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ARGOLIS AND ITS ANTIQUITIES

CHAPTER VI




A peculiar interest attaches to Argolis, whether we regard it from a
historical or an archæological point of view. Its legendary history
carries us back to a period long anterior to the Siege of
Troy--according to some chronologists to the year 1860 B.C.--while the
excavations at Mycenæ and Tiryns have brought to light innumerable
relics of the Homeric or, rather, of a pre-Homeric age, and have
confirmed the tradition of a pre-historic connection between Argolis and
Egypt.

In the Argolic peninsula, which was at one time the chief seat of
civilisation in Greece, there were a number of cities of great
antiquity. The oldest of these was Argos, which lay (like the modern
town of 10,000 inhabitants) in the south-west of the plain, about four
and a half miles from the coast. In its immediate neighbourhood is the
Larissa, or acropolis, a conical hill nearly 1000 feet high, which is
now crowned with a mediæval citadel.

The oldest name associated with the place is Inachus. It is still borne
by the chief river, and its application to a mythical personage is
probably due to the agency of the river in the formation of the land by
its alluvial deposits. A later tradition tells of the arrival of a
family of immigrants from Egypt, the daughters of one Danaus, who
exerted such an influence on the life of the community that their
descendants share with the Argives the honour of being frequently
mentioned in the pages of Homer as the chief representatives of Greece.
The story of the enforced marriage of the Danaids with their fifty
cousins, the sons of Ægyptus, whose heads they cut off on the bridal
night, seems to have had its origin in some new system of irrigation at
the expense of the mountain springs and torrents which flow into the
plain. For their crime the Danaids are said to have been condemned to
pour water, in Hades, into leaky vessels--to which we may see something
analogous at the present day in the labours of the women employed to
water the fields of “thirsty Argos.” The next great name that meets us
is that of Perseus, who gained immortal fame by bringing home the head
of Medusa, which turned all who looked upon it into stone. With the help
of the Lycian Cyclopes Perseus was believed to have built the
fortifications of Tiryns and Mycenæ, and his son of the same name was
credited by Herodotus with being the founder of the royal dynasty of
Persia.

As we approach the historic age, the figure of Adrastus comes
prominently into view. His fame was chiefly derived from the famous
Siege of Thebes, which he undertook for the purpose of restoring his
son-in-law Polyneices to the throne of his father Œdipus. After his
death Adrastus became an object of worship in Argos and the cities which
owned its suzerainty. We have an illustration of the close connection
which then subsisted between religion and politics in the fact that when
Cleisthenes, the “Tyrant” of Sicyon, wished to assert his independence
of Argos, he applied to Thebes for an image of Melanippus, the ancient
and powerful foe of Adrastus, so that, being introduced into the citadel
of Sicyon, he might put the other hero-god to flight. The same ruler
also paid a tribute to the influence of poetry when he forbade Homer to
be recited in Sicyon, because the great bard said too much about the
glory of Argos.

The most noted ruler of Argos in historic times was Pheidon (_c._ 750
B.C.), whose dominion extended over Sicyon, Phlius, Trœzen,
Epidaurus, and Ægina. He left his mark on the Peloponnesus by
introducing coinage in electrum and silver, and a new system of weights
and measures, apparently borrowed from the Phœnicians, which received
the name of _Æginetan_ from its chief commercial centre, in the same way
as the system in vogue among the Ionian Greeks received the name of
_Eubœic_. According to Herodotus the Argolic territory at one time
included all the eastern coast, down to Cape Malea. But the Spartans
gradually encroached upon it, till their country became the premier
state of Greece, of which we have one of the earliest indications in the
fact that it was to Sparta Crœsus made his appeal for support in 547
B.C.

