170. The Country by the Ilissus: the Greeks and Natural Beauty.—Our companions are on horseback (a token of tolerable wealth in Athens), but the beasts amble along not too rapidly for nimble grooms to run behind, each ready to aid his respective master. Once outside the gate the regular road swings down to the south towards Phalerum; we, however, are in no great haste and desire to see as much as possible. The farms we are seeking lie well north of the city, but we can make a delightful circuit by skirting the city walls with the eastern shadow of the Acropolis behind us, and going at first northeast, along the groves and leafy avenues which line the thin stream of the Ilissus,[*] the second "river" of Athens.
[*]The Ilissus, unlike its sturdier rival, the Cephisus, ran dry during the summer heats; but there was enough water along its bed to create a dense vegetation.
Before us through the trees came tantalizing glimpses of the open country running away towards shaggy gray Hymettus. Left to itself the land would be mostly arid and seared brown by the summer sun; but everywhere the friendly work of man is visible. One can count the little green oblong patches, stretching even up the mountain side, marked with gleaming white farm buildings or sometimes with little temples and chapels sacred to the rural gods. Once or twice also we notice a plot of land which seems one tangled waste of trees and shrubbery. This is a sacred "temenos," an inviolate grove, set apart to some god; and within the fences of the compound no mortal dare set foot under pain of direful sacrilege and pollution.
Following a kind of bridle path, however, we are soon amid the groves of olive and other trees, while the horses plod their slow way beside the brook. Not a few citizens going or coming from Athens meet us, for this is really one of the parks and breathing spaces of the closely built city. The Athenians and Greeks in general live in a land of such natural beauty that they take this loveliness as a matter of course. Very seldom do their poets indulge in deliberate descriptions of "beautiful landscapes"; but none the less the fair things of nature have penetrated deeply into their souls. The constant allusions in Homer and the other masters of song to the great storm waves, the deep shades of the forest, the crystal books, the pleasant rest for wanderers under the shade trees, the plains bright with spring flowers, the ivy twining above a grave, the lamenting nightingale, the chirping cicada, tell their own story; men seldom describe at length what is become warp and woof of their inmost lives. The mere fact that the Greeks dwell CONSTANTLY in such a beautiful land, and have learned to love it so intensely, makes frequent and set descriptions thereto seem trivial.
171. Plato's Description of the Walk by the Ilissus.—Nevertheless occasionally this inborn love of the glorious outer world must find its expression, and it is of these very groves along he Ilissus that we have one of the few "nature pieces" in Athenian literature. As the plodding steeds take their way let us recall our Plato—his "Phoedrus," written probably not many years before this our visit.
Socrates is walking with Phedrus outside the walls, and urges the latter: "Let us go to the Ilissus and sit down in some quiet spot." "I am fortunate," answers Phedrus, "in not having my sandals on, and, as you never have any, we may go along the brook and cool our feet. This is the easiest way, and at midday is anything but unpleasant." He adds that they will go on to the tallest plane tree in the distance, "where are shade and gentle breezes, and grass whereon we may either sit or lie.... The little stream is delightfully clear and bright. I can fancy there might well be maidens playing near [according to the local myth of Boreas's rape of Orithyia]." And so at last they come to the place, when Socrates says: "Yes indeed, a fair and shady resting place it is, full of summer sounds and scents. There is the lofty and spreading plane tree, and the agnus castus, high and clustering in the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance, and the stream which flows beneath the plane tree is deliciously cool to the feet. Judging by the ornaments and images [set] about, this must be a spot sacred to Achelous and the Nymphs; moreover there is a sweet breeze and the grasshoppers are chirruping; and the greatest charm of all is the grass like a pillow, gently sloping to the head."[*]
[*]Jewett, translator; slightly altered.
172. The Athenian Love of Country Life.—So the two friends had sat them down to delve in delightful profundities; but following the bridle path, the little brook and its groves end for us all too soon. We are in the open country around Athens, and the fierce rays of Helios beat strongly on our heads. We are outside the city, but by no means far from human life. Farm succeeds farm, for the land around Athens has a goodly population to maintain, and there is a round price for vegetables in the Agora. Truth to tell, the average Athenian, though he pretends to love the market, the Pnyx, the Dicasteries, and the Gymnasia, has a shrewd hankering for the soil, and does not care to spend more time in Athens then necessary. Aristophanes is full of the contrasts between "country life" and "city life" and almost always with the advantage given the former. Says his Strepsiades (in "The Clouds"), "A country life for me—dirty, untrimmed, lolling around at ease, and just abounding in bees and sheep and oil cake." His Diceepolis ("Acharnians") voices clearly the independence of the farmer: "How I long for peace.[*] I'm disgusted with the city; and yearn for my own farm which never bawled out [as in the markets] 'buy my coals' or 'buy my vinegar' or 'oil,' or KNEW the word 'buy,' but just of itself produced everything." And his Trygeus (in "The Peace") states the case better yet: "Ah! how eager I am to get back into the fields, and break up my little farm with the mattock again...[for I remember] what kind of a life we had there; and those cakes of dried fruits, and the figs, and the myrtles, and the sweet new wine, and the violet bed next to the well, and the olives we so long for!"
[*]I.e. the end of the Peloponnesian War, which compelled the farming population to remove inside the walls.
There is another reason why the Athenians rejoice in the country. The dusty streets are at best a poor playground for the children, the inner court of the house is only a respectable prison for the wife. In the country the lads can enjoy themselves; the wife and the daughters can roam about freely with delightful absence of convention. There will be no happier day in the year than when the master says, "Let us set out for the farm."
173. Some Features of the Attic Country.—Postponing our examination of Athenian farmsteads and farming methods until we reach some friendly estate, various things strike us as we go along the road. One is the skilful system of irrigation,—the numerous watercourses drawn especially from the Cephisus, whereby the agriculturists make use of every possible scrap of moisture for the fields, groves, and vineyards. Another is the occasional olive tree we see standing, gnarled and venerable, but carefully fenced about; or even (not infrequently) we see fences only with but a dead and utterly worthless stump within. Do not speak lightly of these "stumps," however. They are none the less "moriai"—sacred olive trees of Athena, and carefully tended by public wardens.[*] Contractors are allowed to take the fruit of the olive trees under carefully regulated conditions; but no one is allowed to remove the stumps, much less hew down a living tree. An offender is tried for "impiety" before the high court of the Areopagus, and his fate is pretty surely death, for the country people, at least, regard their sacred trees with a fanatical devotion which it would take long to explain to a stranger.
[*]Athenians loved to dwell on the "divine gift" of the olive. Thus Euripides sang ("Troades," 799):—
In Salamis, filled with the foaming Of billows and murmur of bees, Old Telamon stayed from his roaming Long ago, on a throne of the seas, Looking out on the hills olive laden, Enchanted, where first from the earth The gray-gleaming fruit of the Maiden Athena had birth.
The hero Telamon was reputed an uncle of Achilles and one of the early kings of Salami.
Also upon the way one is pretty sure to meet a wandering beggar—a shrewd-eyed, bewhiskered fellow. He carries, not a barrel organ and monkey, but a blinking tame crow perched on his shoulder, and at every farmstead he halts to whine his nasal ditty and ask his dole.
Good people, a handful of barley bestow On the child of Apollo, the sleek sable crow; Or a trifle of whet, O kind friends, give;— Or a wee loaf of bread that the crow may live.
It is counted good luck by the housewife to have a chance to feed a "holy crow," and the owner's pickings are goodly. By the time we have left the beggar behind us we are at the farm whither our excursion has been tending.
174. An Attic Farmstead.—We are to inspect the landed estate of Hybrias, the son of Xanthippus. It lies north of Athens on the slopes of Anchesmus, one of the lesser hills which roll away toward the marble-crowned summits of Pentelicus. Part of the farm lands lie on the level ground watered by the irrigation ditches; part upon the hillsides, and here the slopes have been terraced in a most skilful fashion in order to make the most of every possible inch of ground, and also to prevent any of the precious soil from being washed down by the torrents of February and March. The owner is a wealthy man, and has an extensive establishment; the farm buildings—once whitewashed, but now for the most part somewhat dirty—wander away over a large area. There are wide courts, deep in manure, surrounded by barns; there are sties, haymows, carefully closed granaries, an olive press, a grain mill, all kinds of stables and folds, likewise a huge irregularly shaped house wherein are lodged the numerous slaves and the hired help. The general design of this house is the same as of a city house—the rooms opening upon an inner court, but naturally its dimensions are ampler, with the ampler land space.
