By Robert Hichens
|Temple of Athene, Island of Aegina|
Upon the southern slope of the Acropolis, beneath the limestone precipices and the great golden-brown walls above which the Parthenon shows its white summit, are many ruins; among them the Theater of Dionysus and the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, the rich Marathonian who spent much of his money in the beautification of Athens, and who taught rhetoric to two men who eventually became Roman emperors. The Theater of Dionysus, in which Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides produced their dramas, is of stone and silver-white marble. Many of the seats are arm-chairs, and are so comfortable that it is no uncommon thing to see weary travelers, who have just come down from the Acropolis, resting in them with almost unsuitable airs of unbridled satisfaction.
It is evident to anyone who examines this great theater carefully that the Greeks considered it important for the body to be at ease while the mind was at work; for not only are the seats perfectly adapted to their purpose, but ample room is given for the feet of the spectators, the distance between each tier, and the tier above it being wide enough to do away with all fear of crowding and inconvenience. The marble arm-chairs were assigned to priests, whose names are carved upon them. In the theater I saw one high arm-chair, like a throne, with lion's feet. This is Roman, and was the seat of a Roman general. The fronts of the seats are pierced with small holes, which allow the rain-water to escape. Below the stage there are some sculptured figures, most of them headless. One which is not is a very striking and powerful, though almost sinister, old man, in a crouching posture. His rather round forehead resembles the very characteristic foreheads of the Montenegrins.
Herodes Atticus restored this theater. Before his time it had been embellished by Lycurgus of Athens, the orator, and disciple of Plato. It is not one of the gloriously placed theaters of the Greeks, but from the upper tiers of seats there is a view across part of the Attic plain to the isolated grove of cypresses where the famous Schliemann is buried, and beyond to gray Hymettus.
Standing nearby is another theater, Roman-Greek, not Greek, the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, said to have been built by him in memory of his wife. This is not certain, and there are some authorities who think that, like the beautiful arch near the Olympieion, this peculiar, very picturesque structure was raised by the Emperor Hadrian, who was much fonder of Athens than of Rome.
|A distant view of the Acropolis at night|
The contrast between the exterior, the immensely massive, three-storied facade with Roman arches, and the interior, or, rather, what was once the interior, of this formerly roofed in building, is very strange. They do not seem to belong to each other, to have any artistic connection the one with the other.
The outer walls are barbarically huge and heavy, and superb in color. They gleam with a fierce-red gold, and are conspicuous from afar. The almost monstrous, but impressive, solidity of Rome, heavy and bold, indeed almost crudely imperious, is shown forth by them—a solidity absolutely different from the Greek massiveness, which you can study in the Doric temples, and far less beautiful. When you pass beyond this towering facade, which might well be a section of the Colosseum transferred from gladiatorial Rome to intellectual Athens, you find yourself in a theater which looks oddly, indeed, almost meanly, small and pale and graceful. With a sort of fragile timidity it seems to be cowering behind the flamboyant walls. When all its blanched marble seats were crowded with spectators it contained five thousand persons. As you approach the outer walls, you expect to find a building that might accommodate perhaps twenty-five thousand. There is something bizarre in the two colors, fierce and pale, in the two sizes, huge and comparatively small, that are united in the odeum. Though very remarkable, it seems to me to be one of the most inharmonious ruins in Greece.
The modern Athenians are not very fond of hard exercise, and except in the height of summer, when many of them go to Kephisia and Phalerum, and others to the islands, or to the baths near Corinth for a "cure," they seem well content to remain within their city. They are governed it seems, by fashion, like those who dwell in less-favored lands. When I was in Athens the weather was usually magnificent and often very hot. Yet Phalerum, perhaps half an hour by train from Constitution Square, was deserted. In the vast hotel there I found only two or three children, in the baths half a dozen swimmers. The pleasure-boats lay idle by the pier. I asked the reason of this—why at evening dusty Athens was crammed with strollers, and the pavements were black with people taking coffee and ices, while delightful Phalerum, with its cooler air and its limpid waters, held no one but an English traveler?
