Imágenes de página

near the Peiræeus, is aromatic and excellent, though inferior to the yellow Rapnos, from the hills of Argos and Volos, which vies with the celebrated Pasha-tobacuo of Turkey. Cotton and Indian corn (in Greece called Kalambokki and Arabositi) grow luxuriantly, where the fields can be irrigated during the dry summer months, as for instance on the banks of the Cephissus and the upper plain of Marathon. Barley is used as provender for horses, and the ancient custom, by the Hellenes called Krastis, and by the moderns Krasidhi, still prevails at Athens, of grazing the horses in the green barley fields during the months of April and May. You may then see hundreds of fine Thessalian steeds, belonging to the royal stables, the Greek chieftains, residing at the capitol, and the army, tethered in the verdant plain, whilst the grooms and military in attendance, are sitting in their showy dresses and red skull-caps, before their tents and arbors, ornamented with flags, where they smoke their chiboukies around the blazing fires and form quite animated and picturesque groups. The green pasture serves as a necessary restorative for the horses, which thus refreshed, are enabled to endure the oppressive heat and dust of summer, with renewed strength.

It is highly distressing to observe how averse the Greek farmer is to any of the useful agricultural inventions of western Europe; even the harrow, the roller, or threshing machine are entirely unknown to him, and he is still using the classical plough of old Hesiod, the Poet, three thousand years ago, a clumsy beam of crooked timber, with only one shaft, the ploughshare of which is made of hard wood, seldom tipped with iron. The reaping is a time of rejoicing; the villagers gather in their harvest in common, and pile their corn around the open threshing-floor, aloni, where it is trodden by a number of horses, tied to a stake in the centre and driven around in full gallop.

“ As with autumnal harvest cover'd o'er,
And thick bestrown, lies Ceres' sacred floor;
When round and round with never wearied pain

The trampling steers beat out th’unnumber'd grain."
This very ancient, oriental custom of having the corn trod-

den by un muzzled oxen, we still witness both in Asia Minor and Palestine. The wheat ripens a month earlier in Attica than in other parts of Greece; generally in June, sometimes even in May; but being hardly sufficient for the country people themselves, the bread-stuffs for the provision of the present capital are still mostly imported from Trieste and Odessa. Even during the most brilliant period of the Athenian republic, the interval of seventy years, between the Persian and Peloponnesian war, when agriculture and civilization were at their height, but the population had risen disproportionately to the resources of the country, the Athenians imported their grains from Beotia, Eubea and Thessaly. Therefore, the fertile island of Eubea and the flourishing Ionian colonies on the coast of Thrace and Asia Minor, which all were tributary 10 Athens, became of the highest importance to the city during the war with Sparta and the Dorians, when all the transports from the main land were cut off by hostile armies occupying the fortress of Dekelia, and all the passes of the mountains. And yet, on the other hand, has this unproductiveness of Attica, and its want of more substantial food, by its ancient historians, been considered as the principal cause of a remarkable phenomenon in history of which the Athenians were not a little proud, namely, that Attica never suffered from any permanent hostile invasion, and as Rome in Italy, owed its early development to the crimes of robbers and outlaws, so did Athens owe her independence to the poverty of her Pelasgian rustics. “ Thus, by a singular fatality, were the two most civilized and powerful republics of antiquity founded by the wicked and the weak."* Nor did Attica enjoy this constant tranquility only during the early migrations of the different Pelasgian tribes, but even in a later period, while all Hellas was overrun and the Peloponnesus subdued by the war-like Dorians in the tenth century before our era. The conquerors, who had abandoned the rugged and barren valleys of Mount Pindus, directed their course southward to more fertile regions and they

* Athens by Sir W. Young. London, 1804, page 16.

preferred to settle on the beautiful plains of Argos and Messenia, and in the rich valley of Laconia, sooner than with toilsome labor, cultivate the more accessible, but dry and parched hills of Attica. Its rustic population, at that time, scattered about in open villages, without fortresses or any well organized political or military union, would have become an easy conquest to a Dorian invader, and both Thucydides and the witty Aristophanes, therefore, frequently rally at the haughty pride of their countrymen of being Autochtones, or aborignal children of the Attic soil, who never had mixed their blood with any foreign nation.*

Yet, though Attica has no abundance of the more important necessaries of life, benign nature has embellished it with other ornaments !All the ancients praise the luxuriant vegetation of shrubs and sweet scented flowers as more profuse on the lovely hills of Attica, than in any other part of Hellas, and the extraordinary productiveness of the sacred olive-tree, was by the pious Athenians esteemed as the gift of Pallas Athene herself, to her beloved region.

