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Modern Greece has magnified itself into so great importance that historians have begun to make it a subject of distinct history. Greece was taken and subjugated by the Turks under the lead of Omar in 1455. It continned an integral part of the Ottoman Empire until the treaty of Adrianople, in 1829, when she rose in heroic desperation and threw off the despotic yoke, and became again free by the aid of Great Britain. Finley gives a full account of this struggle in his work entitled “ Finley's History of the Greek Revolution.” More recently another book has appeared, under the title “New Greece.”
This author deals especially with resuscitated Greece. It is a picture of the late progress, the present prosperous condition and future prospects, of the Hellenic people. Thus Greece, like a magnet, is drawing to herself the thought and press of Europe. We may judge of the character of a nation by the literature which it inspires and of which it makes itself the subject. Nobody writes a history of Spain or Turkey now, unless it be a recital of horrors or misrule, to show why neither should exist longer.
No full-orbed picture can be given of Greece except from personal observation. We approached it from the north and west on a vessel of the Peninsular and Oriental Line of English steamers that ply between Venice and Egypt. Starting from Venice, we steamed down the Adriatic into the Mediterranean direct for Alexandria. Taking this course, our track lay in a curve around an important part of Greece, and necessitated our skirting the coast for a day and a half. Late in the evening of our third day out, gray barren hills capped with snow made their appearance to the left. It was the island of Corfu, where the English made their governmental head-quarters from 1815 to 1861, when, under the administration of Mr. Gladstone, England surrendered this, with six other islands, to Greece.
Sailing onward, another island comes in sight, of similar configuration and general aspect. It is Cephalonia. And still another. It is Zante. And what are all these craggy peaks in the ocean, denuded of vegetation and tipped with snow? They are three of the seven famous Ionian islands, which gave one of the three dialects to the classic Greek tongue, and contributed much in the days of their greatest importance and prosperity to the glory of Athens and of ancient Greece, and by competition so excited the jealousy of Corinth as to become one of the causes of the Peloponnesian war. The next morning we found ourselves gliding in full view of a long range of mountains still wearing the turban of snow on their brow, diversified by ravines and small towns hanging on the hill-sides, or nestling down in the valleys, or hugging the sea, so nearly on a level with the water as to be scarcely visible. This is the mainland of Greece, now called the Morea, anciently styled the Peloponnesus. It is a peninsula connected with the continent by an isthmus six miles wide, on which the ancient city of Corinth was located, and where, three miles distant, on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, is found the miserable town of New Corinth, where we spent the Sabbath in coming from Kalamaki.
Since the earthquake of 1858 nothing remains of the voluptuous city of ancient Corinth, except two dilapidated and broken columns. The imposing mountain peak called AcroCorinthus, a part of the original site of the city, and which overlooked the center of the city proper, still stands, in spite of wars and earthquakes. On the rear-side it slopes to the sea-level, and is ascended by a winding carriage-way. This grand and virgin summit of nature is cursed with the historic memory that it was the seat of legalized licentiousness, and the spot where a thousand corrupted women were supported by the Government. It stands in frowning silence, and looks down upon the devastation below, seeming to say, “The wages of sin is death."
This our first view of Greece at the point of junction between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean was unfavorable. It impressed us as broken, rocky, barren, without trees or vegetation of any kind, and yet we were told the soil was productive under the hand of cultivation. From this we saw no more of Greece until we reached the classic isles from Smyrna on the east.
We weighed anchor from Smyrna at five o'clock in the evening, and the next day at one P.M. we touched at Syra. Syra is the chief sea-port town of Greece. At this point all the large ships stop, which run in the trade of Constantinople and the ports of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. They do not go up the Saronic bay to Athens, but take on and discharge their Grecian freight at this place. The town of Syra is built on a steep hill-side stretching up from the water's edge to a dizzy height. A large proportion of the houses are new and white, which gives the place a gay and showy appearance, especially. in the moonlight. This results from the fact that the atmosphere of Greece is not murky, like that of England and Germany, but clear and transparent, like that of Syria and Egypt. This imparts to the Grecian sky that high and spacious aspect and deep-blue tinge described by Byron:
“Yet are thy skies as blue, thy crags as wild,
Sweet are thy groves and verdant are thy fields,
There the blithe bee his fragrant fortress builds,
Apollo still thy long, long summer gilds,
Art, Glory, Freedom fail, but Nature still is fair." All this we felt to be true as we stood on the suminit of towering Lycabettus and looked across the plains of Attica.
