THE pilgrim who went of old from Athens to the shrine of Delphi, to consult the august oracle on some great difficulty in his own life, or some great danger to his country, saw before him the giant Parnassus as his goal, as soon as he reached the passes of Cithæron. For two or three days he went across Botia with this great landmark before him, but it was not till he reached Lebadea or Daulis that he found himself leaving level roads, and entering defiles, where great cliffs and narrow glens gave to his mind a tone of superstition and of awe which ever dwelt around that wild and dangerous country. Starting from Lebadea, or, by another road, from Chæronea (by Daulis), he must go about half-way round Parnassus, from its east to its south-west aspect ; and this can only be done by threading his way along torrents and precipices, mounting steep ascents, and descending into wild glens. This journey among the Alps of Phocis is perhaps the most beautiful in all Greececertainly, with the exception of the journey from Olympia over Mount Erymanthus, the most beautiful of all the routes known to me through the highlands.
The old priests of Delphi, who were the first systematic road-builders among the Greeks, had made a careful way from Thebes into Phocis, for the use of the pilgrims thronging to their shrine. It appears that, by way of saving the expense of paving it all, they laid down in some way a double wheel-track or fixed track, upon which chariots could run with safety ; but we hear from the oldest times of the unpleasantness of two vehicles meeting on this road, and of the disputes that took place as to which of them should turn aside into the deep mud .l We may infer from this that the lot of pedestrians cannot have been very pleasant. Now, all these difficulties have vanished with the road itself. There are nothing but faintly marked bridle-paths, often indicated only by the solitary telegraph wires, which reach over the mountains, apparently for no purpose whatever ; and all travellers must ride or walk in single file, if they will not force their way through brakes or woods.
These wild mountains do not strike the mind with the painful feeling of desolation which is produced by the abandoned plains. At no time can they have supported a large population, and we may suppose that they never contained more than scattered hamlets of shepherds, living, as they now do, in deep brown hairy tents of hides at night, and wandering along the glens by day, in charge of great herds of quaint-looking goats with long beards and spiral horns. The dull tinkling of their bells, and the eagle’s yelp, are the only sounds which give variety to the rushing of the wind through the dark pines, and the falling of the torrent from the rocks. It is a country in which the consciousness grows not of solitude, but of smallness a land of vast form and feature, meet dwelling for mysterious god and gloomy giant, but far too huge for mortal man.
Our way lay directly for Delphi, but through the curious town of Arachova, which is perched on the slope of precipices, some 3000 feet or more above the level of the sea. We rode from eight in the morning till the evening twilight to reach this place, and all the day through scenes which gave us each moment some new delight and some new astonishment, but which could only be described by the brush of a Turner. It is the misfortune of such descriptions on paper, that the writer alone has the remembered image before him ; no reader can grasp the detail, and frame for himself a faithful picture.
We felt that we were approaching Arachova when we saw the steep slopes above and below our path planted with vineyards, and here and there a woman in her gay dress working on the steep incline, where a stumble might have sent her rolling many hundreds of feet into some torrent bed. At one particular spot, where the way turned round a projecting shoulder, we were struck by seeing at the same time, to the north, the blue sea under Euba, and, at the south, the Gulf of Corinth where it nears Delphiboth mere patches among the mountains, like the little tarns among the Irish moors, but both great historic watersold high roads of commerce and of culture. From any of the summits, such a view from sea to sea would not be the least remarkable ; but it was interesting and unusual to see it from a mule’s back on one of the high roads of the country. A moment later, the houses of Arachova itself attracted all our attention, lying as they did over against us, and quite near, but with a great gulf between us and them, which took an hour to ride round. The town has a curious, scattered appearance, with interrupted streets and uncertain plan, owing not only to the extraordinary nature of the site, but to the fact that huge boulders, I might say rocks, have been shaken loose by earthquakes from above, and have come tumbling into the middle of the town. They crush a house or two, and stand there in the street. Presently some one comes and builds a house up against the side of this rock ; others venture in their turn, and so the town recovers itself, till another earthquake makes another rent. Since 187o these earthquakes have been very frequent. At first they were very severe, and ruined almost all the town ; but now they are very slight, and so frequent that we were assured (in 1887) that they happened at some hour every day. In recent years the disturbance seems to have abated. But the whole region of Parnassus shows great scars and wounds from this awful natural scourge.
