Chapter XX. The Temples and Gods of Athens.

181. Certain Factors in Athenian Religion. - We have seen the Athenians in their business and in their pleasure, at their courts, their assemblies, their military musters, and on their peaceful farms; yet one great side of Athenian life has been almost ignored - the religious side. A "Day in Athens" spent without taking account of the gods of the city and their temples would be a day spent with almost half-closed eyes.[*]

[*]No attempt is made in this discussion to enumerate the various gods and demigods of the conventional mythology, their regular attributes, etc. It is assumed the average history or manual of mythology gives sufficient information.

It is far easier to learn how the Athenians arrange their houses than how the average man among them adjusts his attitude toward the gods. While any searching examination of the fundamentals of Greek cultus and religion is here impossible, two or three facts must, nevertheless, be kept in mind, if we are to understand even the OUTWARD side of this Greek religion which is everywhere in evidence about us.

First of all we observe that the Greek religion is a religion of purely natural growth. No prophet has initiated it, or claimed a new revelation to supplement the older views. It has come from primitive times without a visible break even down to the Athens of Plato. This explains at once why so many time-honored stories of the Olympic deities are very gross, and why the gods seem to give countenance to moral views which the best public opinion has long since called scandalous and criminal. The religion of Athens, in other words, may justly claim to be judged by its best, not by its worst; by the morality of Socrates, not of Homer.

Secondly, this religion is not a church, nor a belief, but is part of the government. Every Athenian is born into accepting the fact that Athena Polias is the divine warder of the city, as much as he is born into accepting the fact that it is his duty to obey the strategi in battle. To repudiate the gods of Athens, e.g. in favor of those of Egypt, is as much iniquity as to join forces against the Athenians if they are at war with Egypt; - the thing is sheer treason, and almost unthinkable. For countless generations the Athenians have worshipped the "Ancestral Gods." They are proud of them, familiar with them; the gods have participated in all the prosperity of the city. Athena is as much a part of Attica as gray Hymettus or white-crowned Pentelicus; and the very fact that comedians, like Aristophanes, make good-natured fun of the divinities indicates that "they are members of the family."

Thirdly, notice that this religion is one mainly of outward reverence and ceremony. There is no "Athenian church"; nobody has drawn up an "Attic creed" - "I believe in Athena, the City Warder, and in Demeter, the Earth Mother, and in Zeus, the King of Heaven, etc." Give outward reverence, participate in the great public sacrifices, be careful in all the minutie of private worship, refrain from obvious blasphemies - you are then a sufficiently pious man. What you BELIEVE is of very little consequence. Even if you privately believe there are no gods at all, it harms no one, provided your outward conduct is pious and moral.

182. What constitutes "Piety" in Athens. - Of course there have been some famous prosecutions for "impiety." Socrates was the most conspicuous victim; but Socrates was a notable worshipper of the gods, and certainly all the charges of his being an "atheist" broke down. What he was actually attacked with was "corrupting the youth of Athens," i.e. giving the young men such warped ideas of their private and public duties that they ceased to be moral and useful citizens. But even Socrates was convicted only with difficulty[*]; a generation has passed since his death. Were he on trial at present, a majority of the jury would probably be with him.

[*]It might be added that if Socrates had adopted a really worldly wise line of defense, he would probably have been acquitted, or subjected merely to a mild pecuniary penalty.

The religion of Athens is something very elastic, and really every man makes his own creed for himself, or - for paganism is almost never dogmatic - accepts the outward cultus with everybody else, and speculates at his leisure on the nature of the deity. The great bulk of the uneducated are naturally content to accept the old stories and superstitions with unthinking credulity. It is enough to know that one must pray to Zeus for rain, and to Hermes for luck in a slippery business bargain. There are a few philosophers who, along with perfectly correct outward observance, teach privately that the old Olympian system is a snare and folly. They pass around the daring word which Xenophanes uttered as early as the sixth century B.C.: -

One God there is, greatest of gods and mortals, Not like to man is he in mind or in body. All of him sees, all of him thinks, and all of him harkens.

This, of course, is obvious pantheism, but it is easy to cover up all kinds of pale monotheism or pantheism under vague reference to the omnipotence of "Zeus."

