Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 2.djvu/200

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166
[CANTO II.
CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE.

reflections suggested by such objects are too trite to require recapitulation. But never did the littleness of man, and the vanity of his very best virtues, of patriotism to exalt, and of valour to defend his country appear more conspicuous than in the record of what Athens was, and the certainty of what she now is. This theatre of contention between mighty factions, of the struggles of orators, the exaltation and deposition of tyrants, the triumph and punishment of generals, is now become a scene of petty intrigue and perpetual disturbance, between the bickering agents of certain British nobility and gentry. "The wild foxes, the owls and serpents in the ruins of Babylon,"[1] were surely less degrading than such inhabitants. The Turks have the plea of conquest for their tyranny, and the Greeks have only suffered the fortune of war, incidental to the bravest; but how are the mighty fallen, when two painters[2] contest the privilege of plundering the Parthenon, and triumph in turn, according to the tenor of each succeeding firman! Sylla could but punish, Philip subdue, and Xerxes burn Athens; but it remained for the paltry antiquarian, and his despicable agents, to render her contemptible as himself and his pursuits. The Parthenon, before its destruction, in part, by fire during the Venetian siege, had been a temple, a church, and a mosque.[3] In each point of view it is an object of regard: it changed its worshippers; but still it was a place of worship thrice sacred to devotion: its violation is a triple sacrifice. But—

"Man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority, Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven As make the angels weep."

[Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act ii. sc. 2,
lines 117-122.]

  1. ["Owls and serpents" are taken from Isa. xiii. 21, 22; "foxes" from Lam. v. 18, "Zion is desolate, the foxes walk upon it."]
  2. [For Herr Gropius, vide post, note 6.]
  3. [The Parthenon was converted into a church in the sixth century by Justinian, and dedicated to the Divine Wisdom. About 1460 the church was turned into a mosque. After the siege in 1687 the Turks erected a smaller mosque within the original enclosure. "The only relic of the mosque dedicated by Mohammed the Conqueror (1430-1481) is the base of the minaret ... at the south-west corner of the Cella" (Handbook for Greece, p. 319).]