LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XVI

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Vostizza.—Battle of Lepanto.—Parnassus.—Livadia.—Cave of Trophonious The fountains of Oblivion and Memory.—Chæronéa.—Thebes.—Athens.

Vostizza was then a considerable town, containing between three and four thousand inhabitants, chiefly Greeks. It stands on a rising ground on the Peloponnesian side of the Gulf of Corinth. I say stands, but I know not if it has survived the war. The scenery around it will always make it delightful, while the associations connected with the Achaian League, and the important events which have happened in the vicinity, will ever render the site interesting. The battle of Lepanto, in which Cervantes lost his hand, was fought within sight of it.

What a strange thing is glory! Three hundred years ago all Christendom rang with the battle of Lepanto, and yet it is already probable that it will only be interesting to posterity as an incident in the life of one of the private soldiers engaged in it. This is certainly no very mournful reflection to one who is of opinion that there is no permanent fame, but that which is obtained by adding to the comforts and pleasures of mankind. Military transactions, after their immediate effects cease to be felt, are little productive of such a result. Not that I value military virtues the less by being of this opinion; on the contrary, I am the more convinced of their excellence. Burke has unguardedly said, ‘that vice loses half its malignity by losing its grossness’; but public virtue ceases to be useful when it sickens at the
calamities of necessary war. The moment that nations become confident of security, they give way to corruption. The evils and dangers of war seem as requisite for the preservation of public morals as the laws themselves; at least it is the melancholy moral of history, that when nations resolve to be peaceful with respect to their neighbours, they begin to be vicious with respect to themselves. But to return to the travellers.

On the 14th of December they hired a boat with fourteen men and ten oars, and sailed to Salona; thence they proceeded to Crisso, and rode on to Delphi, ascending the mountain on horseback, by a steep, craggy path towards the north-east. After scaling the side of Parnassus for about an hour, they saw vast masses of rock, and fragments of stone, piled in a perilous manner above them, with niches and sepulchres, and relics, and remains on all sides.

They visited and drank of Castalia, and the prophetic font, Cassotis; but still, like every other traveller, they were disappointed. Parnassus is an emblem of the fortune that attends the votaries of the Muses, harsh, rugged, and barren. The woods that once waved on Delphi’s steep have all passed away, and may now be sought in vain.

A few traces of terraces may yet be discovered—here and there the stump of a column, while niches for receiving votive offerings are numerous among the cliffs, but it is a lone and dismal place; Desolation sits with Silence, and Ruin there is so decayed as to be almost Oblivion.

Parnassus is not so much a single mountain as the loftiest of a range; the cloven summit appears most conspicuous when seen from the south. The northern view is, however, more remarkable, for the cleft is less distinguishable, and seven lower peaks suggest, in contemplation with the summits, the fancy of so many seats of the Muses. These peaks, nine in all, are the
first of the hills which receive the rising sun, and the last that in the evening part with his light.

From Delphi the travellers proceeded towards Livadia, passing in the course of the journey the confluence of the three roads where Œdipus slew his father, an event with its hideous train of fatalities which could not be recollected by Byron on the spot, even after the tales of guilt he had gathered in his Albanian journeys, without agitating associations.

At Livadia they remained the greater part of three days, during which they examined with more than ordinary minuteness the cave of Trophonius, and the streams of the Hercyna, composed of the mingled waters of the two fountains of Oblivion and Memory.

From Livadia, after visiting the battlefield of Chæronéa (the birthplace of Plutarch), and also many of the almost innumerable storied and consecrated spots in the neighbourhood, the travellers proceeded to Thebes—a poor town, containing about five hundred wooden houses, with two shabby mosques and four humble churches. The only thing worthy of notice in it is a public clock, to which the inhabitants direct the attention of strangers as proudly as if it were indeed one of the wonders of the world. There they still affect to show the fountain of Dirce and the ruins of the house of Pindar. But it is unnecessary to describe the numberless relics of the famous things of Greece, which every hour, as they approached towards Athens, lay more and more in their way. Not that many remarkable objects met their view; yet fragments of antiquity were often seen, though many of them were probably brought far from the edifices to which they had originally belonged; not for their beauty, or on account of the veneration which the sight of them inspired, but because they would burn into better lime than the coarser rock of the hills. Nevertheless, abased and returned into rudeness as all things were, the presence of Greece was felt,
Byron could not resist the inspirations of her genius.

Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth!
Immortal! though no more; though fallen, great;
Who now shall lead thy scatter’d children forth
And long-accustom’d bondage uncreate?
Not such thy sons who whilom did await,
The hopeless warriors of a willing doom,
In bleak Thermopyle’s sepulchral strait:
Oh! who that gallant spirit shall resume,
Leap from Eurotas’ banks, and call thee from the tomb!

In the course of the afternoon of the day after they had left Thebes, in attaining the summit of a mountain over which their road lay, the travellers beheld Athens at a distance, rising loftily, crowned with the Acropolis in the midst of the plain, the sea beyond, and the misty hills of Egina blue in the distance.

On a rugged rock rising abruptly on the right, near to the spot where this interesting vista first opened, they beheld the remains of the ancient walls of Phyle, a fortress which commanded one of the passes from Bœotia into Attica, and famous as the retreat of the chief patriots concerned in destroying the thirty tyrants of Athens.

Spirit of freedom! when on Phyle’s brow
Thou sat’st with Thrasybulus and his train,
Couldst thou forebode the dismal hour which now
Dims the green beauties of thine Attic plain?
Not thirty tyrants now enforce the chain,
But every carle can lord it o’er thy land;
Nor rise thy sons, but idly rail in vain,
Trembling beneath the scourge of Turkish hand,
From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed unmann’d.

Such was the condition in which the poet found the country as he approached Athens; and although the spirit he invoked has reanimated the dejected race he then beheld around him, the traveller who even now revisits the country will still look in vain for that lofty
mien which characterises the children of liberty. The fetters of the Greeks have been struck off, but the blains and excoriated marks of slavery are still conspicuous upon them; the sinister eye, the fawning voice, the skulking, crouching, base demeanour, time and many conflicts only can efface.

The first view of the city was fleeting and unsatisfactory; as the travellers descended from the mountains the windings of the road among the hills shut it out. Having passed the village of Casha, they at last entered upon the slope, and thence into the plain of Attica but the intervening heights and the trees kept the town concealed, till a turn of the path brought it full again before them; the Acropolis crowned with the ruins of the Parthenon—the Museum hill—and the Monument of Philopappus—

Ancient of Days—august Athena! where,
Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul?
Gone—glimmering through the dreams of things that were:
First in the race that led to glory’s goal,
They won, and pass’d away:—is this the whole?
A schoolboy’s tale, the wonder of an hour!
The warrior’s weapon, and the sophist’s stole
Are sought in vain, and o’er each mouldering tower,
Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of power.