LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter XI

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
‣ Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
Author appointed surgeon-in-chief of the Greek army—Negotiation with the Albanians—Manners, treatment, education and beauty of Greek women.

The chief object of Lord Byron’s thoughts for the moment was to gain possession of Epacto; a fortress which, once in the hands of the Greeks, would materially facilitate the siege of Patras, and they must be masters of the castles, before they could reasonably hope to see their national independence incontestably acknowledged by European powers. Kindermann was ordered to reconnoitre the former place, and to take a plan of its fortifications. They are constructed on the declivity of a hill, forming a triangle, the base of which is close to the sea. The walls, which resemble those of every fortress in Greece and the islands, are of Venetian construction, but without ditches. A portion of them, is commanded by a neighbouring hill; so that, with a regular force, its siege would not be a very arduous undertaking; but against undisciplined troops like the Greeks it is impregnable, except by famine. Preparations were actively begun, and it was signified to the different capitani to keep themselves in readiness for taking the field in the first days of April.

The governor-general then gave me the title of surgeon-in-chief to the army of Western Greece; a situation which I filled, till I was ordered to pass over to Peloponnesus in 1825. It was more honourable than lucrative; for my monthly pay did not exceed two pounds. Even this moderate sum was not
regularly paid; and I was, like all the Frank officers, thirteen months without receiving any thing; and it was at last only by particular favour, that I obtained what was due to me.

While Lord Byron was waiting the approach of spring with impatience, Mavrocordato observed to him, that the secret, which Philip of Macedon had discovered for taking the strongest fortresses, was found to possess also a very miraculous influence on Albanian garrisons; and that in the present instance it would be advisable to try its effect; since that of Epacto was entirely composed of soldiers of that nation, commanded by Hassan Pasha, himself an Albanian. They had remained two years without pay; and as their provisions were neither of the best quality nor very abundant, their dissatisfaction had risen to the highest degree. Losing all consideration for their chief, they daily insulted or ill treated him; and more than once, when he shut himself up in his harem, they heaped up all sorts of rubbish under his room, and set fire to it, in order to smoke him like a fox in his hole.

A more favourable opportunity could not be imagined for proposing pecuniary negotiations for the surrender of the fortress. Phoca, (nephew of the famous Capitan Giorgiachi, who had distinguished himself so much, during the insurrection of Moldavia), was then eparch of the prefecture of Venetico, and he undertook to manage the business. The Albanians lent a favourable ear to his proposals. They demanded 40,000 dollars, and a free passage to their country. But wishing to save appearances, and not be suspected of treason, they required, that the Greeks should present themselves before the place, with the artillery, and every thing else which might be required for a siege: after a few days’ sham fight,
they would surrender the fortress. After much bargaining they at last agreed to content themselves with 30,000 dollars; so that, had not Providence otherwise directed, the Greek standard would have floated in the spring on the ramparts of Epacto.

The population of Mesolonghi soon began to avail themselves of the advantages, the dispensary offered. These are so self-evident, that it becomes superfluous to enter into details; though they might, perhaps, prove satisfactory to the Society of Friends, who were the principal contributors to that charitable work. But having myself been, during thirteen months, director of that institution, my observations might be looked upon as incense, offered to my own exertions. My occupations, before the end of a fortnight, had become so numerous, as hardly to leave me a moment’s repose. I was soon called into the houses of the principal citizens and primates; and had thus repeated opportunities of learning the Greek manners and customs; a description of some of which will, no doubt, interest the generality of readers more than medical remarks; as they are the real tests of the character and degree of civilization and morality of a nation.

What most raised my surprise, during my first visits, was to see, as soon as I entered a patient’s room, all the unmarried girls instantly rise from their seats, and, with more agility than Diana’s nymphs could display, on the appearance of Actaeon, precipitate themselves into the neighbouring apartments. Where the patient had only one room, a curtain was purposely hung in one of its corners, to afford a hiding-place to the young women, on the arrival of a stranger. Nature is ever endeavouring to get the better of custom; and the ladies are no less fond of admiration in barbarous than in civilised
countries. I constantly observed, that when the girls were pretty, they never allowed the visitor to depart without satisfying his curiosity by some means or other. Every now and then, profiting of a moment when their parent’s attention was otherwise employed, they would gently pop their heads above; and scarcely had they allowed one to cast a glance at their charms, than down they hid them again. The more coquettish would repeat this movement so often, as to afford ample opportunity of examining their features.

When a person falls ill, he is laid on a mattress, placed on the floor in the middle of the room. All his friends are bound to pay him a visit of condolence, and sit cross-legged on the divan, till they are replaced by others. If it be a primate, his room is so crowded, as rather to resemble a rout than a sick man’s chamber. It was in vain that I remonstrated against the absurdity of this custom, and represented, that so numerous a concourse of people disturbed the patient’s repose, corrupted the atmosphere of his room, and was the readiest mode of transmitting infectious diseases. Whenever on this or any other occasion, a new visitor of some consideration entered, sweetmeats and coffee were presented him by the mistress of the house, who remained before him, with her hands crossed, till he had sipped the contents of his cup. Women are, in this country, treated as servant maids; and indeed, considering the dirty and slovenly manner, in which their houses are kept, they would not, in England, be considered fit even for that situation. No less was the disappointment I experienced daily, on witnessing, more and more, the little consideration, in which females were held; having been led to form very different expectations on perusing Mr. Bla-
quiere’s report; wherein he requests the committee “truly to inform the women of England, that those of Greece are more like themselves in all that constitutes female excellence, than any other women he could name.” As far as physical qualities are considered, though highly exaggerated in favour of Greek females, the comparison might be pardoned; but in other respects, I must, in justice to my fair countrywomen, protest, that never was a more unwarranted assertion made; never a greater insult offered to their character.

