A Walk In Hellas:
From Athens To Pentelicus
From Pentelicus To Parnes
From Parnes To Marathon
From Marathon To Marcopoulo
Rainy Day At Marcopoulo
From Marcopoulo To Aulis
Aulis And Chalkis
From Aulis To Thebes
Thebes And Plataea
Read More Articles About: A Walk In Hellas
Thebes And Plataea
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Slowly the pedestrian winds up the hill into Thebes. After he has passed through a small modern suburb and entered the town on the declivity, he soon reaches the central place of business, which is indicated by wagons loaded with cotton, by a stage-coach and by numerous wineshops. It is not yet evening, there is time for a preliminary saunter through the town. Its whole activity is confined to one broad street, along which the shops and stores are ranged side by side ; most of the houses have but one story with low roofs projecting in front over the unpaved sidewalk. The cobbler sits in the open air, with old shoes lying around him in winrows ; the blacksmith, the firmer, the gunsmith are hammering away in an anvil chorus of rattling iron ; village industries appear to be thriving. The dwellings may be pronounced on the whole substantial ; a few may even lay claim to some elegance, if the standard be not placed too high.
Still the town makes the impression of undue eating and drinking, which was the reproach cast upon it in antiquity.
The fertile plain gathers and concentrates itself upon this hill where it finds its last expression in the character of man. It produces not the refined epicureanism of the voluptuary but the gross pleasures of the gormandizer. The wineshops are all open and ablaze with activity ; in a public garden one can see a throng of people sitting and sipping their recinato with loud buzz of talk and hot political discussion, for the election of Demarch or Mayor is approaching. On the street there is in general a well-fed appearance of humanity, verging toward obesity in those who have battened on this moor. Kitchens abound just on the side-walk ; cookery, instead of taking place in some obscure corner to the rear of house, hiding itself out of sight for shame, shows itself, brazen-faced, to 'the very eyes of the customer, and the aroma of his dinner first ascends to his nostrils. Pots are arranged, bubbling and steaming, under charcoal fires in the front window of the public eating-houses ; stewed meat and vegetables are handed out to the passer on the sidewalk, or he may take a seat within at a rude table. These customs are not peculiar to Thebes, we saw them at Chalkis and shall see them everywhere on Greek soil ; but they seem intensified here. Perhaps I observe only the old in the new; still that is just the object of my trip and yours. In accordance with our duty as honest travelers let us fall in with the customs of the place and order a stew of lamb and potatoes.
A short walk let us then take up the street to the walls, whence we can overlook the country. The wonderful situation is at once revealed; this is just the spot for the city. The hill rises up from the plain, and is surrounded by a deep natural trench on all sides except where at one narrow interval it slopes off gradually into the valley, as if to stretch out there a friendly hand. Imagine a huge saucer with a line of hills for its rim ; such is the total landscape before us. Then imagine a protuberance in the bottom of the saucer somewhat to one side ; upon this protuberance almost as high as the surrounding rim of hills Thebes is built. It is an acropolis raised by Nature, and fitted for commanding the plain far and wide ; the people who dwell here must be the rulers of those who dwell below them and around them, if they be true to their situation. The head-ship of Thebes is written upon this natural elevation, one can still read the decree ineffaceable by time. Therefore this is the holy hill, the Cadmeia, the special gift of the God who is here worshiped by his people in his own temple built upon its summit. For did not ancient Cadmus, coming from abroad, follow the indication of the Delphic oracle and settle here where the sacred cow lay down? It is indeed a devoted spot, the strength and protection of the people, who with sacrifice will long appreciate the gift. Into the plain it slopes by one narrow passage, easy to descend, hard to ascend against resistance. Such is the donation of divinity, one can still connect his presence with the hill.
Another blessing has the God granted to this favored situation : on each side of the hill run two streams of water from large pure fountains. So our city will be called by the poets two-rivered ; Dirke and Ismenus are the names. Just now we are standing on the site of the old temple to the Ismenian Apollo, titled from the stream flowing at his feet; deservedly will he be regarded as the chief deity of the city on account of his two presents, the hill and the streams ; they indeed make up its special characteristic. These noble benefactions came from the God to his people ; if not from him, whence did they come? So thinks the pious Theban, so we may think with him, forgetting our geology, which, after all, only removes the difficulty one or two steps further back.
But the long shadows over the Dirkean runnels admonish us that we are not in that antique world where the sun is always shining ; turn about then, and go back to modern Thebes. I have noticed one man persistently following me through the streets, and disturbing my reveries. Twice already I have shaken him off, but the third time I send him away with reproaches, even with a firmer grasp of my staff. He now leaves me to myself ; but night has already drawn a sombre curtain over the plain, and distant Parnassus, other-wise so white and shining, has been darkened into a creole beauty. Alas ! I must now take leave of the ancient company and seek shelter and food, for I am not yet ready to dissolve wholly my connection with the present. I go to a kind of hostelry and look in ; there is the landlord, the very man whom I had so unceremoniously driven off. I felt ashamed to ask him now for what he previously had been trying to thrust upon me ; a little touch of Nemesis it is for my gruffness. But l shall not stay there, I walk up and down seeking another inn ; this is the only one in town, I am told everywhere. So I have to return, putting on my most friendly look, and not forgetting to rattle some silver drachmas conveniently in my hand. My amiability was irresistible, or perchance my drachmas, falling into his Greek eye. I apologized gently ; I told him that I thought he was so and so, whereas he was not, but so and so that is, a gentleman ; let the end be told at once, supper and lodging. But such is the first penalty which Nemesis lays upon the traveler for being grouty in Greece ; beware of the second, it may be more severe.
