Greece – Acropolis Of Athens

“MASTER, behold what manner of stones and what manner of buildings ! ” were the words of one of the disciples to Jesus as they came out of the temple; and Josephus has told us how great some of the stones of the Jewish temple were. It is interesting right in the midst of the Gospel record to find this note of astonishment and admiration evoked by the grand and beautiful in art. The more I climbed the Acropolis the more I repeated the exclamation of the wondering disciple at Jerusalem, ” Behold what manner of stones and what manner-of buildings ! ”

Where too can one find more eloquent fragments ? Is there any place where stones have more secrets to tell to one who takes pains to study their language?

As we came from the Parthenon one afternoon, Dr. Dorpfeld called our attention to the large drum of a column which lay near by. It had been rejected by the architect because it was not true. We know that in the building of one of the temples it was expressly stipulated that all stones should be inspected by the chief architect and those that were not perfect should be thrown out. Under this alert inspection no careless or slovenly contractor could have his bill audited for imperfect work; the rejected stone could not become the head of the corner, nor find a place anywhere else in the building. For centuries this drum has lain there as a rebuke to imperfection and a mute witness to the vigilance and fidelity of the architect.

Few stones here seem to have forgotten their history. Most of them can tell us what they did or were meant to do. It is curious how the master architect can reconstruct an ancient building from a mass of stones and fragments as the master zoologist can reframe an extinct animal from a heap of bones. Some of these fragments still preserve organized relations. They lie together imbedded in the rock just where they were placed. From such a ground plan, broken though it is in continuity and design, Dorpfeld has derived the site, form and dimensions of a temple, older than the Parthenon and the Erechtheum and lying between them. It was possibly for a long time the only temple on the Acropolis. Pausanias mentions the temple of Athene Polias as standing at the time of his visit, — perhaps about 175 A. D., — and as containing a statue of Hermes, almost hidden by myrtle leaves, a folding chair, the work of Daedalus, and spoils taken from the Persians. This old temple had been partially destroyed by the Persians at the same time with the old Erechtheum ; the walls had undoubtedly been left standing and it was in all probability promptly rebuilt by the Athenians. The Parthenon was not finished till some years later, and we cannot suppose that Athene was without a temple on the Acropolis in the mean time. There are still many questions under dispute concerning the age, name and functions of this temple, and among them whether Athene Ergane — Athene as patroness of art and invention — was worshipped under that aspect in this assumed temple of Athene Polias, or whether, as some maintain, a separate building dedicated to her in this character was erected in another precinct. No trace of such temple, at all events, has been found.

Of the many statues on the Acropolis mentioned by Pausanias, the pedestals of some have been identified and the position of others may be conjectured Not far to the left of the way from the Propylaea to the Parthenon was the pedestal of the great statue of Athene Promachos, made by Phidias from Persian spoil. The goddess in war vesture stood with her spear in poise. The statue was no doubt colossal, for Pausanias tells us that one could descry the spearhead and helmet crest as he sailed from Sunium to Athens. This type of Athene is a familiar one, often reproduced in small bronze figures, which are not necessarily replicas of the statue of Phidias, but older representations of a generic conception of the goddess as defender and protector.

The Acropolis, consecrated to religion and the State, reveals few traces of the earlier days when it served as the abode of man. Not far from the Erechtheum, however, an old house wall has been brought to light. In the vicinity are a large number of roof tiles of pre-Persian date, which seem to be as fresh as if made today. The building, whatever it was, for which they were used, was probably erected only a short time before the Persian War, and when it was destroyed these bricks or tiles were buried, and so preserved. In this heap of tiles we have material for a whole chapter on ancient roofs. It is easy to distinguish between the flat ones and those evidently intended for roofing. In ancient times house-tops were covered with earth. This is well established from a study of the older temples. The construction of the roof of the Doric temple was a hard problem at first for those who maintained the derivation of the Doric style from the wooden structure. It could not be explained by any device or application of stone. Then it was seen that originally the roof was partly wood and partly clay. The heavy mass of earth required beams of great strength. When they were imitated in stone they were at first made ponderous, afterwards much lighter. With earthen roofs it was desirable of course to have a sufficient fall to shed the rain. If the pitch was too great the earth was washed off. This led to the introduction of terra-cotta tiles, which would allow a steeper incline; they were for the most part bent or curved, the better to carry off the water. The introduction of marble roofing dates from a much later time.

