Part 4 out of 5
a means to an end and should not be tainted with professionalism.
True, as we wander about the Academy we see heavy and over brawny
individuals whose "beauty" consists in flattened noses, mutilated
ears, and mouths lacking many teeth, and who are taking their way
to the remote quarter where boxing is permitted. Here they will
wind hard bull's hide thongs around their hands and wrists, and
pummel one another brutally, often indeed (if in a set contest)
to the very risk of life. These men are obviously professional
athletes who, after appearing with some success at the "Nemea," are
in training for the impending "Pythia" at Delphi. A large crowd
of youths of the less select kind follows and cheers them; but
the better public opinion frowns on them. They are denounced by
the philosophers. Their lives no less than their bodies "are not
beautiful"--i.e. they offend against the spirit of harmony inherent
in every Greek. Still less are they in genteel favor when, the
preliminary boxing round being finished, they put off their boxing
thongs and join in the fierce "Pancration," a not unskillful
combination of boxing with wrestling, in which it is not suffered
to strike with the knotted fist, but in which, nevertheless,
a terrible blow can be given with the bent fingers. Kicking,
hitting, catching, tripping, they strive together mid the "Euge!
Euge!--Bravo! Bravo!" of their admirers until one is beaten down
hopelessly upon the sand, and the contest ends without harm. Had
it been a real Pancration, however, it would have been desperate
business, for it is quite permissible to twist an opponent's wrist,
and even to break his fingers, to make him give up the contest.
Therefore it is not surprising that the Pancration, even more than
boxing, is usually reserved for professional athletes.
148. Leaping Contests.--But near at hand is a more pleasing
contest. Youths of the ephebus age are practicing leaping. They
have no springboard, no leaping pole, but only a pair of curved
metal dumb-bells to aid them. One after another their lithe brown
bodies, shining with the fresh olive oil, come forward on a lightning
run up the little mound of earth, then fly gracefully out across
the soft sands. There is much shouting and good-natured rivalry.
As each lad leaps, an eager attendant marks his distance with a
line drawn by the pickaxe. The lines gradually extend ever farther
from the mound. The rivalry is keen. Finally, there is one leap
that far exceeds the rest.[*] A merry crowd swarms around the
blushing victor. A grave middle-aged man takes the ivy crown from
his head, and puts it upon the happy youth. "Your father will take
joy in you," he says as the knot breaks up.
[*]If the data of the ancients are to be believed, the Greeks achieved
records in leaping far beyond those of any modern athletes, but it
is impossible to rely on data of this kind.
149. Quoit Hurling.--Close by the leapers is another stretch of
yellow sand reserved for the quoit throwers. The contestants here
are slightly older,--stalwart young men who seem, as they fling the
heavy bronze discus, to be reaching out eagerly into the fullness
of life and fortune before them. Very graceful are the attitudes.
Here it was the sculptor Miron saw his "Discobolus" which he
immortalized and gave to all the later world; "stooping down to
take aim, his body turned in the direction of the hand which holds
the quoit, one knee slightly bent as though he meant to vary the
posture and to rise with the throw."[*] The caster, however, does
not make his attempt standing. He takes a short run, and then the
whole of his splendid body seems to spring together with the cast.
[*]The quotation is from Lucian (Roman Imperial period).
150. Casting the javelin.--The range of the quoit hurlers in turn
seems very great, but we cannot delay to await the issue. Still
elsewhere in the Academy they are hurling the javelin. Here is a
real martial exercise, and patriotism as well as natural athletic
spirit urges young men to excel. the long light lances are being
whirled at a distant target with remarkable accuracy; and well they
may, for every contestant has the vision of some hour when he may
stand on the poop of a trireme and hear the dread call, "All hands
repel boarders," or need all his darts to break up the rush of a
pursuing band of hoplites.
151. Wrestling.--The real crowds, however, are around the wrestlers
and the racers. Wrestling in its less brutal form is in great
favor. It brings into play all the muscles of a man; it tests
his resources both of mind and body finely. It is excellent for
a youth and it fights away old age. The Greek language is full of
words and allusions taken from the wrestler's art. The palæstras
for the boys are called "the wrestling school" par excellence.
It is no wonder that now the ring on the sands is a dense one and
constantly growing. Two skilful amateurs will wrestle. One--a
speedy rumor tells us--is, earlier and later in the day, a rising
comic poet; the other is not infrequently heard on the Bema. Just
at present, however, they have forgotten anapests and oratory. A
crowd of cheering, jesting friends thrusts them on. Forth they
stand, two handsome, powerful men, well oiled for suppleness, but
also sprinkled with fine sand to make it possible to get a fair
grip in the contest.
For a moment they wag their sharp black beards at each other
defiantly, and poise and edge around. Then the poet, more daring,
rushes in, and instantly the two have grappled--each clutching the
other's left wrist in his right hand. The struggle that follows
is hot and even, until a lucky thrust from the orator's foot lands
the poet in a sprawling heap; whence he rises with a ferocious grin
and renews the contest. The second time they both fall together.
"A tie!" calls the long-gowned friend who acts as umpire, with an
officious flourish of his cane.
The third time the poet catches the orator trickily under the thigh,
and fairly tears him to the ground; but at the fourth meeting the
orator slips his arm in decisive grip about his opponent's wrist
and with a might wrench upsets him.
"Two casts out of three, and victory!"
Everybody laughs good-naturedly. The poet and the orator go away
arm in arm to the bathing house, there to have another good oiling
and rubbing down by their slaves, after removing the heavily caked
sand from their skin with the stirgils. Of course, had it been a
real contest in the "greater games," the outcome might have been
more serious for the rules allow one to twist a wrist, to thrust an
arm or foot into the foeman's belly, or (when things are desperate)
to dash your forehead--bull fashion--against your opponent's brow,
in the hope that his skull will prove weaker than yours.
152. Foot Races.--The continued noise from the stadium indicates
that the races are still running; and we find time to go thither.
The simple running match, a straight-away dash of 600 feet, seems
to have been the original contest at the Olympic games ere these
were developed into a famous and complicated festival; and the
runner still is counted among the favorites of Greek athletics.
As we sit upon the convenient benches around the academy stadium
we see at once that the track is far from being a hard, well-rolled
"cinder path"; on the contrary, it is of soft sand into which the
naked foot sinks if planted too firmly, and upon it the most adept
"hard-track" runner would at first pant and flounder helplessly.
The Greeks have several kinds of foot races, but none that are very
short. The shortest is the simple "stadium" (600 feet), a straight
hard dash down one side of the long oval; then there is the "double
course" ("diaulos") down one side and back; the "horse race"--twice
clear around (2400 feet); and lastly the hard-testing "long course"
("dolichos") which may very in length according to arrangement,--seven,
twelve, twenty, or even twenty-four stadia, we are told; and it
is the last (about three miles) that is one of the most difficult
contests at Olympia.
At this moment a part of four hale and hearty men still in the
young prime are about to compete in the "double race." They come
forward all rubbed with the glistening oil, and crouch at the
starting point behind the red cord held by two attendants. The
gymnasiarch stands watchfully by, swinging his cane to smite painfully
whoever, in over eagerness, breaks away before the signal. All
is ready; at his nod the rope falls. The four fly away together,
pressing their elbows close to their sides, and going over the soft
sands with long rhythmic leaps, rather than with the usual rapid
running motion. A fierce race it is, amid much exhortation from
friends and shouting. At length, as so often--when speeding back
towards the stretched cord,--the rearmost runner suddenly gathers
amazing speed, and, flying with prodigious leaps ahead of his
rivals, is easily the victor. His friends are at once about him,
and we hear the busy tongues advising, "You must surely race at
the Pythia; the Olympia; etc."
This simple race over, a second quickly follows: five heavy, powerful
men this time, but they are to run in full hoplite's armor--the
ponderous shield, helmet, cuirass, and greaves. This is the exacting
"Armor Race" ("Hoplitodromos"), and safe only for experienced
soldiers or professional athletes.[*] Indeed, the Greeks take all
their foot races seriously, and there are plenty of instances when
the victor has sped up to the goal, and then dropped dead before
the applauding stadium. There are no stop watches in the Academy;
we do not know the records of the present or of more famous runners;
yet one may be certain that the "time" made, considering the very
soft sand, has been exceedingly fast.
[*]It was training in races like these which enabled the Athenians at
Marathon to "charge the Persians on the run" (Miltiades' orders),
all armored though they were, and so get quickly through the terrible
zone of the Persian arrow fire.
153. The Pentathlon: the Honors paid to Great Athletes.--We have
now seen average specimens of all the usual athletic sports of the
Greeks. Any good authority will tell us, however, that a truly
capable athlete will not try to specialize so much in any one kind
of contest that he cannot do justice to the others. As an all
around well-trained man he will try to excel in the "Pentathlon,"
the "five contests." Herein he will successfully join in running,
javelin casting, quoit throwing, leaping, and wrestling.[*] As
the contest proceeds the weaker athletes will be eliminated; only
the two fittest will be left for the final trial of strength and
skill. Fortunate indeed is "he who overcometh" in the Pentathlon.
It is the crown of athletic victories, involving, as it does, no
scanty prowess both of body and mind. The victor in the Pentathlon
at one of the great Pan-Hellenic games (Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian,
or Nemean) or even in the local Attic contest at the Panathenæa is
a marked man around Athens or any other Greek city. Poets celebrate
him; youths dog his heels and try to imitate him; his kinsfolk take
on airs; very likely he is rewarded as a public benefactor by the
government. But there is abundant honor for one who has triumphed
in ANY of the great contests; and even as we go out we see people
pointing to a bent old man and saying, "Yes; he won the quoit
hurling at the Nema when Ithycles was archon."[+]
[*]The exact order of these contests, and the rules of elimination
as the games proceeded, are uncertain--perhaps they varied with
time and place.
[+]This would make it 398 B.C. The Athenians dated their years by
the name of their "first Archon" ("Archon eponymos").
...The Academy is already thinning. The beautiful youths and their
admiring "lovers" have gone homeward. The last race has been run.
We must hasten if we would not be late to some select symposium.
The birds are more melodious than ever around Colonus; the red and
golden glow upon the Acropolis is beginning to fade; the night is
sowing the stars; and through the light air of a glorious evening
we speed back to the city.
Chapter XVIII. Athenian Cookery and the Symposium.
154. Greek Meal Times.--The streets are becoming empty. The
Agora has been deserted for hours. As the warm balmy night closes
over the city the house doors are shut fast, to open only for the
returning master or his guests, bidden to dinner. Soon the ways
will be almost silent, to be disturbed, after a proper interval, by
the dinner guests returning homeward. Save for these, the streets
will seem those of a city of the dead: patrolled at rare intervals
by the Scythian archers, and also ranged now and then by cutpurses
watching for an unwary stroller, or miscreant roisterers trolling
lewd songs, and pounding on honest men's doors as they wander from
tavern to tavern in search of the lowest possible pleasures.
We have said very little of eating or drinking during our visit in
Athens, for, truth to tell, the citizens try to get through the day
with about as little interruption for food and drink as possible.
But now, when warehouse and gymnasium alike are left to darkness,
all Athens will break its day of comparative fasting.
