Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Greek ruins


My cogitations on first beholding the “land of lost gods and godlike men,” were rudely interrupted by a son of degenerate Greece, who, as we cast anchor in the Port of Piræus, thrust upon me an intolerable stench of garlic, and a card bearing the following inscription: “Photocolas, General Dealer, London Bottled Porter, Dublin Stout, Themistocles Square.” My mind, not being overburdened with classic lore, did not, I am sorry to admit, display such sensitiveness as did my nasal organ, to which garlic is an utter abomination, and a never-to-be-forgiven cause of offence. Under similar circumstances my arbitrary nose would have compelled me to shun the society of Socrates himself, so I won’t write any of my first impressions or the matter-of-fact observations to which they gave place. In roaming among the ruins of Athens I pass a good deal of time, and am always ready to spend a day at the Acropolis, and, profane wretch that I am, to take with much gusto a pipe and a trifle of meditation on the Areopagus.

There is a quiet about these places that suits me to a tittle. One or two drawbacks might well be dispensed with. Now little is left that could be defaced or carried off. The authorities in their wisdom have established a guard—the off-duty members of which select the most inviting spots amidst the ruins whereon to slumber and dream; and as you pause in thought at the Propylæa, or strive to erect in imagination the Parthenon or Erechtheum, as they once were, you are startled out of your very self by a series of apoplectic snores gobbled in on one inhalation and sent forth again on a prolonged whistling hist. This is drawback number one; number two is worse. These magnificent ruins are in the hands of monstrous bad showmen, who, in striving to improve them, do all they can to deface and spoil them. To my uninstructed mind, evidence of depraved taste is visible in all that has yet been done; for instance, passing the guard-house on the ascent to the Propylæa, staring you in the face is a marble wall of heads and limbs, hands and feet, besides other small relics of Greek, Persian, and Roman workmanship, huddled together without regard to the connection that may have originally existed between them, and trimmed off like a box-hedge. The clumsy attempts at renewing portions of the temples surpass this. Volo and some of the Cyclades served to while away the latter days of August and the early ones of this month. At Volo I had just sufficient time to ‘do’ Demetrius and Pagasæ. A few foundations only mark the site of the former; the remains of an aqueduct, and more traces of the citadel on the hill above it, are all that time has left of the latter.

Mount Pelion is one of the most beautifully picturesque sights I have ever seen, peeping from amidst the very luxuriant foliage with which it is covered. The white cottages of piratical-looking villages (we are strong in belief on board here that all villages of Greek origin, on the sea-coast, have been brought up with evil intentions towards peaceable mariners), perched on apparently inaccessible heights, meet the eye in many directions, and wear that inviting look which seems to say “step up and see me:” and with that much it would be almost as well to rest satisfied, for a closer inspection dispels many of the charms in which nature and imagination shrouded them when distance lent enchantment to the view. This mountain abounds in mineral wealth, and has a number of mines in working order, that have just passed into the hands of an English company to whom they are to bring an incalculable amount of wealth. The lead-ore is said to yield seventy and eighty per cent., and fifty ounces of silver, with a proportion of gold, has frequently been obtained from a ton of lead; classically, these mines are of interest, for no mean men dealt with them formerly. If there be any value in the words addressed to me by their present superintendent, a tough Cornish miner, who has an intimate acquaintance with the histories of all the mines in creation, and in whose mining coat it would be difficult to pick a hole, you may rest assured “the first party as worked ’em was Alexander the Great, and after him they was took up by another party, Philip of Macedon.” Delos was our next halting-place, and after a stay of some days, we left it with regret. It is totally uninhabited except by a few goats, whose owners seldom visit them. Now and then a stray fisherman will take shelter in its quiet little harbour, but not to remain long, for, save the lentisk and stunted pasturage, it is a perfectly barren rock. It seems to me an indescribable interest attaches to the vestiges of ages long gone by, when not surrounded by the hum and bustle of life; and the perfect solitude that reigns over Delos materially assists in carrying the thoughts back to the past.

Don’t be afraid, I am not about to impose upon you either my reflections or a sample of my feeble powers of description. Scarcely can you now walk a dozen yards without stepping across the shattered fragments of temples, or cracking beneath your feet pieces of earthen jars and vases. Mosaic pavement is to be picked up at every step, and I think a free use of pick and shovel would bring to light much that is interesting.

On the sight of New Athens I cleared away a small portion of the wall of a room, and took from it stucco as bright in colour as when first placed there. The theatre and a circular or oval bath, or reservoir, are the most perfect of the remains of Delos.