The Acropolis, as I have before intimated, was not a plateau to begin with ; the summit had more or less pitch. An old Pelasgic or Cyclopean wall of large unwrought stones formed a defensive barrier. When afterwards, in the fifth century before Christ, it was determined to level the rock, the space between the external wall and the summit had to be filled in. For this purpose many scattered fragments were used ; bases of statues, broken columns, pieces of sculpture and everything else obtainable, were thrown in. Thus the forward-looking Athenians builded better than they knew; for things which had ceased to be interesting to them have proved to be very interesting to us when upturned by the archaeologist’s spade.

On the north side, not far from the Erechtheum, were unearthed votive statues which had been burned or thrown down by the Persians. These bronzes, statues, toys, terra-cotta figures and other things brought to light by the excavations on the Acropolis, are now housed in the Museum there. They furnish interesting material for a comparison of pre-Persian with later Greek art. Here are rude representations of Athene and other gods in which the stone serves rather to imprison the divine conception than to give it freedom. This may be due less to poverty of conception than to imperfect execution; it was the sculptor feeling after God if haply he might find him. Here are sitting figures which may be either goddesses or women; this ambiguity is not uncommon or unnatural in an anthropomorphic system. The Greeks did not profess to know always a god from a man. Some label was necessary, — not always the name label, but the indication of some attribute. The aegis of Athene hung on her breast was enough to say, “Be reverent : I am a goddess.” These may have been toys, they may have been symbols of worship put into the graves. As such some of them certainly would have furnished new material for the sarcasm of Isaiah. They are indications perhaps of religious feeling six hundred years before Christ. As Athene was the principal goddess worshipped on the Acropolis, these little archaic terra-cottas may have been votive offerings at her shrine. Undoubtedly the manufacturers made them by the wholesale and sold them at a profit. They were made with sufficient indefiniteness to suit a number of gods. The reverent purchaser when he bought one to his liking may have considered it Athene or some other divinity.

The only deity besides Athene known to have been worshipped on the Acropolis was Artemis. A sitting ‘figure with a deer on her arm is without doubt a symbol of this goddess. Attention has been drawn to the relation of these images to some found at Corfu with bow in hand, which likewise take us back to pre-Persian times, to the fifth or sixth century before Christ. The modern drill sergeant who exhorts his recruits to step off with the left foot at the word ” march ” may find abundant precedent in the standing figures in the Acropolis Museum in which, as in Egyptian statues, the left foot is advanced. In one sculpture Athene is mounting a chariot with the owl in one corner; in another, the goddess is vain enough to wear earrings.

Of unusual interest are the fourteen archaic busts and torsos found near the north wall of the Acropolis, which still preserve for us the complacent, imperturbable smile they have worn since the days before the Persian invasion. Are they women or goddesses? If they were intended for Athene herself, she was shorn of all her attributes. Here is neither helmet, spear, owl, gorgoneion, nor any divine sign or label by which to establish her godhead. In the period when these were made, the attributes and insignia of the goddess were familiar and well developed. The probability therefore is that they stand for mortal women and were votive offerings. That is clear from dedicatory inscriptions which have been found, though detached from the statues. These inscriptions show that the givers were in most cases men. The marbles cannot then represent the persons who dedicate them. One inscription is described as ” tantalizing in its just failing to explain what we want to know.” It seems to have belonged to a statue of this kind, although the pedestal does not make that certain. The inscription indicates that a lucky fisherman has made a big haul and set aside some of the profits of his catch for a votive offering. But the statue is simply called a maiden. That is all we know about it. Whether it was a likeness of his mother, his sister, his cousin or his aunt, he does not tell us. This goes to show that these smirking statues were not individual portraits, but rather a conventional type of maidenhood dedicated to Athene. How it was that a maiden statue was offered to Athene some experts are not ready to say. I do not venture an explanation against their prudent agnosticism; but as Athene was herself a grey-eyed maid, the patroness of the arts of peace, in whose honor the Athenian maids embroidered the peplos for the Panathenaic procession, the dedication of a maiden statue does not seem inappropriate at the shrine of the virgin goddess. These pleasant women of the Acropolis have an importance worthy of their sex in the light they throw upon early Greek costumes.

