Early in the morning Varvouillya stood before the wine-shop with his two donkeys ; he called me out, who was there celebrating a farewell to Aulis in company with three or four citizens. I grasped my staff and knapsack and hurried into the street, Varvouillya grunted at the beasts of destiny, and our procession began to move up through the main thoroughfare of Aulis towards Thebes. The Cretan schoolmaster with friendly smiles came out of his house and saluted me ; in the sunshine of this Greek morning he looks as if he had resolved during the night never to get into a bad humor again, being now in the first full glow of his new resolution. Also the Nestor of the hamlet appeared, standing before his gate and leaning on his staff, with enthusiastic gleams ploughing his wrinkled features as I shook his hand. Happy old man, with a background to his age fresh as the blooming meadows ; for behold that young Greek wife of his now peering out of the door behind him, with a babe in her arms. One may well liken him to the aged olive-tree of Aulis, not far from which he is standing wrinkled, bent, silvern-haired, but ever sending forth fresh blossoms.
The village was astir for the duties of the day, white fustanellas were hurrying in every direction toward the fields. Many women were already at the various pools and fountains engaged in heavy labor, others were passing thither with rude troughs and batlets on their shoulders. Soon the last house is behind us, and we see the husbandman at his work ; he is trimming his vineyard or plowing with a yoke of oxen, seldom with horses. The plow which he employs has a very primitive look, not very different from the Homeric plow. Yet I ought in justice to add that along my route I have also seen modern plows. The land which he turns over seems rich where it is arable, but it is often rocky. Certainly a much greater portion of it could be brought under cultivation; some blastment rests upon the soil, lying here rudely tilled or often wholly neglected. The earth, the great original implement of man, is not half utilized by those who are wielding it here at present.
The morning changes to heaviness, the sky lowers and begins to threaten, except from the East where through a rifted cloud Helius persists at short intervals in strewing his golden arrows over the Euboic hills. What are you thinking of as you gaze at the heavens? On such a morning as this the ancient sacrifice might have been made ; through the darkened canopy above, the Goddess broke in effulgence and rescued the virgin from the altar. On the Euripus are now standing white sails, in listless calm, seeming to rise straight out of the water, for in that distance no hull can be distinguished. Two or three such little boats are at this moment to be seen, flecking the blue surface; each sail is an expanded swan’s wing hovering over the sea ; they multiply at once to a thousand sails floating around the full-swelling island capped by the white temple. Scarce a breath of wind can be felt, certainly there are now no unfavorable breezes for Troy, the Goddess has been manifestly appeased this morning.
The locality grows upon the traveler, and he leaves it unwillingly. Slowly he walks up the slightly ascending plain which lies to the rear of Aulis ; often he turns around and looks at the sea, fair Euripus, whose waters are still quivering in the distance with some hidden strong emotion ; he is indeed parting from that which he loves. He is filled with the spirit of the air which is charged with the ancient enter-prise. Doubtless memory aids him in calling up that world long since passed away; but there must be something else, I believe ; there must be some hidden sympathy of nature, for nature, too, preserves dim memories of the great deeds that have been enacted before her, and retains the faint impress of heroic forms that have once been in her presence. So he would fain think ; at any rate, there is the one emotion, the one central figure here. Ah Iphigenia, what a symbol has thou become for men! All thy struggles, all the struggles of thy wretched parent rise in my breast as I thread around up the hills. I have to wrestle through thy conflicts, they seethe within me as if they were my own ; I am indeed become one with thee. Now I turn across the last comb of the hill, Aulis passes out of sight, still thy struggles are raging within me nor can I rid myself of thy heart-piercing destiny. Why is it, I ask myself. Because thou are truly a sacred symbol of mankind, not a mere thing of reality thou art a Universal, embracing all men in thy sad destiny, and for them thou dost suffer.
Yet it is but a story, there is no reality in all these events, they never took place. This does not alter the case, in fact it increases their significance. Very profound and far-reaching is the saying of the old philosopher, that fable is truer than history. The legends of the race are still worth more than its history, its poets are to be placed a great way before its historians. The pure fact is often an insignificant thing compared to the pure fancy. For the fable of a people can embrace its whole truth all that it spiritually possesses, institutions, religion, art, character. No mere record of what happened here and there, no account of political and social events can show its entire life, its whole truth. But the genuine myth will manifest its vital principle and put the same into an eternal type outside of Space and Time ; while history is of all things in Space and Time, broken off at each end, and often cracked badly in the middle. Yet do not underrate history only this torso is ours to-day, and we should preserve it with sacred care as our chief boon; for we moderns can no longer make myths, we can make only history. But if there be a few who may still be able to construct a mythical world, we may well give them the honors due to the High Priest and the Prophet.
