it shines forth through the Parthenon marbles, minor works of Pheidias though they be."
Dr. Waldstein (for it is by that title that scholars best know him, rather than by the title of nobility that England has conferred upon one whose great work in classical art and archaeology is so important a contribution to the age) points out that in the late copying schools for the Roman market the ancient Greek chryselephantine and bronze statues were reproduced in marble; supports and tree stems which were not necessary in the originals were introduced into the marble copies. He instances the Faun, which every visitor to the galleries of the Vatican will recall, as an illustration of this. "Surely," concludes Sir Charles, "Pheidias did not arbitrarily adorn his composition with the introduction of this unnecessary pillar."
In the belief of Sir Charles the aim of the Greeks in using material like gold and ivory was not to make their works of art more realistic, but "simply the desire to add the pleasure of color and the harmony of varied texture to the pleasure of from." He notes that while with us the market value of material is apt to intrude itself upon our attention and therefore prejudice us against the use of gold as being a costly material, this reason did not exist with the Greeks.
"In those days," continues Sir Charles, "the Greeks were not essentially economical, but principally artistic in their tone of mind; and gold and ivory, once part of a work of art, did not evoke these anti-artistic associations. To them gold and ivory were simply (as they are, — decidedly are) beautiful materials, both in color and texture, the one more brilliant than bronze, the other softer than marble. . . . In the marble academy of modern Athens the Viennese architect Hensen has introduced polychromy into the capitals and the frieze, and some successful attempts at tinting marble statues have shown that the nobility of the material will ever shine through the color and produce an essentially different effect from plaster or any other common material coated with color. But, as I have said before," he continues, "it must be borne in mind that the primary aim of the Greeks in coloring their statues was not to heighten the reality of the work of art to such a degree that it almost appears like the thing in nature; they never mistook deception for artistic illusion. Their aim was simply to add beauty of color to beauty of form."
Of the statue of the goddess Athena Sir Charles thus writes :
"If we can imagine ourselves entering the sacred and graceful temples at Olympia and on the Acropolis, and before us, while we are in the dark and alone, one over-powering image over forty feet in height, the drapery of pure gold, face, neck, and arms of soft ivory, a world of color and of form in the enamels and reliefs of the accessories, and all this brilliancy shrinking into the background of our consciousness through the over-powering majesty of the spiritual beauty which they make visible, the brilliancy making us falter, the dimensions making us small, and the harmony and beauty lifting us up to admiration and to devotion — we shall then no longer be prejudiced against that form of art, we shall perhaps faintly realize what splendor and what grace dwelt in the art of Pheidias."
More graphic picturing in words it would be difficult to find. That Sir Charles Waldstein is in a closer and more intimate spiritual sympathy with the wonderful art of Pheidias than perhaps any other authority on classical sculpture, is a conviction quite forced upon all who read his criticism.
While the Athena of the Parthenon was the supreme glory of the temple, the sculptures of the pediment offer a subject of most valuable study. M. Rodin regards the expression in plastic art as fairly a key to the inner life of the artist. " On retrouve a chaque instant," he says, "dans la sculpture du moyen âge cette forme de console; on y retrouve ce retrait du thorax, ces membres plaqués contre le torse et cette attitude d'effort. On y retrouve surtout une mélancolie qui envisage la vie comme un provisoire auquel il ne convient pas de s'attacher."
The very design that shapes itself in the mind has its origin in the mental attitude and in the quality of spirit. The figures of the Parthenon eminently illustrate the truth contained in this insight of the French sculptor. They offer noble interpretations of life; they bring the observer face to face with that passionate sense of beauty; that lofty recognition of the majesty of line and form which characterized the Greeks. The flame they kindled still lights the artistic altars of today. Under Pheidias especially, and under Praxiteles, Myron, Polyclitus, and Scopas, was made manifest the exaltation possible to the Hellenistic spirit. Comparisons between Michaelangelo and the Greek sculptors force themselves upon the lover and student of great art, and confront one with a certain underlying contrast; a fundamental difference which is that of temperament and point of view, even more than of artistic skill. The Italian genius is felt to be burdened with unsolved problems of human destiny; the Greek genius has the poise of tranquil and wise contemplation.
