Nothing so impresses the visitor to Greecenot the waters of the Aegean sea, with their myriad hues; not the Acropolis, eloquent with ruins; not even the lovely site of Athens itselfas the part which little Greece has played in the instruction of the world. With an area of less than twenty-five thousand square miles, not half of which is productive, and with a population of less than two and a half millions, this diminutive nation has [a history without a parallel.
There is scarcely a department [of thought in which Greece has not been the pioneer, and in many things she has set an example which subsequent generations have but imperfectly followed. If in Egypt one is awed by the evidences of antiquity; if in Palestine he is made reverent by the spiritual association connected with Judea, Galilee and Samaria; in Greece he bows with profound respect to the mighty influence exerted by this single people upon civilization.
The signs along the streets recall the alphabet with which the student of the classics struggles when he takes up the dead languages—and yet, the Greek language can hardly be called dead, for while it ii the spoken tongue of but a comparatively small number, it has found a glorious resurrection in nearly all the languages of Europe. In fact, it has so many merits that we are constantly complimenting it by returning to it for the nomenclature of philosophy, science and art.
Of those who still speak the language of Herodotus, Homer, Socrates and Demosthenes, a majority live outside of Greece, for the Greek colonies planted around the eastern end of the Mediterranean form a considerable, as well as an influential, portion of the population. Greek colonization, by the way, was of an enduring kind. Those who went out into distant fields did not go as [individual bees (official or commercial) to gather honey [and return with it to the parent hive ; they went [out rather in swarms to found cities, develop countries and establish new centers for the spread of Greek influence. They identified themselves with the land to which they went; they became an integral part of the population, and, by virtue of their inherent superiority, they gradually substituted the language, the ideas, and the customs of their native land for those which they found. So securely did they build that neither the Roman nor the Turk was able to obliterate their work. The people bowed before the storm, but continued Greek, and to-day in Alexandria, Asia Minor and Constantinople, Hellenic influence is still felt.
The ancient Greeks sought to perfect the human form, and it is not to be wondered at that the marble models of strength, grace and beauty have been unearthed where the Olympian games inspired a rivalry in physical development. The games were established nearly eight hundred years before the beginning of the Christian era, and during the nation’s independent existence they were held in such high esteem that the laurel wreath of victory was the greatest reward within the reach of the youth of the country. Each city had its stadium, some of them of immense size. The one at Athens seated fifty thousand spectators, and the enthusiasm aroused by the contests was scarcely less than that which at Rome greeted the gladiators. By the generosity of a rich Greek the stadium at Athens has recently been restored at a cost of more than a million dollars. The race course is six hundred and seventy feet long and a little more than a hundred feet in width, and the seats are of Pentelic marble. Notwithstanding its great capacity it can not contain the crowds that assemble to witness the athletic games, renewed there in 1893 by the International Athletic Association. Our country has the distinction of having led in the contest of 1896 and again in the contest held at Athens last April. Our representatives won eleven prizes each time, and I found that these victories had very favorably impressed the people of Athens.
The stadium is not the only splendid monument to the public spirit of the modern Greeks. The academy of science and the library are magnificent buildings, each costing more than the restoration of the stadium. They illustrate the best in Grecian ,architecture, reproducing the Corinthian, the Doric, and the Ionic. They are of Pentelic marble and would be worthy of a place in any city of the world. The library contains several hundred thousand volumes and has all the modern equipment. Athens has a population of but little more than a hundred thousand, and it is doubtful whether there is another city of its size that can boast ,of as large an expenditure of private capital in public buildings. The mountain which has supplied Athens with marble for twenty-five hundred years is only a few miles from the city and its quarries are still unexhausted.
Modern Athens is very attractive ; its streets are paved’ and clean; its business houses are large and well built; its government buildings are substantial, and its private residences give evidence of taste. We were there in the season of flowers and we saw them blooming in profusion everywhere. Numerous statues adorn the streets and parks, the most noted being the statue of Byron, erected in’ memory of his unselfish devotion to Greek independence.