Still certain historical questions will arise at Aulis, and demand some answer. It is the play of erudition to give as many responses as possible, since all of them are equally without value. One such question comes up before me just now : why was Aulis selected as the place of assembling the forces of Greece? Or, why did the Poet select this spot? Either of these inquiries must remain a question of mere historic probability, and hence any answer to it is intrinsically worthless. Aulis is as good a geographical center as any other protected harbor in Greece ; but for no small portion of the armament it was the less convenient place. Let us then conjecture political reasons: the restoration of Helen was the cause of Southern Greece, of Menelaus and Agamemnon ; it was, therefore, necessary to take every means of interesting and arousing Northern Greece, of giving to that part of the country the easiest opportunity of assembling. Ulysses did not want to come, according to the legend ; his little island lay far off to one side. But Boeotia, Thessaly, Phthia, and northern Greece generally would center here. So we may go on spinning conjectures indefinitely; they are the merest figments of probability ; the answer to such questions, however plausible, must be in the nature of the case, without import.
Historic probabilities let us have as little to do with as possible ; they are the poorest glass beads that we can pick up on our way ; very sparingly shall they be strung on the variegated strand which is now being made out of the incidents of our Greek journey. For instance, what concerns it thee whether Achilles was ever in flesh and blood, whether he ever was a spatial reality or not? Two things can at present be affirmed of him with great certainty : first, that his flesh and blood are now earth-mould, if he ever possessed them ; secondly, that he still exists as spirit and will exist perdurably. The last fact is the interesting and worthy one for us in many ways it even hints what there is immortal here on earth. But the great question of erudition whether this soul or the hero ever had any body, may be dismissed without loss. And that still greater question of poverty-stricken erudition whether Homer be really Homer or some-body else of the same name, as the perplexed student once put it most accurately, ought to be cast away as a worthless counterfeit of Greek gold. Suppose that he is, suppose that he is not, suppose anything what difference does it make? Will that give us a new Odyssey, or will it interpret for us the old one? Yet there is a tuneful spirit called Homer singing through the ages ; even now a voice comes riding on the air, saying: why hunt after my body which has perished, why seek for my existence in Space and Time which has vanished? Listen to my voice that is my immortal part, that is what I have left unto you as my sole gift. By that alone may I be remembered !
I have employed the word symbol quite frequently, but I must give you a warning in regard to its use. The symbolism of the Greeks in their great creative period was not conscious, was not design. They did not say : come let us go to and make a symbol for all the world and for all time. Then they had not done it, they would have lost the very germ of their Art spontaneity. Unwittingly in all the little particulars of their life and their activity they manifested the Generic, the Universal they could not help being artists. For Art must always have this universal side, must be a symbol yet on the other hand it cannot be divorced from the living spontaneous actuality. To succeeding times the unconscious insight of the Poet may become a conscious reflection; but then its true poetical nature has departed. Later in their history the Greeks betook themselves to conscious symbolizing; little heed do we pay to that part of their work now. We may know more about the Poet’s process than he does himself ; we stand and look on while the demon struggles within him, imparting inspiration or fury perchance ; but his and not ours is the poetic creative act, ours is rather the act of destruction. The symbol, recollect then, whenever the term is employed, lays stress upon this universal and eternal element in all artistic creation, yet does not imply conscious purpose on part of the artist.
But Aulis has now passed out of view, and must be dropped; we have entered a small valley through which we are winding solitary ; only flocks of birds rise from the fields, whirl in the air for a moment, then flutter into the low bushes. There are no trees, the soil is untilled, yet seems capable of some cultivation. The valley is delightful, the breathing of its atmosphere is like a draught of mild wine ; it is watered by a brook running through the middle, along whose border passes the road, Up this road or rather bridle-path Varvouillya is driving his donkeys which move slowly through the landscape with their look of Oriental resignation.
I have now been with Varvouillya nearly five days, and have conceived a strong liking for the man. He is a character hardy and rugged, yet somewhat mysterious, and I hold him to be honest. For forty years he has driven his. donkeys over these hills in the way of transportation and small trading. At Aulis he acquired in some transaction an old flint-lock which he now carries slung over his shoulders. He knows every point of the country, and is acquainted with every human being we meet. Though without education he has picked up in this mode of life a great deal of curious information, half mythical, half actual; thereto he adds experience with men and a rude subtlety. Moreover he is the possessor of a strong rough will, with a very decided impulse of generosity and of hospitable feeling. He is evidently recognized as a sort of leader among these people; he is of them, yet with a little stronger purpose, which they feel and call him playfully by the name of Capitanos. Humor and mockery he possesses in a true Greek vein; behind the wine-table he sits deep-voiced, with a phthisicky laugh which always ends in a red-faced fit of coughing after he brings out the point to one of his best stories. This cough is always heard in chorus with the laughter of the merry company.
