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!

11. The Streets and House Fronts of Athens. - Progress is slower near the Market Place because of the extreme narrowness of the streets. They are only fifteen feet wide or even less, - intolerable alleys a later age would call them, - and dirty to boot. Sometimes they are muddy, more often extremely dusty. Worse still, they are contaminated by great accumulations of filth; for the city is without an efficient sewer system or regular scavengers. Even as the crowd elbows along, a house door will frequently open, an ill-favored slave boy show his head, and with the yell, "Out of the way!" slap a bucket of dirty water into the street. There are many things to offend the nose as well as the eyes of men of a later race. It is fortunate indeed that the Athenians are otherwise a healthy folk, or they would seem liable to perpetual pestilence; even so, great plagues have in past years harried the city[*].

[*]The most fearful thereof was the great plague of 430 B.C. (during the Peloponnesian War), which nearly ruined Athens.

The first entrance to Athens will thus bring to a stranger, full of the city's fame and expectant of meeting objects of beauty at every turn, almost instant disappointment. The narrow, dirty, ill-paved streets are also very crooked. One can readily be lost in a labyrinth of filthy little lanes the moment one quits the few main thoroughfares. High over head, to be sure, the red crags of the Acropolis may be towering, crowned with the red, gold, and white tinted marble of the temples, but all around seems only monotonous squalor. The houses seem one continuous series of blank walls; mostly of one, occasionally of two stories, and with flat roofs. These walls are usually spread over with some dirty gray or perhaps yellow stucco. For most houses, the only break in the street walls are the simple doors, all jealously barred and admitting no glance within. There are usually no street windows, if the house is only one story high. If it has two stories, a few narrow slits above the way may hint that here are the apartments for the slaves or women. There are no street numbers. There are often no street names. "So-and-so lives in such-and-such a quarter, near the Temple of Heracles;" that will enable you to find a householder, after a few tactful questions from the neighbors; and after all, Athens is a relatively small city[*] (as great cities are reckoned), very closely built, and her regular denizens do not feel the need of a directory.

[*]Every guess at the population of Athens rests on mere conjecture; yet, using the scanty data which we possess, it seems possible that THE POPULATION OF ALL ATTICA at the height of its prosperity was about 200,000 FREE PERSONS (including the METICS - resident foreigners without citizenship); and a rather smaller number of slaves - say 150,000 or less. Of this total of some 350,000, probably something under one half resided in the city of Athens during times of peace, the rest in the outlying farms and villages. ATHENS MAY BE IMAGINED AS A CITY OF ABOUT 150,000 - possibly a trifle more. During serious wars there would be of course a general removal into the city.

So the crowd elbows its way onward: now thinning, now gaining, but the main stream always working towards the Market Place.

12. The Simplicity of Athenian Life. - It is clear we are entering a city where nine tenths of what the twentieth century will consider the "essential conveniences" of life are entirely lacking; where men are trying to be civilized - or, as the Greeks would say, to lay hold upon "the true, the beautiful, and the good," without even the absolute minimum of those things which people of a later age will believe separate a "civilized man" from a "barbarian." The gulf between old Athens and, for instance, new Chicago is greater than is readily supposed[*]. It is easy enough to say that the Athenians lacked such things as railways, telephones, gas, grapefruit, and cocktails. All such matters we realize were not known by our fathers and grandfathers, and we are not yet so removed from THEM that we cannot transport ourselves in imagination back to the world of say 1820 A.D.; but the Athenians are far behind even our grandfathers. When we investigate, we will find conditions like these - houses absolutely without plumbing, beds without sheets, rooms as hot or as cold as the outer air, only far more drafty. We must cross rivers without bridges; we must fasten our clothes (or rather our "two pieces of cloth") with two pins instead of with a row of buttons; we must wear sandals without stockings (or go barefoot); must warm ourselves over a pot of ashes; judge plays or lawsuits on a cold winter morning sitting in the open air; we must study poetry with very little aid from books, geography without real maps, and politics without newspapers; and lastly, "we must learn how to be civilized without being comfortable!"[+]

[*]See the very significant comment on the physical limitations of the old Athenian life in Zimmern's "The Greek Commonwealth," p. 209.

[+]Zimmern, ibid.

Or, to reverse the case: we must understand that an Athenian would have pronounced our boasted "civilization" hopelessly artificial, and our life so dependent on outward material props and factors as to be scarcely worth the living. He would declare himself well able to live happily under conditions where the average American or Englishman would be cold, semi-starved, and miserable. He would declare that HIS woe or happiness was retained far more under his own control than we retain ours, and that we are worthy of contemptuous pity rather than of admiration, because we have refined our civilization to such a point that the least accident, e.g. the suspension of rail traffic for a few days, can reduce a modern city to acute wretchedness.

Probably neither the twentieth century in its pride, nor the fourth century B.C. in its contempt, would have all the truth upon its side.[*] The difference in viewpoint, however, must still stand. Preeminently Athens may be called the "City of the Simple Life." Bearing this fact in mind, we may follow the multitude and enter the Marketplace; or, to use the name that stamps it as a peculiarly Greek institution, - the Agora.

[*]The mere matter of CLIMATE would of course have to come in as a serious factor. The Athenian would have found his life becoming infinitely more complex along the material side when he tried to live like a "kalos-k'agathos" - i.e. a "noble and good man," or a "gentleman," - in a land where the thermometer might sink to 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (or even lower) from time to time during the winter.