Excursions In Attica – Pentelicus – Marathon

THIS great loneliness is a feature that strikes the traveler almost everywhere through the land. Many centuries of insecurity, and indeed of violence, had made country life almost impossible; and now that better times have come, the love and knowledge of it are gone. The city Athenian no longer grumbles, as he did in Aristophanes’s day, that an invasion has driven him in from the rude plenty and simple luxuries of his farming life, where with his figs and his olives, his raisins and his heady wine, he made holiday before his gods, and roasted his thrush and his chestnuts with his neighbor over the fire. All this is gone. There is not extinct, indeed, the old political lounger, the loafer of the market-place, ever seeking to obtain some shabby maintenance by sycophancy or by threats. This type is not hard to find in modern Athens, but the old sturdy Acharnian, as well as the rich horse-breeding Alcmaaonid, are things of the past. Even the large profits to be made by market-gardening will not tempt them to adopt this industry, and the great city of Athens is one of the worst supplied and dearest of capitals, most of its daily requirements in vegetables, fowls, eggs, etc., coming in by steamers from islands on the coast of Thessaly No part of the country of Attica can be considered even moderately cultivated, except the Thriasian plain, and the valley of Kephissus, reaching from near Dekelea to the sea. This latter plain, with its fine olive-woods reaching down across Academus to the region of the old long walls, is fairly covered with corn and grazing cattle, with plane trees and poplars. But even here many of the homesteads were deserted ; and the country seats of the Athenians were often left empty for years, whenever a band of brigands appeared in the neighboring mountains. Of late there is a steady improvement.

Nothing can be truer than the admirable description of Northern Attica given in M. Perrot’s book on the Attic orators. He is describing Rhamnus, the home of Antiphon, but his picture is of broader application.

All these remarks are even more strongly exemplified by the beautiful country which lies between Pentelicus and Hymettus, and which is now covered with forest and brushwood. We passed through this vale one sunny morning, on our way to visit Marathon. There is, indeed, a road for some miles—the road to the quarries of Pentelicus—but a very different one from what the Athenians must have had. It is now a mere broad track, cut by wheels and hoofs in the sward ; and wherever the ruts become too deep, the driver turns aside and makes a parallel track for his own convenience. In summer days, the dust produced by this sort of road is something beyond description ; and the soil being very red earth, we have an atmosphere which accounts to some extent for the remarkable colour of the old buildings of Athens. The way, after turning round the steep Lycabettus, which, like Arthur’s Seat at Edinburgh, commands the town, passes up the east side of the undulating plain of Attica, with the stony but variegated slopes of Hymettus upon the right, and Pentelicus almost straight ahead. As soon as the suburbs are passed we meet but one or two country seats, surrounded with dark cypress and pepper trees ; but outside the sombre green is a tall, dazzling, white wall, which gives a peculiarly Oriental character to the landscape. There is cultivation visible when you look to the westward, where the village of Kephissia lies among the groves which accompany the Kephissus on its course ;1 but up, towards Pentelicus, along the track which must once have been crowded with carts, and heavy teams, and shouting drivers, when all the blocks of the Parthenon were being hurried from their quarry to adorn the Acropolis—along this famous track there is hardly a sign of culture. Occasionally, a rough stubble field showed that a little corn had been cut —an occasional station, with a couple of soldiers, shows why more had not been sown. The fear of brigands had paralysed industry, and even driven out the scanty rural population.

It strikes me, when speaking of this road, that the Greek roads cannot have been at all so well constructed as the Roman, many of which are still to be seen in England. Though I went upon the track of many of them, I but seldom noticed the vestige of an old Greek road. There are many places on the road to Eleusis, where we see how the old sacred way was cut out of the neighbouring rock on its north side. There are here and there wretched remains of Turkish roads—rough angular stones laid down across the hills, in a close irregular pavement ; but of the great builders of the Parthenon and of Phyle, of Eleutherae and of Eleusis, hardly a patch of road-work has, so far as I know, remained.

