ALL Hellenists agree that Greek nationality extends in an unbroken line from the pre-historic to the present age. While the earlier periods left no direct political inheritance, the genius of the race, in its intellectual and moral distinction, perpetuated its characteristics. Conditions, resulting from the extended conquests of Alexander the Great, combined to produce two types of Greeks: those of Europe and of Asia; and the cities founded by the Asiatic conquests of Alexander were stamped with Greek civilization. For a century and a half after Alexander, conditions were kaleidoscopic; freedom advanced and retrograded; but with the Roman conquest a new era began. From this conquest (in 146 B.C.), the history of Greece easily falls into four periods: that of the Roman occupation until about 716 A.D., when the Byzantine began; the Turkish domination from 1453 until 1821; the present period of the independence of Greece usually dates from that time, although not established with a settled government until 1835. Still, from 1835 until 19121913 will be ranked another historic period in the history of Greece, as that of the final and complete throwing off of Turkish annoyances and hindrances to interior progress. The Byzantine period was hardly so definite as to be assigned to severely statistical dates; yet it has left an impress that is not entirely effaced. “Two thousand years of the Greek nation were passed in Roman subjection, Byzantine servitude, and Turkish slavery,” writes one historian, “and during all this time the history of Greece is uninteresting.” It is difficult to follow the grounds for this summary conclusion. One who was at all fastidious in language would hardly choose the terni “uninteresting” to describe the period of the Roman conquest; the Byzantine period was indefinite and indeterminate, but one leaving certain picturesque traces; and the period of Turkish slavery, that terrible period of oppression and cruelty lasting three hundred and fifty years, was still, seen in the true perspective of time, the period that generated the power that finally carried all before it; that fired the heroism of the Greek nature, until they sprang as one man, with the cry, as voiced by one of their poets :
“Far better ‘t is with the wild beast, than with the Turks to dwell!”
As the waters gushed from the rock under the touch of Aaron’s rod, so that wild, free poetry of the Klephts gushed from the unconquered and invincible hearts of the people. The great forces of human life, both those we call evil and those that we call good, are all working towards diviner ends.
“That great, far-off, divine event Toward which the whole creation moves,”
is one whose final achievement is approached by many avenues and many channels. The mystery of pain is a theme that has worthily occupied the most profound and the most devout thought of man.
“It must be borne in mind,” declares one of the most spiritual of counsellors, “that one of the greatest secrets of the spiritual life is that the Holy Spirit guides us therein, not only by lights, sweetness, consolations, and attractions, but also by obscurities, darkness, insensibility, contradictions, anguish, revolt. I say, moreover, that this crucified way is necessary; that it is good; that it is the surest, and that it leads us much more rapidly to perfection. An enlightened soul dearly appreciates the guidance of God, which permits her to be tried by creatures, and overwhelmed with trial; and she fully understands that these things are favors rather than misfortunes, preferring to die on the Cross on Calvary rather than live in sweetness on Thabor. . . . After purification in the purgatory of suffering, the soul will enjoy light through intimate union with God, who will make this world, exile as it is, a paradise for her.”
For the immediate time such experiences seem, indeed, “not joyous but grievous,” but St. Paul gives us the deepest philosophy of life when he shows how they work out for man the “fruits of righteousness,” and “an exceeding glory for them which are exercised thereby.” A nation is but the multiplication of the individual; and when the divine leading is recognized and followed, the spirit rises to a new and undreamed-of power, as of those
“Spirits with whom the stars connive To work their will.”
It was in somewhat of this spirit that the Greeks, for generation after generation of those three and a half centuries, resisted the persecution and degradation that menaced them.. The Greeks are essentially a religious people, with a fervency and vitality of faith that applies itself to the most practical and immediate concerns of life. It may not always be formulated into a specific philosophy, but it is instinctive with the people.