Roughly speaking, the Greeks anticipate the latter-day "Continental"
habits in their meal hours. The custom of Germans and of many
Americans in having the heartiest meal at noonday would never appeal
to them. The hearty meal is at night, and no one dreams of doing
any serious work after it. When it is finished, there may be
pleasant discourse or varied amusements, but never real business;
and even if there are guests, the average dinner party breaks up
early. Early to bed and early to rise, would be a maxim indorsed
by the Athenians.
Promptly upon rising, our good citizen has devoured a few morsels
of bread sopped in undiluted wine; that has been to him what "coffee
and rolls" will be to the Frenchmen,--enough to carry him through
the morning business, until near to noon he will demand something
more satisfying. He then visits home long enough to partake of a
substantial déjeuner ("ariston," first breakfast = "akratisma").
He has one or two hot dishes--one may suspect usually warmed over
from last night's dinner--and partakes of some more wine. This
"ariston" will be about all he will require until the chief meal of
the day--the regular dinner ("deïpnon") which would follow sunset.
155. Society desired at Meals.--The Athenians are a gregarious
sociable folk. Often enough the citizen must dine alone at home
with "only" his wife and children for company, but if possible he
will invite friends (or get himself invited out). Any sort of an
occasion is enough to excuse a dinner-party,--a birthday of some
friend, some kind of family happiness, a victory in the games, the
return from, or the departure upon, a journey:--all these will answer;
or indeed a mere love of good fellowship. There are innumerable
little eating clubs; the members go by rotation to their respective
houses. Each member contributes either some money or has his slave
bring a hamper of provisions. In the find weather picnic parties
down upon the shore are common.[*] "Anything to bring friends
together"--in the morning the Agora, in the afternoon the gymnasium,
in the evening they symposium--that seems to be the rule of Athenian
[*]Such excursions were so usual that the literal expression "Let
us banquet at the shore" ([Note from Brett: The Greek letters
are written out here as there is no way to portray them properly]
sigma eta mu epsilon rho omicron nu [next word] alpha kappa tau
alpha sigma omega mu epsilon nu [here is a rough transliteration
into English letters "sêmeron aktasômen"]) came often to mean simply
"Let us have a good time."
However, the Athenians seldom gather to eat for the mere sake
of animal gorging. They have progressed since the Greeks of the
Homeric Age. Odysseus[*] is made to say to Alcinoüs that there is
nothing more delightful than sitting at a table covered with bread,
meat, and wine, and listening to a bard's song; and both Homeric
poems show plenty of gross devouring and guzzling. There is not
much of this in Athens, although Botians are still reproached with
being voracious, swinish "flesh eaters," and the Greeks of South
Italy and Sicily are considered as devoted to their fare, though
of more refined table habits. Athenians of the better class pride
themselves on their light diet and moderation of appetite, and
their neighbors make considerable fun of them for their failure to
serve satisfying meals. Certain it is that the typical Athenian
would regard a twentieth century "table d'hôte" course dinner as
heavy and unrefined, if ever it dragged its slow length before him.
[*]"Odyssey," IX. 5-10.
156. The Staple Articles of Food.--However, the Athenians have
honest appetites, and due means of silencing them. The diet of a
poor man is indeed simple in the extreme. According to Aristophanes
his meal consists of a cake, bristling with bran for the sake
of economy, along with an onion and a dish of sow thistles, or of
mushrooms, or some other such wretched vegetables; and probably, in
fact, that is about all three fourths of the population of Attica
will get on ordinary working days, always with the addition of a
certain indispensable supply of oil and wine.
Bread, oil, and wine, in short, are the three fundamentals of Greek
diet. With them alone man can live very healthfully and happily;
without them elaborate vegetable and meat dishes are poor
substitutes. Like latter-day Frenchmen or Italians with their huge
loaves or macaroni, BREAD in one form or another is literally the
stuff of life to the Greek. He makes it of wheat, barley, rye,
millet, or spelt, but preferably of the two named first. The barley
meal is kneaded (not baked) and eaten raw or half raw as a sort of
porridge. Of wheat loaves there are innumerable shapes on sale in
the Agora,--slender rolls, convenient loaves, and also huge loaves
needing two or three bushels of flour, exceeding even those made
in a later day in Normandy. At every meal the amount of bread or
porridge consumed is enormous; there is really little else at all
substantial. Persian visitors to the Greeks complain that they
are in danger of rising from the table hungry.
But along with the inevitable bread goes the inevitable OLIVE OIL.
No latter-day article will exactly correspond to it. First of all
it takes the place of butter as the proper condiment to prevent
the bread from being tasteless.[*] It enters into every dish.
The most versatile cook will be lost without it. Again, at the
gymnasium we have seen its great importance to the athletes and
bathers. It is therefore the Hellenic substitute for soap. Lastly,
it fills the lamps which swing over very dining board. It takes
the place of electricity, gas, or petroleum. No wonder Athens
is proud of her olive trees. If she has to import her grain, she
has a surplus for export of one of the three great essentials of
[*]There was extremely little cow's butter in Greece. Herodotus (iv.
2) found it necessary to explain the process of "cow-cheese-making"
among the Scythians.
The third inevitable article of diet is WINE. No one has dreamed
of questioning its vast desirability under almost all circumstances.
Even drunkenness is not always improper. It may be highly fitting,
as putting one in a "divine frenzy," partaking of the nature of
the gods. Musæus the semi-mythical poet is made out to teach that
the reward of virtue will be something like perpetual intoxication
in the next world. Æschines the orator will, ere long, taunt his
opponent Demosthenes in public with being a "water drinker"; and
Socrates on many occasions has given proof that he possessed a
very hard head. Yet naturally the Athenian has too acute a sense
of things fit and dignified, too noble a perception of the natural
harmony, to commend drunkenness on any but rare occasions. Wine
is rather valued as imparting a happy moderate glow, making the
thoughts come faster, and the tongue more witty. Wine raises the
spirits of youth, and makes old age forget its gray hairs. It
chases away thoughts of the dread hereafter, when one will lose
consciousness of the beautiful sun, and perhaps wander a "strengthless
shade" through the dreary underworld.
There is a song attributed to Anacreon, and nearly everybody in
Athens approves the sentiment:--
Thirsty earth drinks up the rain,
Trees from earth drink that again;
Ocean drinks the air, the sun
Drinks the sea, and him, the moon.
Any reason, canst thou think,
I should thirst, while all these drink?[*]
[*]Translation from Von Falke's "Greece and Rome."
157. Greek Vintages.--All Greeks, however, drink their wine so
diluted with water that it takes a decided quantity to produce a
"reaction." The average drinker takes three parts water to two of
wine. If he is a little reckless the ratio is four of water to
three of wine; equal parts "make men mad" as the poet says, and are
probably reserved for very wild dinner parties. As for drinking
pure wine no one dreams of the thing--it is a practice fit for
Barbarians. There is good reason, however, for this plentiful
use of water. In the original state Greek wines were very strong,
perhaps almost as alcoholic as whisky, and the Athenians have no
Scotch climate to excuse the use of such stimulants.[*]
[*]There was a wide difference of opinion as to the proper amount
of dilution. Odysseus ("Odyssey," IX. 209) mixed his fabulously
strong wine from Maron in Thrace with twenty times its bulk of
water. Hesiod abstemiously commended three parts of water to one
of wine. Zaleucus, the lawgiver of Italian Locri, established the
death penalty for drinking unmixed wine save by physicians' orders
("Athenæus," X. 33).
No wine served in Athens, however, will appeal to a later-day
connoisseur. It is all mixed with resin, which perhaps makes it
more wholesome, but to enjoy it then becomes an acquired taste.
There are any number of choice vintages, and you will be told that
the local Attic wine is not very desirable, although of course it
is the cheapest. Black wine is the strongest and sweetest; white
wine is the weakest; rich golden is the driest and most wholesome.
The rocky isles and headlands of the Ægean seem to produce the
best vintage--Thasos, Cos, Lesbos, Rhodes, all boast their grapes;
but the best wine beyond a doubt is from Chios.[*] It will fetch
a mina ($18 [1914 or $310.14 2000]) the "metreta," i.e. nearly 50
cents [1914 or $8.62 2000] per quart. At the same time you can
buy a "metreta" of common Attic wine for four drachmae (72 cents
[1914 or $12.41 2000]), or say two cents [1914 or 34 cents 2000]
per quart. The latter--when one considers the dilution--is surely
cheap enough for the most humble.
[*]Naturally certain foreign vintages had a demand, just because
they were foreign. Wine was imported from Egypt and from various
parts of Italy. It was sometimes mixed with sea water for export,
or was made aromatic with various herbs and berries. It was
ordinarily preserved in great earthen jars sealed with pitch.
158. Vegetable Dishes.--Provided with bread, oil, and wine, no
Athenian will long go hungry; but naturally these are not a whole
feast. As season and purse may afford they will be supplanted by
such vegetables as beans (a staple article), peas, garlic, onions,
radishes, turnips, and asparagus; also with an abundance of
fruits,--besides figs (almost a fourth indispensable at most meals),
apples, quinces, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, blackberries,
the various familiar nuts, and of course a plenty of grapes and
olives. The range of selection is in fact decidedly wide: only
the twentieth century visitor will miss the potato, the lemon, and
the orange; and when he pries into the mysteries of the kitchen a
great fact at once stares him in the face. The Greek must dress
his dishes without the aid of sugar. As a substitute there is an
abundant use of the delicious Hymettus honey,--"fragrant with the
bees,"--but it is by no means so full of possibilities as the white
powder of later days. Also the Greek cook is usually without fresh
cow's milk, and most goat's milk probably takes its way to cheese.
No morning milk carts rattle over the stones of Athens.
159. Meat and Fish Dishes.--Turning to the meat dishes, we at once
learn that while there is a fair amount of farm poultry, geese,
hares, doves, partridges, etc., on sale in the market, there is
extremely little fresh beef or even mutton, pork, and goat's flesh.
It is quite expensive, and counted too hearty for refined diners.
The average poor man in fact hardly tastes flesh except after one
of the great public festivals; then after the sacrifice of the
"hecatomb" of oxen, there will probably be a distribution of roast
meat to all the worshipers, and the honest citizen will take home
to his wife an uncommon luxury--a piece of roast beef. But the
place of beef and pork is largely usurped by most excellent fish.
The waters of the Ægean abound with fish. The import of salt fish
(for the use of the poor) from the Propontis and Euxine is a great
part of Attic commerce. A large part of the business at the Agora
centers around the fresh fish stalls, and we have seen how extortionate
and insolent were the fishmongers. Sole, tunny, mackerel, young
shark, mullet, turbot, carp, halibut, are to be had, but the choicest
regular delicacies are the great Copaic eels from Botia; these,
"roasted on the coals and wrapped in beet leaves," are a dish
fit for the Great King. Lucky is the host who has them for his
dinner party. Oysters and mussels too are in demand, and there is
a considerable sale of snails, "the poor man's salad," even as in
Clearly, then, if one is not captious or gluttonous, there should
be no lack of good eating in Athens, despite the reputation of the
city for abstemiousness. Let us pry therefore into the symposium
of some good citizen who is dispensing hospitality to-night.
160. Inviting Guests to a Dinner Party.--
Who loves thee, him summon to they board;
Far off be he who hates.
This familiar sentiment of Hesiod, one Prodicus, a well-to-do
gentleman, had in mind when he went to the Agora this morning to
arrange for a dinner party in honor of his friend Hermogenes, who
was just departing on a diplomatic mission to the satrap of Mysia.