Arachova is remarkable as being one of the very few towns of Greece of any note which is not built upon a celebrated site. Everywhere the modern Greek town is a mere survival of the old. I re-member but three exceptionsArachova, Hydra, and Tripolitza, and of these the latter two arose from special and known circumstances. The prosperity of Arachova is not so easily explicable. In spite of its wonderful and curious site, the trade of the place is, for a Greek town, very considerable. The wines which they make are of the highest repute, though to us the free use of resin makes them all equally worthless. Besides, they worked beautifully patterned rugs of divers-coloured woolrugs which are sold at high prices all over the Greek waters. They are used in boats, on saddles, on bedsin fact for every possible rough use. The patterns are stitched on with wool, and the widths sewn together in the same way, with effective rudeness.
‘We had an excellent opportunity of seeing all this sort of work, as we found the town in some excitement at an approaching marriage ; and we went to see the bride, whom we found in a spacious room, with low wooden rafters, in the company of a large party of her companions, and surrounded on all sides by her dowry, which consisted, in eastern fashion, almost altogether of ‘ changes of raiment.’ All round the room these rich woollen rugs lay in great piles, and from the low ceiling hung in great numbers her future husband’s white petticoats ; for in that country, as everywhere in Greece, the men wear the petticoats. The company were all dressed in full costumewhite sleeves, embroidered woollen aprons, gold and silver coins about the neck, and a bright red loose belt worn low round the figure. To complete the picture, each girl had in her left hand a distaff, swathed about with rich, soft white wool, from which her right hand and spindle were deftly spinning thread, as she walked about the room admiring the trousseau, and joking with us and with her companions. The beauty of the Arachovite women is as remarkable as the strength and longevity of the men, nor do I know any mountaineers equal to them, except those of some valleys in the Tyrol. But there, as is well known, beauty is chiefly confined to the men ; at Arachova it seemed fairly distributed. We did not see any one girl of singular beauty. The average was remarkably high ; and, as might be expected, they were not only very fair, but of that peculiarly clear complexion, and vigorous frame, which seem almost always to be found when a good climate and pure air are combined with a very high level above the sea.
We saw, moreover, what they called a Pyrrhic dance, which consisted of a string of people, hand-in-hand, standing in the form of a spiral, and moving rhythmically, while the outside member of the train performed curious and violent gymnastics. The music consisted in the squealing of a horrible clarionette, accompanied by the beating of a large drum. The clarionette-player had a leathern bandage about his mouth, like that which we see in the ancient reliefs and pictures of double-flute-players. According as each principal dancer was fatigued, he passed off from the end of the spiral line, and stuck a silver coin between the cap and forehead of the player. The whole motion was extremely slow throughout the partythe centre of the coil, which is often occupied by little children, hardly moving at all, and paying little attention to the dance.
In general, the Greek music which I hearddance music, and occasional shepherds’ songswas nothing but a wild and monotonous chant, with two or three shakes and ornaments on a high note, running down to a long drone note at the end. They repeat these phrases, which are not more than three bars long, over and over again, with some slight variations of appoggiatura. I was told by competent people at Athens, that all this was not properly Greek, but Turkish, and that the long slavery of the Greeks had completely destroyed the traditions of their ancient music. Though this seemed certainly true of the music which I heard, I very much doubt that any ancient feature so general can have completely disappeared. When there are national songs of a distinctly Greek character transmitted all through the Slavish and Turkish periods, it seems odd that they should be sung altogether to foreign music. Without more careful investigation I should be slow to decide upon such a question. Unfortunately, our specimens of old Greek music are very few, and probably very insignificant, all the extant works on music by the ancients being devoted to theoretical questions, which are very difficult and not very profitable. To this subject I have devoted a special discussion in my Social Life in Greece, with what illustration it is now possible to obtain.
