A Walk In Hellas:
Religion Of Beauty
Kyrie Eleeson — Christos Aneste
Read More Articles About: A Walk In Hellas
Kyrie Eleeson — Christos Aneste
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE traveler will pass Lent at Delphi, he will witness there the ceremonies of Faster ; a new note, deepest, most intense of all, thus mingles with the old Delphic music and brings it to a conclusion. He is upon the ground where the last great religious change of his race was accomplished with long, desperate struggle; the whole people still celebrate this change with surprising vividness and faith; it is the time of strong sympathetic renewal of the event and its memories. Yet there is one point of identity : as the ancient Delphic man went through the history of the God in his worship, so the modern Delphic man enacts the life of the new deity. It is the last transition; we must seek now to make this transition too, and our task is done.
Much have we spoken of Fate in the Greek time ; let us at once go back to it again, and move with it, for it is the driving principle of the mighty spiritual change of the old world. Already we have marked the ancient worshiper at his devotion, and have seen how he felt that Fate behind his many Gods, the spectral One which hovered over his existence, and entered into the very soul of his divinities. But by this act of worship he too participates in the One, in which the Gods participate; he thus rises with the Gods above the Gods. The Greek religion always pointed to the One higher than itself; the Greek worshiper, as he rose to intimacy with the Divine, beheld and followed the indication. The Greek faith prophesied its own end, the prophecy was heard by its children, who must in time manifest its fulfillment. Such is the preparation going on in every Greek heart by worship.
Then comes the terrible reality, which we have already noted; Fate realized descends upon the Greek world, first in the Macedonian, then in the Roman conqueror. This was the bitter discipline of Greece, its in-tense suffering; the Roman sway was Fate realized, no longer divine and threatening Olympus, but terrestrial, having come down to earth and taken its abode there. The suffering, however, was not of Greece alone, but of the whole world, which Rome reduced to its iron sway and held fast in its clutches by its iron organization. The world is lost, its Gods conquered, dead ; Fate is supreme in reality, the most real thing of the age.
But what has become of this Fate which stood outside of Hellas with its dark minatory glance? It has come down into the world, and no longer stands outside of the same ; it has now become internal and thus disappears, for it is the nature of Fate to be external. It was therefore destroying itself when it was destroying the world ; when it descended from its high threatening position, it could threaten no more; its own realization was its own end.
Such was the subtle inner movement of history; Rome was the minister of Fate, fulifilling its behests, but therein destroying it; that dread external power no longer controls the world which is now ready for freedom, for the new Word. The Roman discipline has been the scourge of the peoples, but it has conferred the greatest blessing upon the race; it has put Fate inside the world, by conquest, organization, law. The soil is indeed ready; for mark now the ancient worshiper, particularly the Greek worshiper: he, in adoring the Gods, adores the One in which they all are divine; he, too, is putting Fate within himself in the act of worship. Thus the man is doing for himself what Rome is doing for the world; each individual is passing through the same process which the universal soul of the age is passing through. Fate both as regards the world and the individual, is becoming internal, and is thereby ceasing to be at all.
Untold has been the suffering; direst agony through war, slavery, chiefly through death of the Gods, without any new divinity to take their place. But liberation is at hand, could the world but see it; that is in-deed the next problem, to make the world see it, to bring the mighty change home to the soul of man and thus save him. The person now comes forward who is to reveal the new fact, reveal it not by word merely but by action, by his own life. That simple history of him is in reality the World's History; one individual embodies in his own life. the spiritual life of the race, and is truly the image, the very Son of the Highest.
He came just when Rome had accomplished her mission as minister of Fate, she had conquered the world which was now to be redeemed, that is to be presented with the boon of freedom, of inner spiritual freedom, freedom from Fate. Thus destroyed mankind rises up transfigured, and there is resurrection after death ; the dead world, slain like Christ by Fate, has received a new life, with Fate overcome forever. Fate in slaying the old world has slain itself, and therein ,begotten a new world whose principle is not Fate but Freedom; this is the glad Evangel which is now to find utterance in word and deed, and thus bring hope and salvation to the perishing people.
