LLR Books

ATHENS AND ITS GODDESS

CHAPTER IX



Among the influences which contributed to the greatness and glory of
Athens the worship of the goddess Athena must be assigned a principal
place. In her fully developed character she represented the highest
ideal of the Greek mind, and formed the noblest figure in the Greek
pantheon. She may be described as the impersonation of wisdom, courage,
and energy--equally powerful as the patron goddess of the arts of peace
and of the exploits of war. The mythical account of her birth, which
represented her as sprung from the head of Zeus after he had swallowed
her mother _Metis_ (“Counsel”), betokened her affinity with the highest
faculties of the supreme Ruler; and in harmony with this is the etherial
nature which was commonly ascribed to her by Homer and other early
writers. Her home was supposed to be in the upper regions, the ether
being regarded as her proper element. Hence the clearness and brightness
which were commonly attributed to her, as well as the keen, rapid,
energetic character by which she was also distinguished.

Out of the seventeen columns of the northern peristyle the remains of
fourteen, more or less perfect, may be counted on the right. Six of
them, which have stood unmoved for more than twenty-two centuries, are
distinguished by their splendid colour, almost matching in this respect
the second column of the west front, which is also visible. The remains
of the north _cella_ wall are seen to the left. The two drums of columns
in shadow in the foreground reflect the pure blue of the early morning
sky. Over their tops may be seen part of the Propylæa, and the mountains
of Daphni and Megara.]

Athena appears to have been worshipped as a powerful and beneficent
deity in many places, but it was at Athens that the more intellectual
aspects of her nature were brought into the greatest prominence. How she
came to be so closely associated with Athens as to give her name to the
city (previously known as “Cecropia”) is a question that is not easily
answered. According to the Attic mythology it was the result of a
contest between her and Poseidon for local supremacy. In support of his
claim Poseidon is said to have struck with his trident the rocky summit
of the Acropolis, the result being that a salt-water spring appeared,
from which there emerged a horse (supposed to be sacred to Poseidon from
its resemblance to a rushing wave); and this gift the lord of the ocean
set before the assembled jury of the gods as a token of the benefits
which he had to confer. Athena then caused an olive-tree to spring up as
the symbol of her beneficence, which secured from Zeus _Polieus_ a
judgment in her favour. Perhaps the story may have had its origin in the
gradual retreat of the sea from the Attic plains; but there is evidently
a reference in it to the comparative value of land and water interests,
the former being represented by Athena, and the latter by Poseidon. In
their early days the Athenians had no idea of the importance of the sea
as the destined scene of their naval supremacy; and of all the products
of their country the olive was no doubt the most indispensable to them.
For its cultivation some knowledge was required, and perhaps also the
nature of its oil, with which the lamps were fed, may have helped to
make the olive an appropriate emblem of the brilliant goddess. The whole
history of Athens, from the rude beginnings of her civilisation till the
age of her imperial glory, may be seen reflected, after a symbolic
fashion, in the gradual transition of her worship from the wooden image
of Athena _Polias_, which was said to have fallen from heaven, to the
magnificent statue of gold and ivory which Pheidias made for the
Parthenon; and one of the most interesting studies in art is to be found
in tracing the successive stages through which the majestic
virgin-goddess was evolved.

As already mentioned, the earliest temple of Athena was connected with
the palace of Erechtheus. A little south of the present Erechtheum the
foundations of a temple have been discovered, made of Acropolis rock,
and corresponding in their length to the name _Hecatompedon_
(“Hundred-Foot”), which was afterwards applied to a portion of the
Parthenon. Traces have also been found of a peristyle, which
Peisistratus is supposed to have erected, consisting of six columns at
each end and ten at each side, made of Kara stone taken from the foot of
Hymettus. Various fragments have been unearthed, and in the north-west
wall of the Acropolis pieces of the architrave and cornice, with metopes
of white Parian marble, are still to be seen, having been built into it
by Cimon as a reminder of the destruction wrought by the Persians.
Whether the ancient temple of Athena _Polias_ (guardian of the _City_),
which is mentioned in inscriptions and elsewhere, is to be identified
with this recently discovered building, or with the Erechtheum, which
(in the form in which it was restored after the Persian invasion) still
forms one of the chief ornaments of the Acropolis, is a question on
which there is a considerable difference of opinion; but the weight of
probability seems to be in favour of the latter supposition.