The inhabitants wished us to stay with them some days, which would have given us an opportunity of witnessing the wedding ceremony, and also of making excursions to the snowy tops of Mount Parnassus. But we had had enough of that sort of amusement in a climb up Mount ‘Etna, a short time before, and the five hours’ toiling on the snow in a thick fog was too fresh in ow memory. Besides, we were bound to catch the weekly steamer at Itea, as the port of Delphi is now called ; and eight additional days, or rather nights, in this country might have been too much for the wildest enthusiasm. For the wooden houses of Arachova are beyond all other structures infested with life, and not even the balconies in the frosty night air were safe from insect invasions. Moreover, the streets were rough and dirty beyond description, and this remains of barbarism had not disappeared, nay, it was not even mitigated, when we revisited the place in 1905. Until the Greeks begin to feel that such streets are disgraceful, they will make no progress in civilisation.
We therefore started early in the morning, and kept along the sides of precipices on our way to the oracle of Delphi. It is not wonderful that the Arachovites should be famous for superstitions and legends, and that the inquirers into the remnants of old Greek beliefs in the present day have found their richest harvest in this mountain fastness, where there seems no reason why any belief should ever die out. More especially the faith in the terrible god of the dead, Charos, who represents not only the old Charon, but Pluto also, is here very deep-seated, and many Arachovite songs and ballads speak of his awful and relentless visits. Longevity is so usual, and old age is so hale and green in these Alps, that the death of the young comes home with far greater force and pathos here than in unhealthy or immoral societies, and thus the inroads of Charos are not borne in sullen silence, but lamented with impatient complaints.
At eleven o’clock, we came, in the fierce summer sun, to the ascent into the `rocky Pytho,’ where the terraced city of old had harboured pilgrims from every corner of the civilised world. The ordinary histories which we read give us but little idea of the mighty influence of this place in the age of its faith. We hear of its being consulted by Crsus, or by the Romans, and we appreciate its renown for sanctity ; but until of very late years there was small account taken of its political and commercial importance. The date of its first rise is hidden in remote antiquity. As the story goes, a shepherd, who fed his flocks here, observed the goats, when they approached the vaporous cavern, springing about madly, as if under some strange influence. He came up to see the place himself, and was immediately seized with the prophetic frenzy. So the reputation of the place spread, first around the neighbouring pastoral tribes, and then to a wider sphere.
This very possible origin, however, does not distinctly assert what may certainly be inferredI mean the existence of some older and ruder worship, before the worship of Apollo was here established. Two arguments make this clear. in the first place, old legends consistently speak of the arrival of Apollo here; of his conflict with the powers of earth, under the form of the dragon Python ; of his having under-gone purification for its murder, and having been formally ceded possession by its older owners. This distinct allusion to a previous cult, and one even hostile to Apollo, but ultimately reconciled with him, is sustained, by the fact that Pausanias describes in the Temple of Apollo itself two old stonesone apparently an aerolithwhich were treated with great respect, anointed daily with oil, and adorned with garlands of flowers. One of these was to the Greeks the centre of the earth and beside it were two eagles in gold, to remind one of the legend that Zeus had started two eagles from the ends of the earth, and that they met at this exact spot midway. These rude and shapeless stones, which occur elsewhere in Greek temples, point to the older stage of fetish-worship, before the Greeks had risen to the art of carving a statue, or of worshipping the unseen deity without a gross material symbol.
