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Arcadia held a unique place in the Peloponnesus, both as regards its
physical features and the character of its inhabitants. It occupied the
very centre of the peninsula, and was the only province that had no
direct access to the sea. Its area was greater than that of any other,
being about equal in extent to the county of Cumberland. The rural
charms with which it was credited by the Latin poets, and by Sir Philip
Sydney among ourselves, were largely the product of imagination, as the
scenery is generally of a bleak and stern character, and the people, in
consequence, are disposed to take life seriously. There are some smiling
plains in the south and west, but the most of the country consists of
rugged mountains and marshy valleys. A remarkable feature is the number
of basins enclosed on all sides by the hills, where the streams can find
no visible outlet, and either form a lake or take a subterranean course
through some chasm or crevices in the porous limestone, in many cases
never to reappear. The only river which forces its way through all
obstacles till it reaches the sea, and has a perennial supply of water,
is the Alpheus, which we have already met at Olympia. It was believed by
the ancient Greeks to hold on its course after it reached the sea, and
to mingle its waters with the fountain of Arethusa at Syracuse. In proof
of this it was said that a cup which had been thrown into the river had
afterwards been discovered in the fountain!

In classical times the Arcadians had been so long settled in the land
that they were generally believed to be indigenous, and their chief
city, Lycosoura, was regarded as the oldest city in Greece. On its site
some colossal heads have recently been discovered that are supposed to
represent Despoina (that is, Persephone), who had a temple here,
Demeter, Artemis, and Anytus the Titan. The city was close to Mount
Lycæus, the fabled birthplace of the Arcadian Zeus; and perhaps this
fact and the similarity of the names may account for the belief in its
antiquity. Here, as on Mount Ithome, Zeus seems to have been worshipped
in primitive fashion without temple or image. On Mount Lycæus Pelasgus
was also believed to have been born, the reputed ancestor of the
primitive race which was in possession of the country before the Achæans
or the Dorians made their appearance. A story is told of his son, King
Lycaon, which seems to reflect the memory of a time when human
sacrifices were sometimes offered. It was said that Zeus had come to
detect the royal family in their wickedness, and was received with
reverence by the rest of the community, but Lycaon, being sceptical
of his guest’s divinity and wishing to put
it to the test, caused his grandson Arcas to be cut up and served at his
table, whereupon the indignant deity at once destroyed him, his sons,
and his palace with a flash of lightning, and restored Arcas to life, to
take possession of the throne and give his name to the country. There
were other versions of the same story. According to Pausanias “Lycaon
brought a human babe to the altar of Lycæan Zeus and sacrificed it, and
poured out the blood on the altar; and they say that immediately after
the sacrifice he was turned into a wolf.” Pausanias’ comments on it are
interesting, as an illustration of the religious views of a
well-informed Greek in the second century of the Christian era. “For my
own part I believe the tale: it has been handed down among the Arcadians
from antiquity, and probability is in its favour. For the men of that
time, by reason of their righteousness and piety, were guests of the
gods, and sat with them at table; the gods openly visited the good with
honour and the bad with their displeasure. Indeed, men were raised to
the rank of gods in those days, and are worshipped down to the present
time.... So we may well believe that Lycaon was turned into a wild
beast, and Niobe, daughter of Tantalus, into a stone. But in the present
age, when wickedness is growing to such a height, and spreading over
every land and every city, men are changed into gods no more, save in
the hollow rhetoric which flattery addresses to power; and the wrath of
the gods at the wicked is reserved for a distant future, when they
shall have gone hence.” By far the greater part of the observations made
by this writer on Arcadia relate to its religious customs and
traditions; and from the vague nature of the information he obtained
regarding many of its deities and the peculiar rites with which they
were worshipped, it is evident that Arcadia contained more distinct
traces of the old Pelasgic religion, anterior to the theogony recognised
by Homer and Hesiod, than almost any other part of Greece. It was
difficult for a votary of the Hellenic religion like Pausanias to arrive
at a definite conception of the names, the functions, and the outward
symbols of not a few of the objects of Arcadian worship.