While walking along the Painted Porch and the other colonnades he
had no difficulty in seeing most of the group he intended to invite,
and if they did not turn to greet him, he would halt them by sending
his slave boy to run and twitch at their mantles, after which the
invitation was given verbally. Prodicus, however, deliberately
makes arrangements for one or two more than those he has bidden.
It will be entirely proper for his guests to bring friends of their
own if they wish; and very likely some intimate whom he has been
unable to find will invite himself without any bidding.
At the Agora Prodicus has had much to do. His house is a fairly
large and well-furnished one, his slaves numerous and handy, but he
has not the cook or the equipment for a really elaborate symposium.
At a certain quarter on the great square he finds a contractor
who will supply all the extra appointments for a handsome dinner
party--tables, extra lamps, etc. Then he puts his slave boy to
"Who wants an engagement to cook a dinner?"
This promptly brings forward a sleek, well-dressed fellow whose
dialect declares that he is from Sicily, and who asserts he is an
expert professional cook. Prodicus engages him and has a conference
with him on the profound question of "whether the tunnies or the
mullets are better to-day, or will there be fresh eels?" This
point and similar minor matters settled, Prodicus makes liberal
purchases at the fish and vegetable stalls, and his slaves bear
his trophies homeward.
161. Preparing for the Dinner. The Sicilian Cook.--All that
afternoon the home of Prodicus is in an uproar. The score of
slaves show a frantic energy. The aula is cleaned and scrubbed:
the serving girls are busy handing festoons of leaves and weaving
chaplets. The master's wife--who does not dream of actually sharing
in the banquet--is nevertheless as active and helpful as possible;
but especially she is busy trying to keep the peace between the old
house servants and the imported cook. This Sicilian is a notable
character. To him cookery is not a handicraft: it is the triumph,
the quintessence of all science and philosophy. He talks a strange
professional jargon, and asserts that he is himself learned in
astronomy--for that teaches the best seasons, e.g. for mackerel and
haddock; in geometry,--that he might know how a boiler or gridiron
should be set to the best advantage; in medicine, that he might
prepare the most wholesome dishes. In any case he is a perfect
tyrant around the kitchen, grumbling about the utensils, cuffing
the spit-boy, and ever bidding him bring more charcoal for the fire
and to blow the bellows faster.[*]
[*]The Greeks seem to have cooked over a rather simple open fireplace
with a wood or charcoal fire. They had an array of cooking utensils,
however, according to all our evidence, elaborate enough to gladden
a very exacting modern CHEF.
By the time evening is at hand Prodicus and his house are in
perfect readiness. The bustle is ended; and the master stands by
the entrance way, clad in his best and with a fresh myrtle wreath,
ready to greet his guests. No ladies will be among these. Had
there been any women invited to the banquet, they would surely
be creatures of no very honest sort; and hardly fit, under any
circumstances, to darken the door of a respectable citizen. The
mistress and her maids are "behind the scenes." There may be a woman
among the hired entertainers provided, but for a refined Athenian
lady to appear at an ordinary symposium is almost unthinkable.[*]
[*]In marriage parties and other strictly family affairs women were
allowed to take part; and we have an amusing fragment of Menander
as to how, on such rare occasions, they monopolized the conversation.
162. The Coming of the Guests.--As each guest comes, he is seen
to be elegantly dressed, and to wear now, if at no other time, a
handsome pair of sandals.[*] He has also taken pains to bathe and
to perfume himself. As soon as each person arrives his sandals
are removed in the vestibule by the slaves and his feet are bathed.
No guest comes alone, however: every one has his own body servant
with him, who will look after his footgear and himation during
the dinner, and give a certain help with the serving. The house
therefore becomes full of people, and will be the scene of remarkable
animation during the next few hours.
[*]Socrates, by way of exception to his custom, put on some fine
sandals when he was invited to a banquet.
Prodicus is not disappointed in expecting some extra visitors. His
guest of honor, Hermogenes, has brought along two, whom the host
greets with the polite lie: "Just in time for dinner. Put off
your other business. I was looking for you in the Agora and could
not find you."[*] Also there thrusts in a half genteel, half
rascally fellow, one Palladas, who spends all his evenings at
dinner parties, being willing to be the common butt and jest of the
company (having indeed something of the ability of a comic actor
about him) in return for a share of the good things on the table.
These "Parasites" are regular characters in Athens, and no symposium
is really complete without them, although often their fooleries
cease to be amusing.[+]
[*]It is with such a white fib that the host Agathon salutes
Aristodemus, Socrates's companion in Plato's "Symposium."
[+]Of these "Parasites" or "Flies" (as owing to their migratory
habits they were sometimes called), countless stories were told,
whereof the following is a sample: there was once a law in Athens
that not over thirty guests were to be admitted to a marriage feast,
and an officer was obliged to count all the guests and exclude the
superfluous. A "fly" thrust in on one occasion, and the officer
said: "Friend, you must retire. I find one more here than the
law allows." "Dear fellow," quoth the "fly," "you are utterly
mistaken, as you will find, if you kindly count again--only BEGINNING
163. The Dinner Proper.--The Greeks have not anticipated the Romans
in their custom of making the standard dinner party nine persons on
three couches,--three guests on each. Prodicus has about a dozen
guests, two on a couch. They "lie down" more or less side by side
upon the cushioned divans, with their right arms resting on brightly
striped pillows and the left arms free for eating. The slaves bring
basis of water to wash their hands, and then beside each couch is
set a small table, already garnished with the first course, and
after the casting of a few bits of food upon the family hearth
fire,--the conventional "sacrifice" to the house gods,--the dinner
Despite the elaborate preparations of the Sicilian cook, Prodicus
offers his guests only two courses. The first consists of the
substantial dishes--the fish, the vegetables, the meat (if there is
any). Soups are not unknown, and had they been served might have
been eaten with spoons; but Athens like all the world is innocent
of forks, and fingers take their place. Each guest has a large
piece of soft bread on which he wipes his fingers from time to time
and presently casts it upon the floor.[*] When this first course
is finished, the tables are all taken out to be reset, water is
again poured over the hands of the guests, and garlands of flowers
are passed. The use of garlands is universal, and among the
guests, old white headed and bearded Sosthenes will find nothing
more undignified in putting himself beneath a huge wreath of lilies
than an elderly gentleman of a later day will find in donning
the "conventional" dress suit. The conversation,--which was
very scattering at first,--becomes more animated. A little wine
is now passed about. Then back come the tables with the second
course--fruits, and various sweetmeats and confectionary with
honey as the staple flavoring. Before this disappears a goblet of
unmixed wine is passed about, and everybody takes a sip: "To the
Good Genius," they say as the cup goes round.
[*]Napkins were not used in Greece before Roman days.
164. Beginning the Symposium.--Prodicus at length gives a nod to
the chief of his corps of servers.
"Bring in the wine!" he orders. The slaves promptly whisk out the
tables and replace them with others still smaller, on which they
set all kinds of gracefully shaped beakers and drinking bowls. More
wreaths are distributed, also little bottles of delicate ointment.
While the guests are praising Prodicus's nard, the servants have
brought in three huge "mixing bowls" ("craters") for the wines
which are to furnish the main potation.
So far we have witnessed not a symposium, but merely a dinner; and
many a proper party has broken up when the last of the dessert has
disappeared; but, after all, the drinking bout is the real crown
of the feast. It is not so much the wine as the things that go
with the wine that are so delightful. As to what these desirable
condiments are, opinions differ. Plato (who is by no means too
much of a philosopher to be a real man of the world) says in his
"Protagoras" that mere conversation is "the" thing at a symposium.
"When the company are real gentlemen and men of education, you
will see no flute girls nor dancing girls nor harp girls; they will
have no nonsense or games, but will be content with one another's
conversation."[*] But this ideal, though commended, is not always
followed in decidedly intellectual circles. Zenophon[+] shows us
a select party wherein Socrates participated, in which the host
has been fain to hire in a professional Syracusian entertainer with
two assistants, a boy and a girl, who bring their performance to a
climax by a very suggestive dumb-show play of the story of Bacchus
and Ariadne. Prodicus's friends, being solid, somewhat pragmatic
men--neither young sports nor philosophers--steer a middle course.
There is a flute girl present, because to have a good symposium
without some music is almost unimaginable; but she is discreetly
kept in the background.
[*]Plato again says ("Politicus," 277 b), "To intelligent persons,
a living being is more truly delineated by language and discourse
than by any painting or work of art."
[+]In his "Symposium"--which is far less perfect as literature than
Plato's, but probably corresponds more to the average instance.
165. The Symposiarch and his Duties.--"Let's cast for our Symposiarch!"
is Prodicus's next order, and each guest in turn rattles the dice
box. Tyche (Lady Fortune) gives the presidency of the feast to
Eunapius, a bright-eyed, middle-aged man with a keen sense of humor,
but a correct sense of good breeding. He assumes command of the
symposium; takes the ordering of the servants out of Prodicus's
hands, and orders the wine to be mixed in the craters with proper
dilution. He then rises and pours out a libation from each bowl
"to the Olympian Gods," "to the Heroes," and "to Zeus the Saviour,"
and casts a little incense upon the altar. The guests all sing a
"Pæan," not a warrior's charging song this time, but a short hymn
in praise of the Wine-God, some lilting catch like Alcæus's
In mighty flagons hither bring
The deep red blood of many a vine,
That we may largely quaff and sing
The praises of the God of wine.
166. Conversation at the Symposium.--After this the symposium will
proceed according to certain general rules which it is Eunaius's
duty to enforce; but in the main a "program" is something to be
avoided. Everybody must feel himself acting spontaneously and freely.
He must try to take his part in the conversation and neither speak
too seldom nor too little. It is not "good form" for two guests
to converse privately among themselves, nor for anybody to dwell
on unpleasant or controversial topics. Aristophanes has laid down
after his way the proper kind of things to talk about.[*] "[Such
as]'how Ephudion fought a fine pancratium with Ascondas though old
and gray headed, but showing great form and muscle.' This is the
talk usual among refined people [or again] 'some manly act of your
youth; for example, how you chased a boar or a hare, or won a torch
race by some bold device.' [Then when fairly settled at the feast]
straighten your knees and throw yourself in a graceful and easy
manner upon the couch. Then make some observations upon the beauty
of the appointments, look up at the ceiling and praise the tapestry
of the room."
[*] "Wasps," 1174-1564.
As the wine goes around, tongues loosen more and more. Everybody
gesticulates in delightful southern gestures, but does not lose
his inherent courtesy. The anecdotes told are often very egoistic.
The first personal pronoun is used extremely often, and "I" becomes
the hero of a great many exploits. The Athenian, in short, is an
adept at praising himself with affected modesty, and his companions
listen good-humoredly, and retaliate by praising themselves.