There is, indeed, one exception in this very neighbourhood, to which we may now naturally turn. The traveller who has wondered at the huge blocks of the Propylaea and the Parthenon, and who has noticed the exquisite quality of the stone, and the perfect smoothness which it has preserved to the present day, will naturally desire to visit the quarry on Pentelicus from which it was brought. The marble of Paros is probably the only stone superior to it for the purposes of sculpture. It is, however, harder, and of larger grain, so that it must have been more difficult to work. Experts can tell the difference between the two marbles, but I confess that, though M. Rousopoulos endeavoured to teach it to me from specimens in the Acropolis Museum, I was unable to attain a clear perception. The large blocks of Pentelican marble, however beautiful and fine in grain, seem not unfrequently to have contained flaws, and possibly the ascertaining of this defect may of old have been one of the most difficult duties of the architect. It is supposed to have been done by sounding the block with a hammer, a process which the Greeks. There are at present, close to the east front of the Parthenon, several of these rejected blocks, and the lapse of ages has brought out the flaw visibly, because damp has had time to penetrate the stone, and stain its pure whiteness with a dark seam. But when it came fresh from its native bed, and was all pure white, I presume the difficulty must have been considerable. Possibly these blocks on the Parthenon were injured in their transit, and left the quarries in sound condition. For in going up the steep road to these quarries, in more than one place a similar great block will be found tumbled aside, and left lying at the very spot where we may suppose some accident to have happened to crack it. This road, which in its highest parts has never been altered, is a steep descent, rudely paved with transverse courses of stone, like steps in pattern, and may have had wooden slides laid over it, to bring down the product of the quarries to the valley. It is well worth while going up for a night to the fine monastery not far off, where there is ample shade of waving trees and plenty of falling water, in the midst of deep slopes wooded with fir—a cool and quiet retreat in the fierce heat of summer. From this place to the quarries is less than an hour’s walk. The moderns still draw stone from them, but far below the spots chosen by the ancients ; and of course the remains of the old industry are on an infinitely grander scale.

It is a laborious climb, up a road covered with small fragments of stone. But at last, beneath a great face of marble all chipped with the work of ancient hands, there is a large cool cavern, with water dripping from the roof into ice-cold pools below, and beside it a quaint grotto chapel, with its light still burning, and stone seats around, where the traveller may rest. This place seems to have been the main source of the old Athenian buildings. The high face of the rock above it is chipped, as I have said, with small and delicate cutting, and hangs over, as if they had removed it beneath, in order to bring down the higher pieces more easily. Of course, they could not, and probably if they could, would not, have blasted the stone ; and, so far as I know, we are not informed by what process they managed to loosen and bring down the great blocks from their sites. The surface of the rock testifies to the use of some small and delicate chisel. But whatever the process, they must have had machinery of which we have lost all record, for no amount of manual work could possibly have accomplished what they did in a few years, and accomplished it with a delicacy which shows complete control of their materials. The beautifully fitted walls of the chamber inside the north wing of the Propylaea preserve an interesting piece of detail on the face of each square block, which is perfectly fitted to its fellows ; there still remains a rough knob jutting out from the centre, evidently the handle used for lifting the stone, and only to be removed when all the building was complete. The expenses of war and the dolours of a long siege caused the Propylaea to remain unfinished, and so this piece of construction has survived.

The view from the top of Pentelicus is, of course, very striking, and those who have no time or inclination to spend a day at Marathon itself are usually content with a very fine view of the bay and the opposite mountains of Euboea which can thence be had. But it is indeed a pity, now that the country is quite safe, after so long a journey as that from England to Athens, people should turn back without completing the additional fifteen miles which brings them to the site of the great battle itself.

As we leave the track which leads up to the monastery above mentioned, the country becomes gradually covered with shrubs, and then with stunted trees—generally old fir-trees, all hacked and wounded for the sake of their resin, which is so painfully obtrusive in Greek wine. But in one place there is, by way of change, a picturesque bridge over a rapid rocky-bedded river, which is completely hidden with rich flowering oleanders, and in which we found sundry Attic women, of the poorer class, washing their clothes. The woods in this place were wonderfully rich and scented, and the sound of the turtle-dove was heard in the land. Presently we came upon the thickly wooded corner, which was pointed out to us as the spot where our unfortunate countrymen were captured in 187o, and carried up the slopes of Pentelicus, to be sacrificed to the blundering of the English Minister or the Greek Ministry,-I could not decide which; and more certainly to their own chivalry ; for while all the captured Greeks escaped during the pursuit, our English gentlemen would not break their parole. These men are now held by the better Greeks to be martyrs for the good of Greece ; for this outrage first forced the Government to take really vigorous measures for the safety of the country. The whole band were gradually captured and executed, till at last Takos, their chief, was caught in Peloponnesus, three or four years ago, and hanged at Athens. So it came that I found the country (even in my earlier visits, ’75, ’77, ’84,’89) apparently as safe as Ireland is to a traveller, and we required neither escort, nor arms, nor any precautions whatever.