According to tradition Arcas had three sons, of whom the second,
Apheidas, was the founder of Tegea, an aggregate of nine villages, and
for a long time the most famous city in the district. He was the
ancestor of Atalanta, immortalised by Euripides in connection with the
Calydonian Hunt, which ranks with the Voyage of the Argonauts, the Siege
of Thebes, and the Trojan War, as one of the heroic legends of Greece.
It is the same Atalanta who is known to us by the story of her conquest
in the foot-race by one of her suitors, Melanion, through the seductive
influence of the golden apples of the Hesperides, which she stooped to
pick up when he threw them in her path. After the hunt she was said to
have brought home with her to Tegea the head and skin of the wild boar
which Artemis had sent to ravage the Calydonian kingdom
on account of a slight offered to her in sacrifice. Whether genuine or
not, the relics of the boar, in the form of a great hide, and tusks
three feet long, were exhibited for centuries in the temple of Athena
Alea, and a sculptured head of the boar has recently been found among
the ruins, from the size of which it is calculated that the animal was
six and a half feet long. The tusks were carried off to Rome by the
Emperor Augustus, along with an ivory image of the goddess, but the
well-worn skin was shown to Pausanias when he visited Tegea. He also saw
a relief executed by the great sculptor Scopas, representing the famous
hunt, on the pediment of the temple, which was rebuilt of marble after a
fire, in 394 B.C., and was considered the most beautiful building of the
kind in the Peloponnesus.

Echemus was another illustrious Tegean of prehistoric times, married,
according to Hesiod, to a sister of Clytemnestra. He commanded the
contingent of troops raised by the city to join the allied forces,
Arcadian, Achæan, and Ionian, which came forth to repel the Heracleids
when they were crossing the Isthmus for the purpose of invading the
country. Instead of a general engagement it was agreed to settle the
question by a single combat between Echemus and Hyllus, the eldest son
of Heracles, from whom the challenge had come. In the encounter Hyllus
was overcome and put to death, whereupon the Dorian invaders retraced
their steps, and, in accordance with an agreement come to, did not again
attempt the conquest of the Peloponnesus for three generations. Even
when victorious they left Arcadia alone, and it continued to retain its
independence for many centuries afterwards.

The Arcadians, as known to us in history, have generally been
distinguished by the rude simplicity of their manners and the sturdy
vigour of their physique. Intensely conservative in their ways, they
were always ready to do their duty bravely when called upon to defend
their country; and, like the Swiss, whom they resembled in some other
points, they supplied many neighbouring states with mercenary soldiers,
who were always looked upon as a valuable force. It was one of the
ambitions of the Spartans to reduce them to subjection. With this view
they are said to have once consulted the Delphian oracle, which gave
them an unfavourable answer as regards Arcadia generally, telling them
that there were many acorn-eating men there, but appeared to encourage
them to try their strength against Tegea, foretelling that they would
dance there and measure out the plain with a rope. Taking this in a
favourable sense they advanced against Tegea, but were utterly defeated,
and many of them were taken prisoners and compelled to work in the
fields, wearing the very chains which, with undue confidence, they had
carried with them from Sparta for the purpose of securing their expected
captives. Both Herodotus and Pausanias mention having seen these chains
in the temple of Athena. In the same sanctuary there was also deposited
the horse’s manger, made of brass, which was found in the tent of the
Persian general Mardonius by the Tegean troops who took part in the
battle of Platæa, and who on that occasion claimed the place of honour
next to the Lacedæmonians, on account of the signal services which had
been rendered by their ancestor Echemus.

In his history (i. 67-8) Herodotus tells a curious story of the way in
which the Spartans succeeded at a later time in getting the better of
the Tegeans, with the help of the friendly oracle at Delphi. They were
directed to bring back to Sparta the bones of Orestes, the son of
Agamemnon, whose resting-place was enigmatically described. By the
combined sagacity and good luck of a Spartan, named Lichas, the body,
contained in a coffin measuring about seven cubits in length, was
discovered in a blacksmith’s premises at Tegea, and was brought back to
Sparta and buried there. The consequence was that the Spartans soon
proved the stronger, compelling the Tegeans to become their allies for
nearly two centuries, to which they were less averse than the rest of
the Arcadians, owing to their liking for an oligarchic form of
government. They still remained faithful to the general cause of Greek
independence and sent 500 men to fight at Thermopylæ. For centuries
after the loss of Greek liberty Tegea continued to be a place of
importance. Strabo, writing in the first century A.D., speaks of it as
the only city in Arcadia worth mentioning, and when Pausanias visited it
he found it in a flourishing condition. There is now little to mark its
site, save the scanty ruins of its famous temple and its theatre. The
foundations of the temple were discovered in 1879, buried deep
underground, to the west of the Church of St. Nicholas, where many
fragments of Doric columns of marble had long been lying exposed to
view. The inner columns were Ionic and Corinthian. The workmanship, so
far as any specimens of it exist, fully justifies the admiration
expressed by Pausanias.

