THE incomparable glory of Athens lies not only in her stupendous monumental art, as seen in the Parthenon, the temples of Olympian Zeus, of the Nike, the Horologium of Andronikus, the Erechtheum, the theater of Dionysius, and other mighty ruins of a great and historic past, but even more in her rich heritage of immortal power; in the influence upon all subsequent time of her poetry, philosophy, and art, and in a beautiful mythology whose significance permeated the national life and which contains the key to Hellenic history and the religious faith of the Greeks.
One very curious fact is that the Athens of the golden age of Pericles and the Athens of the twentieth century join hands today across the gulf of more than two thousand years. Unlike Italy, Greece has had no Renaissance. To linger in the Athens of today is almost to solve one of those strange and intricate problems in Time that are presented in the brilliant philosophic concepts of Henri Bergson. Or one may fancy he has stepped on the magic wishing carpet of Teufelsdröckh, and, by some witchery, been transported to the Athens of the Golden Age. For the Hellenic capital today is dominated far more by her mighty Past than is either Rome or Florence. No such largely prevailing order of modern life has been grafted upon Athens. The solemn, majestic ruins of sacred temples have not been turned into picnic pastimes and utilized as the scenic background of modern festas. The motorcar is hardly seen in Athens. There are no fashionable drives. It has no Monte Pincio, no Villa Borghese, Monte Mario, or Janiculum; no Cascine; no Bois de Boulogne; no Central Park. Nor are the colossal ruins guarded by guide or custodian. There are no admission prices, no fees to reckon with, unless the visitor voluntarily en-gages a special guide of his own. The study of classic Rome is bought with a price. There are few scenes of the Roman past that are not matters of ceremonial admission. But the Spanish Steps are not more free to every passer-by in the Eternal City than are all the storied monuments of Athens to every visitor and student who comes and goes or comes and lingers, at his personal will. This fact in itself lends to the very atmosphere its significance in a manner peculiarly impressive. The temples of the gods are far re-moved from all question of trade or traffic. The very air is no more free. They are thus invested with that majesty that surrounds them with isolation from the common life. They are of the order of things that recognize no market-place.
“Earth gets its price for what heart gives us; At the Devil’s booth are all things sold; Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
‘T is Heaven alone that is given away, ‘T is only God may be had for the asking.”
Into these solitudes of the mighty Past the voices of earth do not penetrate. One may have in his life the music of the spheres, or the voices of earth; it is a question of choice; but the two do not mingle.
“Who loves the music of the spheres And lives on earth, must close his ears To many voices that he hears.”
The scenic grandeur of Athens is so entirely different from that of other countries in Europe as to demand a different order of descriptive terms. Beauty, grandeur, sublimity, are not wanting in Italy, Switzerland, and many other of the favorite lands of the traveler. But for he ineffable enchantment of sea and sky at Naples; the stately splendor of Rome; the picturesque towers and domes and historic old palaces or charming villas of Florence, with the indefinable loveliness of the landscape as seen from the heights of Bellosguardo or San Miniato, for all these and many other of the especial happy hunting-grounds of the traveler and sojourner, it is possible to give a reason for one’s rapture; but in this palpitating, shimmering, dazzling radiance of the Athenian scene one is only conscious of ethereal spaces. The ground, the buildings, are all white. The streets are of the glittering white of the Paris boulevard. The graceful pepper-trees with their swaying fringe line every street, turning it into an avenue embowered in green. The vast plain of Attica is accentuated by the Acropolis in the center, its noble temples seeming to fairly hang in the air like a vision disclosed of Paradise. Far away gleams the silver line of the sea; the peaks of Pentelicus and Hymettus sharply accentuate themselves against the line of the horizon; diagonally opposite the Acropolis rises Mount Lycabettus, over nine hundred feet high, crowned with the chapel of San Georgio; the lonely monument to Philopappus, on the summit of the hill bearing his name, is silhouetted against the melting blue of the sky;
Mars Hill lies near the Acropolis; and encircling and guarding all, like solemn, spectral shades from some unexplored region of Persephone, is that Violet Crown of the mountains that enchanted the muse of Pindar. Sea and sky dominate, as they have always dominated, the Hellenic kingdom. The national epic of Greece is a story of maritime adventure; her great cities are all on the sea; and Greek civilization and Greek culture are inextricably interwoven with cruise and adventure. Every bay and gulf and inlet is still vocal with its legends of heroes who were companions of the gods. That Ulysses should
“. . sail beyond the sunset And the paths of all the western stars . . .”
is a part of the very fiber of local color and tradition.