Deep and subtle is this inner movement of history which we have been tracing, very hard to be under-stood by the humble unlettered man. But it is to be revealed, revealed to the very senses of the lowest human being, who therein can participate in the great rescue. It is embodied in a man, this is the grand fact of incarnation ; the profoundest thought of history takes on flesh and blood, lives a human life, seen and read by all men in the crimson letters of the heart. Greatest of all events is that one, the incarnation ; an individual can elevate himself into being the very soul of his race, can live for all, can die for all ; can make his life both the past and the future. The incarnation is the utterance of the World's History for every man, even the humblest; whereby, if he truly behold and believe, he is redeemed from Fate.
It is a beautiful morning, the traveler rises with the customary joy in his heart; he will go forth to look at the Delphic vale and worship according to the Religion of Beauty. nut sober faces meet him every-where, it is announced that Lent has begun, and hence-forth there must be fasting, prayer, religious exercises at Delphi. A time of sorrow has set in; Parnassus, though bright as ever upon its summits, must now be wrapped in spiritual gloom for many days. What calamity has befallen you, oh Delphians ? Death, death that occurred some eighteen hundred years ago ; this death must still be wept, celebrated by sorrow, abstinence, penitential acts; the whole land is to be draped in memory of the Great Sufferer.
It is indeed a striking change from the joyous world in which we have been living Suffering, not Beauty, now demands adoration ; the chorus stops upon the Parnassian slopes, the betrothal, the marriage, often the daily tasks in the fields are suspended, festivals become a curse, mirth a sin. Food is not to be taken as usual; no meat, no olive oil, not even eggs; we are to suffer death, or some approach to it, because of that death so many centuries ago. Some deep necessity lies upon the world to suffer over again in soul what its He-roes have suffered ; thus we are redeemed and saved from the bitter reality of their sacrifice. It is a strange phenomenon, doubly strange upon Parnassus; what does it mean ?
This outer semblance of mourning means death, but it is an unusual death that of God. Awfulest word for human lips, awfulest thought for human soul, that deity can die; a heart-piercing contradiction that makes the man shout in hopelessness. There is no conception like this for utter wo, when it truly enters the feeling, that God can die, has died : torment, carnival of pain, Hell that now is, to the heart which receives the wrenching struggle. For is not the whole spiritual universe in a conflict with its own essence a war between the Finite and Infinite in which the latter loses and you too are lost? Such a pain now comes over the Delphic world; the people too are seeking to die, or at least to approach the gates of eternity and peep in. All the people share in this deep distress, not of one person, but of a world, not of a man but of a God.
One will often hear of the pompa or grand procession in the night before Easter. At midnight the sleeper will be aroused by the tolling of bells ; the quiet village is already alive with a multitude, and the streets usually so dark, are illuminated by many a bonfire. From each of the churches the procession starts and moves through the town, every soul muttering in low voice, Kyrie eleeson ! Lord have mercy ! This is the key-note, that of intense sorrow and supplication for a world which is perishing. A throng of boys come first, shouting in shrillest cries of lamentation, Kyrie eleeson ! then the dead Christ in rude image is borne by priests on his bier lighted with tapers; after it follows a long line of men with muffled heads, each carrying a torch, and repeating continually in a low prayer, Kyrie eleeson. The procession completes the circuit of the town, and certainly makes an impressive display; from this humble spot of earth, wrapped in night, there arises but one voice to the heavens : Kyrie eleeson !
For it is a display, though the participants are deeply in earnest; the death of the Saviour is acted out in complete representation, being thus brought home to the very senses of the people. In the church service, too, there is this element of theatrical exhibition; it in-deed takes the place of all theatres, which we must re-member were, in the mind of ancient man, sacred to the God, and hence places of worship. The old theater has, partially at least, passed into the modern church. The great tragedy of Christ, the sum of all tragedies, being the image of man's existence, is exhibited in decided colors, must be exhibited for the people. Nor can the audience remain mere spectators, they must take part, and every man has to act in himself the mighty sacrifice of deity. Listen to their song; it is the chorus of a fallen world, supplicating for pity and redemption--Kyrie eleeson !