The age of Peisistratus was distinguished by wonderful advances both in
art and literature, largely owing to the encouragement which he gave to
sculptors, painters, architects, poets and dramatists, many of whom he
brought from other parts of Greece and from Asia Minor. The capitals and
drums of columns and the specimens of decorative sculpture which have
come to light on the Acropolis, show what progress had been made in this
direction since the beginning of the sixth century, when Athenian art
was still in its infancy. One of the most interesting discoveries in
this connection was that of a number of female figures in marble (in
1886) which were found buried in a grave on the Acropolis, the Athenians
having, apparently, felt that this was the most reverent way to dispose
of them, seeing they were so mutilated as to be no longer suitable as
votive offerings. They bore the name of “Maidens,” and were probably the
images of priestesses or other officials connected with the worship of
Athena. Most of them are represented as wearing the Ionic _chiton_
without brooches, the old Doric garment having been forbidden some time
previously on account of the tragic use which had been made of their
pins by the Athenian women on the occasion referred to at p. 82. There
are fourteen of these figures, called by the Germans “die Tanten,” and
their importance in connection with the study of sixth-century art can
hardly be overestimated. The effect of their varied colouring is
particularly interesting.

It was part of the policy of Peisistratus to harmonise the different
religious cults of the state, and for this purpose he erected temples to
Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus and other deities. The temple of Zeus, in
particular, seems to have been designed on a grand scale (though never
completed), for some of the drums of its columns, discovered among the
foundations of the temple afterwards erected by Hadrian on the same site
beside the Ilissus, have a diameter of seven feet ten inches, which
exceeds anything of the same period to be found in Greece. Peisistratus’
chief care, however, was bestowed upon the Acropolis, where he sought to
invest the worship of Athena with such splendour and beauty as to
maintain her ascendency. For this purpose he added greatly to the
magnificence of the Pan-Athenaic games, which he almost raised to a
Pan-Hellenic rank, and the celebration of which was chosen as the
occasion for the opening of the Parthenon. The beautifully embroidered
_peplos_, which was annually prepared as a covering for the wooden image
of the goddess, formed the chief ornament in the great procession to the
Acropolis, and the interest of the proceedings culminated in the solemn
dedication of the gift. It is also significant that it was under
Peisistratus
that coins were first struck with the head of Athena on one side, and on
the other the likeness of an owl--an emblem which is still worn in their
caps by the schoolboys of Greece, and in which there may be a reference
to the supposed power of the owl to see in the dark, a power associated,
in an intellectual sense, with _glaukopis_ Athena. It was to the goddess
that Peisistratus seems to have attributed his success in regaining
power on his return to Athens after his temporary exile. In order to
give the Athenians the impression that their guardian deity favoured his
return, he is said to have got a tall and stately woman to assume the
guise of Athena and sit by his side in the chariot which drew him up to
the Acropolis, his partisans at the same time crying out that Athena
bade the city welcome her _protégé_ to the seat of authority. The
supposed goddess was said to have been only a flower-seller, Phya by
name, who afterwards married one of Peisistratus’ sons.

Before the Persians quitted Athens they reduced to ruins or to ashes the
temples and most of the other buildings of any value, and many years
were required for the work of restoration. Fully a generation passed
before any of the three temples on the Acropolis which excite so much
admiration--the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the Niké--were ready for
dedication. This delay was partly owing to the more pressing need for
attending to the renewal of the city walls and other fortifications,
partly to the alteration which was made on Cimon’s plan for the erection
of the Parthenon. His name is associated not only with the massive wall
on the southern side of the Acropolis but also with an enormous
substructure intended to level up the sloping rock of the Acropolis and
fill up the vacant space within the wall. This substructure was
evidently intended to be the basis for a longer and narrower temple than
the existing Parthenon, as it projects about fifteen feet at the east
end, and bears traces of having had an addition of a few feet made to
its breadth.