Homer speaks in the Iliad of the great wealth of the Pythian shrine; and the Hymn to the Pythian Apollo implies that its early transformations were completed. But seeing that the god Apollo, though originally an Ionian god, as at Delos, was here worshipped distinctively by the Dorians, we shall not err if we consider the rise of the oracle to greatness coincident with the rise and spreading of the Dorians over Greecean event to which we can assign no date, but which, in legend, comes next after the Trojan War, and seems near the threshold of real history. The absolute submission of the Spartans, when they rose to power, confirmed the authority of the shrine, and so it gradually came to be the Metropolitan See, so to speak, in the Greek religious world. It seems that the influence of this oracle was, in old days, always used in the direction of good morals and of enlightenment. When neighbouring states were likely to quarrel, the oracle was often a peacemaker, and even acted as arbitratora course usual in earlier Greek history, and in which they anticipated the best results of our nineteenth-century culture. So again, when excessive population demanded an outlet, the oracle was consulted as to the proper place, and the proper leader to be selected; and all the splendid commercial development of the sixth century B.C., though not produced, was at least sanctioned and promoted, by the Delphic Oracle. Again, in determining the worship of other gods and the founding of new services to great public benefactors, the oracle seems to have been the acknowledged authoritythus taking the place of the Vatican in Catholic Europe, as the source and origin of new dogmas, and of new worships and formularies.
At the same time the treasure-house of the shrine was the largest and safest of banks, where both individuals and states might deposit treasure, and from which they could also borrow money, at fair interest, in times of war and public distress. The rock of Delphi was held to be the navel or centre of the earth’s surface, and certainly in a social and religious sense this was the case for all the Greek world. Thus the priests were informed, by perpetual visitors from all, sides, of all the latest newsof the general aspect of politicsof the new developments of tradeof the strange discoveries in outlying and barbarous landsand were accordingly able, without any genius or supernatural inspiration, to form their judgments upon wider experience and better knowledge than anybody else could command. This advice, which was generally sound and well-considered, was given to people who took it to be divine, and acted upon it with implicit faith and zeal. Of course the result was in general satisfactory ; and so even individuals made use of it as a sort of high confessional, to which they came as pilgrims at some important crisis of their life ; and finding by the response that the god seemed to know all about the affairs of every city, went away fully satisfied with the divine authority of the oracle.
This general reputation was not affected by occasional rumours of bribed responses or of dishonest priestesses. Such things must happen everywhere ; but, as Lord Bacon long ago observed, human nature is more affected by affirmatives than negativesthat is to say, a few cases of brilliantly accurate prophecy will outweigh a great number of cases of doubtful advices or even of acknowledged corruption. So the power of the Popes has lasted in some respects undiminished to the present day, and they are still regarded by many as infallible, even though historians have published many dreadful lives of some of them, and branded them as men of worse than average morals.
The national importance of the Delphic Oracle lasted from the invasion of the Dorians down to the Persian War, certainly more than three centuries ; but the part which it took in the latter struggle gave it a blow from which it seems never to have recovered. When the invasion of Xerxes was approaching, the Delphic priests, informed accurately of the immense power of the Persians, made up their minds that all resistance was useless, and counselled absolute sub-mission or flight. According to all human probabilities they were right, for nothing but a series of blunders could possibly have checked the Persians.
But surely the god ought to have inspired them to utter patriotic responses, and thus to save themselves in case of such a miracle as actually happened. I cannot but suspect that they hoped to gain the favour of Xerxes, and remain under him what they had hitherto been, a wealthy and protected corporation? Perhaps they even saw too far, and perceived that the success of the Greeks would bring the Ionic states into prominence ; but we must not credit them with too much. The result, however, told greatly against them. The Greeks won, and the Athenians got the lead,the Athenians, who very soon developed a secular and worldly spirit, and who were by no means awed by responses which had threatened them and weakened their hands, when their own courage and skill had brought them deliverance. And we can imagine even Themistocles, not to speak of Pericles and Antiphon, looking upon the oracles as little more than a convenient way of persuading the mob to follow a policy which it was not able to understand. The miraculous defeat of the Persians by the god, who repeated his wonders when the Gauls attacked his shrine, should be read in Herodotus and in Pausanias.
