Chapter IV. The Athenian House and its Furnishings.

21. Following an Athenian Gentleman Homeward. - Leaving the Agora and reentering the streets the second impression of the residence districts becomes more favorable. There are a few bay trees planted from block to block; and ever and anon the monotonous house walls recede, giving space to display some temple, like the Fane of Hephestos[*] near the Market Place, its columns and pediment flashing not merely with white marble, but with the green, scarlet, and gold wherewith the Greeks did not hesitate to decorate their statuary.

[*]Wrongly called the "Theseum" in modern Athens.

At street corners and opposite important mansions a Hermes-bust like those in the plaza rises, and a very few houses have a couple of pillars at their entrances and some outward suggestion of hidden elegance.

We observe that almost the entire crowd leaving the Agora goes on foot. To ride about in a chariot is a sign of undemocratic presumption; while only women or sick men will consent to be borne in a litter. We will select a sprucely dressed gentleman who has just been anointed in a barber's shop and accompany him to his home. He is neither one of the decidedly rich, otherwise his establishment would be exceptional, not typical, nor is he of course one of the hard-working poor. Followed by perhaps two clean and capable serving lads, he wends his way down several of the narrow lanes that lie under the northern brow of the Acropolis[*]. Before a plain solid house door he halts and cries, "Pai! Pai!" ["Boy! Boy!"]. There is a rattle of bolts and bars. A low-visaged foreign-born porter, whose business it is to show a surly front to all unwelcome visitors, opens and gives a kind of salaam to his master; while the porter's huge dog jumps up barking and pawing joyously.

[*]This would be a properly respectable quarter of the city, but we do not know of any really "aristocratic residence district" in Athens.

As we enter behind him (carefully advancing with right foot foremost, for it is bad luck to tread a threshold with the LEFT) we notice above the lintel some such inscription as "Let no evil enter here!" or "To the Good Genius," then a few steps through a narrow passage bring us into the Aula, the central court, the indispensable feature of every typical Greek house.

22. The Type and use of a Greek House. - All domestic architecture, later investigators will discover, falls into two great categories - of the northern house and the southern house. The northern house begins with a single large room, "the great hall," then lesser rooms are added to it. It gets its light from windows in the outer walls, and it is covered by a single steep roof. The southern (Greek and Oriental) house is a building inclosing a rectangular court. The rooms, many or few, get their light from this court, while they are quite shut off from the world outside. All in all, for warm climates this style of house is far more airy, cool, comfortable than the other. The wide open court becomes the living room of the house save in very inclement weather.

Socrates is reported to have uttered what was probably the average sensible view about a good house.[*] The good house, he thought, should be cool in summer, and warm in winter, convenient for the accommodation of the family and its possessions. The central rooms should therefore be lofty and should open upon the south, yet for protection in summer there should be good projecting eaves (over the court) and again the rooms on the northern exposure should be made lower. All this is mere sense, but really the average male Athenian does not care a great deal about his dwelling. He spends surprisingly little money beautifying it. Unless he is sick, he will probably be at home only for sleeping and eating. The Agora, the Public Assembly, the Jury Courts, the Gymnasium, the great religious festivals consume his entire day. "I never spend my time indoors," says Xenophon's model Athenian, "my wife is well able to run the household by herself."[+] Such being the case, even wealthy men have very simple establishments, although it is at length complained (e.g. by Demosthenes) that people are now building more luxurious houses, and are not content with the plain yet sufficient dwellings of the great age of Pericles.[@]

[*]In Xenophon's "Memorabilia," III. 8, sections 9,10.

[+]Xenophon, "Economics," VII. 3.

[@]Very probably in such outlying Greek cities as Syracuse, Taras (Tarentum), etc., more elegant houses could be found than any at this time in Athens.

23. The Plan of a Greek House. - The plan of a Greek house naturally varies infinitely according to the size of the land plot, the size of the owner's family, his own taste, and wealth. It will usually be rectangular, with the narrower side toward the street; but this is not invariable. In the larger houses there will be two courts (aule), one behind the other, and each with its own circuit of dependent chambers. The court first entered will be the Andronitis (the Court of the Men), and may be even large enough to afford a considerable promenade for exercise. Around the whole of the open space run lines of simple columns, and above the opening swings an awning if the day is very hot. In the very center rises a small stone alter with a statue of Zeus the Protector (Zeus Herkeios), where the father of the family will from time to time offer sacrifice, acting as the priest for the household. Probably already on the alter there has been laid a fresh garland; if not, the newcomers from the Agora have now fetched one.