In all these enthralling temples closely associated and identified with the most glorious period of history in the ancient world, the visitor may wander and loiter at his own sweet will. Everything is open; everything is as free as the air. One hardly even encounters the professional guide, and if he is in evidence at all, it is only to courteously proffer a service, and, if declined, he does not further pursue. The persistence, if not the enthusiasm as well, of the guide that seems indigenous to the place in Italy, is in curious contrast to this gentle yielding. In Italy, you forgive the guide his unceasing persistence because of his inborn enthusiasm. “Si, bella Napoli!” you echo, as he pours out to you his ecstasies over the color and light and glory of the scene from the Posilipo, or share with him his ever-renewed joy in his bella Venezia. The Greek is other-wise constructed. He is thoughtful, serious, and while not unresponsive, he is less demonstrative. His gentle courtesy is beyond all description. If the half were told of the absolute nobility, the infinite sweetness and grace and generous self-forgetfulness of the character of the general populace of the Greeks of to-day, it would savor of exaggeration to a degree that those unfamiliar with these people would not fail to reprove. They would regard it with as great incredulity as they would an assertion of any literal acceptance of Grecian mythology. The visitor to Athens who has experienced this unfailing and abounding courtesy and exquisite gentleness, and the most generous aid possible for them to offer to the stranger in their midst, could only pray that those who decline to accept such statements at their face value may visit this marvelous country and thus acquire for themselves the same happy experience. The wanderers in the remote rural regions of Greece our archaeological professors and students who lead groups of scientific investigation into far lands amid the wild mountain fastnesses where life is seen only in its most primitive state report the same generous and gentle courtesy on the part of the inhabitants. They will share with the veriest stranger of their best, whatever that may be, He is made as cordially welcome to their rude fireside as if he were a son or brother.
So deeply and so universally true is this characteristic of the Greek national character that it can hardly be too strongly emphasized. They are the people who, if you ask of them a mile, go with you twain. If you ask of them their coat, they desire to give their cloak also. There may be individual exceptions to this rule, it would be almost incredible if there were not, but a truthful record can be given in these pages only by distinctly saying that the writer has not only not experienced, personally, any exception to this prevailing loveliness of spirit, but has not, after somewhat extended inquiry among students, diplomats, sojourners, and general visitors to Greece, been able to learn of any authentic representation or experience to the contrary. A curious unselfishness, even unworldliness, in the shape of any greed of getting or gain, seems ingrained in the national character. There is a noble simplicity of life that appeals to all one’s higher feelings. Even the little gratuities that the stranger proffers on the street in recognition of aid and courtesy are accepted more as gifts among mutual friends than as a fee for information or aid. The people are characterized by a beauty of spirit that renders it easy to believe in the high order of their social and political ideals. Dr. Gilbert Murray, the distinguished translator of the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides and the Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, declares that in spiritual vividness and genuine culture no society in history has been so near to the highest side of our own civilization as that of the Athens of Plato and Pericles ; and the spirit of that age pervades the Athens of today.
It is rather an anomaly to find one’s self studying a monumental art that antedates the Christian era in a city that is really less than eighty years of age. All the better architectural part of Athens has existed hardly more than half that time; for the city was merely a squalid Turkish village in 1835, while in 1913 Athens is a place of palaces and villas and good hotels, with every modern convenience, not to say much of the luxury of life. In her present architectural beauty there is little trace of the Turkish occupation or of the preceding Byzantine period. There is also little trace, many visitors think too little, of the semi-Oriental picturesqueness that has mostly vanished with-in even the past decade. The Hellenic capital is thus rather a bewildering problem in chronology. Her great ruins of antiquity are more in evidence than is the Forum in Rome; while, on the other hand, Rome preserves in her churches and massive, mediaeval palaces, and such monumental structures as the Pantheon and the Castel San Angelo, an atmosphere of antiquity for which in Athens one looks in vain. Yet in the city of the Hellenes all the modern public buildings are dominated by the classic ideal, as they are not in Rome.
Athens is now a city of nearly two hundred thousand people, hardly one third the size of Rome, and the Piraeus has some fifty thousand. The two towns have grown almost together, and the five miles of distance are bridged by an electric railway, with trains every half hour. Athens has an excellent degree of general prosperity and much wealth for the size of its population. An enlightened culture is in unmistakable evidence, and the spirit of the citizens does no discredit to the best traditions of the past. These traditions, indeed, are held inviolate, and they constitute a recognized, even if unformulated, standard of judgment. There is much beauty in some of the residential sections, though a veracious chronicle must admit that the royal palace is almost the least attractive of any residence in Athens. The villas of the crown prince (now King Constantine) and of Prince Nicholas and some others are far more attractive.
