Pictures of Hellas_ Five Tales of Ancient Greece
Pictures of Hellas
FIVE TALES OF ANCIENT GREECE
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH
MARY J. SAFFORD
WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER, PUBLISHER
11 MURRAY STREET
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1888
By WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington
The author’s preface to “Pictures of Hellas” isso full, that the translator has nothing to add to theEnglish version except the acknowledgment of valuableassistance rendered in “the obscure recesses ofGreek literature” by Professor Andrews, Ph.D., ofMadison University.
Mary J. Safford.
Nearly all the more recent romances and dramas,whose scene is laid in classic times, depict the periodof the great rupture between Paganism and Christianity.This is true of “Hypatia,” “Fabiola,” “TheLast Days of Pompeii,” “The Epicureans,” “The Emperorand The Galilean,” “The Last Athenian,” andmany other works. The cause of this coincidence isnot difficult to understand; for a period containingsuch strong contrasts invites æsthetic treatment.
The present tales derive their material from adifferent, but no less interesting epoch. They givepictures of the flowering of Hellas, the distant centurieswhose marvellous culture rested solely on the purelyhuman elements of character as developed beneath amild and radiant sky.
Yet it required a certain degree of persistence toprocure this material. When we examine the Greekwriters to find descriptions of the men of those timesor the special characteristics of the social life of theperiod, Greek literature, so rich in accounts of historicalevents, becomes strangely laconic, nay almostsilent.
How entirely different is the situation of a personiiwho desires to sketch a picture of the Frenchmen ofthe sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. The whole collectionof memoirs is at his disposal. In these writingsthe author discourses familiarly with the reader,gives him lifelike portraits of the ladies and gentlemenof the court, and tells him the most minute anecdotesof the society of that day.
Greek literature has nothing of this kind. The descriptionof common events and the history of daily existenceare forms of writing of later origin, nothing wasfarther from the minds of ancient authors than the ideathat private life could contain anything worth noting.Herodotus and Thucydides narrated little or nothing ofwhat the novelists of the present day seek, nay, evenamong the orators only scattered details are found, andstrangely enough there are more in the speeches ofLysias than of Demosthenes.
Among the poets Aristophanes produces a wholegallery of contemporary characters, but indistinctly andin vague outlines; they were what would now becalled “originals from the street” who, during the performanceof his comedies, sat among the spectators, andwhom he only needed to mention to evoke the laughterof the crowd. Something more may be gatheredfrom Lucian and Apuleius, together with the better“Milesian” tales, especially from Heliodorus andAchilles Tatius while, on the contrary, the great Alexandrianlumber-room, owed to Athenaeus, containsmore gewgaws of learning and curiosa than reallymarked characteristics.
iiiIn the obscure recesses of Greek literature, wherewe are abandoned by all translators, and where—aseverybody knows who has devoted himself to the interpretationof the classics—only short excursions can bemade, we are sometimes surprised at finding, by pureaccident, useful matter. Dion Chrysostomus (VII)gives extremely interesting descriptions of life in theGreek villages and commercial towns. But what isdiscovered is always so scattered that only a few notescan be obtained from numerous volumes.
When I decided to turn what I had read to account,I was fully aware that a presentation of ancientlife in the form of a romance or novel was one of themost difficult æsthetic tasks which could be undertaken.If, nevertheless, I devoted myself to it, Inaturally regarded the work only as an experiment.
In choosing the narrow frame-work of short stories Iset before myself this purpose—to sketch the ordinaryfigures of ancient life on a historical background. Ihave—resting step by step on the classic writers—endeavoredto present some pictures of ancient times;but I have no more desired to exalt former ages at theexpense of our own than the contrary. As to the modeof treatment—I have steadily intended to keep therepresentations objective, and to avoid using foreignwords or giving the dialogues a form so ancientthat they would not be easy to read.A The stiffivclassic ceremonies, foot-washings, etc., I have almostentirely omitted, and the archaeological and historicaldetails have everywhere been subordinated to the contentsof the story, so that they merely serve to give anantique coloring to the descriptions. Lastly, I havebelieved that the Greek characters ought to be completelybanished from the book, and even from thenotes and preface.
A So far as the idiomatic differences of the two languages wouldpermit, the translator has endeavored to retain the simplicity of styledeemed by the author best suited to his purpose.
After these general remarks I must be permitted todwell briefly upon the different tales, partly to pointout the authority for such or such a stroke and partlyto give some few more detailed explanations.
Little is known of the Pelasgian epoch; but it is ahistorical fact that a woman was abducted at the fountainof Callirrhoë. On this incident the first story“Zeus Hypsistos” is founded, and the climax of Periphas’death is based upon an ancient idea: a voice offate. The belief in Phēmai or Cledones is older thanin that of most oracles, and dates back to the days ofHomer. When Ulysses is wandering about, ponderingover the thought of killing the suitors, he prays toZeus for a sign and omen, a voice of fate, which thensounds in a thunder-clap and, inside of the house, hehears a slave-girl wishing evil to the suitors. The olddemi-god Cychreus of Salamis is mentioned by Pausanias(I. 36). It was a universal idea in ancient timesthat demi-gods liked to transform themselves into serpents.In the battle of Salamis a serpent appeared inthe Athenian fleet; the oracle declared that it was theancient demi-god Cychreus. In Eleusis Demeter hadva serpent called the Cychrean, for Cychreus, who hadeither slain it or himself assumed its form. For the remarkableceremonial of purification after a murder(page 58), see Apollonius’ Argonautica (IV. 702).The words: “Zeus was, Zeus is, and Zeus will be” areborrowed from the ancient hymn sung by the Dodonianpriestesses, called Peleiades (doves.)
