Christopher Wordsworth

Paraphrasing Christopher Wordsworth


Greece: Pictorial Descriptive and Historical (1839)




The Emperor Hadrian owned a splendid villa at Tivoli, of which the remains are still extant. In it he attempted to perpetuate the Reminiscences he had of Greece. He there constructed edifices to which he gave the names of Poecile and Lyceum; in their vicinity he planted the Grove of an Academy, and he dug the bed of an ideal Peneus through the pleasing Dale of an imitative Tempe.

The Traveller in Greece recreates in his own mind such a villa as this. He provides it with the beautiful scenes that he once saw in that country; he revitalizes it with the transparent waters and fresh shades of a Tempe; he adorns it with the graceful porticos of a Poecile, a Lyceum and an Academy.

But his remembrances of Greece, like Hadrian’s buildings, are destined to fall into decay; the Author of the pages that follow, has therefore tried to confer a permanence to his own remembrances by erecting a humbler Tivoli, in which he expects others to participate in that pleasure which was once experienced by the Greek Traveller in the Villa of Hadrian.



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When Aristagoras, governor of Miletus, went to Sparta to ask for help from Cleomenus, the king of that city, he carried with him a bronze tablet on which was engraved a map of the earth, and on which the circuits of seas and the courses of rivers were outlined. This chart was in all probability the creation of Hecataeus, the historian of the Asiatic city. It is the first attempt of geographical description which we know of, in the history of Greece. Although faulty and inadequate, it conveyed well to the mind of the observer a general idea of the primary characteristics of the regions which it depicted, and was consequently considered creditable of being brought from Asia into Greece and of being displayed by an ambassador to a king.

We shall now attempt to present to the reader, a terse outline of the geography of Greece, analogous to the bronze tablet which Aristagoras gave to Cleomenes. We shall endeavour to show him in an all-inclusive sketch, the forms of its land, and seas, and rivers. But we will abide by one difference: we will compose a map from a view of the country itself rather than to convey an idea of the country from the study of a map.

In order to do this, we will stand upon one of the most imposing peaks of that long range of mountains which, running from north to south in an unremitting line, almost divides into two parts the Greek continent. This mountain range, known by the name of PINDUS, has always been the backbone of Greece, and each of its successive vertebrae is known by different name. The one we have selected to refer to in particular, now called ZYGO, was formerly called Lacmos, and rises in 39° 50' north latitude, and 21° 20' east longitude. It stands over the town of Metsovo, which is well-known to all travellers who have passed from Iannina over Mount Pindus, in an eastward course, on their way either to Larissa or to Thessalonica.

The height of Zygo, which is the most amazing in the geography of Continental Greece, is the very centre to which various radii converge from all the shores by which that country is bounded on three sides. What the Milliarium Aureum, or milestone of gold, which was erected in the Forum of Rome, and from which all the roads of Italy were measured – what the Altar of the Twelve Gods, which stood in the centre of the Agora of Athens, and at which those of Attica began – were to the routes of those two countries respectively, that this eminence is to the rivers – the liquid roads of Greece. At its foot, five rivers, the largest in continental Greece, commence to flow and connect it with the Ionian and Adriatic Sea on one side, and with the Thermaic Gulf and the Aegean on the other, and with the mouth of the Corinthian Gulf, between these tow, on the third. The rivers to which we refer, are, respectively, the AOUS, the ARACHTHUS, the HALIACMON, the PENEUS, and the ACHELOUS.

I can hardly abstain from supposing that, when Virgil envisioned in his mind that noble image which he has presented to his readers at the end of his final Georgic, of the subterranean cavern in which all the rivers of the earth were born, and from which they sprang by secreted channels and hushed courses into every part of the globe, that he made some reference, more or less direct, to this specific site where, with regard to the continent of Greece, his poetical vision may be said to be realized. And this assumption will stem some support considering that the scene he is then depicting is located in Thessaly, and indeed at the source of the Peneus itself, one of the very rivers which spurts from this mountain reservoir, if we may so call it, at our feet.

By means of these five rivers which we have named, the Grecian traveller who stands on this site holds converse, if we may so say, with noble cities, and thick forests, and rich valleys, and fields of battle, which crowd in his mind, upon their banks, and lastly, with the seas themselves into which they flow, and with the islands which encircle their costs. Let him therefore rest for a while, after the fatigue of his ascent, an a clear summer day, upon one of those limestone rocks which rise in this location, and beneath the shade of the beeches and the pines which here wave over his head, let him indulge in such considerations as these.