The ancient world was indeed tragic, the ancients knew it to be so themselves. The great plays of the Dramatic Poets revealed it most plainly; all the hero-ism and greatness of antiquity rest upon this tragic background. But now there is a change, resurrection has come and eternal life ; salvation it is also called. Before the simple-hearted people the life and death of Christ have been given, he has been acted out in full for many days; they have taken him into their very being and have been transformed. But the grand culmination enters, the drama of human existence is not now a tragedy, man is saved, and the end is restoration. Here we have old tragic Heathendom represented with its fatal termination ; but also we have the transition out of it into the Christian world, into the new life; this is not and never can be the victim of Fate, whose last shout of anguish is now dying away with a faint echo in the darkness : Kyrie eleeson !
But what is this which the traveler suddenly beholds ? Men embrace in wild rapture, crying, Christos aneste ! Christ has arisen ! The dolorous time is over and the question settled forever Christos aneste. Friends rejoice together, enemies are reconciled, the stranger is greeted with fresh welcome; it is indeed a new world Christos aneste. On the streets, in the wineshop, at the hearth, they dance and shout that the old time. of sorrow is gone the time of Fate Christos aneste. Uncontrolled is the joy; they kiss, men and women; that is, the men kiss the men, and the women the women; not the men the women at least to the vision of the watchful traveler, who is, however, borne along irresistibly in the stream, and shouts with the rest of the people: Christos aneste. Such is the happy solution of the great tragedy; the world bursts into a sudden comedy, at times ridiculous enough, but always deeply genuine; joy cannot be held down by propriety, but breaks out into a universal laugh ; it is the grand drama of mediation in which all are saved in that glorious last act: Christos aneste.
After the first jubilant effervescence, the crowd disperses to amuse itself till daybreak, when the roasting of the lambs will begin, and the grand barbecue take place; for the season of fasting, of death, is now over.
A large company adjourns from the church to the wine-shop, a very easy transition in Greece ; hot punch is served up, games are played, songs are sung, while we all are watching for the chaste light of Aurora to creep over the top of Parnassus. But she delayed, and I grew tired of watching so long under the window of the intractable beauty; I slipped away from my more determined companions, and went home for an hour's repose. Still there ascended from the village, as I threaded its dark alleys, the notes of mirth and song, whose burden was that universal shout of jubilation : Christos aneste.
It was high morning before I was awake, my room was full of smoke, and I sprang out of my bed, thinking the house was on fire. I slid into garments, and raked my articles together into the knapsack, not forgetting this note-book ; every moment I expected the flames to break through the ceiling or door, for the smoke was thickening to suffocation. I raised the window, ready to leap out; voices I heard in the yard, the schoolmaster's baby cried in the next room, female coughing re-sounded through the apartments. What was now the reflection of the traveler ? Fate has, then, not been put down so completely, but appears again, savage, inexorable, on this very morning of the day when we are celebrating our victory over him. Besides, a rain has come up, and is moderating the joys of the festival with torrents of heavenly tears.
Still the fateful threat must be some illusion, a mere comic show; I can hear the laughter of the people out-side amid their prolonged fits of coughing. Just then the schoolmaster, my host, rushed into the room, half-choked, and explained the situation. The Capitanos, our next neighbor, had built a huge fire in the yard for roasting the lambs. The rain had driven him to bring it under the shelter of the porch, whence the draught had sucked the smoke into every room of the house. No danger; it was all smoke and no fire this time. My room had become uninhabitable; I rushed out to the porch, but the smoke there was still denser. Thence I fled into the open yard, but it was raining by the bucketful. Meantime the Capitanos was heaping on grape-vines and the smoke was increasing. Holding my breath I ran back into my room; but this, too, was full of murkiness with tormenting demons in it; surely old Splayfoot is in pursuit of me, and will get me on this Easter morning for my many sins. A fateful situation : outside is drowning, inside is suffocation; how can poor mortal escape ? At last I compromised between the two infernal powers by hanging my head out of the window under the eaves, and leaving my hams and sides within to be smoked. Think of me, sympathetic fellow mortals, hanging there, trying to save my bacon—Kyrie eleeson.