In “The Sycophant” the notes cited on pages 72–73would be valueless, if they did not contain thepunishments which, according to Attic law, wereappointed for the transgressions named.
Hetaeriae was the name given to secret societiesor fraternities, where six, seven, or more membersunited to work against or break down the increasingpower of the popular government, which was exertinga more and more unendurable pressure. There weremany kinds of “hetaeriae,” but the most absolute secrecywas common to all. The members were conspirators,pledged to assist one another by a solemn oath, swornby what was dearest to them in life. The harmlesshetaeriae comprised those who were pursuing no politicalobject, but merely consisted of office-seekers whosepurpose was to aid one another in the election to officeor before the courts of justice. The hetaeria here describedis of the latter sort; for the delineation of a politicalsociety of this kind would require a far more extensiveapparatus than could be contained within thebrief limits of a tale. Several of the characters in“The Hetaeria” have actually existed. The comedianSthenelus is mentioned by Aristophanes (vesp. 1313) asviwell as the orator and tragedian Acestor (vesp. 1220;aves 31) both are sketched from the more minute detailsof the Scoliastae. Phanus is also mentioned byAristophanes (equit. 1233) as Cleon’s clerk. Amongthe women of the tale there is also an historicalpersonage, the foreign witch Ninus, who professed tobe a priestess of the Phrygian god Sabazius. She travelledthrough Hellas at the time of the PeloponnesianWar and reaped a rich harvest by her divination andmanufacture of love potions; but her end was tragical—shewas summoned before the courts as a poisoner andcondemned to death (A. Schaefer, Demosth. I. 199).The main outlines of the relations between Hipyllosand Cleobule are taken from the commencement ofCnemon’s story in Heliodorus (I. 2) and the descriptionof Sthenelus’ fall from the boards is almost literallyrepeated from Lucian (The Dream, 26). The accountof the naval battle at Rhion is an extract from Thucydides(II. 86–92).
“Too Happy” is founded upon an ancient idea:the prayer for a sign and the acceptance of an omen.Piracy, which plays a prominent part in the narrative,was practised at an early period in the Ægean Sea andafterwards attained such dangerous extent that largeand magnificent fleets of pirate cruisers finally threatenedRome herself with intercepting the importationsof grain from Pontus. It might perhaps be consideredtoo romantic for a disguised corsair to examine the shiplying in port before plundering her in the open sea.Quite different things, however, are reported. TheviiPhoenician pirates had secret agents who discoveredwhere a ship with a rich cargo lay and promised thehelmsman “ten-fold freight money,” if he would anchorin some secluded place, behind a promontory, etc.,where the vessel could be overpowered. (Philostratus,vita Apoll. Tyan. III. 24). The conclusion of thestory (the ladder hung outside of the ship so that ittouches the water) is taken from Plutarch (Pompeius,24).
In “Lycon with the Big Hand” the artist Aristeidesand what is said of his paintings are historical. Thesame is true of the traits of character cited about thetyrant Alexander of Pherae. Under the description ofthe earthquake is given an account of what is called inseismology a tidal wave. A side-piece to this may befound in Thucydides (III. 89) where—after a remarkabout the frequency of earthquakes during the sixthyear of the Peloponnesian War—it is stated: “Amongthese earthquakes the one at Orobiæ in Eubœa displayeda remarkable phenomenon. The sea recededfrom the shore; then suddenly returned with a tremendouswave and flooded part of the coast, so that whatwas formerly land became a portion of the sea. Manypeople perished.”
In these five stories the scene is laid in Athens, onthe Ægean Sea, and in Thessaly—but, wherever it is, Ihave always endeavored to give the characters life andmovement, and make them children of the times and ofthe Hellenic soil. I have also sought to delve deeperinto the life of ancient times than usually happens inviiinovels. Many peculiarities, like the purification aftera murder in the first tale, the Baetylus oracle in“The Hetaeria,” and the use of the great weapon ofnaval warfare, the dolphin, in “Too Happy” havescarcely been previously described in any form in ourliterature. The belief in marvellous stones animatedby spirits was widely diffused in ancient times, as suchstones, under the name of abadir, were known in Phoenicia.The description of the Baetylus oracle isfounded upon Pliny (17, 9, 51), Photius (p. 1047) andPausanias (X. 24). It is evident enough that thestone-spirit’s answer was given by the ventriloquist’sart. Though the ancients had several names for ventriloquists,such as engastrimythae, sternomanteis, etc.,the art was certainly little known in daily life, it seemsto have been kept secret and used for the answers oforacles, etc. The soothsayer and ventriloquist Eurycles,mentioned by Aristophanes, endeavored to makethe people believe that a spirit spoke from his mouthbecause he uttered words without moving his lips.For the dolphin, the weapon used in naval warfare, seeScholia graeca in Aristoph. (equit 762) and Thucydides(VII. 41).
In the ancient dialogue I have always endeavoredto give the replies an individual coloring, and it will befound that Acestor speaks a different language fromSthenelus, Philopator from Polycles, etc. Phrases like:“Begone to the vultures,” “show the hollows underthe soles of the feet,” “casting fire into the bosom,”etc., may easily be recognized as borrowed from theixclassic writers. To enter into the subject more minutelywould be carrying the matter too far. Singlecharacteristic expressions, such as palpale legein, etc.cannot be reproduced.
In introducing the reader to so distant and alien aworld, it has been a matter of great importance to meto win his confidence; with this purpose I have soughtby quotations to show the authority for what I havewritten. Here and there, to remove any doubt of theexistence of an object in ancient times, I have addedthe Greek names. For the rest I have everywherestriven to follow the old maxim artis est celare artem.
Copenhagen, November 1, 1881.