Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

. (page 21 of 23)
Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 21 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Hellenic walls and some windows of beautiful Byzantine brickwork. It
seems hardly possible in any case that the Hêraion could have been at
quite the further end of the peninsula, and that the island [Greek:
pros to Hêraion] could be either of the small islands, each containing
a church, which keep the entrance of the Hyllaic harbour.

Such then was old Korkyra, the colony of Chersikratês, the Korkyra
which figures in the tale of Periandros, the Korkyra which played such
a doubtful part in the Persian War, which gained so fearful a name in
the Peloponnesian War, and which, within two generations, had so
thoroughly recovered itself that in the days of Timotheos it struck
both friends and enemies by its wealth and flourishing state. It is
the Korkyra of Pyrrhos and Agathoklês, the Korkyra which formed one of
the first stepping-stones for the Roman to make his way to the
Hellenic continent, the Korkyra whose history goes on till the wasting
inroad of Totilas. Then, as we hold, ancient Korkyra on its peninsula
began to give way to Koryphô (Corfu) on another peninsula or island,
that to which the two peaks which form its most marked feature gave
its name.

* * * * *

[Illustration: CHURCHES AT CORFU.]

This last is the Corfu whose fate seems to have been to become the
possession of every power which has ruled in that quarter of the
world, with one exception. For fourteen hundred years the history of
the island is the history of endless changes of masters. We see it
first a nominal ally, then a direct possession, of Rome and of
Constantinople; we then see it formed into a separate Byzantine
principality, conquered by the Norman lord of Sicily, again a
possession of the Empire, then a momentary possession of Venice, again
a possession of the Sicilian kingdom under its Angevin kings, till at
last it came back to Venetian rule, and abode for four hundred years
under the Lion of Saint Mark. Then it became part of that first
strange Septinsular Republic of which the Tzar was to be the protector
and the Sultan the overlord. Then it was a possession of France; then
a member of the second Septinsular Republic under the hardly disguised
sovereignty of England; now at last it is the most distant, but one of
the most valuable, of the provinces of the modern Greek kingdom. But
Corfu has never for a moment been under the direct rule of the Turk.
The proudest memory in the later history of the island is the defeat
of the Turks in 1716. Peloponnêsos, the conquest of Morosini, had
again been lost, and the Turk deemed that he might again carry his
conquests into the Western seas. The city was besieged by land and
sea; the two fleets, Christian and infidel, stretched across the
narrow channel between the island and the mainland, the left wing of
the Turkish fleet resting strangely enough on Venetian Butrinto, while
the ships of Venice and her allies stretched from Vido to the Albanian
shore. The statue of Schulemberg, set up as an unparalleled honour in
his lifetime, adorns the esplanade of the city which he saved. Unless
we count the Turkish acquisition of the Venetian points on the
mainland, which, though done under the cover of a treaty, took at
Prevesa at least the form of an actual conquest, this was the last
great attempt of the Turk to extend his dominion by altogether fresh
conquests at the expense of any Christian power.

Korkyra thus gave way to Corfu, and the endless fortifications of
Corfu of every date were largely built out of the remains of Korkyra
which supplied so convenient a quarry. None but an accomplished
military engineer could attempt to give an account of the remains of
all the fortifications, Venetian and English, dismantled, ruined, or
altogether blown up. But the kingdom of which Corfu now forms a part
still keeps the insular citadel, the outline of the two peaks being
sadly disfigured by the needs of modern military defence. Of the
modern city there is but little to say. As becomes a city which was so
long a Venetian possession, the older part of it has much of the
character of an Italian town. It is rich in street arcades; but they
present but few architectural features, and we find none of those
various forms of ornamental window, so common, not only in Venice and
Verona, but in Spalato, Cattaro, and Traü. The churches in the modern
city are architecturally worthless. They are interesting so far as
they will give to many their first impression of Orthodox arrangement
and Orthodox ritual. The few ecclesiastical antiquities of the place
belong to the elder city. The suburb of the lower slope of the hill
contains three churches, all of them small, but each of which has an
interest of its own. Of one, known as [Greek: hê Panagia tôn
blachernôn], we have already spoken; another, known specially as Our
Lady of _Oldbury_ ([Greek: hê Panagia palaiopoleôs]), is unattractive
enough from any point from which the spectator is likely to see it.
Its form is by courtesy called basilican; but, if so, it is like the
basilica of Trier, without columns or arches. Within it is a dreary
building enough, but it presents one object of interest in a
side-altar, a Latin intrusion into the Orthodox fabric. But the west
end is one of the most memorable things to be found in Corfu or
anywhere else. Two columns, not of the usual early Doric of the
island, but with floriated capitals, though not exactly Corinthian,
are built into the wall with a piece of their entablature. On this is
graven a Christian inscription, which is given in an inaccurate shape
by Mustoxidi (_Delle cose Corciresi_, p. 405), who has further
improved the spelling. The spelling is in truth after the manner of
Liudprand and the modern shoe-makers of Corfu, and is therefore
instructive. At the top come the words of the Psalmist; "This is the
gate of the Lord; the _writeous_ shall enter into it": - [Greek: hautê
hê pylê tou Kyriou, dikeoi eiseleusontai en autê.] Below come four
hexameters: -