183. The Average Athenian's Idea of the Gods. - The average intelligent citizen probably has views midway between the stupid rabble and the daring philosophers. To him the gods of Greece stand out in full divinity, honored and worshipped because they are protectors of the good, avengers of the evil, and guardians of the moral law. They punish crime and reward virtue, though the punishment may tarry long. They demand a pure heart and a holy mind of all that approach them, and woe to him who wantonly defies their eternal laws. This is the morality taught by the master tragedians, Aeschylus and Sophocles, and accepted by the best public opinion at Athens; for the insidious doubts cast by Euripides upon the reality of any divine scheme of governance have never struck home. The scandalous stories about the domestic broils on Olympus, in which Homer indulges, only awaken good-natured banter. It is no longer proper - as in Homeric days - to pride oneself on one's cleverness in perjury and common falsehood. Athenians do not have twentieth century notions about the wickedness of lying, but certain it is the gods do not approve thereof. In short, most of the better class of Athenians are genuinely "religious"; nevertheless they have too many things in this human world to interest them to spend overmuch time in adjusting their personal concepts of the deity to any system of theology.

184. Most Greeks without belief in Immortality. - Yet one thing we must add. This Greek religious morality is built up without any clear belief in a future life. Never has the average Hellene been able to form a satisfactory conception of the soul's existence, save dwelling within a mortal body and under the glorious light of beloved Helios. To Homer the after life in Hades was merely the perpetuation of the shadows of departed humanity, "strengthless shades" who live on the gloomy plains of asphodel, feeding upon dear memories, and incapable of keen emotions or any real mental or physical progress or action. Only a few great sinners like Tantalus, doomed to eternal torture, or favored being like Menelaus, predestined to the "Blessed Isles," are ordained to any real immortality. As the centuries advanced, and the possibilities of this terrestrial world grew ever keener, the hope of any future state became ever more vague. The fear of a gloomy shadow life in Hades for the most part disappeared, but that was only to confirm the belief that death ends all things.

Where'er his course man tends, Inevitable death impends, And for the worst and for the best, Is strewn the same dark couch of rest.[*]

[*]Milman, Translator.

So run the lines of a poet whose name is forgotten, but who spoke well the thought of his countrymen.

True there has been a contradiction of this gloomy theory. The "Orphic Mysteries," those secret religious rites which have gained such a hold in many parts of Greece, including Athens, probably hold out an earnest promise to the "initiates" of a blessed state for them hereafter. The doctrine of a real elysium for the good and a realm of torment for the evil has been expounded by many sages. Pindar, the great bard of Thebes, has set forth the doctrine in a glowing ode.[*] Socrates, if we may trust the report Plato gives of him, has spent his last hours ere drinking the hemlock, in adducing cogent, philosophic reasons for the immortality of the soul. All this is true, - and it is also true that these ideas have made no impression upon the general Greek consciousness. They are accepted half-heartedly by a relatively few exceptional thinkers. Men go through life and face death with no real expectation of future reward or punishment, or of reunion with the dear departed. If the gods are angry, you escape them at the grave; if the gods are friendly, all they can give is wealth, health, honor, a hale old age, and prosperity for your children. The instant after death the righteous man and the robber are equal. This fundamental deduction from the Greek religion must usually, therefore, be made - it is a religion for THIS WORLD ONLY. Let us see what are its usual outward operations.

[*]Quoted in "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 261-262, and in many works in Greek literature.

185. The Multitude of Images of the Gods. - Gods are everywhere in Athens. You cannot take the briefest walk without being reminded that the world is full of deities. There is a "Herm"[*] by the main door of every house, as well as a row of them across the Agora. At many of the street crossings there are little shrines to Hecate; or statues of Apollo Agyieus, the street guardian; or else a bay tree stands there, a graceful reminder of this same god, to which it is sacred. In every house there is the small alter whereon garlands and fruit offerings are daily laid to Zeus Herkeios, and another altar to Hestia. On one or both of these altars a little food and a little wine are cast at every meal. All public meetings or court sessions open with sacrifice; in short, to attempt any semi-important public or private act without inviting the friendly attention of the deity is unthinkable. To a well-bred Athenian this is second instinct; he considers it as inevitable as the common courtesies of speech among gentlemen. Plato sums up the current opinion well, "All men who have any decency, in the attempting of matters great or small, always invoke divine aid."[+]

[*]A stone post about shoulder high, surmounted by a bearded head. Contrary to modern impression, the average Greek did not conceive of Hermes as a beautiful youth. He was a grave, bearded man. The youthful aspect came through the manipulation of the Hermes myths by the master sculptors - e.g. Praxiteles.

[+]Timeus, p. 27 c.