Just now the courtyard is a noisy and animated sight. The master has this moment ridden in, upon one of his periodic visits from Athens; the farm overseer has run out to meet him and report, and half a dozen long, lean hunting dogs—Darter, Roarer, Tracker, Active, and more[*]—are dancing and yelping, in the hope that their owner will order a hare hunt. The overseer is pouring forth his usual burden of woe about the inefficient help and the lack of rain, and Hybrias is complaining of the small spring crop—"Zeus send us something better this summer!" While these worthies are adjusting their troubles we may look around the farm.
[*]For an exhaustive list of names for Greek dogs, see Xenophon's curious "Essay on Hunting," ch. VII, section 5.
175. Plowing, Reaping, and Threshing.—Thrice a year the Athenian farmer plows, unless he wisely determines to let his field lie fallow for the nonce; and the summer plowing on hybrias's estate is now in progress. Up and down a wide field the ox team is going.[*] The plow is an extremely primitive affair—mainly of wood, although over the sharpened point which forms the plowshare a plate of iron has been fitted. Such a plow requires very skilful handling to cut a good furrow, and the driver of the team has no sinecure.
[*]Mules were sometimes used for drawing the plow, but horses, it would seem, never.
In a field near by, the hinds are reaping a crop of wheat which was late in ripening.[*] The workers are bending with semicircular sickles over their hot task; yet they form a merry, noisy crowd, full of homely "harvest songs," nominally in honor of Demeter, the Earth Mother, but ranging upon every conceivable rustic topic. Some laborers are cutting the grain, others, walking behind, are binding into sheaves and piling into clumsy ox wains. Here and there a sheaf is standing, and we are told that this is left "for luck," as an offering to the rural Field Spirit; for your farm hand is full of superstitions. Also amid the workers a youth is passing with a goodly jar of cheap wine, to which the harvesters make free to run from time to time for refreshment.
Close by the field is the threshing floor. More laborers—not a few bustling country lasses among them—are spreading out the sheaves with wooden forks, a little at a time, in thin layers over this circular space, which is paved with little cobblestones. More oxen and a patient mule are being driven over it—around and around—until every kernel is trodden out by their hoofs. Later will come the tossing and the winnowing; and, when the grain has been thoroughly cleaned, it will be stored in great earthen jars for the purpose of sale or against the winter.
176. Grinding at the Mill.—Nearer the farmhouses there rises a dull grinding noise. It is the mill preparing the flour for the daily baking, for seldom—at least in the country—will a Greek grind flour long in advance of the time of use. There the round upper millstone is being revolved upon an iron pivot against its lower mate and turned by a long wooden handle. Two nearly naked slave boys are turning this wearily—far pleasanter they consider the work of the harvesters, and very likely this task is set them as a punishment. As the mill revolves a slave girl pours the grain into a hole in the center of the upper millstone. As the hot, slow work goes on, the two toilers chant together a snatch from an old mill song, and we catch the monotonous strain:—
Grind, mill, grind, For Pittacus did grind— Who was king over great Mytilene.
It will be a long time before there is enough flour for the day. The slaves can at least rejoice that they live on a large farm. If Hybrias owned a smaller estate, they would probably be pounding up the grain with mortar and pestle—more weary yet.
177. The Olive Orchards.—We, at least, can leave them to their work, and escape to the shade of the orchards and the vineyards. Like every Athenian farmer, Hybrias has an olive orchard. The olives are sturdy trees. They will grow in any tolerable soil and thrive upon the mountain slopes up to as far as 1800 feet above sea level. They are not large trees, and their trunks are often grotesquely gnarled, but there is always a certain fascination about the wonderful shimmer of their leaves, which flash from gray to silver-white in a sunny wind. Hybrias has wisely planted his olives at wide intervals, and in the space between the ground has been plowed up for grain. Olives need little care. Their harvest comes late in the autumn, after all the other crops are out of the way. They are among the most profitable products of the farm, and the owner will not mind the poor wheat harvest "if only the olives do well."[*]
[*]The great drawback to olive culture was the great length of time required to mature the trees—sixteen years. The destruction of the trees, e.g. in war by a ravaging invader, was an infinitely greater calamity than the burning of the standing grain or even of the farmhouses. Probably it was the ruin of their olive trees which the Athenians mourned most during the ravaging of Attica in the Peloponnesian War.
178. The Vineyards.—The fig orchard forms another great part of the farm, but more interesting to strangers are the vineyards. Some of the grapes are growing over pointed stakes set all along the upland terraces; a portion of the vineyards, however, is on level ground. Here a most picturesque method has been used for training the vines. Tall and graceful trees have been set out—elm, maple, oak, poplar. The lower limbs of the trees have been cut away and up their trunks and around their upper branches now swing the vines in magnificent festoons. The growing vines have sprung from tree to tree. The warm breeze has set the rich clusters—already turning purple or golden—swaying above our heads. The air is filled with brightness, greenery, and fragrance. The effect of this "vineyard grove" is magical.
179. Cattle, Sheep, and Goats.—There is also room in the orchards for apples, pears, and quinces, but there is nothing distinctive about their culture. If we are interested in cattle, however, we can spend a long time at the barns, or be guided out to the upland pasture where Hybrias's flocks and herds are grazing. Horses are a luxury. They are almost never used in farm work, and for riding and cavalry service it is best to import a good courser from Thessaly; no attempt, therefore, is made to breed them here. But despite the small demand for beef and butter a good many cattle are raised; for oxen are needed for the plowing and carting, oxhides have a steady sale, and there is a regular call for beehives for the hecatombs at the great public sacrifices. Sheep are in greater acceptance. Their wool is of large importance to a land which knows comparatively little of cotton. They can live on scanty pasturage where an ox would starve. Still more in favor are goats Their coarse hair has a thousand uses. Their flesh and cheese are among the most staple articles in the Agora. Sure-footed and adventurous, they scale the side of the most unpromising crags in search of herbage and can sometimes be seen perching, almost like birds, in what seem utterly inaccessible eyries. Thanks to them the barren highlands of Attica are turned to good account,—and between goat raising and bee culture an income can sometimes be extracted from the very summits of the mountains. As for the numerous swine, it is enough to say that they range under Hybrias's oak forest and fatten on acorns, although their swineherd, wrapped in a filthy sheepskin, is a far more loutish and ignoble fellow than the "divine Eumeus" glorified in the "Odyssey."
180. The Gardens and the Shrine.—Did we wish to linger, we could be shown the barnyard with its noisy retinue of hens, pheasants, guinea fowl, and pigeons; and we would be asked to admire the geese, cooped up and being gorged for fattening, or the stately peacocks preening their splendors. We would also hear sage disquisitions from the "oldest inhabitants" on the merits of fertilizers, especially on the uses of mixing seaweed with manure, also we would be told of the almost equally important process of burying a toad in a sealed jar in the midst of a field to save the corn from the crows and the field mice. Hybrias laughs at such superstitions—"but what can you say to the rustics?" Hybrias himself will display with more refined pride the gardens used by his wife and children when they come out from Athens,—a fountain feeding a delightful rivulet; myrtles, roses, and pomegranate trees shedding their perfumes, which are mingled with the odors from the beds of hyacinths, violets, and asphodel. In the center of the gardens rises a chaste little shrine with a marble image and an altar, always covered with flowers or fruit by the mistress and her women. "To Artemis," reads the inscription, and one is sure that the virgin goddess takes more pleasure in this fragrant temple than in many loftier fanes.[*]
[*]For the description of a very beautiful and elaborate country estate, with a temple thereon to Artemis, see Xenophon's "Anabasis," bk. V. 3.
We are glad to add here our wreaths ere turning away from this wholesome, verdant country seat, and again taking our road to Athens.
Chapter XX. The Temples and Gods of Athens.
181. Certain Factors in Athenian Religion.—We have seen the Athenians in their business and in their pleasure, at their courts, their assemblies, their military musters, and on their peaceful farms; yet one great side of Athenian life has been almost ignored—the religious side. A "Day in Athens" spent without taking account of the gods of the city and their temples would be a day spent with almost half-closed eyes.[*]
[*]No attempt is made in this discussion to enumerate the various gods and demigods of the conventional mythology, their regular attributes, etc. It is assumed the average history or manual of mythology gives sufficient information.