The Roman conquest had been by no means wholly unwelcome to the Greeks. It was, perhaps, as a dernier cri that it was not unwelcome; for affairs were so far from being satisfactory to any class that the courage to accept a new rule with equanimity if not with welcome may have been largely the courage of despair; but they apparently held well-founded convictions that nothing could be worse, and therefore it might be better than the prevailing conditions. The policy of the Roman government was to permit the municipal independence and to interfere very little with the course of the Greeks themselves, if the taxes were paid. Guizot, in his great History of Civilization, points out that a measure which, in an age of good government, may be very bad, may, in an age of bad government, become really beneficent; and this truth was illustrated in the Roman conquest. Especially when the Emperor Hadrian came did the Greeks welcome him as their “saviour and founder.” Nero had plundered the artistic treasures and almost laid waste the country. From superstitious fear of the Eumenides, he had avoided Athens; but elsewhere he had roamed, inciting constant warfare. With his colossal vanity he laid schemes to extract from the Greeks the flattery he craved, and by way of an empty reward he decreed the freedom of the Hellenes at one of the Isthmian games, a decree that had no applied value. In any event, it was at once cancelled by Vespasian, who re-stored the ruinous system of taxation. Then, in 114 A.D., came Trajan, and the hope of the country revived. He was received with marked honors, his statue erected at Olympia, and better conditions seemed to revive. For the time, Greece seems to have been almost carried away by her enthusiasm for Rome. A temple in honor of the Eternal City was even erected on the Acropolis; temples in honor of Caesar and of Augustus were built in Sparta; yet, all this time, there was between the two nations that impassable gulf of incompatibility that may be temporarily bridged, but never concealed. The Greeks never lost their race consciousness of intellectual superiority. The Romans never lost their consciousness of domination. Notwithstanding this smouldering discord, the spirit of Greece was undaunted; it treasured its immortal expression in great literature; it held memories that were fadeless; it was alive in the personal consciousness of every citizen. Roman colonies were established at Patras, Corinth, and other of the commercial cities; but Greece never lowered her colors to the invader. The Corinthians gave themselves to Roman customs, even adopting the gladiatorial games; but Lucian records that when some of the Athenians were inclined to join in these, the philosopher Demonax forbade them, saying: “Let the altar of Pity be first overthrown ! ”
With the coming of Hadrian, conditions were transformed. Here was a Roman emperor who was not a lover of brutal games, but who, on the contrary, was eminently in sympathy with the noblest culture in literary, philosophic, and artistic expressions. Not the wisest of administrators, Hadrian was yet in temperamental sympathy with all true greatness. His qualities were peculiarly grateful to the Greek genius. He was a soldier, but no such martial commander as was Trajan. Hadrian was a scholar first, and a soldier afterwards. In the pursuit of letters he did not rank with Marcus Aurelius, nor could he compete with Antoninus as ” an instructor of life and example in manners,” but he came near to the hearts of the people. They did not fail in appreciation of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and the influence of some of the sayings of this great expounder of morals and ethics may be recognized. The Greeks were well calculated to appreciate such passages of Marcus Aurelius as this :
“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, the arrogant, deceitful, envious, the unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me. . . I can neither be injured by any of them.”
This philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is essentially Greek, and it is the Greek spirit that has everywhere planted the germs of the enlargement and liberation of the spirit.
Hadrian had no claim to be considered among ethical teachers; but as statesman and tactician he exceeded Antoninus and even Trajan, in that he was more sympathetic with the Greek temperament. Trajan was a warrior; Hadrian was a man of peace, and still his ideals were those of conquest and for Imperial empire, as was the prevailing spirit of Rome. Between himself and Trajan the difference was more one of method than of final aim. An eminent English commentator says that Hadrian’s cosmopolitanism was in reality imperialism, and sprang from his desire to stamp everything with the imperial mark, and to conserve all things to the benefit of the empire. “He was a Philhellenist, not merely from sentiment, but from the conviction that Latins, Greeks, and even barbarians had all something to contribute to the common service. ” Gregorovius quite agrees with Lucian in his estimate of Hadrian’s beneficial influence to the Greeks.