Constitution Square is the civic center and the visitor’s point of departure when he first essays to see Athens. It is hardly larger than Copley Square in Boston, and, unlike that famous locale, memorable as the votive sacrifice of the Bostonians to all experimental theories of art and architecture that the mind of the modern Athenian could conceive, it is a bona fide square and not a series of more or less unrelated triangles. It is in part laid out as a garden, and from the side on which the royal palace stands a flight of terraced steps, guarded by two antique bronze statues, descends to where orange-trees, oleanders, and palms make shade for the many seats. In the Square an orchestra plays a salute to the Greek flag every morning between eleven and twelve. The place received its name from the fact that the new constitution of Greece was proclaimed, in 1843, from the Doric portico of the palace. The royal residence seems to have been built for usefulness rather than for decorative purposes; it is a plain, three-storied structure, which is usually open to visitors after three each day, though there is not much of interest to see. The palace has not had time to become historic. The visitor with propensities for visiting royal residences must make the most of some rather ordinary mural paintings in the queen’s chapel; of the historic decorations in the Hall of the Sacred War; a statue of the virtuous Penelope, and a silver-gilt font in the private chapel of the king. The list of attractions is by no means thrilling, but it is supplemented by the royal gardens, designed by Queen Amalie, which are opened to the public on certain days of the week. Near Constitution Square is St. Nicodemus, the Russian church and the most imposing one in Athens, with a deep-toned bell of musical sound, a gift from Alexander II. An English church, consecrated in 1842 by the bishop of Gibraltar, with a memorial window bearing an inscription written by Mr. Gladstone, is much frequented by the English residents of Athens. There are a few handsome private villas on the Square, some of the more attractive shops, the two finest hotels, and a bookstore that charms the heart of the book-lover, and the money out of his purse as well. For of all the large and splendid assortments of foreign literature, French, German, Italian, Russian, and English, besides the more limited supply in Greek, this shop is famous. Comparatively few books are published in Greece, and French is the literature most widely read. Nearly every one speaks French, and German is generally comprehended. There are not wanting shops where English is understood, and in both the Hotel d’Angleterre and the Grande Brétagne English speech prevails. Besides losing one’s heart to the books in this splendid collection, one also loses it to the photographs. And for that, who can forget the charm of long morning lingerings in the photograph gallery of Alexander Simiriotes, with its superb collections of all the monumental antiquities, the modern classic buildings, and landscape views of Athens; the archaic art in the National Museum, in the Museum of the Acropolis, and at Delhi, Olympia, Sparta, and Eleusis. To say nothing of the paradise of classic postal cards, which one feels he would rather go without shoes than not possess. To have the strength of mind to loiter over these photographs and reserve money enough for a return voyage argues discretion that may well be envied. The ingenious one is fertile in devising future economies which may authorize his present extravagances, and the more remotely in the future he may assign his economies, the more touching is the self-sacrifice they represent. The descent of Avernus is not more easy than the contemplation of the economies one will practice year after next.
There is a travelers’ tradition that any one can see Athens three times over within three days. But this supernatural celerity in acquainting one’s self with the Hellenic capital depends on just what one means by seeing it. To catch Pegasus in the modern guise of a motor-car, and go over the Acropolis in the morning, and to Marathon and return in the afternoon; to see the museums, the old Dipylon, and the exterior, if not the interior, of the university, the library, and other modern places, is all quite possible in a limited time; but it is more even than the “seeing eye” that deter-mines the real seeing of the Grecian capital. No Baedeker or Murray can index or predict the things which each may behold. They are never duplicated and each traveler encounters his own peculiar assortment. Nor can he any more predict their nature for himself than he could for another. They are such stuff as dreams are made of. But it is safe to say that, whatever aspect they assume, they are that which will remain to him unforgotten of his visit to Athens.
He first encounters that stupendous and awful ruin, the temple of Olympian Zeus, with the unroofed, isolated columns of fabulous proportions. Near these columns, under the blue sky, that arch, the Arch of Hadrian ! The impression is almost more than one can bear, and in very self-preservation he turns away to the opposite side of Constitution Square to that beautiful modern thoroughfare, the Boulevard de l’Université; there are the group of buildings, three adjoining the library, the university, and the Academy of Science all built of Pentelic marble, with classic porticoes supported by Ionic columns, surrounded by spacious gardens adorned with semi-tropical plants and shrubs and a riotous growth of flowers. The pediments of each building are ornamented with sculptures; the porticoes are rich in mural painting and gilding. In front two lofty, Ionic pillars, twenty-five feet in height, are crowned with statues, in heroic size, of Apollo and Athena. On either side the entrance, on pedestals, are statues of Plato and Socrates. The principal salon of the academy is exquisitely decorated with paintings representing the legend of Prometheus. The story is told in eight scenes : the first reveals Themis prophesying to her son his own future; there follows that of Prometheus lighting his torch in the presence of the goddess Athena; his rash act in breathing life into men, notwithstanding all the warnings of Epimetheus; the portrayal of Zeus and the Titans;
Prometheus bringing down fire from heaven for the use of mortals; the captivity of the god, and the mourning Oceanides; Hercules giving to Prometheus his freedom, and his final introduction to Olympus. The series is a notable one in mural art, and not unworthy of comparison with the wonderful series in the Panthéon of Paris, whose motif is the portrayal of scenes in the life of Sainte Geneviève, who is believed to watch over her city, the French capital, as does Athena over that of the Hellenic kingdom. In the closing picture of the series in the Panthéon, Puvis de Chavannes has shown Sainte Geneviève as an aged woman, standing on the plain outside her city, whose lights gleam in the dis-tance, forever keeping guard. But the goddess Athena never grows old. She is held in Athens enshrined in immortal youth.
