Travels and Discoveries in the Levant/Volume 1/Letter XXIX
Mytilene, March 20, 1855.
At length I have succeeded in getting away from Calymnos, where I was detained so long that I got utterly weary of such a monotonous life. You cannot imagine any isolation more complete than that of an European compelled to sojourn in such an island in winter time. It is something like living at the bottom of a well and seeing the same bit of sky every day. The winter has been an unusually severe one. The house I lived in, though once the residence of a Greek archbishop, was a wretched squalid barrack with no glass in the windows. The roof being flat and covered with earth, the rain in wet weather dripped through on to my pillow. There being no fireplace, I could only keep myself warm by cowering over an earthen pan just 8 inches in diameter filled with charcoal.
After standing all day watching my workmen in the field, I was generally obliged to take an active part in the cooking of my own supper, in which I had the assistance of my trusty Albanian cavass.
To obtain every day wholesome food and fuel was a business requiring much forethought and trouble; and the absolute necessity of exerting myself in order to exist kept my mind from the utter stag- nation into which it would otherwise have fallen, from the extreme monotony and eventless character of the life I led. My communications with the outer world of civilization were carried on by stray caiques which sometimes wandered about the Archipelago for many days unable to pass Cape Crio, but which ultimately succeeded in conveying to me huge packets of letters and newspapaers from Rhodes, containing the only authentic intelligence of what was passing in the Crimea which ever reached the island of Calymnos.
Christmas and New-year's-day were particularly doleful times to me. These festivals are celebrated by the Greeks twelve days after ours; and for about a fortnight we had a series of processions and feasts, in which the population take the greatest delight, but which were singularly tiresome to an indifferent spectator.
The constant recurrence of festivals, in which perfect idleness is enforced on the whole population, made the progress of the excavations very slow. My labourers were anxious to work as many days in the week as they could; but the Archbishop intimated to them one morning through a priest, that they must on no account work on any feast-day, of which there were constantly two in each week. Bread was so dear, that this restriction was a great hardship to the poor. Fasts are kept in Calymnos with extraordinary rigour. When the caique was shipwrecked in which my former letter was sent, two of the passengers were drowned; the rest, who happened to be Franks, were fished out of the water and brought more dead than alive on shore into the house of a rich Greek merchant. It was bitterly cold December weather, and the Italian doctor, on being called in to restore the half-drowned survivors, immediately ordered some substantial food to be prepared for them. Their host then observed that, as it was one of the most strict fasts in the whole year, he had the greatest scruple in allowing animal food to be cooked in his house; but that, as a great favour, he would allow them a broth made of butter stirred round in hot water.
The feeling that one is alone in a Greek community, who look upon us as heretics, is more depressing even than absolute solitude. The sympathy with which certain people in England regard the Eastern Christians is by no means reciprocated by the Greeks, who, if led on by Russia, would be capable of a crusade against Western Europe. So far as I have observed, wherever Roman Catholics are found isolated in Greek communities, they are more or less exposed to insults and annoyances, as non- conformists to the religious discipline of the place. The Italian doctor here during the last great fast ventured to eat meat every day. This was an offence not to be forgiven. Stones and pieces of iron were thrown over the wall of his courtyard, with the remark that he might as well eat them as meat in Lent. One of these pieces of iron struck, his wife on the breast; and the family were kept in such constant fear that the doctor, being the possesor of a British passport, appealed to me for protection. I had no jurisdiction whatever in the island; but I did not hesitate to summon the Demarchia to my own house; and, rather to my surprise, they came. I remonstrated with them in very decided language, and told them that, after so much had been done by the Western powers for the protection of the Christians in the East, no one sect of Christians would be permitted to annoy or persecute another, and that religious toleration was the principle which we were resolved to maintain in the Turkish empire. The sleek primates listened with an air of extreme contrition, and apologized for the insult offered to the Italian doctor, which, they said, had been the work of some boys. I remember, when the Turks at Rhodes last year took to menacing the Christians, the same excuse was offered. It is always the children who are put forward on these occasions in the Levant to commence a war of petty insults and annoyances.
