« PreviousContinue »
ATHENS THAT IS
N the road that leads from the old market
place, up past the Theseum to the Acropolis, there is a record of a humble but interesting sort. On the lower corner block of an old stone house, facing the highway, are three inscriptions. Two of them have been partly erased, but the third is quite legible, and one who knows Greek can read plainly a description of the property in metes and bounds and the original Greek word for “hypothecated,” followed by “1000 drachmas.”
It is a “live” mortgage, that is what it is, and it has been clinging to that property and piling up interest for more than two thousand years. The two halfobliterated inscriptions above it were once mortgages, too, but they were paid some time, and cancelled by erasure. The third one has never been satisfied, and would hold, like enough, in a court of law.
The owner of the property wrestled with that mortgage, I suppose, and struggled along, and died at last without paying it. Or perhaps the great war came, with upheaval and dissolution of things in general. Anyway, it was never paid, but has stayed there century after century, compounding interest, until to-day the increment of that original thousand drachmas would redeem Greece.
I was half a mind to look up the heirs of that old money-lender and buy their claim and begin their suit. Think of being involved in a tangle that has been stringing along through twenty-three centuries, and would tie up yesterday, to-day, and forever in a hard knot! I would have done it, I think, only that it might take another twenty-three centuries to settle it, and I was afraid the ship wouldn't wait.
If there is any one who still does not believe that modern Athens is beautiful and a credit to her ancient name, let him visit as we did her modern temples. We had passed the ancient market entrance, the Tower of the Winds, and other of the old landmarks, when suddenly we turned into a wonderful boulevard, and drove by or visited, one after another, the New Academy, the University, the National Library, the Gallery of Fine Arts, and the National Museum. If Pericles were alive to-day he would approve of those buildings and add them to his collection.
All the old classic grace and beauty have been preserved in the same pure-white pentelican marble, of which it is estimated that there is enough to last any city five thousand years. Corinthian, Ionic, and Doric columns that might have come from the Acropolis itself—and did, in design-adorn and support these new edifices as they did the old, and lend their ineffable glory to the rehabilitation of Greece.
We have learned, by-the-way, to distinguish the kinds of columns. They were all just Greek to us at first, but we know them now. When we see a column with acanthus leaves on the capital we know it is Corinthian, because we remember the story of the girl of Corinth who planted acanthus on her lover's grave and put a hollow tile around it for protection. Some of the leaves came up outside of the tile by and by, and a young architect came along and got his idea for the Corinthian capital.
We know the Ionic, too, because it looks like its initial—a capital “I” with a little curly top—and we say “I” is for Ionic; and we can tell the Doric, because it's the only one that doesn't suggest anything particular to remember it by. It's worth coming to Greece to learn these things. We should never have learned them at home-never in the world. We should not have had any reason for wanting to learn them.
We got tired of the Museum-Laura, age fourteen, and I-we were too young and frivolous for such things, though they are wonderful enough, I am sure. But then museums we have always with us, while a day in Athens is a fleeting thing. We wanted to take one of our private side-excursions, and we tried to communicate this fact to the Blue Elephant, who was our driver to-day, as yesterday.
It was no light matter. He nodded and smiled when we indicated that we wanted to leave the procession and go it on our own hook, but he did not move. We had already made up our minds that he was subject to fits, or was just plain crazy, for more than once he had suddenly broke away from the party and whirled us around side-streets for a dozen blocks or so to something not down on the programme, rejoining the procession in some unexpected place. But whatever may have induced his impulses then,
nothing seemed to stir his ambition for adventure now. I gesticulated and produced money; I summoned the Diplomat to tackle him in his best Xenophan, but it was no use. I got the guide at last, and then there was an exciting harangue that looked as if it might end in blood. I suppose our man thought he wouldn't get his full pay if he deserted the ship crowd. He must have been convinced, finally, for he leaped upon the box, and away we went in a wild race for the shops and by-streets where we had begged the guide to let us go.
We had explained that we wanted some bagssome little embroidered bags, such as we had seen earlier in the day when we could not stop. The Blue Elephant understood now and took us to where there were bags—many bags. The whole street was lined with bags and other embroideries, and the Greeks turned out to give us a welcome.
It is said that one Greek is equal to three Turks, and I believe it. The poorest Greek we saw was too much for two Americans, and we were beset and besieged and literally borne down and swamped by a rising tide of bags. We bought at many prices and in many places; we piled the carriage full and fled away at last when they were going to dump upon us a collection of costumes and firearms and draperies that would have required a flat-car.
We were breathing easier when the Blue Elephant pulled us into another narrow street, and behold! it was another street of bags. Dear me! how could we explain that we had enough bags and wanted to see other things? I would almost have given four hundred
dollars to have been able to tell him that I wanted to visit the old Byzantine structure we had passed that morning—the one with all the little shoemakers downstairs—but the thing was impossible. I must buy some more bags, there was no help for it. So I did buy some more, and I picked out a place where a man spoke enough English to give the Blue Elephant a fresh start, which brought us at last to the old Byzantine building and the little shoemakers.
Then we saw the street of a hundred clanking sounds -anyway we called it that, for they made all kinds of copper vessels in there—and we got out and told the Blue Elephant to wait, for the place was very narrow; but we couldn't lose him, seeing he was always on our heels, ready to whirl us away somewhere, anywhere, in his crazy, fitty fashion. We had to let him do it, now, for we had used up all the interpreters we could find; besides, we didn't care, any more.
Still, when it got to be near luncheon-time we did begin to wonder where the party had gone. It did not matter greatly, we could lunch anywhere, but we were curious to know whether we should ever see them or the ship again, and when we mentioned the matter to the Blue Elephant he merely grinned and whipped up his horses and capered across another square. But presently I realized that some sort of procession was passing and that he had turned into it. Then it was all just like dreams I've had, for it was our own procession, and we were calmly going along in it, and right away were being personally conducted through a remarkable church where the king and queen go, and sit in golden chairs. Alice in