330WEN'S .10178NET FROM CONSTANTINOPLE TO CORFU" Mn. BOWEN varied the
usual mode of getting easily in a steamer from the city of the Sultan to the capital of the Ionian Islands, by lauding at Thessalonica, visiting the monasteries of Mount Athos, and then riding through Thessaly and Epirus. The route is not altogether new : Mr. Curzon traversed part of it in his Visits to the monasteries of which he has given so amusing an • Mount Athos, Tbessaly, and Epirus t a Diary of a Journey from Constantinople tO Corfu. By George Ferguson Bowen, Esq., MA., Fellow of Brazenose College, Oxford. Published by ItIvingtou. account ; Mr. Lear, in his explorations in search of the pie.. turesque, went over much the same ground as Mr. Bowen, except that the cholera shut him out from Mount Athos. The region, however, is by no means exhausted, as regards natural beauty, re. mains of antiquity, the characteristics of the people, or the sin-. gularities of the monasteries and their inhabitants. To visit these latter, to observe their discipline, acquirements, and mode of living, was one of Mr. Bowen's objects, which gave him a particular pursuit. He was moreover well qualified to travel through the country with advantage. He is familiar not only with the ancient Greek authors, but with modern Greek as a living tongue ; he seems acquainted with the people and their character ; he has the experience and hardihood of a traveller. His composition might be more vivacious in the level parts of his descriptions, but perhaps at the expense of accuracy. The style is always clear and easy ; the book will be found unpretending, solid, and informing on a variety of topics. The exclusion of females from monasteries is common enough, but on Mount Athos it extends to a district and to more than wo- men. "No mare, cow, she-cat, hen, &c. has been, from imme- morial custom, admitted into the precincts of the Holy Mountain"; and guards are paid and stationed to keep them out. This strict- ness 1.9 partly the result of tradition and superstition, partly of policy in reference to the preservation of conventual discipline. It must sometimes give rise to odd scenes at the guardhouses ; and here is one within the walls.
"My companion mentioned to me the superstition held by the sailors of the .ZEgean, that women who have presumed to land on the Holy Peninsula have been invariably struck dead for their impiety ; and rather startled me by suddenly asking, 'What sort of human creatures are women?' Mutat avOpiewm ltuat al •yevciitavd—just as if a German NM to ask, 'Was fur Menschen sind die Frauenzimmern ?' My reply was, 'Have you never seen a woman ? ' EL5ss aTeri ,ufav Twat= ;) when he assured me that be had seen only his mother' and that he had forgotten even her appear- ance, as he had only sent to the mountain on a visit to an uncle when only four years old, and had never crossed its limits since—a period of twenty- four years. He was very inquisitive about women; whom he had heard and read of, but had never seen • of whom, in short, he appeared to know about as much as I know of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. For charity's sake I quoted to him the old rule of St. Bernard, how the ancient enemy, by fe- male society, has withdrawn many a soul from the right path to Paradise' ; and I bade my unsophisticated friend thank Providence that he at least was safe from the dangerous allurements of those syrens of real life, who had as- saulted so many anchorites, from St. Antony down to St. Kevin, and who, I told him, were but ugly likenesses of the pictures of the Virgin in the con- vent churches. This was no extravagant compliment to the fair sex, for the Greeks are too much afraid of idolatry to represent any such 'eyes of most unholy blue' as beam from the canvass of the Italian masters. All their pictures of saints are in a style of traditional and conventional ugliness. Before my departure, I amused myself by translating into Greek Anacreontic verse, and leaving for the edification of the good fathers, as many appropriate couplets in the 'Irish Melodies' as I could call to mind; for instance,
'Alas' .the poor monk little knew What that wily sea can do,'
and the like."
The convents at Meteora, erected upon mountains inaccessible except by ladders or a primitive kind of crane, have been made familiar by Mr. Curzon's pen and pencil. Mr. Bowen did not feel inclined to scale the perpendicular cliffs by means of very question- able-looking ladders but ventured up in the net. A report was rife that the rope had broken not long. before, and a monk been dashed to pieces ; but our traveller judiciously argued, there will now be a new rope, and greater care after such an accident.