About the time when this took place, I made another not very agreeable discovery. On my first arrival at Calymnos, I asked the most respect- able inhabitants of the place to recommend me a person as foreman of my workmen. I was accordingly introduced to an individual called Manoli the Cassiote, who, I was assured, was a τίμιος ἄνθρωπος, an honourable man, as Antony says of Brutus. Manoli the Cassiote, at the time of my arrival, occupied the distinguished position of cavass, or chief constable of the whole community. He was a man over six feet high, of Herculean frame, and great activity. When he stood among my workmen, he overtopped them all like Saul, and he surpassed them in intelligence as much as in bodily stature. He had been much at sea, and had been tossed about the Mediterranean and the Black Sea from Marseilles to Odessa; every now and then he recounted little romantic bits of his adventurous life, from which I inferred that his Odyssey must have been a singular one,—a suspicion which was further confirmed by the study of his countenance, which to my mind was one of the most diabolical I ever beheld.
He was always armed to the teeth with a long gun, a formidable knife, and a brace of pistols. When I first took him into my service, I begged him to prevent any one from visiting the places where I was excavating at such times as work was not going on there. "Make yourself quite easy on that subject," said my friend Manoli; "I have told all the boys that if I catch any of them in our diggings I shall put a ball through them." The quiet way in which he said this, and the profound respect with which all the inhabitants, from the Archbishop downwards, treated him, made me feel that Manoli the Cassiote was no common man; that he had a mysterious influence in the place, which, so long as it was exerted in my behalf, would be particularly favourable to the success of the expedition.
One day, during a temporary cessation of the diggings, I thought of making a visit to the opposite coast of Asia Minor and taking Manoli with me. On mentioning this project to one of the highly respectable gentlemen who had recommended him to me, he let out that Manoli could not go quite where he liked about the Turkish empire; that, in fact, having been concerned in a little affair of vendetta some years ago at Cos, he was an outlaw. On making further inquiries, I learnt the particulars of the crime for which he had been so outlawed.
It happened that travelling in Cos about a year ago I slept one night at a wayside house, which stands near the sea-shore at some distance from any village. My host was a lonely old man, no companion but a daughter about nineteen years old. I asked if he had no other family, when he told me how, some years ago, while he was absent at Constantinople, two Calymniotes, one of whom had been his servant, landed at Cos suddenly in the night, and murdered his wife and all his children, except the daughter, who being then about nine years old hid herself under a rug. The murderers being alarmed at the approach of some neighbours, tried to make off before they had time to plunder the house; and, whether by design or accident, in the confusion of their flight one of them shot his accomplice and then escaped. "And what became of him?" I asked, and was told that he got back to Calymnos, that when the Turkish police came to arrest him, he concealed himself in the mountains with the connivance of the local authorities; and that he had remained at Calymnos ever since.
I little thought, when I listened to this tale of horror, that one of the perpetrators of the deed would one day be in my employ; but so it was. The murderer who escaped in so singular a manner was Manoli the Cassiote.
This very unwelcome discovery explained to me why the chief constable of Calymnos is treated with such profound respect by the authorities and people of his island. He is one of those men who, by a combination of great natural force of character and physical strength, has succeeded in pvitting himself above the law. No one in Calymnos dares take the initiative of bringing him to justice. He is in league with a band of about twenty desperate characters, whom he calls the police of Calymnos, who patrol the streets at night, and take care that nobody commits any act of violence except with the full knowledge and consent of the head constable. Now and then, this functionary, finding himself in want of ready money, favours some rich Greek of his acquaintance with a visit, and requests a loan, which, it is hardly necessary to observe, is never refused; for the consequences of the refusal would be such as few would care to encounter. Last year, about the month of May, Calymnos was suddenly invaded by a band of pupates from Samos, about thirty in number. This small party being- well armed, and choosing for the moment of their attack a time when the greater part of the male population was absent for the sponge-fishery, surprised and captured the lower town in open day, and sacked the houses and magazines of all the richest merchants without meeting with the smallest resistance. Acting on Robin Hood's principle, they invited the poor of Calymnos to a share of their booty, and then went on their way back to Samos rejoicing. Manoli the Cassiote, when he told me this story, observed, with a grim smile, that such an invasion ought never to have happened, and that the Calymniotes well deserved the loss they sustained for not taking his advice. " I offered," said the head-constable, "to protect the island during the summer months, on condition of receiving an increase of salary. The primates refused my demand; and see what happened."