Thus I have seen him during these days, and a strong attachment has grown up between us ; to his appearance, even to his garments, I am now fully reconciled, though at first both were objects of distrust. Unshaven for some weeks, his beard comes out bristling over his face in frosty stubble ; his hair too is grizzled by age, but is still full of spirit ; a small stained cap fitting close to his head but unable to re-strain bunches of hair from gushing out in front of his fore-head, is not out of harmony with the man and his general costume. His body is slim, wiry, and supple :; the stubbled face, when he speaks, is lit with a smile rudely generous ; a large wart lies just on the tip of his nose, and flattens out, spreading all over the same when he laughs.
But the mental trait which chiefly distinguishes him is the mystery in which he vails himself to the world and the world to himself. He has his own view of the way in which things are done in this universe of ours : a supernatural power peculiar to himself reigns in the invisible realm. He is what many deep but uninformed natures are a mystic, perhaps superstitious ; in his struggles of life events have taken place which he cannot account for by ordinary experience, and so he has a special solution of his own. Driving his mules for forty years over the lone hills he has had time to think in his uncouth way ; but he cannot lift the cloud from the world, nor from himself, and he has landed where nearly all ignorant but inquiring men arrive in the end. Appearances just in this locality have obliged him to resort to a mystical machinery ; if I understand him aright there is in him a dash of the old Greek belief in Pan, nymphs and satyrs, yet not now dancing in ancient sunlight, but enveloped dimly in clouds. Indeed who can live in intimacy with this Nature without feeling her old influence at work upon his soul? Still she subtly creates her ancient forms for the true-hearted worshipper leisurely resigning himself to her shaping hand ; even the prosaic traveler she will transform, to the wonder of everybody, if he but submit in good faith to her gentle guidance.
Varvouillya is a curious compound of the ancient and modern, he is mixed like the language he speaks, like Greece of to-day. He was born in Janina under Turkish rule ; the secretiveness begotten of Turkish oppression still lurks in his character. In many ways he is the contrast to the traveling merchant Aristides previously mentioned far more reserved, less intelligent, with much less education, yet with a stronger character. I doubt whether he can read the newspaper, which with its contents seems to him to lie in the world of mystery. But both of them are men of influence, both are true Greeks, both believe in the great Idea, though Varvouillya sees it rather dimly, both are a kind of mediators for the communities which they visit.
Off to our left at some distance lay the ancient town of Tanagra, through whose neighborhood we cannot pass without a delightful thrill of memory. A little community it was with its own distinctive character, as we can plainly see from ancient books ; an ideal sense of the Beautiful and of the Divine prevailed there in pleasing contrast to other towns. The fairest youth was selected to carry the sacred lamb at the festival of Hermes ; the shrines and temples were built by them away from the profane part of the town, away from business places and dwelling houses. An ancient observer has celebrated the women of Tanagra, giving them the palm over all Greek women for graceful form and harmonious movement.
It seems to have nourished a peculiar phase of Art too, springing from its special character, and uttering the same in beauty. Recently this Art has been resurrected from its tombs, and the Tanagra figurines in our day have carried the name over the world, coupled with a sweet grace and delicate form. Only some six or seven years ago did this great resurrection of the old Boeotian town take place, giving us many a peep at its life and manners, even at its fashions and frivolities. Eight thousand tombs are reported to have given up their shapes, which, like restless ghosts, have wandered into every corner of the globe. At present, how-ever, Tanagra is quiet again, and the cornfields are growing over its sepulchres.
But that which gives to the town its chief title to remembrance, is the female poet whom it produced, beautiful Corinna, she who is said to have won prizes over Pindar and even to have been the teacher of the Theban bard. Her fame was the town’s fairest jewel, her image was seen in its most prominent places, she was altogether its greatest name during many centuries of its existence she, a woman and a poetess some 500 years Before Christ. Long and nobly was she remembered, and if she was able to surpass the greatest lyric poet of all time, what skill may we not suppose to have been hers? But an ancient authority slyly hints that it was her beauty more than her poetry which moved the judges of the contest, for she was also the most beautiful woman of her period. An old traveler more that six hundred years after her death still beheld her monuments in her native town ; in the gymnasium was her picture bound with a triumphal wreath in honor of her victory over Pindar. Thus the little community loyally kept before themselves their greatest character a poetess ; wherever they are, her image must fall into their eyes. One of those Tanagra figurines I take to be Corinna, with lines from her picture possibly ; nor can anybody help thinking of her, when he notes the type common to all these images, as if the town in its character and in its works moulded itself instinctively after its supreme personage. She was its ideal, she will, therefore, be the inner creative principle of all that its people are or do.
But we ask for her words and her music, for the utterance of hers which may have come down to us. Alas ! it is all broken and disjointed, very difficult to piece together now. Time has shivered her lyre into fragments, of which many are lost, others remain incoherent ; a few indistinct sounds of her voice you may with effort catch out of the distance. Still she is the prophecy of the poetess, whom we all have to recognize in our day, somewhat as those old citizens of Tanagra did. A broken murmur of song only is left of her strain ; still we may think of her in her own image, ” singing sweet love notes to the white-robed dames of Tanagra, and greatly delighted is my city at the clear-twittering voice.”