186. Greek Superstition. - In many cases, naturally, piety runs off into crass superstition. The gods, everybody knows, frequently make known future events by various signs. He who can understand these signs will be able to adjust his life accordingly and enjoy great prosperity. Most educated men take a sensible view of "omens," and do not let them influence their conduct absurdly. Some, however, act otherwise. There is, for instance, Laches, one of the greatest at Prodicus's feast. He lives in a realm of mingled hopes and fears, although he is wealthy and well-educated.[*] He is all the time worried about dreams, and paying out money to the sharp and wily "seer" (who counts him his best client) for "interpretations." If a weasel crosses his path he will not walk onward until somebody else has gone before him, or until he has thrown three stones across the road. He is all the time worrying about the significance of sudden noises, meteors, thunder; especially he is disturbed when he sees birds flying in groups or towards unlucky quarters of the heavens.[+] Laches, however, is not merely religious - although he is always asking "which god shall I invoke now?" or "what are the omens for the success of this enterprise?" His own associates mock him as being superstitious, and say they never trouble themselves about omens save in real emergencies. Still it is "bad luck" for any of them to stumble over a threshold, to meet a hare suddenly, or especially to find a snake (the companion of the dead) hidden in the house.

[*]See Theophratus's character, "The Superstitious Man."

[+]The birds of clearest omen were the great birds of prey - hawks, "Apollo's swift messengers," and eagles, "the birds of Zeus." It was a good omen if the birds flew from left to right, a bad omen if in the reverse direction.

187. Consulting Omens. - Laches's friends, however, all regularly consult the omens when they have any important enterprise on hand - a voyage, a large business venture, a marriage treaty, etc. There are several ways, not expensive; the interpreters are not priests, only low-born fellows as a rule, whose fees are trifling. You can find out about the future by casting meal upon the altar fire and noticing how it is burned, by watching how chickens pick up consecrated grain,[*] by observing how the sacrificial smoke curls upward, etc. The best way, however, is to examine the entrails of the victim after a sacrifice. Here everything depends on the shape, size, etc., of the various organs, especially of the liver, bladder, spleen, and lungs, and really expert judgment by an experienced and high-priced seer is desirable. The man who is assured by a reliable seer, "the livers are large and in fine color," will go on his trading voyage with a confident heart.

[*]A very convenient way, - for it was a good sign if the chickens ate eagerly and one could always get a fair omen by keeping the fowls hungry a few hours ere "putting the question"!

188. The Great Oracles. - Assuredly there is a better way still to read the future; at least so Greeks of earlier ages have believed. Go to one of the great oracles, whereof that of Apollo at Delphi is the supreme, but not the unique, example. Ask your question in set form from the attendant priests, not failing to offer an elaborate sacrifice and to bestow all the "gifts" (golden tripods, mixing bowls, shields, etc.) your means will allow. Then (at Delphi) wait silent and awe-stricken while the lady Pythia, habited as a young girl, takes her seat on a tripod over a deep cleft in the rock, whence issues an intoxicating vapor. She inhales the gas, sways to and fro in an ecstasy, and now, duly "inspired," answers in a somewhat wild manner the queries which the priest will put in behalf of the supplicants. Her incoherent words are very hard to understand, but the priest duly "interprets" them, i.e. gives them to the suppliant in the form of hexameter verses. Sometimes the meaning of these verses is perfectly clear. Very often they are truly "Delphic," with a most dubious meaning - as in that oft-quoted instance, when the Pythia told Croesus if he went to war with Cyrus, "he would destroy a mighty monarchy," and lo, he destroyed his own!

Besides Delphi, there are numerous lesser oracles, each with its distinctive method of "revelation." But there is none, at least of consequence, within Attica, while a journey to Delphi is a serious and highly expensive undertaking. And as a matter of fact Delphi has partially lost credit in Athens. In the great Persian War Delphi unpatriotically "medized" - gave oracles friendly to Xerxes and utterly discouraging to the patriot cause. Then after this conviction of false prophesy, the oracle fell, for most of the time, into the hands of Sparta, and was obviously very willing to "reveal" things only in the Lacedemonian interest. Hellenes generally and the Spartans in particular have still much esteem for the utterances of the Pythia, but Athenians are not now very partial to her. Soon will come the seizure of Delphi by the Phoenicians and the still further discrediting of this once great oracle.

