Greece – The Old Greece And The New

THERE is a Greece of yesterday and a Greece of today, and every Philhellene believes that there will be a Greece of tomorrow. A country that has emerged from so many catastrophes of history cannot be easily extinguished in life, language, literature, art, or in political aspiration.

Each one of these aspects of Greece is interesting to me, and I find it difficult to separate them except for chronological or historic purposes.

One cannot set foot upon Greek soil without feeling the thrill of centuries of history. He is brought into the inspiring presence of some of the most perfect triumphs of art, or sees the ruder struggles of a more primitive age seeking to realize that which was to come. His imagination is kindled by embers of tradition which still glow in the life and thought of the people. The climate, the scenery, the mountains, rivers, plains, and valleys of Greece have been reflected in its literature, and furnish a beautiful background for its history. It is a small theatre for human action; but what a drama of war, art, politics, religion, and civilization has been enacted within its limits ! Battlefields, shrines, temples, theatres, inscriptions, statues, reliefs, vases, ornaments, and household utensils — some of them preserved on the very site where they were first used or reared, or stored within the walls of the greater museums — are the visible reminders to the traveller of a life and a history which are imperishably embalmed in its memorials. And, if one leaves the surface and descends into the tombs of Mycenae, which the spade of Schliemann unsealed, he goes down into the deep, rich, and curious strata upon which Greek civilization was built. The traveller in Greece today cannot see all the temples or shrines which were seen by Pausanias and Saint Paul, but he can see the memorials of a primitive civilization which was lost to sight and mind, even in their day, except as it was preserved in the half-mythic, half-historic pictures of Homer.

Then there is a higher and later stratum of history, written on the tombs, walls, porticos, and theatres of the Roman occupation. Still later there is a stratum little worked in our schools, but of much interest, which reveals the traces of Venetian, Frankish, and Byzantine supremacy; and, finally, there is the long, blood-stained highway of Turkish invasion and rule. The Venetians may be known by what they built up ; the Turks, like the Persians, by what they pulled down. In the great earthquake at Zante, some of the buildings which stood firm, though not unshaken, were the massive monuments of Venetian architecture, seen in the old castle and in private dwellings which have survived the shocks of seven hundred years. But, except here and there in the remains of some mosque, the Turkish epoch is mainly shown by bombardment, neglect, and devastation.

The traveller in Greece sees the marks not only of the surge of political forces, but of the march and conflict of religious ideas. First, it is the magnificent reign of the Greek gods, when the religious sentiment was beautifully and grandly incarnated in the stone hewn from its mountain quarries. Then came the triumph of the cross, and afterward the triumph of the crescent. If the cross may accuse the crescent, certainly the crescent can accuse the cross of pillaging the temples and destroying the monuments of the heathenism to which it succeeded.

But Greece is something more than a graveyard of a dead religion or a dead nation. It reveals a life which is interesting partly because it is the prolongation and reproduction of the life of the past, and partly because it is a fresh, new life of our day. Greece is one of the oldest and at the same time one of the youngest of nations. It traces with pride its long lineage back to Pericles, Solon, and their pro-genitors; but it thrills with more excitement as it recounts the story of the Greek revolution the smoke of whose battles has but just passed away. I have heard children in the Athenian schools recite, not without ancestral pride, the story of Marathon as a task to be learned; but I remember more vividly a scene in a Greek prison school in which a boy told a story from the history of the revolution with such power that he was carried away by his own earnestness, and the visitors, themselves native Greeks, were kindled by his patriotism. The Greeks always have been and still are an intensely patriotic people.

Ages of misfortune and oppression have not sufficed to quench this sentiment, though there is the same difficulty today that there used to be in giving it united expression. It is but sixty-five years since the new kingdom of Greece was formed after the deliverance from Turkish rule. In that time it has made rapid progress in adapting itself to the conditions of European civilization in the nineteenth century. The process is still going on. If it is somewhat melancholy to see the ruins of the older Greece, it is extremely interesting to see the work of building the new nation on the ruins of the old. Our own country is an example of a nation whose development is proceeding with the greatest rapidity and on the grandest scale. This is one reason, as Professor Palmer has so well shown in his address on ” The Glory of the Imperfect,” why America is one of the most interesting countries in the world to live in. The process of making history is even more fascinating than the process of reviewing it after it is made. For the same reason I find it hard to be simply a student of archeology or history in Greece. Many go there whose interest and occupation it is to study simply the monuments of the past and who have little time for or little interest in the present. They hardly care for anything that is not older than the Christian era. Antiquity is at a premium here, and it brings its price. On the other hand, the Philistine finds his way to Greece also. He has no time or taste for anything that is not still alive and capable of making a bargain. A merchant resident in Greece, and born of English parents, told me that he had been in Athens several times, but he had never climbed to see the Parthenon.