We had, indeed, a missive from the Greek Prime Minister, which we presented to the Chief Police Officer of each town—a gentleman in the usual scarlet cap and white petticoats, but carrying a great dog-whip as the sign of his office. This custom, strange to say, dates from the days of Aristophanes. But the Prime Minister warned us that, though things were now safe, there was no permanent security. Any revolution in the neighbourhood (such, for example, as that in Herzegovina, which at that time had not yet broken out) might, he said, send over the Turkish frontier a number of outlaws or other fugitives, who would support themselves by levying blackmail on the peasantry, and then on travellers. We were assured that the Morea, which does not afford an easy escape into Turkey, has been for years perfectly secure, and I found it so in several subsequent journeys. So, then, any traveller desirous of seeing the Peloponnesus Sparta, Olympia, Mantinea, Argos, or even Central Greece—may count on doing so with safety. Not so the visitor to Tempe and Mount Pindus. The Professors of the University with whom I talked were, indeed, of a more sanguine opinion. They did not anticipate any recurrence of the danger : they considered Greece one of the safest and quietest of countries. Moreover, in one point they all seemed agreed. It was perfectly certain that the presence of bandits would be at once known at Athens.

So much for the safety of travelling in Greece, which is suggested by the melancholy fate of Mr. Vyner and his friends, though that event is now so long past. But one point more. It is both idle and foolish to imagine that revolvers and daggers are any protection against Greek bandits, should they reappear. They never attack where they are visible. The first notice given to the traveller is the sight of twenty or thirty muzzles pointed at him from the covert, with a summons to surrender. Except, therefore, the party be too numerous to be so surrounded and covered, so that some could fight, even were others shot—except in such a case, arms are only an additional prize, and a tempting one, for the clephts. It is, indeed, very seldom that the carrying of arms is to be recommended to any traveller in any land.

As we ascended the long saddle of country which lies between Pentelicus and Hymettus, we came upon a fine olive-wood, with the same enormous stems which had already excited our wonder in the groves of Academe. Indeed, some of the stems in this wood were the largest we had seen, and made us think that they may have been there since the days when the olive oil of Attica was one of its most famous products, and its export was even forbidden. Even then there were ancient stumps as they were called—which were sacred, and which no man who rented or bought the land might remove—a restriction which seems hard to us, but was not so in Greece, where corn grows freely in the shade of trees, and is even habitually planted in orchards. But at all events, these old, gnarled, hollowed stumps, with their tufts of branches starting from the pollard trunk, are a really classical feature in the country, and deserve, therefore, a passing notice.

When we had got well between the mountains, a new scene unfolded itself. We began to see the famous old Euripus, with the mountains of Eubœa over against us ; and down to the south, behind Hymettus, till we reach the extremity of Sunium, stretched a long tract of mountainous and barren country which never played a prominent part in history, but where a conical hill was pointed out to us as the site of the old deme Brauron. It is, indeed, surprising how little of Attica was ever celebrated. Close by the most famous city of the world are reaches of country which are as obscure to us as the wilds of Arcadia ; and we may suspect that the shepherds who inhabited the rocky pastures in the Attic hills, were not much superior to those whom we now meet herding their goats in the same region.

The plain of Marathon, as everybody knows, is a long crescent – shaped strip of land by the shore, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, which may be crossed conveniently in three places, but most easily towards the south-west, along the road which we travelled, and which leads directly to Athens. When the Athenians marched through this broad and easy passage, they found that the Persians had landed at the northern extremity of the plain—I suppose, be-cause the water was there sufficiently deep to let them land conveniently. Most of the shore, as you proceed southwards, is lined on the seaboard by swamps. The Greek army must have marched northwards, along the spurs of Pentelicus, and taken up its position near the north of the plain. There was evidently much danger that the Persians should force a passage through the village of Marathon, farther towards the northwest. Had they done this, they might have rounded Pentelicus, and descended the main plain of Attica, from the valley below Dekelea. Perhaps, however, this pass was then guarded by an outlying fort, or by some defences at Marathon itself. The site of the battle is absolutely fixed by the great mound, upon which was placed a lion, which has been carried off, no one knows when or whither. This mound is exactly an English mile from the steep slope of one of the hills, and about half a mile from the sea at present ; nor was there, when I saw it, any difficulty in walking right to the shore, though a river flows out there, which shows, by its sedgy banks and lofty reeds, a tendency to create a marshy tract in rainy weather. But the mound is so placed that, if it marks the centre of the battle, the Athenians must have faced nearly north ; and, if they faced the sea eastward, as is commonly stated, this mound must mark the scene of the conflict on their left wing .l The mound is very large—I suppose thirty feet high —altogether of earth, so far as we could see, and bears traces of having been frequently ransacked in search of antiquities. Dr. Schliemann, its latest investigator, could find nothing there but prehistoric flint weapons.