In Italy, in the 16th century, Manoli the Cassiote would have made an accomplished bravo; and in the service of such a man as the Don Roderigo of the Promessi Sposi, would have distinguished himself above his fellows; for there is in his character a happy mixture of cunning and audacity. In the Greek revolution he would have been equally renowned as an Archipelago pirate; for his natural element is the sea.
Living as he does in the midst of a community which is slowly emerging out of lawlessness and crime into the state of order engendered by regular industry and commercial prosperity, he seems singularly out of place. Every well-disposed and respectable person in Oalymnos would be delighted to get rid of Manoli the Cassiote, because this sort of cut-throat represents that kleftic element which, having once predominated in the Archipelago, is now gradually giving way to civilization; but nobody has the courage to "bell the cat."
It is difficult to find an excuse for this pusillanimous fear of one man in a population of 10,000 persons. It may readily be conceived that in the first instance hatred of their Turkish rulers led the Calynmiotes to screen a known murderer from justice; but why was it necessary to elect him head-constable,—to invest him with all the outward signs of respectability, to pay him a high salary, and to permit him to levy black mail as much as he pleases?
I was told that this is not the only case in which the Calymniotes have deliberately harboured murderers, nor is Calymnos the only place in the Turkish Archipelago where such felons are allowed to dwell in happy impunity.
In towns like Rhodes or Mytilene, where Pashas and Consuls reside, the authors of great crimes seldom venture to show in public; but in the smaller islands and in the seaports of Asia Minor there are generally to be found among the population one or more known murderers, who, like Manoli the Cassiote, contrive to maintain a very respectable position in society. It is in vain that the Greeks try to civilize themselves by schools and commerce, so long as they permit this canker of impunished crime to remain in then- communities.143
The unpleasant discovery as to the real character of Manoli the Cassiote was made by me at the beginning of the month of February, after he had been a long time in my employ. Immediately afterwards, the old Ionian in whose house I lodged came to me with a face of utter consternation, with the intelligence that the whole allied army was cut off to a man in the Crimea.
I had had no letters or newspapers for a whole mouth; and the last mail had brought me news of the battle of Inkermann; so that it was not without a shudder that I received this rumour from my Ionian host. He had drawn me aside from my workmen, so that our conversation might not be overheard; and from the dismayed expression of his countenance, I inferred that he did not feel at all reassured as to my personal safety if the news were true. I had then a considerable sum of money in my house, and thought that if the people were to rise, depose their Turkish Governor, and declare their independence, which they would probably have done had the news been confirmed, it would not be an easy matter to get out of Calymnos in safety. However, I put a bold face on the matter, and assumed the Ionian that the news could by no possibility be true, or I should have had an express to announce it from the Consul at Rhodes.
As the time drew on for bringing the expedition to a close, I found that the quantity of inscriptions and other spoils from the tombs and diggings would form a cargo too bulky to be contained in any caique; and it was not easy to find a seaworthy ship at Oalymnos to take me and my hardly-earned freight to Rhodes, in a season so uncertain as the vernal equinox. Lord Stratford relieved me from my difficulty by persuading the Turkish Government to send me a war steamer then stationed ui the Archipelago.