"The season is over," was the only reply I received, delivered with a grave air of finality. I tried to argue the matter, and suggested that anxiety about the war had something to do with it. But I was informed that the "season" closed on a certain day, and that after that day the Athenians gave up going to Phalerum.
The season for many things seemed "over" when I was in Athens. Roundabout the city, and within easy reach of it, there is fascinating country—country that seems to call you with a smiling decision to enjoy all Arcadian delights; country, too, that has great associations connected with it. From Athens you can go to picnic at Marathon or at Salamis, or you can carry a tea-basket to the pine-woods which slope down to the Convent of Daphni, and come back to it after paying a visit to Eleusis. Or, if you are not afraid of a "long day," you can motor out and lunch in the lonely home of the sea-god under-the columns at Sunium. If you wish to go where a king goes, you can spend the day in the thick woods at Tatoi. If you are full of social ambition, and aim at "climbing," a train in not many minutes will set you down at Kephisia, the summer home of "the fifty-two" on the slope of a spur of Mount Pentelicus.
Thither I went one bright day. But, as at Phalerum, I found a deserted paradise. The charming gardens and arbors were empty. The villas, Russian, Egyptian, Swiss, English, French, and even now and then Greek in style, were shuttered and closed. All in vain the waterfalls sang, all in vain the silver poplars and the yellow-green pines gave their shade. No one was there. I went at length to a restaurant to get something to eat. Its door was unlocked, and I entered a large, deserted room, with many tables, a piano, and a terrace. No one came. I called, knocked, stamped, and at length evoked a thin elderly lady in a gray shawl, who seemed alarmed at the sight of me, and in a frail voice begged to know what I wanted. When I told her, she said there was nothing to eat except what they were going to have themselves. The season was over. Eventually she brought me mastika and part of her own dinner to the terrace, which overlooked a luxuriant and deserted garden. And there I spent two happy, golden hours. I had sought the heart of fashion, and found the exquisite peace that comes to places when fashion has left them. Henceforth I shall always associate beautiful Kephisia with silence, flowers, and one thin old woman in a gray shawl.
|The Plain of Marathon|
Greece, though sparsely inhabited, is in the main a very cheerful-looking country. The loneliness of much of it is not depressing, the bareness of much of it is not sad. I began to understand this on the day when I went to the plain of Marathon, which, fortunately, lies away from railroads. One must go there by carriage or motor or on horseback. The road is bad both for beasts and machinery, but it passes through country which is typical of Greece, and through which it would be foolish to go in haste. Go quietly to Marathon, spend two hours there, or more, and when you return in the evening to Athens you will have tasted a new joy. You will have lived for a little while in an exquisite pastoral—a pastoral through which, it is true, no pipes of Pan have fluted to you,—I heard little music in Greece,—but which has been full of that lightness, brightness, simplicity, and delicacy peculiar to Greece. The soil of the land is light, and, I believe, though Hellenes have told me that in this I am wrong, that the heart of the people is light. Certainly the heart of one traveler was as he made his way to Marathon along a white road thickly powdered with dust.
Has not each land its representative tree? America has its maple, England its oak, France its poplar, Italy its olive, Turkey its cypress, Egypt its palm, and so on. The representative tree of Greece is the pine. I do not forget the wild olive, from which in past days the crowns were made, nor the fact that the guide-books say that in a Greek landscape the masses of color are usually formed by the silver-green olive-trees. It seemed to me, and it seems to me still in remembrance, that the lovely little pine is the most precious ornament of the Grecian scene.
Marathon that day was a pastoral of yellow and blue, of pines and sea. On the way I passed through great olive-groves, in one of which long since some countrymen of mine were taken by brigands and carried away to be done to death. And there were mighty fig-trees, and mulberry-trees, and acres and acres of vines, with here and there an almost black cypress among them. But the pines, more yellow than green, and the bright blue sea made the picture that lives in my memory.