Finally our fire-fiend, the Capitanos, had his bed of coals ready, the smoke cleared away, I was released from the new grip of destiny, and we all rushed out of the house into the open air ; even the rain had ceased, and the glorious sun had come out of the clouds, as if he too was going to celebrate Easter with us, vividly imaging the great restoration, aud chiming with a refrain of sunbeams Christos aneste. But the Capitanes is now our hero; he is in the splendid humor of success, as he rakes together the large pile of live coals burnt from grape cuttings., which give a special flavor to roast lamb, a slight delicate tip of Bacchic ecstasy. The Capitanos, too, is not without his wish for immortality; at every important stage of his heroic achievements he calls out to the stranger present, whom he considers to be some wandering Homerid: " Take a note of that, Didascali."
But it is time to begin the roasting. The entire carcass of the lamb is spitted on a long pole and held over the coals ; the turnspit, who is none other than our Capitanos, keeps turning till it be evenly done throughout. There he sits in his court, watching the progress of the work, once in a while stirring the coals, speaking in loud commanding tones, conscious of an heroic deed; for did not the old heroes do something very similar to what he is doing? Women, children and stranger look on in wonder, often placing themselves in the fragrant wreaths of fatty incense which rises up from the steaming carcass gratefully to the Gods. The children roast little pieces, such as heart and liver, for themselves, and devour the same like young lions; it is now many weeks since they have tasted flesh ; " it seems a hundred years," said the wife of neighbor Patroclus, who had dropped in for a moment to kiss our hostess. " Have you such things in your country?" asked the Capitanos. " Yes, we have there roast lamb, but we have no such heroic roasters as I find here," was the reply. "Take a note of that," said the Capitanos.
Somehow thus, the traveler reflects, were roasted the far-famed hecatombs at sandy Pylos by god-like Nestor when prudent Telemachus paid him a visit. Not a hundred bullocks, now, but one little lamb composes the sacrifice; certainly a great diminution in quantity, very important to the hungry man; but the classic eye will here see again the Old, though so much diminished, in the New. Meanwhile a Greek neighbor, Patroclus him-self, not his wife now, comes into the yard, approaches and kisses me, exclaiming, Christos aneste. That sudden osculation came down upon me like a stroke of Fate; my refractory lips would not respond to his, but instinctively muttered, Kyrie eleeson.
From every inner court one could see the smoke arising from the fires early in the morning. A friend passes and takes me with him to make the circuit of the town. The same thing is going on everywhere roasting of far-famed hecatombs. In one place fifteen lambs were held over an enormous bed of coals by fifteen jolly young fellows, who, offered us full canteens of heart-lightening recinato, and sang in unison a Klephtic song against the Turkish dogs. Sweetmeats and cakes were handed around by the women, who saluted me grace-fully with their Christos aneste, but without the kiss. It is a joyous festival; the happiness is increased by the gratification of the appetite for animal food ; the Len-ten restraint, so oppressive, has been removed from the world; the very body breaks out into joy and claps its hands, shouting, Christos aneste.
When I returned home, the Capitanos had the second lamb over the coals, which still glowed with a festal ardor under the dripping carcass. " Whose hecatomb is the fairest in the town ?" he asked. There seems to be no little rivalry in this matter, and I was glad that I could answer with truth: "Thy hecatomb, O Capitanos ! according to my judgment, thou art, of all the men on Parnassus, the true hero in lamb roasting, the very Achilles." Holding his spit in one hand, and reaching his other hand into my coat pocket, he drew out my note book and held it up to me, saying: Take a note of that without delay, O Didascali.