It is far easier to learn how the Athenians arrange their houses than how the average man among them adjusts his attitude toward the gods. While any searching examination of the fundamentals of Greek cultus and religion is here impossible, two or three facts must, nevertheless, be kept in mind, if we are to understand even the OUTWARD side of this Greek religion which is everywhere in evidence about us.
First of all we observe that the Greek religion is a religion of purely natural growth. No prophet has initiated it, or claimed a new revelation to supplement the older views. It has come from primitive times without a visible break even down to the Athens of Plato. This explains at once why so many time-honored stories of the Olympic deities are very gross, and why the gods seem to give countenance to moral views which the best public opinion has long since called scandalous and criminal. The religion of Athens, in other words, may justly claim to be judged by its best, not by its worst; by the morality of Socrates, not of Homer.
Secondly, this religion is not a church, nor a belief, but is part of the government. Every Athenian is born into accepting the fact that Athena Polias is the divine warder of the city, as much as he is born into accepting the fact that it is his duty to obey the strategi in battle. To repudiate the gods of Athens, e.g. in favor of those of Egypt, is as much iniquity as to join forces against the Athenians if they are at war with Egypt;—the thing is sheer treason, and almost unthinkable. For countless generations the Athenians have worshipped the "Ancestral Gods." They are proud of them, familiar with them; the gods have participated in all the prosperity of the city. Athena is as much a part of Attica as gray Hymettus or white-crowned Pentelicus; and the very fact that comedians, like Aristophanes, make good-natured fun of the divinities indicates that "they are members of the family."
Thirdly, notice that this religion is one mainly of outward reverence and ceremony. There is no "Athenian church"; nobody has drawn up an "Attic creed"—"I believe in Athena, the City Warder, and in Demeter, the Earth Mother, and in Zeus, the King of Heaven, etc." Give outward reverence, participate in the great public sacrifices, be careful in all the minutie of private worship, refrain from obvious blasphemies—you are then a sufficiently pious man. What you BELIEVE is of very little consequence. Even if you privately believe there are no gods at all, it harms no one, provided your outward conduct is pious and moral.
182. What constitutes "Piety" in Athens.—Of course there have been some famous prosecutions for "impiety." Socrates was the most conspicuous victim; but Socrates was a notable worshipper of the gods, and certainly all the charges of his being an "atheist" broke down. What he was actually attacked with was "corrupting the youth of Athens," i.e. giving the young men such warped ideas of their private and public duties that they ceased to be moral and useful citizens. But even Socrates was convicted only with difficulty[*]; a generation has passed since his death. Were he on trial at present, a majority of the jury would probably be with him.
[*]It might be added that if Socrates had adopted a really worldly wise line of defense, he would probably have been acquitted, or subjected merely to a mild pecuniary penalty.
The religion of Athens is something very elastic, and really every man makes his own creed for himself, or—for paganism is almost never dogmatic—accepts the outward cultus with everybody else, and speculates at his leisure on the nature of the deity. The great bulk of the uneducated are naturally content to accept the old stories and superstitions with unthinking credulity. It is enough to know that one must pray to Zeus for rain, and to Hermes for luck in a slippery business bargain. There are a few philosophers who, along with perfectly correct outward observance, teach privately that the old Olympian system is a snare and folly. They pass around the daring word which Xenophanes uttered as early as the sixth century B.C.:—
One God there is, greatest of gods and mortals, Not like to man is he in mind or in body. All of him sees, all of him thinks, and all of him harkens.
This, of course, is obvious pantheism, but it is easy to cover up all kinds of pale monotheism or pantheism under vague reference to the omnipotence of "Zeus."
183. The Average Athenian's Idea of the Gods.—The average intelligent citizen probably has views midway between the stupid rabble and the daring philosophers. To him the gods of Greece stand out in full divinity, honored and worshipped because they are protectors of the good, avengers of the evil, and guardians of the moral law. They punish crime and reward virtue, though the punishment may tarry long. They demand a pure heart and a holy mind of all that approach them, and woe to him who wantonly defies their eternal laws. This is the morality taught by the master tragedians, Aeschylus and Sophocles, and accepted by the best public opinion at Athens; for the insidious doubts cast by Euripides upon the reality of any divine scheme of governance have never struck home. The scandalous stories about the domestic broils on Olympus, in which Homer indulges, only awaken good-natured banter. It is no longer proper—as in Homeric days—to pride oneself on one's cleverness in perjury and common falsehood. Athenians do not have twentieth century notions about the wickedness of lying, but certain it is the gods do not approve thereof. In short, most of the better class of Athenians are genuinely "religious"; nevertheless they have too many things in this human world to interest them to spend overmuch time in adjusting their personal concepts of the deity to any system of theology.
184. Most Greeks without belief in Immortality.—Yet one thing we must add. This Greek religious morality is built up without any clear belief in a future life. Never has the average Hellene been able to form a satisfactory conception of the soul's existence, save dwelling within a mortal body and under the glorious light of beloved Helios. To Homer the after life in Hades was merely the perpetuation of the shadows of departed humanity, "strengthless shades" who live on the gloomy plains of asphodel, feeding upon dear memories, and incapable of keen emotions or any real mental or physical progress or action. Only a few great sinners like Tantalus, doomed to eternal torture, or favored being like Menelaus, predestined to the "Blessed Isles," are ordained to any real immortality. As the centuries advanced, and the possibilities of this terrestrial world grew ever keener, the hope of any future state became ever more vague. The fear of a gloomy shadow life in Hades for the most part disappeared, but that was only to confirm the belief that death ends all things.
Where'er his course man tends, Inevitable death impends, And for the worst and for the best, Is strewn the same dark couch of rest.[*]
So run the lines of a poet whose name is forgotten, but who spoke well the thought of his countrymen.
True there has been a contradiction of this gloomy theory. The "Orphic Mysteries," those secret religious rites which have gained such a hold in many parts of Greece, including Athens, probably hold out an earnest promise to the "initiates" of a blessed state for them hereafter. The doctrine of a real elysium for the good and a realm of torment for the evil has been expounded by many sages. Pindar, the great bard of Thebes, has set forth the doctrine in a glowing ode.[*] Socrates, if we may trust the report Plato gives of him, has spent his last hours ere drinking the hemlock, in adducing cogent, philosophic reasons for the immortality of the soul. All this is true,—and it is also true that these ideas have made no impression upon the general Greek consciousness. They are accepted half-heartedly by a relatively few exceptional thinkers. Men go through life and face death with no real expectation of future reward or punishment, or of reunion with the dear departed. If the gods are angry, you escape them at the grave; if the gods are friendly, all they can give is wealth, health, honor, a hale old age, and prosperity for your children. The instant after death the righteous man and the robber are equal. This fundamental deduction from the Greek religion must usually, therefore, be made—it is a religion for THIS WORLD ONLY. Let us see what are its usual outward operations.
[*]Quoted in "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 261-262, and in many works in Greek literature.
185. The Multitude of Images of the Gods.—Gods are everywhere in Athens. You cannot take the briefest walk without being reminded that the world is full of deities. There is a "Herm"[*] by the main door of every house, as well as a row of them across the Agora. At many of the street crossings there are little shrines to Hecate; or statues of Apollo Agyieus, the street guardian; or else a bay tree stands there, a graceful reminder of this same god, to which it is sacred. In every house there is the small alter whereon garlands and fruit offerings are daily laid to Zeus Herkeios, and another altar to Hestia. On one or both of these altars a little food and a little wine are cast at every meal. All public meetings or court sessions open with sacrifice; in short, to attempt any semi-important public or private act without inviting the friendly attention of the deity is unthinkable. To a well-bred Athenian this is second instinct; he considers it as inevitable as the common courtesies of speech among gentlemen. Plato sums up the current opinion well, "All men who have any decency, in the attempting of matters great or small, always invoke divine aid."[+]
[*]A stone post about shoulder high, surmounted by a bearded head. Contrary to modern impression, the average Greek did not conceive of Hermes as a beautiful youth. He was a grave, bearded man. The youthful aspect came through the manipulation of the Hermes myths by the master sculptors—e.g. Praxiteles.
[+]Timeus, p. 27 c.