Argos played an ignoble part at the time of the Persian invasion. It
refused to make common cause with Sparta, unless a thirty years’ truce
were concluded between the two states, and the honour of commanding the
allied forces were shared equally between them--a demand to which Sparta
could not accede, though willing to admit the king of Argos to an
equality with her own two kings. In spite of the abstention of Argos the
two neighbouring cities of Mycenæ and Tiryns each sent a contingent to
Thermopylæ and Platæa, and it was partly in revenge for this that Argos
in 468 B.C. took possession of these cities and deprived them of their
liberties. The comparative insignificance of Mycenæ from this time
forward accounts for Argos being so often substituted for it by the
friendly dramatists of Athens, as the scene of the great tragedies in
the family of Agamemnon. With all its pride in its mythical glory, Argos
never produced any great man after Pheidon--unless we give it credit for
its remote connection with Alexander the Great, who claimed to be
descended from an Argive exile who settled in Macedonia. Argos had the
opportunity more than once of becoming the head of a league against
Sparta, and at one time it had a strong military force in its
“Thousand,” a highly trained and well-equipped regiment composed of
young men belonging to its best families; but it was weakened by
internal dissensions between the oligarchic and democratic parties, and
never enjoyed more than a very brief ascendency. At one time its
citizens made an attempt, with the help of Alcibiades and the
Athenians, to connect the city with the sea by means of long walls like
those of Athens, but the Spartans interfered and soon put a stop to the
work.

In its wars with Sparta Argos sought more than once to take advantage of
the religious scruples of the enemy. This happened especially in
connection with the festival of Carnean Apollo (a deity worshipped by
them both), the date of which the Argives varied to suit their own
convenience, alleging the celebration of it as a reason why military
operations should be suspended. To guard against such strategy,
Agesipolis, the Spartan king, on one occasion obtained authority from
the oracles of Delphi and Olympia to disregard such a fictitious claim.
Having crossed the border he was challenged by two heralds wearing the
insignia of their office, on the ground that it was a time of holy
truce; to which Agesipolis replied that he had the warrant of the gods
to disobey their commands. The same evening there was a shock of
earthquake, whereupon the Spartans sang the pæan to Apollo and expected
an order to retreat; but the king declared that as the earthquake had
not happened till after he had crossed the frontier he regarded it as a
favourable omen. He proceeded to ravage the country, and had reached the
gates of Argos when a flash of lightning killed several of his men,
whereupon he at once beat a retreat.

In the previous century a great outrage upon religion had been committed
by a Spartan king, Cleomenes, who afterwards went mad and committed
suicide. Having driven 6000 Argive troops into the sacred grove of
Apollo, close to the city, he set fire to the grove and put the 6000 men
to death, inducing many of them to quit their place of refuge on the
understanding that their lives would be spared. He then went with a
thousand men to the temple of Hera, a few miles distant, and insisted on
sacrificing to the goddess in spite of the rule of the sanctuary, by
which it was forbidden to strangers; and when admission was refused he
caused the priest to be dragged from the altar and scourged. To the
great displeasure of his countrymen, however, he carried the war against
Argos no farther, alleging as his reason that the light on the altar had
flashed upon him from the bosom of the statue of the goddess, not from
her head.

Although the chief Dorian temple in the district was that on the summit
of Larissa in honour of Apollo, the Heræum, just referred to, was a much
more ancient sanctuary, and was probably the original seat of the
worship of Hera in Greece. Of this we have a token in the discovery
among its ruins of an Egyptian scarab with cartouche, supposed to be of
Thothmes III. (fifteenth century B.C.). Thucydides reckoned the date of
the Peloponnesian war by the priestly registers in this temple, which
seem to have been even older than the Olympian lists. The earliest
priestess is said to have been Io, identified with the moon, whom Zeus
transformed into a cow, and whose wanderings, imposed upon her by the
jealous goddess, extended to the crossing of the Thracian straits,
thence called Bosporus (Ox-ford or Cow-ford).

During the priesthood of Chryso, about a thousand years later (423
B.C.), the temple was destroyed by fire owing to the upsetting of a lamp
by the aged priestess while she was asleep. A splendid new temple was
soon erected on an adjacent site, but only the foundations of it can now
be traced, with some remains also of the older building at a still lower
level. Another priestess was Cydippe, whose two sons, Cleobis and
Beiton, in the absence of oxen, drew her in a cart all the way from
Argos to the Heræum, a distance of seven miles. In the joy and pride of
her heart the mother prayed the goddess to give her sons the best gift
that could fall to the lot of man. The consequence was that the young
men, having fallen asleep in the sanctuary after sacrificing and
feasting, awoke no more, the goddess thus signifying that death was
better than life. Pausanias tells us that the temple contained a wooden
image of Hera, which had been removed from the conquered city of Tiryns,
and also an image of the goddess in gold and ivory, the work of
Polycleitus. A good many fragments of the ancient sculpture have been
brought to light, and not a few of them are built into Christian
churches and other edifices in the neighbourhood, especially a church
dedicated to the Virgin, which is worth a visit on this account.