189. Greek Sacrifices. - The two chief elements of Greek worship, however, are not consideration of the future, but sacrificial and prayer. Sacrifices in their simple form, as we have seen, take place continually, before every routine act. They become more formal when the proposed action is really important, or when the suppliant wishes to give thanks for some boon, or, at rarer intervals, to desire purification from some offense. There is no need of a priest for the simpler sacrifices. The father of the family can pour out the libation, can burn the food upon the altar, can utter the prayer for all his house; but in the greater sacrifices a priest is desirable, not as a sacred intermediary betwixt god and man, but as an expert to advise the worshipper what are the competent rites, and to keep him from ignorantly angering heaven by unhappy words and actions.[*]

[*]There were almost no hereditary priesthoods in Attica (outside the Emolpide connected with the mystical cult of Eleusis). Almost anybody of good character could qualify as a priest with due training, and there was little of the sacrosanct about the usual priestly office.

Let us witness a sacrifice of this more formal kind, and while doing so we can tread upon the spot we have seemed in a manner to shun during our wanderings through Athens, the famous and holy Acropolis.

190. The Route to the Acropolis. - Phormion, son of Cresphontes, has been to Arcadia, and won the pentathlon in some athletic contests held at Mantinea. Although not equal to a triumph in the "four great Panhellenic contests," it was a most notable victory. Before setting out he vowed a sheep to Athena the Virgin if he conquered. The goddess was kind, and Phormion is very grateful. While the multitudes are streaming out to the Gymnasia, the young athlete, brawny and handsome, surrounded by an admiring coterie of friends and kinsmen, sets out for the Acropolis.

Phormion's home is in the "Ceramicus," the so-called "potters' quarter." His walk takes him a little to the west of the Agora, and close to the elegant temple of Hephestos,[*] but past this and many other fanes he hastens. It was not the fire god which gave him fair glory at Mantinea. He goes onward until he is forced to make a detour to the left, at the craggy, rough hill of Areopagus which rises before him. Here, if time did not press, he might have tarried to pay respectful reverence before a deep fissure cleft in the side of the rock. In front of this fissure stands a little altar. All Phormion's company look away as they pass the spot, and they mutter together "Be propitious, O Eumenides!" (literally, Well-minded Ones). For like true Greeks they delight to call foul things with fair and propitious names; and that awful fissure and altar are sacred to the Erinyes (Furies), the horrible maidens, the trackers of guilt, the avengers of murder; and above their cave, on these rude rocks, sits the august court of the Aeropagus when it meets as a "tribunal of blood" to try cases of homicide.

[*]This temple, now called the "Theseum," is the only well preserved ancient temple in modern Athens.

Phormion's party quicken their steps and quit this spot of ill omen. Then their sight is gladdened. The whole glorious Acropolis stands out before them.

191. The Acropolis of Athens. - Almost every Greek city has its own formidable citadel, its own "acropolis," - for "citadel" is really all this word conveys. Corinth boasts of its "Acro-Corinthus," Thebes of its "Cadmeia," - but THE Acropolis is in Athens. The later world will care little for any other, and the later world will be right. The Athenian stronghold has long ceased to be a fortress, though still it rises steep and strong. It is now one vast temple compound, covered with magnificent buildings. Whether considered as merely a natural rock commanding a marvelous view, or as a consecrated museum of sculpture and architecture, it deserves its immortality. We raise our eyes to THE ROCK as we approach it.

The Acropolis dominates the plain of Athens. All the city seems to adjust itself to the base of its holy citadel. It lifts itself as tawny limestone rock rising about 190 feet above the adjacent level of the town.[*] In form it is an irregular oval with its axis west and east. It is about 950 feet long and 450 feet at its greatest breadth. On every side but the west the precipice falls away sheer and defiant, rendering a feeble garrison able to battle with myriads.[+] To the westward, however, the gradual slope makes a natural pathway always possible, and human art has long since shaped this with convenient steps. Nestling in against the precipice are various sanctuaries and caves; e.g. on the northwestern side, high up on the slope beneath the precipice, open the uncanny grottoes of Apollo and of Pan. On the southern side, close under the very shadow of the citadel, is the temple of Asclepius, and, more to the southeast, the great open theater of Dionysus has been scooped out of the rock, a place fit to contain an audience of some 15,000.[]

[*]It is nearly 510 feet above the level of the sea.

[+]Recall the defense which the Acropolis was able to make against Xerxes's horde, when the garrison was small and probably ill organized, and had only a wooden barricade to eke out the natural defenses.

[stone seats of this theater do not seem to have been built till about 340 B.C. Up to that time the surface of the ground sloping back to the Acropolis seems simply to have been smoothed off, and probably covered with temporary wooden seats on the days of the great dramatic festivals.