Such was our ancient tanagra, with its temples and famous statues ; above all, with its poetess, beautiful Corinna, the divine utterance, both in form and in speech, of Tanagra. But, threading up the valley in company with our reflections, we have suddenly arrived at quite a different sort of habitation, belonging to the present, and with another kind of woman for its central figure. This is the Wallachian village situated near some springs which give rise to the small stream along which we have been passing. Some twenty or thirty families form the community which is always ready to take wing for other parts. The dwellings are of primitive architecture, indeed the original pattern of the house can be studied here. Four forked posts are driven into the ground, and cross-pieces are placed from fork to fork ; upon these cross-pieces sticks are laid, and the whole. is covered with twigs over which is a thatching of straw or leaves. A court or enclosure made of stone or brushwood is built to each house, this enclosure is large enough to shut in the flock of the owner. The Wallachians, as has been already said, are shepherds ; at present the men are absent from the village, guarding the herds in the mountains. Ferocious dogs rush out at us, but a mere motion from Varvouillya, as if he were reaching for a stone, is sufficient to keep them at a distance.
Here again appears an ever-recurring scene in the Greek landscape : the women of the village washing at the fountain. Their costume verges toward the undraped ; there is such a display of nudities and negligences that the traveler is forcibly reminded of the antique, particularly here in Greece. These forms are the sculpturesque decoration of every town and fountain. But the Wallachian women are not of classic mould ; it is easy to observe in these people a new type, bodies are thick and broad, in contrast to the tall thin-waisted Albanian, or to the symmetrical Greek ; limbs which are freely exposed are large and powerful, but some-what stumpy ; the half-opened bosom reveals the mighty mothers of the strong-armed people. A little study, which the honest traveler will not fail to give to this matter, reveals the development through labor, and not through training ; it is an irregular growth according to necessity, not the free, harmonious unfolding of all the members according to some ideal divine pattern. The garments of the Wallachian women are parti-colored, which is a new contrast on this soil ; no longer we see the white robes of the Greek, but a feeling for color is noticed color without form, such as is often observed among the more northern peasantry of Europe. The dresses are made of colored patches and of striped goods ; to the eye, now accustomed only to the white raiment of the country, this new confusion of tints gives an unpleasant jar.
The washers rub away without paying much attention to the curious gaze of the passer ; but among them the traveler will particularly notice a young woman with long heavy-braided hair dropping down her back ; she is not beautiful exactly, but in the exuberant may-day of youth, rejoicing in the free working of an enormous and perfectly healthy organism. Broadness is her characteristic broad-faced, broad-backed, prodigeously broad-bottomed, still one cannot say that she is unwieldy. She lays the garment which she is washing upon a stone, after lifting it from the boiling cauldron, then she pounds it with an immense bat or maul. What a terrific swing in those naked arms, whose thews double up into huge knots as she smites with her merciless weapon ! And those garments, look at them, if you would see from what stains purity may come; they require just such a bat swung by just such arms, for it is nothing short of an heroic enterprise to make them clean–and here is the heroine. Thick-bodied, invincible, she swings the bat with shuddering might; the traveler will rejoice that he has no conflict with these arms of the maiden of only sixteen summers. But who would not take pleasure in beholding the perfect health and the perfect working of that organism ! The child of Nature she is truly, living a life like the birds of the field, without pain, without struggle. She turns her broad face up to me, with a look of shy wonder, while I stand there ; but her glance drops with a bashful smile when she observes that the stranger is noticing her and her alone ; she seems to understand very well that just she has attracted his attention, and, I believe, rejoices in the thought. Throwing her braid back, yet never raising her eyes, she swings again her bat, bringing it down with an unearthly thump, much heavier than before, as if to inspire with new awe the beholder. But what a luxuriant sport of her members ! Exertion and strength are but ease ; every limb rollicks with delight in its own motion. She is not Helen, she does not possess grace, or form ; but with some curse that eye must be smit which can find no pleasure in the perfect health and massive exuberance of her physical development.
The village is now left behind, and therewith this bit of a journey is accomplished. It has the characteristic Greek scenery: a pleasant valley through which runs a brook, with hills on each side ; on some small eminence the trace of a ruin is often noticed ; the patient donkey plods through the sunny noiseless landscape, only the Greek driver breaks the silence at intervals with his . customary grunt of command ; into the whole view is blent a mild shining repose, broken at times today by fleeting patches of clouds. It is indeed a pleasant vale filled with many a legend and many a heroic form ; for this was the route from Thebes to the sea, from the West to Aulis. So the traveler has no difficulty in filling the solitary dale with ancient shapes among which he moves with a strange reality, and to which he may even speak ; nay, in his most exalted moment he may see a faun skipping in sunshine over the hill-side.