Not very long after we were clear of the town we passed not far from the village of "Louis," who won the first Marathon race that was run under King George's scepter, Marousi, where the delicious water is found that Athens loves to drink. And then away we went through the groves and the little villages, where dusty soldiers were buying up mules for the coming war; and Greek priests were reading news-papers; and olive-skinned children, with bright, yet not ungentle, eyes, were coming from school; and outside of ramshackle cafes, a huddle of wood, a vine, a couple of tables, and a few bottles, old gentlemen, some of them in native dress, with the white fustanelle, a sort of short skirt not reaching to the knees, and shoes with turned-up toes ornamented with big black tassels, were busily talking politics. Carts, not covered with absurd but lively pictures, as they are in Sicily, lumbered by in the dust. Peasants, sitting sidewise with dangling feet, met us on trotting donkeys. Now and then a white dog dashed out, or a flock of thin turkeys gobbled and stretched their necks nervously as they gave us passage. Women with rather dingy handkerchiefs tied over their heads, were working in the vineyards or washing clothes here and there beside thin runlets of water. Two German beggars, with matted hair uncovered to the sun, red faces, and fingers with nails like the claws of birds, tramped by, going to Athens. And farther on we met a few Turkish Gypsies, swarthy and full of a lively malice, whose tents were visible on a hillside at a little distance, in the midst of a grove of pines. All the country smiled at us in the sunshine. One jovial man in a fustanelle leaned down from a cart as we passed, and shouted in Greek: "Enjoy yourselves! Enjoy yourselves!" And the gentle hills, the olive- and pine groves, the stretching vineyards, seemed to echo his cry.
|Temple of Poseidon and Athene at Sunium|
What is the magic of pastoral Greece? What is it that gives to you a sensation of being gently released from the cares of life and the boredom of modern civilization, with its often unmeaning complications, its unnecessary luxuries, its noisy self-satisfactions? This is not the tremendous, the spectacular release of the desert, an almost savage tearing away of bonds. Nothing in the Greece I saw is savage; scarcely anything is spectacular. But, oh, the bright simplicity of the life and the country along the way to Marathon! It was like an early world. One looked, and longed to live in those happy woods like the Turkish Gypsies. Could life offer anything better? The pines are small, exquisitely shaped, with foliage that looks almost as though it had been deftly arranged by a consummate artist. They curl over the slopes with a lightness almost of foam cresting a wave. Their color is quite lovely. The ancient Egyptians had a love color: well, the little pine trees of Greece are the color of happiness. You smile involuntarily when you see them. And when, descending among them, you are greeted by the shining of the brilliant-blue sea, which stretches along the edge of the plain of Marathon, you know radiance purged of fierceness.
The road winds down among the pines till, at right angles to it, appears another road, or rough track just wide enough for a carriage. This leads to a large mound which bars the way. Upon this mound a habitation was perched. It was raised high above the ground upon a sort of tripod of poles. It had yellow walls of wheat, and a roof and floor of brushwood and maize. A ladder gave access to it, and from it there was a wide outlook over the whole crescent-shaped plain of Marathon. This dwelling belonged to a guardian of the vineyards, and the mound is the tomb of those who died in the great battle.
I sat for a long time on this strange tomb, in the shadow of the rustic watch-house, and looked out over the plain. It is quite flat, and is now cultivated, though there are some bare tracts of unfruitful ground. In all directions I saw straggling vines. Not far away was one low, red-tiled house belonging to a peasant, whose three small, dirty, and unhealthy looking children presently approached, and gazed at me from below. In the distance a man on a white horse rode slowly toward the pine-woods, and to my left I saw a group of women bending mysteriously to accomplish some task unknown to me. No other figures could I see between me and the bright-blue waters that once bore up the fleet of Persia. Behind me were stony and not very high hills, ending in the slopes down which Miltiades made his soldiers advance "at a running pace." One hundred and ninety-two brave men gone to dust beneath me; instead of the commemorative lion, the little watch-house of brushwood and wheat and maize, silence the only epitaph. The mound, of hard, sunbaked earth, was yellow and mare. On one side a few rusty-looking thorn-bushes decorated it harshly. But about it grew aloes, and the wild oleander, with its bright-pink flowers, and nearby were many great fig-trees. A river intersects the plain, and its course is marked by sedges and tall reeds. Where the land is bare, it takes a tawny-yellow hue. Some clustering low houses far off under the hills form the Albanian village of Marathon. Just twenty-two miles from Athens, this place of an ancient glory, this tomb of men who, I suppose, will not be forgotten so long as the Hellenic kingdom lasts, seems very far away, hidden from the world between woods and waters, solitary, but not sad. Beyond the plain and the sea are ranges of mountains and the island of Euboea.