It is with some sadness that we turn from the splendid past of Delphi to its miserable present. The sacred cleft in the earth, from which rose the cold vapour that intoxicated the priestess, is blocked up and lost. As it lay within the shrine of the temple, it may have been filled by the falling ruins, or still more completely destroyed by an earthquake. But, apart from these natural possibilities, we are told that the Christians, after the oracle was closed by Theodosius, filled up and effaced the traces of what they thought a special entrance to hell, where communications had been held with the Evil One.
The three great fountains or springs of the town are still in existence. The first and most striking of these bursts out from between the Phaedriadestwo shining peaks, which stand up a thousand feet over Delphi, and so close together as to leave only a dark and mysterious gorge or fissure, not twenty feet wide, intervening. The aspect of these twin peaks, so celebrated by the Greek poets, with their splendid stream, the Castalian fount, bursting from between them, is indeed grand and startling. A great square bath is cut in the rock, just at the mouth of the gorge ; but the earthquake of 187o, which made such havoc of Arachova, has been busy here also, and has tumbled a huge block into this bath, thus covering the old work, as well as several votive niches cut into the rocky wall. This was the place where arriving pilgrims purified themselves with hallowed water.
In the great old days the oracle gave responses on the seventh of each month, and even then, only when the sacrifices were favourable. If the victims were not perfectly without blemish, they could not be offered ; if they did not tremble all over when brought to the altar, the day was thought unpropitious. The inquirers entered the great temple in festal dress, with olive garlands and stemmata, or fillets of wool, led by the sacred guardians of the temple, who were five of the noblest citizens of Delphi. The priestesses, on the contrary,there were three at the same time, who officiated in turner though Delphians also, were not frequently of noble family. When the priestess was placed on the sacred tripod by the chief interpreter over the exhalations, she was seized with frenzyoften so violent that they were known to have fled in terror, and she herself to have become insensible, and to have died. Her ravings in this state were carefully noted down, and then reduced to sense, and of old always to verses, by the attendant priests, who of course interpreted disconnected words with a special reference to the politics of the day or the circumstances of the inquirers.
This was done in early days with perfect good faith. During the decline of religion there were of course many cases of corruption and of partiality, and, indeed, the whole style and dignity of the oracle gradually decayed with the decay of Greece. Presently, when crowds came, and states were extremely jealous of the right of precedence in inquiring of the god, it was found expedient to give responses every day, and this was done to private individuals, and even for trivial reasons. So also the priests no longer took the trouble to shape the responses into verse ; and when the Phoecians in the sacred war (355-46 B.C.) seized the treasures, and applied to military purposes some 10,000 talents, the shrine suffered a blow from which it never recovered. Still, the quantity of splendid votive offerings which were not convertible into ready money made it the most interesting place in Greece, next to Athens and Olympia, for lovers of the arts ; and the statues, tripods, and other curiosities described there by Pausanias, give a wonderful picture of the mighty oracle even in its decay? The greatest sculptors, painters, and architects had lavished their labour upon the buildings. Though Nero had carried off 500 bronze statues, the traveller estimated the remaining works of art at 3000, and yet these seem to have been almost all statues, and not to have included tripods, pictures, and other gifts. The Emperor Constantine brought away (330 A.D.) a great number to adorn his capitalmore especially the bronze tripod, formed of three intertwined serpents, with their heads supporting a golden vessel, which Pausanias, the Spartan King, had dedicated as the leader of Greece to commemorate the great victory over Xerxes. This tripod (which was found standing in its place at Constantinople by our soldiers in 1852) contains the list of the states which took part, according to the account of Herodotus, who describes its dedication, and who saw it at Delphi.
