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CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE.
CANTO THE SECOND.
COME, blue-eyed maid of heaven !-- but thou, alas ! Didst never yet one mortal song inspire Goddess of Wisdom! here thy temple was, And is, despite of war and wasting fire, 1 And years, that bade thy worship to expire : But worse than steel, and flame, and ages slow, Is the dread sceptre and dominion dire Of men who never felt the sacred glow bestow. That thoughts of thee and thine on polish'd breasts
1 Part of the Acropolis was destroyed by the explosion of a magazine during the Venetian siege. - [On the highest part of Lycabettus, as Chandler was informed by an eye-witness, the Venetians, in 1687, placed four mortars and six pieces of cannon, when they battered the Acropolis. One of the bombs was fatal to some of the sculpture on the west front of the Parthenon. “In 1667," says Mr. Hobhouse, “every antiquity of which there is now any trace in the Acropolis was in a tolerable state of preservation. This great temple might, at that period, be called entire; - having been previously a Christian church, it was then a mosque, the most beautiful in the world. The portion yet standing cannot fail to fill the mind of the most indifferent spectator with sentiments of astonishment and awe; and the same reflections arise upon the sight even of the enormous masses of marble ruins which are spread upon the area of the temple."]
Ancient of days ! august Athena! 1 where,
that were :
Are sought in vain, and o'er each mouldering tower, Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of power.
1 We can all feel, or imagine, the regret with which the ruins of cities, once the capitals of empires, are beheld : the reflections suggested by such objects are too trite to require recapitulation. But never did the littleness of man, and the vanity of his very best virtues, of patriotism to exalt, and of valour to defend his country, appear more conspicuous than in the record of what Athens was, and the certainty of what she now is. This theatre of contention between mighty factions, of the struggles of orators, the exaltation and deposition of tyrants, the triumph and punishment of generals, is now become a scene of petty intrigue and perpetual disturbance, between the bickering agents of certain British nobility and gentry. “The wild foxes, the owls and serpents in the ruins of Babylon," were surely less degrading than such inhabitants. The Turks have the plea of conquest for their tyranny, and the Greeks have only suffered the fortune of war, incidental to the bravest; but how are the mighty fallen, when two painters contest the privilege of plundering the Parthenon, and triumph in turn, according to the tenor of each succeeding firman! Sylla could but punish, Philip subdue, and Xerxes burn Athens ; but it remained for the paltry antiquarian, and his despicable agents, to render her contemptible as himself and his pursuits. The Parthenon, before its destruction in part, by fire during the Venetian siege, had been a temple, a church, and a mosque. In each point of view it is an object of regard : it changed its worshippers ; but still it was a place of worship thrice sacred to devotion : its violation is a triple sacrifice. But
“ Man, proud man,
III. Son of the morning, rise! approach you here! Come- but molest not yon defenceless urn: Look on this spot - a nation's sepulchre ! Abode of gods, whose shrines no longer burn. Even gods must yield—religions take their turn: 'Twas Jove's 'tis Mahomet's — and other creeds Will rise with other years, till man shall learn
Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds; [reeds. 1 Poor child of Doubt and Death, whose hope is built on
i rin the original MS. we find the following note to this and the five succeeding stanzas, which had been prepared for publication, but was afterwards withdrawn, “from a fear," says the poet, " that it might be considered rather as an attack, than a defence of religion ; " -“ In this age of bigotry, when the puritan and priest have changed places, and the wretched Catholic is visited with the sins of his fathers,' even unto generations far beyond the pale of the commandment, the cast of opinion in these stanzas will, doubtless, meet with many a contemptuous anathema, But let it be remembered, that the spirit they breathe is desponding, not sneering, scepticism ; that he who has seen the Greek and Moslem superstitions contending for mastery over the former shrines of Polytheism — who has left in his own Pharisees, thanking. God that they are not like publicans and sinners,' and Spaniards in theirs, abhorring the heretics, who have holpen them in their need, will be not a little bewildered, and begin to think, that as only one of them can be right, they may, most of them, be wrong. With regard to morals, and the effect of religion on mankind, it appears, from all historical testimony, to have had less effect in making them love their neighbours, than inducing that cordial Christian abhorrence between sectaries and schismatics. The Turks and Quakers are the most tolerant: if an Infidel pays his heratch to the former, he may pray how, when, and where he pleases; and the mild tenets and devout demeanour of the latter, make their lives the truest commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.”]
Thou know'st not, reck'st not to what region, so
Regard and weigh yon dust before it flies :
Or burst the banish'd Hero's lofty mound;
Is that a temple where a God may dwell ?
Look on its broken arch, its ruin'd wall,
Can all saint, sage, or sophist ever writ,
1 [“ Still wilt thou harp." - MS.]
2 It was not always the custom of the Greeks to burn their dead; the greater Ajax, in particular, was interred entire. Almost all the chiefs became gods after their decease; and he was indeed neglected, who had not annual games near his tomb, or festivals in honour of his memory by his countrymen, as Achilles, Brasidas, &c., and at last even Antinous, whose death was as heroic as his life was infamous.