A figure slowly approaches. It is the guardian of the vineyards, coming back to his watch-house above the grave of his countrymen, smiling, with a cigarette between his white teeth. As I go, he calls out "Addio!" Then he mounts his ladder carefully and withdraws to his easy work. How strange to be a watcher of vineyards upon the tumulus of Marathon!
If you care at all for life in the open, if you have the love of camping in your blood, Greece will call to you at every moment to throw off the dullness of houses, to come and stay under blue heaven and be happy. Yet I suppose the season for all such joys was over when I was in Greece, for I never met any citizens of Athens taking their pleasure in the surrounding country. In Turkey and Asia Minor, near any large town, when the weather is hot and fine, one may see cheerful parties of friends making merry in the open air, under trees and in arbors; or men dreaming idly in nooks that might have made old Omar's delight, shaded, and sung to by a stream. In Greece it is not so. Once you are out in the country, you come upon no one but peasants, shepherds, goatherds, Gypsies, turkey-drivers, and, speaking generally, "sons of the soil."
In the very height of summer, I am told, the Athenians do condescend to go to the pine woods. They sleep during part of the day, and stay out of doors at night, often driving into the country, and eating under the trees or by the sea. But even in the heat of a rainless September, if I may judge by my own experience, they prefer Constitution Square and "the Dardanelles" to any more pastoral pleasures.
|Ruins of the great |
Temple of the Mysteries at Eleusis
I did not imitate them, but followed the Via Sacra one morning, past the oldest olive-tree in Greece, a small and corrugated veteran said to have been planted in the time of Pericles-, to the Convent of Daphni, now fallen into a sort of poetic decay.
Once more I was among- pine trees. They thronged the almost park-like slopes under Aegaleos. They crowded toward the little Byzantine church, which stands on the left of the road on the site of a vanished temple of Apollo, with remains of its once strongly fortified walls about it. Lonely, but smiling, as though with a radiant satisfaction at its own shining peace, is the country in whose bosom the church lies. A few sheep, small, with shaggy coats of brown and white, were grazing near it; a dog lay stretched out in the sun; and some lean, long-tailed horses were standing with bowed heads, as if drowsing. An ancient and very deep well was close by. In the marble well-head the friction of many drawn cords has cut grooves, some of them nearly an inch in depth. The court of the convent is roughly paved and is enclosed within rough walls. In it are a few trees, an acacia or two, a wild pepper-tree, and one gigantic cypress. From a branch near the entrance a big bell hung by a chain. But the only sound of bells came to me from without the walls, where some hidden goats were moving to pasture. Fragments of broken columns and two or three sarcophagi lay on the hot ground at my feet. To my right, close to the church, a flight of very old marble steps led to a rustic loggia with wooden supports, full of red geraniums and the flowers of a plant like a very small convolvulus. From the loggia, which fronted her abiding-place, a cheerful, kindly faced woman came down and let me into the church, where she left me with two companions, a black kitten playing with a bee under the gilded cupola.
The church, like almost all the Byzantine churches I saw in Greece, is very small, but it is tremendously solid and has a tall belfry. The exterior, stained by weather, is now a sort of earthy yellow; the cupola is covered with red tiles. The interior walls look very ancient, and are blackened in many places by the fingers of time. Made more than eight hundred years ago, the remains of the Byzantine mosaics are very curious and interesting. In the cupola, on a gold ground, is a very large head of a Christ ("Christos Pantokrator"), which looks as though it were just finished. The face is sinister and repellent, but expressive. There are several other mosaics, of the apostles, of episodes in the life of the- Virgin, and of angels. None of them seemed to me beautiful, though perhaps not one looks so wicked as the Christos, which dominates the whole church. Until comparatively recent times there were monks attached to this convent, but now they are gone.