Thirteen or fourteen miles north of Tegea, on a somewhat lower level of
the same great central plain, stood the city of Mantinea, long a rival
to Tegea, and possessing more of a commercial character, with a
consequent leaning to the democratic form of government. Originally
built on the top of a low conical hill (Gourtsouli, or Ptolis), rather
less than a mile to the north, it was constituted on its later site by
the union of five villages, which were amalgamated by the Argives (who
dwelt only a day’s journey to the east) for the purpose of counteracting
the Spartan sympathies of Tegea. It was the scene of two great
battles--the one fought and gained by the Spartans under King Agis, with
the help of Bœotian and Corinthian troops, the other by Epaminondas
at the head of the Theban confederacy. On the former occasion a striking
proof was given of the value of Spartan discipline. Though taken by
surprise when he found the enemy drawn up and ready for the conflict,
Agis succeeded in gaining such a victory as went far to restore the
prestige of his country, which had been tarnished by recent events in
the Peloponnesian war. About thirty years later
(386 B.C.) Mantinea again incurred the hostility of Sparta and
experienced its military skill. The river Ophis (so called from its
circuitous windings farther north), which at that time ran through the
city, was diverted from its course by the Spartan general Agesipolis,
and so dammed up that its waters overflowed the brick-built walls, which
soon gave way, compelling the inhabitants to surrender. The community
was then dissolved into the five villages of which it had been composed,
a high-handed act on the part of Sparta, which was characteristic of its
policy when it thought its ascendency to be in danger. One of the first
results of the great Theban victory achieved by Epaminondas at Leuctra
(371 B.C.) was the reunion of the scattered population. But though the
Mantineans were at first in sympathy with the policy of that great
soldier and statesman in seeking to create an Arcadian federation for
the defence of the country against Spartan aggression, the rise of a new
capital at Megalopolis excited their jealousy, and it was partly owing
to their defection that Epaminondas had to undertake his last campaign
in the Peloponnesus. It was in a great battle fought in the immediate
vicinity of Mantinea that he met his death. Never was there a more
striking proof of the influence that may be exerted by a master-mind
upon an army, than when Epaminondas was suddenly struck down while
fighting with heroic energy at the head of his men. As soon as they knew
that he had fallen, their victorious advance ceased, and the enemy were
allowed to retire without suffering the usual penalties of defeat. He
was carried out of the field with a lance sticking in his breast; and a
rising-ground is still pointed out (Scopas) from which he is said to
have watched the close of the battle. He named two men to succeed him in
the command of the forces; but, on learning that they had both fallen,
he advised that peace should be concluded with the enemy. Having
ascertained that his shield was safe, he ordered the javelin to be
extracted, and as the blood rushed out he breathed his last. He was
buried on the spot, and a monument was erected over his grave, of which
no trace has yet been found.
Even if there were no such names in Greek history as Hesiod, Pindar,
Pelopidas, and Plutarch, the memory of Epaminondas would be sufficient
to redeem Bœotia from the reproach so often cast upon it as a land of
dullards. He was not only a consummate general, whose name will always
be associated with the irresistible phalanx which anticipated that of
Macedonia,[2] but was in every respect a great man--the greatest of the
Greeks, according to Cicero. Distinguished in music and philosophy, he
was also a good speaker, and if he had had more opportunities for the
practice of eloquence, he would probably have been found a match for the
greatest orators of his day. We may judge of his readiness in debate
from the answer he gave to Callistratus, the renowned Athenian orator,
when the latter, pleading with the Arcadians to form an alliance with
Athens rather than with Thebes and Argos, sought to excite prejudice
against these states by asking, “Were not Orestes and Alcmæon, who were
both murderers of their mothers, natives of Argos? Was not Œdipus,
who slew his father and married his mother, a native of Thebes?” “Yes,
they were,” said Epaminondas, in his reply, “but Callistratus has
forgotten to tell you that these men, while they lived at home, were
innocent or were reputed to be so. As soon as their crimes became known
they were banished; and then it was that Athens received them, stained
with blood.” On another occasion, when he was accused by a demagogue of
trying to emulate the glories of Agamemnon at the risk of his country,
by sailing from Aulis to the Hellespont at the head of a great fleet, he
replied, “By the help of Thebes I have already done more than Agamemnon.