[Greek: pistin echôn basilian emôn meneôn sunerithon,
soi makar hypsimedon tond' hieron ektisa naon,
Hellênôn temenê kai bômous exalapaxas,
cheiros ap' outidanês Iobianos edôken anakti.]

Who was this Jovianus? Clearly a Christian as zealous as his Imperial
namesake; for he cannot be the Emperor himself, as some have thought.
He thought it glory and not shame to destroy the works of the
Gentiles - the [Greek: Hellênes] - and to turn them to the service of
the royal faith. But are we to take the "royal faith" in the same
sense as the "royal law" of the New Testament? or does it mean the
"royal faith," as being set up under some orthodox Emperor, when the
orthodoxy of Emperors was still a new thing? Anyhow the plunderer of
Gentile temples and altars could not keep himself from something of
the Gentile in the ring and the language of his verses. And had he
made use of his spoil to rear a basilica like those of Constantine and
Theodoric, we should, from a wider view than that of the mere
classical antiquary, have but little right to blame him. The rest of
the columns, besides the two that are left, would have well relieved
the bareness of his interior; better still would it have been if Saint
Peter _ad Vincula_ had found a rival in two arcades formed out of the
Doric columns whose fragments lie about at Corfu, almost as Corinthian
and Composite fragments lie about at Rome. The third church, that
which professes to be the oldest in the island, that which bears the
name of the alleged apostles of the island, the Jasôn and Sosipatros
of the New Testament, is a more successful work. Brought to its
present form about the twelfth century by the priest Stephen, as is
recorded in two inscriptions on its west front, it is, allowing for
some modern disfigurements, an admirable specimen of a small Byzantine
church. It will remind him who comes by way of Dalmatia of old friends
at Zara, Spalato, and Traü; but it has the advantage over them of
somewhat greater size, and of standing free and detached, so that the
outline of its cross, its single central cupola and its three apses,
may be well seen. This church, like most in the neighbourhood, has a
bell-gable - [Greek: kôdônostasion] - with arches for three bells, of a
type which seems to be found of all ages from genuine Byzantine to
late _Renaissance_.


To go back to earlier times, the museum of Corfu contains an
inscription, [Greek: boustrophêdon] inscription, rivalling that of
Menekratês in its archaism, attached to a Doric capital, of far later
workmanship, one would have thought, than the inscription. The
building art had clearly outstripped the writing art. The military
cemetery contains some beautiful Greek sepulchral sculptures from
various quarters, not all Korkyraian. And at some distance from the
city, near the shore of Benizza - a name of Slavonic sound - is a Roman
ruin with mosaics and hypocaust, whose bricks we think Mr. Parker
would rule to be not older than Diocletian. In Corfu such a monument
seems at first sight to be out of place. For Hellenic remains, for
Venetian remains, we naturally look; still it is well to have
something of an intermediate day, something to remind us of the long
ages which passed between the revolutions recorded by Polybios and the
revolutions recorded by Nikêtas.