The Heræum will always have a charm for the classical scholar as the
spot where Agamemnon was solemnly acknowledged as their leader by the
assembled Greeks before setting out for Troy. It is significant that
Hera is represented as devoted to the Greeks all through the Trojan war, and even before it; and perhaps the proximity of
her shrine to Mycenæ, which was only a few miles distant, may help to
account for the prominence of that city and its prince in the story of
the war.

After being depopulated by the Argives, Mycenæ seems to have been for a
long time comparatively deserted, and even now it presents very much the
same appearance as it did when seen by Pausanias nearly eighteen hundred
years ago. Nowhere has the spade achieved greater triumphs than in this
venerated spot. The story of Schliemann’s excavations, both here and at
Troy, is one of the romances of the nineteenth century. From his
childhood everything mysterious had a fascination for him, and he was
possessed with a passionate admiration for the heroes of the _Iliad_.
Though he was early thrown upon his own resources to earn a livelihood,
and had a hard struggle for many years, he found time for the study of
Greek and other languages, which he mastered chiefly by committing whole
books to memory. Having succeeded in amassing wealth he devoted the
remainder of his life to the interests of Greek archæology, cherishing
his faith in the Homeric legends in spite of much ridicule, poured upon
him sometimes by men of the greatest learning, until at length he was
rewarded by discoveries which surpassed his fondest expectations. His
conclusions may not all be sound. For example, it is the opinion of
Zountas, the eminent Greek archæologist, in view of all the facts which
have come to light, that the bodies found in the shaft-graves within
the citadel were not, as Schliemann supposed, the remains of Agamemnon
and other members of the house of Pelops, to whose graves Pausanias
alludes, but those of an earlier Perseid dynasty, and that the beehive
tombs found outside the citadel are those of Agamemnon and other
Atreidan kings, being similar to a considerable number of other tombs
found on the eastern side of Greece as far north as Thessaly. With this
agrees the fact that the famous lion-gate and the adjoining part of the
wall are not built in the same Cyclopean style as the rest of the wall,
the latter being composed of rough blocks piled one upon another without
order, and kept in position by means of small stones and clay inserted
between them, while the portions above referred to are composed of
carefully-hewn stones of a polygonal shape, fitting into one another.

A prodigious quantity of pottery and other productions of art in gold,
bronze, stone, and other materials, has been discovered in the graves
and elsewhere at Mycenæ. Such variety do the treasures now stored in the
Museum at Athens display that they are supposed to represent a period of
artistic development extending from about 1600 to 1100 B.C. Among other
things found were an ostrich egg, articles made of ivory, and a great
number of amber beads, proving a connection both with Africa and the
Baltic. Some of the artistic designs, too, such as those in which the
papyrus and the lotus appear, show traces of intercourse with Egypt,
which might also be inferred from the discovery of Mycenæan pottery at
Thebes in that country. It is at Hissarlik (Troy), however, and in
certain islands in the Ægean Sea, especially Crete, that the chief
evidence of a civilisation like that of Mycenæ has been discovered. It
is the opinion of experts that its origin may go as far back as 2500
B.C., and that its development in Crete may have been contemporaneous
with the maritime empire which was associated with the name of Minos,
whose influence extended as far as Sicily on the west, and which could
hardly fail to be in touch with Asia Minor, Phœnicia, and Egypt.
Whether the Mycenæan civilisation was due to the Achæan race of warriors
described in Homer, or to Pelasgians, or to the Phœnicians, has not
yet been fully determined. In some respects it does not tally with the
conditions of the heroic age, of which Homer sings. For example, very
few traces of iron have been found compared with what we might have
expected from the number of allusions to it in Homer. The same is the
case as regards the safety-pins for fastening the seamless garments
which the Achæans wore. Moreover, Homer represents burning, not burial,
as the usual mode of disposing of the dead. But it is possible that
these differences may have belonged to different stages in the history
of the Achæan civilisation, which was probably in a state of decadence
when Homer wrote. In any case the places to which he gives prominence
are generally found to have been centres of the civilisation in
question. With regard to Mycenæ in particular, the epithets applied to
it by the poet--“abounding in gold” and a “well-built city”--are
singularly appropriate. Apart from its legendary dignity as the capital
city of the “king of men,” there can be no doubt that Mycenæ was a place
of great wealth and importance, partly owing to its trade in pottery and
other works of art, but chiefly, perhaps, to its commanding position on
the highway of commerce between Nauplia and Corinth--in other words,
between the Argolic Gulf on the south and the Corinthian and Saronic
Gulfs on the north. The latter point is emphasised by a recent writer in
the _Edinburgh Review_, who says: “Mycenæ is on the flank of the hills,
and possesses good springs, that great treasure in the thirsty plains of
Argolis. Its fine military position is guarded by rocky defiles. Its
watch-towers command every vale from which a land force could attack,
and every space of sea-coast that might reveal a pirate’s raid. It is
the very gate of the pass that leads from the plain of Argos to the
beach of Corinth, and to this day the train takes travellers past its
portals from Nauplia to the north-western gulf. Such land passages as
this, from one sea to another, were of the highest importance to
merchant-shipping in the old days of small light vessels, and continued
to be so until comparatively recent times. The riches of the barons of
Mycenæ were solely due to the fact that they could levy toll on passing
caravans of merchandise without fear of an overlord. It was to guard the
fortune thus amassed that the ramparts were constructed, which the
astonished antiquarian (who could not see over them) describes as ‘built for the
love of building.’”