Thereupon I retire in good humor, nor did I forget to look back at this curious trip, as I lay upon my couch ; more than a week, nine days tomorrow morning, have I been on the way from Athens. A fragment of life not uneventful to me, full of real sights and classic visions, making many shapes hitherto dim and dreamy actual as life, yet opening many other glimpses into things uncertain ; but whatever else may be said of it, a happy fragment it has been, and thus a clear gain wrenched from the clutches of old Time. Yet the reverse side of the picture must be given : I did not think, and I can now scarcely believe that such a short period would produce ten long talks like these to which you have been listening ; yes, ten, more than one for each day. It is startling, I am frightened at my own possibilities. What if every day of my life should result in a chapter such as this ! What a Niagara of speech would pour out of me! Nay, further, what if every person would produce an amount equal to mine every day, as is his perfect right ! Think of every human being turned to a dark cataract of printed books with endless deafening roar ! Such is to be, I predict, the second deluge overwhelming the world for its sins ; many are now the signs thereof and this is one. My guilty participation I cannot deny to you, but I may allege a single extenuating circumstance: not with these nine days only have I seen, but with all my days lying back of them and preparing for them ; so too it is not the nine days alone which are speaking now, but my whole life finding utterance in them at this moment.
But another more harmonious note will soon possess the drowsy ear in passing to dreamland ; faint snatches of music will already have hummed through the head like a distant strain, and then have died away at any attempt to catch them distinctly. Aeolian fragments you will think them coming down from ancient Pindar who once sang here ; still they seem to be wandering through the air on which they were once hymned. Fair choruses begin to sport round the sacred hill of Thebes, to whose rhythm all her legend and history fall into soft attunement. To some melodious line and more melodious image of the bard you will pass into slumber, when you will listen all night to the songs of the festival and behold the graceful youths stepping lightly in the dance. Early by a dim echo you will be roused by a dim echo of voices which are singing of the morning sun as it rises over the Dirkeian streams. Get up quickly ; that too we must witness in all its effulgence casting its rays upon the bosom of the musical Nymph. Therefore this morning let us hasten to the Northern side of the city where it is married to the plain, and there descend. We shall pass a high tower supposed to be Byzantine, we shall go by the public threshing floor, and at the foot of the hill reach fair-flowing Dirke, holy water.
But as we move through this locality led by our ancient guide Pausanias, another form springs up, a woman, with heroic features, but with a fiercely discordant note in her soul. Here is then the Syrma or Place of the Dragging, for it was here that Antigone dragged her dead brother to the funeral pile in defiance of the command of the King. It is wonderful how much more real the story of Antigone is than any historical event which has happened upon this spot, and how much more vivid the heroic woman stands out than any historic personage. Her conflict is of to-day and will remain forever an expression for man of what is eternal within him; thus must true poetry be always above history tied down to Time.
This, then, was in part the scene of that famous Oedipus legend Oedipus who slew his father and married his mother, unwittingly. Such was his profound ignorance that he knew not father or mother; yet just he was the surpassing wise man of the Thebans, the man who had guessed Sphinx riddle, and to whom the mystery of Egypt and of the Orient was no longer a mystery. But another and deeper riddle comes up to him for solution, far deeper than the Egyptian one, and threatening to destroy not only him but the whole Greek world. It is one phase of the infinite riddle between the subjective and the objective, as the philosophers speak ; the bottomless chasm between what is the lam and what the world is yawns for Oedipus, and he falls in, not to be rescued by any hand of that age. Man violates the sacredest prescriptions of his own time and indeed of his own nature, yet he does so unknowingly ; alas, what is to be done with him, what is he to do with himself ? It is veritably a riddle, or better, it is a conflict between the profoundest spiritual principles, between the inner and outer Reason, between the law of the man and the law of the institution. In that disruption the human being is torn to pieces, be-comes in the deepest sense a tragic character. Oedipus does the wrong, unwittingly it is true ; nevertheless the wrong exists in the world, the great violation remains the same, he must be punished must punish himself. Yet he was innocent as the inner man, he had no intent corresponding to the deed. But he, the wise man, the guesser of riddles, ought not to be entrapped in a riddle. Yet he was entrapped and could not help himself and so on to infinity must the wrenching contradiction be continued at Thebes ; thus the poor old man, with soul torn to very tatters, has to flee, he leaves his own city and passes down the road toward Athens, led by his daughter, having plucked out his physical eye when he could not see with his spiritual eye. Abandoning Thebes full of unreconcileable struggle he will find at Athens atonement for his guilt and a solution for his new riddle whereof nothing at present.
Thus has the Athenian poet shown the Theban Oedipus, and has touched a theme which must come home to us all. This existence of ours lies between two riddles, the one of which we may guess, the other not. Every human being now treading the earth, however great, however little he may be, hovers between the known and the unknown like Oedipus. With that 'unknown he grapples for dear life, conquers much of it perhaps ; but wrestling still with it, he is at last hurled into his grave. With the Greek poet some of us may assert that reconciliation is to be found here before death, but the most of our race seem to expect it only after death in a soul-renovating paradise.
