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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Peiraeus and the Shipping













Page 11

The Hull of a Trireme


    The "Invincible" has a hull of fir strengthened by a solid oak keel, very essential if she is to be hauled up frequently. Her hull is painted black, but there is abundance of scarlet, bright blue, and gilding upon her prow, stern, and upper works. The slim hull itself is about 140 feet long, 14 feet wide, and rides the harbor so lightly as to show it draws very little water; for the warship, even more perhaps than the merchantman, is built on the theory that her crew must drag her up upon the beach almost every night.

    While we study the vessel we are soon told that, although triremes have been in general use since, say, 500 B.C., nevertheless the ships that fought at Salamis were decidedly simpler affairs than those of three generations later. In those old "aphract" vessels the upper tier of rowers had to sit exposed on their benches with no real protection from the enemy's darts; but in the new "cataphract" ships like the "Invincible" there is a stout solid bulwark built up to shield the oarsmen from hostile sight and missiles alike. All this makes the ships of Demosthene's day much handsomer, taller affairs than their predecessors which Themistocles commanded; nevertheless the old and the new triremes have most essentials in common. The day is far off when a battleship twenty years old will be called "hopelessly obsolete" by the naval critics.[14]

    The upper deck of the trireme is about eleven feet above the harbor waves, but the lowest oar holes are raised barely three feet. Into the intervening space the whole complicated rowing apparatus has to be crammed with a good deal of ingenuity. Running along two thirds of the length of the hull nearly the whole interior of the vessel is filled with a series of seats and foot rests rising in sets of three. Each man has a bench and a kind of stool beneath him, and sits close to a porthole. The feet of the lowest rower are near the level of the water line; swinging two feet above him and only a little behind him is his comrade of the second tier; higher and behind in turn is he of the third.[15] Running down the center of the ship on either side of these complicated benches is a broad, central gangway, just under the upper deck. Here the supernumeraries will take refuge from the darts in battle, and here the regular rowers will have to do most of their eating, resting, and sleeping when they are not actually on the benches or on shore.


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