So much for the bare "bones" of the Acropolis; but now under the dazzling sunshine how it glitters with indescribable splendor! Before us as we ascend a whole succession of buildings seem lifting themselves, not singly, not in hopeless confusion, but grouped admirably together by a kind of wizardry, so that the harmony is perfect, - each visible, brilliant column and pinnacle, not merely flashing its own beauty, but suggesting another greater beauty just behind.

192. The Use of Color upon Athenian Architecture and Sculptures. - While we look upward at this group of temples and their wealth of sculptures, let us state now something we have noticed during all our walks around Athens, but have hitherto left without comment. Every temple and statue in Athens is not left in its bare white marble, as later ages will conceive is demanded by "Greek Architecture" and statuary, but is decked in brilliant color - "painted," if you will use an almost unfriendly word. The columns and gables and ceilings of the buildings are all painted. Blue, red, green, and gold blaze on all the members and ornaments. The backgrounds of the pediments, metopes, and frieze are tinted some uniform color on which the sculptured figures in relief stand out clearly. The figures themselves are tinted or painted, at least on the hair, lips, and eyes. Flesh-colored warriors are fighting upon a bright red background. The armor and horse trappings on the sculptures are in actual bronze. The result is an effect indescribably vivid. Blues and reds predominate: the flush of light and color from the still more brilliant heavens above adds to the effect. Shall we call it garish? We have learned to know the taste of Athenians too well to doubt their judgment in matters of pure beauty. And they are right. UNDER AN ATHENIAN SKY temples and statues demand a wealth of color which in a somber clime would seem intolerable. The brilliant lines of the Acropolis buildings are the just answer of the Athenian to the brilliancy of Helios.

193. The Chief Buildings on the Acropolis. - And now to ascend the Acropolis. We leave the discussion of the details of the temples and the sculpture to the architects and archeologists. The whole plateau of the Rock is covered with religious buildings, altars, and statues. We pass through the Propylea, the worthy rival of the Parthenon behind, a magnificent portal, with six splendid Doric columns facing us; and as we go through them, to right and to left open out equally magnificent columned porticoes.[*] As we emerge from the Propylea the whole vision of the sacred plateau bursts upon us simultaneously. We can notice only the most important of the buildings. At the southwestern point of the Acropolis on the angle of rock which juts out beyond the Propylea is the graceful little temple of the "Wingless Victory," built in the Ionic style. The view commanded by its bastion will become famous throughout the world. Behind this, nearer the southern side, stands the less important temple of Artemis Brauronia. Nearer the center and directly before the entrance rises a colossal brazen statue - "monstrous," many might call its twenty-six feet of height, save that a master among masters has cast the spell of his genius over it. This is the famous Athena Promachos,[+] wrought by Phidias out of the spoils of Marathon. The warrior goddess stands in full armor and rests upon her mighty lance. The gilded lance tip gleams so dazzlingly we may well believe the tale that sailors use it for a first landmark as they sail up the coast from Cape Sunium.

[*]That to the north was the larger and contained a kind of picture gallery.

[+]Athena Foremost in Battle.

Looking again upon the complex of buildings we single out another on the northern side: an irregularly shaped temple, or rather several temples joined together, the Erechtheum, wherein is the sanctuary of Athena Polias (the revered "City Warden"), the ancient wooden statue, grotesque, beloved, most sacred of all the holy images in Athens. And here on the southern side of this building is the famous Caryatid porch; the "Porch of the Maidens," which will be admired as long as Athens has a name. But our eyes refuse to linger long on any of these things. Behind the statue of the Promachos, a little to the southern side of the plateau, stands the Parthenon - the queen jewel upon the crown of Athens.

194. The Parthenon. - Let others analyze its sculptures and explain the technical reasons why Ictinus and Callicrates, the architects, and Phidias, the sculptor, created here the supreme masterpiece for the artistic world. We can state only the superficialities. It is a noble building by mere size; 228 feet measure its side, 101 feet its front. Forty-six majestic Doric columns surround it; they average thirty-four feet in height, and six feet three inches at the base. All these facts, however, do not give the soul of the Parthenon. Walk around it slowly, tenderly, lovingly. Study the elaborate stories told by the pediments, - on the east front the birth of Athena, on the west the strife of Athena and Poseidon for the possession of Athens. Trace down the innumerable lesser sculptures on the "metopes" under the cornice, - showing the battles of the Giants, Centaurs, Amazons, and of the Greeks before Troy; finally follow around, on the whole inner circuit of the body of the temple, the frieze,[*] showing in bas-relief the Panathenaic procession, with the beauty, nobility, and youth of Athens marching in glad festival; comprehend that these sculptures will never be surpassed in the twenty-four succeeding centuries; that here are supreme examples for the artists of all time, - and THEN, in the face of this final creation, we can realize that the Parthenon will justify its claim to immortality.

