Page images

was laid out in a natural hollow by Lycurgus, before Christ over three hundred years, and was rebuilt something less than five hundred years later by the Averof of that day, Herodes Atticus, whose body was buried there. Then came the tumble and crumble of European glory; the place fell into ruin, was covered with débris, and lay forgotten or disregarded for a thousand years; after which, King George took up the matter, and dug out the remains as soon as he could get money for the job.

That was Averof's inspiration. Without it he would most likely have spent his money in Alexandria, where he made it. Certainly without King George to point the way the progress of Athens would have been a sorry straggle instead of a stately march.

The stadium seats fifty thousand, and has held half as many more when crowded. In the revived Olympic games in 1896 the Greeks won twelve prizes, the Americans followed with eleven, France carried off three, and the English one. That was a good record for the Americans, and we didn't fail to mention it, though I think most of us were thinking of those older games, won and lost here under this placid sky, and of the crowds that had sat here and shouted themselves hoarse as the victors turned the goal. Then, standing high on the marble seats, we looked across the entrance, and there rose the Acropolis, lifted high against the blue, just as those old spectators had seen it so long ago. Through half-closed lashes we re-created it in gleaming pentelican and so gazed upon a vision, the vision they had seen. It was hard to leave that place. It would have been harder, if it had not been for the guide we had. He insisted on talking in some language which nobody recognized, and which upon inquiry I was surprised to find was English. He had learned it overnight, it having been discovered that the guide engaged for our party had been detained-probably in jail—for the same offence. Still our sample would have done better if he had sat up later. As it was he knew just two words. He would swing his arms and point to something and begin, “You see—!” The rest re

[graphic][merged small]



quired a mind-reader. The German guide was better—much better. I haven't a perfect ear for German, but I concluded to join that party.

It was not far to the Temple of Jupiter—the group of fifteen Corinthian columns which are all that remain of what Aristotle called “a work of despotic grandeur.” It must have been that. There were originally one hundred and four of these columns, each nearly sixty feet high and more than five and a half feet in diameter. Try to imagine that, if you can!

Think of the largest elm-tree you know; its trunk will not be as thick as that, nor as high, but it will give you a tangible idea. Then try to imagine one hundred and four marble pillars of that size, the side extending in double row the length of a city block, and the ends in triple row a little less than half as far-pure-white and fluted, crowned with capitals of acanthus leaves, and you will form some vague idea of what Aristotle meant. We cramped our necks and strained our eyes, gazing at the beautiful remnant of that vast structure, but we did not realize the full magnitude of it until we came near a fallen column and stood beside it and stepped its length. Even then it was hard to believe that each of the graceful group still standing was of such size as this.

Peisistratos the tyrant began this temple and picked the location, said to be the spot where the last waters of the Deluge disappeared. It was to be dedicated to Deucalion, the founder of the new race of mortals, and the low ground was filled up and made level and bulwarked round with a stone substructure, as good to-day as when it was finished, twenty-five hundred years ago.

Peisistratos did not get the temple done. He died when it was only fairly under way, and his sons did not remain in power long enough to carry out his plans. He was a tyrant, though a gentle one, ambitious and fond of all lovely things. He had his faults, but they were mainly lovable ones, and he fostered a cultivation which within a century would make Athens the architectural garden of the world.

The example of Peisistratos was followed lavishly during the next hundred years, but his own splendid temple was overlooked. Perhaps Pericles did not like the location and preferred to spend his money on the Acropolis, where it would make a better showing. I don't know. I know it was left untouched for nearly four hundred years, and then the work was carried on by Antiochus of Syria, who constructed it on a grand scale. But it killed Antiochus, too, and then it waited another three hundred years for the Emperor Hadrian to come along, about 174 A.D., and complete it, and renew it, and dedicate it to Jupiter Olympus, whose reign by that time was nearly over.

Never mind who built it, now, or what creed was consecrated there. The glory of the Golden Age rises on the hill above us, but I think one can meet nothing more impressive than this in all Greece.

Hadrian's arch is just beyond the Temple of Jupiter, and we drove through it on our way to the Acropolis. It is not a very big arch, nor is it very impressive. I don't think Hadrian built it himself or it wouldn't have been like that. It looks as if it had been built by an economical successor.

However, it is complimentary enough. On the side toward what was then the new part of Athens, called Hadrianople, is an inscription in Greek which says “This is the City of Hadrian, and not of Theseus,”

and on the side toward the Acropolis, “This is the old city of Theseus.” And old it was, for the newest temples on the Acropolis had been built six hundred years even then.

It was only a little way to the foot of the Acropolis and the Theatre of Dionysus. We have visited no place where I wished so much to linger. This was the theatre of Greece in her Golden Age. Here Æschylus and Euripides had their first nights-or days, perhaps, for I believe they were mostly matinees

-and Sophocles, too, and here it was that the naughty Aristophanes burlesqued them with his biting parodies. Here it was they competed for prizes, and tried to be friends though playwrights, and abused the manager when they got into a corner together, and abused the actors openly, and vowed that some day they would build a theatre of their own where they could present their own plays in their own way, and where their suppressed manuscripts could get a hearing.

Perhaps history does not record these things, but it does not need to. I know a good many playwrights and managers and actors, and I know that human nature has not changed in twenty-four hundred years. I know that the old, old war was going on then, just as it is now, and will continue to go on so long as there are such things as proscenium and auditorium, box-office, gallery, and reserved seats. · I took one of the last named-a beautiful marble chair in the front row, just below the plinth where once the throne of Hadrian sat-a chair with an inscription which told that in the old days it was reserved for a priest or dignitary—and I looked across the

« PreviousContinue »