Having had notice that I might shortly expect this steamer, I closed my diggings at the Temple of Apollo; and reserving only a very small party of workmen, made one more venture in the district of Damos, in a field lying between the church called Prophet Elia and the Temple of Apollo. My only reason for trying this field was its vicinity to that of Jauni Sconi.
I commenced digging in a spot where the outline of two graves might be still distinctly traced on the surface of a footpath. While I was at work, a Greek, whom I had never seen before, came up to me. "I think," he said, "if you dig here" (pointing to one of the graves), "you will find something good." I took his advice; and the workmen had hardly broken the ground with their pickaxes, before they found a small circular ornament in bronze so finely wrought that I was at once led to hope for some work of art of a better quantity than what I had been discovering.
I therefore immediately took the pickaxes from the hands of my workmen, and made them scratch the ground with the small scraping-irons which we were in the habit of using. I very soon found three more of these bronze disks, the handle of a large bronze vase with rich floral ornaments, and lastly, at the very bottom of the grave, but not more than eight inches below the surface, a beautiful bronze group in high relief, representing Boreas carrying off Oreithyia. This group forms the subject of plate 15. Boreas is represented with buskins and large wings as a wind-god; Oreithyia seems to be looking back to the world from which she is snatched away.
Standing over the grave with this group in my hand, I thought of the Eurydice of the fourth Georgic:—
"Invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas."
BOREAS CARRYING OFF OREITHYIA
FROM BRONZE HYDRIA.
London. Published by Day & Son, Lithrs to the Queen.
with these remains; and it was evident that the whole had belonged to a large hydria of the same metal, the body of which had decayed, all but the mouth, which on account of its greater solidity had not been decomposed.
The bronze group had been placed at the lower insertion of the principal handle. It is in embossed or repoussé work, and had been anciently gilt. Wlien I found it, minute portions of gilding were still adhering to the hair of the female figure; and the earth of the grave, on being sifted, yielded many particles of gold leaf. The composition of this relief is exceedingly beautiful, the execution rather inferior to the design; and we miss in it the refinement and delicacy of modelling which distingiushes the bronzes of Siris in the British Museum beyond all other works of the same kind. However, bronzes in embossed work of a good period are so exceedingly rare that the group of Boreas and Oreithyia may fairly rank among the most precious objects of this class which have been discovered. Sifting the earth, I found a number of small pearls and other fragments of a necklace. The presence of these remains shows that the grave was that of a female; and the subject of the bronze group was probably selected to commemorate allusively the untimely fate of the person in whose grave it was found; just as in ancient sarcophagi we often find repeated the Death of Meleager, the Rape of Proserpine, and other kindred subjects, suitable for the commemoration of the death of the young. On my making this remarkable discovery, the Greeks present congratulated me with the most unfeigned satisfaction, all, except the proprietor of the field. He became utterly downcast, and was suddenly troubled with doubts as to the boundaries of his property; and when he found on which side of the footpath I intended to pursue my diggings, declared that the ownership of that half of the field had always been a matter of dispute between him and his father-in-law. This statement was evidently an invention of the moment, put forth as the ground of a lawsuit, in case I discovered a great treasure.
How I should have disposed of this unexpected difficulty I know not, but just at this moment a messenger came up from the harbour in hot haste, to tell me that the Turkish steamer which was to take me away had arrived, and that, the anchorage being dangerous, the captain was anxious that I would embark as soon as possible. Here was an end of all my excavations, just at the moment when I seemed to have hit upon the track of a more promising part of the cemetery; but the opportunity of getting away safely was one which I was not likely to have again; so I reluctantly left the scene of my last discovery, and embarked with all haste.
Before I left Calymnos, the Greek who had recommended me to dig in that particular spot waited on me for a bakshish, and told me that about twenty years ago he opened that very grave in the early morning, and without the permission of the owner, who surprised him at his work. He would not tell me what he had found in it; but I gathered from his manner that it had contained gold ornaments. It would appear, then, that, being interrupted before he had finished his work, he left the few inches of soil at the bottom of the grave unexplored, and thus missed the prize which I found. Such are the chances of excavation.