By this time, the traveler, looking back at that classic valley, will have run against an embankment, up the sides of which he springs with curiosity ; behold, the scene changes. The Great Road, the Megalos Dromos, is now under his feet, be stoops and looks up and down it wondering whence it came. It is the carriage road built by the Government between Chalkis and Thebes, and extends to Lebedeia and Lamia. With it the modern, in fact the western world, breaks into view suddenly ; Macadam, of euphonious name, is now the hero, for the road is macadamized and in that word what a diabolic mixture of Greek and barbaric speech ! Rudely the word jerks us out of antiquity and plunges us into the seething present; yet in the olden time the engineer was not without fame, but was held to be of divine origin, for in the ancient poem we read of the road-building sons of Hephaestus, who constructed the way to Delphic Apollo, whither we too are going. Offspring of a God then we may hail the hero Macadam, at least in Greece ; even the modern Great Road shall not lead us out of our antique realm, but rather conduct us back into it by a new route. We are still in the Greek world, let us then pass on.
But here a real sorrow overtakes me : I have to part from my friend Varvouillya who has been for so long a time my faithful companion. Everything which man may expect from his fellowman in the way of disinterested kindness he has shown me. Yet he is a person whom the ordinary traveler seeing upon the highway would tremble at for fear lest he might be a brigand. I myself regarded him with distrust at first, as you will recollect; in spite of his favors I watched him closely all the way from Marcopoulo to Chalkis ; but my suspicion was unjust, I did him a wrong which I now am trying to atone for. Under that fustanella, soiled though it be, there beats a warm, hospitable, honest heart. But we must not separate without a little celebration ; a wineshop is at the crossing, though the keeper is in the fields at work ; we call him in and have a final symposium. Putting me in the Great. Road, and pointing to the west, he said : There, follow this highway and in three hours you will be in Thebes. Farewell, good Varvouillya, hardly shall I meet thee again in this journey, but I have hopes that on sunny Olympus we shall again banquet together in presence of the Gods.
Once more alone after so many days, I step off rapidly toward the Theban plain through a sun-filled but bracing atmosphere. The Great Road with its modern face is not unpleasing ; the work on it is excellent. It is built upon a raised bed with strong embankments supported by stone through low places ; the outer dressing of broken rubble is pressed hard into the dirt. Along the road at intervals are piles of rocks for the purpose of repair, and I have not observed a spot in it which is out of order. Upon one of these piles after a brisk walk the traveler will sit down to rest, will take out his map to identify the various localities which fall into his vision. For the question is always before him : how did this little tract of land succeed in producing such a race of men, how did it succeed in elevating itself into the beautiful symbol for the whole human family? One fact grinds itself into the American brain here : a big country did not do it.
Still along the spurs of the mountains the villages are lying peacefully and beautifully in the sun, somewhat as they must have done of old; one cannot help recalling the ancient in the present, and think of the stirring communities which once lay upon these slopes. Each was roused by the story of Helen, felt the mighty national impulse, and sent its contingent to the Trojan war under its strong man; the names of towns and leaders can still be read in the famous muster-roll in the Iliad. What a development of individuality in these small places! Each had its autonomous life, its special worship with temple to the God ; each had its hero and its local legend connecting it with divinity. Mycalessus could not have been far from this crossing; it is the spot where the cow bellowed which was conducting Cadmus to Thebes with that wonderful alphabet of his, still the chief instrumentality of knowledge. So says the fable, and the name of the place, which is derived from the bellow of a cow, is cited in proof. Another legend was anciently told here which I like and would fain believe in its true sense : Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, was the presiding deity of Mycalessus ; at the feet of the statue of the Goddess the people would place offerings of flowering fruits which ripened in autumn, but in her presence they would remain in bloom the whole year round; such was the creative power of her immediate glance that the flowers never withered. A little further on was Harma where the chariot of Amphiaraus, Hero and Seer, was swallowed up in the earth by the special favor of Zeus ; thence he gave responses far over this territory. Yonder above on Mount Hypatus just before us stood a temple to Zeus Hypatus, Zeus the Highest, nearest there to his own ethereal clearness ; shining with column and entablature it crowned the summit with its joyous wreath of marble. Paasanias the traveler, a century and a half subsequent to the Christian Era, speaks of the ruins of the towns here ; then already decay had set in, the old spirit had fled. But the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is still fresh with the young life of the localities along this road.
A mounted soldier comes along, for the route is carefully guarded. Let not the traveler leave any article upon the stone-pile where he has been sitting, the cavalryman will pick it up and carry it off to the nearest station, where it will remain till the owner call for it. An accidental wine-shop where the thirsty son of Ares reined in his steed for a glass of recinato saved me a trip back to Chalkis for my note-book, which I had left for a few minutes on one of these piles. The traveler will also take the opportunity to swallow his lunch of black bread and cheese, as he sits there in happy mood looking up at the hills on either side of the way. Native pedestrians he will meet who will stop and question him ; carriages will pass with tourists from Athens who have ventured to take a ride as far as Thebes, and who look out of the window of the vehicle at him with some Aulis to Thebes anxiety, lest he be a brigand ; the four horse mail coach will go by, the driver asking the lone pedestrian if he wishes to ride. No, he prefers to walk, though the sun is getting a little hot, for it is already somewhat past noon.