The academy was the munificent gift of the late Baron Sina of Vienna, and in this salon of mural decorations is also a portrait statue of this benefactor of Athens. Both the statue of Baron Sina and the groups outside are the work of Drosos, a contemporary sculptor of Greece. There are four statues in front of the university: the patriarch, Gregory; Rhigas, the poet of freedom; Koräis, the philologist; and Mr. Gladstone. The principal lecture salon is called the “Aula,” and the walls are covered with the portraits of all the professors and scholars who have lectured there. The university comprises four distinct faculties, those of theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, and medicine. It also includes the institutes of chemistry, physics, and anatomy; a museum of natural history, with extensive collections made in Greece; a palaeontological cabinet, and an observatory, located on the Pnyx, which dated back to 1842, and was also the gift of Baron Sina, whose name is indissolubly linked with Greek scholarship. Dr. Julian Smith was, for more than forty years, the director of this observatory. Later, another observatory was built on the Hill of the Nymphs, with a larger telescope and more complete equipment, fitted up with the latest seismographic apparatus, and with greater facilities for stellar photography. This observatory had the good fortune to secure Dr. Aiginetes as its director, under whom its staff has made some important contributions to the data of astronomical knowledge. The perfectly transparent air and the cloudless nights of Athens offer exceptionally advantageous conditions for many forms of re-search work in the heavens. This later observatory is located on the site of the ancient temple of Artemis, which is said to have been founded by Themistocles.
The faculty of the University of Athens includes more than one hundred professors, of whom many are distinguished figures in the world of scholarship. Here, as at other of the great universities, eminent men from abroad, the savant from Berlin, Oxford, Vienna, Harvard, or Yale are invited each year to give special courses of lectures. Yale has been in rather special personal relations with university work in Athens, and the university of Michigan, through the renown of Professor D’Ooge, a distinguished classicist who holds a chair in that university and who is a familiar figure in Athens, is, like Yale, in close relationship with the faculty in the Grecian capital. The courses of lectures given by these men invited from abroad are open to citizens as well as students, and are always crowded by cultured and highly appreciative audiences. The university has an annual attendance of some twenty-five hundred students, women as well as men, for it is open to both on the same terms. Twenty years ago there were but two women enrolled; but the number of applicants constantly increases, and of late more than twenty women receive their degree each year. On account of the war, the university was closed for the year of 1912-1913, and its halls left desolate, as all the faculty and nearly all the male students had gone to the battlefields. A few of the women students, also, begged to accompany the queen, the Princess Marie, Madame Schliemann, and her daughter-in-law, Madame Agamemnon Schliemann, with other of the great ladies of Athens, to the scenes of war, where they followed the ambulances and gave themselves to works of mercy. The alacrity with which the men of the university left their studies to devote them-selves to the cause of Greece revealed that the spirit of Marathon and Thermopylae lives in the Athenian youth of today.
In the Boulevard de l’Université is also the Arsakion, or Woman’s College, dating from 1835; and while many women now prefer entering the university, the Arsakion is yet abreast with the times, and continues to offer opportunities of true excellence and breadth of culture. Education has always been one of the most ardent interests of the Greeks, an interest that increases with the growth of modern life; and the ideal of Plato that the objects of education are not so much those of sense, or of the material needs of life, or of obtaining success in the world, as they are to be found in righteousness, temperance, and of judgments to come, this ideal has by no means been lost to sight. An English classicist, writing recently on the advantages possessed by the ancient Greeks in training their minds, points out that there were three of these quite unknown in contemporary life, each of which was something with which to reckon : first, that a very moderate income would keep a family in comfort; second, the “demon of competition” had not invaded their midst; and, again, they were not lured into taking long journeys, as all that was worth seeing lay within easy reach. “The huge amount of time spent in travel by Americans,” adds this commentator on the best means for gaining success in life, “is perhaps one of the most serious obstacles to their intellectual development.” Which last observation may give food for reflection to a nation whose people are the most accomplished travelers in the world.