The figures of Athena and of Poseidon divide the honors in the frieze of the west pediment of the Parthenon, each seen with a train of charioteers, while between them is the olive-tree that the wonderfully-endowed Athena caused to spring up, instantaneously, at the time of their contest for supremacy; when Poseidon, not to be outdone, struck a rock on the Acropolis, causing the salt spring to instantly gush forth. After this exhibition of their powers, the goddess was decreed the winner in the contest, as was quite in keeping with due chivalry, against the claim of the god.
Much regret, not to say wrath, against Lord Elgin has been expressed regarding his removal to England of the greater part of the matchless sculptures of the Parthenon (metopes, pediment, frieze) which a firman obtained by him in 1801 permitted him to convey to England, where, fifteen years later, they were purchased by the Government and placed in the security of the British Museum, where they remain. Number-less books and brochures have been written on the subject of the "Elgin Marbles," and they form one of the chief attractions to the visitor in London. It is not unfrequently declared that these sculptures can never be seen aright as detached from the places they were designed to fill; but it might also be remembered that if they had not been removed as they were by Lord Elgin, they would now, undoubtedly, be in fragments among the ruins.
The Acropolis is surrounded at its base with a high iron railing which does not conceal the view as a wall would, and which as effectually guards the sanctuary. Near the theater of Dionysus is one small gate, standing open during the day, without custodian or any formality of entrance. One has only to pass through; but while this portal gives easy access to the excavated theater, it does not allow one to gain the height on which are the ruins of the temples. It is possible, although rather a difficult climb, to ascend to the Cave Chapel, just above the theater of Dionysus; but this is the limit on that side of the Acropolis, for above are over-hanging and precipitous rocks. The Cave Chapel is defined by two tall, Ionic pillars, which always incite the curiosity of the passer-by on the road below; but there is little within to repay the adventurous tourist who clambers over the steep rocks and blocks of stone to gain it; one cannot but wonder whether this was ever the cave of Pan. The archaeologist, who has a way of substituting fact for fancy, decides that the caves of both Apollo and Pan were probably on the other side of the Hill.
The theater of Dionysus, on one slope of the Acropolis, was only excavated about 1864, by the Archaeological Society of Athens. When constructed it was cut out of the rock, the slope forming a natural amphitheater. The seats are marble chairs, of the utmost comfort, rising tier above tier, where two thousand spectators could listen to the masterpieces of AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Each chair in the front rows has inscribed on it the name of a priest.
Behind the seat of the priest of Dionysus was a throne-like chair, in perfect preservation today, a seat formed of two huge blocks of marble, and bearing the name of the Emperor Hadrian. In the orchestra still remain most of the reliefs, in which the crouching figure of Silenus occupies the central place. The theater was decorated, in the days of AEschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes, with statues of the leading tragic and comic poets, the pediments of which are still intact and bear the names of the poets represented.
The Archaeological Society of Athens had been, surprised when their labors disclosed to them the rows of white marble seats in almost perfect preservation, as they are seen to-day, in the amphitheater, terrace above terrace, on the slope of the hill beneath the Parthenon. Even the diminutive stage still exists, supported by the same line of beautiful sculptures, many of these being broken and shattered, yet by way of still suggesting that majestic beauty that they presented in the days when the great works of AEschylus and Euripides were rendered there in the presence of the appreciative spectators. The marble chairs in the first row of the orchestra, the semicircle nearest the stage, are more beautiful and elaborate in design than the others. Each is inscribed with the name of the occupant; and of these — a marble chair throne-like in its dimensions and its magnificence — was the chair of the Emperor Hadrian, the name being plainly wrought in the marble; many others bear the names of priests. That the clergy were so in evidence, and so especially provided for in the theater, emphasizes anew the kinship between religion and the drama, as held in the minds of the Athenians.