There is no hurry then, let us glance around at our leisure. Off to the right is a high range of mountains with its white tops in a long vanishing row, ranked close like the teeth of a shark’s jaw; it is Kithaeron. Behind us are the frosty summits of Euboea ; especially the hoary giant Basilicon towers aloft, still seeming to be near at hand, with top glistening in the rays of the sun. But before the traveler rises in the distance a new mountain, lofty, snow-capped, which he will watch curiously ; notice the thick white cloud which is settling upon the peak so thick that it looks like a new snow-capped summit piled on the mountain till it rise up and mingle with the Heavens. Some in-visible Titan is there, we may imagine, heaping Ossa on Pelion in order that he may scale Olympus, the home of the Gods. Thither we are going, we shall see.
Passing up the Great Road a short distance we reach a low ridge through which the highway runs ; from its comb we look forth in front and behold a new landscape, indeed a new country. The Boeotian plain breaks into view at once, hedged in on all sides by mountains ; this slight ridge is the watershed. As we pass forward, we notice that form so often seen in Greece an amphitheater made by nature ; the hills retire, then sweep back towards the road in the shape of a half moon, while the road draws a straight line from tip to tip of of the arc. So amphitheater succeeds to amphitheater ; hills rising above hills make the seats and landing-places ; a ghostly multitude of faces fill them from the plain to the clouds. They are looking at the solitary wayfarer who is walking leisurely before them on that arc, while he occasionally turns his face toward the still murmur of the unseen throngs on the hill-sides.
But what a change ! It is a new land, a new world. The soil becomes rich and deep ; it varies in color from a light red to a dark red, with a loamy fat-looking lustre. You would say, the very ground was greasy, charged with animal matter. This impression is intensified by the enormous flocks of crows and buzzards which hover over the plain as far as the eye can reach, or drop in long streaks down to the earth. They seem to be able to gorge directly of the soil which lies here like an immense carcass spread over the low tract of the country. The feeling is that the whole land, rank in its own decay, is about to spring back into vegetable and animal life. And such is the case : vegetables and animals are everywhere leaping, as it were, into being over the wide level expanse. Tall grasses now fill the lush luxuriant meadows alternating with fields of grain ; cotton, too, is one of the products of this rich plain. Numberless herds of cattle, sheep, and horses spot the distance with many colors ; flocks of goats repose on the more re-mote slopes in sunny patches. The air is filled with an incessant tinkling of bells, far and near, faint and loud, of little sheep-bells and of big cow-bells all in a sweet chime over the meadows and hills ; thus the landscape in addition to its color is overflowing with a mellow idyllic music ; even the sunbeams fall around you in subtle harmony with the tintinnabulation of the bells.
Through such strains the traveler passes along the highway ; the image of Iphigenia which has accompanied him from Aulis and filled his eyes with unaccustomed tears, now bids him farewell, she vanishes over the mountains to her home. For she is an Attic figure, the creation of Attic tragedy, she stands for some of the most intense struggles of human spirit. But here in this plain man would seem to have no struggle, no yearning which whelms him into conflict ; he will become as fat as the soil and heavy as this dank atmosphere which fills the valley from the Copaic swamp. Yet let us not be too fast with our conclusions ; there is stiff contradiction here too, between the bare hill and the rich plain ; these will grapple in strife if nought else.
It is manifest that this land will produce a different class of beings from Attica which we have just left. There the soil is light and thin, the air is clear and genial, the climate dry and exhiliarating the people will have a tendency to become winged, to soar and to sing. But here Nature is fat and heavy, her children will be likely to receive the inheritance. The old reproach ” Beotian swine” now becomes the pithy statement for the clime and the man. Still human beings will not sink into enervation upon this spot, for the climate is far more severe than that of Attica for instance, nor is the plain so large that an enormous mass of humanity can settle here and press itself down by its own weight, as in the great river valleys of the East. This rich earth will have to be stoutly defended against poor and hungry neighbors dwelling on yonder rocky hills ; thus there will have to be strength, order, military organization, if the inhabitants keep their lands and their freedom. Men upon this soil will do two things at least : gormandize and fight; and such is their historical character. Yet in the background hover deep struggles of the spiritual kind ; fearful tragedies will break up into Theban fable, as if intimating something which lies first and deepest in the instinct of the people.