It was not till 447 B.C., when Pericles was at the height of his power,
that the building of the temple was actually commenced; and it took
about ten years to finish. Pericles had previously made an appeal to
other Greek cities to unite with Athens in some such commemoration of
their victory over the Persians, but the response was disappointing.
Fortunately, however, other means were available, owing to many of the
states allied with Athens in the Delian League commuting into
money-payments the obligations they were under to contribute ships to
the defensive navy of which Athens was the head. It was this Delian fund
mainly which enabled Pericles to carry out his great project for
glorifying the Acropolis as the throne of Athena and the rallying-point
of Hellenic patriotism. Of all the architectural monuments of the
Periclean age the Parthenon is by far the grandest, producing a
wonderful impression of strength and dignity and grace. There is a charm
in the subtle harmony of its proportions quite apart from the rich
decoration of frieze and pediment. The perfect unity of plan which it
exhibits was no doubt due to the genius of Pheidias, assisted by the
architectural skill of Ictinus and Callicrates, while the mechanical
precision and careful finish in the execution prove the competency of
the sculptors and masons who were employed under their supervision. It
is surprising how much attention was paid to nice optical
considerations, which must have been very difficult to calculate, though
they enhance greatly the general effect. For example, there is scarcely
a straight line in the whole edifice, quadrangular as it is. There is a
slight convex curve on the line of the steps and of the substructure,
and the same is the case with the architrave. There is a gentle swelling
of the columns towards their centre, and the axes of the columns incline
slightly inwards.

Nowhere, perhaps, is the fineness of the workmanship more apparent than
in the joining of the drums composing each column, generally twelve in
number, and rising to a height of thirty-four feet. They fit so closely
and exactly that they almost look as if they had grown together. In this
respect there is a marked difference between the columns which have
never been disturbed and those which have been restored by the
collection of fallen drums. The smoothing of the flat surfaces of the
drum was mainly done in the quarry, the part near the centre being left
rough and slightly hollow. There was a hole in the centre for a wooden
plug, into which a cylindrical peg was inserted for the purpose of
securing an exact correspondence in the position of the drums. The
fluting--each column has twenty flutes--was done after the drums were
in position, with the exception of a beginning that was previously made
on the stones intended for the top and bottom of the column.

Of the outer colonnade, comprising eight columns at each end, and
fifteen others at each side, with an inner row of columns at each end,
the greater number are still in position, though in some cases in a
fragmentary form; the chief gaps are about the middle of the sides.
There is hardly any trace of the sculptures on the pediments. Part of
those which stood at the east end, representing the birth of Athena, are
to be found in the British Museum. Those of the west gable, representing
the contest between Athena and Poseidon, have entirely disappeared.
Great part of the outer Doric frieze still remains, including forty-one
of the original ninety-two metopes, on which were depicted various
mythical battle scenes. The best remaining, both as regards workmanship
and condition, are those on the south side, representing the struggles
of the Lapiths and Centaurs. The inner frieze, running round the top of
the temple walls, and surmounting the inner columns, represented the
great Pan-Athenaic festival, including figures, in low relief, of
knights and chariots, magistrates and maidens, priests and victims, and
terminating in an assembly of the gods at the east end. The most of this
frieze and fifteen of the metopes are preserved in the British Museum.
They had been carried off by Lord Elgin at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, with the consent of the
Turkish government, and were purchased from him at a cost of £35,000.