A boy’s head in marble, in this collection, shows fresh emancipation of artistic skill and but a quaint reminiscence of the old formalism. ” It is the promise and potency of things to be,” said a friend, ” which appeal to us, together with the refined beauty of form and the pensive expression.”

The beautiful mural tablet of the socalled “Mourning Athene ” which was found built into a wall inside the ancient Parthenon, presents the goddess in a less familiar attitude. It is not known exactly when the wall was built, so we cannot infer the date of the relief from that. It is of Pentelic marble and shows Athene standing in front of a stele, or grave monument. She leans forward, apparently resting on her spear, her weight on her right foot, and the left just touching the ground. As the marble has been chipped we cannot tell whether her spear is reversed or not. She wears a long Doric chiton and a Corinthian helmet; the head is represented in profile.

Three theories have been presented as to the significance of this tablet. One is that Athene is here the guardian of the Acropolis, — a view which has little support. The second supposes that the goddess is mourning over a stele on which are en-graved the names of those fallen in battle. The third conceives her as guardian of a stele on which a law is engraved, depicting her thus as the protector of the law. I cannot myself escape from the mournful expression of the face. To be sure the gods have reason enough in these days to be mournful over bad laws, but knowing Athene as I do, I am convinced that anger, not grief, would have been the result of asking her to guard a bad law, and we should have had a broken tablet, recalling the one which Moses in his wrath let fall on the mount. The advocates of the third theory explain the sad face of the goddess by saying that it is a type characterizing the reaction against the smile which, though a relief from early formalism, had been overdone. As to the pose, they maintain that other statues which do not suggest grief have similar attitudes, and that no conclusion can be drawn from it.

If I speak last of the twenty-two slabs of the Parthenon frieze it is because they should be the climax in any scale of life and beauty of the art treasures on the Acropolis; and if I speak of them less, it is because they are probably most familiar to my readers. Even more than the grouping of the gods on the frieze do I enjoy the apotheosis of the cavalry procession. When before or since have horses been summoned out of stone into more life, freedom, strength and variety of motion, or riders invested with more grace and beauty? When the bicycle, the horseless carriage, the electric car and the locomotive shall have wrought their last mechanical ravage and made the horse as extinct as the dodo, the Parthenon frieze, if it has not crumbled into dust, will be his most perfect epitaph.

Old as are the temples made by hands and dedicated to Athene on the Acropolis, there are still older shrines. The grottoes of Apollo and of Pan on the north side of the hill recall the time when nature worship, from which much of the later mythology was derived, found its sanctuary in rocks and caves, springs and groves. The consecrated magnificence of later temples did not extinguish this traditional feeling. Votive offerings were made at these nature shrines. On the same side of the rock, and not far from the grottoes of Pan and Apollo, was the ancient well, Clepsydra. The spring which feeds it is still flowing; though lost for a time, in the revolution of 1822 the Greeks rediscovered it and drank of its water as their remote ancestors had done. Was it in rivalry of pagan devotion, or because something of the old pagan mystery or nature love was preserved in Greek Christianity that a Byzantine chapel with its painted saints was set in this hollow of the rock, as on the southside grotto of the Acropolis a votive lamp is kept burning for an obscure Christian saint? Like the water from this celebrated spring, the old is perpetually bubbling up into the new; Christianity still feeds its baptismal fonts from pagan springs.