” No previous emperor of Rome had been in such close touch with them,” says Gregorovius, ” and changeable though he was, he remained faithful to his Greek sympathies. More lavishly here in Greece than in any other part of the Empire did he bestow the blessings of his liberality. With Hadrian there began for Athens an after-summer of its former splendor, a last renaissance, not of the republican life of the State, but of science and literature. It was, too, more fully developed under Antoninus, and continued, though with many interruptions, during the ever-deepening decay of Greece, until the extinction of Hellenism under Justinian.”
The precise date at which Hadrian first visited Athens is not known, nor even at which port he landed; but from inscriptions his first visit is placed somewhere about the year 124 A.D.. when he made a stay of some length. Hadrian found satisfaction here for all his ideal aspirations. In the charming pastoral scene, framed by the sea, Hymettus, Pentelicus, and Parnes, he could rest from his labors, and admire the sublime works of antiquity, whose eternal youth and beauty, in Plutarch’s opinion, had defied the powers of time. They were still standing uninjured. Pausanias, afterwards, was astonished by the temples, the academies and gymnasia, the porticoes and squares, the citadel of Athens filled with votive offerings, pictures, and statues, and even Lucian, when in his youth he saw Athens for the first time, was amazed at the beauty and magnificence of the city, and at the number of its inhabitants. In Athens Hadrian could be an artist among artists, and he could dispute, in the halls of the academy under the plane-trees on the Cephissus, with philosophers who called themselves followers of the divine Plato. In Athens wisdom and simplicity were taught, as Lucian says in his Nigrinus, where he draws a contrast between her classic peace and the din of Rome, “with her ostentatious slavery, her formalities and her banquets, her sycophants, her poisoners, legacy-hunters, and false friends.” In the patriarchal figure of the philosopher, Demonax, Lucian has drawn a picture of the happiness of a life of Athenian simplicity, and this sage may have been a man of thirty-five when Hadrian came to Athens. The emperor was here transformed into a Greek sophist and dreamer over the beauties of antiquity. Steeped in poetry and in sentiment, they are still a powerful attraction to every cultivated man who, in this place, full of consecrated gifts, has communion with the gods, the heroes, and the sages of Attica, as he wanders among the ruins of their temples.
The laconic style of Hadrian’s biographers forbids us to see much of this prince, this most ardent lover of the Muses, in his intercourse with the Athenians. Spartianus sums up the events of Hadrian’s first visit there in these few words: “After the example of Hercules and Philip, he took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries; he made many presents to the Athenians, and presided as Agonthetes.” Victor Dupuy, in his glowing history of Greece, says :
“Hadrian was, without doubt, initiated into the mysteries of Demeter on his first visit to Athens. Augustus, also, had been allowed to share in these rites and, later, Marcus Aurelius. The ruler of Rome and of the world, attired as a Greek, did not disdain to fill the office of umpire at the games of the great Dionysia. The Dionysia were celebrated in March and April, consequently in the spring of 1Q6 A.D., Hadrian was still in Athens. The Athenians were delighted to see the emperor seated in the theater of the great Attic poets, gravely awarding the prizes; but we do not know what pieces were then given. They were probably comedies of Menander, for the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes were hardly any longer put on the stage, and there was no living poet who was able to write a respectable play.”
It was doubtless in recognition of the honor Hadrian paid to the Attic theater that the Athenians erected twelve statues of the emperor, each phyle of the city being thus represented, and placed them in the auditorium. Like other great men, Hadrian has been misrepresented, and the assertion that in mere vanity he ordered these statues of himself placed, is apparently untrue. Hadrian was not without his interest in the occult. It is said that he interrogated the oracle at Delphi as to the real nativity of Homer, but the reply that he received was apparently quite as vague as many of the cryptic messages of the Society for Psychical Research. Nor was the shrine of Delphi then at its best oracular reputation. Nero had taken five hundred of the bronze statues from the temple of the sanctuary of Apollo, and one of the temples had been reduced to ruins.