He with the forces of Sparta and all Greece besides, was ten years in
taking a single city; while I, with the single force of Thebes and on
the single day of Leuctra, have crushed the power of the Agamemnonian
Sparta.” This was answering a fool according to his folly; but, in
general, he was as remarkable for his modesty as for his great powers.
It was said of him by one who had been in early life a companion of
Socrates that he had never known any one who understood so much and
spoke so little; and when he was reduced in rank, even after the great
battle which deprived Sparta of its military supremacy, he did not
disdain to serve his country for a time in a comparatively humble
position. That the Spartans knew how formidable he was as an adversary
is evident from the honours which, as Plutarch tells us, they heaped on
the man who slew him, even ordaining that his descendants in all time
coming should be exempted from the payment of taxes. Like Aristides the
“Just” and Delyannis, the recently-assassinated Premier of Greece,
Epaminondas was so free from the love of money that he did not leave
enough even to pay his funeral expenses.
Very few remains of the ancient city of Mantinea are to be seen, but the
lower courses of the encircling walls, measuring more than two and a
half miles in circumference, are plainly visible, with eight different
gates and more than 120 towers, separated by intervals of fully 80 feet,
while the course of the Ophis can also be traced, which served
apparently as a moat, with its two arms running round the city. In 1887
three marble slabs were discovered in the floor of a Byzantine church
within the walls, with reliefs representing the musical contest between
Marsyas and Apollo, which have been identified with those mentioned by
Pausanias as adorning a pedestal supporting images of Latona and her
children, by Praxiteles. In the present aspect of the place, which is
very much of the nature of a swamp, there is little to justify its
ancient reputation as the “lovely city” mentioned in Homer.
Tegea and Mantinea and another ancient city in the neighbourhood
(Pallantion) are commemorated in the city of Tripoliza (or Tripolis, the
threefold city), which was founded by the Turks about two hundred years
Tripoliza is the only large town in Arcadia, having a population of more
than 10,000, with a thriving trade. It is also the seat of a bishopric,
and contains one of the handsomest modern churches in Greece, built of
marble, with a lofty tower recently added. The elevation of the city,
like that of the plain generally, is fully 2000 feet above the sea.
In the western plain of Arcadia, separated from that of Tegea and
Mantinea by the Mænalus range, stood the “great city,” Megalopolis,
which owed its existence to the genius and the determination of
Epaminondas. He saw that Arcadia would never be secure against Spartan
invasion until means could be found to unite its forces. The jealousy
between Tegea and Mantinea rendered it impossible for either of these
cities to be chosen as the capital, and another site was found by the
banks of the Helisson, a tributary of the Alpheus. No fewer than forty
small townships were merged in the new city, which was founded
immediately after the battle of Leuctra. Several refused to join, and
the inhabitants of one of them, called Trapezus, a very old settlement,
rather than give up their independence, preferred to be put to the
sword, those who escaped emigrating to their daughter-city of the same
name, on the southern shore of the Black Sea. The name Megalopolis was
not unsuitable, considering that the walls of the city were more than
five and a half miles in circumference, and that the territory attached
to it extended twenty-four miles on the north. Its stability was at
various times endangered by internal discord, and nothing but the
watchful eye and strong arm of Thebes could have saved the union from a
speedy dissolution.
Like most of the Greek cities, Megalopolis did not realise till too late
what the gradual advance of the Macedonian power was to mean for Greece.
In 347 B.C. the Athenian orator Æschines paid it a visit and spoke in
its national assembly, the “Ten Thousand,” urging them to combine with
other Powers against Philip; but without much effect, as might have been
expected, considering that Æschines himself was soon to prove a traitor.