The modern traveller can hardly fail to be struck, as Thucydides was,
with the limited dimensions of a city which is said to have sent a
hundred ships to Troy, besides providing sixty for the Arcadians, while
Athens only sent fifty. But it is evident from the ruins that the city
was not confined within the walls; and, after all, the size of a city,
like that of a country, is not always a safe criterion of its wealth and
influence. According to Pausanias, the only genuine work of Hephæstus
that was to be seen in his day was the sceptre which that divine
artificer presented to Zeus, and which Zeus gave to Hermes, and Hermes
to Pelops, and Pelops to Atreus, and Atreus to his brother Thyestes, and
Thyestes to Agamemnon, that he might “have dominion over many islands
and over all Argos.”

A still older and better preserved specimen of the Homeric citadel and
palace is to be seen at Tiryns, the fabled residence of Heracles, which
lies about a mile from the sea, near the marshy land in which the famous
steeds of Argos probably found pasture. It is situated on a long rocky
hillock, less than 100 feet above the level of the sea, which was no
doubt once an island, before the alluvial deposits from the mountain
sides had encroached so far on the domain of Poseidon. Its walls, to
which Homer alludes, form one of the most striking monuments of the
heroic age. They are in some places considerably over fifty feet thick,
and the stones of which they are composed are of great size, from six
to ten feet long, and about three feet in height and in thickness. But
though the stones are larger than those of Mycenæ they show more signs
of hewing, and were originally held together by clay mortar. In the
palace at the southern end, of which the ground plan can be distinctly
traced, one can recognise a general similarity to the Homeric palace. In
the chief entrance, which is evidently the archetype of the propylæa at
Athens, one can see the hole in the door-post and the adjoining wall,
into which the great wooden bar was shot when the door was open. After
passing through a spacious circular court with an altar of Zeus in the
centre, you enter through a portico into the chief apartment or hall.
Round the hearth in the centre stood the four pillars which supported
the roof. It was against one of these pillars that Odysseus was told he
would find the queen Areté sitting in the palace of Alcinous, spinning
purple wool in the light of the fire. You can also identify the
bathroom, with its solid limestone floor, and can even see a terra-cotta
fragment of the well-polished tubs referred to by the great minstrel,
with receptacles in the wall, probably intended for the oil which was
considered indispensable after the bath. Wall-paintings have also been
discovered and specimens of a frieze of a bluish colour, supposed to be
the _kuanos_ referred to in Homer as adorning the walls of the Phæacian
palace. With the exception of the lower parts, a few feet high, the
walls were evidently built of wood or clay, and appear to have been
destroyed by fire, of which the stone shows traces. At a lower level the
foundations of a still older building can be seen. Among other things
found among the ruins were many little figures of cows in terra-cotta,
supposed to have been connected with the worship of Hera, who is often
styled Cow-faced (_Bo-opis_) in Homer.