A daughter, a truly spiritual daughter of Oedipus is Anti-gone who also must be located upon this spot where we are standing. One problem she too has solved it is the duty of performing the last funeral rites for her outcast brother. Frantic she comes, with maniacal hair streaming , in the wind, frenzied with resolution ; upon this spot she drags the corpse of her brother, called ever afterwards the Syrma, or the Place of the Dragging. Then upon the funeral pile she places her dead brother, and performs the sacred ceremony a sisterly deed full of the deepest devotion and fidelity, and to the heroine the whole world shouts approbation. This problem then she has solved to her and our satisfaction ; but let us see what is this other mighty contention springing into view suddenly? A new conflict arises, in the very act of duty she has violated duty and is destroyed ; a power rushes in and sweeps her off, it is the authority which she has assailed. So the one riddle she solves, the other solves her, not without tears and perhaps execrations from us; still the power makes away with her, and most effectually too. Thus the daughter of Oedipus has her soluble and in-soluble riddle ; she who can master one problem to the admiration of all ages, is ground to death by the second problem.
Such is the Theban image in legend, full of riddling discord ; nor must we forget the two sieges of Thebes in legendary times ; in reality, however, two phases of one siege which ends in the capture of the city. Let us glance at the Theban image also therein reflected, and try to reach its true purport. It has already been stated that Thebes and the Cadmeia sprang from a foreign element, and that they seem never to have lost a foreign sympathy. This hostile influence in the heart of Greece must be overcome in order to unify the Hellenic people within ; thus they will be ready for the great external conflict with Troy, which, it is clear, is soon to be. The siege of Thebes, then, is an inner adumbration of the siege of Troy, or perchance a preparation for the same, since Troy lay outside of Greece which has first to purge itself of its own Asiatic element before going to Asia itself. Some such hint lies in the legend for the true believer, and such is the relation between the two famous sieges, the Theban and the Trojan, the internal one and the external one ; both, too were essentially conflicts with the Orient. Also the Argives who were among the chief leaders in the Trojan Expedition were those who subjected the foreign influence at Thebes ; or, to state the matter other-wise, they put down the contradiction, the sharp dissonance with the Greek world in the latter city. This dissonance during the siege of Thebes culminates in the combat between Eteocles and Polynices, brother against brother, both fateful sons of Oedipus, victor and victim of the riddle. But in their case the riddle annihilates itself, the conflict ends in the mutual destruction of the colliding sides. Thus Greece frees itself for a time of this riddling discordant Thebes, and is united for the great foreign expedition, in the catalogue of whose participants the Theban name does not and ought not to appear.
Everywhere in the legendary epoch of Thebes the foreign element comes to the surface ; it is her great unsolved contradiction which brings her into conflict with Greece, with herself, which conflict is imaged so vividly in her tragic characters. The Hellenic people cannot endure with such deep dissonance in their very heart, it must be got rid of even by violence. Justly then the name of Thebes is not set down in the Iliad, being stricken by the bard from the grand muster-roll of the Greeks against Troy, which was the pride of so many small Hellenic communities. The great mythical expedition against the Asiatic is no part of her glory ; she herself was the Asiatic in Greece who had first to be put down; still she remained Trojan in sympathy, for did we not see the tomb of Hector outside of the Proetid gate among her heroes?
Such is the legend which some may be inclined to pass over as a thing unreal. But in that second great muster-roll against the Asiatic the muster-roll called before the battle of Plataea just over the comb of yonder hill Teumessus, where was Thebes? Alas, more than missing ; worse than stricken from the list of patriotic combatants is her name ; the historian now comes forward and points her out standing enranked with the Asiatic against the Greek, and fighting desperately for the domination of the Orient. Again she plays the foreigner on Greek soil, and shows her-self in history as well as in legend to be a traitor to Greek civilization. So true is the legendary as well as the historical character of the city ; both are alike, being two different reflections of one and the same object. She lives over in history what she had sung of in legend ; she .can only make real what poesy had presented as ideal. History then can simply act the fable over again, with much additional noise and confusion perhaps; it is the second yet more turbid fountain, having its source in the first clear one ; yet both will mirror the same face.
Thus we pass through the Syrma, seeking to make its dust give up the ancient shapes that lie here, and to animate them anew with their innermost spirit. It is a spot of tragic conflict, of terrific dissonance, which to this day jars fiercely yet sympathetically in the breast. But of a sudden the sounds change, we come to the banks of the Dirkean stream, over which hover untold melodies, swelling up to the heavens. Whence can arise such a sudden transformation of echoes? All the daughters of Mnemosyne are now singing in unison their strains over Dirke, rearing a wall of music against the strifeful spot of the Dragging. Through that melodious wall over the brook let us leap at once, we have entered another world, the tragic discord of the Syrma has been cut off and left far behind, and man has become a most harmonious being who dwells forever amid the tuneful spheres ; we have entered the house of Pindar.