A signal factor in the general development and nobler influence in Athens, when the city was only beginning to emerge from the paralyzing grasp of the Turkish power, was the Hill School, founded sixty years ago by Dr. and Mrs. Hill, who were American missionaries. They opened their school in a Turkish house with four pupils; there was no attempt at proselyting, but the teachers devoted themselves to education in its best sense, and they lived with warm and generous friendship and good will to all the populace. When Phillips Brooks visited Athens in 1866 he wrote, in a letter to his brother: “Last Sunday I preached twice for Dr. Hill in the church of St. Paul. The doctor is a noble man, and has done more for Greece than all its poor politicians of the last twenty years put together.”
At the Arsakion the courses for women students include ancient and modern Greek, and also the Romance languages; the students are well grounded in Latin, and they pursue psychology, philosophy, history, ancient and mod-ern; and especial attention is given to the reading of Homer, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plato, that the students may be familiarized with the very spirit of Greek life.
Nothing could more truly indicate the national zeal for education than the ardor shown by poor boys for the night schools, which have been established under the auspices of the Parnassus Society. Instruction in these is given between six and nine every evening, when the class-rooms are thronged by more than two thousand boys : bootblacks, apprentices of trade, messengers, and workers of all kinds.
The group of university buildings is completed with the library, a gift to Athens, as is the academy, the donor being M. Vallianos of Kephallenia, whose name is fittingly perpetuated by a portrait statue placed near the entrance.
The list of books exceeds a quarter of a mil-lion volumes; it is choice in selection, and it unites the former National Library with that of the university, to the advantage of both. Many of the eminent scholars from all nations are drawn to Athens by the privileges of this library alone; for, besides many volumes of rare works, some of which are not duplicated anywhere, this library contains over twenty-four hundred manuscripts, a large portion of which are among the priceless treasures of the world.
Aside from the almost unparalleled resources of the University Library, there is the Library of Parliament, which, though not enshrined in the artistic and architectural splendor of the Library of Congress of the United States, is a feature possessing great interest to statesmen and to antiquarian students. This Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Députés Hellénique, as it is officially termed, is open only during the sessions of Parliament. The Conservateur (librarian) is M. Panagistes D. Kalogeropoulos, who is himself a great savant and a noted collector of rare books and editions. These have assumed such formidable proportions that M. Kalogeropoulos has taken a villa expressly to house his collection, and he is characteristically hospitable in permitting access to these treasures to the accredited visitor who may be eager to examine one of the famous book collections of the world. The cordial welcome of M. Kalogeropoulos to visitors to the library of the Chambre des Députés, and his readiness to grant all possible privileges and assistance, render a sojourn in Athens during the sessions more interesting and valuable than at any other time.
In the Boulevard de l’Université is one Catholic church, of striking architectural beauty, with flights of terraced marble steps; this thoroughfare abounds, also, in handsome private residences, chief among which is the “Palace of Ilium,” the magnificent villa built by Dr. Hein-rich Schliemann, the renowned archaeologist, whose discoveries have not only enriched the world with a marvelous extension of scientific knowledge, but have also, as Dr. Walter Leaf points out, actually re-created pre-historic Greek archaeology.
The statue of Mr. Gladstone among the sculptures that ornament the terraced approach to the academy is connected with an interesting little story which is narrated by his biographer, Sir John Morley,’ in the greatest work in mod-ern biographical literature, whose three volumes not only tell the complete story of the life of Mr. Gladstone, but depict the political panorama of Great Britain as well, for a period covering nearly sixty years. This statue was placed before the academy in 1882, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Gladstone’s service in the House of Commons. For the great British statesman has ever been held by Greece as one of her benefactors, as well as one of the most distinguished of Philhellenes; and when it was made known to him that Athens desired to commemorate this notable anniversary of his Parliamentary career, he wrote (under date of December 22, 188 2) a letter, quoted in Sir John’s biography, in which he said, in part:
“. . . I know not well how to accept it, yet I am still less able to decline it, when I read the touching lines of the accompanying address, in itself an ample token, in which you have so closely associated my name with the history and destinies of your country. I am not vain enough to think that- I have deserved any of the numerous acknowledgments which I have received, especially from the Greeks, after completing half a century of Parliamentary life. Your over-estimate of my deeds ought rather to humble than to inflate me. But to have labored within the measure of justice for the Greeks of the future, is one of my happiest political recollections, and to have been trained in a partial knowledge of the Greeks of the past, has largely contributed to whatever slender faculties I possess for serving my own country or my kind. I earnestly thank you for your indulgent judgment. . . .”
It was in 1858 that Mr. Gladstone visited Athens for the first time, and of this visit Sir John says :
“Mr. Gladstone’s impressions were probably those of most travelers educated enough to feel the spell of the Violet Crown. Illusions as to the eternal summer with which the poets have blessed the Isles of Greece vanished as he found deep snow in the streets, icicles on the Parthenon, and snowballing on the Acropolis. He had a reception only a shade less cordial than if he had been Demosthenes returned. He dined with King Otho, and attended a Te Deum in honor of the Queen’s birthday.” . . .