First of all, let him turn his thoughts in the direction from which he has most likely come himself. The river Aous (as it was probably called by a Doric or Aeolic form, because it flows from the East), now the Voioussa, which is a corruption of the same word, springs from the earth at this place. If he looks at its course with the eyes of his mind, he will move across a desolate tract of sterile and jagged country, which were formerly inhabited by the Paravaei, so named because of their vicinity to the river of which we just spoke. He will map out the advancement of the stream as it flows through a long and narrow ravine, called the Straits of the Aous, which once was traversed by a Roman army of almost 10.000 men guided by their young leader the Consul Titus Quintius Flaminius, in pursuit of the Macedonian King, whose overthrow by that general was rapidly followed by the annihilation of the liberties of Greece.

This is the only place possessing some historical interest he will come across as he will traverse this dreary and deserted region, until he reaches, a hundred miles away, the hill on which the city of Apollonia stood, and the shining waters of the Adriatic sea.

Here he is brought into direct contact with that ling and famous line sequence of Corinthian Colonies of which Apollonia is one, which stretched along the western coast of Greece from Corinth upwards to this point. Bearing in mind the wise and beautiful custom and law by which those Colonies derived the fire that they kept ever burning in their Prytaneum, from the sacred hearth of their Mother State, he may regard these Cities, on their own hills, as a system of beacons, burning along the coast, and communicating in a telegraphic series of national communion from the summit of the Acrocorinth to the borders of Illyria.

From this point the passage to Italy lies open before him, and on a bright day he will descry the harbour of Brundusium, the object so often wished for by those who were crossing this gulf, when the passage was rendered perilous by the stormy gusts sweeping down upon it from the Acroceraunian rocks.

As Rhodes was the retreat of Tiberius when he was a student and a philosopher, before he became an Emperor, so had Apollonia been that of Augustus: here he resided in tranquillity and retirement for several years. A few huts, a monastery and a church, some ruinous remains of two temples, and some fragments of ancient inscriptions, are all the vestiges that survive of the polished city which initiated in literature and arts the future Master of the world.

It is worthy of notice, that the two most remarkable scenes, as contrasted with each other, in the life of the Emperor Augustus, lie at the mouths of the two rivers of Greece, which, issuing from the same spot, flow downward into the sea which washes the western coast of that country.

At the entrance of the Aous into the Adriatic, Augustus spent some years of his early life in the peaceful pursuits of literary leisure at Apollonia. But near the mouth of the Aracthus, or river of Arta, which rises by the side of the Aous and flows down in a southern course by the city of Ambracia, the modern Arta, where it passes under a good bridge, one of the few in Greece, into the Ambracian Gulf, we see him no longer a student clad in his peaceful toga, and walking on the seashore in conversation with philosophers of Greece, but dressed in the military sagum, with 100,000 men and 250 ships at his command, and, as his own poet says, bringing the gods of Italy, with the Senators and People of Rome, the Penates and the great Gods, to that battle which ended in giving him the sway of the empire of the civilized world.

The city of Apollonia, as its name points out, was under the special tutelage of Apollo; and in the descriptions of this decisive victory, the same god is depicted as standing on his own promontory of ACTIUM, with the quiver on his shoulder, his bow drawn, and his arrows pointed against the foes of his favoured Augustus; and thus the same god is associated with the same man, near the mouths of these two great rivers, which flow at the same region and fall – the one after a course of a hundred, the other of sixty miles – into the sea.

There are two locations which both illustrious for the great battles which were fought in their vicinities, in causes very dissimilar from each other in the character and the feeling of the men who fought in them. One is Thermopylae, on the east, the other is Actium on the western coast of Greece. They are now noteworthy as being the most eminent spots situated at the two extremities of the boundary dividing free Greece from Turkey. The horizon of Greek liberty stretches from a point on the western coast, a little south of Actium, to another on the eastern, a little to the north of Thermopylae.

Let us now go back to the position we had taken on Mount Pindus – that is to say the place from which the two rivers, of which we have spoken, take their rise. If we now direct look eastward, we will see that a third river, originating in the same location, and flowing in that direction, will accompany us in our excursion. This is the river Haliacmon.