When the Emperor Julian, the last great champion of paganism, desired to consult the oracle on his way to Persia, in 362 A.D., it replied : ‘ Tell the king the fair-wrought dwelling has sunk into the dust : Phbus has no longer a shelter or a prophetic laurel, neither has he a speaking fountain ; the fair water is dried up.’ Thus did the shrine confess, even to the ardent and hopeful Julian, that its power had passed away, and, as it were by a supreme effort, declared to him the great truth which he refused to seethat paganism was gone for ever, and a new faith had arisen for the nations of the Roman Empire.
About the. year 390, Theodosius took the god at his word, and closed the oracle finally. The templewith its cella of 100 feetwith its Doric and Ionic pillarswith its splendid sculptures upon the pediments sank into decay and ruin. The walls and porticos tumbled down the precipitous cliffs ; the prophetic chasm was filled up by the Christians with fear and horror ; and, as if to foil any attempt to recover the site and plan, the modern Greeks built their miserable hamlet of Castri upon the spot ; so that till yesterday it was only among the walls and foundations laid bare by earthquakes that we could seek for marble capitals and votive inscriptions.
Now, after sundry smaller attempts, the whole problem has been attacked and solved by the enlightened liberality of the French Government together with the competent zeal of M. Homolle and his pupils of the French school at Athens. The revelation of Delphi, though’ the results are only partially made public, will stand beside the revelation of Olympia by the Germans, and cannot but suggest comparisons with the want of interest shown by English politicians in these splendid discoveries. The village of Castri was bought up, body and bones, and lifted off the great site to a neighbouring place, very near, but out of sight. Then the whole sacred enclosure (peribolus) was laid bare and explored, and so a series of foundations of votive buildings, a crowd of inscriptions, and a museum full of artistic remainsstatues, friezes, etc., have come to light.
The whole plan of the sanctuary, with its great winding avenue leading up to the temple, once a perfect street of national monumentstreasure-houses, colonnades, votive statues, is all manifest. To enter into details would require not a chapter in this book but a volume. I will also pass by with mere mention that below the present road, and therefore below and to the east of the sacred enclosure, important remains have been founda Tholos or circular building, a couple of temples, a gymnasium, and possibly a treasure house of the Phocaeans. The general features worth noting here are but few and ‘simple. In the first place, the most obtrusive and lofty monuments are those of late and comparatively vulgar interest. Close to the great temple front is a tall monument set up by the upstart king, Prusias of Bithynia ; and in the museum the visitor finds restored the triumphal affair dedicated by Paullus Aemilius for his victory at Pydna. The battle-scenes in the friezes round this monument seem to represent encounters between Macedonians and barbarians, nor is the Roman infantry to be seen. The explanation of this curious feature is still wanting. The second general feature which strikes us in the museum is the predominance of archaic and of post-classical art, and the scarcity of works of the golden age. This is clearly to be accounted for by the thefts of Nero, and other Roman plunderers, who were quite enough educated to know the superior value of Pheidias’s or Polycleitus’s work, and who left the older and newer art as of second-rate importance. When the ‘pre-Raphaelite’ taste of antiquaries like Pausanias arose, the worst days of plundering the Greeks were gone by. To us, of course, the archaic examples are of the highest interest.
The treasure-house of Cnidos, which has been cleverly restored, as far at least as the frieze that ran round it, in the extreme left room of the museum, gives us our best specimen for a small decorated temple, or sacred house, before the end of the sixth century. It is such art as the Peisistratids of Athens, or Poly-crates of Samos, or Periander of Corinth might have commanded. Its ornaments show us what the builders of the Parthenon, one hundred years later, had in the way of models, and accordingly that such a composition as the frieze of the cella on the Parthenon was no new creation, but the maintaining and perfecting of an old and great tradition. Almost as great in interest is the Treasury of the Athenians, built from the spoils of Marathon, and which we may hope to see restored in situ, like the temple of Nike on the Acropolis.