Athens is fairly embowered in the graceful pepper-trees that line the streets, which are brilliantly green in the summer, and are blazing with red berries in the autumn. When in full leaf, the effect is a little bewildering as each street looks precisely alike, the residences being nearly all detached villas, each standing in its own grounds and almost hidden by the foliage. The passionate pilgrim who is given to sauntering does not find very favorable conditions for his peregrinations in the Greek capital. The sidewalks are mostly limited to the streets of trade and traffic, and the bare ground is either dusty or muddy, with little choice between the two. The soil is so mixed with stone and gravel as to dry swiftly, and the famous little river Ilissus, forever enshrined in Plato’s Phoedrus, almost disappears in its sandy bed during the summer.
The water supply of Athens is one of the most pressing problems of the city at the present time. It is now brought from Mount Parnes, twelve miles distant, and, curiously, it is partially conveyed by the very aqueduct built by the Emperor Hadrian; but the quantity is insufficient, and there is a project to supply the city from Lake Stymphalia in the Peloponnesus.
Athens is fairly well supplied with tramway systems, the chief fault of which is that such comparatively short spaces constitute a line, that within a distance of three miles one changes cars (and lines) as many times. The fares are as moderate as in Italy, but their multiplication by reason of the short courses brings them up to more than is paid, on an average, in American cities. The electric tram-line to the Piraeus and the electric railroad have done much towards building up the country between Athens and her port. There is also a tram-line running to Phaleron, which is much used in the summer.
There are few motor-cars to be seen in Athens, and the carriage service is poor and inadequate.
The cost of living is more of a problem than even in the United States or in England. Every domestic requisite is almost twice the price that it is anywhere else. The well-to-do people import all their necessities from London or Paris, and their clothing as well. By ordering supplies in large quantities annually, or semi-annually, even the added cost of transportation does not make the order as expensive as it would be if the same articles were purchased in Athens. For the poorer classes who cannot do this the alternative is disastrous, but inevitable; and they must either go without or pay rates that they can ill afford. This condition would be greatly improved if through rail connections could be established.
Greece is not a productive country, although in Thessaly wheat grows well; but the rugged conformation makes but a comparatively small area possible for agricultural purposes. Yet a far greater cause of the small production is to be found in the nature of the people. The Greeks are not so industrial as are the Italians and, pre-eminently, the Swiss. The Italian, on his little podére, perhaps on a rugged hillside, will have his thriving market-garden, and raise poultry to the extent that supplies all Italy with the chicken that go invariably accompanies the salad in an Italian dinner; but the Greek does not take kindly to industrial pursuits. Labor is scarce, and the quality poor. A French author who visited Greece some years ago declared that the country seemed to desire before all else to produce academicians, philosophers, poets; after these, perhaps, carpenters and blacksmiths, and the assertion is not so far removed from literal truth. Of late years, however, the government has been making great efforts to increase the pursuit of agriculture and to that end has established several stations under the ministry, in Attica, Elis, Patras, Missolonghi, Corfu, and other places, at which experimental agriculture is demonstrated, and “model farming” taught. The station at one of these points, that of Attica, is further equipped with a chemical laboratory; and in Athens an Academy of Commerce and Industry is established and engaged in constant and effective work. At present the most productive industries of Greece are the vintage, the olive orchards, and the raising of currants, which latter, on the island of Zante, is a most prosperous business. The Polytechnic School in Athens is contributing largely to the purpose of elevating labor to the status of scientific pursuits.
The prevailing national tendency towards all that makes for the dignity and high breeding and noble culture of life has always persisted with the Greeks, through all the tragic vicissitudes of their history. It is hardly too sweeping an assertion to say that every Greek, first, last, and always, is a gentleman in the essential qualities of character.