Upon this spot it stood according to our ancient guide; here the poet when he rose at morn saw the first beams of Helius play over the Dirkean waters. The material house has indeed disappeared, but that other house built by Pindar stands visible, nay audible today and forever. For it is a musical house still, though partly in ruins ; the most happy musical temple ever erected out of the lofty hymn. Into it we may enter and tarry long, catching its harmonies broken at times, but still possessed of the sweetest and sublimest cadences.
Many were the miraculous things told of him in antiquity indicating that he was truly a child of the Gods. On that hot day while he was going to Thespia, he seems to have received his first revelation ; he fell asleep along the road and the bees lit upon his lips, depositing there waxen cells for honey; when he woke, he began to sing; such, says the ancient narrator, was the beginning of his making hymns. Then the appearance of Persephone, Goddess of the Lower Regions, to the Poet in a dream, complaining that to her alone of the divinities he had never written a hymn, was justified by his character; dark Tartarean realms he avoids, but delights to dwell on the upper earth in Greek sunshine. Therefore he was the special favorite of Apollo, God of Light, whose games he has celebrated in such rapturous splendor ; the priestess at Delphi announced to all Greece to give to Pindar a share of the first-fruits equal to that of the God. Then too the proclamation was long afterward heard at the Delphic shrine : " Let the poet Pindar come in to his supper with the God." Indeed he is the product and culmination of Delphi, thither we shall have to follow him in order to reach the deepest and richest vein of his character. In the dell of the Oracle, at the fount of Castalia, under the tops of Parnassus, we shall have to place him, where prophecy and poesy rocked the hills with musical wisdom, whereof he is the highest expression. Pindar, on the whole, may be taken as the best Delphic utterance remaining for us to-day.
Still he belongs here too, and in him all Thebes turns to harmony that discordant Thebes so full elsewhere of tragic destinies ; nay, that sensual Thebes, receiving its nickname from swinish indulgence, becomes through him the most ethereal of poetic existences. It is one of the marvels of this land that it could bring him forth, him the most ideal of men. From this fat soil he sprang, this heavy air he breathed, upon this gross vegetation he fed, yet he has the freest rein and the widest bound of all poets, often a little too sudden in his earth-defying leaps. To-day we confess him unrivalled in the lyric; he has the exaltation, the sweep of imagination and the greatness of thought which belong to all supreme poetic utterance.
But the quality in which he surpasses every poet whom I have read after, is what may be called his harmony. Not that light superficial thing called by the critics harmonious versification is meant now; this true harmony flows from the deepest of matters, it is the harmony of the All, of the Universe uttering itself in the measured syllables of the bard. At his best moment each word is set in vibration which sings long afterward in the ear or rather in the soul, indeed one will never get rid of that music truly heard; but such a word is only a note of the song which in its completeness will make your whole being throb and thrill in attunement with its strains. Yet not you alone, but nature outside of you vibrates to the chords of the lyre which the poet touches ; both the inner and outer world are absorbed into the stride and swell of his harmonies. Ali Time, too, is therein made musical, as to-day sunny Thebes seems to be gently moving to pulsations of those ancient hymns.
Such is the Pindaric music, unattainable by any external combination of sounds and syllables, or by any arrangment of the scanning machine ; what modern would get it, if only thus it could be reached ? It goes far deeper, as it must in all true poetry ; the rhythm must lie ultimately in the thought wedding itself to speech ; the words are but the outward drapery dropping into symphonic folds from the repturous pulsations within; the fountain of Pindar's harmony is in the soul, and there only can it be truly heard. It is a great mistake to think that the music of poetry comes from the jingle of sounds, short and long, accented and unaccented, from the employment of open vowels, from the abolition of certain consonants in certain situations. Much talk of this kind has been heard of late; but such doctrines can do hardly more than construct a well-regulated poetical machine which will grind at any time with any person turning the crank ; thus we may attain a light-flowing Italian melody at the very best, but not all-pervading, all-subduing organ harmonies. First there must be the thought great and worthy, then it must pulse with an inner ecstasy which bursts forth into utterance.
No counting of syllables, then, is going to reveal to you the deepest secret of poetic harmonies. It is true that in verse measure is necessary ; but this is the mechanical part, it is the outer to which there must be an inner that creates it and puts it musically on like a rich glowing vestment. Poetry cannot do without that fixed recurrence of accents called meter ; even the sea, most melodious of Nature's instruments, has a measured rhythm, a regular beat in its rise and fall, as if the waves were keeping time after some invisible master. Yet hardly are we to think of the meter the while, but to hear the music ; it is the harmonious thought of Pindar which makes every word drop tuneful from his lips ; too often his strains get lost in that labyrinth of metrical schemes, which produce so much discord, at least among grammarians. I cannot help thinking that Pindar's verse, and all true verse, makes its own scheme as it goes along, to a degree ; it throbs great waves of harmony through any soul musically attuned, without scansion ; for I must refuse to believe that the dry prosodical man who scans Pindor is the sole person who has become heir to his melodious wealth. An inborn poetic sense may perhaps be better tested by Pindar's verse than by that of any other poet ; if no music be heard there, whatever the outer ear may be, the poetic soul is of dubious existence.
