« PreviousContinue »
the middle of the narrow, worn pathway, it is very well; but if he goes to experimenting and wandering off over the rocks, then look out. You can't steer him with the single remnant of rope on his halter (he has no bridle), and he pitches a good deal when he gets off his course. Being a tall person, I was closed up like a grasshopper, and felt fearfully top-heavy. Laura, age fourteen, kept behind me—commenting on my appearance and praying for my overthrow.
It was a good way to the ruins—the main ruinsthough in reality there were ruins everywhere: old mosques, gray with age and half-buried in the soila thousand years old, but young compared with the more ancient city; crumbling Roman aqueducts leading away to the mountains — old even before the mosques were built, but still new when Ephesus was already hoary with antiquity; broken columns sticking everywhere out of the weeds and grass—scarred, crumbling, and moss-grown, though still not of that first, far, unrecorded period.
But by-and-by we came to mighty walls of stone huge abutments rising from the marshy plain—and these were really old. The Phænicians may have laid them in some far-off time, but tradition goes still farther back and declares they were laid by giantsthe one-eyed kind, the Cyclops—when all this marsh was sea. These huge abutments were piers in that ancient day. A blue harbor washed them, and the merchant ships of mighty Ephesus lay alongside and loaded for every port.
That was a long time ago. Nobody can say when these stone piers were built, but Diana and Apollo
were both born in Ephesus, and there was probably a city here even then. What we know is that by the beginning of the Christian era Ephesus was a metropolis with a temple so amazing, a theatre so vast and a library so beautiful that we stand amid the desolation to-day, helplessly trying to reconstruct the proportions of a community which could require these things; could build them and then vanish utterly, leaving not a living trace behind.
For nobody to-day lives in Ephesus—not a soul. A wandering shepherd may build his camp-fire here, or an Arab who is tilling a bit of ground; but his home will be in Ayasaluk, several miles away, not here. Once the greatest port of trade in western Asia, Ephesus is voiceless and vacant now, except when a party like ours comes to disturb its solitude and trample among its forlorn glories.
There is no lack of knowledge concerning certain of the structures here—the more recent ones, we may call them, though they were built two thousand years ago. There are descriptions everywhere, and some of them are as cleanly cut to-day as they were when the tool left them. This library was built in honor of Augustus Cæsar and Livia, and it must have been a veritable marble vision. Here in its corners the old students sat and pored over books and precious documents that filled these crumbling recesses and the long-vanished shelves. St. Paul doubtless came here to study during the three years of his residence, and before him St. John, for he wrote his gospel in Ephesus, and would be likely to seek out the place of books. And Mary would walk with him to the door sometimes, I think, and Mary of Magdala, for these three passed their final days in Ephesus, and would be drawn close together by their sacred bond.
The great theatre where St. Paul battled with the wild beasts stands just across the way. It seated twenty-five thousand, and its stone benches stretch upward to the sky. The steep marble flight that carries you from tier to tier is there to-day exactly as when troops of fair ladies and handsome beaux climbed up and still up to find their places from which to look down on the play or the gladiatorial combat or the massacre of the Christians in the arena below.
These old theatres were built in a semicircle dug out of the mountain-side, so that the seats were solid against the ground and rose one above the other with the slope of the hill, which gave everybody a good view. There were no columns to interfere with one's vision, for there was no roof to be supported, except, perhaps, over the stage, but the top seats were so remote from the arena and the proscenium that the players must have seemed miniatures. Yet even above these there was still mountain-side, and little boys who could not get money for an entrance fee or carry water to the animals for a ticket sat up in that far perch, no doubt, and looked down and shouted at the show.
Laura and I, who, as usual, had dropped behind the party, climbed far up among the seats and tried to imagine we had come to the afternoon performancehad come early, not to miss any of it. But it was difficult, even when we shut our eyes. Weeds and grass grew everywhere in the crevices; dandelions
bloomed and briers tangled where sat the beaux and belles of twenty centuries ago. Just here at our feet the mobs of Demetrius the silversmith gathered, crying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” because the religion of St. Paul was spoiling their trade for miniature temples. Down there in the arena Paul did battle with the beasts, very likely as punishment. This is the spot-these are the very benches—but we cannot see the picture: we cannot wake the tread of the vanished years.
Behind the arena are the columns that support the stage, and back of these are the dressing-rooms, their marble walls as solid and perfect to-day as when the ancient players dallied and gossiped there. At one end is a dark, cave-like place where we thought the wild beasts might have been kept. I stood at the entrance and Laura made my picture, but she complained that I did not look fierce enough for her purpose.
On another slope of the hill a smaller theatre, the Odeon, has recently been uncovered. A gem of beauty it was, and much of its wonder is still preserved. Here the singers of a forgotten time gave forth their melody to a group of music-lovers, gathered in this close circle of seats that not a note or shading might be lost.
We passed around this dainty playhouse, across a little wheat-field that some peasant has planted. against its very walls, on up the hill, scrambling along steep declivities over its brow, and, behold! we came out high above the great theatre on the other side, and all the plain and slopes of the old city, with
its white fragments and its poor ruined harbor, lay at our feet. Earthquakes shook the city down and filled up the splendid harbor. If the harbor had been spared the city would have been rebuilt. Instead, the harbor is a marsh, the city a memory.
From where we stood we could survey the sweep of the vanished city. We could look across into the library and the market-place and follow a marble road
-its white blocks worn smooth by a million treading feet—where it stretched away toward the sea. And once more we tried to conjure the vision of the pastto close our eyes and reproduce the vanished day. And once more we failed. We could glimpse a picture, we could construct a city, but it was never quite that city-never quite in that place. Our harbor with its white sails and thronging wharves was never quite that harbor-our crowded streets were never quite those streets. Here were just ruins—always ruinsthey could never have been anything but ruins. Perhaps our imaginations were not in good working order.
We descended again into the great theatre, for it fascinated us, nearly breaking our necks where vines and briers tangled, pausing every other minute to rest and consider and dream. Pawing over a heap of rubbish—odd bits of carving, inscriptions, and the like—the place is a treasure-trove of such things—I found a little marble torso of a female figure. Head and arms and the lower part of the body all gone, but what remained was exquisite beyond words — a gem, even though rubbish, in Ephesus. Now, of course, the reader is an honest person. He