From the theater the visitor has a splendid view of Mount Hymettus, whose deep purple mass, singularly rich in color, rises directly in front across the Athenian plain. Lycabettus, crowned with a chapel, is near; and a little farther to the right, on the horizon, rises the historic hill of Philopappus, with its lonely monument, in isolated grandeur against the blue and sunlit waters of the Saronic Gulf. The Archaeological Society of Athens may well take pride in this remarkable excavation.
The principal entrance to the Acropolis is that of the Beule Gate, on the east side. This ascent was discovered in 1852 by the French savant whose name it bears. There are no en-trance fees, no appealing guides, no beggars, — hardly, even, the usual postal-card dealers, whose vociferous and persistent attentions in Italy make the life of the tourist so unhappy. In Athens the post-card vendor mildly proffers his wares, but at a hint of dismissal he retires.
At the Beule Gate the entrance looks as if railroad tracks had been laid for cars, and some-thing of this sort is arranged for the convenience of workmen who are employed in restorations. But the visitor finds a fairly possible path; blocks of stone, serving as a road on which to walk rather than as obstructions, line the ascent. Yet the steps are irregular, and by no means uniform in height, and one has to pick his way a little carefully. But at the first sight of the Propylaea, with its Doric pillars, whose capitals and architraves have long since vanished, one is thrilled with the indescribable beauty. The Beule Gate is opposite the central opening of the Propylaea, and was constructed from the stone that formed the choragic monument of Nikias (the son of Nikodemos), erected in 320 B.C., and destroyed when the Odieion was built, with the street above it, somewhere about 160 A.D. Two low towers define the entrance. Entering the Beule Gate, one mounts the irregular steps, passing, half-way up, the beautiful little temple of Nike Apteros (Wingless Victory), which is in a state of surprising preservation, until one learns that it was reconstructed in 1835. Opposite the temple is the pedestal of Agrippa, which formerly supported a statue of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus, and a famous general of his day. This was placed on the pedestal about 27 years B.C., and the pedestal still bears a decipherable inscription celebrating . his virtues as a benefactor of Athens. The archaeologists, who seem to be endowed with second sight, or some species of uncanny power, discovered that near the pedestal of Agrippa there was formerly a staircase of nearly a hundred steps, descending to the Klepsydra, or the well of the castle. There was also an inner chamber which, in the Byzantine period, was used as a chapel. The sanctuaries of Pan and Apollo have been identified as near this chamber, by means of the modern excavation made by the Greeks; and the shrine of Apollo was traced by means of tablets even yet remaining. The entire ruins, indeed the whole vast and varied pile included in the Acropolis, are a palimpsest, whose inscriptions may be read and translated into the common knowledge of contemporary life. They form a phonograph whose records have been inscribed by the ages. The expert who knows the touch can liberate all its marvelous records. They may be transcribed for the benefit of all humanity. It is startling, it is awe-inspiring, to meet these revelations that connect the life of twenty-five centuries ago with the life of to-day. Whatever question is asked of the Acropolis, it will answer. It is not dead, nor even sleeping; it is alive, alert, with the riddles and problems and mysteries of the beginning of time ! If one listens he shall hear, as one in a trance, "The sound of time, the rhyme of the years." Here are pictured the visions of the things undone; here are the achievements of days, and dreams and aspirations of the men on whom the stars of Marathon, the stars of Judea, looked down. Here may be read the legend of the ages when gods walked with men. The prophet laurel still flowers; the shrine is still tenanted, nor is the oracle dumb. The face of Apollo is not hidden. Pan is not dead. He who comes with reverent step to this mighty monument of long-gone ages shall find
"Some waif washed up with the strays and spars
No age is dead. It decays, to spring again into renewed and more luxuriant form. It is life, all life ! One is not face to face with dead ages, but spirit to spirit with the actors in those ages. The "Porch of the Maidens," from the Erechtheum (Portico of the Caryatides), is familiar to all by means of casts which are to be seen in every museum of the fine arts the world over. It is one of the most entrancing sculptures.