Like almost every view in Greece, the prospect from this mound is full of beauty and variety—everywhere broken outlines, everywhere patches of blue sea, everywhere silence and solitude. Byron is so much out of fashion now, and so much more talked about than read—though even that notice of him is fast disappearing—that I will venture to remind the reader of the splendid things he has said of Greece, and especially of this very plain of Marathon. He was carried away by his enthusiasm to fancy a great future possible for the country, and to believe that its desolation and the low condition of the inhabitants were simply the result of Turkish tyranny, and not of many natural causes, conspiring for twenty centuries. He paints the Greek brigand or pirate as many others have painted the ‘ noble savage,’ with the omission of all his meaner vices. But, in spite of all these faults, who is there that has felt as he the affecting aspects of this beautiful land—the tomb of ancient glory—the home of ancient wisdom—the mother of science, of art, of philosophy, of statecraft—the champion of liberty—the envy of the Persian and the Roman—the teacher, even still, of modern Europe ? It is surely a great loss to our generation, that the love of more modern poets has weaned them from the study of one not less great in many respects, but far greater in one at least—in that burning enthusiasm for a national cause, in that red-hot passion for liberty which, even when misapplied, or wasted upon unworthy objects, is ever one of the noblest and most stirring instincts of higher man.

But Byron may well be excused his raving about the liberty of the Greeks, for truly their old conflict at Marathon, where a few thousand ill-disciplined men repulsed a larger number of still worse disciplined Orientals, without any recondite tactics—perhaps even without any very extraordinary heroism—how is it that this conflict has maintained a celebrity which has not been equalled by any of the great battles of the world, from that day down to our own ? The courage of the Greeks, as I have elsewhere shown, was not of the first order. Herodotus praises the Athenians in this very battle for being the first Greeks that dared to look the Persians in the face. Their generals all through history seem never to feel sure of victory, and always endeavour to harangue their soldiers into a fury. Instead of advising coolness, they specially incite to rage says one of them in Thucydides—as if any man not in this state would be sure to estimate the danger fully, and run away. It is, indeed, true that the ancient battles were hand to hand, and therefore parallel to our charges of bayonets, which are said to be very seldom carried out by two opposing lines, as one of them almost always gives way before the actual collision takes place. This must often have occurred in Greek battles, for, in one fought at Amphipolis, Brasidas lost seven men ; at a battle at Corinth, mentioned by Xenophon—an important battle, too—the slain amounted to eight ;1 and these battles were fought before the days when whole armies were composed of mercenaries, who spared one another, as Ordericus Vitalis says, for the love of God, and out of good feeling for the fraternity of arms.’ So, then, the loss of 192 Athenians, including some distinguished men, and excluding Platæans, was rather a severe one. As to the loss of the Persians, I so totally disbelieve the Greek accounts of such things that it is better to pass it by in silence.

Perhaps most readers will be astonished to hear of the Athenian army as undisciplined, and of the science of war as undeveloped, in those times. Yet I firmly believe this was so. The accounts of battles by almost all the historians are so utterly vague, and so childishly conventional, that it is evident these gentlemen were not only quite ignorant of the science of war, but could not easily find any one to explain it to them. We know that the Spartans—the most admired of all Greek warriors—were chiefly so admired because they devised the system of subordinating officers to one another within the same detachment, like our gradation from colonel to corporal. Orders were passed down from officer to officer, instead of being bawled out by a herald to a whole army. But this superiority of the Spartans, who were really disciplined, and went into battle coolly, like brave men, certainly did not extend to strategy, but was merely a question of better drill. As soon as any real strategist met them, they were helpless. Thus Iphicrates, when he devised Wellington’s plan of meeting their attacking column in line, and using missiles, succeeded against them, even without firearms : thus Epaminondas, when he devised Napoleon’s plan of massing troops on a single point, while keeping all his enemy’s line occupied, defeated them without any considerable struggle. As for that general’s great battle of Mantinea, the ancient Rossbach, which seems really to have been introduced by some complicated strategical movements, we owe our partial knowledge to the grudging account of the soldier Xenophon. But both Iphicrates and Epaminondas were in the distant future when the battle of Marathon was being fought.