Thus in Greece Nature herself takes care to individualize her territory and with it her creatures. She cuts it up and separates its parts by chains of mountains ; then by means of sea, swamp and range of snowy peaks she contrives to give to each portion a distinct character. This Boeotia, one often repeats to himself, is a different world from Attica, though distant but a few hours’ walk ; yet there is withal a certain Greek unity in this very differentiation. Copais lake that stretches yonder, furnishes its broad surface for moisture, and the climate becomes damp and heavy ; the whole plain too is a swampy sediment of primeval ages, shooting into rank vegetation. But forget not the other side to the prosaic one : this land produced more and a higher mythical lore than any other Hellenic locality, with the possible exception of Argos ; it produced on the whole the most ideal man in Greek history Epaminondas ; it produced the lightest-winged, highest-soaring lyric poet of either ancient or modern times Pindar. Of them indeed we must hear again.
The sun is hot, though it be winter ; the pedestrian trudging along the hard-rolled highway will become thirsty. Unfinished wells here and there at the side of the road indicate that others before him have felt the same need of a fresh draught, which, he hopes, will be ready for those who are to come after him ; but the most philanthropic hope will not give him a drink of water. The amphitheatres furnish good company, for their stony seats are filled to the very skies with a multitude of spirits, looking at Time’s spectacle. A high ridge springs up suddenly in front and compels the road to turn aside a jagged volcanic product breaking up-ward in a thousand quivering struggles, and each quiver chilled forever into stone. The eager traveler will leave the highway and attempt to explore, but he has to leap from jag to jag, and his peaceful walk is thrown into convulsions like the ridge, altogether incompatible with classic repose. He soon abandons the frenzied rocks and returns to the road with joyful glances, for, if I mistake not, he begins to see something of Thebes in the distance lying on a hill. But further yet, far beyond Thebes, is that lofty snow-capped mountain which has remained in our vision ever since we crossed the Boeotian watershed ; still the solid white cloud rests on the summit, reaching up into the heavens ; no eye can tell where mountain ends and cloud begins, so much alike do they seem. Truly the earth seems to be rising there, flying upward at the stars with white wings what can be the name of the mount? I suspect it, still I dare not tell it now.
But this thirst is a little troublesome and begins to touch the Greek mood. Good luck! here is a laborer, and he has a skin filled with fresh water which he freely offers to the wayferer. A great, red-faced, fat man, quite distinct from the common run of people in Greece, he seems to par-take of the nature of the soil which he is tilting ; sweaty and puffing, with enormous bulk he wields the grubbing-hoe ; a very type of Boeotia, you will think being reminded again of the ancient proverb above cited, though the thought be in the present case ungenerous. But let us not delay, with Thebes getting nearer.
At the side of the road is an artificial mound which has been recently excavated; excellent masonry is brought to view, with stone carefully cut ; some tomb or trophy is the ready conjecture, and anciently it must have spoken of the Great Deed or of the Great Man to the traveler as he approached the city, filling his heart with the desire of imitation, or perchance with worship. Thus with the view of Thebes he would get the view of one of its Heroes. Not far from it is a very different object though intended for worship also a Christian shrine ; in a stone frame is set a rude picture of the Virgin and Child, before which the Greek of to-day crosses himself and repeats a prayer. I too stop and look at it thoughtfully ; it is well enough just upon this spot to remind the weary pedestrian that there is providence over him, that he must also have faith for is not his whole journey based upon the belief that in the next village provision has been made for him, of which he now knows nothing? Otherwise I would not go to Thebes yonder, Thebes would be death nothingness ; as it is, not only will my body find food and shelter there, but I feel certain of receiving some spiritual nourishment.
But it is strange how unnatural that Virgin appears upon Greek soil ; she seems not yet at home after this long, long millennial residence. Somehow or other she still looks like a foreigner ; nay, she has almost a destructive appearance here, kindly and good though she be elsewhere ; the Greek when he begins to worship her, sinks to little or nothing in comparison to what he once was with other divinities in his heart ; if she be not some avenging deity, destroying her own worshipers, at least she has been unable to lift them up into their ancient worth. That mule-driver just in advance of us who leaps down from his seat and goes through with his devotions before her image, is no unfair sample of her products ; he represents that to which she has reduced the Greek from the ancient breed of men who were once born upon this soil. Or turn about the statement, if you please, and say : the Greek having lost his freedom, his faith, and himself, received a new divinity and sank into this new worship. Both propositions are, however, in their essence the same.
Here comes another specimen of a different kind; I take him to be a Boeotian country gentleman. Mounted on a fine steed which steps proudly along the highway, he approaches, in big cavalier boots, with bright scarlet fez lying slouched upon the top of his head, while a long very white overcoat shaggy with large woolly flocks gives him the appearance of a white bear fat, haughty, carnivorous; barbaric ornaments of various kinds are scattered over his horse and his person. So too the old Theban was reproached with haughtiness as well as with gluttony; one will fancy he sees some of these traits still cleaving to the soil.