This harmony then combined with his exaltation is Pindar's highest poetical characteristic. Next to him perhaps Dante should be placed, who likewise possesses the power of setting all in vibration to the strains of his poetry ; even the dry abstractions of scholastic theology move in his Paradiso with a strange enraptured rhythm. Here also lies the chief miraculous gift of our Milton, though he is behind the two who have been mentioned. These are pre-eminently the poets of harmony, to my mind ; others greater than they have existed because of the posession of a still greater quality, in conjunction with this one.
Pindar is the most rapt expression of the Greek world, the Delphic utterance of it we may say. His sympathy with Helenic life is complete ; he is in the main content to live as his forefathers lived ; we do not find in him the profound questionings of the Attic poets, he is too harmonious. He does not assail the established, he is at one with the religion and morality of his age a conservative poet we may consider him. Yet he will not accept all the myths which have been handed down, nor does he fail to castigate certain evils of his city and time. But he is not a satirist, not a revolutionist ; he is in harmony with the world and the world with him ; so that he becomes the throbbing utterance of the games, of the festivals, of the songs in that joyous Greek life around him.
But it is time to leave the unseen musical house of the poet, and take a morning walk with him up the Dirkean stream which winds around the hill on which the city is built and babbles transparent at his very door-sill. The slanting rays are glancing over it somewhat as he beheld them ; yet in his lines even the sunbeams are gifted with new splendor. One looks up at the old walls still girding the brow of the hill with their remains, those are the stones that danced into their place yonder to the tune of Amphion's lyre, according to the fable ; still there is a rude harmony in that massive Cyclopean work of the olden time. A pile of stones which has been pushed from the wall, one will think, shows the trace of Alexander who destroyed the city anciently; there they have lain ever since. Gigantic masonry was that of early Greece, laying foundations to last forever, and jointing the huge boulders to the sound of music, it is said. But look at the modern hut upon the wall, and, as it were, growing out of it ; the little stones seem about to fall asunder, held together by no strong cement nor by gravity, nor by any harmony ; one small window looks down upon Dirke, out of which a rag is hanging. Such are indeed often the ancient and the modern in contrast, forming the two interchanging threads of our Hellenic journey.
Here the stream divides into two channels, an artificial and a natural one, running almost side by side. Further on little arches and aqueducts appear, many now old and neglected ; there is a sort of play with the waters whose current is just large enough to allow itself to be pleasantly handled and toyed with. On the roots of an old elm the pedestrian will sit down for a while ; not far off is a rustic bridge spanning the brook, composed mainly of ancient materials, if not ancient itself, for the eye is often greeted with a finely cut piece of stone or even of marble. Under-foot traces of foundations come to view, hardly determinable now ; shrines and temples we place here., for we know that this little valley was full of them in antiquity. At one point, from the marks yet visible, and still more from the situation, I imagine some fane to have been built over the stream, for here Dirke ripples along most happy and full. Some caves too we shall notice, once inhabited by the nymphs ; the niches to hold the image can still be seen. Thus Dirke sweeps around the base of Thebes from the semi-lunar ridge toward the North ; for the round Cadmeian hill reposes in the arms of yet another hill, crescent-shaped, like the old moon resting in the new ; between these two hills Dirke keeps up her babble. Happy stream ! try to look at it with ancient eyes as a thing divine, bestowing good gifts, purifying the lanci and the people ; still more regard it with the eye of the old poet as a thing of beauty, in whose waters are often seen shapes hinting of what is fairest and best in that antique world.
Still modern matters must not drop out of view, so much duty we owe to our own time that we should at least live in it. White fustanellas are before our path, following the plow in the narrow valley between the city and the crescent ; you will see the plow turn up the relics of a whole world passed away, the soil is filled with bricks, tiles, mortar, bits of marble and potsherds. Only in the invisible realm can it be constructed again, and this is also one of the duties of the traveler in Greece. New voices now float in the air ; they come from gossiping washerwomen who are still heard along Dirke, invoking the nymph of the stream to aid them in the great work of purification; their tongues at least falter never be it prayer, or some bit of village scandal. A school-boy passes with books under his arm ; I stop him and enquire much ; he reads me a passage from the Education of Cyrus in old Greek, there under the elm. Go on to school, thou art indeed the star of hope for Thebes, for Greece, rising over Dirke and illuminating her waters.
So we may follow Dirke up to one of her sources; half a mile or so from the city the stream forks, and we shall wander along the branch to the left with its high banks above us. Soon we approach the gushing source a veritable shrine of the Naids, tricked out by themselves for their own chosen seats. A light waterfall leaps over, the wall of rock underneath is wet and mossy, with veins of water everywhere pulsing through the green matted moss ; the rills gathering into one stream meet behind a small island on which is quite a large willow with drooping branches. Just the combination of rock, water and sedge ; in a lone spot ; filled with old memories it was certainly a shrine. Laugh at your extravagant traveler ; but he would be worth nothing, I maintain, if he could not overflow with the gush of the spring, in deep joy, saying to himself: Yes, I have found it, this is the home of the nymphs of the stream, here they dance on the sedge, yonder they bathe, always from this source they wander down to the city joyously leaping over the pebbles, making sweet music to the sport of the waters.
