Chapter II. The First Sights in Athens.
9. The Morning Crowds bound for Athens. - It is very early in the morning. The sun has just pushed above the long ridge of Hymettus, sending a slanting red bar of light across the Attic plain, and touching the opposite slopes of Aegaleos with livid fire. Already, however, life is stirring outside the city. Long since, little market boats have rowed across the narrow strait from Salamis, bringing the island farmer's produce, and other farmers from the plain and the mountain slopes have started for market. In the ruddy light the marble temples on the lofty Acropolis rising ahead of these hurrying rustics are standing out clearly; the spear and helmet of the great brazen statue of the Athena Promachos are flashing from the noble citadel, as a kind of day beacon, beckoning onward toward the city. From the Peireus, the harbor town, a confused him of mariners lading and unlading vessels is even now rising, but we cannot turn ourselves thither. Our route is to follow the farmers bound for market.
The most direct road from the Peireus to Athens is hidden indeed, for it leads between the towering ramparts of the "Long Walls," two mighty barriers which run parallel almost four miles from the inland city to the harbor, giving a guarded passage in wartime and making Athens safe against starvation from any land blockade; but there is an outside road leading also to Athens from the western farmsteads, and this we can conveniently follow. Upon this route the crowd which one meets is certainly not aristocratic, but it is none the less Athenian. Here goes a drover, clad in skins, his legs wound with woolen bands in lieu of stockings; before him and his wolf-like dog shambles a flock of black sheep or less manageable goats, bleating and baaing as they are propelled toward market. After him there may come an unkempt, long-bearded farmer flogging on a pack ass or a mule attached to a clumsy cart with solid wheels, and laden with all kinds of market produce. The roadway, be it said, is not good, and all carters have their troubles; therefore, there is a deal of gesticulating and profane invocation of Hermes and all other gods of traffic; for, early as it is, the market place is already filling, and every delay promises a loss. There are still other companions bound toward the city: countrymen bearing cages of poultry; others engaged in the uncertain calling of driving pigs; swarthy Oriental sailors, with rings in their ears, bearing bales of Phoenician goods from the Peireus; respectable country gentlemen, walking gravely in their best white mantles and striving to avoid the mud and contamination; and perhaps also a small company of soldiers, just back from foreign service, passes, clattering shields and spear staves.
10. The Gate and the Street Scenes. - The crowds grow denser as everybody approaches the frequented "Peireus Gate," for nearly all of Attica which lies within easy reach of Athens has business in the Market Place every morning. On passing the gate a fairly straight way leads through the city to the market, but progress for the multitude becomes slow. If it is one of the main thoroughfares, it is now very likely to be almost blocked with people. There are few late risers at Athens; the Council of Five Hundred[*], the huge Jury Courts, and the Public Assembly (if it has met to-day[+]) are appointed to gather at sunrise. The plays in the theater, which, however, are given only on certain festivals, begin likewise at sunrise. The philosophers say that "the man who would accomplish great things must be up while yet it is dark." Athenians, therefore, are always awake and stirring at an hour when men of later ages and more cold and foggy climes will be painfully yawning ere getting out of bed.
[*]The "Boule," the great standing committee of the Athenian people to aid the magistrates in the government.
[+]In which case, of course, the regular courts and the Council would hardly meet.
The Market Place attracts the great masses, but by no means all; hither and thither bevies of sturdy slave girls, carrying graceful pitchers on their heads, are hurrying towards the fountains which gush cool water at most of the street corners. Theirs is a highly necessary task, for few or no houses have their own water supply; and around each fountain one can see half a dozen by no means slatternly maidens, splashing and flirting the water one at another, while they wait their turn with the pitchers, and laugh and exchange banter with the passing farmers' lads. Many in the street crowds are rosy-cheeked schoolboys, walking decorously, if they are lads of good breeding, and blushing modestly when they are greeted by their fathers' acquaintances. They do not loiter on the way. Close behind, carrying their writing tablets, follow the faithful 'pedagogues,' the body-servants appointed to conduct them to school, give them informal instruction, and, if need be, correct their faults in no painless manner. Besides the water maids and the schoolboys, from the innumerable house doors now opening the respective masters are stepping forth - followed by one, two, or several serving varlets, as many as their wealth affords. All these join in the crowd entering from the country. "Athenian democracy" always implies a goodly amount of hustling and pushing. No wonder the ways are a busy sight!