It was during Hadrian’s first visit to Athens that he made the plans for rebuilding the majestic temple of Olympian Zeus. He added signally to the adornment of Athens with many temples and other buildings; he built an aqueduct to bring the water of Cephissus to the city, and at Corinth he constructed aqueducts to bring to that city the water from Lake Stymphalus. Sparta was then the most important city in the Peloponnesus, and the visit of Hadrian there is established by an inscription. He was absent from Rome three years at this time, returning by the way of Sicily, where he made the ascent of Mount Etna to witness a sunrise. Gregorovius believes he has evidence that proves Hadrian to have been in Athens again in the year 132 A.D., and he assumes that the great temple of Olympian Zeus was then completed and dedicated. Not for centuries had Athens known any such magnificent festival as that of the dedication of this Olympieion. It was made a national festival, with representatives from every city in Greece, as the Olympian Zeus was the new religious center for all Hellas. The dedicatory address was delivered by Polemon of Smyrna, who was the most celebrated Sophist of his day.
The Greek Church now became as a powerful commonwealth within the Roman territory. It was in this fact that the astute Constantine saw his opportunity. To establish a close alliance between the power of the Romans and Christianity was his aim, and to this end he founded the city of Constantinople in 330 A.D.
to be the capital of all Christendom. Officially the court was Latin, but it was in the midst of Greek surroundings and steeped in Greek influence. This change was one of mingled good and evil for the Greeks. A severe and burden-some system of taxation was initiated to sup-port the splendor and luxury of the court of Constantine; but, on the other hand, well-organized systems of protection for the people, by the recognized authority of the law and of the clergy, ensured a safety of life and property unknown before. Then, too, Greece had the boundless prosperity of the Mediterranean trade. “The Greeks had in their hands almost all the commerce with the Black Sea and with the West. They carried to Europe the perfume, pearls, and jewels of India and Arabia, and above all, their spices, then largely used at table and for incense in churches . . . the silks of China, the tortoise shell of Africa, as well as the oils, fruits, and wines, the textures, arms, and jewelers’ work of the Empire itself.” Athens and other cities were also much benefited by the silk industry. Under Justinian, silkworms were imported into Greece from China, and this was a valuable source of revenue. The merchants in Athens offered costly and attractive wares of rich and gorgeously hued fabrics, embroideries, gold, and jewels.
But the municipal system of Rome was imposed upon Greece, and the burden of taxation increasingly impoverished the richer land-owners. So, for two hundred years, until the reign of Justinian began, these conditions continued, disastrous and corrosive to all the national vitality. The disintegrating tendency was precipitated under Justinian, who in 529 confiscated all the endowments which Marcus Aurelius had bestowed on the four philosophical sects of Athens. With this act, the old splendor of Hellenic literature and art went down, but only went down as the sun, to rise again.
The Crusade was succeeded by something less than a century of what was termed the Dukedom of Athens; and in 1453 the Turkish subjection closed over the land whose splendor was still to remain a permanent and rich possession for ages yet unknown.
During the Turkish domination from 1453 to the uprising of Greece in 1821 a period of midnight darkness fell upon this land of beauty, of nobleness, of genius unparalleled. This has been called with careless and undiscriminating phrases, the period of Grecian degradation. But Greece has never been degraded. Misfortune is not synonymous with degradation. Even the almost overwhelming wave of Slavonic immigration in the seventh century failed to efface, to any permanently disastrous degree, the great Hellenic traditions.
“O majestic Victory, shelter my life ‘Neath the covert of thy wings Aye, cease not to grant me thy crowning,”
implored Euripides, and the spirit of these lines was always in evidence among the Greek people.