The real Panhellenist, like our own Professor Felton, is deeply and intensely interested in the old Greece, but as keenly and sympathetically interested in the new. It is nearly thirty years since I read his fascinating Lowell lectures on “Ancient and Mod-ern Greece.” As I think of the interest of that work as a fresh presentation of the old and a vivid picture of the new, I find it today serving as a sort of mile-stone to denote the immense progress which archaeology has made in Greece since it was written. At that time Schliemann had not put his spade into the ground. The treasures of Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and Olympia were still buried. Eleusis, Megalopolis, Epidaurus, Argos, Delphi, Rhamnus, and many of the islands were lying almost undisturbed as they had been for centuries. The traveller walked over their sites scarcely knowing that below him were the remains of temples and theatres and works of art which it only required shovels and wheelbarrows and human muscle to reveal. The exquisite Hermes of Praxiteles and the fourteen thousand bronzes of Olympia, a large part of the rich collection of statues and grave reliefs at the Central Museum of Athens, and nearly all the collection at the Acropolis Museum, were not yet unearthed. Indeed a whole library of books and reports needs to be written to describe the monuments and buildings, statues and treasures, which have been found since Felton’s day. Modern archaeological science has been almost created in that time. This is one reason why Greece has still such a fascination for the enterprising archeologist. He knows that he is working in a field which is not exhausted. The spade is even mightier than the pen. The promise allures him. He reads in his Pausanias the record of whole forests of statues and temples. Who can tell when he may make a discovery which will reveal some masterpiece of art or settle some of the vexed questions of history? Thus archaeological work has an interest here which it cannot have in Paris or Berlin. The student there works with material that is already furnished him ; in Greece he has an opportunity of unearthing it for himself. If the material is old the science itself is new. There is something to excite youthful ardor. It has the fascination and perpetual promise that fishing affords to the devoted angler, only the fishing is done in the earth instead of the sea. It is not surprising then that many of the men working in the field in Greece have no gray hair on their heads. Even Dorpfeld the prince of modern archologists, at least in relation to architecture, is little over forty years old ; and to refute the presumption that an archaeologist must be a dried-up, wizened specimen of humanity he easily and modestly bears the honors of the handsomest man in Athens.

But the interest of Greece is not all below ground nor in the new and active life above it. There is an atmospheric, a physical charm, in its climate and scenery which attracts and rewards the traveller though he may care little for its ruins or for the new life about him. He may breathe the fresh, soft air, rejoice in the glow of the sunlight which shines for so many days with undimmed brilliancy, and see in the face of Nature the same sweet smile which beautified it three thousand years ago. In that time Nature has not been wholly asleep. Forests have disappeared, springs have run dry, rivers have changed their courses, the sea has receded from the shore, villages and cities have decayed and been buried in earth and oblivion ; but still there is the same grandeur of the mountain, the same fresh beauty of the plain, the same peace or wrath of the sea, as when the Homeric rhapsodist sang the glories of Olympus or painted in hexameters the garden of Alcinous.

The organization of modern travel, the multiplication of railroad and steamship connections, the appearance on the field of a new convenience and a new distress in the shape of a Cook or Gaze agent has enabled the tourist ” to do” Athens and the rest of Greece in four or five days; but Greece will not do what she might for him unless he banishes the demon of haste and basks for months in the smile of her lovely countenance. An instantaneous view is better than nothing; but there are fine shades of expression and soft, dreamy revelations of beauty which can only be taken by a time exposure.

The old Greece and the new. Rather let me say the old Greece in the new, and the new Greece in the old. This to me is the perpetual fascination of this land. The past and the present cannot be wholly unravelled. The old and the new are continually intermingling. Temples have fallen and monuments are broken, but the ideals of beauty they embodied still animate the modern world. The gods no longer sit on Olympus, but Olympus still lies under the shadow of the Almighty. You stand on the Acropolis and reverently view the Parthenon; and then your eye turns to the ever old and ever new sea, or lights on the fresh verdure of the grain that is growing in the valley, or watches the changing colors of the sunset spreading over Hymettus. You turn to-ward the Areopagus and think of the grand address which Paul gave to the crowd from the market; but down in the schools and streets below the children are repeating words and phrases some of which are eight centuries older than the speech of Paul, but are still included in the same tongue. Scarcely a festival passes that some old custom does not come to light which embodies the memory of classic days.

The old Greece in the new; the new Greece in the old. In what I write I shall not try to separate them wholly. It is the unity of the impression which makes the reality of Greece as it is.

” Why do you go to Greece? ” said some one to me. It was a strange question. It nearly dumfounded me. ” Why does any one stay away? “