Yet what signifies this criticism ? In spite of all scepticism, in spite of all contempt, the battle of Marathon, whether badly or well fought, and the troops at Marathon, whether well or ill trained, will ever be more famous than any other battle or army, however important or gigantic its dimensions. Even in this very war, the battles of Salamis and Plata were vastly more important and more hotly contested. The losses were greater, the results were more enduring, yet thousands have heard of Marathon to whom the other names are unknown. So much for literary ability—so much for the power of talking well about one’s deeds. Marathon was fought by Athenians ; the Athenians eclipsed the other Greeks as far as the other Greeks eclipsed the rest of the world, in literary power. This battle became the literary property of the city, hymned by poet, cited by orator, told by aged nurse, lisped by stammering infant ; and so it has taken its position, above all criticism, as one of the great decisive battles which assured the liberty of the West against Oriental despotism.

The plain in the present day is quite bare of trees, and, as Colonel Leake observed, appears to have been so at the time of the battle, from the vague account of its evolutions. There were a little corn and a few other crops about the great tumulus ; and along the seashore, whither we went to bathe, there was a large herd of cows and oxen—a sight not very usual in Greece. When we rushed into the shallow blue water, striving to reach swimming depth, we could not but think of the scene when Kynægirus and his companions rushed in armed to stop the embarkation of the Persians. On the shore, then teeming with ships of war, with transports, with fighting and flying men, there was now no sign of life, but ourselves in the water, and the lazy cattle and their silent herds-man looking upon us in wonder ; for, though very hot, it was only May, and the modern Greek never thinks it safe to bathe till at least the end of June—in this like his Italian neighbour. There was not a single ship or boat in the straits ; there was no sign of life or of population on the coast of Eubœa. There was everywhere that solitude which so much struck Byron, as it strikes every traveller in Modern Greece. There was not even the child or beggar, with coins and pieces of pottery, who is so trouble-some about Italian ruins, and who has even lately appeared at the Parthenon, the theatre of Argos, and a few other places in Greece. We asked the herds-man for remnants of arms or pieces of money : he had seen such things picked up, but knew nothing of their value. Lord Byron tells us he was offered the purchase of the whole plain (six miles by two) for about £900. It would have been a fine speculation for an antiquary : but I am surprised, as he was, rather at the greatness than at the smallness of the price. The Greek Government might very well, even now, grant the fee-simple to any one who would pay the ordinary taxes on property, which are not, I was told, very heavy. But still the jealousy of the nation would not tolerate a foreign speculator.

I have already spoken of the position of the pass of Daphne, and how it leads the traveller over the ridge which separates the plain of the Kephissus from the Thriasian plain. I have also spoken at length of the country about the Kephissus, with its olive-woods and its nightingales. When we go through the pass of Daphne—of its monastery I shall speak in another chapter—a perfectly new view opens before us. We see under us the Thriasian plain, well covered with ripening corn and other crops ; we see at the far side of the crescent-shaped bay the remains of Eleusis. Behind it, and all round to the right up to where we stand, is an amphitheatre of hills—the spurs of Mount Parnes, which from Phyle reach due south down to where we stand, and due west to the inland of the Thriasian plain, till they meet and are confounded with the slopes of Cithæron, which extend for miles away behind Eleusis. On the sea-side, to our left, lies the island of Salamis, so near the coast that the sea seems a calm inland lake, lying tortuously between the hills.

