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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The First Sights in Athens













Page 2


The Morning Crowds bound for Athens


    It is very early in the morning. The sun has just pushed above the long ridge of Hymettus, sending a slanting red bar of light across the Attic plain, and touching the opposite slopes of Ægaleos with livid fire. Already, however, life is stirring outside the city. Long since, little market boats have rowed across the narrow strait from Salamis, bringing the island farmer's produce, and other farmers from the plain and the mountain slopes have started for market. In the ruddy light the marble temples on the lofty Acropolis rising ahead of these hurrying rustics are standing out clearly; the spear and helmet of the great brazen statue of the Athena Promachos are flashing from the noble citadel, as a kind of day beacon, beckoning onward toward the city. From the Peiræus, the harbor town, a confused him of mariners lading and unlading vessels is even now rising, but we cannot turn ourselves thither. Our route is to follow the farmers bound for market.

    The most direct road from the Peiræus to Athens is hidden indeed, for it leads between the towering ramparts of the "Long Walls," two mighty barriers which run parallel almost four miles from the inland city to the harbor, giving a guarded passage in wartime and making Athens safe against starvation from any land blockade; but there is an outside road leading also to Athens from the western farmsteads, and this we can conveniently follow. Upon this route the crowd which one meets is certainly not aristocratic, but it is none the less Athenian. Here goes a drover, clad in skins, his legs wound with woolen bands in lieu of stockings; before him and his wolf-like dog shambles a flock of black sheep or less manageable goats, bleating and baaing as they are propelled toward market. After him there may come an unkempt, long-bearded farmer flogging on a pack ass or a mule attached to a clumsy cart with solid wheels, and laden with all kinds of market produce. The roadway, be it said, is not good, and all carters have their troubles; therefore, there is a deal of gesticulating and profane invocation of Hermes and all other gods of traffic; for, early as it is, the market place is already filling, and every delay promises a loss. There are still other companions bound toward the city: countrymen bearing cages of poultry; others engaged in the uncertain calling of driving pigs; swarthy Oriental sailors, with rings in their ears, bearing bales of Phœnician goods from the Peiræus; respectable country gentlemen, walking gravely in their best white mantles and striving to avoid the mud and contamination; and perhaps also a small company of soldiers, just back from foreign service, passes, clattering shields and spear staves.


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