H. C. (Hans Christian) Andersen.

A poet's bazaar : a picturesque tour in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient online

. (page 16 of 31)
Online LibraryH. C. (Hans Christian) AndersenA poet's bazaar : a picturesque tour in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient → online text (page 16 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


shepherd's torch, only with its pale gray thyme, and this wan-
dering family ! Is this Greece ? Why do the misdeeds of the
parents rest on the children through a hundred generations ?

Along the broad beaten road where, ages since, young
spirited Athenians exultingly betook themselves to Plato's
academy, the poor, half-tired peasant now rides through the
tall heather ; the ass knows the way it has to go. The place
which Plato has made sacred, the place from which the mind's
light streamed over the rest of Europe, now discloses but a
large clump of stunted olive-trees. The sand hill close by is
Colonos, to which the immortal name of CEdipus is joined for-
ever.

I took my way thither over the wet heath. A gutter, which
is only a little above the surface of the earth in some places,
and then has a sort of stone covering, is now the aqueduct
from the mountains to Athens. One only observes it where it
is half destroyed, as the shepherds and herdsmen, in order to
procure water for their cattle, have taken away several of the
covering stones, and thrown them aside. The loosened earth
falls down into the water after the shower, and pollutes it.

I stood on Colonos. A walled grave, in the form of a large



THE RHAPSODISTS.



'73



coffin, is found up here. They buried here, a short time ago, a
man to whom science owes much, namely, the German K.
O. Mu'ller. His ashes rest in that land where he felt himself
happiest ; the soil he loved received his dust. Young and
contented, in the midst of his congenial labors, with no ex-
pectations of him yet disappointed, he found death ! What
could be happier ?

I leaned against the wet tomb, and wished for what I have
always wished a short and brilliant life ! And the wind
blew sharp and cold from the mountains ; watery clouds
drove past me ; but even amid this northern aspect, nothing
led my thoughts toward the North. A greatness lay in the
whole landscape which not even Switzerland possesses ; there
the mountains oppress ; here the valleys are as large as the
mountains. Greece in her sorrow is too majestic for us to
weep over ; we are elevated by it



VII.

THE RHAPSODISTS.

THE Greeks have a species of itinerant musicians rhap-
sodists mostly old blind men, each a true Homer in his ex-
terior ; yet there are also young lads who, from inclination,
possessing musical talents, have chosen this way of life. They
know an incredible number of songs, which they sing by the
watch-fires on the mountains, or by the hearth of the rich
Greek, and even execute whole pieces of music on the mando-
lin. I have heard their songs and melodies to the national
dances.

I had determined to make an excursion to Delphi at the
close of March, and to pass the second of April, my birthday,
on Parnassus, the real Parnassus ; but the gods willed it
otherwise. The valleys near Delphi were covered with snow,
the rivers had overflowed their banks, and it was raw and
cold. I was obliged to stay in Athens ; but yet the Muses
favored me. I had both song and music that day, and both
the most peculiar I had heard in Greece.



174 A POET'S BAZAAR.

When I returned from the Acropolis, where I had passed
the morning alone, I found a letter on my table with an invi-
tation from Ross, stating that, as I could not pass that day
on Parnassus, Parnassus had come to pass the day with me !
More than this what mortal or immortal poet could expect or
demand? There were just then in Athens two itinerant rhap-
sodists, young Greeks from Smyrna, and they were to
sing for me the best national songs ; but we must hear them
in the room, for the rain and storm continued without. The
clouds had stretched their wet strings down to the earth, and
the storm seized them. A mightier harp than this the gods
could not attune ; and I was egotistical enough to attribute
the whole to my birthday, which was celebrated by Glaucopis
Athene. I went to Ross. The rhapsodists took their places ;
they laid the left leg upon the right, and in this position they
sat throughout : the one had his Venetian mandolin on his
lap, the other played the violin, an instrument which has only
come into use of late among these itinerant singers. They
were both dressed in a blue Greek dress, and had a red fez
on their head. They had both of them fine, animated faces,
dark eyes, and beautifully penciled eyebrows.

I believe the circumstance was accidental, but it was very
peculiar. The order in which the songs were sung formed an
entire modern Greek history.