The almost total disappearance of the bright and varied colouring which
enhanced the beauty of certain parts of the building, and the loss of so
many of the wonderful sculptures, as well as the gaps in the walls and
colonnade, detract greatly from the ancient glory of the building. But
time has added a golden tinge to the Pentelic marble of which it is
composed, and the whole exterior wears a rich and mellow
aspect,--especially when seen under the light of the rising or the
setting sun,--which affords some compensation for the damage sustained
in other respects. Very beautiful, too, the temple seems in the light of
a full moon, when the soft radiance lends an etherial look to it,
standing as it does between heaven and earth, and harmonises well with
the virgin purity which the very name _Parthenon_ denotes.

The full length of the temple is about 230 feet, and its breadth about
100 feet. It consisted of a _pronaos_ or foretemple, for the reception
of votive offerings; the _cella_ proper, forming the new _hecatompedon_,
and divided into three long aisles by two rows of Doric columns; the
_parthenon_, a name afterwards extended to the whole building, but
originally applied to a chamber towards the west; and the
_opisthodomos_, enclosed (like the _pronaos_) with high railings between
the columns. The two last-mentioned chambers were used as treasuries,
but in the middle aisle of the _hecatompedon_ stood the most precious
thing of all, namely the chryselephantine image of the virgin-goddess,
facing the doorway in the east, so as to catch the rays of the rising
sun. The face, hands and feet were covered with ivory, the pupils of the
eyes were of precious stone, while the rest of the image was embossed or
inlaid with gold--amounting to upwards of forty talents (about
£150,000)--which could be taken off when required. The statue was about
thirty feet in height and stood on a pedestal about eight feet high, the
position of which can easily be recognised from the setting of dark
stone in the marble pavement. The line of the parapet in front is also
quite distinct. Several descriptions of the statue have come down to us,
and also some copies of it in miniature (especially the _Varvakeion_ and
_Lenormant_ models, both found in Athens), which, however, give us a
very inadequate conception of its beauty and grandeur. It was intended
to be an embodiment of the energy, freedom and dignity characteristic of
Athena as the representative of the genius of the young Athenian empire.
She stood upright, resting her weight upon her right foot, having on her
head a helmet with a triple crest, supported by a sphinx, and wearing on
her shoulders and breast her scaly ægis with the Gorgon’s head in the
centre. Her left hand held a spear, which she rested on the rim of her
embossed shield. On the inner side of the shield appeared the sacred
serpent, the symbol of Erichthonius, her adopted ward. In her extended
right hand she held a beautiful winged Victory. So lavish was the artist
of his skill and labour in the construction of the statue that even the
soles of Athena’s sandals were embellished with carving. On the front of the pedestal also
there was a picture of the mythical creation of Pandora in the presence
of twenty divinities. The statue expressed the Hellenic aspirations of
Pheidias as an artist and of Pericles as a statesman; and, as if to
commemorate their harmonious influence, the great sculptor covertly
introduced into the relief on the outside of Athena’s shield his own
portrait and that of his friend--the former in the guise of a
bald-headed old man lifting up a stone with both hands, the latter as a
warrior fighting with an Amazon, his face partially concealed by his
raised hand holding a spear. On this account some of Pheidias’ enemies
brought against him a charge of impiety, founded upon an old law which
forbade the setting up in sacred places of the images of living men.
They had previously tried to ruin him by accusing him of embezzling part
of the gold entrusted to him, but the charge had been triumphantly
refuted by the actual weighing of the gold on the image, which was found
to correspond exactly to the amount assigned for this object.
Unfortunately the charge of impiety could not be so easily refuted, and,
in spite of Pericles’ advocacy, Pheidias was compelled to pay a heavy
fine and was thrown into prison, from which he does not appear to have
been ever set free.