The bronze charioteer, dedicated by Polyzalus, brother of the tyrant Gelon of Syracuse, and therefore dating from about 500 B.C., is the most important relic of all that we have of Greek plastic art, next after the Hermes of Praxiteles. The chariot and horses of this splendid group are lost, but the arm of an attendant boy, and some fragments of the bronze reins show that the figure was one of such a group, and dedicated in gratitude for the victory in a chariot race. The figure is stiff and sober, the face with little expression, but the moulding of the arm and feet and the exquisite patina of the surface, show a mastery which any modern worker in bronze cannot but envy. The hair is short, and bound with a simple fillet, the long garment falls in straight folds, just ample enough to remove all feeling of tightness ; the attitude is that of a young man ready and waiting for the signal of starting. This then was the bronze expression corresponding to Pindar’s Epinikian odes, the art which was his rival in celebrating the victories of athletes and the splendour of grateful cities and munificent despots. Its image was reflected in the eyes of every great person in Greek history that beheld it, from Pindar to Plutarch, and it only shows the wealth of such wonders even in Pausanias’s day, that he does not mention it in his selection of treasures at Delphi.
Among the later things are some curious specimens of florid taste, which was so rare in Greece. In room IV. of the museum we were amazed to see the pillar supporting three dancing girls, with a capital very freely composed of acanthus leaves, but then the stalk of the pillar has acanthus leaves growing out of it at intervals, an attempt at novelty not to be commended. This vagary seems to date from very early Hellenistic days.
Reverting to the splendid natural beauty of the place, one or two features remain always unchanged. The three fine springs, to which Delphi doubtless owed its first selection for human habitation, are still thereCastalia, of which we have spoken ; Cassotis, which was led artificially into the very shrine of the god ; and Delphussa, which was, I suppose, the water used for secular purposes by the inhabitants. The stadium, too, a tiny racecourse high above the town, in the only place where they could find a level 150 yards, is now uncovered ; and we see at once what the importance of games must have been at a sacred Greek town, when such a thing as a stadium should be attempted here. The earliest competitions had been in musicthat is, in playing the lyre, in recitation, and probably in the composition of original poems ; but presently the physical contests of Olympia began to outdo the splendour of Delphi. Moreover, the Spartans would not compete in minstrelsy, which they liked and criticised, but left to professional artists. Accordingly, the priests of Delphi were too practical a corporation not to widen the programme of their games, and Pindar has celebrated the Pythian victors as hardly second to those at the grand festival of Elis.
There is yet one more element in the varied greatness of Delphi. It was here that the religious federation of Greecethe Amphictyony of which we hear so oftenheld its meetings alternately with the meetings at the springs of Thermopylæ. When I stood high up on the stadium at Delphi, the great scene described by the orator Aeschines came fresh upon me, when he looked upon the sacred plain of Krissa, and called all the worshippers of the god to clear it of the sacrilegious Amphissians, who had covered it with cattle and growing crops. The plain, he says, is easily surveyed from the place of meetinga statement which shows that the latter cannot have been in the town of Delphi; for a great shoulder of the mountain effectually hides the whole plain from every part of that town.
The Pylaea, or place of assembly, was, however, outside, and precisely at the other side of this huge shoulder, so that what Aeschines says is true ; but it is not true, as any ordinary student imagines, that he was standing in Delphi itself. He was, in fact, completely out of sight of the town, though not a mile from it. There is no more common error than this among our mere book scholarsand I daresay there are not many who realise the existence of this sub-urban Pylaea, and its situation close to, but invisible from, Delphi. It certainly never came home to me till I began to look for the spot from which Æschines might have delivered his famous address.