At this time many learned Greeks sought refuge in other countries; they acquired the language of the people among whom they lived, and many native Greeks wrote books in foreign languages; but it is an interesting fact to notice that they almost always reproduced the work in their own language also. In Greece the spirit of liberty, though stifled, was never killed. Groups of desperate men lived in the solitudes of the mountains. Two orders, known as Klephts and Haiduks, maintained a perpetual protest and unceasing struggle against Turkish tyranny. This life that had disengaged itself from all the usual restraints of civilization, in the municipal and conventional sense, was wonderfully productive of a certain poetry of its own. A typical lyric of this order is the Song of The Klephts:
“Our refuge and our camp we make where wolves have made their lair; Let slaves and bondsmen with the Turks the plains and cities share. The cities of our valiant men are desert, dale, and fell; For better ‘t is with the wild beasts than with the Turks to dwell!”
Florence MacPherson, who is the translator of the Greek poems collected in the volume from which these extracts are taken, has singularly combined a critical familiarity with the Greek language and original poetic gifts, thus rendering her transcriptions unique and unsurpassed in all the literature of foreign, poetic translation. Achilles Paraschos, a poet as well as an ardent patriot of the period of this struggle, interpreted the spirit of the time in a poem, which Miss MacPherson renders as follows :
“They know that they will fall unknown; they know For them is waiting cold oblivion’s bed; And yet unflinchingly to death they go. Ah! never for themselves they fought and bled. For them wounds, hunger, graves, o’ershrouding night; While other names shine in immortal light!
“Heroes unknown, doomed in the shade to fall! If memory heed not your high sacrifice God’s eye, unsleeping, watches over all; On deeds He looks, and ne’er on histories. Heroes unknown, doomed in the shade to die, If last below, you are the first on high!”
The Greek Revolution of 1821, lasting for five years, was no sudden insurrection, but the inevitable culmination of the rebellion that had smouldered and flamed forth, again and again, during nearly a century. The conflict ended with the fall of Missolonghi in 1826, and Greece declared herself free.
So far from being an “uninteresting” period in history, this struggle was one of the most dramatic vicissitudes. So remote, indeed, is this tumultuous period from being deficient in historic interest, that it fully justifies the enthusiasm of a distinguished Philhellenist, who wrote of this long resistance that it was “a struggle equal in. duration to the war which Homer sang, and in individual valor perhaps not inferior.” Its ending was termed by this historian “a glorious close,” and “though her future destiny be yet obscure,” he continued, “Greece has emerged from the trial regenerate and free. Like the star of Merope, all sad and lusterless, her darkness has at length disappeared, and her European sisters haste to greet the re-turning brightness of the beautiful and long-lost Pleiad.”
In the earlier part of the period of Turkish domination, the conditions were less revolting than they grew to be later. One of the splendid heroes, whose name is immortal in Greece, was Constantine Kanares, the inciter and leader of a thrilling naval battle, whose victory decided the day. Kanares lived Until 1877, and even served as Premier under the late King George.
At the time of this naval triumph, Kanares was a young Psarriote sailor, commanding a brulot. The Turks had been celebrating their feast of Ramadam, and the Grand Admiral had given a splendid entertainment. In the excitement of this revelry he had apparently become oblivious to the fateful proximity of the Greeks, who lay off in the harbor of Psarra. Kanares saw that if the Turkish fleet could be paralyzed before it could effect a junction with the forces of Egypt, the danger to the Greek islands would be incomparably lessened, if not entirely averted. The young commander had previously won some distinction at Erisso, but the feat that he now conceived of surpassed in boldness and heroism any preceding attack of war. A comrade, George Pepinis of Hydra, and thirty-two other sailors, volunteered to act with him. Kanares, with his supporters, all then celebrated the rite of the Holy Sacrament, and having consecrated themselves to the cause of their country, they fitted up two fire-ships to be followed by two corvettes and a schooner. They set forth at midnight; the brulot commanded by Kanares sailed directly to the Admiral’s ship, grappled the prow, and instantly set her on fire. Sailing away, they shouted “Victory to the Cross!” They cleared the channel without a single loss. Soon a sheet of flame enveloped the ship of the Turkish Admiral; the Capitan Pasha sought to escape in a boat, but was killed by the falling of a mast. The conflagration was seen from the shore as a terrible spectacle, and all Smyrna was alarmed at the sight, and almost shaken by the appalling explosion that followed, when the Turkish flag-ship was blown up.