We start again from Corfu, and this time our course is northward. A
survey of Greece as Greece would lead us southward and eastward. So
would even a complete survey of the subject lands of Venice. For that
we must go on to the rest of the western islands, to not a few points
in the Ægæan, to the greater islands of Euboia and Crete, to Saint
Mark's own realm of Cyprus, which the Evangelist so strangely
inherited from his daughter and her son. Not a few points of
Peloponnêsos for some ages, all Peloponnêsos for a few years, Athens
itself for a moment, comes within the same range. We might write the
history of Argos from the Venetian point of view, a point of view
which would shut out the history of Mykênê, and would look on Tiryns
only as _Palai-Nauplia_, the precursor of Napoli di Romania. But no
man could journey through Greece itself with Venice in this way in his
thoughts. Far older, far nobler, memories would press upon him at
every moment. The mediæval history of Greece is a subject which
deserves far more attention than it commonly gets, and in that history
Venice plays a prominent part. But it is hard, in a Greek journey, to
make the mediæval history primary, and even in the mediæval history
Venice is only one element among others. A large part of Greece fairly
comes under the head of the Subject and Neighbour Lands of Venice; but
we cannot bring ourselves to make that the chief aspect in which we
look at them. It is otherwise with the Dalmatian and Albanian
possessions of the Republic. There, though other points of view are
possible, yet the special Venetian point of view is one which may be
both easily and fairly taken. So too with Corfu; thoroughly Greek as
the island is, it still lies on the very verge of continuous Greece.
In its history and geography it is closely connected with the more
northern possessions of the Republic; its Venetian side is at least as
important as any other side; we can without an effort bring ourselves
to treat it in a way in which we could hardly bring ourselves to treat
Argos. We can then fairly take Corfu into our special Venetian survey;
but we can hardly venture to carry that survey further. The rest of
Greece, though it has its Venetian side, though it is important that
its Venetian side should not be forgotten, can never be looked on in
this way as an appendage to the Hadriatic commonwealth. We cannot go
through the earliest homes of European civilization and freedom, and
keep our mind mainly fixed even on the days when Rome had made them
members of her Empire, and when their influence had gone far to make
the later power of Rome at least as much Greek as Roman. Still less
can we go through them with our mind mainly fixed on the days when so
large part of Greece had passed under the rule of a city which was in
truth a revolted member of the Empire which it helped to split in