I passed through a doorway and came into a sort of tiny cloister, shaded by a huge and evidently very ancient fig-tree with enormous leaves. Here I found the remains of an old staircase of stone. As I returned to the dim and massive little church, glimmering with gold where the sunlight fell upon the mosaics, the eyes of the Christos seemed to rebuke me from the lofty cupola. The good-natured woman locked the door behind me with a large key, handed to me a bunch of the flowers I had noticed growing in the loggia, and bade me "Addio!" And soon the sound of the goat-bells died away from my ears as I went on my way back to Eleusis.
There is nothing mysterious about this road which leads to the site of the Temple of the Mysteries. It winds down through the pine-woods and rocks of the Pass of Daphni into the cheerful and well-cultivated Thriasian plain, whence across a brilliant-blue stretch of water, which looks like a lake, but which is the bay of Eleusis, you can see houses and, alas! Several tall chimneys pouring forth smoke. The group of houses is Eleusis, now an Albanian settlement, and the chimneys belong to a factory where olive-oil soap is made. The road passes between the sea and a little salt lake, which latter seems to be prevented from submerging it only by a raised coping of stone. The color of this lake is a brilliant purple. In the- distance is the mountainous and rocky island of Salamis.
|Theater of Dionysius, on southern slope of Acropolis|
When I reached the village, I found it a cheery little place of small white, yellow, and rose-colored houses, among which a few cypress-trees grow. Although one of the most ancient places in Greece, it now looks very modern. And it is difficult to believe, as one glances at the chimneys of the soap factory, and at two or three black and dingy steamers lying just off the works to take in cargo, that here Demeter was worshiped with mysterious rites at the great festival of the Eleusinia. Yet, according to the legend, it was here that she came, disguised as an old hag, in search of her lost Persephone; here that she taught Triptolemus how to sow the plain, and to reap the first harvest of yellow wheat, as a reward for the hospitable welcome given to her by his father Celeus.
The ruins at Eleusis are disappointing to the ordinary traveler, though interesting to the archaeologist. They have none of the pathetic romance which, notwithstanding the scolding’s of many vulgar, persons set forth in a certain visitors' book, broods gently over poetic Olympia. Above the village is a vast confusion of broken columns, defaced capitals, bits of wall, bits of pavement, marble steps, fallen medallions, vaults, propylaea, substructures, scraps of architraves carved with inscriptions, and subterranean store-rooms. In the pavement of the processional way, by which the chariots came up to the Temple of Demeter, the chief glory and shrine of Eleusis, are the deep ruts made by the chariot-wheels. The remnants of the hall of the initiated bears witness to the long desire of poor human beings in all ages to find that peace which passeth our understanding. Of beauty there is little or none. Nevertheless, even now, it is not possible in the midst of this tragic debacle to remain wholly unmoved. Indeed, the very completeness of the disaster that time and humanity have wrought here creates emotion when one remembers that here great men came, such men as Cicero, Sophocles, and Plato; that here they worshiped and adored under cover of the darkness of night; that here, seeking, they found, as has been recorded, peace and hope to sustain them when, the august festival over, they took their way back into the ordinary world along the shores of sea and lake. Eleusis is no longer beautiful. It is a home of devastation. It is no longer mysterious. A successful man is making a fortune out of soap there. But it is a place one cannot easily forget. And just above the ruins there is a small museum which contains several very interesting things, and one thing that is superb.
This last is the enormous and noble upper part of the statue of a woman wearing earrings. I do not know its history, though some one assured me that it was a caryatid. It was dug up among the ruins, and the color of it is akin to that of the earth. The roughly undulating hair is parted in the middle of a majestic, goddess-like head. The features are pure and grand; but the two things that most struck me, as I looked at this great work of art, were the expression of the face and the deep bosom, as of the earth-mother and all her fruitfulness. In few Greek statues have I seen such majesty and power, combined with such intensity, as this nameless woman shows forth. There is indeed almost a suggestion of underlying fierceness in the face, but it is the fierceness that may sometimes leap up in an imperial nature. Are there not royal angers which flame out of the pure furnaces of love? This noble woman seems to me to be the present glory of Eleusis.