The soldiers and policemen have adopted the costume ,of the ancient Greeks, but otherwise the people dress like the people of northern Europe.
As one approaches Athens for the first time, his eye is sure to search for the “temple-crowned” Acropolisthe hill which art and religion combined to make immortal. It rises from the plain much as Chapultepec rises from the plain of Mexico. It its about five hundred feet high and, ,at the top, two hundred yards in length. It must have been surpassingly beautiful when the Parthenon was completedthat great treasury which has not only supplied the art galleries of the world with marvels of beauty in stone, but has given law to the architects from that day to this. Pericles, who deserves the credit for the construction of the Parthenon, can be pardoned for exulting in his work.
Today, the Acropolis is a picture of desolation, but the few columns that remain bear witness to its departed glory. Lord Elgin carried away at one time two hundred ,and fifty feet of the sculptured frieze, and scarcely any of its columns, capitals, cornice and pediment would have remained but for the size ,and weight of the masses of marble. The pillage that for nearly twenty centuries has been robbing Greece of her priceless works ,of tart can be understood when it is stated that one Roman conqueror celebrated his victory by exhibiting in his triumphant procession two hundred and fifty wagon loads of Greek pictures and statues, and that these wagons were followed by three thousand men each bearing some trophy taken from the cities of Greece.
And yet in spite of the grand larceny which has been perpetrated against this unfortunate land the museum ,at Athens contains enough of the beautiful in marble and bronze to make any nation conspicuous in the realm of art. Within two years some notable additions have been made to the collection ; a life-sized bronze statue has been unearthed and a marble figure, half buried in the sands of the sea, has been rescued. The latter is perfect in the portions protected by the sand but was disintegrating where it came into contact with the waves.
The readers of these ,articles are too well informed in regard to the discoveries ,of Dr. Schliemann to make it necessary to refer to his -work in detail. One room of the museum contains the gold ornaments which he gathered from five tombs, and they are sufficient to show the extended use made of this metal in the arts. They consist of ear rings, finger rings, bracelets, necklaces, head ornaments, vases, cups, coins, etc. A pair of cups which attract special attention bear in relief the figures of bullsthe animals being equal in form to the best breeds of to-day. On one cup they are being led to the sacrifice and on the other they are bound at the altar.
Besides these statues of renown and the casts of those which have been removed, there are many specimens of ancient pottery by which one can trace the rise in artistic taste and skill. Some of the earliest statues in stone and clay boar a striking resemblance to those of Egypt.
Second only in interest to the Acropolis is Mars Hill, a rocky summit two-thirds of the height of the Acropolis. Here the ancient court of the Areopagus, composed of the most eminent of the Athenians, held its sessions. Here under the dome of the sky the most important cases were tried and life and death hung upon the decree of the court. Here, also, Paul’s great speech to the “men of Athens” was delivered, his text being found in the altar erected ‘to “the unknown god.”
Only a little distance from Mars Hill is the stone platform from which the orators ,of Greece addressed the people. A level, shelf-like space was formed near the top of the hill where a few thousand could congregate, and here the citizens listened while the greatest of all public speakers poured forth his eloquence. It was worth a trip to Athens to view the spot where Demosthenes delivered the oration on the Crown and the Philippics, which have been the pattern set before the student for twenty-two hundred years. In the marshalling of facts, in the grouping of arguments, in the use of invective and in the arranging of climaxes he is still the teacher. Someone has drawn a distinction between Cicero and Demosthenes, saying that when the former spoke the people said : “How well Cicero speaks,” while, when Demosthenes spoke, they said: “Let us go against Phillip!” Demosthenes’ style was more convincing than ornate; his purpose was to arouse, not merely to please, and from the accounts that have come down to us his delivery was suited to his language. He, in fact, gave to (action the highest place among the requisites of effective speech. We recalled the saying of Demosthenes when we listened to the excited tones and watched the gesticulations of the boatmen who thronged about our ship in the harbor of Piraeus. The physician who came aboard to examine the passengers gave us even a better illustration of “action,” although his gestures were more forcible than graceful, possibly because he addressed himself to the captain of the ship instead of to the multitude.