We start then again from Corfu, with our faces turned towards our old
haunts among the Illyrian coasts and islands. In so doing, we pass for
a while out of the Christian and civilized world, to skirt along the
coasts where Europe is still in bondage to Asia. The wrong is an old
one, as old as the days when Herodotus put on record how Greek cities
for the first time passed under the rule of a barbarian master. From
his day, from times long before his day, from the days of Agamemnôn,
perhaps from the days of the brave men who lived before him, the same
long strife has been going on, the same "eternal Eastern question" has
been awaiting its "solution." And nowhere does that abiding struggle
come more fully home to us than in the lands where the Eastern
question has become a Western question. The Greek cities whose bondage
to the barbarian was recorded by Herodotus were Greek cities on
barbarian ground. They were outposts of Europe on the soil of Asia;
they were spots in winning which the Asiatic might deem that he was
winning back his own. And after all, the barbarian whose conquest of
the Greek cities of Asia marks one important stage in this long
strife, was a barbarian of another kind from the barbarians whom
European lands have in later times been driven to receive as masters.
Croesus worshipped the Gods of Greece, and Greek poets sang his
praises. It may even be that the Lydian, like the Persian who
succeeded him, was not a barbarian at all in the strictest sense, but
that there was some measure of kindred, however distant, between him
and his European subjects. It is another kind of master, another kind
of bondage, which has fallen to the lot of the lands along whose coast
we are now sailing. Here we do indeed see the West in bondage to the
East, we do indeed see Europe on her own soil bowed down beneath the
yoke of Asia. We pass by coasts which look to the setting sun no less
than our own island, but which the Asiatic intruder still holds
beneath the yoke, - over some of which he has pressed the yoke for the
first time within the memory of living men. On these coasts at least
we think of Venice only in her nobler character. Here indeed every
island, every headland, which owned her rule, was something saved from
the grasp of the enemy; it was indeed a brand plucked from the
burning. As we sail northward, we leave spots behind us, memorable in
past times, memorable some of them in our own day. We leave behind us
Prevesa, where, till almost within our own century, Saint Mark still
held his own, hard by the City of Victory of the first Emperor. We
remember how Prevesa was torn away from Christendom by the arms of Ali
of Jôannina, and how within the last three years freedom has been
twice promised to her but never given. We leave behind us more famous
Parga, where, within the lifetime of many of us, stout hearts could
still maintain their freedom, in the teeth alike of barbarian force
and of European diplomacy - Parga, whose banished sons bore with them
the bones of their fathers rather than leave them to be trampled on by
the feet of the misbelievers. There must be men still living who had
their share in that famous exodus, and who have lived to see Europe
first decree that their land should be again set free, and then thrust
it back again beneath the yoke. We leave behind us Butrinto, happier
at least in this, that there no promise of later days has been broken.
There we have passed the point beyond which assembled Europe ruled
that even the dreams of freedom might go no further. And as we sail
between the home of freedom and the house of bondage, our thoughts
overleap the mountain wall. They fly to the heights where Souli,
birth-place of Botzarês, is left to the foes against whom it so long
and so stoutly strove. They fly to Jôannina, so long the home of light
and comparative freedom amid surrounding darkness and bondage, but
which now, instead of receiving the twice-promised deliverance, is
again thrust back into bondage for a while. We pass on by the High
Thunderpeaks, fencing in the land of Chimara, famous in the wars of
Ali. We double the promontory of Glôssa, and find ourselves in the
deep bay of Aulôn, Aulona, Valona, with the town itself high on its
hill, guarding the entrance to the gulf from the other side. Here is a
true hill-city, unlike Korkyra, unlike even Buthrotum; but while
Korkyra and Buthrotum, each on its shore, has each its history, Aulôn
on its height has none. We pass by the mouths of the great Illyrian
rivers, by Aoos and Apsos, and we leave between them the place where
once stood Apollonia, another of the paths by which Rome made her way
into the Eastern world. At last we find ourselves in another bay,
wider, but not so deep as the bay of Aulôn. Here we look out on what
remains of a city whose earlier name dwells in the memory of every
reader of the greatest of Greek historians, a city whose later name,
famous through a long series of revolutions, ought to be ever fresh in
the minds of Englishmen, as having become by a strange destiny the
scene of one stage of the same struggle as Senlac and York and Ely.
The city on which we look was, under its elder name of Epidamnos, that
famous colony of Korkyra which gave an occasion for the Peloponnesian
war. Under its later name of Dyrrhachion or Durazzo it beheld
Englishmen and Normans meet in arms, when Englishmen driven from their
homes had found a shelter and an honourable calling in the service of
the Eastern Cæsar.

The city on which we gaze, though it is only by a figure that we can
be said to gaze on the original Epidamnos, is one of those cities
which, without ever holding any great place themselves, without being
widely ruling cities, without exercising any direct influence on the
course of the world's history, have given occasion for the greatest
events through their relations to cities and powers greater than
themselves. Under none of its names was Epidamnos the peer of Corinth
in the elder state of things, or of Venice in the later. Yet events of
no small moment came of the relations between Epidamnos and Corinth,
of the relations between Durazzo and Venice. Greater events still came
of the relations between Dyrrhachion and Rome. The three names, though
of course the third is a simple corruption of the second, are
convenient to mark three periods in the history of the place, just as
one of the great Sicilian cities is conveniently spoken of at three
stages of its life as Akragas, Agrigentum, and Girgenti. When and how
the name changed from Epidamnos to Dyrrhachion is not clear, nor are
the reasons given for the change satisfactory. In practice, Epidamnos
is its old Greek name, Dyrrhachion its Roman, Durazzo its mediæval
name. But the name Dyrrhachion can be Roman only in usage; the word
itself is palpably Greek. In strictness it seems that Epidamnos was
the name of the city, and Dyrrhachion the name of the peninsula on
which the city was built. The change then has some analogy with the
process by which the tribal names in northern Gaul have displaced the
elder names of their chief cities, or with the change among ourselves
by which Kingston-on-Hull, as it is still always called in formal
writings, is in common speech always spoken of as "Hull." Anyhow,
under Roman rule, the name of Dyrrhachion altogether displaced
Epidamnos. The new name gradually came to be mispelled or Latinized
into _Durachium_ and _Duracium_, and, in that state, it supplied the
material for more than one play upon words. When Robert Wiscard came
against it, he said that the city might indeed be _Duracium_, but that
he was a _dour_ man (_durus_) and knew how to _endure_ (_durare_). The
Norman made his way by this path into the Eastern lands, as the Roman
had done before him; but as his course was quicker, his stay was
shorter. Epidamnos, along with Apollônia and Korkyra, were the first
possessions of Rome east of the Hadriatic. They were possessions of
the ruling city where dominion was for a long time disguised under the
name of alliance. But, under whatever name, Rome, Old and New, held
them till the Norman came. But the Norman did not hold them till the
Venetian came. In a few years after the coming of Robert Wiscard,
Durazzo and Corfu were again cities of the Eastern Empire.