But the roast is done, and the eyes which have been watching it so long, are ready to devour it literally at a glance. We all light upon that lamb like eagles and young eaglets men, women and children; soon the bones are picked clean of every fiber, and the second lamb pretty well clawed up. What delight the penitential body expressed to taste animal food once more. Christos aneste we can have flesh again. The bean diet is past, it represents a dead world, Kyrie eleeson. Many people were hurt by the fast, health was injured, spirits were depressed, it was a kind of death. But now it is over. There is to be henceforth a resurrection out of it; joy has returned, melodiously attuned to that new Parnassian key-note, Christos aneste.
But hark ! the drum, the drum, and with it the festal squeak of the caramousa; it is the music of the town marching to the place of the chorus. Best of all we can now resume the song and dance; no sooner is the appetite satisfied than the poetry breaks out. From the lanes and the houses the young people are pouring forth, and the old, too ; like bees they gather to their hive, which is the choral ground, there is the true Parnassian honey of song and festival. For many weeks there has been no chorus; great has been the deprivation; every-body longs for the stately-stepping pomp and the grace-breathing measure. Quite as much hunger for this the people show as for animal food; it is indeed a part of the grand resurrection. The stranger will follow the music, and note with fresh delight the chorus; greater zest, a new life it seems to have, bursting forth in the spring like a flower; still it is the same as we have already seen and described. Therewith we have completed the round of our journey, which has returned to the former world of festal joy and idyllic repose. With this last march to the choral place, it is manifest that our Delphic cycle has closed.
Thus the Greek peasant celebrates the sufferings and resurrection of Christ; he does so with an earnestness and intensity of adoration which sweeps the indifferent observer into a strong communion of feeling with him, both of sorrow and of joy. He, the humble, often letterless man, seeks to be crucified and resurrected anew, as if his salvation depended upon his deed; and who will dare say that his salvation does not depend upon his deed ? He is acting over again his nation's life, he is freeing himself from the death of the old Greek Gods, from the death of the old Greek world; he is re-deeming himself from Fate. Each man is passing through the trials of his race and enacting its history; which, if he do in truth, he can never fall back into that ancient fateful world of his ancestors, but comes forth fire-purified, and rises transfigured into this new life where is his home. Most profound is his instinct in this matter, one can feel; the Great Example he must appropriate, or perish; it is that which bears him out of heathendom and saves him from destiny. With such a bulwark in his soul, no external power, not even the Turk, has or can destroy him.
In this way every peasant becomes a conqueror, conqueror of the ancient world which was so long wrestling with despair because it had seen its deities perish. Imagine its condition! What is highest and most sacred in a people is blasted by a destroying breath Fate overtakes the God. There is a feeling of hopelessness, of utter misery, often giving away to demoniac frenzy, often turning to a bitter scoffing wrath against all holy things. Most melancholy of human actions is the one vouched for by Polybius, speaking of a Macedonian naval commander: wherever he anchored, he built two altars, one to Illegality, the other to Impiety ; to these he sacrificed, and he worshiped them as divinities. God was indeed dead ; the awful thought must have been burnt into the very soul of the time. It cannot endure; the supreme question with every sincere man must have been : How can such a world be reached in its despair and saved? The prayer is for the New Man, the New Example, who will conduct the race out of the old into the new life.
Into such an unhappy world the New Man descends, suffers what it suffered, undergoes what the Divine had undergone. As the old Gods died, so he dies. Thum he enters the heart of the time, makes himself one with the time. He meets Fate, and in his suffering he stands for all who were victims of Fate; truly he died for the whole world, for Greece, Judaea, even Rome, all of which nations were overwhelmed by that outlying might of Destiny; for this Greek peasant, too, threatened still by Fate, who now seeks by fasting and much ceremony to pass through the life of Christ and in this way to make it his own.
