Go to Greece by sea

We must go to Greece by sea: and the sea voyage is most instructive. There is a long, lonely, restless stretch of sea, some 400 miles broad between the coast of Sicily and sight of the mountains of Attica. When the vast pinnacle of Aetna, with its trailing pennon of smoke, a pinnacle which hour after hour seems to rise in the sky, at last fades out of sight in the west, a long reach of unbroken sea has to be ploughed. Long before we sight the mountains of Taygetus or the headlands of Taenarum or Malea, between which lies the vale of 'Hollow Lacedæmon,' one has come to realise that we have left Europe far behind and are entering on the land of the rising sun. The old saw ran -- 'When you have passed Cape Malea, make your will and say farewell to your kindred.' That is no longer necessary or even prudent. But by the time that we have rounded Cape Malea and are steering north-east instead of south-east, it breaks upon us that we have left Europe some distance behind us.

Whatever geographers may pretend, there is not any such country as Greece -- and there never was. There is no definitely marked portion of Europe inhabited by a people politically and socially one, with national traditions and habits. There is not now, and there never has been in ancient or in modern times. If we take a list of the illustrious Greeks of antiquity, we shall find that far the larger part of them belonged not to continental Greece proper, but to Greek communities spread out over the world from the coast of Spain to the banks of the Euphrates, from the Euxine to the coast of Africa. There is now a Greek language, a Greek church, a Greek nationality, possibly to some degree, but very doubtfully, a Greek race, spread over many countries, over a thousand islands, mingled with other races, languages, and countries; subdivided, dispersed, and scattered over more than a thousand miles. All good Greeks would be scandalised if Crete was not included in Greece -- Crete where they say true Hellenes survive. And if Crete, why not Rhodes, why not Cyprus, why not Smyrna, Chios, Lesbos, and the other islands of the Archipelago? Till Athens lately became populous, there were more Greeks in Constantinople than in Athens, and it is always said of a purer Hellenic descent. And no other Greek town except Athens and Piraeus contains as many Greeks as there are in Smyrna, or Alexandria, perhaps in Trieste, or London. Where does Greece begin and end? All genuine Greeks deny with indignation that Greece is limited by the present frontiers of the actual kingdom. What are its local limits? Every true Hellene, and every Philhellene states them in a different way. A Greek orator addressing the people of Athens talks not of their country, but of Hellenismus or Panhellenism, that is, the common aspirations of the so-called Greek race. Greece may mean a nation; it cannot mean a country.

Until we see Greece we hardly realise that Greece is practically all mountains, tremendous, bare, precipitous mountains, with hardly any real plains of any size except at extreme points. The islands are so numerous and so close to the mainland that they practically form part of it. They are mere tops of mountains rising out of the sea. And it is much easier to pass from one island to another, than from one point of the mainland to another a few miles off. In sailing across the Aegean Sea, from the time we sight Cape Taenarum (Matapan) until we reach the Bosphorus, some 500 miles, we never lose sight of mountains towering out of the sea. From Taenarum we can see the mountains of Crete 100 miles off; and in passing up the Archipelago, we see on one side the islands and mainland of Asia Minor on the East, and the islands and mainland of European Greece on the West. Hence, the whole of Greece, mainland and islands together, looks not like a definite country such as Italy, Spain, France, or England, but a long chain of Alps or Andes, half submerged in the Eastern Mediterranean, and thrusting a thousand bare and jagged peaks to form islands in the sea.

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