They began with a Greek song of complaint, composed by
the people when they were still under the Turkish yoke. They
sang about their herds and their daughters, that had been
taken away. It did not sound as when two sing one and the
same song. No, their voices crossed each other singularly ;
each one had his loss, his grief, but yet it was the same story,
the same suffering which was expressed. It was executed
half gently, half complainingly, as if fear tied their tongues j
but at times the grief swelled to a wild scream ; it was as if
a whole people wept ; it had something tremulous and heart-
rending in it, like the song of the Israelites by the waters of
Babylon.

Now followed a song by Rhiga, the Beranger of Greece ;
and they sang with much spirit the strophe,



THE RHAPSODISTS. 175

" Sparta, Sparta canst thou sleep ?
Awake thee from thy deep death-sleep ! "

Next they gave us a war-song which, in its melody, had a
strange resemblance to the " Marseillaise," and yet this, as I
was told, was original Greek. It alluded to the struggle of
the Greeks for freedom. The rhapsodists then sang the song
which the people had sung on King Otho's entrance into
Nauplia. 1 felt myself deeply moved ; a people's history
written in musical notes goes deeper into the heart than that
which is written with letters.

The younger rhapsodist suddenly seized the chords and
played a pot-pourri from " Fra Diavolo," " Robert le Diable,"
and several French operas on the violin. It was horrible ! It
appeared to me like a vision which intimated how all these
national tunes would cease, and how strange songs would
force their way in amongst the people. Even now, the Greeks
more willingly listen to the melodies of Auber than to their
own national songs.

They sang a Turkish song to conclude with. I have never
heard anything more horrible. I thought at first that it was a
parody, but Ross assured me that such was not the case ; and
I was afterward convinced of the truth of his assertion, both
in Smyrna and Constantinople. One voice began quite softly,
uttering words incomprehensible even to those who know the
Turkish language. The voice sounded as if the singer mum-
bled something in a dream. I fancied I heard an intoxicated
opium-eater groaning in a troubled sleep ; the whole accom-
paniment consisted of a thrumming on one and the same
string, and always the same note. There was something so
terribly despairing in this song ; and the burden sounded as
if the singer had awoke and screamed as if he were about
to be murdered.

When the rhapsodists left us, they each seized our hands,
kissed them, and then laid them on their foreheads according
to Greek custom. I was quite moved with what I had heard.
In the forenoon, Greek songs ; in the evening, a national
dance ; it was a real festal day. The Queen's chaplain,
Liith, procured me this latter diversion. The dance was one
of the popular kind. His two Greek man-servants, an old



176 A POETS BAZAAR.

coffee-house keeper, and two young workmen from the city
performed the dances. The rhapsodists made the violin and
mandolin resound ; and now and then one of them sang a
short sentence, conveying a sentiment or a challenge to mirth,
such as : " Enjoy yourselves ! " " Life is short ! " " Love is
sorrow ! " " Love is delight ! " " Dance, ye youths ! "

The whole row moved with grace over the floor. The one
who was at the head stepped forward as a sort of dancing-
chorus-leader ; the others regarded his steps and positions,
which they imitated. The nursery-maid in the house, a Greek
girl from Zea, who was very pretty, had put on her best dress ;
the turban, in particular, suited well with her dark hair and
beautiful forehead. She now began a dance, peculiar to her
country, with two of the men. Nothing more charming could
be wished for, and yet they were, as I have said, all of the
common class of the people. She did not hold the men by
the hands, but by their belts ; they touched the upper part of
her arm ; and at first they moved slowly forward, then back
again ; all her motions intimated peace ; those of the men, on
the contrary, signified life and passion ; she appeared to wind
herself from them they held her fast. Their looks and
mien expressed strong feelings, but only one was favored.

After they had sung and danced for us, some of our party
danced a Tyrolese dance for them, which seemed to entertain
them, for they imitated the positions of the dancers during
the dance. One of the rhapsodists who, as they said, had
some poetic talents, begged the favor to hear a song from the
North, " an hyperborean song," as he expressed himself.

I then sang him the song about the Danish peasant who
begged that he might bear the body of King Frederick to its
last resting-place. 1 And he heard how the people sang from
the city walls a deep and sorrowful farewell, as the hearse was
driven along the snow-covered road by torch-light ; how a
small candle was placed in the window of the poorest cabi?
by the way-side, where stood old men and women with their
grandchildren ; how they saw the torches burning, and folded
their hands, and said : " Now comes the King's corpse 1 "

1 A funeral dirge over Frederick VI., with music by J. P. E. Hart



DAPHNE.