186. Greek Superstition.—In many cases, naturally, piety runs off into crass superstition. The gods, everybody knows, frequently make known future events by various signs. He who can understand these signs will be able to adjust his life accordingly and enjoy great prosperity. Most educated men take a sensible view of "omens," and do not let them influence their conduct absurdly. Some, however, act otherwise. There is, for instance, Laches, one of the greatest at Prodicus's feast. He lives in a realm of mingled hopes and fears, although he is wealthy and well-educated.[*] He is all the time worried about dreams, and paying out money to the sharp and wily "seer" (who counts him his best client) for "interpretations." If a weasel crosses his path he will not walk onward until somebody else has gone before him, or until he has thrown three stones across the road. He is all the time worrying about the significance of sudden noises, meteors, thunder; especially he is disturbed when he sees birds flying in groups or towards unlucky quarters of the heavens.[+] Laches, however, is not merely religious—although he is always asking "which god shall I invoke now?" or "what are the omens for the success of this enterprise?" His own associates mock him as being superstitious, and say they never trouble themselves about omens save in real emergencies. Still it is "bad luck" for any of them to stumble over a threshold, to meet a hare suddenly, or especially to find a snake (the companion of the dead) hidden in the house.
[*]See Theophratus's character, "The Superstitious Man."
[+]The birds of clearest omen were the great birds of prey—hawks, "Apollo's swift messengers," and eagles, "the birds of Zeus." It was a good omen if the birds flew from left to right, a bad omen if in the reverse direction.
187. Consulting Omens.—Laches's friends, however, all regularly consult the omens when they have any important enterprise on hand—a voyage, a large business venture, a marriage treaty, etc. There are several ways, not expensive; the interpreters are not priests, only low-born fellows as a rule, whose fees are trifling. You can find out about the future by casting meal upon the altar fire and noticing how it is burned, by watching how chickens pick up consecrated grain,[*] by observing how the sacrificial smoke curls upward, etc. The best way, however, is to examine the entrails of the victim after a sacrifice. Here everything depends on the shape, size, etc., of the various organs, especially of the liver, bladder, spleen, and lungs, and really expert judgment by an experienced and high-priced seer is desirable. The man who is assured by a reliable seer, "the livers are large and in fine color," will go on his trading voyage with a confident heart.
[*]A very convenient way,—for it was a good sign if the chickens ate eagerly and one could always get a fair omen by keeping the fowls hungry a few hours ere "putting the question"!
188. The Great Oracles.—Assuredly there is a better way still to read the future; at least so Greeks of earlier ages have believed. Go to one of the great oracles, whereof that of Apollo at Delphi is the supreme, but not the unique, example. Ask your question in set form from the attendant priests, not failing to offer an elaborate sacrifice and to bestow all the "gifts" (golden tripods, mixing bowls, shields, etc.) your means will allow. Then (at Delphi) wait silent and awe-stricken while the lady Pythia, habited as a young girl, takes her seat on a tripod over a deep cleft in the rock, whence issues an intoxicating vapor. She inhales the gas, sways to and fro in an ecstasy, and now, duly "inspired," answers in a somewhat wild manner the queries which the priest will put in behalf of the supplicants. Her incoherent words are very hard to understand, but the priest duly "interprets" them, i.e. gives them to the suppliant in the form of hexameter verses. Sometimes the meaning of these verses is perfectly clear. Very often they are truly "Delphic," with a most dubious meaning—as in that oft-quoted instance, when the Pythia told Croesus if he went to war with Cyrus, "he would destroy a mighty monarchy," and lo, he destroyed his own!
Besides Delphi, there are numerous lesser oracles, each with its distinctive method of "revelation." But there is none, at least of consequence, within Attica, while a journey to Delphi is a serious and highly expensive undertaking. And as a matter of fact Delphi has partially lost credit in Athens. In the great Persian War Delphi unpatriotically "medized"—gave oracles friendly to Xerxes and utterly discouraging to the patriot cause. Then after this conviction of false prophesy, the oracle fell, for most of the time, into the hands of Sparta, and was obviously very willing to "reveal" things only in the Lacedemonian interest. Hellenes generally and the Spartans in particular have still much esteem for the utterances of the Pythia, but Athenians are not now very partial to her. Soon will come the seizure of Delphi by the Phoenicians and the still further discrediting of this once great oracle.
189. Greek Sacrifices.—The two chief elements of Greek worship, however, are not consideration of the future, but sacrificial and prayer. Sacrifices in their simple form, as we have seen, take place continually, before every routine act. They become more formal when the proposed action is really important, or when the suppliant wishes to give thanks for some boon, or, at rarer intervals, to desire purification from some offense. There is no need of a priest for the simpler sacrifices. The father of the family can pour out the libation, can burn the food upon the altar, can utter the prayer for all his house; but in the greater sacrifices a priest is desirable, not as a sacred intermediary betwixt god and man, but as an expert to advise the worshipper what are the competent rites, and to keep him from ignorantly angering heaven by unhappy words and actions.[*]
[*]There were almost no hereditary priesthoods in Attica (outside the Emolpide connected with the mystical cult of Eleusis). Almost anybody of good character could qualify as a priest with due training, and there was little of the sacrosanct about the usual priestly office.
Let us witness a sacrifice of this more formal kind, and while doing so we can tread upon the spot we have seemed in a manner to shun during our wanderings through Athens, the famous and holy Acropolis.
190. The Route to the Acropolis.—Phormion, son of Cresphontes, has been to Arcadia, and won the pentathlon in some athletic contests held at Mantinea. Although not equal to a triumph in the "four great Panhellenic contests," it was a most notable victory. Before setting out he vowed a sheep to Athena the Virgin if he conquered. The goddess was kind, and Phormion is very grateful. While the multitudes are streaming out to the Gymnasia, the young athlete, brawny and handsome, surrounded by an admiring coterie of friends and kinsmen, sets out for the Acropolis.
Phormion's home is in the "Ceramicus," the so-called "potters' quarter." His walk takes him a little to the west of the Agora, and close to the elegant temple of Hephestos,[*] but past this and many other fanes he hastens. It was not the fire god which gave him fair glory at Mantinea. He goes onward until he is forced to make a detour to the left, at the craggy, rough hill of Areopagus which rises before him. Here, if time did not press, he might have tarried to pay respectful reverence before a deep fissure cleft in the side of the rock. In front of this fissure stands a little altar. All Phormion's company look away as they pass the spot, and they mutter together "Be propitious, O Eumenides!" (literally, Well-minded Ones). For like true Greeks they delight to call foul things with fair and propitious names; and that awful fissure and altar are sacred to the Erinyes (Furies), the horrible maidens, the trackers of guilt, the avengers of murder; and above their cave, on these rude rocks, sits the august court of the Aeropagus when it meets as a "tribunal of blood" to try cases of homicide.
[*]This temple, now called the "Theseum," is the only well preserved ancient temple in modern Athens.
Phormion's party quicken their steps and quit this spot of ill omen. Then their sight is gladdened. The whole glorious Acropolis stands out before them.
191. The Acropolis of Athens.—Almost every Greek city has its own formidable citadel, its own "acropolis,"—for "citadel" is really all this word conveys. Corinth boasts of its "Acro-Corinthus," Thebes of its "Cadmeia,"—but THE Acropolis is in Athens. The later world will care little for any other, and the later world will be right. The Athenian stronghold has long ceased to be a fortress, though still it rises steep and strong. It is now one vast temple compound, covered with magnificent buildings. Whether considered as merely a natural rock commanding a marvelous view, or as a consecrated museum of sculpture and architecture, it deserves its immortality. We raise our eyes to THE ROCK as we approach it.
The Acropolis dominates the plain of Athens. All the city seems to adjust itself to the base of its holy citadel. It lifts itself as tawny limestone rock rising about 190 feet above the adjacent level of the town.[*] In form it is an irregular oval with its axis west and east. It is about 950 feet long and 450 feet at its greatest breadth. On every side but the west the precipice falls away sheer and defiant, rendering a feeble garrison able to battle with myriads.[+] To the westward, however, the gradual slope makes a natural pathway always possible, and human art has long since shaped this with convenient steps. Nestling in against the precipice are various sanctuaries and caves; e.g. on the northwestern side, high up on the slope beneath the precipice, open the uncanny grottoes of Apollo and of Pan. On the southern side, close under the very shadow of the citadel, is the temple of Asclepius, and, more to the southeast, the great open theater of Dionysus has been scooped out of the rock, a place fit to contain an audience of some 15,000.[&]
[*]It is nearly 510 feet above the level of the sea.