On the shore of the Aegean sea, between Athens and the harbor, at a place where Demosthenes may have tested his voice (against the tumult of the waves, I gathered some pebbles. I can not prove that they are the identical ones used by him to overcome the impediment in his speech, but they are at least a reminder of the toilsome struggle through which he passed before his name was known to fame.
It was (a disappointment to find so little to mark the site of the academy where Socrates and Plato met their disciples. These philosophers have made such an impression upon the thought of the world that I had hoped to find some spot clearly identified as the place where they taught. An old house now stands on a treeless tract over which they are said to have walked in their daily discussions, but it is a modern one. A gate admits to the grounds, although no wall incloses them. It is much easier to picture Demosthenes speaking from the rostrum which still remains, than to imagine Socrates propounding here his questions and elaborating the method of reasoning to which his name has been given.
There is an old cemetery within the limits of the present city where recent excavation has brought to light numerous tombs ornamented with sculpture. Some of the groups of statuary and urns have been left where they were found, while others have been given a place in the museum. These are additional proof .of the number of those who handled the chisel in the days of Phidias.
No spot is identified with Herodotus, the Father of History, or with Thucydides who, with Herodotus, has been the instructor of later chroniclers. Except the remains of the theatres, there is nothing to recall the tragedies of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles or the comedies of the Aristophanes; and no place is pointed out as the site of the studio of Parrhasius or Zeuxis, though the lessons which they taught the world have not been forgotten. While the guide does not pretend to know the house in which Homer lived or where he wrote his death-less songs, the traveler who passes through the Hellespont can see the plains of ill-fated Troy, and during his stay in Greece his memory runs over the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
There are no physical evidences of the life work of Lycurgus and Solon, yet the laws which they promulgated are the heritage of man-kind. Salamis remains, and if the naval battle which Themistocles won had had no other effect than to furnish Pericles with a theme for his great funeral orations, it would still have been worthy of remembrance. The battlefield of Marathon which gave Miltiades a place among the world’s generals is also unchanged. It is about twenty-five miles from Athens, and the story, told in marble, of the Greek who carried the news of the victory to Athens and died from exhaustion amid the shouts of his countrymen, has led to the incorporation ,of a twenty-five mile race in the athletic games when they are held at Athens. In 1896 the race was won by a Greek (much to the satisfaction of the audience), who made the run from Marathon to the city in two hours ,and forty-five minutes.
The pass at Thermopylæ is also to be seen, and the heroism of the three hundred Spartans who, under the leadership of Leonidas, offered up their lives there for their country, continues to be an inspiration.
They failed to stay the onward march of Xerxes, but who can measure the value of their example?
Corinth, as of old, still guards the entrance to the Peloponnesus; but notwithstanding the canal, which, at this point, connects the Aegean Sea with the Gulf of Corinth, the city has only a small population.
Corinth brings to memory the part Greece played in the spread of Christianity. It was not enough that this country led the world in statecraft and ‘oratory, in poetry and history, in philosophy and literature, in art and in athletics, she was also one of the first mission fields of the apostles. It was to the Corinthians that Paul wrote the Epistles in which love is given the first place among the virtues, and it was Greece that gave her name to one of the great branches of the Christian Church.
A democrat may be pardoned for cherishing a high regard for the land that coined the word, democracy. The derivation of the word from demos, the people, and kratein, to rulemakes it an appropriate one to describe ,a government based upon popular will. And as governments more and more recognize the citizen as the sovereign, and the people as the source of all political power, the world’s debt to Greece will be more and more fully appreciated. She not only gave to language a word accurately expressing the idea of self-government, but she proved by experience the wisdom of trusting the people with the management of all public affairs.