About two and a half miles from Tiryns, on a small peninsula which juts
out into the sea, there is now a thriving little town of 6000
inhabitants, called Nauplia. According to Pausanias its original
inhabitants came from Egypt, and its name would lead one to suppose that
they were known as seafaring people. In historic times they were driven
out by the Argives and took refuge in Mothone, which was granted to them
by the Spartans. Nauplia then became the general harbour for the people
of Argolis. Its military importance was recognised in later times by the
Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Turks, who have successively left
their mark upon its fortifications. The capture of Nauplia from the
Turks in 1822 was a great encouragement to the insurgent Greeks. It
became the capital of the country under the first Greek government, and
was also the scene of the assassination of its first president,
Capodistrias. It was at Nauplia that Otho made his entry into Greece in
1833 as the sovereign-elect, and it was among the soldiers of its
garrison that the revolt began which compelled him to resign his crown,
about thirty years later. The modern name of the city, Napoli de Romania
(Naples of Greece), betokens the beauty of its situation. There are few
more pleasing views in Greece than is seen in fine weather from the top
of the rocky hill which rises in the neighbourhood to a height of 700
feet, and which is supposed to owe its name (Palamidi) to the heroic
Palamedes, son of Nauplius, who is credited in the _Iliad_ with being
the author of so many inventions.

To the north-east of Nauplia lies one of the most attractive spots in
the Argolid, namely Epidaurus. The town of that name was close to the
coast, opposite to Ægina, which was once tributary to it. But the ruins
of the greatest interest are some five miles inland, in the precinct
sacred to Asclepios, the god of healing, who was said to have been born
in this neighbourhood as the child of Apollo and a nymph, and to have
been suckled by a goat on Mount Titthion. Epidaurus thus became the
headquarters of the healing art for all the votaries of Asclepios, both
in Greece and Asia Minor. The sacred precinct or _Hieron_ was of great
extent. Besides the temple, it contained almost everything that could be
desired in a health resort, such as a music-hall, a theatre (which is
still in a wonderful state of preservation and is the finest in Greece),
a hospital and baths, a gymnasium and a race-course. Part of the
sanctuary was set apart for the patients seeking the aid of the god, who
was generally supposed to communicate with them in their sleep. There
were many votive offerings and inscriptions telling of wonderful cures,
and when we take into account the influence of religious faith in such a
case, and the salutary air of a fine hill-country, we can
hardly wonder at the great hygienic reputation of the place. The dog and
the serpent are almost always associated with Asclepios in pictorial
representations, the serpent entwined around his staff, and both animals
figure prominently in the stories of miraculous cure, the dog sometimes
licking the sores of the patient. How the serpent was so highly esteemed
is not very clear. But it became the great emblem of the healing art,
perhaps owing to the silence and subtlety of its movements and its
connection with the underground world. The Epidaurians always took it
with them when they went to found a colony; and on one occasion, when
ambassadors, in obedience to an oracle, came from Rome in a time of
pestilence, seeking the help of the god, the serpent was sent back with
them as his representative.

One of the most interesting ruins of the place is the _Tholos_, a kind
of rotunda, more than 100 feet in diameter, of which only the ground
parts are standing. These consist of six concentric walls, the three
innermost of which supported a circular floor or platform, paved with
black and white marble, with a hole in the centre, the purpose of which
is not very clear, whether for offering sacrifice, which is suggested by
the name of _Thumela_ applied to the building, or for drawing water from
beneath. The fourth of the circular walls just mentioned, counting from
the centre, supported fourteen Corinthian pillars of marble, the fifth a
wall above the ground, the sixth an exterior colonnade with twenty-six
columns. The three underground walls nearest the centre, forming a
vault, have doors in them by which you can pass from one to the other,
but so arranged as to form a labyrinth. An inscription shows that the
building was erected by contract and took twenty-one years to finish.
The contract was in the hands of two sets of commissioners, the one
having charge of giving it out, the other being entrusted with the duty
of seeing that the work was properly done. The list of contractors shows
that many different cities had an interest in the undertaking.


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