[+]Recall the defense which the Acropolis was able to make against Xerxes's horde, when the garrison was small and probably ill organized, and had only a wooden barricade to eke out the natural defenses.
[&]The stone seats of this theater do not seem to have been built till about 340 B.C. Up to that time the surface of the ground sloping back to the Acropolis seems simply to have been smoothed off, and probably covered with temporary wooden seats on the days of the great dramatic festivals.
So much for the bare "bones" of the Acropolis; but now under the dazzling sunshine how it glitters with indescribable splendor! Before us as we ascend a whole succession of buildings seem lifting themselves, not singly, not in hopeless confusion, but grouped admirably together by a kind of wizardry, so that the harmony is perfect,—each visible, brilliant column and pinnacle, not merely flashing its own beauty, but suggesting another greater beauty just behind.
192. The Use of Color upon Athenian Architecture and Sculptures.—While we look upward at this group of temples and their wealth of sculptures, let us state now something we have noticed during all our walks around Athens, but have hitherto left without comment. Every temple and statue in Athens is not left in its bare white marble, as later ages will conceive is demanded by "Greek Architecture" and statuary, but is decked in brilliant color—"painted," if you will use an almost unfriendly word. The columns and gables and ceilings of the buildings are all painted. Blue, red, green, and gold blaze on all the members and ornaments. The backgrounds of the pediments, metopes, and frieze are tinted some uniform color on which the sculptured figures in relief stand out clearly. The figures themselves are tinted or painted, at least on the hair, lips, and eyes. Flesh-colored warriors are fighting upon a bright red background. The armor and horse trappings on the sculptures are in actual bronze. The result is an effect indescribably vivid. Blues and reds predominate: the flush of light and color from the still more brilliant heavens above adds to the effect. Shall we call it garish? We have learned to know the taste of Athenians too well to doubt their judgment in matters of pure beauty. And they are right. UNDER AN ATHENIAN SKY temples and statues demand a wealth of color which in a somber clime would seem intolerable. The brilliant lines of the Acropolis buildings are the just answer of the Athenian to the brilliancy of Helios.
193. The Chief Buildings on the Acropolis.—And now to ascend the Acropolis. We leave the discussion of the details of the temples and the sculpture to the architects and archeologists. The whole plateau of the Rock is covered with religious buildings, altars, and statues. We pass through the Propylea, the worthy rival of the Parthenon behind, a magnificent portal, with six splendid Doric columns facing us; and as we go through them, to right and to left open out equally magnificent columned porticoes.[*] As we emerge from the Propylea the whole vision of the sacred plateau bursts upon us simultaneously. We can notice only the most important of the buildings. At the southwestern point of the Acropolis on the angle of rock which juts out beyond the Propylea is the graceful little temple of the "Wingless Victory," built in the Ionic style. The view commanded by its bastion will become famous throughout the world. Behind this, nearer the southern side, stands the less important temple of Artemis Brauronia. Nearer the center and directly before the entrance rises a colossal brazen statue—"monstrous," many might call its twenty-six feet of height, save that a master among masters has cast the spell of his genius over it. This is the famous Athena Promachos,[+] wrought by Phidias out of the spoils of Marathon. The warrior goddess stands in full armor and rests upon her mighty lance. The gilded lance tip gleams so dazzlingly we may well believe the tale that sailors use it for a first landmark as they sail up the coast from Cape Sunium.
[*]That to the north was the larger and contained a kind of picture gallery.
[+]Athena Foremost in Battle.
Looking again upon the complex of buildings we single out another on the northern side: an irregularly shaped temple, or rather several temples joined together, the Erechtheum, wherein is the sanctuary of Athena Polias (the revered "City Warden"), the ancient wooden statue, grotesque, beloved, most sacred of all the holy images in Athens. And here on the southern side of this building is the famous Caryatid porch; the "Porch of the Maidens," which will be admired as long as Athens has a name. But our eyes refuse to linger long on any of these things. Behind the statue of the Promachos, a little to the southern side of the plateau, stands the Parthenon—the queen jewel upon the crown of Athens.
194. The Parthenon.—Let others analyze its sculptures and explain the technical reasons why Ictinus and Callicrates, the architects, and Phidias, the sculptor, created here the supreme masterpiece for the artistic world. We can state only the superficialities. It is a noble building by mere size; 228 feet measure its side, 101 feet its front. Forty-six majestic Doric columns surround it; they average thirty-four feet in height, and six feet three inches at the base. All these facts, however, do not give the soul of the Parthenon. Walk around it slowly, tenderly, lovingly. Study the elaborate stories told by the pediments,—on the east front the birth of Athena, on the west the strife of Athena and Poseidon for the possession of Athens. Trace down the innumerable lesser sculptures on the "metopes" under the cornice,—showing the battles of the Giants, Centaurs, Amazons, and of the Greeks before Troy; finally follow around, on the whole inner circuit of the body of the temple, the frieze,[*] showing in bas-relief the Panathenaic procession, with the beauty, nobility, and youth of Athens marching in glad festival; comprehend that these sculptures will never be surpassed in the twenty-four succeeding centuries; that here are supreme examples for the artists of all time,—and THEN, in the face of this final creation, we can realize that the Parthenon will justify its claim to immortality.
[*]This, of course, is on the outside wall of the "cells," but inside the surrounding colonnade.
One thing more. There are hardly any straight lines in the Parthenon. To the eye, the members and the steps of the substructure may seem perfectly level; but the measuring rod betrays marvelously subtle curves. As nature abhors right angles in her creations of beauty, so have these Greeks. Rigidity, unnaturalness, have been banished. The Parthenon stands, not merely embellished with inimitable sculptures, but perfectly adjusted to the natural world surrounding.[*]
[*]It was an inability to discover and execute these concealed curves which give certain of the modern imitations of the Parthenon their unpleasant impressions of harness and rigidity.
We have seen only the exterior of the Parthenon. We must wait now ere visiting the interior, for Phormion is beginning his sacrifice.
195. A Sacrifice on the Acropolis.—Across the sacred plateau advances the little party. As it goes under the Propylea a couple of idle temple watchers[*] give its members a friendly nod. The Acropolis rock itself seems deserted, save for a few worshippers and a party of admiring Achean visitors who are being shown the glories of the Parthenon.[+] There seems to be a perfect labyrinth of statues of gods, heroes, and departed worthies, and almost as many altars, great and small, placed in every direction. Phormion leads his friends onward till they come near to the wide stone platform somewhat in the rear of the Parthenon. Here is the "great altar" of Athena, whereon the "hecatombs" will be sacrificed, even a hundred oxen or more,[&] at some of the major public festivals; and close beside it stands also a small and simple altar sacred to Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin. Suitable attendants have been in readiness since dawn waiting for worshippers. One of Phormion's party leads behind him a bleating white lamb "without blemish."[$] It is a short matter now to bring the firewood and the other necessaries. The sacrifice takes place without delay.
[*]The most important function of these watchers seems to have been to prevent dogs from entering the Acropolis. Probably they were inefficient old men favored with sinecure offices.
[+]The Acropolis seems to have become a great "show place" for visitors to Athens soon after the completion of the famous temples.
[&]We know by an inscription of 169 oxen being needed for a single Athenian festival.
[$]This was a very proper creature to sacrifice to a great Olympian deity like Athena. Goats were not suitable for her, although desirable for most of the other gods. It was unlawful to sacrifice swine to Aphrodite. When propitiating the gods of the underworld,—Hades, Persephone, etc.,—a BLACK victim was in order. Poor people could sacrifice doves, cocks, and other birds.
First a busy "temple sweeper" goes over the ground around the altar with a broom; then the regular priest, a dignified gray-headed man with a long ungirt purple chiton, and a heavy olive garland, comes forward bearing a basin of holy water. This basin is duly passed to the whole company as it stands in a ring, and each in turn dips his hand and sprinkles his face and clothes with the lustral water. Meantime the attendant has placed another wreath around the head of the lamb. The priest raises his hand.