177



And as I sang the song, I saw tears in the young girl's eyes.
The younger of the rhapsodists begged that he might heat
the words of the song once more.

" He was a good King," said he ; and looked at me with
a look of entreaty to repeat the melody ; and I sang it.

When I left the house it was late in the evening, and the
two rhapsodists accompanied me. The rain had ceased, but
light and transparent watery clouds were driving across the
sky, through which, nevertheless, we could see the glistening
stars. On one side lay the large silent plain stretching to-
ward the high mountains.

It was as still as a night in Roeskilde Cathedral, where King
Frederick rests.

Suddenly one of the rhapsodists seized his violin, and
played some parts of the melody, " The Danish Peasant and
King Frederick ! " Perhaps he will compose a song himself
after what he has heard, and sing it among the Greek moun-
tains, and under the shady plantains of Asia a song about
the King in the North, who was borne to his tomb by the sor-
rowing peasants.

VIII.

DAPHNE.

THERE are several large corn-fields around Athens, but
without fences of any kind to protect them from the incur-
sions of pedestrians or equestrians, each of whom takes his
way on foot or on horseback wherever he chooses, across
the corn. When I proposed to go the circuitous way, they
told me that the owners would be surprised to hear that I had
given myself such trouble. Of high-roads there is, properly
speaking, but one good one, namely, that between Athens and
Piraeus. The others, that to Thebes and one over Eleusis to
Corinth, are yet unfinished ; but even for short distances, on
which we ought, by this time, to be able to drive, it is difficult
to get forward, for the horses here will not draw ; they be-
come refractory, turn about, or throw themselves down upon
the ground.



178 A POET'S BAZAAR.

I have several times heard the drivers say : " They won't go 1
they don't know these roads ! But if you will drive to Piraeus
you shall see they are horses that can run 1 " One is every
moment obliged to get out of the carriage ; the coachman leads
the horses, and we get on at a foot-pace.

After the road to Piraeus, that to Eleusis is certainly the best.
Directly outside of Athens where the olive grove begirs, we
pass the far-famed river Cephissus, now only consisting of three
small streams which many probably may pass by without re-
marking. On the other side of the olive grove the country
assumes a wild and desert-like appearance ; the road here runs
close by antique traces of wheels in the rocks ; it is broad and
even down toward the bay, and continues direct to Eleusis,
which now only consists of about forty clay cabins and some
ruins of ancient temples. I saw about a dozen fishing boats
in the harbor.

Directly between Athens and Eleusis stands in wild soli-
tude the cloister of Daphne, 1 destroyed during the revolution.
It is built in the Moorish style, and is now made use of by the
gensdarmes who are here to insure safety to the traveller.

Daphne is undeniably one of the most interesting and most
picturesque points between Athens and Eleusis. I visited it
in company with Ross, and Philippos Joan, 2 professor at the
University of Greece.

They pointed out to me ^Egina's high, dark-blue mountains :
heavy clouds passed over the sky ; the Bay of Salamis lay cold
and still. In the light in which we saw it, it had quite the
appearance of a northern lake ; the rock by the way-side, over-
grown with thyme and cypress bushes, disclosed a number of
hewn recesses or niches in which votive tablets have been
placed ; these holes, and some few porphyry and marble
blocks here and there, are the only vestiges to remind one that
the Temple of Venus once stood here.

The air was cold, and the clouds cast strong shadows on the
naked mountains : close by us lay the far-extended ruins of
the monastery, partly surrounded by high walls, in the fissures

1 The Greek word Daphne signifies a laurel -tree.

* Professor Philippos Joan speaks German extremely well.



DAPHNE. 179

of which grew bushes and creeping plants. 1 Two wooden sheds
were erected outside ; the one formed a sort of coffee-house,
the other a species of bazaar for the few travellers or peasants
who live miles away. These wooden sheds, close to the ruins,
gave the landscape, as it were, the last pencil touch of Greek
melancholy.

We entered the monastery garden, which was overgrown with
nettles a yard high, and beneath these were wells without any
fence; we had to look narrowly after them, and go step by
step not to fall into them, for they were concealed by the net-
tles. In this manner we came to the opposite side, where the
wall seemed most convenient to ascend, and we soon stood on
the half fallen-in roof of the church, where the vegetation was
as rich as the building itself was dilapidated. One of the steps
up here was the inverted cover of an antique marble sarcoph-
agus, another was the remains of a fluted porphyry column.
Mignonnette, chickweed, and thistles shot forth everywhere.
The bat flew over our heads, in the broad daylight ; here it
was at home, here was its kingdom, even if the sun shone on
its wings.