On leaving Calymnos in the Turkish steamer, I took the opportunity of crossing over to the opposite coast, for the purpose of visiting Budrum, which I had long wished to explore.
The steamer took us rapidly across to the Asiatic shore; and after having been so long accustomed to the noisy streets of Calymnos, thronged with Greeks and pigs, it seemed strange to find myself in the stillness and seclusion of the picturesque old Turkish town, which stands on the site of Halicarnassus. I was very kindly received by the authorities at Budinmi, and an application to see the interior of the castle was instantly assented to.
This castle stands on a peninsula forming one side of the harbour, and is a fine specimen of military architecture in the 15th century.
It is well known that it was built by the Knights of St. John out of the ruins of the Mausoleum; and that twelve slabs of frieze from that famous monument were extracted from its walls and sent to the British Museum in 1846, an acquisition for which the public is indebted to the influence of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe with the Porte, and not less to the zeal and enthusiasm with which he has always promoted archæological researches in the Levant for the benefit of the National Collection of Sculpture and Antiquities.
In my Memoir on the Mausoleum, in 1846,146 I have expressed the hope that a careful examination of the castle might lead to the discovery of more sculptures of the Mausoleum built into the walls. I have never ceased to entertain this hope; but, since my arrival in Turkey, various circumstances have prevented me from visiting Budrmn till this year. It was with a feeling of eager curiosity that I passed over the old drawbridges, once so jealously guarded, into the interior of this celebrated fortress. Very few travellers had ever enjoyed this privilege before,—indeed, there is a story that an adventurous Englishman once obtained a firman at Constantinople authorizing him to visit the castle; but that on presenting it at Budinim to the commandant, he got a hint that the firman only authorized his entry into the castle, but said nothing about his exit. On walking round the ramparts on the side overlooking the harbour, I made a sudden halt. What I saw was so surprising that I could hardly believe the evidence of my own eyes. In the embattled wall, between the embrasures, was the head and forehand of a colossal lion, in white marble, built into the masonry and looking towards the interior of the castle. I saw at a glance that this lion was the work of a Greek chisel, and that it belonged to the finest period of ancient art.
There could be but one mode of accouting for its presence in the castle,—the supposition that it originally formed part of the Mausoleum. On looking over the battlements, I saw in the face of the wall below, five other lions, inserted at intervals as ornaments, all of the finest white marble; and in another part of the castle two more, placed on each side of an escutcheon as supporters.
On making this most interesting discovery, I felt, as you may suppose, much surprise that these lions had never, to my knowledge, been noticed by any of the English travellers who had visited Budrum.
The reliefs in the walls of the castle were drawn in situ by Dalton in the last century, and by Captain Devereux a few years back;147 and the gentlemen charged with the removal of these pieces of frieze in 1846 were engaged in that operation for a whole month, during which time they must have had the opportunity of seeing these lions every clay. Whetlier they supposed them to be mediaeval or Turkish I cannot say, but they seem to have considered these sculptures of too little account to be worth drawing public attention to.
On referring to Boss's travels, I found that he had not failed to observe these lions on his visit to Budrum, and though he only got a distant view of them from a boat, at once guessed that they belonged to the Mausoleum. On leaving Budrum, I took the first opportunity of reporting this discovery to Lord Stratford, and I have no doubt that he will take advantage of the first favourable occasion to obtain a firman from the Porte.
From Budrum we returned to Mytilene, anchoring on our way at Chesmah, opposite Scio, where I inquired for coins of the neighbouring city of Erythræ, but without success.
We arrived at our destination after a very prosperous voyage. It was fortunate that we had fine weather the whole way; for, as I had no means of packing the inscriptions at Calymnos, they were stowed away in the hold of the ship like so much ballast.