No monument seems ever to have been erected in honour of Pheidias, but
for more than 2000 years the Parthenon, which will always be associated
with his memory, retained the beauty of its exterior unimpaired. On the
official abolition of the Greek religion by the Emperor Justinian in
the end of the sixth century A.D. it was converted into the church of
the “Virgin Mother of God,” which necessitated considerable changes on
its interior to fit it for Christian worship. At a later time it was
turned into a Turkish mosque, a minaret being added to it. In 1687 it
was used as a powder magazine by the Turks, in their endeavours to hold
the Acropolis against the Venetians under Morosini, who had already
taken the city. This use of it became known to the besiegers, and by a
well-directed shot a bomb was thrown into the magazine, causing a
terrific explosion which blew out the roof and the two sides of the
building--the combatants little realising what an irreparable loss had
thus been inflicted on the interests of civilisation and art. Morosini
would fain have carried off to Venice the chief figures on the west
pediment, but, owing to the awkwardness of the workers employed, the
precious sculptures fell to the ground and were broken to pieces.

There was on the Acropolis another colossal image of Athena--referred to
by Demosthenes as “the great bronze Athena”--which had been set up as a
memorial of Athenian valour in the Persian war from funds contributed by
the rest of the Greeks. The base of its pedestal is still shown on the
Acropolis between the Propylæa and the Erechtheum. Pausanias tells us
that the gleaming crest of the helmet and tip of the spear could be seen
by ships sailing from Cape Sunium to Athens. There is good reason for
identifying this Athena _Promachos_ (“Champion”), as it came to be
called in later times, with an image of Athena which was destroyed in a riot at
Constantinople in 1203 A.D., and about which the Byzantine historian
Nicetas gives us the following particulars: “It was of bronze, thirty
feet high. The goddess was portrayed standing upright, clad in a tunic
which reached to her feet, and was drawn in by a girdle at the waist. On
her breast was a tight-fitting ægis with the Gorgon’s head. On her head
she wore a helmet with a nodding plume of horse-hair. Her tresses were
plaited and fastened at the back of her head, but some locks strayed
over her brow from beneath the rim of the helmet. With her left hand she
lifted the folds of her garment; her right hand was stretched out in
front of her, and her face was turned in the same direction, as if she
were beckoning to some one. There was a sweet look, as of love and
longing, in the eyes, and the lips seemed as if about to part in honeyed
speech. The ignorant and superstitious mob smashed the statue because,
after the first siege and capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders,
they fancied that the outstretched hand of the statue had summoned the
host of the invaders from out of the West.”[5]

There was on the Acropolis a third image of the goddess by the great
artist--known as the “Lemnian Athena”--in which she was represented in a
mild and peaceful aspect. Pausanias speaks of it as the best worth
seeing of the works of Pheidias; and with this harmonises a reference to
it in one of the Dialogues of Lucian, who is the only other ancient
writer that mentions it. Referring to a proposal that a perfect type of
feminine beauty should be formed by combining the best features of the
most famous statues, the Lemnian statue is mentioned as one that might
supply the outline of the face with soft cheeks and shapely nose.
Unfortunately no authentic copies of it have yet been discovered.
Pausanias also mentions a statue dedicated to Athena _Hygieia_
(“Health”) on the Acropolis, and Plutarch tells a story of its having
been set up by Pericles in gratitude for a revelation made to him by the
goddess in a dream regarding a medicinal herb which would cure a
favourite slave of his, who had been injured by a fall while engaged in
building operations. According to Pliny, the herb was known ever
afterwards by the name of _parthenium_, but he connects the story with a
statue of a slave. Another aspect in which Athena was worshipped was as
_Ergané_ the goddess of arts and industries; and no less than five
inscriptions have been found on the Acropolis in honour of Athena under
this title. Homer represents her as weaving her own robe, and according
to Pindar the ship _Argo_ was built under her direction. Close to the
Lemnian image there stood a statue of Pericles, the chief maker of
imperial Athens. It faced the Propylæa and was much admired, being
regarded as a proof how “art can add to the nobility of noble men.”