The mountainous island of Salamis, long and calm, with gray and orange rocks, lies like a sentinel keeping guard over the harbor of the Piraeus. It is so near to the mainland that the sea between. the two shores looks like a lake, lonely and brilliant, with the two-horned peak called "the throne of Xerxes" standing out characteristically behind the low-lying bit of coast where the Greeks have set up an arsenal. Whether Xerxes did really watch the famous battle from a throne placed on the hill with which his name is associated is very doubtful. But many travelers like to believe it, and the kind guides of Athens are quite ready to stiffen their credulity.
The shores of this beautiful enclosed bit of sea are wild. The water is wonderfully clear, and is shot with all sorts of exquisite colors. The strip of mainland, against which the liquid maze of greens and blues and purples seems to lie motionless, like a painted marvel, is a tangle of wild myrtle and dwarf shrubs growing in a sandy soil interspersed with rocks. Gently the land curves, forming a series of little shallow bays and inlets, each one of which seems more delicious than the last as you coast along in a fisherman's boat.
But, unfortunately, the war-ships of Greece often lie snug in harbor in the shadow of Salamis not far from the arsenal, and, as I have hinted already, their commander-in-chief has little sympathy with the inquiring traveler. I shall not easily forget the expression that came into his face when, in reply to his question, "What did you come here for?" I said, "To visit the scene of the celebrated battle." A weary incredulity made him suddenly look very old; and I believe it was then that, taking a pen, he wrote on the margin of his report about me that I was "a very suspicious person."
It is safer, especially in war-time, to keep away .from Salamis; but if you care for smiling wild places where the sea is, where its breath gives a vivid sense of life to the wilderness, you may easily forget her myrtle-covered shores and the bays of violet and turquoise.
Of the many wonderful haunts of the sea which I visited in Greece, Cape Sunium is perhaps the most memorable, though I never shall forget the glories of the magnificent drive along the mountains between Athens and Corinth. But Sunium has its ruined temple, standing on a great height. And in some of us a poet has wakened a wondering consciousness of its romance, perhaps when we sat in a Northern land beside the winter fire. And in some of us, too, an immortal painter has roused a longing to see it, when we never thought to be carried by our happy fate to Greece.
In going to Sunium I passed through the famous mining district of Laurium, where now many convicts work out their sentences. In ancient times slaves toiled there for the benefit of those citizens who had hereditary leases granted by the state. They worked the mines for silver, but now lead is the principal product. It happened that just as we were in the middle of the dingy town, or village, where the miners and their families dwell, for only some of them are convicts, a tire of the motor burst. This of course delayed us, and I was able to see something of the inhabitants. In Athens I had heard that they were a fierce and ill-mannered population. I found them, on the contrary, as I found almost all those whom I met in Greece, cheerful, smiling, and polite. Happy, if rather dirty, children gathered round us, delighted to have something to look at and wonder about. Men, going to or coming from the works, paused to see what was the matter and to inquire where I came from. From the windows of the low, solid-looking houses women leaned eagerly out with delighted faces. Several of the latter talked to me. I could not understand what they said, and all they could understand was that I came from London, a circumstance which seemed greatly to impress them, for they called it out from one to another up the street. We carried on intercourse mainly by facial expression and elaborate gesture, assisted genially by the grubby little boys. And when I got into the car to go we were all the best of friends. The machine made the usual irritable noises, but from the good people of Laurium came only cries of good-will, among them that pleasant admonition which one hears often in Greece: "Enjoy yourself! Enjoy yourself!"
|Odeum of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece|
When Laurium was left behind, we were soon in wild and deserted country. Now and then we passed an Albanian on horseback, with a gun over his shoulder, a knife stuck in his belt, or we came upon a shepherd watching his goats as they browsed on the low scrub which covered the hills. All the people in this region are Albanians, I was told. They appeared to be very few. As we drew near to the ancient shrine of Poseidon we left far behind us the habitations of men. At length the car stopped in the wilderness, and on a height to my left I saw the dazzling white marble columns of the Temple of Sunium.
