the air was thought to be purest. So Euripides describes the inhabitants as “ever walking gracefully through the most luminous ether” (Med. 829); and Milton—
|“Where, on the Aegean shore, a city stands,|
|Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil—|
|Athens, the eye of Greece.”|
Or again Xenophon says “one would not err in thinking that this city is placed near the centre of Greece—nay, of the civilized world—because, the farther removed persons are from it, the severer is the cold or heat they meet with” (Vectigal. i. 6). The air is so clear that one can see from the Acropolis the lines of white marble that streak the sides of Pentelicus. The brilliant colouring which is so conspicuous in an Athenian sunset is due to the same cause. The epithet “violet-crowned,” used of Athens by Pindar, is due either to the blue haze on the surrounding hills, or to the use of violets (or irises) for festal wreaths. This otherwise perfect climate is slightly marred by the prevalence of the north wind. This is expressed on the Horologium of Andronicus Cyrrhestes, called the Temple or Tower of the Winds, at Athens, where Boreas is represented as a bearded man of stern aspect, thickly clad, and wearing strong buskins; he blows into a conch shell, which he holds in his hand as a sign of his tempestuous character.
Of the flora of Attica, the olive is the most important. This tree, we learn from Herodotus (v. 82), was thought at one time to have been found in that country only; and the enthusiastic praises of Sophocles (Oed. Col. 700) Vegetation. teach us that it was the land in which it flourished best. So great was the esteem in which it was held, that in the early legend of the struggle between the gods of sea and land, Poseidon and Athena, for the patronage of the country, the sea-god is represented as having to retire vanquished before the giver of the olive; and at a later period the evidences of this contention were found in an ancient olive tree in the Acropolis, together with three holes in the rock, said to have been made by the trident of Poseidon, and to be connected with a salt well hard by. The fig also found its favourite home in this country, for Demeter was said to have bestowed it as a gift on the Eleusinian Phytalus, i.e. “the gardener.” Both Cithaeron and Parnes must have been wooded in former times; for on the former are laid the picturesque silvan scenes in the Bacchae of Euripides, and it was from the latter that the wood came which caused the neighbouring deme of Acharnae to be famous for its charcoal—the ἄνθρακες Παρνήσιοι of the Acharnians of Aristophanes (348). From the thymy slopes of Hymettus Minerals. came the famous Hymettian honey. Among the other products we must notice the marble—both that of Pentelicus, which afforded a material of unrivalled purity and whiteness for building the Athenian temples, and the blue marble of Hymettus—the trabes Hymettiae of Horace—which used to be transported to Rome for the construction of palaces. But the richest of all the sources of wealth in Attica was the silver mines of Laurium, the yield of which was so considerable as to render silver the principal medium of exchange in Greece, so that “a silver piece” (ἀργύριον) was the Greek equivalent term for money. Hence Aeschylus speaks of the Athenians as possessing a “fountain of silver” (Pers. 235), and Aristophanes makes his chorus of birds promise the audience that, if they show him favour, owls from Laurium (i.e. silver pieces with the emblem of Athens) shall never fail them (Birds, 1106). The reputation of these coins for purity of metal and accuracy of weight was so great that they had a very wide circulation, and in consequence it was thought undesirable to make any alteration in the types lest their genuineness should be doubted. This accounts for the somewhat inartistic character which the Athenian coins maintained to the last (see further Numismatics: Greek, § Athens). In Strabo’s time, though the mines had almost ceased to yield, silver was obtained in considerable quantities from the scoriae; and at the present day a large amount of lead is got in the same way, the work being chiefly carried on by two companies, one of which is French and the ether Greek. In the ancient workings, many of which are in the same condition as they were left 1800 years ago, there are in all 2000 shafts and galleries.
It has been already mentioned that the base line of Attica is formed by the chain of Cithaeron and Parnes, running from west to east; and that from this transverse chains run southward, dividing Attica into a succession of plains. Plain of Megara. The westernmost of these, which is separated from the innermost bay of the Corinthian Gulf, called the Mare Alcyonium, by an offshoot of Cithaeron, and is bounded on the east by a ridge which ends towards the Saronic Gulf in a striking two-horned peak called Kerata, is the plain of Megara. It is only for geographical purposes that we include this district under Attica, for both the Dorian race of the inhabitants, and its dangerous proximity to Athens, caused it to be at perpetual feud with that city; but its position as an outpost for the Peloponnesians, together with the fact of its having once been Ionian soil, sufficiently explains the bitter hostility of the Athenians towards the Megarians. The great importance of Megara arose from its commanding all the passes into the Peloponnese. These were three in number: one along the shores of the Corinthian Gulf, which, owing to the nature of the ground, makes a long detour; the other two starting from Megara, and passing, the one by a lofty though gradual route over the ridge of Geraneia, the other along the Saronic Gulf, under the dangerous precipices of the Scironian rocks.
To the east of the plain of Megara lies that of Eleusis, bounded on the one side by the chain of Kerata, and on the other by that of Aegaleos, through a depression in which was the line of the sacred way, where the torchlight processions Plain of Eleusis. from Athens used to descend to the coast, the “brightly gleaming shores” (λαμπάδες ἀκταί) of Sophocles (Oed. Col. 1049). The deep bay which here runs into the land is bounded on its southern side by the rocky island of Salamis, which was at all times an important possession to the Athenians on account of its proximity to their city; and the winding channel which separates that island from the mainland in the direction of the Peiraeus was the scene of the battle of Salamis, while on the last declivities of Mt. Aegaleos, which here descends to the sea, was the spot where, as Byron wrote—
|“A king sate on the rocky brow|
|Which looks o’er sea-born Salamis.”|
The eastern portion of the plain of Eleusis was called the Thriasian plain, and the city itself was situated in the recesses of the bay just mentioned.
Next in order to the plain of Eleusis came that of Athens, which is the most extensive of all, reaching from the foot of Parnes to the sea, and bounded on the west by Aegaleos, and on the east by Hymettus. Its most Plain of Athens. conspicuous feature is the broad line of dark green along its western side, formed by the olive-groves of Colonus and the gardens of the Academy, which owe their fertility to the waters of the Cephisus. This river is fed by copious sources on the side of Mt. Parnes, and thus, unlike the other rivers of Attica, has a constant supply of water, which was diverted in classical times, as it still is, into the neighbouring plantations (cf. Sophocles, Oed. Col. 685). The position of Colonus itself is marked by two bare knolls of light-coloured earth, which caused the poet in the same chorus to apply the epithet “white” (ἀργῆτα) to that place. On the opposite side of the plain runs the other river, the Ilissus, which rises from two sources on the side of Mt. Hymettus, and skirts the eastern extremity of the city of Athens; but this, notwithstanding its celebrity, is a mere brook, which stands in pools a great part of the year, and in summer is completely dry. The situation of Athens relatively to the surrounding objects is singularly harmonious; for, while it forms a central point, so as to be the eye of the plain, and while the altar-rock of the Acropolis and the hills by which it is surrounded are conspicuous from every point of view, there is no such exactness in its position as to give formality, since it is nearer to the sea than to Parnes, and nearer to Hymettus than to Aegaleos. The most striking summit in the neighbourhood of the city is that of Lycabettus,