167. Games and Entertainments.--By the time the craters are one
third emptied the general conversation is beginning to be broken
up. It is time for various standard diversions. Eunapius therefore
begins by enjoining on each guest in turn to sing a verse in which
a certain letter must not appear, and in event of failure to pay
some ludicrous forfeit. Thus the bald man is ordered to begin to
comb his hair; the lame man (halt since the Mantinea campaign), to
stand up and dance to the flute player, etc. There are all kinds of
guessing of riddles--often very ingenious as become the possessors
of "Attic salt." Another diversion is to compare every guest
present to some mythical monster, a process which infallibly ends
by getting the "Parasite" likened to Cerberus, the Hydra, or some
such dragon, amid the laughter of all the rest. At some point in the
amusement the company is sure to get to singing songs:--"Scolia"--drinking
songs indeed, but often of a serious moral or poetic character,
whereof the oft-quoted song in praise of Harmodius and Aristogeiton
the tyrant-slayers is a good example.[*] No "gentleman" will profess
to be a public singer, but to have a deep, well-trained voice, and
to be able to take one's part in the symposium choruses is highly
desirable, and some of the singing at Proicus's banquet is worth
[*]Given in "Readings in Ancient History," Vol. I, p. 117, and in
many other volumes.
Before the evening is over various games will be ordered in, especially
the "cottabus," which is in great vogue. On the top of a high
stand, something like a candelabrum, is balanced rather delicately
a little saucer of brass. The players stand at a considerable
distance with cups of wine. The game is to toss a small quantity
of wine into the balanced saucer so smartly as to make the brass
give out a clear ringing sound, and to tilt upon its side.[+] Much
shouting, merriment, and a little wagering ensues. While most of
the company prefer the cottabus, two, who profess to be experts, call
for a gaming board and soon are deep in the "game of towns"--very
like to latter-day "checkers," played with a board divided into
numerous squares. Each contestant has thirty colored stones, and
the effort is to surround your opponent's stones and capture them.
Some of the company, however, regard this as too profound, and
after trying their skill at the cottabus betake themselves to the
never failing chances of dice. Yet these games are never suffered
(in refined dinner parties) to banish the conversation. That
after all is the center, although it is not good form to talk over
learnedly of statecraft, military tactics, or philosophy. If such
are discussed, it must be with playful abandon, and a disclaimer of
being serious; and even very grave and gray men remember Anacreon's
preference for the praise of "the glorious gifts of the Muses and
of Aphrodite" rather than solid discussions of "conquest and war."
[+]This was the simplest form of the COTTABUS game; there were
numerous elaborations, but our accounts of them are by no means
168. Going Home from the Feast: Midnight Revellers.--At length the
oil lamps have begun to burn dim. The tired slaves are yawning.
Their masters, despite Prodicus's intentions of having a very
proper symposium, have all drunk enough to get unstable and silly.
Eunapius gives the signal. All rise, and join in the final libation
to Hermes. "Shoes and himation, boy," each says to his slave, and
with thanks to their host they all fare homeward.
Such will be the ending to an extremely decorous feast. With gay
young bloods present, however, it might have degenerated into an
orgy; the flute girl (or several of them) would have contributed
over much to the "freedom"; and when the last deep crater had been
emptied, the whole company would have rushed madly into the street,
and gone whirling away through the darkness,--harps and flutes
sounding, boisterous songs pealing, red torches tossing. Revellers
in this mood would be ready for anything. Perhaps they would end in
some low tavern at the Peiræus to sleep off their liquor; perhaps
their leader would find some other Symposium in progress, and after
loud knockings, force his way into the house, even as did the mad
Alcibiades, who (once more to recall Plato) thrust his way into
Agathon's feast, staggering, leaning on a flute girl, and shouting,
"Where's Agathon!" Such an inroad would be of course the signal
for more and ever more hard drinking. The wild invaders might make
themselves completely at home, and dictate all the proceedings:
the end would be even as at Agathon's banquet, where everybody but
Socrates became completely drunken, and lay prone on the couches or
the floor. One hopes that the honest Prodicus has no such climax
to his symposium.
...At length the streets grow quiet. Citizens sober or drunken
are now asleep: only the vigilant Scythian archers patrol the ways
till the cocks proclaim the first gray of dawn.
Chapter XIX. Country Life Around Athens
169. Importance of his Farm to an Athenian.--We have followed the
doings of a typical Athenian during his ordinary activities around
the city, but for the average gentleman an excursion outside the
town is indispensable at least every two or three days, and perhaps
every day. He must visit his farm; for his wealth and income are
probably tied up there, rather than in any unaristocratic commercial
and manufacturing enterprises. Homer's "royal" heroes are not
ashamed to be skilful at following the plow[*]: and no Athenian
feels that he is contaminating himself by "trade" when he supervises
the breeding of sheep or the raising of onions. We will therefore
follow in the tracks of certain well-to-do citizens, when we turn
toward the Itonian gate sometime during the morning, while the
Agora is still in a busy hum, even if thus we are curtailing our
hypothetical visits to the Peiræus or to the bankers.
[*]See Odysseus's boasts, "Odyssey," XVIII. 360 et passim. The
gentility of farming is emphasized by a hundred precepts from
170. The Country by the Ilissus: the Greeks and Natural Beauty.--Our
companions are on horseback (a token of tolerable wealth in Athens),
but the beasts amble along not too rapidly for nimble grooms to
run behind, each ready to aid his respective master. Once outside
the gate the regular road swings down to the south towards Phalerum;
we, however, are in no great haste and desire to see as much as
possible. The farms we are seeking lie well north of the city, but
we can make a delightful circuit by skirting the city walls with
the eastern shadow of the Acropolis behind us, and going at first
northeast, along the groves and leafy avenues which line the thin
stream of the Ilissus,[*] the second "river" of Athens.
[*]The Ilissus, unlike its sturdier rival, the Cephisus, ran dry
during the summer heats; but there was enough water along its bed
to create a dense vegetation.
Before us through the trees came tantalizing glimpses of the open
country running away towards shaggy gray Hymettus. Left to itself
the land would be mostly arid and seared brown by the summer sun;
but everywhere the friendly work of man is visible. One can count
the little green oblong patches, stretching even up the mountain
side, marked with gleaming white farm buildings or sometimes with
little temples and chapels sacred to the rural gods. Once or
twice also we notice a plot of land which seems one tangled waste
of trees and shrubbery. This is a sacred "temenos," an inviolate
grove, set apart to some god; and within the fences of the compound
no mortal dare set foot under pain of direful sacrilege and pollution.
Following a kind of bridle path, however, we are soon amid the
groves of olive and other trees, while the horses plod their slow
way beside the brook. Not a few citizens going or coming from
Athens meet us, for this is really one of the parks and breathing
spaces of the closely built city. The Athenians and Greeks in
general live in a land of such natural beauty that they take this
loveliness as a matter of course. Very seldom do their poets
indulge in deliberate descriptions of "beautiful landscapes"; but
none the less the fair things of nature have penetrated deeply
into their souls. The constant allusions in Homer and the other
masters of song to the great storm waves, the deep shades of the
forest, the crystal books, the pleasant rest for wanderers under
the shade trees, the plains bright with spring flowers, the ivy
twining above a grave, the lamenting nightingale, the chirping
cicada, tell their own story; men seldom describe at length what
is become warp and woof of their inmost lives. The mere fact that
the Greeks dwell CONSTANTLY in such a beautiful land, and have
learned to love it so intensely, makes frequent and set descriptions
thereto seem trivial.
171. Plato's Description of the Walk by the Ilissus.--Nevertheless
occasionally this inborn love of the glorious outer world must find
its expression, and it is of these very groves along he Ilissus
that we have one of the few "nature pieces" in Athenian literature.
As the plodding steeds take their way let us recall our Plato--his
"Phdrus," written probably not many years before this our visit.
Socrates is walking with Phædrus outside the walls, and urges the
latter: "Let us go to the Ilissus and sit down in some quiet spot."
"I am fortunate," answers Phædrus, "in not having my sandals on,
and, as you never have any, we may go along the brook and cool
our feet. This is the easiest way, and at midday is anything but
unpleasant." He adds that they will go on to the tallest plane
tree in the distance, "where are shade and gentle breezes, and
grass whereon we may either sit or lie.... The little stream is
delightfully clear and bright. I can fancy there might well be
maidens playing near [according to the local myth of Boreas's rape
of Orithyia]." And so at last they come to the place, when Socrates
says: "Yes indeed, a fair and shady resting place it is, full of
summer sounds and scents. There is the lofty and spreading plane
tree, and the agnus castus, high and clustering in the fullest
blossom and the greatest fragrance, and the stream which flows
beneath the plane tree is deliciously cool to the feet. Judging
by the ornaments and images [set] about, this must be a spot sacred
to Achelous and the Nymphs; moreover there is a sweet breeze and
the grasshoppers are chirruping; and the greatest charm of all is
the grass like a pillow, gently sloping to the head."[*]
[*]Jewett, translator; slightly altered.
172. The Athenian Love of Country Life.--So the two friends had
sat them down to delve in delightful profundities; but following
the bridle path, the little brook and its groves end for us all too
soon. We are in the open country around Athens, and the fierce
rays of Helios beat strongly on our heads. We are outside the city,
but by no means far from human life. Farm succeeds farm, for the
land around Athens has a goodly population to maintain, and there
is a round price for vegetables in the Agora. Truth to tell, the
average Athenian, though he pretends to love the market, the Pnyx,
the Dicasteries, and the Gymnasia, has a shrewd hankering for the
soil, and does not care to spend more time in Athens then necessary.
Aristophanes is full of the contrasts between "country life" and
"city life" and almost always with the advantage given the former.
Says his Strepsiades (in "The Clouds"), "A country life for me--dirty,
untrimmed, lolling around at ease, and just abounding in bees and
sheep and oil cake." His Diceæpolis ("Acharnians") voices clearly
the independence of the farmer: "How I long for peace.[*] I'm
disgusted with the city; and yearn for my own farm which never
bawled out [as in the markets] 'buy my coals' or 'buy my vinegar'
or 'oil,' or KNEW the word 'buy,' but just of itself produced
everything." And his Trygæus (in "The Peace") states the case
better yet: "Ah! how eager I am to get back into the fields, and
break up my little farm with the mattock again...[for I remember]
what kind of a life we had there; and those cakes of dried fruits,
and the figs, and the myrtles, and the sweet new wine, and the
violet bed next to the well, and the olives we so long for!"
[*]I.e. the end of the Peloponnesian War, which compelled the
farming population to remove inside the walls.
There is another reason why the Athenians rejoice in the country.
The dusty streets are at best a poor playground for the children,
the inner court of the house is only a respectable prison for the
wife. In the country the lads can enjoy themselves; the wife and
the daughters can roam about freely with delightful absence of
convention. There will be no happier day in the year than when
the master says, "Let us set out for the farm."
173. Some Features of the Attic Country.--Postponing our examination
of Athenian farmsteads and farming methods until we reach some
friendly estate, various things strike us as we go along the road.
One is the skilful system of irrigation,--the numerous watercourses
drawn especially from the Cephisus, whereby the agriculturists make
use of every possible scrap of moisture for the fields, groves, and
vineyards. Another is the occasional olive tree we see standing,
gnarled and venerable, but carefully fenced about; or even
(not infrequently) we see fences only with but a dead and utterly
worthless stump within. Do not speak lightly of these "stumps,"
however. They are none the less "moriai"--sacred olive trees of
Athena, and carefully tended by public wardens.[*] Contractors
are allowed to take the fruit of the olive trees under carefully
regulated conditions; but no one is allowed to remove the stumps,
much less hew down a living tree. An offender is tried for
"impiety" before the high court of the Areopagus, and his fate is
pretty surely death, for the country people, at least, regard their
sacred trees with a fanatical devotion which it would take long to
explain to a stranger.