After some minutes another figure appears in the road, taking a walk out of Thebes which is now not far off. It is a Papas or priest strolling at his leisure outside of the town gates ; his long black gown seems to move through the clear air almost without showing any bend in his knees as he steps ; a man of quiet contemplation, one would think judging by his face. I address him, and he responds in a friendly sweet voice ; he points out to me the various places seen in the landscape and tells their names : in this direction is Kokla, ancient Plataea, there is Orchomenus, now Scripu. But what mountain is that yonder, with the clouds and sunbeams piled upon its summit to the very skies?
Parnassus, he replied, and under it is Delphi. He continued his walk, while I stepped quickly forward looking at Parnassus. No wonder that the mountain with its broad-expanded, gold-bordered cloud-wings seeks to lift itself into ethereal spaces, being upheld by a Delphic foundation -Poesy sustained by Prophecy. It is now clear as day-light that the destination of this journey is not Thebes; yonder is the beacon held aloft in the heavens.
But we must not fly off yet, we are not yet even in Thebes, though the suburbs begin to appear. We shall enter by the Proetid Gate, from the East ; can we call up the scene as it looked to the eye of the ancient traveler approaching the city in this direction? Along the street over which we are now passing were situated in antiquity the tombs and monuments of Heroes and Great Men. Down the road they stretched for two miles ; the stranger was re-minded, as he approached the city, of its illustrious characters, both historical and legendary. He could see in the statue, in the inscription, in the monument what men Thebes had produced, and whom she still held in remembrance. Here was her fable, her history, her own deepest character, spread out before the eyes of the stranger who could read them on entering her walls. The best introduction to her life lay inscribed there ; still fragments of it we may read to-day, using the vision of the ancient tourist.
For in the sun of the quiet afternoon the marble monuments begin to rise and glisten ; we may pass through them built on either hand, and scan them thoughtfully. First was the tomb of the seer, old Tiresias, more than fifteen stades from the city. The great prophet must stand at the very opening, significantly hinting what is to be ; for all which follows is really his prophecy. For he knew and foretold what lay in the germ of Thebes and of her Heroes ; advance now and see it unfolded in the monuments which follow, and in the city itself. But we have already left the place of Teresias rapidly behind, and we come to another monument inscribed: Tomb of Hector. What does this mean? And by the oracle the children of Cadmus are commanded to reverence the Asiatic hero after transferring his bones from Asia. No wonder that Thebes did not furnish any contingent for the Trojan war. It is an indication of the foreign element which lies both in Theban legend and in Theban history ; she has Asiatic preferences which bring her into fierce conflict with the other Greeks ; she is born to be a city of struggle. On the whole this is the most significant fact pertaining to Thebes : she worshipped the Hero of Asia, the enemy of the Greek Hero Achilles ; manifestly she is in shrill dissonance with the rest of the Greek world.
Here too is another and even deeper sign of that dissonance : Tomb of Melanippus. This is the name of a Theban Hero who fell during the siege of his city by the Argives, after he had slain the great Argive chieftain Tydeus, whose monument of rude stones is also here near by. Thus the two enemies still glare on each other from their tombs, as they did in life, representing the Theban conflict with Greece ; the two cities with their Heroes stand for opposite tendencies of the Greek world, and Argos as the leading Hellenic power of that age seeks to bring harmony out of this Theban discord with Hellenism, which she succeeds in at last by wiping Thebes out of existence. But it is after all the strife of two Greek states, the strife of brothers and here they are, Eteocles and Polynices, the two brothers who perish, each by the other’s hand. Thus the Argives were destroyed once, and Thebes was destroyed once in that bitter conflict. The brothers have a common altar here upon which offerings are laid ; but behold the fire of the sacrifice, it separates into two hostile tongues of flame which will not mingle. Brothers they are and must remain together, though without hope of reconciliation, enemies still in the grave. Thus Theban struggle is pushed to its last intensity in the direst domestic tragedy ; from the first Asiatic dissonance, through Greek civil war it has passed to fratricide. Then still further, to unwitting parricide, for we have now reached the fountain of Oedipus, parent of those two brothers ; in its waters he washed off the blood-stains of his own father after murdering him ; still the stream runs red, to the sympathetic eye.
But we have already crossed the Ismenian stream, now quite dry at this point, and we have arrived at the Proetid Gate. Such are the monuments which the traveler anciently beheld here in reality, but now we must behold them in image, unfolding gradually a deep tragic scission to the very heart of the city, and ending in bloody catastrophe. This is our introduction to Thebes as we pass up the Chalkidian road a true introduction to her legend, to her history, to her character, written with her own hand and placed here before the eyes of all who are able to read her monuments. It is an honest writing, I should say, instinctively revealing to the traveler what she is within, what she must be in the future, for these are the records of her inner-most being. Unconscious is the expression of her life here, and therefore sincere; like a prologue to some fearful tragedy it has been uttered in our presence, and with pre-monitions upon us we enter the gate of the city.