[*]This, of course, is on the outside wall of the "cells," but inside the surrounding colonnade.

One thing more. There are hardly any straight lines in the Parthenon. To the eye, the members and the steps of the substructure may seem perfectly level; but the measuring rod betrays marvelously subtle curves. As nature abhors right angles in her creations of beauty, so have these Greeks. Rigidity, unnaturalness, have been banished. The Parthenon stands, not merely embellished with inimitable sculptures, but perfectly adjusted to the natural world surrounding.[*]

[*]It was an inability to discover and execute these concealed curves which give certain of the modern imitations of the Parthenon their unpleasant impressions of harness and rigidity.

We have seen only the exterior of the Parthenon. We must wait now ere visiting the interior, for Phormion is beginning his sacrifice.

195. A Sacrifice on the Acropolis. - Across the sacred plateau advances the little party. As it goes under the Propylea a couple of idle temple watchers[*] give its members a friendly nod. The Acropolis rock itself seems deserted, save for a few worshippers and a party of admiring Achean visitors who are being shown the glories of the Parthenon.[+] There seems to be a perfect labyrinth of statues of gods, heroes, and departed worthies, and almost as many altars, great and small, placed in every direction. Phormion leads his friends onward till they come near to the wide stone platform somewhat in the rear of the Parthenon. Here is the "great altar" of Athena, whereon the "hecatombs" will be sacrificed, even a hundred oxen or more,[]at some of the major public festivals; and close beside it stands also a small and simple altar sacred to Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin. Suitable attendants have been in readiness since dawn waiting for worshippers. One of Phormion's party leads behind him a bleating white lamb "without blemish."[$] It is a short matter now to bring the firewood and the other necessaries. The sacrifice takes place without delay.

[*]The most important function of these watchers seems to have been to prevent dogs from entering the Acropolis. Probably they were inefficient old men favored with sinecure offices.

[+]The Acropolis seems to have become a great "show place" for visitors to Athens soon after the completion of the famous temples.

[know by an inscription of 169 oxen being needed for a single Athenian festival.

[$]This was a very proper creature to sacrifice to a great Olympian deity like Athena. Goats were not suitable for her, although desirable for most of the other gods. It was unlawful to sacrifice swine to Aphrodite. When propitiating the gods of the underworld, - Hades, Persephone, etc., - a BLACK victim was in order. Poor people could sacrifice doves, cocks, and other birds.

First a busy "temple sweeper" goes over the ground around the altar with a broom; then the regular priest, a dignified gray-headed man with a long ungirt purple chiton, and a heavy olive garland, comes forward bearing a basin of holy water. This basin is duly passed to the whole company as it stands in a ring, and each in turn dips his hand and sprinkles his face and clothes with the lustral water. Meantime the attendant has placed another wreath around the head of the lamb. The priest raises his hand.

"Let there be silence," he commands (lest any unlucky word be spoken); and in a stillness broken only by the auspicious twittering of the sparrows amid the Parthenon gables, he takes barley corns from a basket, an sprinkles them on the altar and over the lamb. With his sacred knife he cuts a lock of hair from the victims head and casts it on the fire. Promptly now the helper comes forward to complete the sacrifice. Phormion and his friends are a little anxious. Will the lamb take fright, hang back, and have to be dragged to its unwilling death? The clever attendant has cared for that. A sweet truss of dried clover is lying just under the altar. The lamb starts forward, bleating joyously. As it bows its head[*] as if consenting to its fate the priest stabs it dexterously in the neck with his keen blade. The helper claps a bowl under the neck to catch the spurting blood. A flute player in readiness, but hitherto silent, suddenly strikes up a keen blast to drown the dying moans of the animal. Hardly has the lamb ceased to struggle before the priest and the helper have begun to cut it up then and there. Certain bits of the fat and small pieces from each limb are laid upon the altar, and promptly consumed. These are the goddess's peculiar portion, and the credulous at least believe that she, though unseen, is present to eat thereof; certainly the sniff of the burning meat is grateful to her divine nostrils. The priest and the helpers are busy taking off the hide and securing the best joint - these are their "fees" for professional services. All the rest will be duly gathered up by Phormion's body servant and borne home, - for Phormion will give a fine feast on "sacred mutton" that night.[+]

[*]If a larger animal - an ox - failed to bow its head auspiciously, the omen could be rectified by suddenly splashing a little water in the ears.