[*]Athenians loved to dwell on the "divine gift" of the olive.
Thus Euripides sang ("Troades," 799):--
In Salamis, filled with the foaming
Of billows and murmur of bees,
Old Telamon stayed from his roaming
Long ago, on a throne of the seas,
Looking out on the hills olive laden,
Enchanted, where first from the earth
The gray-gleaming fruit of the Maiden
Athena had birth.
The hero Telamon was reputed an uncle of Achilles and one of the
early kings of Salami.
Also upon the way one is pretty sure to meet a wandering beggar--a
shrewd-eyed, bewhiskered fellow. He carries, not a barrel organ
and monkey, but a blinking tame crow perched on his shoulder, and
at every farmstead he halts to whine his nasal ditty and ask his
Good people, a handful of barley bestow
On the child of Apollo, the sleek sable crow;
Or a trifle of whet, O kind friends, give;--
Or a wee loaf of bread that the crow may live.
It is counted good luck by the housewife to have a chance to feed
a "holy crow," and the owner's pickings are goodly. By the time
we have left the beggar behind us we are at the farm whither our
excursion has been tending.
174. An Attic Farmstead.--We are to inspect the landed estate of
Hybrias, the son of Xanthippus. It lies north of Athens on the
slopes of Anchesmus, one of the lesser hills which roll away toward
the marble-crowned summits of Pentelicus. Part of the farm lands
lie on the level ground watered by the irrigation ditches; part
upon the hillsides, and here the slopes have been terraced in a
most skilful fashion in order to make the most of every possible
inch of ground, and also to prevent any of the precious soil from
being washed down by the torrents of February and March. The owner
is a wealthy man, and has an extensive establishment; the farm
buildings--once whitewashed, but now for the most part somewhat
dirty--wander away over a large area. There are wide courts, deep
in manure, surrounded by barns; there are sties, haymows, carefully
closed granaries, an olive press, a grain mill, all kinds of stables
and folds, likewise a huge irregularly shaped house wherein are
lodged the numerous slaves and the hired help. The general design
of this house is the same as of a city house--the rooms opening
upon an inner court, but naturally its dimensions are ampler, with
the ampler land space.
Just now the courtyard is a noisy and animated sight. The master
has this moment ridden in, upon one of his periodic visits from
Athens; the farm overseer has run out to meet him and report, and
half a dozen long, lean hunting dogs--Darter, Roarer, Tracker,
Active, and more[*]--are dancing and yelping, in the hope that
their owner will order a hare hunt. The overseer is pouring forth
his usual burden of woe about the inefficient help and the lack of
rain, and Hybrias is complaining of the small spring crop--"Zeus
send us something better this summer!" While these worthies are
adjusting their troubles we may look around the farm.
[*]For an exhaustive list of names for Greek dogs, see Xenophon's
curious "Essay on Hunting," ch. VII, § 5.
175. Plowing, Reaping, and Threshing.--Thrice a year the Athenian
farmer plows, unless he wisely determines to let his field lie
fallow for the nonce; and the summer plowing on hybrias's estate is
now in progress. Up and down a wide field the ox team is going.[*]
The plow is an extremely primitive affair--mainly of wood, although
over the sharpened point which forms the plowshare a plate of iron
has been fitted. Such a plow requires very skilful handling to
cut a good furrow, and the driver of the team has no sinecure.
[*]Mules were sometimes used for drawing the plow, but horses, it
would seem, never.
In a field near by, the hinds are reaping a crop of wheat which
was late in ripening.[*] The workers are bending with semicircular
sickles over their hot task; yet they form a merry, noisy crowd,
full of homely "harvest songs," nominally in honor of Demeter,
the Earth Mother, but ranging upon every conceivable rustic topic.
Some laborers are cutting the grain, others, walking behind, are
binding into sheaves and piling into clumsy ox wains. Here and
there a sheaf is standing, and we are told that this is left "for
luck," as an offering to the rural Field Spirit; for your farm
hand is full of superstitions. Also amid the workers a youth is
passing with a goodly jar of cheap wine, to which the harvesters
make free to run from time to time for refreshment.
Close by the field is the threshing floor. More laborers--not a few
bustling country lasses among them--are spreading out the sheaves
with wooden forks, a little at a time, in thin layers over this
circular space, which is paved with little cobblestones. More oxen
and a patient mule are being driven over it--around and around--until
every kernel is trodden out by their hoofs. Later will come the
tossing and the winnowing; and, when the grain has been thoroughly
cleaned, it will be stored in great earthen jars for the purpose
of sale or against the winter.
176. Grinding at the Mill.--Nearer the farmhouses there rises a
dull grinding noise. It is the mill preparing the flour for the
daily baking, for seldom--at least in the country--will a Greek
grind flour long in advance of the time of use. There the round
upper millstone is being revolved upon an iron pivot against its
lower mate and turned by a long wooden handle. Two nearly naked
slave boys are turning this wearily--far pleasanter they consider
the work of the harvesters, and very likely this task is set them
as a punishment. As the mill revolves a slave girl pours the grain
into a hole in the center of the upper millstone. As the hot, slow
work goes on, the two toilers chant together a snatch from an old
mill song, and we catch the monotonous strain:--
Grind, mill, grind,
For Pittacus did grind--
Who was king over great Mytilene.
It will be a long time before there is enough flour for the day.
The slaves can at least rejoice that they live on a large farm.
If Hybrias owned a smaller estate, they would probably be pounding
up the grain with mortar and pestle--more weary yet.
177. The Olive Orchards.--We, at least, can leave them to their
work, and escape to the shade of the orchards and the vineyards.
Like every Athenian farmer, Hybrias has an olive orchard. The
olives are sturdy trees. They will grow in any tolerable soil and
thrive upon the mountain slopes up to as far as 1800 feet above
sea level. They are not large trees, and their trunks are often
grotesquely gnarled, but there is always a certain fascination
about the wonderful shimmer of their leaves, which flash from gray
to silver-white in a sunny wind. Hybrias has wisely planted his
olives at wide intervals, and in the space between the ground has
been plowed up for grain. Olives need little care. Their harvest
comes late in the autumn, after all the other crops are out of the
way. They are among the most profitable products of the farm, and
the owner will not mind the poor wheat harvest "if only the olives
[*]The great drawback to olive culture was the great length of time
required to mature the trees--sixteen years. The destruction of
the trees, e.g. in war by a ravaging invader, was an infinitely
greater calamity than the burning of the standing grain or even
of the farmhouses. Probably it was the ruin of their olive trees
which the Athenians mourned most during the ravaging of Attica in
the Peloponnesian War.
178. The Vineyards.--The fig orchard forms another great part
of the farm, but more interesting to strangers are the vineyards.
Some of the grapes are growing over pointed stakes set all along
the upland terraces; a portion of the vineyards, however, is on
level ground. Here a most picturesque method has been used for
training the vines. Tall and graceful trees have been set out--elm,
maple, oak, poplar. The lower limbs of the trees have been cut
away and up their trunks and around their upper branches now swing
the vines in magnificent festoons. The growing vines have sprung
from tree to tree. The warm breeze has set the rich clusters--already
turning purple or golden--swaying above our heads. The air is
filled with brightness, greenery, and fragrance. The effect of
this "vineyard grove" is magical.
179. Cattle, Sheep, and Goats.--There is also room in the orchards
for apples, pears, and quinces, but there is nothing distinctive
about their culture. If we are interested in cattle, however, we
can spend a long time at the barns, or be guided out to the upland
pasture where Hybrias's flocks and herds are grazing. Horses are
a luxury. They are almost never used in farm work, and for riding
and cavalry service it is best to import a good courser from
Thessaly; no attempt, therefore, is made to breed them here. But
despite the small demand for beef and butter a good many cattle are
raised; for oxen are needed for the plowing and carting, oxhides
have a steady sale, and there is a regular call for beehives for
the hecatombs at the great public sacrifices. Sheep are in greater
acceptance. Their wool is of large importance to a land which knows
comparatively little of cotton. They can live on scanty pasturage
where an ox would starve. Still more in favor are goats Their
coarse hair has a thousand uses. Their flesh and cheese are among
the most staple articles in the Agora. Sure-footed and adventurous,
they scale the side of the most unpromising crags in search of
herbage and can sometimes be seen perching, almost like birds, in
what seem utterly inaccessible eyries. Thanks to them the barren
highlands of Attica are turned to good account,--and between goat
raising and bee culture an income can sometimes be extracted from
the very summits of the mountains. As for the numerous swine, it
is enough to say that they range under Hybrias's oak forest and
fatten on acorns, although their swineherd, wrapped in a filthy
sheepskin, is a far more loutish and ignoble fellow than the "divine
Eumæus" glorified in the "Odyssey."
180. The Gardens and the Shrine.--Did we wish to linger, we could
be shown the barnyard with its noisy retinue of hens, pheasants,
guinea fowl, and pigeons; and we would be asked to admire the geese,
cooped up and being gorged for fattening, or the stately peacocks
preening their splendors. We would also hear sage disquisitions from
the "oldest inhabitants" on the merits of fertilizers, especially
on the uses of mixing seaweed with manure, also we would be told of
the almost equally important process of burying a toad in a sealed
jar in the midst of a field to save the corn from the crows and
the field mice. Hybrias laughs at such superstitions--"but what
can you say to the rustics?" Hybrias himself will display with
more refined pride the gardens used by his wife and children when
they come out from Athens,--a fountain feeding a delightful rivulet;
myrtles, roses, and pomegranate trees shedding their perfumes, which
are mingled with the odors from the beds of hyacinths, violets,
and asphodel. In the center of the gardens rises a chaste little
shrine with a marble image and an altar, always covered with flowers
or fruit by the mistress and her women. "To Artemis," reads the
inscription, and one is sure that the virgin goddess takes more
pleasure in this fragrant temple than in many loftier fanes.[*]
[*]For the description of a very beautiful and elaborate country
estate, with a temple thereon to Artemis, see Xenophon's "Anabasis,"
bk. V. 3.
We are glad to add here our wreaths ere turning away from this
wholesome, verdant country seat, and again taking our road to
Chapter XX. The Temples and Gods of Athens.
181. Certain Factors in Athenian Religion.--We have seen the
Athenians in their business and in their pleasure, at their courts,
their assemblies, their military musters, and on their peaceful farms;
yet one great side of Athenian life has been almost ignored--the
religious side. A "Day in Athens" spent without taking account of
the gods of the city and their temples would be a day spent with
almost half-closed eyes.[*]
[*]No attempt is made in this discussion to enumerate the various
gods and demigods of the conventional mythology, their regular
attributes, etc. It is assumed the average history or manual of
mythology gives sufficient information.
It is far easier to learn how the Athenians arrange their houses
than how the average man among them adjusts his attitude toward
the gods. While any searching examination of the fundamentals of
Greek cultus and religion is here impossible, two or three facts
must, nevertheless, be kept in mind, if we are to understand even
the OUTWARD side of this Greek religion which is everywhere in
evidence about us.
First of all we observe that the Greek religion is a religion of
purely natural growth. No prophet has initiated it, or claimed
a new revelation to supplement the older views. It has come from
primitive times without a visible break even down to the Athens of
Plato. This explains at once why so many time-honored stories of
the Olympic deities are very gross, and why the gods seem to give
countenance to moral views which the best public opinion has long
since called scandalous and criminal. The religion of Athens, in
other words, may justly claim to be judged by its best, not by its
worst; by the morality of Socrates, not of Homer.