"Let there be silence," he commands (lest any unlucky word be spoken); and in a stillness broken only by the auspicious twittering of the sparrows amid the Parthenon gables, he takes barley corns from a basket, an sprinkles them on the altar and over the lamb. With his sacred knife he cuts a lock of hair from the victims head and casts it on the fire. Promptly now the helper comes forward to complete the sacrifice. Phormion and his friends are a little anxious. Will the lamb take fright, hang back, and have to be dragged to its unwilling death? The clever attendant has cared for that. A sweet truss of dried clover is lying just under the altar. The lamb starts forward, bleating joyously. As it bows its head[*] as if consenting to its fate the priest stabs it dexterously in the neck with his keen blade. The helper claps a bowl under the neck to catch the spurting blood. A flute player in readiness, but hitherto silent, suddenly strikes up a keen blast to drown the dying moans of the animal. Hardly has the lamb ceased to struggle before the priest and the helper have begun to cut it up then and there. Certain bits of the fat and small pieces from each limb are laid upon the altar, and promptly consumed. These are the goddess's peculiar portion, and the credulous at least believe that she, though unseen, is present to eat thereof; certainly the sniff of the burning meat is grateful to her divine nostrils. The priest and the helpers are busy taking off the hide and securing the best joint—these are their "fees" for professional services. All the rest will be duly gathered up by Phormion's body servant and borne home,—for Phormion will give a fine feast on "sacred mutton" that night.[+]
[*]If a larger animal—an ox—failed to bow its head auspiciously, the omen could be rectified by suddenly splashing a little water in the ears.
[+]As already suggested (section 159) a sacrifice (public, or, if on a large scale, private) was about the only occasion on which Athenians tasted beef, pork, or mutton.
Meantime, while the goddess's portion burns, Phormion approaches the altar, bearing a shallow cup of unmixed wine, and flings it upon the flame.
"Be propitious, O Lady," he cries, "and receive this my drink offering."[*]
[*]The original intention of this libation at the sacrifice was very clearly to provide the gods with wine to "wash down" their meat.
The sacrifice is now completed. The priest assures Phormion that the entrails of the victim foretokened every possible favor in future athletic contests—and this, and his insinuating smile, win him a silver drachma to supplement his share of the lamb. Phormion readjusts the chaplet upon his own head, and turns towards the Parthenon. After the sacrifice will come the prayer.
196. The Interior of the Parthenon and the Great Image of Athena.—The whole Acropolis is the home of Athena. The other gods harbored thereon are only her inferior guests. Upon the Acropolis the dread goddess displays her many aspects. In the Erechtheum we worship her as Athena Polias, the ancient guardian of the hearths and homes of the city. In the giant Promachus, we see her the leader in war,—the awful queen who went with her fosterlings to the deadly grappling at Marathon and at Salamis; in the little temple of "Wingless Victory"[*] we see her as Athena the Victorious, triumphant over Barbarian and Hellenic foe; but in the Parthenon we adore in her purest conception—the virgin queen, now chaste and clam, her battles over, the pure, high incarnations of all "the beautiful and the good" that may possess spirit and mind,—the sovran intellect, in short, purged of all carnal, earthy passion. It is meet that such a goddess should inhabit such a dwelling as the Parthenon.[+]
[*]The term "Wingless Victory" (Nike Apteros) has reference to a special type and aspect of Athena, not to the goddess Nike (Victory) pure and simple.
[+]There was still another aspect in which Athena was worshipped on the Acropolis. She had a sacred place ("temenos"), though without a temple, sacred to her as Athena Ergane—Athena Protectress of the Arts.
Phormion passes under the eastern porch, and does not forget (despite the purification before the sacrifice) to dip the whisk broom, lying by the door, in the brazen laver of holy water and again to sprinkle himself. He passes out of the dazzling sunlight into a chamber that seems at first to be lost in a vast, impenetrable gloom. He pauses and gazes upward; above him, as little by little his eyes get their adjustment, a faint pearly light seems streaming downward. It is coming through the translucent marble slabs of the roof of the great temple.[*] Then out of the gloom gleam shapes, objects,—a face. He catches the glitter of great jewels and of massy gold, as parts of the rich garments and armor of some vast image. He distinguishes at length a statue,—the form of a woman, nearly forty feet in height. Her left wrist rests upon a mighty shield; her right hand holds a winged "Victory," itself of nigh human size. Upon her breast is the awful egis, the especial breastplate of the high gods. Around the foot of her shield coils a serpent. Upon her head is a might helmet. And all the time that these things are becoming manifest, evermore clearly one beholds the majestic face,—sweetness without weakness, intellectuality without coldness, strength mingled justly with compassion. This is the Athena Parthenos, the handiwork of Phidias.[+]
[*]This seems to be the most reasonable way to assume that the "cella" of the Parthenon was lighted, in view of the danger, in case of open skylights, of damage to the holy image by wind and rain.
[+]Of this statue no doubt there could be said what Dion Chrysostomos said of the equally famous "Zeus" erected by Phidias at Olympia. "The man most depressed with woes, forgot his ills whilst gazing on this statue, so much light and beauty had Phidias infused within it." Besides the descriptions in the ancient writers we get a clear idea of the general type of the Athena Parthenos from recently discovered statuettes, especially the "Varvakeion" model (401/2 inches high). This last is cold and lifeless as a work of art, but fairly accurate as to details. [Note from Brett: In 2001, this remains the best statue ever found representing Athena Parthenos and a detailed analysis of the effect of the original statue on the populous can be found at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/CC96/lapatin.htm. The statuette itself is currently in the Athens Museum.]
We will not heap up description. What boots it to tell that the arms and vesture of this "chryselephantine" statue are of pure gold; that the flesh portions are of gleaming ivory; that Phidias has wrought the whole so nobly together that this material, too sumptuous for common artists, becomes under his assembling the perfect substance for the manifestation of deity?
...Awestruck by the vision, though often he has seen it, Phormion stands long in reverent silence. Then at length, casting a pinch of incense upon the brazier, constantly smoking before the statue, he utters his simple prayer.
197. Greek Prayers.—Greek prayers are usually very pragmatic. "Who," asks Cicero, who can speak for both Greeks and Romans in this particular, "ever thanked the gods that he was a good man? Men are thankful for riches, honor, safety.... We beg of the sovran God [only] what makes us safe, sound, rich and prosperous."[*] Phormion is simply a very average, healthy, handsome young Athenian. While he prays he stretches his hands on high, as is fitting to a deity of Olympus.[+] His petition runs much as follows:—
"Athena, Queen of the Aegis, by whatever name thou lovest best,[&] give ear.
"Inasmuch as thou dids't heed my vow, and grant me fair glory at Mantinea, bear witness I have been not ungrateful. I have offered to thee a white sheep, spotless and undefiled. And now I have it in my mind to attempt the pentathlon at the next Isthmia at Corinth. Grant me victory even in that; and not one sheep but five, all as good as this to-day, shall smoke upon thine altar. Grant also unto me, my kinsmen and all my friends, health, riches and fair renown."
[*]Cicero, "De Nat. Deor," ii. 36.
[+]In praying to a deity of the lower world the hands would be held down. A Greek almost NEVER knelt, even in prayer. He would have counted it degrading.
[&]This formula would be put in, lest some favorite epithet of the divinity be omitted.
A pagan prayer surely; and there is a still more pagan epilogue. Phormion has an enemy, who is not forgotten.
"And oh! gracious, sovran Athena, blast my enemy Xenon, who strove to trip me foully in the foot race. May his wife be childless or bear him only monsters; may his whole house perish; may all his wealth take flight; may his friends forsake him; may war soon cut him off, or may he die amid impoverished, dishonored old age. If this my sacrifice has found favor in thy sight, may all these evils come upon him unceasingly. And so will I adore the and sacrifice unto thee all my life."[*]
[*]Often a curse would become a real substitute for a prayer; e.g. at Athens, against a rascally and traitorous general, a solemn public curse would be pronounced at evening by all the priests and priestesses of the city, each shaking in the air a red cloth in token of the bloody death to which the offender was devoted.
The curse then is a most proper part of a Greek prayer! Phormion is not conscious of blasphemy. He merely follows invariable custom.
It is useless to expect "Christian sentiments" in the fourth century B.C., yet perhaps an age should be judged not by its average, but by its best. Athenians can utter nobler prayers than those of the type of Phormion. Xenophon makes his model young householder Ishomenus pray nobly "that I may enjoy health and strength of body, the respect of my fellow citizens, honorable safety in times of war, and wealth honestly increased."[*]
[*]Xenophon, "The Economist," xi, p. 8.
There is a simple little prayer also which seems to be a favorite with the farmers. Its honest directness carries its own message.
"Rain, rain, dear Zeus, upon the fields of the Athenians and the plains."[*]
[*]It was quoted later to us by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who adds, "In truth, we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion."