A walk up Dirke will eminently repay us, though we have to add much to its present appearance in order to recall its ancient glory. Plane-trees were here and pleasant promenades, with many a white statue and column glimmering through the leaves. But mainly Pindar was here, and daily took his walk up and down this brook ; still it is musical with his voice and attunes us to his strain. Who cannot be-hold him, sauntering along, turning up his face gleaming with exaltation as he looks at the sunbeams falling over the Dirkean stream, the holy water? In him indeed the nymph has first found utterance ; and still it is not she so much as he that holds us upon this spot in a miraculous spell. Such is Nature ; we hear her mostly through the Poet, to whose vision she truly reveals herself. Without him Dirke is only a brook, nothing more, just like thousands of other brooks; but now it is a symbol, beautiful, perchance sacred he has made it. Take a drink, wash your face in the Pindaric waters, then spring up the bank.
So long has endured our peaceful, idyllic mood attuned to Pindaric strains but hark! a trumpet blowing the blast of war comes echoing over yonder ridge. Thither accordingly we must go, hastening up the slant of the hill to see what is taking place beyond. Passing over its crest we note a wide valley moving into view; upon which many herds are grazing ; through that valley winds a stream, not large, but called here a river. It is the Asopus which once before we have come upon further down. Peasants are here trimming their vineyards. What is the name of yonder village, lying at the foot of the mountain across the valley? It is called Kokla, ancient Plataea.
Here, then, we look upon the battle-field where the great struggle of Greece with the Orient, called the Persian War, was brought to an end. What Marathon had prophesied was now made actual, the full meaning of that victory was confirmed upon these meadows. Greece is henceforth to be left to develop within, and soon the external war will be transformed to an internal one ; the Persian she will find in her own people. Lofty Kithaeron yonder looks down upon Plataea from his snowy summits will he ever behold another such a struggle at his feet? Hardly within any imaginary cycle of years the battle-line of the World's History has moved far forward. Over the meadow, then, toward ancient Plataea we must pass ; perchance the place will yet give back some echoes of the old conflict. Wet spots and streams again obstruct the way, but they are easily forded ; thus for hours we ramble through the valley listening to the ancient clash of arms and the tramp of the war-steeds, mingled now with the very pacific refrain of pastoral bells.
But the chief interest circles around those battlements yonder, still visible though in decay. On the whole the ancient village that lay there may be said to have possessed the most intense individuality of any Hellenic community large or small ; its people were the most Greek of the Greeks. We have already heard of them, when they sent their whole population to Marathon, 1,000 strong, to drive out the Persian, the only town outside of Attica which did so ; that was, however, but one characteristic deed. They appear in the first great muster-roll of the Greeks against the Asiatic, the Homeric catalogue ; with their modest armament of nine ships they open their career and remain true to its principle to the last. For it they suffered untold afflictions, yet we read of no bending, no compromise. Destroyed and restored at least three times in the course of Greek history, the community preserves the same inflexible character, the same fidelity and patriotism. Through the legendary and historic epochs it exhibits the one fundamental trait ; in the mythical conflict on the plains of Troy, the little town on the slope of the Kithaeron is not absent, nor in the supreme conflict of history, fought at its very gates. That town is Plataea upon whose site we, with a slight effort of imagination, may consider ourselves now to be standing.
Scarcely five miles distant in a straight line from Thebes, it is in every respect the opposite of that city. The fact has already been mentioned that there was always a foreign element at Thebes, hostile, or at least unsympathetic with the Hellenic world. Not without good reason did the ancient traveler consider the Plataeans to be sprung from their own soil, in contrast to the strangers, who settled on the Cadmeia across yonder ridge on the other side of Teumessus. Hence the bitter emnity between Thebes and Plataea ; the resolute little town never would submit to that foreign influence like other Boeotian towns. It is the one great Panhellenic spot in Boeotia, though other Boeotian towns are not devoid of patriotism, particularly Thespia. Nay, this may be said of Plataea, that of all the villages famed for heroism, it occupies rather the highest place in the World's History. No other small community that I know of, can show the same unswerving devotion to the supreme interests of its nation; and of its race, amid such continued and terrific outpouring of calamities. Through all the great Greek historians its story moves, fortunate at times, oftener unfortunate but always glorious and honorable. Destiny justly placed the final victory over the Orient under its very walls, and called that victory by the Plataean name ; and on that famous day the meed of being the bravest of the brave was given by the voice of the assembled Greeks to the Plataeans. In their territories the monuments of the victory were erected and stood for centuries ; new temples to the Gods were built from the spoils of the vanquished ; Zeus the Liberator, the God of this Plataean battle, and of the whole Persian War, was henceforth to be the special divinity of this spot, and games in honor of the event were celebrated by all Greece under the presidency of the Plataeans. Then the cloud gathers and bursts in the Peloponesian War ; now it is brother against brother ; brave little Plataea is encompassed with fire and sword ; but I cannot give you history here, read the account of its siege and destruction in the adamantine yet deeply pathetic words of Thucydides.
Yet one more peculiarity must be mentioned in regard to this town : it produced no mighty towering individuality, no Great Man, in whom it seemed to sink away ; scarcely has the name of a single leader been preserved. Far different was it elsewhere in Greece ; the Hellenic world developed the individual above all other times or nations ; its great characters are still our exemplars, our heroes. Not so Plataea; its people seem to have acted collectively and of their own spontaneous impulse ; in the great battles we always read of them as a whole the Plataeans were there. No Great Man then can be named ; the result was that the town seems to have been freer from dissension, from the partisan conflicts of powerful leaders than the other communities of Greece, it acted as a unit under its deep Hellenic impulse. It did not rear men stronger than itself, men too great for the State, but each member of it seems to have fitted harmoniously into the whole. As intense as its enmity to Thebes the stranger, was its friendship for Athens the defender and bearer of Greek civilization ; and this friendship, so true, yet so humble, is one of the tenderest throbs out of the heart of Greek history.
