ATHENS IN THE TIME OF PERICLES.
[Note: The figures referred to in a few places in this chapter have had to be omitted from the etext.]
At the commencement of the Peloponnesian war Athens was at the height of its glory under the brilliant administration of Pericles. We may therefore here pause to take a brief survey of the city and of its most important buildings. Athens is situated about three miles from the sea-coast, in the central plain of Attica. In this plain rise several eminences. Of these the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain, with a conical peaked summit, now called the Hill of St. George, and which bore in ancient times the name of LYCABETTUS. This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the north-east of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city. It is to Athens what Vesuvius is to Naples, or Arthur's Seat to Edinburgh. South-west of Lycabettus there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city. Of these the nearest to Lycabettus and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the ACROPOLIS, or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Acropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the AREOPAGUS. To the south- west there rises a third hill, the PNYX, on which the assemblies of the citizens were held; and to the south of the latter is a fourth hill, known as the MUSEUM. On the eastern and western sides of the city there run two small streams, which are nearly exhausted before they reach the sea, by the heats of summer and by the channels for artificial irrigation. That on the east is the Ilissus, which flowed through the southern quarter of the city: that on the west is the Cephissus. South of the city was seen the Saronic gulf, with the harbours of Athens.
Athens is said to have derived its name from the prominence given to the worship of Athena by its king Erechtheus. The inhabitants were previously called Cranai and Cecropidae, from Cecrops, who according to tradition, was the original founder of the city. This at first occupied only the hill or rock which afterwards became the ACROPOLIS; but gradually the buildings began to spread over the ground at the southern foot of this hill. It was not till the time of Pisistratus and his sons (B.C. 560-514) that the city began to assume any degree of splendour. The most remarkable building of these despots was the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus, which, however, was not finished till many centuries later. In B.C. 500 the theatre of Dionysus was commenced on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis, but was not completed till B.C. 34O; though it must have been used for the representation of plays long before that period.
Xerxes reduced the ancient city almost to a heap of ashes. After the departure of the Persians, its reconstruction on a much larger scale was commenced under the superintendence of Themistocles, whose first care was to provide for its safety by the erection of walls. The Acropolis now formed the centre of the city, round which the new walls described an irregular circle of about 60 stadia or 7 1/2 miles in circumference. The space thus enclosed formed the ASTY, or city, properly so called. But the views of Themistocles were not confined to the mere defence of Athens: he contemplated making her a great naval power, and for this purpose adequate docks and arsenals were required. Previously the Athenians had used as their only harbour the open roadstead of PHALERUM on the eastern side of the Phaleric bay, where the sea-shore is nearest to Athens. But Themistocles transferred the naval station of the Athenians to the peninsula of Piraeus, which is distant about 4 1/2 miles from Athens, and contains three natural harbours,--a large one on the western side, called simply Piraeus or The Harbour, and two smaller ones an the eastern side, called respectively ZEA and MUNYCHIA, the latter being nearest to the city. It was not till the administration of Pericles that the walls were built which connected Athens with her ports. These were at first the outer or northern Long Wall, which ran from Athens to Piraeus, and the Phaleric wall connecting the city with Phalerum. These were commenced in B.C. 457, and finished in the following year. It was soon found, however, that the space thus enclosed was too vast to be easily defended; and as the port of Phalerum was small and insignificant in comparison with the Piraeus, and soon ceased to be used by the Athenian ships of war, its wall was abandoned and probably allowed to fall into decay. Its place was supplied by another Long wall, which was built parallel to the first at a distance of only 550 feet, thus rendering both capable of being defended by the same body of men. Their height in all probability was not less than 60 feet. In process of time the space between the two Long Walls was occupied on each side by houses.
It will be seen from the preceding description that Athens, in its larger acceptation, and including its port, consisted of two circular cities, the Asty and Piraeus, each of about 7 1/2 miles in circumference, and joined together by a broad street of between four and five miles long.
Such was the outward and material form of that city, which during the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars reached the highest pitch of military, artistic, and literary glory. The latter portion of this period, or that comprised under the ascendency of Pericles, exhibits Athenian art in its highest state of perfection, and is therefore by way of excellence commonly designated as the age of Pericles. The great sculptor of this period--perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen-- was Phidias, to whom Pericles intrusted the superintendence of all the works executed in his administration.
The first public monuments that arose after the Persian wars were erected under the auspices of Cimon, who was, like Pericles, a lover and patron of the arts. The principal of these were the small Ionic temple of Nike Apteros (Wingless Victory), and the Theseum, or temple of Theseus. The temple of Nike Apteros was only 27 feet in length by 18 in breadth, and was erected on the Acropolis in commemoration of Cimon's victory at the Eurymedon. A view of it is given at the beginning of this chapter, and its position on the Acropolis, on one side of the Propylaea, is seen in the drawings on p. 91, as well as on the Frontispiece of the work.
