Travel Letters: Hotel D’angleterre, Athens (1866)

I am here on the `odos Aloxov, as the street signs call it, which means AEolus Street. I go out on my balcony and look one way, and there is the Temple of the Winds and the Acropolis beyond, with the Parthenon glowing in the sunset. I look the other way, and see the Academy and the old grove where Plato taught his pupils. In front is the Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, with Salamis in the distance. Two hours ago I was on Mars Hill, where Paul made his address ; the old stones of the Judgment Seat are still standing at the head of the stairs that lead up from the Agora. Then I went over to the Pnyx and stood where Demosthenes and Pericles have so often spoken to the Athenians of old. Before me was the Temple of Theseus, the most perfect of all relics of antiquity.

Friday Evening, March 2.

Here my letter came to grief yesterday, owing to the dinner bell. I spent the evening very pleasantly at Dr. Hill’s. You know he is our missionary here, and the man who has done more than anybody else for the elevation of Greece, by means of education.

He told me a great deal about Greece that was interesting. Today I have been on a very delightful ride from Athens through the Pass of Daphne, along the Thriasian Plain to Eleusis, the place where the old mysteries, the most sacred religious rites of ancient times, were celebrated. It is a very beautiful spot, in full view of the Bay of Salamis, where the great battle of the Greeks and Persians was fought, and of the height where Xerxes sat and over-looked it. Coming back, I went to the Acropolis again, wandering around to see its beauty from every point of view. The whole sweep of the landscape is glorious : Hymettus, Pentelicus, Colonus surrounding the beautiful plain ; the Ilissus and Cephisus, the two classic rivers of Athens, now mere dry torrent beds, running through it, and the Acropolis, with its immortal temples standing up, the central gem of the whole.

Many things are odd in traveling here. First, we are twelve days behind time. You know the East has never adopted the change of calendar, so that leaving Messina on the 27th we arrived here on the 17th. To-day is the 19th of February on all their newspapers, so for the present, I am twelve days younger than you think. Then it is curious to hear everybody, the cabmen, shopkeepers, beggars, talking familiarly a language that we have called dead, and struggled so hard to learn years ago. The modern Greek is very like the old, and eliminating differences of pronunciation, one gets to understand it a little and say a word or two so as to be intelligible. The modern city is all very new, and far better, neater, and cleaner than any other Eastern city. On the whole, these have been two great days. Yesterday, my first in Athens, was one of the most memorable of all my journey.

Saturday Morning, March 3.

I find there is a mail leaving to-day by the Austrian steamer, so I will close this up hurriedly and send it. We are going on Monday for a little trip into the Peloponnesus, to Argos, Mycne, and Corinth. In about ten days I shall be back in Rome, and stay there till after Easter. To-morrow I am going to preach in St. Paul’s Church, Athens, for Dr. Hill. Lots of love to all ; I am very well. Affectionately,

PHILL.