Thus the Asiatic is defeated and expelled ; all Greece is now in happy jubilee and harmony with one chief exception. It is that old discordant Thebes with its foreign note on Greek soil ; during the great Plataean day, its people fought desperately in the ranks of the Asiatic. The dissonance must be got rid of so thinks the victorious Greek army still encamped along the Asopus ; forward then to the discordant city. Again an army of heroic shapes appear before the seven gates of Thebes, capture it and purify it of Medism, of Asiatic tendencies. So we recollect that the Argive band in the legendary age took it and attuned it to a Hellenic note, for a time at least. History and legend give the same utterance concerning Thebes ; they give the same utterance also concerning Plataea ; the two Boeotian communities, not six miles apart, represent the mightiest opposing principles of the World's History.
In such manner Greece is again made harmonious by casting the discord out of Thebes. But who does it? Pausanias, the great leader of the allied Greeks at Plataea. By his victory over the Persian and by his eradication of Theban Medism, he has thrown himself to the front of the Greek world, and become the bearer of Greek civilization. But his success has made him too great for his time and for his country ; he, after putting down the Asiatic and the Theban, falls at last himself into their guilt, becomes disharmonious with the Greek world, and medizes. Thus he, too, like those old legendary Theban heroes makes out of a life a tragedy. But not he alone ; another. Greek looms up during these Persian wars greater than even he, in native genius the mightiest individuality that Greece ever produced Themistocles, the Athenian, hero of Salamis. What becomes of him? Alas ! he meets with the same fate ; he flees to Asiatic soil, he seeks the favor of the Persian monarch, under whose sway it is said that he died the death of nature, still he died with the purpose which made him deeply tragic : the purpose of undoing all his great work for Greece and for civilization.
Such is the end of the two most distinguished, and we may say, mightiest characters of this mighty epoch ; after performing the greatest and noblest deeds for their country and race, they become harsh, all jangled and out of tune, winding up in shrillest discord. They give an insight into the deepest phase of Greek spirit ; the heroic character was developed to such an extent that it became too great for its country. This tendency belongs to Greece, to all Greece ; in the present case it is a Spartan as well as an Athenian whose greatness becomes discordant with their little states. Never has any society developed the individual so perfectly and harmoniously as the Grecian ; still the end was a dissonance ; as the result of his training and life he became mightier than his country, mightier than institutions and dropped back into despotic Orientalism, which can endure only the one individual. This danger the Greek communities themselves felt, and it was a problem with them what to do with their mighty characters, too mighty for them. The ostracism was merely a peaceful means whereby a Greek city sought to get rid of one of its Great Men when it was too small to contain so many of them, with their ambition, strength of will and intellectual resources. Nearly all famous Greek characters have the one epitaph: too great for their country.
The historian Thucydides who belonged to the same epoch and whose style shows the same towering individuality, has told the story of these two typical men, Pausanias and Themistocles, with an awe-inspiring directness, as if he himself was dazed at the consequences which he beheld in their fate, however much he tries to suppress himself. Well may that narrative inspire terror in the nation which has within it such a terrific contradiction. It reveals to the Greek world that of which it is to die ; for in these men it can behold its own limitation, can look down from the very pinnacle whence it will be dashed to pieces. That story has still a throb of dismay breaking up through the stern self-control of the historian, and moves the reader with a kindred awe. Well it may, both for us and for the old Greeks, since it shows the outcome of their most illustrious characters, and of their world. It is a prophecy indeed because the profoundest fact of the nation and age.
These great characters, then, are the hand-writing in which we may read the destiny of Greece, their end prefigures her end. The disease of which the Great Man dies is the disease of his country, sooner or later his fate will be her fate. For she has brought him forth, and imparted to him the intensest phase of her own nature at his birth ; concentrated into one burning point of individuality he has all that she has both her strength and her weakness. The mother's mole flames red from his forehead, had we the eye to see it there ; upon his acts is always stamped in letters of fire her character, indeed her destiny. So this happy harmonious Greece will become all discord, nay, is destined to relapse into the very principle which she has so gloriously met and put down. After the greatest deeds and mightiest harmonies, she will fall into contradiction with herself, like Themistocles, like Pausanias. These two are her prophetic sons, in their actions foretelling her end ; she will, after conquering the Orient, drop back into Orientalism, and be absorbed into an Eastern empire; she brings forth Alexander, conqueror of Asia, mightiest of all her sons, mighty enough now to destroy her, and fulfil the prophecy of Themistocles.