Secondly, this religion is not a church, nor a belief, but is part
of the government. Every Athenian is born into accepting the fact
that Athena Polias is the divine warder of the city, as much as
he is born into accepting the fact that it is his duty to obey the
strategi in battle. To repudiate the gods of Athens, e.g. in favor
of those of Egypt, is as much iniquity as to join forces against
the Athenians if they are at war with Egypt;--the thing is sheer
treason, and almost unthinkable. For countless generations the
Athenians have worshipped the "Ancestral Gods." They are proud of
them, familiar with them; the gods have participated in all the
prosperity of the city. Athena is as much a part of Attica as
gray Hymettus or white-crowned Pentelicus; and the very fact that
comedians, like Aristophanes, make good-natured fun of the divinities
indicates that "they are members of the family."
Thirdly, notice that this religion is one mainly of outward reverence
and ceremony. There is no "Athenian church"; nobody has drawn up
an "Attic creed"--"I believe in Athena, the City Warder, and in
Demeter, the Earth Mother, and in Zeus, the King of Heaven, etc."
Give outward reverence, participate in the great public sacrifices,
be careful in all the minutiæ of private worship, refrain from
obvious blasphemies--you are then a sufficiently pious man. What
you BELIEVE is of very little consequence. Even if you privately
believe there are no gods at all, it harms no one, provided your
outward conduct is pious and moral.
182. What constitutes "Piety" in Athens.--Of course there have
been some famous prosecutions for "impiety." Socrates was the
most conspicuous victim; but Socrates was a notable worshipper of
the gods, and certainly all the charges of his being an "atheist"
broke down. What he was actually attacked with was "corrupting
the youth of Athens," i.e. giving the young men such warped ideas
of their private and public duties that they ceased to be moral
and useful citizens. But even Socrates was convicted only with
difficulty[*]; a generation has passed since his death. Were he
on trial at present, a majority of the jury would probably be with
[*]It might be added that if Socrates had adopted a really worldly
wise line of defense, he would probably have been acquitted, or
subjected merely to a mild pecuniary penalty.
The religion of Athens is something very elastic, and really every
man makes his own creed for himself, or--for paganism is almost
never dogmatic--accepts the outward cultus with everybody else, and
speculates at his leisure on the nature of the deity. The great
bulk of the uneducated are naturally content to accept the old
stories and superstitions with unthinking credulity. It is enough
to know that one must pray to Zeus for rain, and to Hermes for luck
in a slippery business bargain. There are a few philosophers who,
along with perfectly correct outward observance, teach privately
that the old Olympian system is a snare and folly. They pass
around the daring word which Xenophanes uttered as early as the
sixth century B.C.:--
One God there is, greatest of gods and mortals,
Not like to man is he in mind or in body.
All of him sees, all of him thinks, and all of him harkens.
This, of course, is obvious pantheism, but it is easy to cover up
all kinds of pale monotheism or pantheism under vague reference to
the omnipotence of "Zeus."
183. The Average Athenian's Idea of the Gods.--The average
intelligent citizen probably has views midway between the stupid
rabble and the daring philosophers. To him the gods of Greece
stand out in full divinity, honored and worshipped because they
are protectors of the good, avengers of the evil, and guardians
of the moral law. They punish crime and reward virtue, though the
punishment may tarry long. They demand a pure heart and a holy
mind of all that approach them, and woe to him who wantonly defies
their eternal laws. This is the morality taught by the master
tragedians, Æschylus and Sophocles, and accepted by the best public
opinion at Athens; for the insidious doubts cast by Euripides upon
the reality of any divine scheme of governance have never struck
home. The scandalous stories about the domestic broils on Olympus,
in which Homer indulges, only awaken good-natured banter. It is
no longer proper--as in Homeric days--to pride oneself on one's
cleverness in perjury and common falsehood. Athenians do not
have twentieth century notions about the wickedness of lying, but
certain it is the gods do not approve thereof. In short, most of
the better class of Athenians are genuinely "religious"; nevertheless
they have too many things in this human world to interest them to
spend overmuch time in adjusting their personal concepts of the
deity to any system of theology.
184. Most Greeks without belief in Immortality.--Yet one thing we
must add. This Greek religious morality is built up without any
clear belief in a future life. Never has the average Hellene been
able to form a satisfactory conception of the soul's existence,
save dwelling within a mortal body and under the glorious light of
belovèd Helios. To Homer the after life in Hades was merely the
perpetuation of the shadows of departed humanity, "strengthless
shades" who live on the gloomy plains of asphodel, feeding upon
dear memories, and incapable of keen emotions or any real mental or
physical progress or action. Only a few great sinners like Tantalus,
doomed to eternal torture, or favored being like Menelaus, predestined
to the "Blessed Isles," are ordained to any real immortality. As
the centuries advanced, and the possibilities of this terrestrial
world grew ever keener, the hope of any future state became ever
more vague. The fear of a gloomy shadow life in Hades for the
most part disappeared, but that was only to confirm the belief that
death ends all things.
Where'er his course man tends,
Inevitable death impends,
And for the worst and for the best,
Is strewn the same dark couch of rest.[*]
So run the lines of a poet whose name is forgotten, but who spoke
well the thought of his countrymen.
True there has been a contradiction of this gloomy theory. The
"Orphic Mysteries," those secret religious rites which have gained
such a hold in many parts of Greece, including Athens, probably
hold out an earnest promise to the "initiates" of a blessed state
for them hereafter. The doctrine of a real elysium for the good and
a realm of torment for the evil has been expounded by many sages.
Pindar, the great bard of Thebes, has set forth the doctrine in a
glowing ode.[*] Socrates, if we may trust the report Plato gives
of him, has spent his last hours ere drinking the hemlock, in adducing
cogent, philosophic reasons for the immortality of the soul. All
this is true,--and it is also true that these ideas have made no
impression upon the general Greek consciousness. They are accepted
half-heartedly by a relatively few exceptional thinkers. Men
go through life and face death with no real expectation of future
reward or punishment, or of reunion with the dear departed. If
the gods are angry, you escape them at the grave; if the gods are
friendly, all they can give is wealth, health, honor, a hale old
age, and prosperity for your children. The instant after death the
righteous man and the robber are equal. This fundamental deduction
from the Greek religion must usually, therefore, be made--it is a
religion for THIS WORLD ONLY. Let us see what are its usual outward
[*]Quoted in "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 261-262,
and in many works in Greek literature.
185. The Multitude of Images of the Gods.--Gods are everywhere in
Athens. You cannot take the briefest walk without being reminded
that the world is full of deities. There is a "Herm"[*] by the main
door of every house, as well as a row of them across the Agora. At
many of the street crossings there are little shrines to Hecate;
or statues of Apollo Agyieus, the street guardian; or else a bay
tree stands there, a graceful reminder of this same god, to which
it is sacred. In every house there is the small alter whereon
garlands and fruit offerings are daily laid to Zeus Herkeios, and
another altar to Hestia. On one or both of these altars a little
food and a little wine are cast at every meal. All public meetings
or court sessions open with sacrifice; in short, to attempt any
semi-important public or private act without inviting the friendly
attention of the deity is unthinkable. To a well-bred Athenian
this is second instinct; he considers it as inevitable as the common
courtesies of speech among gentlemen. Plato sums up the current
opinion well, "All men who have any decency, in the attempting of
matters great or small, always invoke divine aid."[+]
[*]A stone post about shoulder high, surmounted by a bearded head.
Contrary to modern impression, the average Greek did not conceive
of Hermes as a beautiful youth. He was a grave, bearded man. The
youthful aspect came through the manipulation of the Hermes myths
by the master sculptors--e.g. Praxiteles.
[+]Timæus, p. 27 c.
186. Greek Superstition.--In many cases, naturally, piety runs
off into crass superstition. The gods, everybody knows, frequently
make known future events by various signs. He who can understand
these signs will be able to adjust his life accordingly and
enjoy great prosperity. Most educated men take a sensible view
of "omens," and do not let them influence their conduct absurdly.
Some, however, act otherwise. There is, for instance, Laches,
one of the greatest at Prodicus's feast. He lives in a realm of
mingled hopes and fears, although he is wealthy and well-educated.[*]
He is all the time worried about dreams, and paying out money
to the sharp and wily "seer" (who counts him his best client) for
"interpretations." If a weasel crosses his path he will not walk
onward until somebody else has gone before him, or until he has
thrown three stones across the road. He is all the time worrying
about the significance of sudden noises, meteors, thunder; especially
he is disturbed when he sees birds flying in groups or towards
unlucky quarters of the heavens.[+] Laches, however, is not merely
religious--although he is always asking "which god shall I invoke
now?" or "what are the omens for the success of this enterprise?"
His own associates mock him as being superstitious, and say they
never trouble themselves about omens save in real emergencies.
Still it is "bad luck" for any of them to stumble over a threshold,
to meet a hare suddenly, or especially to find a snake (the companion
of the dead) hidden in the house.
[*]See Theophratus's character, "The Superstitious Man."
[+]The birds of clearest omen were the great birds of prey--hawks,
"Apollo's swift messengers," and eagles, "the birds of Zeus." It
was a good omen if the birds flew from left to right, a bad omen
if in the reverse direction.
187. Consulting Omens.--Laches's friends, however, all regularly
consult the omens when they have any important enterprise on hand--a
voyage, a large business venture, a marriage treaty, etc. There
are several ways, not expensive; the interpreters are not priests,
only low-born fellows as a rule, whose fees are trifling. You
can find out about the future by casting meal upon the altar fire
and noticing how it is burned, by watching how chickens pick up
consecrated grain,[*] by observing how the sacrificial smoke curls
upward, etc. The best way, however, is to examine the entrails
of the victim after a sacrifice. Here everything depends on the
shape, size, etc., of the various organs, especially of the liver,
bladder, spleen, and lungs, and really expert judgment by an experienced
and high-priced seer is desirable. The man who is assured by a
reliable seer, "the livers are large and in fine color," will go
on his trading voyage with a confident heart.
[*]A very convenient way,--for it was a good sign if the chickens
ate eagerly and one could always get a fair omen by keeping the
fowls hungry a few hours ere "putting the question"!
188. The Great Oracles.--Assuredly there is a better way still to
read the future; at least so Greeks of earlier ages have believed.
Go to one of the great oracles, whereof that of Apollo at Delphi
is the supreme, but not the unique, example. Ask your question
in set form from the attendant priests, not failing to offer an
elaborate sacrifice and to bestow all the "gifts" (golden tripods,
mixing bowls, shields, etc.) your means will allow. Then (at
Delphi) wait silent and awe-stricken while the lady Pythia, habited
as a young girl, takes her seat on a tripod over a deep cleft in
the rock, whence issues an intoxicating vapor. She inhales the gas,
sways to and fro in an ecstasy, and now, duly "inspired," answers
in a somewhat wild manner the queries which the priest will put in
behalf of the supplicants. Her incoherent words are very hard to
understand, but the priest duly "interprets" them, i.e. gives them
to the suppliant in the form of hexameter verses. Sometimes the
meaning of these verses is perfectly clear. Very often they are
truly "Delphic," with a most dubious meaning--as in that oft-quoted
instance, when the Pythia told Crsus if he went to war with Cyrus,
"he would destroy a mighty monarchy," and lo, he destroyed his own!