The Theseum is situated on a height to the north of the Areopagus, and was built to receive the bones of Theseus, which Cimon brought from Scyros in B.C. 469. It was probably finished about 465, and is the best preserved of all the monuments of ancient Athens. It was at once a tomb and temple, and possessed the privileges of an asylum. It is of the Doric order, 164 feet in length by 45 feet broad, and surrounded with columns.
But it was the Acropolis which was the chief centre of the architectural splendour of Athens. After the Persian wars the Acropolis had ceased to be inhabited, and was appropriated to the worship of Athena and to the other guardian deities of the city. It was covered with the temples of gods and heroes; and thus its platform presented not only a sanctuary, but a museum, containing the finest productions of the architect and the sculptor, in which the whiteness of the marble was relieved by brilliant colours, and rendered still more dazzling by the transparent clearness of the Athenian atmosphere. It was surrounded with walls, and the surface seems to have been divided into terraces communicating with one another by steps. The only approach to it was from the Agora on its western side at the top of a magnificent flight of marble steps, 70 feet broad, stood the Propylaea, constructed under the auspices of Pericles, and which served as a suitable entrance to the exquisite works within. The Propylaea were themselves one of the masterpieces of Athenian art. They were entirely of Pentelic marble, and covered the whole of the western end of the Acropolis, having a breadth of 168 feet. The central portion of them consisted of two porticoes, of which the western one faced the city, and the eastern one the interior of the Acropolis, each consisting of a front of six fluted Doric columns. This central part of the building was 58 feet in breadth, but the remaining breadth of the rock at this point was covered by two wings, which projected 26 feet in front of the western portico. Each of these wings was in the form of a Doric temple. The northern one, or that on the left of a person ascending the Acropolis, was called the PINACOTHECA, from its walls being covered with paintings. The southern wing consisted only of a porch or open gallery. Immediately before its western front stood the little temple of Nike Apteros already mentioned.
On passing through the Propylaea all the glories of the Acropolis became visible. The chief building was the Parthenon (I.E. House of the Virgin), the most perfect production of Grecian architecture. It derived its name from its being the temple of Athena Parthenos, or Athena the Virgin, the invincible goddess of war. It was also called HECATOMPEDON, from its breadth of 100 feet. It was built under the administration of Pericles, and was completed in B.C. 438. The Parthenon stood on the highest part of the Acropolis near its centre, and probably occupied the site of an earlier temple destroyed by the Persians. It was entirely of Pentelic marble, on a rustic basement of ordinary limestone, and its architecture, which was of the Doric order, was of the purest kind. Its dimensions were about 228 feet in length, 101 feet in breadth, and 66 feet in height to the top of the pediment. It consisted of a cella, surrounded by a peristyle. The cella was divided into two chambers of unequal size, the eastern one of which was about 98 feet long, and the western one about 43 feet. The ceiling of both these chambers was supported by rows of columns. The whole building was adorned with the most exquisite sculptures, executed by various artists under the direction of Phidias. These consisted of, 1. The sculptures in the tympana of the pediments (I.E. the inner portion of the triangular gable ends of the roof above the two porticoes), each of which was filled with about 24 colossal figures. The group in the eastern or principal front represented the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, and the western the contest between Athena and Poseidon (Neptune) for the land of Attica. 2. The metopes between the triglyphs in the frieze of the entablature (I.E. the upper of the two portions into which the space between the columns and the roof is divided) were filled with sculptures in high relief, representing a variety of subjects relating to Athena herself, or to the indigenous heroes of Attica. Each tablet was 4 feet 3 inches square. Those on the south side related to the battle of the Athenians with the Centaurs. One of the metopes is figured below. 3. The frieze which ran along outside the wall of the cella, and within the external columns which surround the building, at the same height and parallel with the metopes, was sculptured with a representation of the Panathenaic festival in very low relief. This frieze was 3 feet 4 inches in height, and 520 feet in length. A small portion of the frieze is also figured below. A large number of the slabs of the frieze, together with sixteen metopes from the south side, and several of the statues of the pediments, were brought to England by Lord Elgin, of whom they were purchased by the nation and deposited in the British Museum.
But the chief wonder of the Parthenon was the colossal statue of the Virgin Goddess executed by Phidias himself, which stood in the eastern or principal chamber of the cella. It was of the sort called CHRYSELEPHANTINE, a kind of work said to have been invented by Phidias in which ivory was substituted for marble in those parts which were uncovered, while the place of the real drapery was supplied with robes and other ornaments of solid gold. Its height, including the base, was nearly 40 feet. It represented the goddess standing, clothed with a tunic reaching to the ankles, with a spear in her left hand, and an image of Victory in her right.