It is time to go down from the consecrated rock. Greece is more than Athens and Athens is more than the Acropolis. But how much of-Greece, the old and the new, is here ! Where can one find so large a panorama of history painted on so small a canvas? The mountains, the isles and the sea have their story to tell, and the sun will set for you to-day with as much beauty as it set for Pericles, but it will light up for you a picture that Pericles could not see. You can look down the long vista of Greek life. You can see the birth and growth of a religion. It takes refuge in the rocks and groves and streams ; its expanding life struggles to utter itself in forms of beauty and grandeur. How rude and pitiful its first efforts ! It shapes the clay into conventional moulds. But its genius finds new liberation, and with grace, beauty and rising apostrophes of form and color wrought in snowy marble, incarnates its vision of Eternal Beauty. If you look at these melodies of curve with the eye only, you will miss half their significance. To us they are studies in artistic form and feeling; to those who wrought them they were a part of their religion.

Again, you may see the drama of history and life which for centuries was acted on the slope and on the plain and then rewoven into the civilization and destiny of Europe. This Cyclopean wall rebuilds for you the ruder life of a primitive age with its piracy and pillage, the foundation of the citadel of Athens, mythical and half-mythical figures floating before you in mists of tradition, — Cecrops, Erechtheus, Pandion, Theseus. Out of social chaos and tribal conflict come organized society — law and law-makers, Draco and Solon. The long strife for liberty, for democratic self-government, for federal unity, begins with the Greek struggle for nationality still continued to our day. We turn toward Marathon and Salamis and see brave little Athens staying the tide of Persian invasion and winning for Europe and for all time the victory it had won for Greece.

The Cyclopean wall builders have gone, but the intellectual power of Themistocles is perpetuated in the Long Walls which stretch to the Piraeus and bind Athens to the sea. The Acropolis, once a fortress, is turned into a sanctuary. Pericles and. Phidias in the efflorescence of genius reveal the golden age. Beauty blossoms not alone in marble, but in literature, in tragedy, comedy, philosophy, poetry and song. Down there to the left vast and delighted audiences listen to the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides or laugh at the telling comedies of Aristophanes. Off to the north, looking down from the hill, is Colonus, the home of Sophocles, and near to it the leafy grove of Academos, whose name by the fortune of history has become forever linked with science and education. Here Plato unfolds the lofty scheme of his ethics and philosophy.

This Athenian Mount of Olives has also its cross and its Golgotha. Below in the market-place Socrates teaches lessons of life and happiness, pointing sometimes to this precipitous rock with its two roads, one of which could be climbed with difficulty, while the other, a broader, winding way, could be trod with ease. His prison may not have been in the rocky chamber to which tradition assigns it, but the name and the place perpetuate the memory of his witness to the truth, and sadly remind us that paganism like Christianity had its martyrs, and that Athens like Jerusalem was a slayer of prophets.

The voice of Demosthenes from the old bema proclaims a new danger to Greek liberty. The Arch of Hadrian, the Odeion, the Tower of the Winds, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and far away the monument of Philopappos, show how Rome the conqueror sat at the feet of Athens.

Over against the rocky Acropolis stands the rocky Areopagus, where Paul gives his famous address to the crowd which gathers round him. Paganism and Christianity on these two rocks face each other. ” I perceive that in all things you are very mindful of the gods,” says the preacher, looking at the forest of statues and the beautiful temples and recalling the altar to the Unknown God. Who among the crowd at his feet dreams that the Gospel of this vain babbler ” shall find its swift and triumphant vehicle in the Greek tongue and the spear of Athene Promachos be beaten into a Christian sword? “We will hear thee concerning this yet again,” say some of the listeners. Four centuries later the Neo-Platonists still build their bridge between Plato and Paul.

A misty veil drops over the scene. The light of Athens pales. Goths and barbarians sweep down upon it. The scimitar of the Turk flashes in the sky and the long night comes.

Greek nationality is not dead, but sleeping. It rises, struggles, bursts its bands, gathers its scanty, blood-stained robes about it and takes again, by sufferance, its humble place among the kingdoms of the earth. There is a new Athens, an Athens of to-day, and as we walk to the Belvedere on the eastern verge of the Acropolis we may hear a locomotive whistle and see the electric lights gleaming in the streets below.