The New Man comes into the world, is the world in all its finitude and suffering. His death is the final identification of himself with his time; he elevates himself into the type of his race. This is the great action, greatest of all conceivable human actions, so great that it is divine. What mortal can so identify himself with his fellow-man that he in his suffering can become the bearer of theirs? It is still your problem and mine; every act, every word of ours we must seek to raise into a type which is no longer for us merely, but for many, yea for all, if possible. Who can make his life, or his speech that universal poem which utters the hearts of his people, and therein relieves them of destiny and fills them with hope? Yet far more than a poem is this, rather the basis of all poetry for our time; that person is the hero who endures for us and for all. He who can make him-self the bearer of men's souls is the only true Great Man; he is the man of the profoundest thought as well as of action. The mightiest fact in the World's History we must recognize to be this fact of Christ; it means that mankind have now a mediator and can escape from Fate ; through him the old is transfigured into the new. Yet not for a few, but for all, even the humblest; that is the miracle of greatness, he died for all, whether they acknowledge it or not; there is not one of us who could have gotten out of the old world we would be there now hemmed in by Fate like the antique man if we had not come through the passage opened by the Universal Man.
Though by death he identified himself with a perishing age, he did far more, in fact the supreme thing; he carried the age out of death. For what is it that dies in him? Nought but the mortal, perishable; it is the death of this finite sensible form which he assumed the death of death, the fate of fate. Christ died, but under that finite manifestation is revealed the Infinite as its very essence; even the mortal cannot be without immortality as its deep-hidden foundation. The old world, tragic, fateful, is thus led out of its despair and transfigured ; and the Divine rises up anew and asserts itself the most enduring of all things; through death is the resurrection. The hackneyed words of creed thereby become endowed with living breath, indeed with the very soul of the World's History: he arose from the dead, appeared to his friends, was transfigured and placed on the right hand of God. In fact Faith must be filled and vivified with the history of the race, if it rise above a hollow barren formalism, or be aught more than blind credulity.
The grand transformation is to make every individual a bearer of the Divine; to have him manifest the death of Fate. He beholds it all in the story of the Great Sufferer, beholds it in image ; into this image he is to transmute himself and be rescued. Such is the true imitation of Christ: unless you make yourself divine and resurrect yourself every day, you are a lost soul. The life of Christ is the History of Divine Idea; the world has gone through that process, is going through it still; you, too, must travel the same journey; it is that which can make your daily struggle the victory of living.
In such manner the Greek peasants on Parnassus have sought to impress anew the image of the great rescue upon their hearts for many days. Therewith we have made the transition out of Delphi, indeed out of the ancient world. A new joy has arisen, not the old Greek joy exactly, which was immediate, the direct outpouring of a strong sensuous nature; this present joy comes after sorrow, it is the joy of the new life attained through suffering, the joy of the triumph over Fate. This is the return to the Divine from which the world had been alienated; there is now the absolute certainty that Fate can never again imperil the race, that it is dead with the old heathen Gods.
But a new responsibility has come with the new time; Fate has indeed gone within the man, yet it is to be conquered there, where it is conquerable now; every person has to fight over again within himself that mightiest battle of the World's History, the battle against Fate ; every mortal man must fight and win, and thereby become immortal. Only in this way can he be a child of our modern time, which is itself the offspring of that ancient conflict. He must conquer his freedom from Fate himself, therein he makes himself an image of his Great Example. So says Delphi today, quite obscurely, it is true, and with strong nasal twang of the priest; still this is now the Delphic utterance.
But there is another utterance, far more distinct, far more complete, and to many of us far more congenial; it is that of the literary bibles of our modern age, speaking in words pointed with fire, melting with infinite tenderness, revealing the profoundest depths; those bibles written by Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe. They all declare the golden word of atonement, of redemption from destiny, of a rise out of the finite into the eternal. They all say in substance : Transfigure thy deed and also thy word; raise them into a typical thing which is the only truth. If thou doest, do for all, let thy deed be universal; if thou singest, sing for all, let thy joys and thy sorrows be those of thy people, of thy race, if thou canst; if thou diest, die for all, as the true follower of that one Man who died for mankind and was God.