In the cloister the monks' cells are likewise transformed
into a large stable in which the gensdarmes keep their horses.
The church is a splendid one, and might still be restored.
We stood under the cupola, on which is painted a fine image
of Christ. The Saviour holds the Bible in his left hand, and
the right is extended in the attitude of benediction. During
the revolution the Turks encamped here ; they lighted a large
fire ; the walls are yet black with smoke. They smoked their
pipes here, and amused themselves with shooting at the Chris-
tian's Redeemer up in the cupola, and their balls struck one
of the eyes, the mouth, and the holy glory ; the traces are to
be seen distinctly in the mosaic image. They scratched out
the images of the saints on the altar table, painted gross
pictures over them, whilst their comrades laughed and ex-
ulted with approbation. A number of skulls and bones,

1 The church is six or eight hundred years old, and is built on the site
of a temple of Apollo, of which a large marble column is to be seen in
the walls of the church. There were three of them not very many years
since ; but the English took two away.



l8o A POET'S BAZAAR.

found under bushes and nettles, lay thrown into a corner,
between the altar and the altar wall used in the Greek church,
which has three passages, and is painted from top to bottom
with holy subjects ; these also had been defaced by the Turks ;
but three small lamps were hung up and burned there.
They are tended by an old Greek, who lives in the wooden
shed outside, and who prepares coffee or pours out a glass of
Naki l for the stranger. In this church he was baptized, in
this church he concluded the compact of friendship, and in
this church he was married. These events in his life took
place under the dominion of the Turks. His friend fell in
the war for freedom, his bones perhaps moulder under the
heath bushes ; his wife lies buried close by ; behind the dis-
mantled walls there is a little path between the acanthus and
nettles ; an olive-tree is planted close by a fallen-in well, and
under the olive-tree is his wife's grave.

The old Greek takes care of the lamps within the disman-
tled church; he and the soldiers pay their devotions there
every festival day ; and sometimes when a Greek priest comes
by, he fastens his horse to the wooden shed, goes into the
church, and reads a mass. The old Greek is often his sole
hearer.

In a few years he will also sleep under the olive-tree ; who
will then take care of the burning lamps ? who will mow down
the nettles from the grave ?

O, the lamps will burn, lamps of silver will then be hung
up ! The roses will bloom where the nettles now grow !
The good genius of Greece whispers it to us ! Daphne
will arise from the sand, here by the road to Eleusis, which
will be frequented by strangers, as the Italian roads now are.
Daphne will flourish again ; in the yard where the thistles and
nettles only grow, the laurel-tree will spread its branches, the
incense shed its perfume, and kneeling children see a holy
wound in the eye, mouth, and glory of Christ, where the Turk
ish balls once struck.

May happiness and blessings rest on that land which gave
birth to a Theseus, a Plato, and a Socrates !

1 A Greek spirit prepared from dried grapes.



THE FEAST OF FREEDOM. l8l



IX.

THE FEAST OF FREEDOM.

THE sixth of April is the Greek Feast of Freedom. On that
day the revolt began ; on that day the first Turkish blood
flowed : the Cross is now planted where the Crescent stood ;
the Cross stands on the ruins ; the stillness of death reigns in
the valleys where the thunders of war resounded. The flag
of freedom waves this day in the poorest village throughout
the land ; the shepherd betakes him to the church ruins in
the solitary mountains, hangs up a burning lamp before the
scratched-out images on the riven walls, and reads his thanks-
giving prayer. Greece is free !

I was at Athens this year on the day of the feast It was
a beautiful, sunshiny day ; not a cloud in the sky ; not a cold
breeze from the mountains.

The bands of the several regiments were heard through the
streets in the morning. I saw from my window the martial
ranks of handsome young Greeks, with brown faces and
dark eyes ; a little flag waved on each lance. They looked
well, but they would have looked still handsomer if they had
been dressed in the national costume ; at least I thought so,
for in the uniform of the Franks they appeared to me like for-
eign troops. Pretty Greek boys, in red jackets and white
fostanelles, ran about the streets. The superior classes of
Greeks, richly dressed in splendid, showy colored clothes, with
gold and silver embroidery, and with sabre and dagger, stood
in the balconies. The women had their hair in large plaits,
laid round the little red fez ; the short velvet tunic was worn
open in front, displaying a golden bodice. Most of the men
and women had a branch of myrtle or a bouquet of gilly-
flowers in their hands. Peasants from the mountains, in sheep-
skin jackets and with high caps, leaned proudly against the
low columns of the church, and looked at the cavalry. A
hundred lamps burned within the church ; and from my win-
dow I could smell the incense which streamed out of the
open doors. The Venetian mandolin tinkled, and the white
bearded veteran sang Rhigas' war song :



l8- A POETS BAZAAR.