[+]As already suggested (section 159) a sacrifice (public, or, if on a large scale, private) was about the only occasion on which Athenians tasted beef, pork, or mutton.

Meantime, while the goddess's portion burns, Phormion approaches the altar, bearing a shallow cup of unmixed wine, and flings it upon the flame.

"Be propitious, O Lady," he cries, "and receive this my drink offering."[*]

[*]The original intention of this libation at the sacrifice was very clearly to provide the gods with wine to "wash down" their meat.

The sacrifice is now completed. The priest assures Phormion that the entrails of the victim foretokened every possible favor in future athletic contests - and this, and his insinuating smile, win him a silver drachma to supplement his share of the lamb. Phormion readjusts the chaplet upon his own head, and turns towards the Parthenon. After the sacrifice will come the prayer.

196. The Interior of the Parthenon and the Great Image of Athena. - The whole Acropolis is the home of Athena. The other gods harbored thereon are only her inferior guests. Upon the Acropolis the dread goddess displays her many aspects. In the Erechtheum we worship her as Athena Polias, the ancient guardian of the hearths and homes of the city. In the giant Promachus, we see her the leader in war, - the awful queen who went with her fosterlings to the deadly grappling at Marathon and at Salamis; in the little temple of "Wingless Victory"[*] we see her as Athena the Victorious, triumphant over Barbarian and Hellenic foe; but in the Parthenon we adore in her purest conception - the virgin queen, now chaste and clam, her battles over, the pure, high incarnations of all "the beautiful and the good" that may possess spirit and mind, - the sovran intellect, in short, purged of all carnal, earthy passion. It is meet that such a goddess should inhabit such a dwelling as the Parthenon.[+]

[*]The term "Wingless Victory" (Nike Apteros) has reference to a special type and aspect of Athena, not to the goddess Nike (Victory) pure and simple.

[+]There was still another aspect in which Athena was worshipped on the Acropolis. She had a sacred place ("temenos"), though without a temple, sacred to her as Athena Ergane - Athena Protectress of the Arts.

Phormion passes under the eastern porch, and does not forget (despite the purification before the sacrifice) to dip the whisk broom, lying by the door, in the brazen laver of holy water and again to sprinkle himself. He passes out of the dazzling sunlight into a chamber that seems at first to be lost in a vast, impenetrable gloom. He pauses and gazes upward; above him, as little by little his eyes get their adjustment, a faint pearly light seems streaming downward. It is coming through the translucent marble slabs of the roof of the great temple.[*] Then out of the gloom gleam shapes, objects, - a face. He catches the glitter of great jewels and of massy gold, as parts of the rich garments and armor of some vast image. He distinguishes at length a statue, - the form of a woman, nearly forty feet in height. Her left wrist rests upon a mighty shield; her right hand holds a winged "Victory," itself of nigh human size. Upon her breast is the awful egis, the especial breastplate of the high gods. Around the foot of her shield coils a serpent. Upon her head is a might helmet. And all the time that these things are becoming manifest, evermore clearly one beholds the majestic face, - sweetness without weakness, intellectuality without coldness, strength mingled justly with compassion. This is the Athena Parthenos, the handiwork of Phidias.[+]

[*]This seems to be the most reasonable way to assume that the "cella" of the Parthenon was lighted, in view of the danger, in case of open skylights, of damage to the holy image by wind and rain.

[+]Of this statue no doubt there could be said what Dion Chrysostomos said of the equally famous "Zeus" erected by Phidias at Olympia. "The man most depressed with woes, forgot his ills whilst gazing on this statue, so much light and beauty had Phidias infused within it." Besides the descriptions in the ancient writers we get a clear idea of the general type of the Athena Parthenos from recently discovered statuettes, especially the "Varvakeion" model (401/2 inches high). This last is cold and lifeless as a work of art, but fairly accurate as to details. [Note from Brett: In 2001, this remains the best statue ever found representing Athena Parthenos and a detailed analysis of the effect of the original statue on the populous can be found at The statuette itself is currently in the Athens Museum.]