Higher still ascends the prayer of Socrates, when he begs for "the good" merely, leaving it to the wise gods to determine what "the good" for him may be; and in one prayer, which Plato puts in Socrates's mouth, almost all the best of Greek ideals and morality seems uttered. It is spoken not on the Acropolis, but beside the Ilissus at the close of the delightful walk and chat related in the "Phoedrus."
"Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me the beauty of the inward soul, and may the outward and the inward man be joined in perfect harmony. May I reckon the wise to be wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as none but the temperate can carry. Anything more?—That prayer, I think, is enough for me."
Phormion and his party are descending to the city to spend the evening in honest mirth and feasting, but we are fain to linger, watching the slow course of the shadows as they stretch across the Attic hills. Sea, sky, plain, mountains, and city are all before us, but we will not spend words upon them now. Only for the buildings, wrought by Pericles and his might peers, we will speak out our admiration. We will gladly confirm the words Plutarch shall some day say of them, "Unimpaired by time, their appearance retains the fragrance of freshness, as though they had been inspired by an eternally blooming life and a never aging soul."[*]
[*]Plutarch wrote this probably after 100 A.D., when the Parthenon had stood for about five and half centuries.
Chapter XXI. The Great Festivals of Athens.
198. The Frequent Festivals at Athens.—Surely our "Day in Athens" has been spent from morn till night several times over, so much there is to see and tell. Yet he would be remiss who left the city of Athena before witnessing at least several of the great public festivals which are the city's noble pride. There are a prodigious number of religions festivals in Athens.[*] They take the place of the later "Christian Sabbath" and probably create a somewhat equal number of rest days during the year, although at more irregular intervals. They are far from being "Scotch Sundays,"[+] however. On them the semi-riotous "joy of life" which is part of the Greek nature finds its fullest, ofttimes its wildest, expression. They are days of merriment, athletic sports, great civic spectacles, chorals, public dances.[&] To complete our picture of Athens we must tarry for a swift cursory glance upon at least three of these fete days of the city of Pericles, Sophocles, and Phidias.
[*]In Gulick ("Life of the Ancient Greeks," pp. 304-310) there is a valuable list of Attic festivals. The Athenians had over thirty important religious festivals, several of them, e.g., the Thesmorphoria (celebrated by the women in honor of Demeter), extending over a number of days.
[+][NOTE from Brett: A "Scotch Sunday" refers to the practice of the Sabbath day in Scotland. During the Sabbath day (at the time of the author of this work) in Scotland no activity goes on except for Church. There is no travel, no telecommunication, no cooking, not allowed to read the newspaper, etc. A "Scotch Sunday" therefore, represents a day of religious austerity.]
[&]It is needless to point out that to the Greeks, as to many other ancient peoples,—for example, the Hebrews,—DANCING often had a religious significance and might be a regular part of the worship of the gods.
199. The Eleusinia.—Our first festival is the Eleusinia, the festival of the Eleusinian mysteries. It is September, the "19th of Boedromion," the Athenians will say. Four days have been spent by the "initiates" and the "candidates" in symbolic sacrifices and purifications.[*] On one of these days the arch priest, the "Hierophant," has preached a manner of sermon at the Painted Porch in the Agora setting forth the awfulness and spiritual efficacy of these Mysteries, sacred to Demeter the Earth Mother, to her daughter Persephone, and also to the young Iacchus, one of the many incarnations of Dionysus, and who is always associated at Elusis with the divine "Mother and Daughter." The great cry has gone forth to the Initiates—"To the Sea, ye Myste!" and the whole vast multitude has gone down to bathe in the purifying brine.
[*]Not all Athenians were among the "initiated," but it does not seem to have been hard to be admitted to the oaths and examination which gave one participation in the mysteries. About all a candidate had to prove was blameless character. Women could be initiated as well as men.
Now on this fifth day comes the sacred procession from Athens across the mountain pass to Eleusis. The participates, by thousands, of both sexes and of all ages, are drawn up in the Agora ere starting. The Hierophant, the "Torchbearer," the "Sacred Herald," and the other priests wear long flowing raiment and high mitres like Orientals. They also, as well as the company, wear myrtle and ivy chaplets and bear ears of corn and reapers' sickles. The holy image of Iacchus is borne in a car, the high priests marching beside it; and forth with pealing shout and chant they go,—down the Ceramicus, through the Dipylon gate, and over the hill to Eleusis, twelve miles away.
200. The Holy Procession to Eleusis.—Very sacred is the procession, but not silent and reverential. It is an hour when the untamed animal spirits of the Greeks, who after all are a young race and who are gripped fast by natural instinct, seem uncurbed. Loud rings the "orgiastic" cry, "Iacche! Iacche! evoe!"
There are wild shouts, dances, jests, songs,[*] postures. As the marchers pass the several sanctuaries along the road there are halts for symbolic sacrifices. So the multitude slowly mounts the long heights of Mount Aegaleos, until—close to the temple of Aphrodite near the summit of the pass—the view opens of the broad blue bay of Eleusis, shut in by the isle of Salamis, while to the northward are seen the green Thrasian plain, with the white houses of Eleusis town[+] near the center, and the long line of outer hills stretching away to Megara and Boeotia.
[*]We do not possess the official chant of the Myste used on their march to Eleusia. Very possibly it was of a swift riotous nature like the Bacchinals' song in Euripides "Bacchinals" (well translated by Way or by Murray).
[+]This was about the only considerable town in Attica outside of Athens.
The evening shadows are falling, while the peaceful army sweeps over the mountain wall and into Eleusis. Every marcher produces a torch, and bears it blazing aloft as he nears his destination. Seen in the dark from Eleusis, the long procession of innumerable torches must convey an effect most magical.
201. The Mysteries of Eleusis.—What follows at Eleusis? The "mysteries" are "mysteries" still; we cannot claim initiation and reveal them. There seem to be manifold sacrifices of a symbolic significance, the tasting of sacred "portions" of food and drink—a dim foreshadowing of the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist; especially in the great hall of the Temple of the Myste in Eleusis there take place a manner of symbolic spectacles, dramas perhaps one may call them, revealing the origins of Iacchus, the mystical union of Persephone and Zeus, and the final joy of Demeter.
This certainly we can say of these ceremonies. They seem to have afforded to spiritually minded men a sense of remission of personal sin which the regular religion could never give; they seem also to have conveyed a fair hope of immortality, such as most Greeks doubted. Sophocles tells thus the story: "Thrice blessed are they who behold these mystical rites, ere passing to Hades' realm. They alone have life there. For the rest all things below are evil."[*] And in face of imminent death, perhaps in hours of shipwreck, men are wont to ask one another, "Have you been initiated at Eleusis?"
[*]Sophocles, "Frag." 719.
202. The Greater Dionysia and the Drama.—Again we are in Athens in the springtime: "The eleventh of Elaphebolion" [March]. It is the third day of the Greater Dionysia. The city has been in high festival; all the booths in the Agora hum with redoubled life; strangers have flocked in from outlying pars of Hellas to trade, admire, and recreate; under pretext of honoring the wine god, inordinate quantities of wine are drunk with less than the prudent mixture of water. There is boisterous frolicking, singing, and jesting everywhere. It is early blossom time. All whom you meet wear huge flower crowns, and pelt you with the fragrant petals of spring.[*]
[*]Pindar ("Frag." 75) says thus of the joy and beauty of this fete: "[Lo!] this festival is due when the chamber of the red-robed Hours is opened and odorous plants wake to the fragrant spring. then we scatter on undying earth the violet, like lovely tresses, and twine roses in our hair; then sound the voice of song, the flute keeps time, and dancing choirs resound the praise of Semele."
So for two days the city has made merry, and now on the third, very early, "to the theater" is the word on every lip. Magistrates in their purple robes of office, ambassadors from foreign states, the priests and religious dignitaries, are all going to the front seats of honor. Ladies of gentle family, carefully veiled but eager and fluttering, are going with their maids, if the productions of the day are to be tragedies not comedies.[*] All the citizens are going, rich and poor, for here again we meet "Athenian democracy"; and the judgment and interest of the tatter-clad fishermen seeking the general "two-obol" seats may be almost as correct and keen as that of the lordly Alcmenoid in his gala himation.
[*]It seems probable (on our uncertain information) that Athenian ladies attended the moral and proper tragedies. It was impossible for them to attend the often very coarse comedies. Possibly at the tragedies they sat in a special and decently secluded part of the theater.
