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Page 15

A Trireme at Sea

 

    A trireme, then is an heroic fighting instrument. She goes into battle prepared literally to do or die. If her side is once crushed, she fills with water instantly, and the enemy will be too busy and too inhumane to do anything but cheer lustily when they see the water covered with struggling wretches. But the trireme is also a most disagreeable craft before and after the battle. Her light draft sets her tossing on a very mild sea. In the hot southern climate, with very little ventilation beneath the upper deck, with nigh two hundred panting, naked human beings wedged in together below so closely that there is scarce room for one more, the heat, the smells, the drudgery, are dreadful. No wonder the crew demanded that the trierarch and governor "make shore for the night," or that they weary of the incessant grating of the heavy oars upon the thole-pins.

    Thus the "Invincible" will seem to any squeamish voyager, but not so to the distant spectator. For him a trireme is a most marvelous and magnificent sight. A sister ship, the "DanaĆ«,"[17] is just entering the Peiraeus from Lemnos (an isle still under the Athenian sovereignty). Her upper works have been all brightened for the home-coming. Long, brilliant streams trail from her sail yards and poop. The flute player is blowing his loudest. The marines stand on the forecastle in glittering armor. A great column of foam is spouting from her bow.[18] Her oars, eighty-seven to the side, pumiced white and hurling out the spray, are leaping back and forth in perfect unison. The whole vessel seems a thing of springing, ardent life. It is, indeed, a sight to stir the blood. No later sailing ship in her panoply of canvas, no steam battleship with her grim turrets and smoking funnels can ever match the spectacle of a trireme moving in her rhythm and glory.

 

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