The Thermaic Gulf, into which it flows, would hardly have been contemplated, in the best times of Greek history, as possessing a just claim to be considered among the bays which washed the coastline of Greece, properly so called. In that age, the name of Greece did not cross the barrier of the Cambunian Mountains; but the successful arms of Philip of Macedon, and the more brilliant conquests of his son, extended the rights of Greek citizenship to the country which he ruled, and made it as honourable for Greece to claim Macedonia as a part of itself, as it was for Macedonia to be admitted into Greece. To Macedonia – a province Greece was long hesitant to recognize as an integral part of the Hellenic nation – she was subsequently indebted for the diffusion of her language and literature, by means of those conquests, to the remotest corners of the world; and it is worthy of remark that the same district which was regarded considered as little better than barbarous by the statesmen and philosophers of the most enlightened age of Greek civilization, was the first to invite and welcome the better philosophy to which Greece has owed, after the lapse of so many centuries, her own revival from national degradation and decay. It was not an inhabitant of Corinth of Athens, but a man of Macedonia, who stood by the side of St. Paul as he slept, and called him from Asia into Greece. To us, therefore, the country which is intersected by the Haliacmon presents an object of attraction and interest of a character peculiar to itself, as it is the particular district of the continent of Greece which was first visited by the light of Christianity. At a little distance from the left bank of this river, and not far from its entrance into the sea, stands, amid luxuriant plane-trees and well-watered gardens, the town of Berrhoea, still preserving its ancient name, whose inhabitants receive so honourable a testimony from the inspired companion of St. Paul, who visited that city on this first journey into Greece; and a little further to the east, and on the shores of the Thermaic Gulf, is Thessalonica (a name now slightly changed from its ancient form to Saloniki), which was favoured by the earliest personal ministrations of the apostle, and subsequently by the first effort of his open in the Christian cause.

More renowned than the Haliacmon in the pages of Greek poets and historians, is the river which rises at the same spot, and flows for several miles in the same direction. The valley in which the Peneus flows, the stream to which we now allude, is separated from that of the Haliacmon by a chain of mountains, which, commencing near the point in which these rivers rise, runs off from the Pindus in an easterly direction, under the name of the Cambunian Hills, and stretches to the coast of the same sea into which they fall. The snowy eminence which there terminates their range on the left is OLYMPUS. A little farther in the distance, on the right bank of the river , rises the conical peak of OSSA.

Parallel to the Cambunian Hills, at about sixty miles to the south, and branching off in the same manner, from Mount Pindus to the east, and also extending to the sea, is Mount OTHRYS. These are the three rocky barriers – namely the Cambunian Hills on the north, Mount Othrys on the south and Mount Pindus on the west, which form, if we may say so, a sorth of mountain Triclinium (on which their native Giants may have been imagined to recline) into which the rich and fertile table-land of Thessaly in introduced. On the east it is bound and fed with plentiful resources by the sea.

Almost through the heart of this plain, and in the direction above indicated, sweeps the PENEUS, in a semicircular course. As it declines to the south soon after is has abandoned the mountain of its birth, so, as it come closer to the sea, it verge upwards in a northerly direction, and enters a rocky gorge, five miles in length, which is formed by two mountains – namely Olympus on the north, and Ossa on the south. This is TEMPE.

While the other provinces of Greece are remarkable for their varied character – while they are varied by a succession of hill and valley, and there is little continuity or resemblance in the elements of which they are constituted, the territory through which the Peneus flows is as much differentiated by the resemblance of its constituent parts as the others regions of the Hellenic Continent are by the discrepancies of form and nature which they display.

The history of the Peneus coincides with that of Thessaly. Its origin on the top of Mount Pindus tells of the rocky bulwark by which that region is fenced from the western half of Greece: its slow and winding course, after its descent from that mountain, speaks of the flat and wide-ranging plain of which Thessaly is formed. Again, that vast area of level soil reminds the spectator of the results which this peculiar physical structure naturally produced, especially if it is considered in contrast with the uneven surface of the rest of continental Greece. It calls to his recollection the historical events, that Thessaly was a land of corn-fields, of flocks and herds, of horses and of battles.

Of its fertility, the name of Crannon, which is not far from the river’s bank, with its records of the rich court of the Scopadae, the friends of Simonides, and of their oxen, which, as the Sicilian poet says, lowed as they went to their stalls, and the ten thousand sheep which were driven under the shade, along its plain, will offer plenty of evidence of the Centaurs in the fields of Thessaly, and their mythological appropriation to this country above all others, would be an adequate proof of its equestrian superiority to the rest of Greece, if others of a more recent date were not supplied by the conquests achieved in international warfare by the cavalry of Thessaly; and lastly, the tributary streams which flow into the Peneus, bring with them thither the names of cities by which they flow, and beneath the walls of which those warlike feats were done, which gained for the Thessalian plain the name of the Orchestra of Mars. Thus, for instance, the Apidanus bears along with it into the river of which we speak, the fame of Pharsalia which it laves; and the ONOCHONUS contributes to the same channel the names – scarcely less memorable in the history of war – of Scotussae and Cynoscephalae.