Chapter XIV. The Peireus and the Shipping.
The upper deck of the trireme is about eleven feet above the harbor waves, but the lowest oar holes are raised barely three feet. Into the intervening space the whole complicated rowing apparatus has to be crammed with a good deal of ingenuity. Running along two thirds of the length of the hull nearly the whole interior of the vessel is filled with a series of seats and foot rests rising in sets of three. Each man has a bench and a kind of stool beneath him, and sits close to a porthole. The feet of the lowest rower are near the level of the water line; swinging two feet above him and only a little behind him is his comrade of the second tier; higher and behind in turn is he of the third.[*] Running down the center of the ship on either side of these complicated benches is a broad, central gangway, just under the upper deck. Here the supernumeraries will take refuge from the darts in battle, and here the regular rowers will have to do most of their eating, resting, and sleeping when they are not actually on the benches or on shore.
[*]The exact system by which these oar benches were arranged, the crew taught to swing together (despite the inequalities in the length of their oars), and several other like problems connected with the trireme, have received no satisfactory solution by modern investigators. [Note from Brett: Between 1985 and 1987 John Morrison and John Coates oversaw a reproduction of a trireme which has an excellent study of bench arrangements and several other problems connected with the trireme were likely solved.]
108. The Rowers' Benches of a Trireme. - With her full complement of rowers the benches of the "Invincible" fairly swarm with life. There are 62 rowers to the upper tier (thranites), 58 for the middle tier (zygites), and 54 for the lower (thalamites), each man with his own individual oar. The TRHANITES with the longest oars (full 13 feet 6 inches) have the hardest pull and the largest pay, but not one of the 174 oarsmen holds a sinecure. In ordinary cruising, to be sure, the trireme will make use of her sails, to help out a single bank of oars which must be kept going almost all the time. Even then it is weary work to break your back for a couple of hours taking your turn on the benches. But in battle the trireme almost never uses sails. She becomes a vast, many-footed monster, flying over the foam; and the pace of the three oar banks, swinging together, becomes maddening. Behind their bulwarks the rowers can see little of what is passing. Everything is dependent upon their rowing together in absolute rhythm come what may, and giving instant obedience to orders. The trireme is in one sense like a latter-day steamer in her methods of propulsion; but the driving force is 174 straining, panting humans, not insensate water vapor and steel.
109. The Cabins, Rigging, and Ram of a Trireme. - Forward and aft of the rowers' benches and the great central gangway are the fore and stern cabins. They furnish something akin to tolerable accommodations for the officers and a favored fraction of the crew. Above the forecastle rises a carved proudly curing prow, and just abaft it are high bulwarks to guard the javelin men when at close quarters with the foe. There is also on either side of the prow a huge red or orange "eye" painted around the hawse holes for the anchors. Above the stern cabin is the narrow deck reserved for the pilot, the "governor" of the ship, who will control the whole trireme with a touch now on one, now on the other, of the huge steering paddles which swing at the sides near the stern. Within the stern cabin itself is the little altar, sacred to the god or goddess to whom the vessel is dedicated, and on which incense will be burned before starting on a long cruise and before going into battle. Two masts rise above the deck, a tall mainmast nearly amidships, and a much smaller mast well forward. On each of these a square sail (red, orange, blue, or even, with gala ships, purple) will be swung from a long yard, while the vessel is cruising; but it is useless to set sails in battle. One could never turn the ship quickly enough to complete the maneuvers. The sails and yards will ordinarily be sent ashore as the first measure when the admiral signals "clear ship for action."
We have now examined all of the "Invincible" except for her main weapon, - her beak; for the trireme is really herself one tremendous missile to be flung by the well-trained rowers at the ill-starred foe. Projecting well in front of the prow and close to the water line are three heavy metal spurs serrated one above the other, somewhat thus[*]:
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Let this fang once crush against a foeman's broadside, and his timbers are crushed in like eggshells.
[*]Probably at Salamis and in the earlier Athenian army the ram had been composed of a single long, tapering beak.