Many points of Greek history become plain to us by this view. We see how true was the epithet ‘ rocky Salamis,’ for the island, though it looks very insignificant on our maps, contains lofty mountains, with very bare and rocky sides. The student of Greek geography in maps should note this feature. Thus, Ithaca on the map does not suggest the actual Ithaca, which from most points looks like a high and steep mountain standing out of the sea. We begin also to see how Salamis was equally convenient (as the Irish say) to both Megara and Attica, if we consider that Eleusis was strictly a part of Attica. The harbour of the Peiraeus, for example, would be quite useless if an enemy were watching it from Salamis. But we also come to see the sense of the old legend, that Eleusis had originally a separate king or government from that of Athens, and that the two cities once carried on war against each other. The towns are but a few miles apart ; but their respective plains are so distinctly and completely separated by the pass of Daphne, that not one acre of the territory of Eleusis can be seen from Athens, nor of Athens from Eleusis. So also, lastly, we come to feel how natural is the remark of Thucydides, that the population of Athens, when the Lacedaemonians invaded Attica, and came no farther than the Thriasian plain, did not feel the terrors of a hostile invasion, as the enemy was not in sight ; but when he crossed the passes, and began to ravage Acharnae, and the vale of Kephissus, then indeed, though Eleusis was just as near, and just as much their own, they felt the reality of the invasion, and were for the first time deeply dejected. This is a good example of that combined farness and nearness which is so characteristic about the most neighbouring cities in Greece.

The wretched modern village of Eleusis is picturesquely situated near the sea, on the old site, and there are still to be seen the ruins, not only of the famous temple of Demeter, but also of the Propylma, built apparently in imitation of that of Mnesicles on the Acropolis at Athens, though the site of both temple and Propylaea are at Eleusis low, and in no way striking.

These celebrated ruins are wretchedly defaced. Not a column or a wall is now standing, and we can see nothing but vast fragments of pillars and capitals, and a great pavement, all of white marble, along which the ancient wheel-tracks are distinctly visible. There are also underground vaults of small dimensions, which, the people tell you, were intended for the Mysteries. We that knew what vast crowds attended there would not give credence to this ignorant guess ; for we also knew from distinct evidence that the great ceremony took place in a large building specially constructed for the purpose. The necessary darkness was obtained by performing the more solemn rites at night not by going down beneath the surface of the earth.

The Greek savants have at last laid open, and explained, the whole plan of the temple, which was built by Ictinus, in Pericles’s time, but apparently restored after a destructive fire by Roman architects copying faithfully the ancient style. The excavators have shown that the shrine had strange peculiarities. And this is exactly what we should expect. For although no people adhered more closely to traditional forms in their architecture, no people were more ready to modify these forms with a view to practical requirements. Thus, as a rule, the cella, or inner chamber of the temple, contained only the statue of the god, and was consequently small and narrow. In the temple at Eleusis has been found a great inner chamber about 59 yards by 54, hewn out of the rock in the rear of the edifice, and capable of accommodating a large assembly. Here then it seems the initiated—probably those of the higher degree, epoptae as they were called—witnessed those services ‘ which brought them peace in this world, and a blessed hope for the world to come.

The way into the temple was adorned with two Propylaea—one now ascribed to Hadrian’s time, another certainly set up by a Roman, App. Claudius Pulcher, in 48 B.C., after you had passed through the former. The great temple, raised upon a natural platform, looks out towards Salamis, and the narrow line of azure which separates it from the land. Turning to the left as you stand at the temple front, the eye wanders over the rich plain of Eleusis, now dotted over with villages, and coloured (in April) with the rich brown of ploughing, and the splendid green of sprouting wheat. This plain had multiplied its wealth manyfold since I first saw it, and led us to hope that the peasants were waking up to the great market which is near them at Athens. The line of the old sacred way along the Thriasian plain is often visible, for much of the sea-coast is marshy, so the road was cut out in many places along the spurs of the rocky hill of Daphne. The present road goes between the curious salt-lakes (Rheitoi) and the shore —salt-lakes full of sea-fish, and evidently fed by great natural springs, for there is a perpetual strong outflow to the tideless sea. I know not whether this natural curiosity has been explained by the learned.

It is, of course, the celebrated Mysteries—the Greater Eleusinia, as they were called—which give to the now wretched village of Eleusis, with its hope-less ruins, so deep an interest. This wonderful feast, handed down from the remotest antiquity, maintained its august splendour all through the greater ages of Greek history, down to the times of decay and trifling —when everything else in the country had become mean and contemptible. Even Cicero, who was of the initiated himself, a man of wide culture, and of a sceptical turn of mind—even Cicero speaks of it as the great product of the culture of Athens. ‘ Much that is excellent and divine,’ says he, ‘does Athens seem to me to have produced and added to our life, but nothing better than those Mysteries, by which we are formed and moulded from a rude and savage state to humanity ; and indeed in the Mysteries we perceive the real principles of life, and learn not only to live happily, but to die with a fairer hope.’ These are the words of a man writing, as I have said, in the days of the ruin and prostration of Greece. Can we then wonder at the enthusiastic language of the Homeric Hymn, of Pindar, of Sophbcles, of Aristophanes, of Plato,’ of Isocrates, of Chrysippus ? Every manner of writer—religious poet, worldly poet, sceptical philosopher, orator—all are of one mind about this, far the greatest of all the religious festivals of Greece.