The two other temples which still adorn the Acropolis are of the Ionic
order. They are much smaller and less imposing than the Parthenon, but
in some respects they may be regarded as even more beautiful. With
regard to the Erechtheum, whatever may have been the case before the
destruction of the sacred buildings by the Persians, it was the temple
which now bears this name that was subsequently recognised by the state
as the official place of worship, in which were preserved the ancient
wooden image of Athena _Polias_ (carefully removed to Salamis on the
approach of the Persians) and the golden lamp which was never allowed to
go out. Its erection a few years after the dedication of the Parthenon
was probably due to the conservative tendencies in the state, of which
Nicias was the exponent, in opposition to the bolder and more
progressive policy of Pericles. There seems to have been considerable
delay in the process of building, owing to the Peloponnesian war, and it
was not till 408 B.C. that the work was complete. Nothing could be more
exquisitely beautiful than the Ionic columns of the porch at the eastern
end, and the _Caryatidæ_, or “Maidens,” supporting the architrave of the
portico on the southern side. Originally there were six of the former,
but one of them was removed by Lord Elgin, and is now in the British
Museum. The same fate befell one of the Caryatidæ, which has been
replaced with a terra-cotta cast, while another bears the marks of
modern reconstruction. On the northern side of the temple, projecting a
little beyond the west end, and at a considerably lower level than the
parts already mentioned (the difference of height amounting to nine
feet), there is a beautiful entrance, with four columns in front and
one on either side. The doorway is regarded as the finest thing of the
kind in existence. It leads into the Erechtheum proper. As already
indicated, Erechtheus is one of the oldest names in Attic mythology.
According to Hesiod, his daughter Creüsa married Xuthus, son of Hellen
and brother of Æolus and Dorus, the heads of the Æolian and Dorian
branches of the Hellenic race; and, through his grandsons, Achæus and
Ion, Erechtheus became the progenitor of the Achæans and Ionians. Homer
again tells us that Erechtheus was worshipped in the temple of Athena
(_Il._ ii. 549-551), and we learn from Pausanias that sacrifices were
offered to him on the altar of Poseidon, by command of the oracle. The
peculiar construction of the temple was doubtless due to the fact that
it was intended for the accommodation of more than one deity. Under the
lower chambers were shown (as they still are!) the marks of Poseidon’s
trident and the sea-spring (now a great covered cistern) through which
the noise of the waves could be heard when the wind was blowing from the
south.

Immediately to the west of the temple was the _Pandroseum_, a precinct
sacred to Pandrosus, one of the daughters of Cecrops, who obeyed the
injunction of Athena when her two sisters gratified their curiosity by
opening the box entrusted to them, the result being that they went mad
when they saw disclosed the serpent-like Erichthonius whom Athena had
taken under her charge. Somewhere in this neighbourhood was the
Cecropium, probably a shrine over the tomb of Cecrops, and
here also may have been the den of the serpent which appears coiled
beside Athena’s shield. Within the Pandroseum there grew the sacred
olive-tree, of which we are told by Herodotus that, having been burnt
down when the Persians devastated the Acropolis, it put forth a fresh
shoot of a cubit’s length within two days--a presage of the speedy
recovery of Athens from her crushing adversity. Under the olive-tree was
the altar of Zeus _Herkëus_, which was, perhaps, originally included in
the court of the palace of Erechtheus. At no great distance may also be
seen the rocky elevation (a few feet in height) which is supposed to
have been the primitive altar on which sacrifices were first offered to
Athena. Like the Parthenon, the Erechtheum has passed through strange
vicissitudes, having been at one time used as a Christian church and at
another time as the residence for the wives of a Turkish governor of
Athens--considerable alterations being made upon it in both cases.