Almost all the ruins I saw in Greece were weather-stained. Their original color was mottled with browns and grays, with saffron, with gold and red gold. But the columns of Sunium have kept their brilliant whiteness, although they stand on a great, bare cliff above the sea, exposed to the glare of the sun and to the buffeting of every wind of heaven. They are raised not merely on this natural height, but also on a great platform of the famous Poros-stone. In the time of Byron there were sixteen columns standing. There are now eleven, with a good deal of architrave. These columns are Doric, and are about twenty feet in height. They have not the majesty of the Parthenon columns, but, on the contrary, have a peculiar delicacy and even grace, which is lacking both in the Parthenon and in the Theseum. They do not move you to awe or overwhelm you; they charm and delight you. In their ivory-white simplicity, standing out against the brilliant blue of sea and sky on the white and gray platform, there is something that allures.
Upon one of the columns I found the name of Byron carved in bold letters. But I looked in vain for the name of Turner. Byron loved the Cape of Sunium. Fortunately, nothing has been done to make it less wonderful since his time. It is true that fewer columns are standing to bear witness to the old worship of the sea-god; but such places as Sunium are not injured when some blocks of marble fall, but when men begin to build. Still the noble promontory thrusts itself boldly forward into the sea from the heart of an un-desecrated wilderness. Still the columns stand quite alone. All the sea-winds can come to you there, and all the winds of the hills—winds from the Aegean and Mediterranean, from crested Euboea, from Melos, from Hydra, from Aegina, with its beautiful Doric temple, from Argolis and from the mountains of Arcadia. And it seems as though all the sunshine of heaven were there to bathe you in golden fire, as though there could be none left over for the rest of the world. The coasts of Greece stretch away beneath you into far distances, curving in bays, thrusting out in promontories, here tawny and volcanic, there gray and quietly sober in color, but never cold or dreary. White sails, but only two or three, are dreaming on the vast purple of Poseidon's kingdom —white sails of mariners who are bound for the isles of Greece. Poets have sung of those isles. Who has not thought of them with emotion? Nov, between the white marble columns, you can see their mountain ranges, you can see their rocky shores.
Behind and below me I heard a slight movement. I got up and looked. And there on a slab of white marble lay a snow-white goat warming itself in the sun. White, gold, and blue, and far off the notes of white were echoed not only by the mariner's sails, but by tiny Albanian villages inland, seen over miles of bare country, over flushes of yellow, where the pines would not be denied.
There is an ineffable charm in the landscape, in the atmosphere, of Greece. No other land that I know possesses an exactly similar spell. Wildness and calm seem woven together, a warm and almost caressing wildness with a calm that is full of romance. There the wilderness is indeed a haven to long after, and there the solitudes call you as though with the voices of friends.
As I turned at last to go away from Poseidon's white marble ruin, a one-armed man came up to me, and in English told me that he was the guardian of the temple.
"But where do you live?" I asked him, looking over the vast solitude.
Smiling, he led the way down to a low whitewashed bungalow at a little distance. There, in a rough but delicious loggia, paved and fronting the sea, I found two brown women sitting with a baby among some small pots of flowers. Remote from the world, with only the marble columns for neighbors, with no voice but the sea's to speak to them, dwell these four persons. The man lived and worked for many years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he lost his arm in some whirring machinery. Now he has come home and entered the sea-god's service. Pittsburgh and the Hellenic wilderness—what a contrast! But my one-armed friend takes it philosophically. He shrugs his shoulder, points to his stump and says, "I guess I couldn't go on there like this, so I had to quit, and they put me here."
They put him "here," on Cape Sunium, and on Cape Sunium he has built himself a house and made for himself a loggia, white, cool, brightened with flowers, face to face with the purple sea, and the isles and the mountains of Greece. And at Sunium he intends to remain because, unfortunately, having lost an arm, he is no longer wanted in Pittsburgh.
I gave him some money, accepted the baby's wavering but insistent hand, and left him to his good or ill fortune in the exquisite wilderness.
From The Century Magazine – May 1913