Such is the account of the Greek Historian ; but the same story had been told long before him quite as impressively and in far more brillient colors by the Greek Poet. Legend too has revealed the Greek character in its deepest phase and made its innermost spiritual scission the theme of its greatest masterpiece. In the first book of the Iliad is narrated the famous quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles. Who is Achilles? The surpassing Hero, the great Individual who spurns authority and moodily retires from the confiict, letting the enemy conquer. There also the Heroic Individual is too great for obedience to the established institutions ; there also untold calamities fall upon the Greek host and many souls are sent to Hades ; and the Poet must sing, as his truest poetical theme, not the taking of Troy or the submission of the Orient, but the wrath of Achilles, the Heroic Individual. Homer and Thucidydes, singer of legend and writer of history, so diverse in form, give the same fundamental utterance concerning their own nation's character.
But there is one heroic individual of Greek history who does not produce this discord, and strange to say he is of discordant Thebes. Look off yonder from this Plataean height where we now stand, to the left some five or six miles ; there is the field of Leuctra. Let all else sink out of sight as it well may, but notice that man marshaling his Theban wedge and smiting the hitherto invincible Spartan column with utter discomfiture it is Epaminondas, the most ideal man in Greek history, evidently the completest most universal Grecian man. Though endowed with the highest gifts of thought and action, though harassed by envy and persecution, he will never become discordant with his city. We may pronounce his fundamental trait like that of Pindar, to be harmony, harmony developed into thought, deepened into character, and finally realized into action. The greatest qualities he possessed, yet not in conflict with one another nor with the world, but trained to a perfect symmetry, or even musical concord.
Throughout his education we find that he lays stress upon harmonious development of both body and mind. His early gymnastic training sought physical power combined with ease of motion ; then he exercised himself in the chorus with dancing, which gave rhythm and grace to his movements. Music he learned with great assiduity, the flute, the lyre, the song thus attuning his emotional nature to the agreement of sweet sounds. But the highest branch of his education was the study of philosophy, the supreme science, which orders and attunes the whole universe for its true disciple. Also the philosophy which Epaminondas studied should be noted : it was that of Pythagoras whose principle was based upon number, like the science of harmony itself, and whose supreme utterance is heard in the music of the spheres. Such was his education, in violent contrast to the ordinary Theban athlete, overfed and ignorant, the gross product of Boeotian vegetation ; but he is the completely harmonious man, gifted with utterance too, for in eloquence he rivals the great Athenian orators, winning laurels even from silver-tongued Callistratus.
With such 'a happy training let us proceed to the final test, the action of the man. Here we shall all confess, that the deeds of the patriot Epaminondas are the supreme harmony of Greece in the realm of noble conduct. He never became too great for his country, and turned disharmonious, like those other mighty Greek characters. He brings organization into the Theban polity, and organization of the highest order is harmony. Nay, his whole purpose extends beyond his own city's narrow limitations, and seeks manifestly to bring some kind of harmony into discordant Greece. The chief glory of Thebes is that she produced Epaminondas ; without him she is nothing, worse than nothing, as regards action. Pelopidas shines too, but by his light, as his friend ; this friendship, this perfect accord with another soul, must be noted as one of the harmonies of his life, and is one of the sweetest notes of the period. Epaminondas is all Thebes, all Theban history of honor ; when he is taken away, there is left mainly her discord, and her sudden supremacy sinks with him into the grave.
Such is the Theban man of action. But as we come back toward the city, thinking of him, Dirke is again babbling over the pebbles at our side. Pindar too arises, not the man of action, but the singer of harmonious action. The two, Pindar and Epaminondas, truly belong together ; each is perfect in his sphere, in happy concord ; yet each is supremely harmonious with the other. In them the world of action and the world of musical expression are two great symphonies in complete unison. Like Pindar's broken lyre, the life of Epaminondas has reached us only in fragments of the grand Whole fragments handed down mainly by an unfriendly historian, Xenophon ; still, even under the touch of an enemy, that harmonious life reveals all its notes. In him there is no excess of hatred against his foes, no cruelty, no jealousy of rivals, no wild ambition, no avarice, all is in happy rhythm and proportion. But mark the most harmonious strain of his character: he can obey as well as command, fulfil the humblest duties, as well as the highest. Never forget that typical anecdote how he, serving as common soldier, is called forth from the ranks to save a Theban army from destruction, and does save it; thus he sweeps from the lowest place to the highest authority, without extravagance or infatuation, without dissonance of any kind. So we must place him above all, above Pausanias and Themistocles, who became discordant; Epaminondas is the completest most universal Grecian man.
Thus we ascend again into Thebes, the Ismenian stream runs through the valley in many a conduit, and recalls tuneful shreds of hymns vanishing melodiously into forget-fulness. It too vibrates gently to the music of ancient Pindaric measures, lying embedded there like a jewel; but the harmonies of the poet now pass over into deed, and his exalted rhythm realizes itself in the actions and character of a man. Pindar is fulfilled in Epaminondas. From the twain old discordant Thebes is throbbing with new melodies ; those tragic dissonances, which we heard at the beginning of the day, are swallowed up in the happy strain of the evening. Let us enter the walls, those walls whose stones moved into their places to the sound of Amphion's lyre, marching forth from their quarries ; still they palpitate in the twilight to the ancient music. The temple of Ismenian Apollo rises anew on the sacred height now in our presence ; it shows the white columns in soft movement around the holy shrine out of which well forth the strains of the God of music. Such a result has come out of dissonant Thebes, the fierce dualism has vanished ; now you may understand how that Cadmus, the fatal stranger, was wedded to Harmonia, the daughter of Zeus.