Besides Delphi, there are numerous lesser oracles, each with its
distinctive method of "revelation." But there is none, at least of
consequence, within Attica, while a journey to Delphi is a serious
and highly expensive undertaking. And as a matter of fact Delphi
has partially lost credit in Athens. In the great Persian War
Delphi unpatriotically "medized"--gave oracles friendly to Xerxes
and utterly discouraging to the patriot cause. Then after this
conviction of false prophesy, the oracle fell, for most of the
time, into the hands of Sparta, and was obviously very willing
to "reveal" things only in the Lacedæmonian interest. Hellenes
generally and the Spartans in particular have still much esteem for
the utterances of the Pythia, but Athenians are not now very partial
to her. Soon will come the seizure of Delphi by the Phnicians
and the still further discrediting of this once great oracle.
189. Greek Sacrifices.--The two chief elements of Greek worship,
however, are not consideration of the future, but sacrificial and
prayer. Sacrifices in their simple form, as we have seen, take
place continually, before every routine act. They become more formal
when the proposed action is really important, or when the suppliant
wishes to give thanks for some boon, or, at rarer intervals, to
desire purification from some offense. There is no need of a priest
for the simpler sacrifices. The father of the family can pour
out the libation, can burn the food upon the altar, can utter the
prayer for all his house; but in the greater sacrifices a priest
is desirable, not as a sacred intermediary betwixt god and man,
but as an expert to advise the worshipper what are the competent
rites, and to keep him from ignorantly angering heaven by unhappy
words and actions.[*]
[*]There were almost no hereditary priesthoods in Attica (outside
the Emolpidæ connected with the mystical cult of Eleusis). Almost
anybody of good character could qualify as a priest with due
training, and there was little of the sacrosanct about the usual
Let us witness a sacrifice of this more formal kind, and while doing
so we can tread upon the spot we have seemed in a manner to shun
during our wanderings through Athens, the famous and holy Acropolis.
190. The Route to the Acropolis.--Phormion, son of Cresphontes, has
been to Arcadia, and won the pentathlon in some athletic contests
held at Mantinea. Although not equal to a triumph in the "four
great Panhellenic contests," it was a most notable victory. Before
setting out he vowed a sheep to Athena the Virgin if he conquered.
The goddess was kind, and Phormion is very grateful. While the
multitudes are streaming out to the Gymnasia, the young athlete,
brawny and handsome, surrounded by an admiring coterie of friends
and kinsmen, sets out for the Acropolis.
Phormion's home is in the "Ceramicus," the so-called "potters'
quarter." His walk takes him a little to the west of the Agora,
and close to the elegant temple of Hephæstos,[*] but past this and
many other fanes he hastens. It was not the fire god which gave
him fair glory at Mantinea. He goes onward until he is forced to
make a detour to the left, at the craggy, rough hill of Areopagus
which rises before him. Here, if time did not press, he might have
tarried to pay respectful reverence before a deep fissure cleft
in the side of the rock. In front of this fissure stands a little
altar. All Phormion's company look away as they pass the spot,
and they mutter together "Be propitious, O Eumenides!" (literally,
Well-minded Ones). For like true Greeks they delight to call foul
things with fair and propitious names; and that awful fissure and
altar are sacred to the Erinyes (Furies), the horrible maidens, the
trackers of guilt, the avengers of murder; and above their cave,
on these rude rocks, sits the august court of the Aeropagus when
it meets as a "tribunal of blood" to try cases of homicide.
[*]This temple, now called the "Theseum," is the only well preserved
ancient temple in modern Athens.
Phormion's party quicken their steps and quit this spot of ill
omen. Then their sight is gladdened. The whole glorious Acropolis
stands out before them.
191. The Acropolis of Athens.--Almost every Greek city has its own
formidable citadel, its own "acropolis,"--for "citadel" is really
all this word conveys. Corinth boasts of its "Acro-Corinthus,"
Thebes of its "Cadmeia,"--but THE Acropolis is in Athens. The later
world will care little for any other, and the later world will be
right. The Athenian stronghold has long ceased to be a fortress,
though still it rises steep and strong. It is now one vast temple
compound, covered with magnificent buildings. Whether considered
as merely a natural rock commanding a marvelous view, or as a
consecrated museum of sculpture and architecture, it deserves its
immortality. We raise our eyes to THE ROCK as we approach it.
The Acropolis dominates the plain of Athens. All the city seems
to adjust itself to the base of its holy citadel. It lifts itself
as tawny limestone rock rising about 190 feet above the adjacent
level of the town.[*] In form it is an irregular oval with its
axis west and east. It is about 950 feet long and 450 feet at its
greatest breadth. On every side but the west the precipice falls
away sheer and defiant, rendering a feeble garrison able to battle
with myriads.[+] To the westward, however, the gradual slope makes
a natural pathway always possible, and human art has long since
shaped this with convenient steps. Nestling in against the precipice
are various sanctuaries and caves; e.g. on the northwestern side,
high up on the slope beneath the precipice, open the uncanny grottoes
of Apollo and of Pan. On the southern side, close under the very
shadow of the citadel, is the temple of Asclepius, and, more to
the southeast, the great open theater of Dionysus has been scooped
out of the rock, a place fit to contain an audience of some 15,000.[&]
[*]It is nearly 510 feet above the level of the sea.
[+]Recall the defense which the Acropolis was able to make against
Xerxes's horde, when the garrison was small and probably ill
organized, and had only a wooden barricade to eke out the natural
[&]The stone seats of this theater do not seem to have been built
till about 340 B.C. Up to that time the surface of the ground
sloping back to the Acropolis seems simply to have been smoothed
off, and probably covered with temporary wooden seats on the days
of the great dramatic festivals.
So much for the bare "bones" of the Acropolis; but now under the
dazzling sunshine how it glitters with indescribable splendor!
Before us as we ascend a whole succession of buildings seem lifting
themselves, not singly, not in hopeless confusion, but grouped
admirably together by a kind of wizardry, so that the harmony is
perfect,--each visible, brilliant column and pinnacle, not merely
flashing its own beauty, but suggesting another greater beauty just
192. The Use of Color upon Athenian Architecture and Sculptures.--While
we look upward at this group of temples and their wealth of
sculptures, let us state now something we have noticed during all
our walks around Athens, but have hitherto left without comment.
Every temple and statue in Athens is not left in its bare white
marble, as later ages will conceive is demanded by "Greek Architecture"
and statuary, but is decked in brilliant color--"painted," if you
will use an almost unfriendly word. The columns and gables and
ceilings of the buildings are all painted. Blue, red, green, and
gold blaze on all the members and ornaments. The backgrounds of
the pediments, metopes, and frieze are tinted some uniform color
on which the sculptured figures in relief stand out clearly. The
figures themselves are tinted or painted, at least on the hair,
lips, and eyes. Flesh-colored warriors are fighting upon a bright
red background. The armor and horse trappings on the sculptures
are in actual bronze. The result is an effect indescribably vivid.
Blues and reds predominate: the flush of light and color from the
still more brilliant heavens above adds to the effect. Shall we
call it garish? We have learned to know the taste of Athenians
too well to doubt their judgment in matters of pure beauty. And
they are right. UNDER AN ATHENIAN SKY temples and statues demand
a wealth of color which in a somber clime would seem intolerable.
The brilliant lines of the Acropolis buildings are the just answer
of the Athenian to the brilliancy of Helios.
193. The Chief Buildings on the Acropolis.--And now to ascend the
Acropolis. We leave the discussion of the details of the temples
and the sculpture to the architects and archæologists. The whole
plateau of the Rock is covered with religious buildings, altars,
and statues. We pass through the Propylæa, the worthy rival of
the Parthenon behind, a magnificent portal, with six splendid Doric
columns facing us; and as we go through them, to right and to left
open out equally magnificent columned porticoes.[*] As we emerge
from the Propylæa the whole vision of the sacred plateau bursts
upon us simultaneously. We can notice only the most important of
the buildings. At the southwestern point of the Acropolis on the
angle of rock which juts out beyond the Propylæa is the graceful
little temple of the "Wingless Victory," built in the Ionic style.
The view commanded by its bastion will become famous throughout the
world. Behind this, nearer the southern side, stands the less
important temple of Artemis Braurönia. Nearer the center and directly
before the entrance rises a colossal brazen statue--"monstrous,"
many might call its twenty-six feet of height, save that a master
among masters has cast the spell of his genius over it. This is
the famous Athena Promachos,[+] wrought by Phidias out of the spoils
of Marathon. The warrior goddess stands in full armor and rests
upon her mighty lance. The gilded lance tip gleams so dazzlingly
we may well believe the tale that sailors use it for a first landmark
as they sail up the coast from Cape Sunium.
[*]That to the north was the larger and contained a kind of picture
[+]Athena Foremost in Battle.
Looking again upon the complex of buildings we single out another
on the northern side: an irregularly shaped temple, or rather
several temples joined together, the Erechtheum, wherein is the
sanctuary of Athena Polias (the revered "City Warden"), the ancient
wooden statue, grotesque, beloved, most sacred of all the holy
images in Athens. And here on the southern side of this building
is the famous Caryatid porch; the "Porch of the Maidens," which
will be admired as long as Athens has a name. But our eyes refuse
to linger long on any of these things. Behind the statue of the
Promachos, a little to the southern side of the plateau, stands
the Parthenon--the queen jewel upon the crown of Athens.
194. The Parthenon.--Let others analyze its sculptures and explain
the technical reasons why Ictinus and Callicrates, the architects,
and Phidias, the sculptor, created here the supreme masterpiece
for the artistic world. We can state only the superficialities.
It is a noble building by mere size; 228 feet measure its side,
101 feet its front. Forty-six majestic Doric columns surround it;
they average thirty-four feet in height, and six feet three inches
at the base. All these facts, however, do not give the soul of
the Parthenon. Walk around it slowly, tenderly, lovingly. Study
the elaborate stories told by the pediments,--on the east front
the birth of Athena, on the west the strife of Athena and Poseidon
for the possession of Athens. Trace down the innumerable lesser
sculptures on the "metopes" under the cornice,--showing the battles
of the Giants, Centaurs, Amazons, and of the Greeks before Troy;
finally follow around, on the whole inner circuit of the body of
the temple, the frieze,[*] showing in bas-relief the Panathenaic
procession, with the beauty, nobility, and youth of Athens marching
in glad festival; comprehend that these sculptures will never be
surpassed in the twenty-four succeeding centuries; that here are
supreme examples for the artists of all time,--and THEN, in the
face of this final creation, we can realize that the Parthenon will
justify its claim to immortality.
[*]This, of course, is on the outside wall of the "cells," but
inside the surrounding colonnade.
One thing more. There are hardly any straight lines in the Parthenon.
To the eye, the members and the steps of the substructure may seem
perfectly level; but the measuring rod betrays marvelously subtle
curves. As nature abhors right angles in her creations of beauty,
so have these Greeks. Rigidity, unnaturalness, have been banished.
The Parthenon stands, not merely embellished with inimitable
sculptures, but perfectly adjusted to the natural world surrounding.[*]
[*]It was an inability to discover and execute these concealed
curves which give certain of the modern imitations of the Parthenon
their unpleasant impressions of harness and rigidity.
