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TURKEY : THE BLIGHT OF ASIA
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SMYRNA AS IT WAS
THE burning of Smyrna and the massacre and scattering of its inhabitants has aroused widespread humanitarian and religious interest on account of the unparalleled sufferings of the multitudes involved. But there is another element in the United States, not numerous, that has been more deeply saddened by the fate of this ancient town—the classical scholars and historians.
The eyes of scholars, ever since the great discoveries of Schliemann, have been turned toward the island of Crete, where it is now known that a highly developed civilization existed, contemporaneous with early Egyptian, and of which the ancient cities of Tyrins and Mycenae were outposts. It is believed that the ancestors of the royal houses of these settlements came originally from Asia Minor, and it is possible that the conception of the grim old lions above the gate of Mycenae, symbolizing the courage of its kings, may have been imported from Asia. Theseus, that attractive and romantic hero, who finally became one of the rulers of the Mythical Age of Athens, is connected with Asia Minor through the Amazons, who were feminine priestesses of the old cult of the many-breasted nature goddess of Ephesus.
From Ionia, the mother civilization spread to old Greece, to Sicily, to Italy and along the shores of the Black Sea, and finally to Europe and America! It is more than probable that Homer was a Smyrniote, or an inhabitant of Asia Minor, and for countless years his writings were a sort of Bible or sacred book, molding the character of millions. Perhaps the earliest conception of monogamy, certainly the most beautiful, comes from Homer’s poems. Our conception of the family is Greek; we get it from the Odyssey, very probably written in Smyrna, thousands of years ago.
During the days of the Byzantine Empire, that splendid, romantic and tragic power which developed a magnificent civilization and kept the lamp of learning alight all through the darkness of the Middle Ages, Asia Minor flourished and was the province which contributed most to the strength and firmness of the general fabric. The exploits of Nikephoros Phokas and the romance of Digenes Akritas, immortalized in verse, are well known even to those scholars who are not Byzantine specialists. Those were the days of the great land barons who kept regal state and whose forgotten history should be a vast treasure-house for romantic novelists. Later, Ionia is of intense interest to the whole Christian world. It is the land of the Seven Cities of the Revelation, of the Seven Churches and the wonderful mystical poem of St. John the Divine. Six of the candles went out in eternal darkness long ago, but that of Smyrna burned brightly until its destruction on the thirteenth of September, 1922, by the Turks of Mustapha Klhemal and the death of the last of its great bishops whose martyrdom fitly ended its glorious Christian history.
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