« PreviousContinue »
contemporaries. Deep enough for the popocrat Cleon, who tried to deprive Aristophanes of his citizenship, in revenge.
Aristophanes wrote a play that acted like a mustardplaster on Cleon. It made him howl and caper and sweat and bring libel suits. Whereupon Aristophanes wrote another, and when he could get no actor to take the leading part—that of Cleon-he took it himself, and Cleon went to see it and wore out his teeth on tenpenny nails during the performance. Yes, I should have had a weakness for Aristophanes in those days, though I wish he might have omitted that tragic satire which twenty years later was to send Socrates the hemlock cup.
We climbed the hill a little way to a grotto and drank of the spring of Æsculapius and all our diseases passed away. It only cost a penny or two, and was the cheapest doctor bill I ever paid. I never saw a healthier lot than our party when they came out of the grotto and started for the Odeon—the little theatre which Herodes Atticus built in memory of his wife.
Two thousand years ago Cicero wrote home from Athens: “Wherever we walk is history." We realize that here at the base of the Acropolis. From the Theatre of Dionysus to the Spring of Æsculapius is only a step. From the Spring to the Sanctuary of Isis is another step; from the Sanctuary to the Odeon of Herodes is a moment's walk; the Pnyx—the people's forum-is a stone's-throw away, and the Hill of Mars. All about, and everywhere, great events have trod one upon the other; mighty mobs have been aroused by oratory; mighty armies have rallied to the assault; a hundred battles have drenched the place with blood. And above all this rises the Acropolis, the crowning glory.
We postponed the Acropolis until after luncheon. There would have been further riot and bloodshed on this consecrated ground had our conductor proposed to attempt it then. Our Argonauts are a fairly well-behaved lot and fond of antiquities, even though they giggle at the guide now and then, but they are human, too, and have the best appetites I ever saw. They would leave the Acropolis for luncheon, even though they knew an earthquake would destroy it before they could get back.
We did stop briefly at the Pnyx hill—the gatheringplace of the Athenians—and stood on the rostrum cut from the living rock—the “Bema” from which Demosthenes harangued the populace.
As usual Laura, age fourteen, and I got behind the party. We stood on the Bema and took turns addressing the multitude, until we came near being left altogether by the Diplomat and the Blue Elephant, who finally whirled us away in a wild gallop to the hotel, which, thanks to Jupiter and all the Olympian synod, we reached in time.
We made a new guide arrangement in the afternoon. It was discovered that the guide for the German party could handle English, too, so we doubled up and he talked to us first in one language, then in the other, and those of us who knew a little of both caught it going and coming. Perhaps his English was not the best, but I confess I adored it. He lisped a little, and his voice—droning, plaintive, and pathetic—was full of the sorrow that goes with a waning glory and a vanished day. We named him Lykabettos because somehow he looked like that, and then, too, he towered above us as he talked.
So long as I draw breath that afternoon on the Acropolis will live before me as a sunlit dream. I shall see it always in the tranquil light of an afternoon in spring when the distant hills are turning green and forming pictures everywhere between mellowed columns and down ruined aisles. Always I shall wander there with Laura, and resting on the steps of the Parthenon I shall hear the sad and gentle voice of Lykabettos recounting the tale of its glory and decline. I shall hear him say:
"Zen Pericles he gazzer all ze moany zat was collect for ze army and he bring it here. But Pericles he use it to make all zese beautiful temple, and by and by when ze war come zere was no moany for ze army, so zay could not win.”
Lykabettos' eyes wander mournfully in the direction of Sparta, whence the desolation had come. Then a little later, pointing up to a rare section of friezethe rest missing—!
“Zat did not fall down, but stay zere, always ze same-ze honly piece zat Lord Elgin could not take away,” and so on and on, through that long sweet afternoon.
I shall not attempt the story of the Acropolis here. The tale of that old citadel which later became literally the pinnacle of Greek architecture already fills volumes. I do not think Lykabettos was altogether just to Pericles, however, or to Lord Elgin, for that matter. True, Pericles did complete the Parthenon and otherwise beautify the Acropolis, and in a general way he was for architecture rather than war.
But I do not find that he ever exhausted the public treasury on those temples, and I do find where his war policy was disregarded when disregard meant defeat. Still, if there had been more money and fewer temples on the Acropolis, the result of any policy might have been different, and there is something pathetically gratifying in the thought that in the end Athens laid down military supremacy as the price of her marble crown.
As for Lord Elgin, it may be, as is said, that he did carry off a carload or so of the beautiful things when he had obtained from the Government (it was Turkish then) permission to remove a few pieces. But it may be added that the things he removed were wholly uncared for at that time and were being mutilated and appropriated by vandals who, but for Elgin, might have robbed the world of them altogether. As it is, they are safe in the British Museum, though I think they should be restored to Greece in this her day of reincarnation.
We stood before the Temple of Victory and gazed out on the Bay of Salamis, where victory was won. We entered the Erechtheum, built on the sacred spot where Athena victoriously battled with Poseidon for the possession of Athens, and we stood in reverential awe before the marble women that have upheld her