We have seen only the exterior of the Parthenon. We must wait now
ere visiting the interior, for Phormion is beginning his sacrifice.
195. A Sacrifice on the Acropolis.--Across the sacred plateau
advances the little party. As it goes under the Propylæa a couple
of idle temple watchers[*] give its members a friendly nod. The
Acropolis rock itself seems deserted, save for a few worshippers
and a party of admiring Achæan visitors who are being shown the
glories of the Parthenon.[+] There seems to be a perfect labyrinth
of statues of gods, heroes, and departed worthies, and almost as
many altars, great and small, placed in every direction. Phormion
leads his friends onward till they come near to the wide stone
platform somewhat in the rear of the Parthenon. Here is the "great
altar" of Athena, whereon the "hecatombs" will be sacrificed, even
a hundred oxen or more,[&] at some of the major public festivals;
and close beside it stands also a small and simple altar sacred
to Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin. Suitable attendants have
been in readiness since dawn waiting for worshippers. One of
Phormion's party leads behind him a bleating white lamb "without
blemish."[$] It is a short matter now to bring the firewood and
the other necessaries. The sacrifice takes place without delay.
[*]The most important function of these watchers seems to have been
to prevent dogs from entering the Acropolis. Probably they were
inefficient old men favored with sinecure offices.
[+]The Acropolis seems to have become a great "show place" for
visitors to Athens soon after the completion of the famous temples.
[&]We know by an inscription of 169 oxen being needed for a single
[$]This was a very proper creature to sacrifice to a great Olympian
deity like Athena. Goats were not suitable for her, although desirable
for most of the other gods. It was unlawful to sacrifice swine to
Aphrodite. When propitiating the gods of the underworld,--Hades,
Persephone, etc.,--a BLACK victim was in order. Poor people could
sacrifice doves, cocks, and other birds.
First a busy "temple sweeper" goes over the ground around the altar
with a broom; then the regular priest, a dignified gray-headed man
with a long ungirt purple chiton, and a heavy olive garland, comes
forward bearing a basin of holy water. This basin is duly passed
to the whole company as it stands in a ring, and each in turn dips
his hand and sprinkles his face and clothes with the lustral water.
Meantime the attendant has placed another wreath around the head
of the lamb. The priest raises his hand.
"Let there be silence," he commands (lest any unlucky word be
spoken); and in a stillness broken only by the auspicious twittering
of the sparrows amid the Parthenon gables, he takes barley corns
from a basket, an sprinkles them on the altar and over the lamb.
With his sacred knife he cuts a lock of hair from the victims head
and casts it on the fire. Promptly now the helper comes forward
to complete the sacrifice. Phormion and his friends are a little
anxious. Will the lamb take fright, hang back, and have to be
dragged to its unwilling death? The clever attendant has cared
for that. A sweet truss of dried clover is lying just under the
altar. The lamb starts forward, bleating joyously. As it bows its
head[*] as if consenting to its fate the priest stabs it dexterously
in the neck with his keen blade. The helper claps a bowl under
the neck to catch the spurting blood. A flute player in readiness,
but hitherto silent, suddenly strikes up a keen blast to drown the
dying moans of the animal. Hardly has the lamb ceased to struggle
before the priest and the helper have begun to cut it up then and
there. Certain bits of the fat and small pieces from each limb
are laid upon the altar, and promptly consumed. These are the
goddess's peculiar portion, and the credulous at least believe
that she, though unseen, is present to eat thereof; certainly the
sniff of the burning meat is grateful to her divine nostrils. The
priest and the helpers are busy taking off the hide and securing
the best joint--these are their "fees" for professional services.
All the rest will be duly gathered up by Phormion's body servant
and borne home,--for Phormion will give a fine feast on "sacred
mutton" that night.[+]
[*]If a larger animal--an ox--failed to bow its head auspiciously,
the omen could be rectified by suddenly splashing a little water
in the ears.
[+]As already suggested (section 159) a sacrifice (public, or, if
on a large scale, private) was about the only occasion on which
Athenians tasted beef, pork, or mutton.
Meantime, while the goddess's portion burns, Phormion approaches
the altar, bearing a shallow cup of unmixed wine, and flings it
upon the flame.
"Be propitious, O Lady," he cries, "and receive this my drink
[*]The original intention of this libation at the sacrifice was very
clearly to provide the gods with wine to "wash down" their meat.
The sacrifice is now completed. The priest assures Phormion that
the entrails of the victim foretokened every possible favor in
future athletic contests--and this, and his insinuating smile, win
him a silver drachma to supplement his share of the lamb. Phormion
readjusts the chaplet upon his own head, and turns towards the
Parthenon. After the sacrifice will come the prayer.
196. The Interior of the Parthenon and the Great Image of Athena.--The
whole Acropolis is the home of Athena. The other gods harbored
thereon are only her inferior guests. Upon the Acropolis the dread
goddess displays her many aspects. In the Erechtheum we worship
her as Athena Polias, the ancient guardian of the hearths and homes
of the city. In the giant Promachus, we see her the leader in
war,--the awful queen who went with her fosterlings to the deadly
grappling at Marathon and at Salamis; in the little temple of
"Wingless Victory"[*] we see her as Athena the Victorious, triumphant
over Barbarian and Hellenic foe; but in the Parthenon we adore in
her purest conception--the virgin queen, now chaste and clam, her
battles over, the pure, high incarnations of all "the beautiful and
the good" that may possess spirit and mind,--the sovran intellect,
in short, purged of all carnal, earthy passion. It is meet that
such a goddess should inhabit such a dwelling as the Parthenon.[+]
[*]The term "Wingless Victory" (Nikë Apteros) has reference to a
special type and aspect of Athena, not to the goddess Nikë (Victory)
pure and simple.
[+]There was still another aspect in which Athena was worshipped on
the Acropolis. She had a sacred place ("temenos"), though without
a temple, sacred to her as Athena Erganë--Athena Protectress of
Phormion passes under the eastern porch, and does not forget
(despite the purification before the sacrifice) to dip the whisk
broom, lying by the door, in the brazen laver of holy water and
again to sprinkle himself. He passes out of the dazzling sunlight
into a chamber that seems at first to be lost in a vast, impenetrable
gloom. He pauses and gazes upward; above him, as little by little
his eyes get their adjustment, a faint pearly light seems streaming
downward. It is coming through the translucent marble slabs of the
roof of the great temple.[*] Then out of the gloom gleam shapes,
objects,--a face. He catches the glitter of great jewels and of
massy gold, as parts of the rich garments and armor of some vast
image. He distinguishes at length a statue,--the form of a woman,
nearly forty feet in height. Her left wrist rests upon a mighty
shield; her right hand holds a winged "Victory," itself of nigh human
size. Upon her breast is the awful ægis, the especial breastplate
of the high gods. Around the foot of her shield coils a serpent.
Upon her head is a might helmet. And all the time that these things
are becoming manifest, evermore clearly one beholds the majestic
face,--sweetness without weakness, intellectuality without coldness,
strength mingled justly with compassion. This is the Athena
Parthenos, the handiwork of Phidias.[+]
[*]This seems to be the most reasonable way to assume that the
"cella" of the Parthenon was lighted, in view of the danger, in case
of open skylights, of damage to the holy image by wind and rain.
[+]Of this statue no doubt there could be said what Dion Chrysostomos
said of the equally famous "Zeus" erected by Phidias at Olympia.
"The man most depressed with woes, forgot his ills whilst gazing
on this statue, so much light and beauty had Phidias infused within
it." Besides the descriptions in the ancient writers we get a
clear idea of the general type of the Athena Parthenos from recently
discovered statuettes, especially the "Varvakeion" model (401/2
inches high). This last is cold and lifeless as a work of art, but
fairly accurate as to details. [Note from Brett: In 2001, this
remains the best statue ever found representing Athena Parthenos
and a detailed analysis of the effect of the original statue on the
populous can be found at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/CC96/lapatin.htm.
The statuette itself is currently in the Athens Museum.]
We will not heap up description. What boots it to tell that the
arms and vesture of this "chryselephantine" statue are of pure
gold; that the flesh portions are of gleaming ivory; that Phidias
has wrought the whole so nobly together that this material, too
sumptuous for common artists, becomes under his assembling the
perfect substance for the manifestation of deity?
...Awestruck by the vision, though often he has seen it, Phormion
stands long in reverent silence. Then at length, casting a pinch
of incense upon the brazier, constantly smoking before the statue,
he utters his simple prayer.
197. Greek Prayers.--Greek prayers are usually very pragmatic.
"Who," asks Cicero, who can speak for both Greeks and Romans in
this particular, "ever thanked the gods that he was a good man? Men
are thankful for riches, honor, safety.... We beg of the sovran
God [only] what makes us safe, sound, rich and prosperous."[*]
Phormion is simply a very average, healthy, handsome young Athenian.
While he prays he stretches his hands on high, as is fitting to a
deity of Olympus.[+] His petition runs much as follows:--
"Athena, Queen of the Ægis, by whatever name thou lovest best,[&]
"Inasmuch as thou dids't heed my vow, and grant me fair glory at
Mantinea, bear witness I have been not ungrateful. I have offered
to thee a white sheep, spotless and undefiled. And now I have it
in my mind to attempt the pentathlon at the next Isthmia at Corinth.
Grant me victory even in that; and not one sheep but five, all as
good as this to-day, shall smoke upon thine altar. Grant also unto
me, my kinsmen and all my friends, health, riches and fair renown."
[*]Cicero, "De Nat. Deor," ii. 36.
[+]In praying to a deity of the lower world the hands would be held
down. A Greek almost NEVER knelt, even in prayer. He would have
counted it degrading.
[&]This formula would be put in, lest some favorite epithet of the
divinity be omitted.
A pagan prayer surely; and there is a still more pagan epilogue.
Phormion has an enemy, who is not forgotten.
"And oh! gracious, sovran Athena, blast my enemy Xenon, who strove
to trip me foully in the foot race. May his wife be childless or
bear him only monsters; may his whole house perish; may all his
wealth take flight; may his friends forsake him; may war soon cut
him off, or may he die amid impoverished, dishonored old age. If
this my sacrifice has found favor in thy sight, may all these evils
come upon him unceasingly. And so will I adore the and sacrifice
unto thee all my life."[*]
[*]Often a curse would become a real substitute for a prayer; e.g.
at Athens, against a rascally and traitorous general, a solemn
public curse would be pronounced at evening by all the priests and
priestesses of the city, each shaking in the air a red cloth in
token of the bloody death to which the offender was devoted.
The curse then is a most proper part of a Greek prayer! Phormion
is not conscious of blasphemy. He merely follows invariable custom.
It is useless to expect "Christian sentiments" in the fourth century
B.C., yet perhaps an age should be judged not by its average, but
by its best. Athenians can utter nobler prayers than those of
the type of Phormion. Xenophon makes his model young householder
Ishomenus pray nobly "that I may enjoy health and strength of body,
the respect of my fellow citizens, honorable safety in times of
war, and wealth honestly increased."[*]
[*]Xenophon, "The Economist," xi, p. 8.
There is a simple little prayer also which seems to be a favorite
with the farmers. Its honest directness carries its own message.
"Rain, rain, dear Zeus, upon the fields of the Athenians and the
[*]It was quoted later to us by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who
adds, "In truth, we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray
in this simple and noble fashion."