Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)
Just inside the wall of the city, I left my driver. Then like one who has gone to sleep over a book of history, I stepped into the past. I stood now on that ancient highway—known simply as The Road—which leads from gate to agora to acropolis beyond. I was now in history. In the present I was part of the past and, simultaneously, part of what is to come. Time opened his arms to me and in his serene embrace I saw the matter whole: a circle without beginning or end.
To the left of the gate was a fountain in which I washed the dust from my face and beard. Then I proceeded along The Road to the agora. I am told that Rome is infinitely more impressive than Athens. I don’t know. I have never visited Rome. But I do know that Athens looks the way a city ought to look but seldom does. It is even better planned than Pergamon, at least at its centre. Porticoes gleam in the bright sun. The intense blue sky sets off the red tile roofs and makes the faded paint of columns seem to glow.
The Athenian agora is a large rectangular area enclosed by long porticoes of great antiquity. The one on the right is dedicated to Zeus; the one on the left is of more recent date, the gift of a young king of Pergamon who studied here. In the centre of the agora is the tall building of the University, first built by Agrippa in the time of Augustus. The original building—used as a music hall—collapsed mysteriously in the last century. I find the architecture pretentious, even in its present somewhat de-Romanized version. But pretentious or not, this building was my centre in Athens. For here the most distinguished philosophers lecture. Here I listened three times weekly to the great Prohaeresius, of whom more later.
Behind the University are two porticoes parallel to one another, the last being at the foot of the acropolis. To one’s right, on a hill above the agora, is a small temple to Hephaestos surrounded by gardens gone to seed. Below this hill are the administrative buildings of Athens, the Archives, the Round House where the fifty governors of Athens meet—this last is a peculiar-looking structure with a steep roof which the Athenians, who give everything and everyone a nickname, call “the umbrella”. There used to be many silver statues in the Round House but the Goths stole them in the last century.
Few people were abroad as the sun rose to noon. A faint breeze stirred the dust on the old pitted paving. Several important-looking men, togas draped ineptly about plump bodies, hurried towards the Bouletrion. They had the self-absorbed air of politicians everywhere. Yet these men were the political heirs of Pericles and Demosthenes. I tried to remember that as I watched them hurry about their business.
Then I stepped into the cool shade of the Painted Portico. For an instant my eyes were dazzled, the result of sudden dimness. Not for some time was I able to make out the famous painting of the Battle of Marathon which covers the entire long wall of the portico. But as my eyes grew used to the shade, I saw that the painting was indeed the marvel the world says it is. One can follow the battle’s course by walking the length of the portico. Above the painting hang the round shields of the Persians, captured that day. The shields have been covered with pitch to preserve them.
Looking at those relics of a battle fought eight hundred years before, I was much moved. Those young men and their slaves—yes, for the first time in history slaves fought beside their masters—together saved the world. More important, they fought of their own free will, unlike our soldiers, who are either conscripts or mercenaries. Even in times of peril, our people will not fight to protect their country. Money, not honour, is now the source of Roman power. When the money goes, the state will go. That is why Hellenism must be restored, to instil again in man that sense of his own worth which made civilization possible, and won the day at Marathon.