203. The Theater of Dionysus.—Early dawn it is when the crowds pour through the barriers around the Theater of Dionysus upon the southern slope of the Acropolis. They sit (full 15,000 or more) wedged close together upon rough wooden benches set upon the hill slopes.[*] At the foot of their wide semicircle is a circular space of ground, beaten hard, and ringed by a low stone barrier. It is some ninety feet in diameter. This is the "orchestra," the "dancing place," wherein the chorus may disport itself and execute its elaborate figures. Behind the orchestra stretches a kind of tent or booth, the "skene." Within this the actors may retire to change their costumes, and the side nearest to the audience is provided with a very simple scene,—some kind of elementary scenery panted to represent the front of a temple or palace, or the rocks, or the open country. This is nearly the entire setting.[+] If there are any slight changes of this screen, they must be made in the sight of the entire audience. The Athenian theater has the blue dome of heaven above it, the red Acropolis rock behind it. Beyond the "skene" one can look far away to the country and the hills. The keen Attic imagination will take the place of the thousand arts of the later stage-setter. Sophocles and his rivals, even as Shakespeare in Elizabeth's England, can sound the very depths and scale the loftiest heights of human passion, with only a simulacrum of the scenery, properties, and mechanical artifices which will trick out a very mean twentieth century theater.
[*]These benches (before the stone theater was built in 340 B.C.) may be imagined as set up much like the "bleachers" at a modern baseball park. We know that ancient audiences wedged in very close.
[+]I think it is fairly certain that the classical Attic theater was without any stage, and that the actors appeared on the same level as the chorus. As to the extreme simplicity of all the scenery and properties there is not the least doubt.
204. The production of a Play.—The crowds are hushed and expectant. The herald, ere the play begins, proclaims the award of a golden crown to some civic benefactor: a moment of ineffable joy to the recipient; for when is a true Greek happier than when held up for public glorification? Then comes the summons to the first competing poet.
"Lead on your chorus."[*] The intellectual feast of the Dionysia has begun.
[*]In the fourth century B.C. when the creation of original tragedies was in decline, a considerable part of the dionysia productions seem to have been devoted to the works of the earlier masters, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
To analyze the Attic drama is the task of the philosopher and the literary expert. We observe only the superficialities. There are never more than THREE speaking actors before the audience at once. They wear huge masques, shaped to fit their parts. The wide mouthpieces make the trained elocution carry to the most remote parts of the theater. The actors wear long trailing robes and are mounted on high shoes to give them sufficient stature before the distant audience. When a new part is needed in the play, an actor retires to the booth, and soon comes forth with a changed masque and costume—an entirely new character. In such a costume and masque, play of feature and easy gesture is impossible; but the actors carry themselves with a stately dignity and recite their often ponderous lines with a grace which redeems them from all bombast. An essential part of the play is the chorus; indeed the chorus was once the main feature of the drama, the actors insignificant innovations. With fifteen members for the tragedy, twenty-four for the comedy,[*] old men of Thebes, Trojan dames, Athenian charcoal burners, as the case may demand—they sympathize with the hard-pressed hero, sing lusty choral odes, and occupy the time with song and dance while the actors are changing costume.
[*]In the "Middle" and "Later" comedy, so called, the chorus entirely disappears. The actors do everything.
The audience follows all the philosophic reasoning of the tragedies, the often subtle wit of the comedies, with that same shrewd alertness displayed at the jury courts of the Pnyx. "Authis! Authis!" (again! again!) is the frequent shout, if approving. Date stones and pebbles as well as hootings are the reward of silly lines or bad acting. At noon there is an interlude to snatch a hasty luncheon (perhaps without leaving one's seat). Only when the evening shadows are falling does the chorus of the last play approach the altar in the center of the orchestra for the final sacrifice. A whole round of tragedies have been given.[*] The five public judges announce their decision: an ivy wreath to the victorious poet; to his "choregus" (the rich man who has provided his chorus and who shares his glory) the right to set up a monumnet in honor of the victory. Home goes the multitude,—to quarrel over the result, to praise or blame the acting, to analyze the remarkable acuteness the poet's handling of religious, ethical, or social questions.
[*]Comedies, although given at this Dionysia, were more especially favored at the Lenea, an earlier winter festival.
The theater, like the dicasteries and the Pnyx, is one of the great public schools of Athens.
205. The Great Panathenaic Procession.—Then for the last time let us visit Athens, at the fete which in its major form comes only once in four years. It is the 28th of Metageitnion (August), and the eighth day of the Greater Panathenea, the most notable of all Athenian festivals. By it is celebrated the union of all Attica by Theseus, as one happy united country under the benign sway of might Athena,—an ever fortunate union, which saved the land from the sorrowful feuds of hostile hamlets such as have plagued so many Hellenic countries. On the earlier days of the feast there have been musical contests and gymnastic games much after the manner of the Olympic games, although the contestants have been drawn from Attica only. There has been a public recital of Homer. Before a great audience probably at the Pnyx or the Theater a rhapsodist of noble presence—clad in purple and with a golden crown—has made the Trojan War live again, as with his well-trained voice he held the multitude spellbound by the music of the stately hexameters.
Now we are at the eighth day. All Athens will march in its glory to the Acropolis, to bear to the shrine of Athena the sacred "peplos"—a robe specially woven by the noble women of Athens to adorn the image of the guardian goddess.[*] The houses have opened; the wives, maids, and mothers of gentle family have come forth to march in the procession, all elegantly wreathed and clad in their best, bearing the sacred vessels and other proper offerings. The daughter of the "metics," the resident foreigners, go as attendants of honor with them. The young men and the old, the priests, the civil magistrates, the generals, all have their places. Proudest of all are the wealthy and high-born youths of the cavalry, who now dash to and fro in their clattering pride. The procession is formed in the outer Ceramicus. Amid cheers, chants, chorals, and incense smoke it sweeps through the Agora, and slowly mounts the Acropolis. Center of all the marchers is the glittering peplos, raised like a sail upon a wheeled barge of state—"the ship of Athena." Upon the Acropolis, while the old peplos is piously withdrawn from the image and the new one substituted, there is a prodigious sacrifice. A might flame roars heavenward from the "great altar"; while enough bullocks[+] and kine[&] have been slaughtered to enable every citizen—however poor—to bear away a goodly mess of roasted meat that night.
[*]Not that this robe was for the revered ancient and wooden image of Athena Polias, not for the far less venerable statue of Athena Parthenos.
[+][NOTE from Brett: A bullock is a young, possibly castrated, bull.]
[&][NOTE from Brett: kine is the archaic plural form of "cow."]
206. The View from the Temple of Wingless Victory.—We will not wait for the feasting but rather will take our way to the Temple of Wingless Victory, looking forth to the west of the Acropolis Rock. So many things we see which we would fain print on the memory. Behind us we have just left the glittering Parthenon, and the less august but hardly less beautiful Erechtheum, with its "Porch of the Maidens." To our right is the wide expanse of the roofs of the city and beyond the dark olive groves of Colonus, and the slopes of Aegaleos. In the near foreground, are the red crags of Areopagus and the gray hill of the Pnyx. But the eye will wander farther. It is led away across the plainland to the bay of Phaleron, the castellated hill of Munychia, the thin stretch of blue water and the brown island seen across it—Salamis and its strait of the victory. Across the sparkling vista of the sea rise the headlands of Aegina and of lesser isles; farther yet rise the lordly peaks of Argolis. Or we can look to the southward. Our gaze rounds down the mountainous Attic coast full thirty miles to where Sunium thrusts out its haughty cape into the Aegean and points the way across the island-studded sea.
Evening is creeping on. Behind us sounds the great pean, the solemn chant to Athena, bestower of good to men. As the sun goes down over the distant Argolic hills his rays spread a clear pathway of gold across the waters. Islands, seas, mountains far and near, are touched now with shifting hues,—saffron, violet, and rose,—beryl, topaz, sapphire, amethyst. There will never be another landscape like unto this in all the world. Gladly we sum up our thoughts in the cry of a son of Athens, Aristophanes, master of song, who loved her with that love which the land of Athena can ever inspire in all its children, whether its own by adoption or by birth:—
"OH, THOU, OUR ATHENS! VIOLET-CROWNED, BRILLIANT, MOST ENVIABLE OF CITIES!"