It stands to reason, that the extreme difference in the mode of education must produce proportionate dissimilarity in the moral character. In what does the education of a Greek girl consist? During her infancy, she is taught the art of the loom, rearing silk-worms, needle-work, and the coarser household occupations. Reading and writing are looked upon as dangerous arts, and are not mentioned in her presence. The only religious notions, instilled into her heart, are, that crossing herself before her saint’s image, and the observance of fasts, are sure guides to salvation. As soon as she approaches puberty, she is subjected to the closest confinement. The windows of her room are, like those of a dungeon, blocked up with grates and lattices. Nor is she allowed even to go to church. After much solicitation, should she prevail on her parents to permit her to breathe the open air, a moonlight night is chosen; and when every one else has retired to rest, the procession silently leaves the house. The male relations, armed from head to foot, compose the van-guard; the veiled virgin and her friends are in the centre; the mothers and vigilant old women bring up the rear.

The unceasing occupation of the parents is to procure, without delay, a husband for their daughter.
The bargain is concluded without either party knowing anything about it; much less of each other; the taste, inclination, and interest of the relations only, being consulted in the choice. Often are two individuals betrothed, while yet in arms; and among the Suliots the mothers frequently change rings for the offspring they yet bear in their womb. An engagement of this kind is considered as sacred. In some cases, the disproportion of age between the bride and bridegroom strikes an European with horror. Children, hardly twelve years old, are given to men of forty. Far from this being uncommon, there exists in every church a stool, on which the bride is raised, so as to enable the priest to exchange rings, and the (τεϕάνι) or matrimonial crowns, used in the nuptial ceremony. Thus the silly inexperienced girl is by her barbarous parents given to a man whose approach she cannot but dread. The remainder of this picture I shall fill up, by saying, that the marriage contract only leads the bride from one prison to another.

Though the absurdity of the system of female education, prevalent in Greece, may, in part, be attributed to the influence of Turkish manners, it is still more the effect of that habitual and innate jealousy, which is acknowledged to be one of the most marked features in the Greek character. At Hydra, in most of the islands of the Ægaean, in Maïna, and other places where a Musulman family never was established, women have ever been, and will, perhaps, for some generations, be kept under more tyrannical confinement than even in Turkish countries. Nothing can exceed the jealousy of a Hydriot; and it is much to be doubted, whether civilization and the contact of Europeans, will have more influence on them in this respect, than on the inhabitants of
Zante. In the Morea and Continental Greece, to save their daughters from the danger of being conveyed, if handsome, as recruits to harems, the parents were forced to conceal them, so as to make them, if possible, even forget their existence: and when arrived at an age, that rendered them capable of attracting the brutal notice of their tyrants, to procure them husbands without loss of time. A habit when once contracted, how absurd soever, can by degrees only be relinquished. Some time is required, after the removal of a cause, before the impulse it has given can completely cease. Hence the Mesolonghiots continue to observe the following custom, for which even the other Greeks load them with reproaches. Between the ceremonies of betrothal and marriage, too long an interval frequently passes, and the intimacy thus permitted has of late been attended with the most unfortunate consequences. A number of unmarried Suliots and depraved strangers, now at Mesolonghi, hastened to profit by this custom; but never having the intention of marrying, they had recourse to various pretences to delay the ceremony; and afterwards, at the opening of a campaign, left the deluded girls to expect in vain their return.

The remark, that low, damp situations are favourable to female beauty, while dry alpine regions give birth to the handsomest men, might, every day, be illustrated in this town. No men could present a more masculine, and finer appearance than the soldiers, that had come down with their capitani from the mountains of Agrapha, Carpenisi, and the skirts of Parnassus, &c. &c. while, it was a matter of surprise, for every stranger, how this unwholesome nest of impurities could be the birthplace of creatures, so strikingly beautiful as the females of Mesolonghi and
Anatolico. Nowhere can finer complexions be seen; larger or more languishing black eyes; more perfect models of beauty. But their taste was quite gothic. A more unsightly costume could not be worn; and the practice of painting faces, eyebrows, hair, and nails was, unfortunately, too prevalent among them. But what appeared yet more ridiculous to an Englishman was, that, while the men were dressed with foustanellas, the women wore trowsers. Their feet and ankles, which, by the by, rather correspond to Grecian than to modern ideas of beauty, are completely hid by the folds of these trowsers, that are tied like a purse just below the knee. This gives a woman, when walking, completely the appearance of a feathered-paw pigeon. This is the more striking, as Grecian coquettes affect as much as possible to imitate the walk of a bird. “You walk like a goose,” “like a duck,” (σάν χήνα, σάν παππί περιπατείς) however impertinent in the ear of an English belle, are the most flattering compliments, that can be whispered in those of a Greek one.

Beauty which, like a flower, every where fades so soon, is, in the Levant, of ephemeral duration. Scarcely is it blown, but it withers. The custom of marrying at an age before the body has acquired that maturity of strength, which enables it to bear the vicissitudes incident to a state of marriage; the sedentary manner in which they pass the earlier periods of life; and the enervating warmth of their climate, are, no doubt, the causes of this decay. The loss of freshness, and the change of the features are so rapid, that at five-and-twenty, and very frequently even before that period, few women are recognizable; and nowhere can more “grim-visaged hags” be seen than in Greece.