The Acropolis As It Was – Greece Travel

To the Acropolis there is only one approach; it allows of no other, being everywhere precipitous and walled off. The vestibules have a roof of white marble, and even now are remarkable for both their beauty and size. As to the statues of the horsemen, I can not say with precision whether they are the sons of Xenophon, or merely put there for decoration. On the right of the vestibules is the shrine of the Wingless Victory. From it the sea is visible; and there AEgeus drowned himself, as they say. For the ship which took his sons to Crete had black sails, but Theseus told his father (for he knew there was some peril in attacking the Minotaur) that he would have white sails if he should sail back a conqueror. But he forgot this promise in his loss of Ariadne. And AEgeus, seeing the ship with black sails, thinking his son was dead, threw himself in and was drowned. And the Athenians have a hero-chapel to his memory. And on the left of the vestibules is a building with paintings; and among those that time has not destroyed are Diomedes and Odysseus-the one taking away Philoctetes’s bow in Lemnos, the other taking the Palladium from Ilium. Among other paintings here AEgisthus being slain by Orestes; and Pylades slaying the sons of Nauplius that came to AEgisthus’s aid. And Polyxena about to have her throat cut near the tomb of Achilles. Homer did well not to mention this savage act.

And there is a small stone such as a little man can sit on, on which they say Silenus rested, when Dionysus came to the land. Silenus is the name they give to all old Satyrs. About the Satyrs I have conversed with many, wishing to know all about them. And Euphemus, a Carian, told me that sailing once on a time to Italy he was driven out of his course by the winds, and carried to a distant sea, where people no longer sail. And he said that here were many desert islands, some inhabited by wild men; and at these islands the sailors did not like to land, as they had landed there before and had experience of the natives; but they were obliged on that occasion. These islands he said were called by the sailors Satyr-islands; the dwellers in them were red-haired, and had tails at their loins not much smaller than horses.

And as regards the temple which they call the Parthenon, as you enter it everything portrayed on the gables relates to the birth of Athene, and behind is depicted the contest between Poseidon and Athene for the soil of Attica. And this work of art is in ivory and gold. In the middle of her helmet is an image of the Sphinx—about whom I shall give an account when I come to Boeotia-and on each side of the helmet are griffins worked. These griffins, says Aristus the Proconnesian, in his poems, fought with the Arimaspians beyond the Issedones for the gold of the soil which the griffins guarded. And the Arimaspians were all one-eyed men from their birth; and the griffins were beasts like lions, with wings and mouth like an eagle. Let so much suffice for these griffins. But the statue of Athene is full length, with a tunic reaching to her feet; and on her breast is the head of Medusa worked in ivory, and in one hand she has a Victory four cubits high, in the other hand a spear, and at her feet a shield; and near the spear a dragon which perhaps is Erichthonius. And on the base of the statue is a representation of the birth of Pandora—the first woman, according to Hesiod and other poets; for before her there was no race of women. Here too I remember to have seen the only statue here of the Emperor Adrian; and at the entrance one of Iphicrates, the celebrated Athenian general.

And outside the temple is a brazen Apollo said to be by Phidias; and they call it Apollo, Averter of Locusts, because when the locusts destroyed the land the god said he would drive them out of the country. And they know that he did so, but they don’t say how. I myself know of locusts having been thrice destroyed on Mount Sipylus, but not in the same way; for some were driven away by a violent wind that fell on them, and others by a strong light that came on them after showers, and others were frozen to death by a sudden frost. All this came under my own notice.

There is also a building called the Erechtheum, and in the vestibule is an altar of Supreme Zeus, where they offer no living sacrifice, but cakes with-out the usual libation of wine. And as you enter there are three altars: one to Poseidon (on which they also sacrifice to Erechtheus according to the oracle), one to the hero Butes, and the third to Hephaestus. And on the walls are paintings of the family of Butes. The building is a double one; and inside there is sea-water in a well. And this is no great marvel; for even those who live in in-land parts have such wells, as notably Aphrodisienses in Caria. But this well is represented as having a roar as of the sea when the south wind blows. And in the rock is the figure of a trident. And this is said to have been Poseidon’s proof in regard to the territory Athene disputed with him.

Sacred to Athene is all the rest of Athens, and similarly all Attica; for altho they worship different gods in different townships, none the less do they honor Athene generally. And the most sacred of all is the statue of Athene in what is now called the Acropolis, but was then called the Polis (city) which was universally worshiped many years before the various townships formed one city; and the rumor about it is that it fell from heaven. As to this I shall not give an opinion, whether it was so or not. And Callimachus made a golden lamp for the goddess. And when they fill this lamp with oil it lasts for a whole year, altho it burns continually night and day. And the wick is of a particular kind of cotton flax, the only kind indestructible’ by fire. And above the lamp is a palm tree of brass reaching to the roof and carrying off the smoke. And Callimachus, the maker of this lamp, altho he comes behind the first artificers, yet was remarkable for ingenuity, and was the first who perforated stone, and got the name of “Art-Critic,” whether his own appellation or given him by others.

In the temple of Athene Polias is a Hermes of wood (said to be a votive offering of Cecrops), almost hidden by myrtle leaves. And of the antique votive offerings worthy of record, is a folding-chair, the work of Daedalus, and spoils taken from the Persians—as a coat of mail of Masistius, who commanded the cavalry at Plataea, and a scimitar said to have belonged to Mardonius. Masistius we know was killed by the Athenian cavalry; but as Mardonius fought against the Lacedasmonians and was killed by a Spartan, they could not have got it at first hand; nor is it likely that the Lacedaemonians would have allowed the Athenians to carry off such a trophy. And about the olive they have nothing else to tell but that the goddess used it as a proof of her right to the country, when it was contested by Poseidon. And they record also that this olive was burnt when the Persians set fire to Athens; but tho burnt, it grew the same day two cubits.

And next to the temple of Athene is the temple of Pandrosus; who was the only one of the three sisters who didn’t peep into the forbidden chest.

Now the things I most marveled at are not universally known. I will therefore write of them as they occur to me. Two maidens live not far from the temple of Athene Polias, and the Athenians call them the “carriers of the holy things”; for a certain time they live with the goddess, but when her festival comes they act in the following way, by night : Putting upon their heads what the priestess of Athene gives them to carry (neither she nor they know what these things are), these maidens descend, by a natural under-ground passage, from an inclosure in the city sacred to Aphrodite of the Gardens. In the sanctuary below they deposit what they carry, and bring back something else closely wrapt up. And these maidens they henceforth dismiss, and other two they elect instead of them for the Acropolis.