When we rode round to the new town of Delphi, we found his words amply verified. Far below us stretched the plain from Amphissa to Kirrha, at right angles with the gorge above which Delphi is situated. The river-courses of the Delphic springs form, in fact, a regular zigzag. When they tumble from their elevation on the rocks into the valley, they join the Pleistus, running at right angles towards the west ; when this torrent has reached the plain, it turns again due south, and flows into the sea at the Gulf of Kirrha. Thus, looking from Pylæa, you see the upper part of the plain, and the gorge to the north-west of it, where Amphissa occupies its place in a position similar to the mouth of the gorge of Delphi. The southern rocks of the gorge over against Delphi shut out the sea and the actual bay ; but a large rich tract, covered with olive-woods, and medlars, and oleanders, stretches out beneath the eyeverily a plain worth fighting for, and a possession still more precious, when it commanded the approach of pilgrims from the sea ; for the harbour dues and tolls of Kirrha were once a large revenue, and their loss threatened the oracle with poverty. This levying of tolls on the pilgrims to Delphi became quite a national question in the days of Solon ; it resulted in a great war, led by the Amphictyonic Council. Kirrha was ruined, and its land dedicated to the god, in order to protect the approach from future difficulties. So this great tract was, I suppose, devoted to pasture, and the priests probably levied a rent from the people who chose to graze their cattle on the sacred plain. The Amphissians, who lived, not at the sea-side, but at the mountain side of the plain, were never accused of robbing or taxing the pilgrims ; but having acquired for many generations the right of pasture, they advanced to the idea of tilling their pastures, and were undisturbed in this privilege, till the mischievous orator, Aeschines, for his own purposes, fired the Delphians with rage, kindled a war, and so brought Philip into Greece. These are the historical circumstances which should be called to mind by the traveller, who rides down 1 the steep descent from Delphi to the plain, and then turns through the olive-woods to the high road to Itea, as the port of Delphi is now called.
A few hours brought us to the neighbourhood of the sea. The most curious feature of this valley, as we saw it, was a long string of camels tied together, and led by a small and shabby donkey. Our mules and horses turned with astonishment to examine these animals, which have survived here only, though introduced by the Turks into many parts of Greece.
The port of Itea is one of the stations at which the Greek coasting steamers now call, and, accordingly, the place is growing in importance. If a day’s delay were allowed to let tourists ride up to the old seat of the oracle, and if the service were better regulated so as to compete in convenience with the train journey from Patras to Athens, I suppose no traveller going to Greece would choose any other route. For he would see all the beautiful coasts of Acarnania and Aetolia on the one side, and of Achaia on the other ; he could then take Delphi on his way, and would land again at Corinth. Here a day, or part of a day, should be allowed to see the splendid Acro-Corinthus, of which more in another chapter. The traveller might thus reach Athens with an important part of Greece already visited, and have more leisure to turn his attention to the monuments and curiosities of that city and of Attica. It is worth while to suggest these things, because most men who go to Greece find, as I did, that, with some better previous information, they could have economised both time and money. I can also advise that the coasting steamer should be abandoned at Itea, from which the traveller can easily get horses to Delphi and Arachova, and from thence to Chæronea, Lebadea, and then by train to Athens. So he would arrive there by a land tour, which would make him acquainted with Botia. He might next go by train from Athens to Corinth (stopping on the way at Megara), and then into the Peloponnese ; going first to Mycenæ and Argos, and taking another steamer round to Sparta, and riding up through Laconia, Arcadia, and Elis, so as to come out at Patras, or by boat to Zante, where the steamer homewards would pick him up. Of course, special excursions through Attica, and to the islands, are not included in this sketch, as they can easily be made from Athens.
But surely, no voyage in Greece can be called complete which does not include a visit to the famous shrine of Delphi, where the wildness and ruggedness of nature naturally suggest the powers of earth and air, that sway our lives unseen,where the quaking soil and the rent rocks speak a strength above the strength of mortal man,and where a great faith, based upon his deepest hopes and fears, gained a moral empire over all the nation, and exercised it for centuries, to the purifying and the ennobling of the Hellenic race. The oracle is long silent, the priestess forgotten, the temple is but a ruin, and yet the grand responses of that noble shrine are not forgotten, nor are they dead. For they have contributed their part and added their element to the general advancement of the world, and to the emancipation of man from immorality and superstition into the true liberty of a good and enlightened conscience.