We will not heap up description. What boots it to tell that the arms and vesture of this "chryselephantine" statue are of pure gold; that the flesh portions are of gleaming ivory; that Phidias has wrought the whole so nobly together that this material, too sumptuous for common artists, becomes under his assembling the perfect substance for the manifestation of deity?

...Awestruck by the vision, though often he has seen it, Phormion stands long in reverent silence. Then at length, casting a pinch of incense upon the brazier, constantly smoking before the statue, he utters his simple prayer.

197. Greek Prayers. - Greek prayers are usually very pragmatic. "Who," asks Cicero, who can speak for both Greeks and Romans in this particular, "ever thanked the gods that he was a good man? Men are thankful for riches, honor, safety.... We beg of the sovran God [only] what makes us safe, sound, rich and prosperous."[*] Phormion is simply a very average, healthy, handsome young Athenian. While he prays he stretches his hands on high, as is fitting to a deity of Olympus.[+] His petition runs much as follows: -

"Athena, Queen of the Aegis, by whatever name thou lovest best,[] give ear.

"Inasmuch as thou dids't heed my vow, and grant me fair glory at Mantinea, bear witness I have been not ungrateful. I have offered to thee a white sheep, spotless and undefiled. And now I have it in my mind to attempt the pentathlon at the next Isthmia at Corinth. Grant me victory even in that; and not one sheep but five, all as good as this to-day, shall smoke upon thine altar. Grant also unto me, my kinsmen and all my friends, health, riches and fair renown."

[*]Cicero, "De Nat. Deor," ii. 36.

[+]In praying to a deity of the lower world the hands would be held down. A Greek almost NEVER knelt, even in prayer. He would have counted it degrading.

[formula would be put in, lest some favorite epithet of the divinity be omitted.

A pagan prayer surely; and there is a still more pagan epilogue. Phormion has an enemy, who is not forgotten.

"And oh! gracious, sovran Athena, blast my enemy Xenon, who strove to trip me foully in the foot race. May his wife be childless or bear him only monsters; may his whole house perish; may all his wealth take flight; may his friends forsake him; may war soon cut him off, or may he die amid impoverished, dishonored old age. If this my sacrifice has found favor in thy sight, may all these evils come upon him unceasingly. And so will I adore the and sacrifice unto thee all my life."[*]

[*]Often a curse would become a real substitute for a prayer; e.g. at Athens, against a rascally and traitorous general, a solemn public curse would be pronounced at evening by all the priests and priestesses of the city, each shaking in the air a red cloth in token of the bloody death to which the offender was devoted.

The curse then is a most proper part of a Greek prayer! Phormion is not conscious of blasphemy. He merely follows invariable custom.

It is useless to expect "Christian sentiments" in the fourth century B.C., yet perhaps an age should be judged not by its average, but by its best. Athenians can utter nobler prayers than those of the type of Phormion. Xenophon makes his model young householder Ishomenus pray nobly "that I may enjoy health and strength of body, the respect of my fellow citizens, honorable safety in times of war, and wealth honestly increased."[*]

[*]Xenophon, "The Economist," xi, p. 8.

There is a simple little prayer also which seems to be a favorite with the farmers. Its honest directness carries its own message.

"Rain, rain, dear Zeus, upon the fields of the Athenians and the plains."[*]

[*]It was quoted later to us by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who adds, "In truth, we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion."

Higher still ascends the prayer of Socrates, when he begs for "the good" merely, leaving it to the wise gods to determine what "the good" for him may be; and in one prayer, which Plato puts in Socrates's mouth, almost all the best of Greek ideals and morality seems uttered. It is spoken not on the Acropolis, but beside the Ilissus at the close of the delightful walk and chat related in the "Phoedrus."

"Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me the beauty of the inward soul, and may the outward and the inward man be joined in perfect harmony. May I reckon the wise to be wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as none but the temperate can carry. Anything more? - That prayer, I think, is enough for me."

Phormion and his party are descending to the city to spend the evening in honest mirth and feasting, but we are fain to linger, watching the slow course of the shadows as they stretch across the Attic hills. Sea, sky, plain, mountains, and city are all before us, but we will not spend words upon them now. Only for the buildings, wrought by Pericles and his might peers, we will speak out our admiration. We will gladly confirm the words Plutarch shall some day say of them, "Unimpaired by time, their appearance retains the fragrance of freshness, as though they had been inspired by an eternally blooming life and a never aging soul."[*]

[*]Plutarch wrote this probably after 100 A.D., when the Parthenon had stood for about five and half centuries.