The temple of _Niké Apteros_ (“wingless victory”) stands on the edge of
the Acropolis to the south of the Propylæa. The term “wingless” has
reference to the fact that Victory was generally represented as a winged
woman, and Pausanias explains the want of wings on the statue of the
goddess in this temple as expressing the faith of the Athenians that
Victory would never desert their city. A more natural explanation is to
be found in the fact that Victory is here represented under the guise of
Athena, who was never depicted as having wings. The temple seems to
have been erected some years before the Erechtheum, and about the same
time as the Propylæa and the Parthenon. Its history is in some respects
even more remarkable than that of either of the other temples. It was
demolished by the Turks in 1687 in order to afford materials for the
construction of a bastion. In 1835, after the Greeks had regained their
independence, the bastion was taken down, the result being that nearly
all the fragments of marble were recovered and the temple restored very
much in its original form. When it is closely examined the joints and
patches betray its second-hand character (as do also some terra-cotta
figures in the frieze, the originals having been removed some time
before the restoration to the British Museum), but when it is seen from
a little distance it presents a charming appearance. It is a very small
temple, consisting of a _cella_ sixteen feet long, with four Ionic
columns in front and rear. Each of the column-shafts is made out of a
single block of Pentelic marble, and has twenty-four flutes. There is a
beautiful frieze with sculptures in high relief. On the eastern front is
a representation of various divinities, while the subjects depicted on
the three other sides are appropriate to the views seen in the several
directions. The northern side looks towards Marathon, the southern
towards Salamis, and on both these sides we see a representation of
battles between Greeks and Persians; but on the western side, which
looks towards Cithæron, there is a picture of a conflict between Greeks
and Greeks, the Thebans having allied themselves with the
Persians at the battle of Platæa. Round three sides of the temple there
was a parapet, breast-high, made of upright marble slabs, some of which
have been recovered from the _débris_. They are adorned with female
figures representing Winged Victories, which display wonderful freedom
and ease in execution, especially as regards the drapery. There is a
beautiful view from the _Niké_, looking west and south, which has been
finely described by Byron in “The Corsair”:--

    Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run,
    Along Morea’s hills the setting sun:
    Not, as in Northern climes, obscurely bright,
    But one unclouded blaze of living light!
    O’er the hush’d deep the yellow beam he throws
    Gilds the green wave, that trembles as it glows.
    On old Ægina’s rock and Idra’s isle,
    The god of gladness sheds his parting smile;
    O’er his own regions lingering, loves to shine,
    Though there his altars are no more divine.
    Descending fast the mountain shadows kiss
    Thy glorious gulf, unconquer’d Salamis!
    Their azure arches through the long expanse
    More deeply purpled meet his mellowing glance,
    And tenderest tints, along their summits driven,
    Mark his gay course, and own the hues of heaven;
    Till, darkly shaded from the land and deep,
    Behind his Delphian cliff he sinks to sleep.

In keeping with the splendour of the temples on the summit of the
Acropolis was the Propylæa, or great entrance, already mentioned. The
magnificent marble staircase, 72 feet wide, which now leads up to it,
was of later construction, under the Romans. But the porticoes of
Pentelic marble at the top, with their rows of Doric and Ionic columns,
supporting a marble roof, adorned with golden stars, and the adjoining
chambers, one of which was used as a picture-gallery (_pinacotheca_),
were built in the time of Pericles at a cost of more than £400,000, and
were justly regarded as one of the chief glories of Athens, as their
ruins still are of the modern city.

Within a few hundred yards of the Acropolis lies the small rocky hill
called Areopagus. Although associated with the God of War in name and
story, it was also the traditional scene of one of Athena’s greatest
triumphs, when she held the scales of justice so wisely between the
grief-stricken matricide Orestes and the avenging _Erinyes_ or Furies
who had dogged his steps all the way from Argos to Delphi and from
Delphi to Athens. In the rocky cleft at the side of the hill was the
awful shrine in which the relentless pursuers, otherwise called the
_Eumenides_ (“Gracious Ones”), found their quietus--the Areopagus
becoming thenceforward the authorised tribunal for the trial of all
cases of homicide, and superseding the savage law of blood-feud. It was
on this same Mars’ Hill that the apostle of a higher faith pled with the
Athenians for the recognition of the risen Christ, whom he proclaimed as
the appointed representative of the “Unknown God,” whose altar he had
observed in the adjacent market-place.


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