Amidst all the revolutions which this little peninsula has gone
through, one law seems to hold. Under all its names, it has had in a
marked way what we may call a colonial life, in the modern sense of
the word _colonial_. It has ever been an outpost of some other power,
of whatever power has been strongest in those seas, and it has been an
outpost ever threatened by the elder races of the mainland. Herein
comes one of the differences between this Albanian coast and the
Dalmatian coast further north. The Roman Peace took in all; but in the
days before and after the Roman Peace, the settlements of Corinth,
Venice, or any other colonizing and civilizing power, along the coast
of which Durazzo was the centre, were merely scattered outposts. There
never was that continuous fringe of a higher culture, Italian or
Greek, which spread along the whole coast further north. As a colony,
an isolated colony, Epidamnos or Durazzo was always exposed to the
attacks of barbarian neighbours. And in this land the barbarian
neighbours have always been the same. The old Illyrian, the Albanian,
the Arnaout, the Skipetar - call him by whichever name we will - has
here lived on through all changes. He has indeed a right to look on
Greek, Roman, Norman, Angevin, Servian, Venetian, and Ottoman, as
alike intruders within his own immemorial land. It was danger from the
Illyrian that led to the disputes which open the history of
Thucydides, when Corinth and Korkyra fought over their common colony.
It was danger from the Illyrian which drove Epidamnos into the arms of
Rome. It was the Illyrian under his new name who in the fourteenth
century for a moment made Durazzo the head of a national state, the
capital of a short-lived kingdom of Albania. Twice conquered by the
Normans of Apulia and Sicily, twice by their Angevin successors,
granted as part of a vassal kingdom by the Norman and as a vassal
duchy by the Angevin, twice won by the Venetian commonwealth, held by
the despots of Epeiros, by the restored Emperors of Constantinople, by
the kings of Servia, by the native kings of Albania, no city has had a
more varied succession of foreign masters; but, save in the days of
the old Epidamnian commonwealth and in the days of the momentary
Albanian kingdom, it has always had a foreign master of some kind.
But in the endless succession of strangers which this memorable spot
has seen, as masters, as invaders, as defenders, it is the Englishman
and the Venetian who can look with most satisfaction on their share in
its long history. Englishmen had the honour of guarding the spot for
the Eastern Cæsar; Venice had the honour of being the last Christian
champion to guard it against the Ottoman Sultan.

* * * * *

We stand then gazing from our ship on what is left of the city which
Robert Wiscard crossed the sea to conquer, which Alexios came with his
motley host to defend, and to find that in all that host the men whom
he could best trust were the English exiles. There, as in their own
island, the English axe and the Norman lance clashed together; there
the stout axemen alone stayed to die, while the other soldiers of the
Eastern Rome, the Greek, the Turk, and the Slave, all turned to fly
around their Emperor. We look out, and we long to know the site of the
church of Saint Michael, which our countrymen so stoutly guarded, till
the Normans, Norman-like, took to their favourite weapon of fire. But
may we confess to the weakness of looking at all these things only
from the deck of the steamer? Perhaps there are some who may be
forgiven if they shrink from thrusting themselves alone, with no
native or experienced guide, into the jaws of the present masters of
Durazzo. They may be the more forgiven when those who have the care of
their vessel and its temporary inhabitants utter warnings against any
but the most stout-hearted trusting themselves to the boats which form
the only means of reaching the Dyrrhachian peninsula. Strengthened in
weakness by such counsels, there seems a kind of magnanimity in the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23

Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 21 of 23)