The Acropolis was adorned with another colossal figure of Athena, in bronze, also the work of Phidias. It stood in the open air, nearly opposite the Propylaea, and was one of the first objects seen after passing through the gates of the latter. With its pedestal it must have stood about 70 feet high, and consequently towered above the roof of the Parthenon, so that the point of its spear and the crest of its helmet were visible off the promontory of Sunium to ships approaching Athens. It was called the "Athena Promachus," because it represented the goddess armed, and in the very attitude of battle.
The only other monument on the summit of the Acropolis which it is necessary to describe is the Erechtheum, or temple of Erechtheus. The traditions respecting Erechtheus vary, but according to one set of them he was identical with the god Poseidon. He was worshipped in his temple under the name of Poseidon Erechtheus, and from the earliest times was associated with Athena as one of the two protecting deities of Athens. The original Erechtheum was burnt by the Persians, but the new temple was erected on the ancient site. This could not have been otherwise; for on this spot was the sacred olive-tree which Athena evoked from the earth in her contest with Poseidon, and also the well of salt-water which Poseidon produced by a stroke of his trident, the impression of which was seen upon the rock. The building was also called the temple of Athena Polias, because it contained a separate sanctuary of the goddess, as well as her most ancient statue. The building of the new Erechtheum was not commenced till the Parthenon and Propylaea were finished, and probably not before the year preceding the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war. Its progress was no doubt delayed by that event, and it was probably not completed before 393 B.C. When finished it presented one of the finest models of the Ionic order, as the Parthenon was of the Doric, It stood to the north of the latter building and close to the northern wall of the Acropolis. The form of the Erechtheum differed from every known example of a Grecian temple. Usually a Grecian temple was an oblong figure with a portico at each extremity. The Erechtheum, on the contrary, though oblong in shape and having a portico at the eastern or principal front, had none at its western end, where, however, a portico projected north and south from either side, thus forming a kind of transept. This irregularity seems to have been chiefly owing to the necessity of preserving the different sanctuaries and religious objects belonging to the ancient temple. A view of it is given opposite. The roof of the southern portico, as shown in the view, was supported by six Caryatides.
Such were the principal objects which adorned the Acropolis at the time of which we are now speaking. Their general appearance will be best gathered from the engraving on the Frontispiece.
Before quitting the city of Athens, there are two or three other objects of interest which must be briefly described. First, the Dionysiac theatre, which occupied the slope at the south-eastern extremity of the Acropolis. The middle of it was excavated out of the rock, and the rows of seats ascended in curves one above another, the diameter increasing with the height. It was no doubt sufficiently large to accommodate the whole body of Athenian citizens, as well as the strangers who flocked to Athens during the Dionysiac festival, but its dimensions cannot now be accurately ascertained. It had no roof, but the spectators were probably protected from the sun by an awning, and from their elevated seats they had a distinct view of the sea, and of the peaked hills of Salamis in the horizon. Above them rose the Parthenon and the other buildings of the Acropolis, so that they sat under the shadow of the ancestral gods of the country.
The Areopagus, or Hill of Ares (Mars), was a rocky height opposite the western end of the Acropolis, from which it was separated only by some hollow ground. It derived its name from the tradition that Ares (Mars) was brought to trial here before the assembled gods, by Poseidon (Neptune), for murdering Halirrhothius the son of the latter. It was here that the Council of Areopagus met, frequently called the Upper Council, to distinguish it from the Council of Five Hundred, which assembled in the valley below. The Areopagites sat as judges in the open air, and two blocks of stone are still to be seen, probably those which were occupied respectively by the accuser and the accused. The Areopagus was the spot where the Apostle Paul preached to the men of Athens.
The Pnyx, or place for holding the public assemblies of the Athenians, stood on the side of a low rocky hill, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the Areopagus. Projecting from the hill and hewn out of it, still stands a solid rectangular block, called the Bema or pulpit, from whence the orators addressed the multitude in the area before them. The position of the Bema commanded a view of the Propylaea and the other magnificent edifices of the Acropolis, while beneath it was the city itself studded with monuments of Athenian glory. The Athenian orators frequently roused the national feelings of their audience by pointing to the Propylaea and to the other splendid buildings before them. Between the Pnyx on the west, the Areopagus on the north, and the Acropolis on the east, and closely adjoining the base of these hills, stood the Agora (or market-place). In a direction from north-west to south-east a street called the Ceramicus ran diagonally through the Agora, entering it through the valley between the Pnyx and the Areopagus. The street was named after a district of the city, which was divided into two parts, the Inner and Outer Ceramicus. The former lay within the city walls, and included the Agora. The Outer Ceramicus, which formed a handsome suburb on the north- west of the city, was the burial-place of all persons honoured with a public funeral. Through it ran the road to the gymnasium and gardens of the Academy which were situated about a mile from the walls. The Academy was the place where Plato and his disciples taught. On each side of this road were monuments to illustrious Athenians, especially those who had fallen in battle.
East of the city, and outside the walls, was the Lyceum, a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceus, and celebrated as the place in which Aristotle taught.