Seventeen years later the city was delivered out of the hands of its
Peloponnesian enemies by Antipater, the lieutenant of Alexander the
Great; but it had to submit, like Argos and Athens, to the remodelling
of its constitution, in order that its new master might put some of his
own partisans into power to form an oligarchy. A hundred years later it
fell into the hands of the Spartans under Cleomenes, who took it by a
stratagem and levelled it to the ground. Most of the citizens escaped to
Messene under the leadership of the brave Philopœmen, and the city
was afterwards rebuilt, taking a leading part in the Achæan League,
until the supremacy of Roman arms could no longer be disputed. Among its
citizens at the beginning of the second century B.C., Megalopolis could
boast of two of the greatest Greeks of their time, the gallant soldier
just mentioned, who humbled the pride of Sparta and extorted the
admiration of his Roman adversaries, and his young friend Polybius, the
famous historian. The latter carried the urn containing the ashes of
the mighty dead in the imposing funeral procession described by
Plutarch--the precursor of still higher honours, amounting to divine
worship, that were afterwards to be paid to Philopœmen, whom
Pausanias describes as the last benefactor of the Greeks.
To the modern traveller Megalopolis still presents features of interest.
Its wide and open landscape embraces fertile plains and wooded hills and
refreshing streams, which present a pleasing contrast to the dreary
stretch of country on the eastern side of Arcadia. There are also some
interesting ruins (excavated by the British School of Archæology in
1890-93), the best preserved of which is the theatre, described by
Pausanias as the largest in Greece, and supposed to have been capable of
accommodating nearly 20,000 persons. There is a distance of about 500
feet between the stage and the top of the hill, in the hollow of which
the semicircular banks of stone benches are fixed; but such is the
clearness of the atmosphere and the form of the enclosure that words
spoken from the actor’s place can be distinctly heard by any one
listening above. Another ruin of great interest is the _Thersilium_, a
hall covering an area of 35,000 square yards, in which the Arcadian
assembly held their meetings and carried on their fierce debates. It is
connected with the theatre by a portico, which was at one time mistaken
for a stage, but is now regarded as of an earlier date and built for a
different purpose. If Dr. Dörpfeld’s theory be correct that until a
comparatively late period the Greek actors spoke from the floor of the
orchestra, the only purpose which the portico could have served, so far
as the theatre was concerned, was to form a background. Many old coins
and vases have been picked up on the site of the ancient city by the
inhabitants of the modern village of Sinanou, a little way to the
south-east, and are preserved in their houses. Large fragments of marble
are also to be seen scattered about.
The road from Megalopolis to Bassæ, by way of Andritsæna, takes the
traveller through some of the finest hill-scenery in Arcadia, along one
of those modern carriage-roads which are felt to be luxurious, compared
with the mule-tracks by which many journeys have still to be taken in
the Peloponnesus, as in the days of old, when there was comparatively
little communication between the different parts of Greece except by
sea. One of the most striking objects to be seen on the way is the
village of Karytæna, with its mediæval fortress on the top of a hill
nearly 2000 feet high. The castle is only approachable by a narrow
passage, and even the town, now reduced to a population of about 1400,
can only be reached from one side of the mountain, standing as it does
in a corner between the summit crowned with the fortress and the
neighbouring hill of St. Elias,[3] on which may be seen two Greek
churches of Byzantine-Frankish architecture. Karytæna was the home of
Kolokotronis, the highland chieftain who carried on guerilla operations
with so much success during the War of Liberation. His
great achievement was the capture of Tripoliza in 1821, but his cruelty
in putting to death nearly the whole Turkish population, and his
self-seeking spirit generally, detracted greatly from his reputation.
After the independence of Greece had been secured he was found guilty of
conspiracy against the Government, and was sentenced to death; but the
penalty was remitted and he was allowed to end his days in his castle at
Karytæna. A prominent object in the neighbourhood, as the traveller’s
carriage winds round the hill, is a handsome bridge with six arches,
which recalls the wealth and importance of the place in former times.