“We teach our children to treat people well,” said a native of Corfu, casually encountered on the summit of Mount Lycabettus, to the writer of this book. “The most important thing we know of to teach our children is to treat people well ! ”
The man was a typical Greek of the less fortunate, or perhaps more truly speaking, the less prosperous order. For one can hardly consent to regard a man of such fine natural qualities and such splendid intelligence as less than fortunate. “I, myself, am good fortune,” said Whitman; and it can truly be held as an attribute of personality rather than an affair of surroundings and possessions. Like another Telemachus, this man had been voyaging the seas, and he had worked his way around the world. His touching little story revealed facts not altogether flattering for an American to hear of his own country; for the poor man’s apparel was so far inferior to his intelligence and his native goodness, and the apparel being visible while the intelligence and the goodness were apparently invisible to the Americans among whom he was thrown in crossing the country from New York to California, that his sensibilities were constantly wounded by the ill treatment he received. His exceeding courtesy, the characteristic courtesy of the Greek, made him profess to a sudden desire to descend the mountain slope at the precise time that his guidance would be valuable to an American woman whose inquiries he answered in the best of English; and encouraged by the interest manifested, he told his story. On reaching the highway below, where his assistance was no longer needed, it was only by putting the matter somewhat delicately as a wish to send a little present to his wife, to whom he was on his way at their home in Corfu, that he could be induced to accept a slight gratuity for his aid. It was in connection with his own wanderings, his personal Odyssey, that he vehemently ex-claimed: “We Greeks teach our children to treat everybody well. We do not judge a man by his clothes. My clothing was poor, and the Americans looked down on me and thought it did not make any difference the way they spoke to me.” And his eyes flashed, not with anger, but with a sense of injustice that it is not difficult to understand. A crown prince could not have offered aid to a wandering tourist more courteously and with more unobtrusive delicacy than did this Greek sailor of Corfu. This instance is but a typical one of the universal experience within the domain of the Hellenes. Never were a people more superbly hospitable, more lavishly generous, more exquisitely polite, manifesting every essential of good breeding, than the average rank and file of the Greek nation. Indeed, one cannot but feel that their majestic traditions, their noble language, their all-prevailing, religious feeling, are transmitted through all the twenty centuries of past upheaval and tumult. It would hardly be possible to exaggerate this universal and all-pervading Greek courtesy. An eminent clergyman of a former day in New England once gravely remarked that the world, as yet, had “never tried Christianity,” as the simple, working-day formula of practical life. The assertion echoes back to one, with its encompassing speculative suggestion, when journeying among such people as the contemporary Greeks, where the spirit we associate with ideal Christianity is so constantly met, with its gracious manifestation of human ministries.
These generous courtesies touch one the more, it may be, in that the life of poorer laborers is one of hardship and extreme privation. The average wage hardly exceeds three or four drachmas a day (the drachma corresponding to the French franc and the Italian lire), and seven drachmas a day are considered high wages. The food of the toilers is very frugal, but apparently healthful. Black coffee and bread are for breakfast, as in France and Italy; a noonday meal is of bread and olives, to which may be added a little fruit; and at night the family sit about a meal of boiled rice, bread, and olives; if honey is added, it confers quite a sense of luxury, and there are sometimes wild greens, and grapes in the vintage season. They hardly taste meat other than at Christmas, Easter, and to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption in August. The Greek laborer seldom has milk, eggs, or butter, and while at first Greece would be considered a grazing country and one in which cattle would be a special feature of agricultural life, yet with more extended study of natural resources it is recognized that it is too mountainous for animals aside from the sheep and goat. In some parts of Greece, as in the island of Crete, goat’s milk is often found. The Greeks are an exceedingly temperate people, and while their wine-shops abound, they are, as a rule, as innocent as are the American soda-fountain counters. The characteristic intelligence of all the laboring classes, their passion for reading newspapers, and for discussing such questions of the day as come within their knowledge, redeem the scanty material resources of life, and differentiate them entirely from the ordinary peasant class of continental Europe. The traveler through all the isolated, little mountain towns and farming regions can offer his entertainers nothing so acceptable as the Greek newspapers. All these people are deeply religious by temperament, and churches and wayside chapels for worship abound all over Greece.
The number of monasteries in Greece has greatly decreased of late years, although they are still to be found, some twenty-five, perhaps, being in fairly prosperous condition, and sheltering a little community of monks who work on the estate, and act as hosts to passing travelers, who can usually get a meal, or even a night’s or a week’s lodging, if unencumbered by feminine tourists. In a few of these monasteries are rare books and manuscripts which allure clerical and scientific visitors. Convents are not unknown, although there are very few; and both the monks and the nuns are under a general supervision of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. The Mohammedans are not largely in evidence in Greece, although they have two or three centers, the most important one being at Larissa. Here and there a mosque is found, but even these are not invariably used for their original purpose.
In Athens the clergy form a distinctive and a very impressive feature of the out-of-door life. The priests, with their long cloaks falling in sculpturesque folds, and their tall silk hats, are constantly met with in the streets and all public places. Many of them have long, flowing beards and look as if they might be the patriarchs of the Bible. The striking resemblance that some of them bear to certain portraits of the Christ is often remarked by visitors in Athens. The priests are singularly devout in feeling, and their demeanor suggests a strong contrast to much of the apparent indifference to rites and ceremonials with which the church ritual in Italy is often attended. The evident detachment of the officiating priesthood from any personal interest in the service, which is often remarked by those who attend the vesper service at St. Peter’s in Rome, is seldom, if ever, encountered in the Greek church. The ceremonies of the Greek ritual are very splendid and imposing. The churches are without seats, although, as in the cathedrals in other countries of Europe, chairs are placed for a portion of the congregation, but the men, as a rule, stand during the entire service. They join fervently in the singing, and the effect is often that of the most rich and majestic choral harmony. The churches are always open, and they are seldom without worshipers, who enter to kneel in prayer before the shrines, and to make the rounds of all the pictures that can be reached, each one of which the devotee kisses with fervor.