"I fired off a pistol, to attract the attention of the monks ; when, long be- fore the echo reverberated by the cliffs around had died away over Piaui; two or three cowled heads were thrust out from under the covered platform projecting from the summit of the rock, and which resembles the shed OR the top story of a lofty London warehouse. The rope, too, is worked in a similar way, by a pulley and windlass. After reconnoitering us for a mo- ment, and seeing that we were not strong enough to carry their monastery by a coup de main, the monks threw down what seemed a strong cabbage- net, lowering at the same time a thick rope with an iron hook at its end. My guide spread the net on the ground, and I seated myself in it cross- legged. He then gathered the meshes togethet over my head, and hung them on the hook. The monks above then worked their windlass, and in about three minutes and a half I reached the summit, a distance of between two hundred and three hundred feet, swinging to and fro in the breeze, and turning round like a joint of meat roasting before a slow fire. This incon- venience might easily be prevented by another rope being held by a person below, as is done in the shafts of mines : but that is a Cornish luxury which has not yet occurred to the good fathers. Of course, as I begin to ascend, my weight draws the net close, until my knees are pulled up to my chin, and I am rolled into a ball like a hedgehog. The guide told me to shut my eyes to escape giddiness: but I soon opened them, on feeling myself banged pretty sharply against the rough side of the rock ; and I swung myself off again by a convulsive push of the knees. The height is, indeed, dizzy enough; for I could no longer see the narrow ledge from which I had startedt nor the winding path which led to it, but looked right down on the plain er Thessaly, a thousand feet or more beneath. During the ascent, the rope occasionally slips from one spoke to another on the windlass; when of course you fall like a piece of lead for a few yards, and are then caught up with a mightily disagreeable jerk. On reaching the level of the projecting shed above, you are left hanging for half a minute over the abyss, till the monks leave the capstan, and fish you in with a pole like a boat-hook. They have no such contrivance as a turning-crane for landing their guests; iii fee; their machinery is altogether of a most primitive order. You lie on the floor a perfectly helpless ball, until they undo the meshes of the net from the hook, unrol you, give you a gentle shake, and then help you to your feet.* It is a moot point in ethnology, whether man can improve of himself—whether a people removed from foreign influence or stimulus can advance their character and condition, though there is no doubt that they can deteriorate fast enough. Some facto ap- pear to support the negative of this question. The mountaineers of Kurdistan and its vicinity are now as Xenophon found them. The Highlanders of Scotland remained in the same condition for many centuries, and might have still continued as they-were had not the landlords taken to clearing their estates. As yet all efforts
on the Irish peasant have been fruitless. Even in England, with its railroads, its penny postage, and its press, places ever so little out of the main stream of traffic are very primitive in manners, ideas, and language ; and doubtless would be in costume, but for some adventurous tailor, or the sheer impossibility of getting the ancient articles except at the price of a "fancy dress." Notwith- standing the Roman, Barbarian, and Moslem conquests, that have rolled over Thessaly and Epirus, the peasant seems much as he was thousands of years ago.
"The incursions of those insects known to the initiated as B flats and F sharps, which swarm more at Acanthus than in any other spot with which I am acquainted ; and the roaring of the storm round and through the frail wooden hut in which I was lodged, insured my enjoying nearly the whole night what Milton calls a sober certainty of waking bliss.' However, I consoled myself as well as I could by calling to mind the graphic accounts of Aristophanes in several of his dramas of similar sufferings in Greek houses of old. A close observation of the peasantry of his own time could alone have enabled him to describe so vividly in his Plutus' the wretched lot of his countrymen when the &croon of poverty shall have established its reign over the land. His words apply with singular closeness to the domestic manners and usages of the lower orders of the present day. I may remark, too, that Aristophanes in the 'Frogs' introduces Bacchus on his journey to Hades with an equipage very similar to that now customary among the less luxurious class of modern travellers in Greece. And the fireside of every peasant exhibits exactly the same scene as the cottage of Eumseus ; while the agricultural implements and usages of the present day are nearly those of the times of Hesiod."