A grand celebration was held in Greece on the return of Kanares and his companions; the people turned out in a tumult of enthusiasm, amid the boom of cannon, the ringing of exultant bells, and the display of banners. Yet, in a hush of silence, Kanares and his men doffed their shoes, and thus walked to the church to render thanks to God for their great victory.
It is in reference to this splendid feat of Kan-ares that a Greek poet wrote the epitaph that follows. A translation is made by Professor Aytown.
“I am Constantine Kanares, I who lie beneath this stone; Twice into the air in thunder Have the Turkish galleys blown. In my bed I died, a Christian, Hoping straight with Christ to be; Yet one earthly wish is buried Deep within the grave with me, When the third Armida came, They and I had died together Whirled aloft on wings of flame!”
Rhigas, the Greek poet, whose fiery war-songs thrilled and stimulated the nation; Andreas Miaoulis, the distinguished naval commander, and Marco Bozarris, are among the immortal names associated with the success of the cause; but Greece acknowledges that she owes her freedom from that period of oppression to Kanares and the band of intrepid leaders associated with him. The Sultans of the earlier time were notable men and able rulers, however unjust were many of the laws; but with the lapse of each century the conditions grew steadily more unendurable. Finally the tyranny became so great that the Greeks were forbidden to teach their language or their religion to their children. Nothing could more desperately in-flame the feeling of the nation than this crowning outrage. The fire of Hellenism was by this fanned to a blazing conflagration, and the Greeks at once instituted night schools, which were carried on secretly, that the country should not be submerged in absolute ignorance. The patriot, Koraes, who was one of the ablest leaders of the cause of resistance to the Turks, and who had journeyed to Paris and to other parts of western Europe to plead the cause of Grecian liberty, addressed an assembly of his countrymen, in 1802, and with intense earnestness said to them :
“You are now the instructors and teachers of your country, but the time is fast approaching when you will be called upon to become her lawgivers. Unite, then, your wealth and your exertions in her behalf, since in her destitution she can boast no public treasury for the instruction of her children; and forget not that in her brighter days their education . was a public duty intrusted to her rulers.
It is little wonder that such a struggle should irresistibly incite the sympathy of poet, philanthropist, or reformer, of whatever race or -clime. It is a cherished link between Greece and our own country that an American hero, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, should have volunteered his utmost aid to the Grecian struggle for independence and that his personal endeavor is associated with all that is noblest in that memorable time.
The brief Venetian mastery towards the end of the seventeenth century had been one not unfortunate for Greece, if there may be excepted the supreme loss of the ages in the destruction of the Parthenon; a loss that one can never believe was due to intention, but to a terrible accident. The Venetians brought with them a far loftier conception of life, in all directions, than that which existed with the Turks, and this conception readily took root in the mind of the Greeks, to whom the Venetians were more or less temperamentally allied. This interlude is distinctly perceived as one of a nobler trend in national life.
The independence of Greece was declared in the Peloponnesus, on April 4, 1821, and in the June of 1822 the Greeks again took possession of the Acropolis, appointing Gouras, a Klepht, as its guardian. In the following October, when the Turks again besieged Athens, Gouras was killed. The Turks were repulsed, but not defeated; and it was not until the intervention of the Powers, in 1833, that the Turks were finally expelled from the citadel, the government established upon an acceptable basis, and Otho, the Bavarian, called to be the king, on which reign he entered two years later. Contemplated now in those true values which perspective alone lends, the story of Greece since the fifteenth century is a vital chapter in the world’s history.