In the little temple of Nike Apteros an inscription was discovered in 1897 that recorded the authorization of Callicrates (an architect of the time of Pericles) to found a temple to Athena Nike. It must have been completed, the archaeologist believes, soon after 400 B.C., an exquisite little creation of Pentelic marble, with Ionic pillars, and a statue of its tutelary goddess enthroned, holding in one hand a pomegranate and in the other a helmet. A portion of the frieze is still in preservation, and of the four panels that were taken to England by Lord Elgin there are replicas in terra-cotta.
The panels remaining portray an assemblage of the gods, — Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Eros, and others. There are reliefs representing the various personifications of Victory laying her trophies before Athena; and more than all, surpassing all other conceivable beauty, is the view offered in several directions. The varying panoramas of Attica, over sea, over land, and always against a brilliant sky, seen from the little temple of Nike Apteros, are alone worth the journey to Athens. The deep blue waters of the Bay of Eleusis lie under the very shadow of the towering rock of Acro-Corinth, while at the left glows the splendor of the color on the Bay of Phaleron. Afar can be traced the island of Salamis and the light-house on Psyttaleia; while in another direction is seen the lofty monument to Philopappos, and the wide expanse of the Saronic Gulf lying fair under the Grecian sunshine. One can quite understand why King AEgeus took his stand at this point to watch for the ship in which Theseus was returning from Crete. One of the most famous achievements of Theseus (who seemed to be gifted with the problematic glory of for-ever keeping himself in the public eye) was his destruction of the Minotaur, which, as the reader will recall, was a horrible monster with the head of a bull attached to the body of a man; a creature that was kept at Cnossus, the capital of Crete, over which King Minos reigned. To this monster Athens had to make a sacrifice, once in every nine years, of seven youths and seven maidens. Finally, the all-conquering Theseus, whose virtues are celebrated as they deserve to be in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and whose two sons achieved heroism in the Trojan war, volunteered to accompany this human sacrifice on one occasion, and if possible deliver the youths and maidens from so tragic a fate. It will be recalled how Ariadne, the king's daughter, entered into ardent sympathy with his purpose and furnished Theseus with the clue to the labyrinth in which her father had the monster confined. Armed with clue and sword, Theseus descended to the labyrinth, succeeded in slaying the monster, and set sail, flushed and triumphant, with his bevy of young companions, whose gratitude for their rescue knew no bounds. Before setting forth Theseus had promised his father, King AEgeus, that if he were successful he would hoist a white sail in place of the black, that the good news might thus be flashed in advance of his landing. Marconi had not chartered the air of this planet in those days, and the Athenians had no wireless telegraphy. But Theseus, like many great men absorbed in important affairs, entirely forgot this compact and did not change the sail. As the time came for his craft to draw near, AEgeus mounted the Acropolis, at the place where the temple of Nike Apteros now stands, and peered over the sea for his son's ship. At last it came in sight, but with no white sail. Overcome with grief and terror, and assured that his son had perished in his heroic under-taking, AEgeus hurled himself on to the rocks and fissures on the side of the Acropolis. Pausanias, relating this story, says that the aged king was watching from the shore, and on seeing the black sail, plunged into the sea and was drowned before Theseus could arrive. At all events, the little temple is invested with many associations and legends, and not the least of these interests is in the vivid pictorial rendering of its beauty of views, in these lines from The Corsair of Byron :
"Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run,
Descending fast the mountain shadows kiss
Till, darkly shaded from the land and deep,
The Acropolis museum, on the slope below the Parthenon, contains many objects of interest. There is an " early Attic" female figure, the original statue of the "Victory Binding Sandal," a cast of which is in the British Museum. The objects in this museum have been placed in groups according to the places from which they were taken; so that the visitor finds in the Parthenon room, the Nike room, and others, the identification of the figures, or the fragments which he is examining, and this greatly facilitates the visit. The Acropolis is not, however, so interesting a museum, except to the specialist, as are most others. Yet it is rich in reliefs, in portions of frieze, and metope, and pediment, that cannot be found elsewhere.