" Ho, wake up, ye sons of Greece ! "

The largest church in Athens, which is situated in
Street, has not the least appearance of a church, nor has it
been erected for a religious purpose ; but when Athens ac-
quired a court, all the churches were too small to contain the
members of the royal household, the corps diplomatique, and
other authorities, as well as the people on festival days. They
were, therefore, obliged to choose this building, which is a
whitewashed house, with a sort of veranda of planks and
beams, and which has a small staircase of rough boards on
one side, conducting to a small door which leads to the royal
pew. The first time I saw the building, I thought it was a
theatre or sort of town-hall. To-day the church was crowded
to suffocation with the clergy, the royal family and suite, the
ministers and officers of state alone. The officer on guard,
however, allowed me admission as a stranger. The Greek
bishop, in glittering splendor, took his place before the altar,
between the full-robed priests, who sang a highly inharmoni-
ous song. The King and Queen, both in Greek costume, sat
beneath a velvet canopy adorned with the crown and sceptre.
The Crown Prince of Bavaria in uniform had a place beside
them. The religious forms appeared to me more peculiar and
strange than really solemn. Whilst the priests sang, the mili-
tary bands played merrily without I Their music sounded
wild and martial, as if one were in the midst of battle, where
the priest prays, where the warrior sings, and the musket
cracks, shot after shot And there was a cracking without I
' Long live the King ! " sounded in the church when he and
the Queen drove away. There were three or four carriages
in the whole. Most of the diplomatists walked : one felt that
this was a kingdom on the advance. The whole street, the
balconies, and windows were filled with Greeks, one head by
the side of the other. Thousands of red fez, variegated jack-
ets, and white skirts were displayed in the sunshine. The
handsome men and boys were pleasing to look upon. Of
women there were not many, and those we saw were ugly.

After my breakfast I rode out with my countrymen, Pro-
fessor Ross, Koppen, the brothers Hansen, and other friends
toward the mountains, to see the festivity in one of the nearest



THE FEAST OF FREEDOM. 183

villages. We rode down the small mountain path past Lyca
bettus to the village of Maruzze', the clay cabins of which, witfi
their white washed walls and little fruitful gardens, appeared
very smart. All the inhabitants sat in the street, which was so
small that they were obliged to retire into the houses when we
came riding through. The flag of freedom was planted out-
side the church : it was white with a blue cross. A beauti-
ful little girl, in a black velvet tunic, the snow-white sleeves
of her chemise hanging out broad from the elbow around
her small brown arms, sat on a bundle of cypress branches
at a little distance from the flag, with a face so regularly hand-
some, eyes so dark, and eyebrows so finely penciled that I
know not how it was, but this little one, as she sat there on
these symbols of death, appeared to me to be Greece's genius
of beauty, over whom the flag of freedom once more waved.

Our destination on this little journey was, however, the next
town, Cephissia. The road thither is called a carriage-road ;
but even in Greece it can only be a carriage-road for those
who are doomed to break their necks. In the rest of Europe,
no one can form a conception of such a road ; the worst must,
in comparison with this, be called the broad way of sin which
leads comfortably to the lower regions ! The Greek horses
stand firm on the rugged mountains, and, consequently, here
also. The rivulets ran sometimes on the side of the road and
sometimes in the middle, full a foot deep : magnificent laurel-
trees and flourishing Oleacese grew on both sides. In the
fields I dare scarcely call these inclosures gardens were
wild pears and almond-trees. The herdsmen drove a few
herds of cattle. We greeted them in the Greek manner, with a
" Met in a happy hour ! " and they answered blithely, " Many
happy years to you ! "

When Greece was under the Turkish yoke, the village f
Cephissia was still more flourishing, for the rich Athenian



Online LibraryH. C. (Hans Christian) AndersenA poet's bazaar : a picturesque tour in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient → online text (page 16 of 31)