The later Romans regarded Grecian history pretty much as Vol- taire and the sceptics of the last century looked at ancient history
in general. " Creditur olim
Velificatus Athos, et quidquid Grecia mendax Audet in historia."
The researches of Mr. Bowen have confirmed the veracity of Herodotus by tracing the site of the canal.
"We are off before daybreak ; and half a mile from our night's quarters we pass one of the farms belonging to the monks, situated on the brow of the low ridge which separates the plain of Miro from the vale of Pr6nlaka, as the peasants call the narrowest part of the isthmus ; evidently the modem corruption (the accusative being, as usually in Romaic, substituted for the nominative, and au pronounced like av) of Proaulax' (HpoaiaaE,) the canal in front of Mount Athos, excavated by Xerxes for the passage of his fleet. The features and breadth of this neck of land are exactly described by He- rodotus The isthmus is about twelve furlongs across; it consists partly of level ground and partly of low bills, reaching from the sea of the Acanthians to the sea of Torone opposite.' The site of the canal is a hollow between natural banks, and several artificial mounds and substructions of walls can be traced along it. It does not seem to have been more than sixty feet wide ; and as history does not mention that it was ever kept in repair after the time of Xerxes, the waters from the heights around have nearly filled it up with soil in the course of ages. As, however, no part of its level is a hundred feet above the sea, it might be renewed without much labour; and there can be no doubt that it would be useful to the navigation of the -Egean, as such is the fear entertained by the Greek boatmen of the strength and uncertain direction of the currents around Mount Athos, and of the gales and high seas Is which its vicinity is subject, that scarcely any price will tempt them during the winter months to sail from one side of the peninsula to the other. Xerxes was therefore justified in cutting the canal, the work being very easy from the nature of the ground. Moreover, the losses experienced by the former expedition under Mardonius would suggest the idea ; and the Per- sians had at their disposal vast numbers of men, among whom, too, were Babylonians and Egyptians, experienced in such undertakings."
Our traveller also throws some light on the bird of wisdom, which we, not having the orignal, transform into our owl.
"In the evening, I wandered by the light of a sweet half-moon to the side of one of the hills overhanging the monastery ; where I lay down and mused for hour, undisturbed by any sound but the gentle ripple of the waves below and the quaint cry of one of those little homed owls about the size of a thrush, which are almost unknown in England but are common in Greece and Italy. The little creature, as usual, seemed utterly regardless of icy presence, and satiln a withered bough within a few feet of me, pouring forth its peculiar cry aid twisting itself into the most fantastic shapes. This is the real owl of Minerva, so venerated of old by the Athenians' and can be perfectly tamed with great ease. A number of them are kept inthe Univer- sity of Corfu, because an owl is borne on the arms of that institution; on the same principle, in short, as that on which bears are preserved at Berne, eagles at Geneva, storks at the Hague, and lions were formerly preserved in the Tower of London. Far from seeming to complain
• Of such as, wandering near their secret bower, Molest their ancient solitary reign,'
they usually appear to feel a fellowship with the solitary being who delights in contemplating at the same hour as themselves the gloomy scenes which they choose as their favourite haunts. I have seen them among the ruins of the Coliseum and of the Parthenon, on the plain of Troy, and on the heights of Syracuse, seated, as to-night, close by me on a broken arch or fallen pillar, and hooting with a certain tone of mockery, varied with that of a more plaintive character. As the mournful or the sarcastic tone prevails, one might almost fancy the bird of Minerva demanding sympathy with its lament for the ruin of a once favourite seat of the arts and sciences over which she of old presided ; or the bird of desolation inviting to rejoice with it over the wreck of ancient glories,. a member of our great Teutonic race- ' Heirs,' as we are, 'of all the ages in the foremost files of time.'"
This work was originally published in successive numbers of the Colonial Church Chronicle. It now appears with revisions and additions in the form of a volume, and is much worthier of repub- lication than many more ambitions-looking books.