While the Parthenon crowns the summit of the Acropolis, blossoming like some rare flower of celestial loveliness, the Propylaea is built on the sloping side of the rock. The pillars of the central portal, the pillars of the wings, colonnade above colonnade, rise before the eye. Between the upspringing columns lie huge blocks of marbles, heaped together, the tribute to time. Through the pillars, divested of capital and architrave, and yet so beautiful in their grace that one hardly realizes all that has gone, one looking backward from the summit for a moment beholds the charming plain of the Cephissus, the Areopagus, or the Hill of Mars (where St. Paul preached), and far in the distance, in a dream of blue mist, the hills of Salamis. An almost forgotten chronicle of travel by Bayard Taylor, who passed the winter of 1858 in Athens, gives so graphic a description of the Propylaea as almost to be unrivaled in the way of word picturing. Mr. Taylor wrote :
"The Propylaea still form a portal which divides two worlds," said Mr. Taylor. "You leave modern and mediaeval associations behind you, and you are alone with the Past. Over the ramparts of the Acropolis you see no more of the mountains or the distant AEgean islands than the oldest Greek — large outlines, simple tints, and no object distinct enough to tell whether it be modern or ancient. The last of the portals is passed. You are on the summit alone with the Parthenon. You need no pointing finger; your eye turns, instinctively, to where it stands. Over heaps of ruin, over a plain buried under huge fragments of hewn and sculptured marble, drums of pillars, pedestals, capitals, cornices, friezes, triglyphs, and sunken panel work, — a wilderness of mutilated Art, — it rises between you and the sky, which forms its only background, and against which every scar left. by the infidel generations shows its gash. Broken down to the earth in the middle, like a ship which has struck and parted, with the roof, cornices, and friezes mostly gone, and not a column unmutilated; and yet with the tawny gold of two thousand years staining its once spotless marble, sparkling with snow-white marks of shot and shell, and with its soaring pillars embedded in the dark-blue ether (and here the sky seems blue only because they need such a background), you doubt for a moment whether the melancholy of its ruin, or the perfect and majestic loveliness which shines through that ruin, is the more powerful."
To ancient Athens the Acropolis was as the Holy Hill, to be ascended only by him who had clean hands and a pure heart. On this height were all the great questions of the time discussed. They crowned it with the noblest art. The Acropolis was the haunt of the gods; and the reader of history feels the verity of fact, rather than the creative imagination of the poet, in the assertion in the Odyssey that the "bright-eyed Athena" when she left Odysseus among the Phoenicians returned to the Acropolis. "She came unto Marathon then and the wide-wayed Athenian city, and entered the massive-built house of Erechtheus." That wonderful creation of gold and ivory has long since vanished; the Parthenon itself is now a ruin, and one half expects to see it fade like a mirage; the shrines and altars are crumbled fragments; no longer does Socrates linger by the Ilissus with the prayer on his lips : "Dear Pan and ye other gods, make me beautiful in the inward man;" no longer is Pan seen in Arcady.
"Very pale ye seem to rise,
With all the lavish outlay for monumental memorials in Athens, there seems never to have been one in memory of Pheidias. He needs none. The Parthenon is his immortal monument. Its loveliness, as it hangs between heaven and earth like a dream, a vision, a celestial creation, a thing of spirit, is the noblest memorial for the artist whose name it enshrines. Myth and legend haunt the air of the Acropolis. AEgeus watching for the return of Theseus, and other figures, dim and wraithlike, hover on the edge of the precipitous rock. Pericles and Pheidias, Socrates and Plato, "the divine one," are they not all here, and does not the goddess Athena lift the veil of the past, even as she lifted the veil of the future?
The Cave Chapel, far up the hill above the theater of Dionysus, is still guarded by its two Ionic pillars; from Mars Hill, where stood St. Paul, no voice is borne on the air; the heights are deserted as if set apart forever from the haunts of men; and still, though a sea of marble fragments strews the earth, there seems no sense of ruin. The sunshine of more than two thousand summers still glows on the Parthenon and enshrines in its glory Athena, daughter of Zeus.