After spending a day and night at Syra we transshipped and sailed direct for Athens. Ten hours brought us to Pireus, a thriving town at the head of the Saronic bay. Athens is inland six miles from this place, and reached by turnpike or railway. We chose a carriage, and, riding rapidly over a broad, smooth road, found ourselves on classic ground, domiciled in the good “ Hotel de Strangers," and surrounded by a brilliant coterie representing many nations, who had come like ourselves to visit this city of greatest renown in the kingdom of letters and art. We had come to see the seat and monumental ruins of a nation that had achieved greater success in thought, literature, architecture, and
any other people on the globe outside Bible lands.
But we can give only the briefest synopsis of her old enchanting annals. Authentic history of Greece dates back to the first Olympiad, 776 years before Christ. All accounts pre
. vious fade into myth and legend. Indeed, for two hundred years after that period much of Grecian history is founded in conjecture and mixed with fable. Homer is supposed to have lived 800 years B.C. But this is not certain ; a cloud of obscurity has ever hung over his nativity. Herodotus and Aristotle place his birth at two different periods, separated by the enormous gap of two hundred years, while some ruthless rummaging and iconoclastic German critics have denied his existence alto
gether. It is only when we come down to the days of Solon, Darius, Xerxes, and other contemporaneous celebrities, that we find ourselves reading well-accredited history. If the authority of the Pentateuch were so in doubt we might well tremble.
The annals of Greece may be divided into four epochs. Her heroic age, her chivalrous period, her palmy days of philosophy and art, and her present state of revivification and promise. The heroic age is the misty antiquity of Grecian mythology, the time of fabled Hercules, the hero of Hellas, from which the Greeks take their true and ancient name, Hellenes. Then also existed the ideal Theseus, the hero of Attica, and Minos, the King of Crete, and the goddess Athene, the namesake of Athens. In commemoration of these legendary characters the temples were built whose ruins are the chief attraction of the city of Athens to this day.
Another remarkable era in Grecian history is the period of military exploits on sea and land, by which Greece covered herself with glory. These great achievements were three in number: 1. The defeat of the Persians on the plains of Marathon, under Miltiades. 2. The overthrow of the naval forces of the Persians at Salamis, under Themistocles. 3. The famous battle of Thermopylæ, where the brave Leonidas fought and fell with all his Spartan compatriots except one, and where they would have won a victory but for treachery in their ranks. In all ages human nature has maintained its identity. Two thousand
. years ago Greece had its Benedict Arnold in the perfidious person of Ephialtes, who, in hope of a great reward, went over to Xerxes and informed him how, by a circuitous route, he could flank Leonidas. But in spite of this betrayal Leonidas won a moral victory, for such was the valor of the Spartan band of three hundred against ten thousand chosen men that in their defeat and sublime death Greece was raised to the apex of military and national renown. Defeat is sometimes better than victory. It was so in this case; for the prowess thus acquired soon repulsed and warned off the Persians, and kept all barbaric invaders at bay for centuries. As a result, the arts and products of peace and civilization grew up and flourished beyond all precedent for those times. Not that wars are a blessing; intrinsically they are a curse, but in the degeneracy of nations they may be the less of two evils. The rupture of an abscess is bet
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ter than the occult diffusion of disease causing death. It is on this principle alone that our late war can be justified. It involved the nation's life and the weal of coming generations. The same is true of the Hellenic wars; they swept away the malaria of barbarism. At this period began the halcyon days of Greece under the lead and patronage of Aristides, Cimon, and Pericles. Pericles was the great patron of the fine arts. “He sought to make Athens the seat and center of every excellence. His idea was that the nation's capital should be at once a fortress of strength, a city of palaces, an abode of refinement, a school of philosophy, and a temple of the gods.” Under the administration of such conceptions, letters and art sprang as by magic into being and celebrity. But it was the illustrious Phidias and his co-artists that placed the crown of surpassing beauty upon the brow of Athens. They constructed of white marble, on the lofty summit of the Acropolis, magnif. icent temples—the Propylæa, the Parthenon, and the Erechtheum. These are supposed to be the most exquisite specimens of architectural art that the genius of man has ever produced. They are sublime in their ruins.
In this period also appeared the great philosophers, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Zeno, and others whose works have been the basis of classic education and the sources of philosophic study down to the present time. And it was the rationalism of these writers that prepared the way and necessitated the transition from polytheism to monotheism; and this monothe
2 istic innovation in turn by a similar necessity became the precursor of, and finally created the demand for, the introduction of Christianity. But the norm of human history is, that fol
, lowing every day there is a night—not of necessity in a moral sense, but as a fatality involved in a fallen condition unaided by counteracting grace. In this state we cannot bear prosperity, for with it come luxury and vice; and sin, being a reproach to any people, weakens character and subverts governments. The sun of Greece began to decline with the long civil strifes of the Peloponnesian war, 404 B.C., and ended with the extinction of her liberties, 338 B.C. And yet, such were her vitality and momentum, that, like a dying tree with living roots, she continued to flourish for many centuries. But being finally conquered by the Macedonians under Philip, in spite of the