To what did it owe this transcendent character ? It was not because men here worshipped exceptional gods, for the worship of Demeter and Cora was old and widely diffused all over Greece : and there were other Eleusinia in various places. It was not because the ceremony consisted of mysteries, of hidden acts and words, which it was impious to reveal. For the habit of secret worship was practised in every state, where special clans were charged with the care of special secret services, which no man else might know. Nay, even within the ordinary homes of the Greeks there were these Mysteries. Neither was it because of the splendour of the feast and its appointments, which never equalled the Panathenaea at the Parthenon, or the riches of Delphi, or of Olympia. There is only one reasonable cause, and it is that upon which all our serious authorities agree. The doctrine taught in the Mysteries was a faith which revealed hopeful things about the world to come ; and which—not so much as a condition, but as a consequence, of this clearer light, this higher faith—made them better citizens and better men. This faith was taught in the Mysteries through symbols,’ through prayer and fasting, through wild rejoicings ; but, as Aristotle expressly tells us, it was reached not by intellectual persuasion, but by a change into a new moral state—in fact, by being spiritually revived.

Here, then, we have the strangest and most striking analogy to our religion in the Greek mythology ; for here we have a higher faith publicly taught,—any man might present himself to be initiated,—and taught, not in opposition to the popular creed, but merely by deepening it, and showing to the ordinary worldling its spiritual power. The belief in the Goddess Demeter and her daughter, the queen of the nether world, was, as I have said, common all over Greece ; but even as nowadays we are told that there may be two kinds of belief of the same truths,—one of the head and another of the heart, just as the most excellent man of the world, who believes all the creeds of the Church, is called an unbeliever, in the higher sense, by our Evangelical Christians ; so the ordinary Greek, though he prayed and offered at the Temple of Demeter, was held by the initiated at the Mysteries to be wallowing in the mire of ignorance, and stumbling in the night of gloom—he was held to live without real light, and to die without hope, in wretched despair.

The very fact that it was not lawful to divulge the Mystery has prevented the many writers who knew it from giving us any description by which we might gain a clear idea of this wonderful rite. We have hints of various sacred vessels, of various priests known by special technical names ; of dramatic representations of the rape of Cora, and of the grief of her mother; of her complaints before Zeus, and the final reconciliation. We hear of scenes of darkness and fear, in which the hopeless state of the unbelievers was portrayed ; of light and glory, to which the convert attained, when at last his eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil.

But all these things are fragmentary glimpses, as are also the doctrines hinted of the Unity of God, and of atonement by sacrifice. There remains nothing clear and certain, but the unanimous verdict as to the greatness, the majesty, and the awe of the services, and the great spiritual knowledge and comfort which they conveyed. The consciousness of guilt was not, indeed, first taught by them, but was felt generally, and felt very keenly by the Greek mind. These Mysteries were its Gospel of reconciliation with the offended gods.

These ideas seem to have taken a deeper hold on mankind than to affect mere Hellenic sentiment. In the far-off wilds of NorthWestern Europe we find as early (or as late) as 1200 A.D. a cult of mystery established under the name of S. Patrick’s Purgatory, which has too many similarities to the Eleusinian for a chance coincidence. Here, too, the sinner, after fasting and purification, was laid in a dark cave, where he saw the horrors of hell and the delights of heaven, and from which he might never emerge, or emerge insane, if hopelessly guilty, or else in awe and delight, having found peace for his troubled soul. The earliest Latin account of this Purgatory, situated on an island in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, spread so widely through Europe, that it is commonly supposed to have influenced Dante in his Purgatorio ; its abuses caused Pope Alexander VI. to send a Cardinal thither in 1492 ; it gave the name to a play of Calderon. The island, though the cave has been blocked up, and the ancient fane destroyed by Protestant iconoclasm, still gathers every summer some 4000 pilgrims, who would be to-day quite willing to go through the ancient symbolism, and seek the Eleusinian message of peace with a change of titles and of gods, but not of that spiritual hunger for peace and reconciliation with the powers whose vengeance is the haunting dread of almost every age, and of every race of men. From Athens To PentelicusSide Trip To Mount PentelicusExcursions From Athens Greece