An important article of export, even at the present day, is the delicious honey; for

“ Still his honied wealth Hymettus yields." This huge marble mountain is thickly grown with thyme, tentiscus, agnus-castus, myrtle, sage, and many other odorous

, shrubs and herbs, which sucked by the bees, produce a perfectly white and fragrant honey, considered superior to any in the Levant, and even to that of Mount Hybla near Syracuse in Sicily. The Athenians place the entire honey-comb on their breakfast table and eat the honey, together with its delicate cell. The monasteries on Hymettus and Pentelicon, and the villages in the plain, possess many thousand bee-hives in the chasms of the rocks, where they produce more than fifty thousand kila of honey and five thousand kila of wax, giving a revenue of twenty thousand dollars.

* The Athenians, before the times of Solon, wore their long hair braided on their fore-head in a cluster of curls, krobylos, which they stuck full of golden ornaments in the form of grasshoppers, because they regarded the tettix or cicada, as sprung from the Attic soil, and they considerd as a sweet mus the shrill and deafening noise which it makes in the olive groves during the burning heat of a summer day.

“A better gift yet,” says Xenophon, “is the abundance of costly marbles, of which the Athenians form the noblest statues of their gods and their magnificent temples,”—and indeed the pure white marble of mount Pentelicon, the blue marble of Hymettus, and the glossy black stone of Eleusis, are alike excellent, and of an easy access.

But the ancient republic possessed a still more important product of its soil, than the splendid marbles ; I mean, the rich silver mines of Mount Laurion, the income of which, more than one hundred talents, or two hundred thousand dollars of our money, was justly considered by Xenophon and Aristotle as the best and most certain resource of the public revenue. If, therefore, we except the happy situation of Attica, its excellent and liberal institutions and the extraordinary mental superiority of its active and enterprizing inhabitants, no other circumstance, perhaps, contributed so much to the prosperity of the State, as the possession of her mines. The power of Athens depended on her fleet, and her wealth on her foreign commerce. It was the produce of the Laurion silver mines, which first enabled her great statesman, Themistocles, to create the naval force of his native country, and nothing so much promoted her trade and credit, as the purity of her coin, which was everywhere exchanged with profit; while, on the contrary, other States of Greece, such as Sparta and Thebes, were circulating a metal, current only at home. This wise arrangement was, no doubt, in a great measure, called forth by the possession of silver mines, within the territory of the republic herself. For centuries they were worked with great activity, but in the age of Demosthenes we already meet with loud complaints of unsuccessful speculations in mining, and in the first century of our era, they appear to have become exhausted. Strabo, the geographer, therefore, remarks, that in his time the poorer ore, which formerly had been removed and thrown aside, was then melted together with the scoria, from which metal had been but imperfectly separated by the ancient Athenians, and that in this manner a considerable quantity of silver was extracted by the more careful process of the practical Romans; as we find it similarly repeated in some of the now exhausted mines in South America and Mexico. Near the ruins of an IIellenic castle, on the woody hills of Laurion, the deep shafts and pits sunk in the rock are so numerous, that travelling there by night would be attended with almost certain destruction, owing to the narrow opening of the shafts, which are concealed by shrubs and bushes. The scoria is still lying about in large heaps, and seem to have been melted down on the spot, where the silver-ore was produced.

These dangers to which the traveller is exposed on Mount Laurion, remind us of another serious accident, which happen ed to a party of gentlemen, with whom we, for the first time, visited the mines in the year 1837. On a bright and beautiful day in December, during the Christmas vacations, some of the professors of the Colleges, the Danish architects, and several Bavarian physicians and officers, took a ride to the promontory of Sunion. Ilaving during the day enjoyed the deliglitful view from the temple-ruins and visited the shafts, we in the evening arrived at the village of Keratiæ, situated at the base of Mount Laurion, where the Greek archimandrite, Pappa Nikolas offered us the hospitality of his house for the night. As we had been on horse-back all day and the chilly night-breeze came whistling most uncomfortably through the ruinous dwelling of the Greek pappas, the gentlemen proposed to take some warm restorative, and there being plenty of oranges and lemons in the village, our servants were ordered to make some hot punch. Supper had in the mean time been served, and part of the evening spent with song and lively conversation, when on a sudden the whole party began to feel so exceedingly ill, that the physicians at once pronounced that we had been poisoned. And indeed it was soon discovered, that our servants, searching, with some difficulty, for a large kettle, had borrowed one from a neighbor, which had not been tinned and was covered inside with vers-di-gris. In this dilemma, a stout, old Albanian shepherd entered, and learning our sad accident, re

« AnteriorContinuar »