Still more attractive, although less interesting from a historical point
of view, is the little town of Andritsæna, with upwards of 2000
inhabitants, which is reached after crossing Mount Lycæus. It is built
on the two sides of a mountain stream embroidered with trees; and in the
main street, beside the village fountain, there is a wide-spreading
plane-tree, under which the people gather for a friendly talk, giving
the place a most genial aspect. From the top of an adjoining hill a
magnificent view can be obtained, extending to Erymanthus on the north
and even including a glimpse of some of the Ionian Islands, under a
favourable evening light.
From Andritsæna to Olympia is a long day’s ride over a very bad road,
and is not a journey to be undertaken by any one who is deficient either
in nerve or physical endurance. But the rich and varied scenery through
which you pass, as you traverse mountain sides bordering on precipitous
gorges, and thread your way through umbrageous forests and flowery
though often thorny thickets, and ford rivers, and skirt vineyards and
cornfields, with an occasional view of far-away summits white with snow
glistening in the sun--makes the experience an interesting and vivid
The journey to Bassæ from Andritsæna is very similar, though too short
to be laborious. It conducts to a scene of the most impressive solitude,
at an elevation of nearly 4000 feet, commanding a magnificent view both
of land and sea, including Mt. Ithome and the great Messenian plain. In
the Temple of Bassæ, dedicated to Apollo in this secluded spot by the
people of Phigalia, which was six miles distant, the beauty of art seems
to vie with the grandeur of nature. The ruin is acknowledged by general
consent to be the finest in the Peloponnesus, though for centuries it
was known only to the shepherds in the neighbourhood. Designed by
Ictinus, one of the architects of the Parthenon, the structure has
weathered the storms of more than twenty-three centuries. Of the
thirty-eight Doric columns which surrounded the temple only three are
now wanting, and their architraves are almost intact. The frieze of the
_cella_ or inner chamber was discovered in 1812, and was purchased two
years afterwards by the British Government for £19,000--to be preserved
in the British Museum. On it are represented the battle between the
Greeks and the Amazons, and the fight between the Lapiths and the
Centaurs. The design is admirable, but the execution is so poor as to
suggest that the work was done by local sculptors. Though the frieze is
of marble, the temple generally was built of grey limestone quarried in
the neighbourhood. Unlike other Greek temples, which look to the east to
greet the rising sun, that of Bassæ faces the north. This is accounted
for by the fact that it was built over an older shrine, which, from the
nature of the rocky ledge on which it stood, could not be extended any
farther east and west. The old entrance, however, was still preserved,
and the image of the god still faced to the east. Pausanias tells us of
a bronze statue of Apollo, twelve feet high, which was removed from the
temple to Megalopolis and set up in the market-place, but it has long
since disappeared. The same writer conjectures that the temple was
erected in honour of Apollo Epicourios for having averted from Phigalia
the plague with which Athens was visited during the Peloponnesian War.
But it is considered more likely to have been a general tribute to the
god on account of the health-giving breezes which play over the spot,
and which no doubt made it a favourite resort for the invalids of the
According to the ancient traveller just mentioned, the civilisation of
Arcadia dates from the time of Arcas, who introduced cereal crops and
taught his subjects to spin wool and weave cloth. Here, as elsewhere in
Greece, it is no uncommon thing to see women spinning thread and herding
sheep or goats at the same time, while indoors you may find them busy at
the loom weaving cloth for family use, following the good example set of
old both by Helen and Penelope. Unfortunately, women are also much in
evidence in the fields and on the country roads, doing work which in
this country would be left to men--even such heavy work as breaking
stones. The men seem to be much fonder of taking their ease than the
other sex, and show more vanity in their dress. The Albanian costume,
which is the uniform worn by the eight battalions of Riflemen, called
Evzoni, who guard the frontier, is much affected by those who can afford
it in the country towns. Its most conspicuous features are the
fustanella kilt, made of a white linen of incredible length when
stretched out to its full extent, the embroidered vest, and the red
shoes with turned-up toes. The shepherds wear a sheepskin cloak without
any pretensions to elegance, but they trim their hair with great care,
ringlets frequently hanging over their brow. They wear a broad leathern
belt with innumerable receptacles, and one of the first things they will
show to a stranger who is curious to know what they carry about with
them is a small hand-mirror. They often amuse themselves and their
flocks by playing on the pipe, which they can make in a few minutes from
a bamboo cut in the field or plucked out of the roofing of their hut.

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