Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/879

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

north-east by an open tract stretching between Hymettus and Pentelicus towards Marathon, and was traversed by the passes of Decelea, Phylé and Daphné on the north and north-west, but the distance between these natural passages and the city was sufficient to obviate the danger of surprise by an invading land force. On the other hand Athens, like Corinth, Megara and Argos, was sufficiently far from the sea to enjoy security against the sudden descent of a hostile fleet. At the same time the relative proximity of three natural harbours, Peiraeus, Zea and Munychia, favoured the development of maritime commerce and of the sea power which formed the basis of Athenian hegemony. The climate is temperate, but liable to sudden changes; the mean temperature is 63°.1 F., the maximum (in July) 99°.01, the minimum (in January) 31°.55. The summer heat is moderated by the sea-breeze or by cool northerly winds from the mountains (especially in July and August). The clear, bracing air, according to ancient writers, fostered the intellectual and aesthetic character of the people and endowed them with mental and physical energy. For the architectural embellishment of the city the finest building material was procurable without difficulty and in abundance; Pentelicus forms a mass of white, transparent, blue-veined marble; another variety, somewhat similar in appearance, but generally of a bluer hue, was obtained from Hymettus. For ordinary purposes grey limestone was furnished by Lycabettus and the adjoining hills; limestone from the promontory of Acté (the co-called “poros” stone), and conglomerate, were also largely employed. For the ceramic art admirable material was at hand in the district north-west of the Acropolis. For sculpture and various architectural purposes white, fine-grained marble was brought from Paros and Naxos. The main drawback to the situation of the city lay in the insufficiency of its water-supply, which was supplemented by an aqueduct constructed in the time of the Peisistratids and by later water-courses dating from the Roman period. A great number of wells were also sunk and rain-water was stored in cisterns.

For the purposes of scientific topography observation of the natural features and outlines is followed by exact investigation of the architectural structures or remnants, a process demanding high technical competence, acute judgment and practical experience, as well as wide and accurate scholarship. The building material and the manner of its employment furnish evidence no less important than the character of the masonry, the design and Sources for Athenian topography. the modes of ornamentation. The testimony afforded by inscriptions is often of decisive importance, especially that of commemorative or votive tablets or of boundary-stones found in situ; the value of this evidence is, on the other hand, sometimes neutralized owing to the former removal of building material already used and its incorporation in later structures. Thus sepulchral inscriptions have been found on the Acropolis, though no burials took place there in ancient times. In the next place comes the evidence derived from the whole range of ancient literature and specially from descriptions of the city or its different localities. The earliest known description of Athens was that of Diodorus, ὁ περιηγτής, who lived in the second half of the 4th century B.C. Among his successors were Polemon of Ilium (beginning of 2nd century B.C.), whose great κοσμική περιήγησις gave a minute account of the votive offerings on the Acropolis and the tombs on the Sacred Way; and Heliodorus (second half of the 2nd century) who wrote fifteen volumes on the monuments of Athens. Of these and other works of the earliest topographers only some fragments remain. In the period between A.D. 143 and 159 Pausanias visited Athens at a time when the monuments of the great age were still in their perfection and the principal embellishments of the Roman period had already been completed. The first thirty chapters of his invaluable Description of Greece (περιήγησις τῆς Ἑλλάδος) are devoted to Athens, its ports and environs. Pausanias makes no claim to exhaustiveness; he selected what was best worth noticing (τὰ ἀξιολογώτατα). His account, drawn up from notes taken in the main from personal observation, possesses an especial importance for topographical research, owing to his method of describing each object in the order in which he saw it during the course of his walks. His accuracy, which has been called in question by some scholars, has been remarkably vindicated by recent excavations at Athens and elsewhere. The list of ancient topographers closes with Pausanias. The literature of succeeding centuries furnishes only isolated references; the more important are found in the scholia on Aristophanes, the lexicons of Hesychius, Photius and others, and the Etymologicum Magnum. The notices of Athens during the earlier middle ages are scanty in the extreme. In 1395 Niccola da Martoni, a pilgrim from the Holy Land, visited Athens and wrote a description of a portion of the city. Of the work of Cyriac of Ancona, written about 1450, only some fragments remain, which are well supplemented by the contemporaneous description of the capable observer known as the “Anonymous of Milan.” Two treatises in Greek by unknown writers belong to the same period. The Dutchman Joannes Meursius (1579–1639) wrote three disquisitions on Athenian topography. The conquest by Venice in 1687 led to the publication of several works in that city, including the descriptions of De la Rue and Fanelli and the maps of Coronelli and others. The systematic study of Athenian topography was begun in the 17th century by French residents at Athens, the consuls Giraud and Chataignier and the Capuchin monks. The visit of the French physician Jacques Spon and the Englishman, Sir George Wheler or Wheeler (1650–1723), fortunately took place before the catastrophe of the Parthenon in 1687; Spon’s Voyage d’Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grèce et du Levant, which contained the first scientific description of the ruins of Athens, appeared in 1678; Wheler’s Journey into Greece, in 1682. A period of British activity in research followed in the 18th century. The monumental work of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, who spent three years at Athens (1751–1754), marked an epoch in the progress of Athenian topography and is still indispensable to its study, owing to the demolition of ancient buildings which began about the middle of the 18th century. To this period also belong the labours of Richard Pococke and Richard Dalton, Richard Chandler, E. D. Clarke and Edward Dodwell. The great work of W. M. Leake (Topography of Athens and the Demi, 2nd ed., 1841) brought the descriptive literature to an end and inaugurated the period of modern scientific research, in which German archaeologists have played a distinguished part.

Recent investigation has thrown a new and unexpected light on the art, the monuments and the topography of the ancient city. Numerous and costly excavations have been carried out by the Greek government and by native and foreign Recent research. scientific societies, while accidental discoveries have been frequently made during the building of the modern town. The museums, enriched by a constant inflow of works of art and inscriptions, have been carefully and scientifically arranged, and afford opportunities for systematic study denied to scholars of the past generation. Improved means of communication have enabled many acute observers to apply the test of scrutiny on the spot to theories and conclusions mainly based on literary evidence; five foreign schools of archaeology, directed by eminent scholars, lend valuable aid to students of all nationalities, and lectures are frequently delivered in the museums and on the more interesting and important sites. The native archaeologists of the present day hold a recognized position in the scientific work; the patriotic sentiment of former times, which prompted their zeal but occasionally warped their judgment, has been merged in devotion to science for its own sake, and the supervision of excavations, as well as the control of the art-collections, is now in highly competent hands. Athens has thus become a centre of learning, a meeting-place for scholars and a basis for research in every part of the Greek world. The attention of many students has naturally been concentrated on the ancient city, the birthplace of European art and literature, and a great development of investigation and discussion in the special domain of Athenian archaeology has given birth to a voluminous literature. Many theories hitherto universally accepted have been called in question or proved to be unsound: the views of Leake, for instance, have been challenged on various points, though many of his conclusions have been justified and confirmed. The supreme importance of a study of Greek antiquities on the spot, long understood by scholars in Europe and in America, has gradually come to be recognized in England, where a close attention to ancient texts, not always adequately supplemented by a course of local study and observation, formerly fostered a peculiarly conservative attitude in regard to the problems of Greek archaeology. Since the foundation of the German Institute in 1874, Athenian topography has to a large extent become a speciality of German scholars, among whom Wilhelm Dörpfeld occupies a pre-eminent position owing to his great architectural attainments and unrivalled local knowledge. Many of his bold and novel theories have provoked strenuous opposition, while others have met with general acceptance, except among scholars of the more conservative type.