The Easter festival, whose observances are so dimmed in Rome that hardly more than the tradition of former splendor survives, is celebrated in Athens with great pomp and magnificence of pageantry. Constitution Square is the center of all interest on Easter eve, a raised platform being placed on the side adjoining the royal palace, on which the king and all the royal family, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet assemble to await the coming of the Metropolitan, as the head of the Greek church is entitled. The populace of the city throng the Square, each person bearing an unlighted candle. The Metropolitan, robed in all the splendor of his ecclesiastical vestments, advances, followed by a long train of his clergy, the priests clad in their richest robes. The vast assemblage bows, hushed and silent, when the Metropolitan announces : “Christ is risen ! ” A great response rings out : “He is risen, indeed ! ” Then all the people unite in singing the “Kyrie Eleison;”
and at midnight each candle is lighted, and they all proceed to their homes, singing. There is not perhaps in the civilized world any celebration of a religious rite so impressive as that of the Easter eve in Athens.
Much has been told of the funeral customs of the Greeks, and especially of their carrying of the dead in an open casket through the streets. Formerly this was done with the dead, at times, even in a sitting position; but this has now hardly been seen for many years, and the custom of the open casket is largely discontinued. When it is still seen, the lid of the casket is carried by the nearest male relative or friend, who thus leads the procession. The ecclesiastics in their funeral robes, with the family and friends, on foot, are followed by a train of empty carriages and the empty hearse; behind these comes the body of the dead, the head slightly raised that the passer-by may see the features. The face is always kept towards the east. The lavish masses of flowers, in all manner of beautiful devices, yet make the strange procession one of inevitable loveliness. So rapidly, how-ever, is Athens becoming fully Europeanized, that while the more archaic funeral customs may linger on for a time in the provinces, they will hardly be seen in the capital.
When a city is in a condition of such rapid transition as is Athens, there is difficulty in being accurate in any attempt at descriptive de-tail; the spectacle witnessed to-day has vanished by to-morrow, not to be seen again. From that thoroughfare of modern beauty, the Boulevard de l’Université, to the ceramicus (the ancient cemetery) within the Dipylon Gate, is spanned a gulf of twenty-seven centuries. The high degree of the civilization of antiquity, as revealed by the work of excavations constantly being carried on, contrasts strangely with the advancement made during the ages that lie between.
An extensive series of excavations made under Dr. Dorpfeld’s instructions, in the rocky hillside of the Pynx, near the Acropolis, brought to light a complete chain of cisterns, wells, and channels cut through the rock for the purpose of conveying water from the mountains to a great aqueduct. Even the laws pertaining to modern hydraulics had been utilized in this undertaking. There were few problems of life for which the ancient Greek did not apparently have a solution. No student of Hellenism can fail to hold an increasing appreciation of the greatness of the race at the time of Pericles. While the present dominates the past, even as the future dominates the present, the estimate of all the ancient skill and knowledge will be held in persistent recognition.
The restorations that are now being made on the Acropolis will still further impress the modern visitor with the marvel of the life of twenty-five centuries ago. The north porch of the Erechtheum has been completely restored to its historic beauty. There is even a dream, which is taking shape, and form, and purpose, and is not merely such stuff as dreams are made of, a dream of restoring the Parthenon to its historic and incomparable beauty. Yet where is the Pheidias who could recreate the chryselephantine statue of the divine Athena and that of Olympian Jove?
Athens is distinctively modern and not antique. It would be a strange sight to see the architecture of the Acropolis reproduced, springing from the twentieth century, a very miracle, as Minerva sprang from the brain of Zeus. Yet no true seer would dare limit his prophetic vision of contemporary achievement. We are in a miracle age, and all Athens is pervaded by a sense of creation rather than of decay, of construction rather than destruction. The people have the aspect of expectant and ardent interest in present activities that conduce to the growth of their city, rather than any air of the mere contemplation of a city long since vanished. The modern Athenian admits no gulf between the age of Pericles and the age of Constantine, the new king; and if the Greeks are chiefly absorbed at this time in the reconstruction of the kingdom of the Hellenes, they are by no means oblivious to the ideal Republic of Plato; nor are they, one may infer, entirely with-out faith in the ultimate realization of conditions which, if not identical with those of Plato’s dream, may yet be as noble, in the building up of their new and wonderful kingdom. The Greeks are never a people who would perish because of the lack of vision; and visions, as George Eliot well observes, “are the creators and feeders of mankind.” The Greeks regard their task as not only that of guarding faithfully the great traditions of their mighty past, as a supreme attainment won and completed; but they see in those traditions the ideals to be still further developed and embodied in the realizations of the future.