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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 8556

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Smyrna-The Sport of the Djerid-Journey to Ephesus-The dead City-The desolate Country-The Ruins and Obliteration of the Temple-The slight Impression of all on Byron

The passage in the Pylades from Athens to Smyrna was performed without accident or adventure.

At Smyrna Lord Byron remained several days, and saw for the first time the Turkish pastime of the Djerid, a species of tournament to which he more than once alludes. I shall therefore describe the amusement.

The Musselim or Governor, with the chief agas of the city, mounted on horses superbly caparisoned, and attended by slaves, meet, commonly on Sunday morning, on their playground. Each of the riders is furnished with one or two djerids, straight white sticks, a little thinner than an umbrella-stick, less at one end than at the other and about an ell in length, together with a thin cane crooked at the head. The horsemen, perhaps a hundred in number, gallop about in as narrow a space as possible, throwing the djerids at each other and shouting. Each man then selects an opponent who has darted his djerid or is for the moment without a weapon, and rushes furiously towards him, screaming "Olloh! Olloh!" The other flies, looking behind him, and the instant the dart is launched stoops downwards as low as possible, or wields his horse with inconceivable rapidity, and picking up a djerid with his cane, or taking one from a running slave, pursues in his turn the enemy, who wheels on the instant he darts his weapon. The greatest dexterity is requisite in these mimic battles to avoid the concurrence of the "javelin-darting crowd," and to escape the random blows of the flying djerids.

Byron, having satisfied his curiosity with Smyrna, which is so like every other Turkish town as to excite but little interest, set out with Mr Hobhouse on the 13th of March, for Ephesus. As I soon after passed along the same road, I shall here describe what I met with myself in the course of the journey, it being probable that the incidents were in few respects different from those which they encountered.

On ascending the heights after leaving Smyrna, the road was remarkable in being formed of the broken relics of ancient edifices partly macadamised. On the brow of the hill I met a numerous caravan of camels coming from the interior of Asia. These ships of the desert, variously loaded, were moving slowly to their port, and it seemed to me as I rode past them, that the composed docile look of the animals possessed a sort of domesticated grace which lessened the effect of their deformity.

A caravan, owing to the oriental dresses of the passengers and attendants, with the numerous grotesque circumstances which it presents to the stranger, affords an amusing spectacle. On the back of one camel three or four children were squabbling in a basket; in another cooking utensils were clattering; and from a crib on a third a young camel looked forth inquiringly on the world: a long desultory train of foot-passengers and cattle brought up the rear.

On reaching the summit of the hills behind Smyrna the road lies through fields and cotton-grounds, well cultivated and interspersed with country houses. After an easy ride of three or four hours I passed through the ruins of a considerable Turkish town, containing four or five mosques, one of them, a handsome building, still entire; about twenty houses or so might be described as tenantable, but only a place of sepulchres could be more awful: it had been depopulated by the plague-all was silent, and the streets were matted with thick grass. In passing through an open space, which reminded me of a market-place, I heard the cuckoo with an indescribable sensation of pleasure mingled with solemnity. The sudden presence of a raven at a bridal banquet could scarcely have been a greater phantasma.

Proceeding briskly from this forsaken and dead city, I arrived in the course of about half an hour at a coffee-house on the banks of a small stream, where I partook of some refreshment in the shade of three or four trees, on which several storks were conjugally building their nests. While resting there, I became interested in their work, and observed, that when any of their acquaintances happened to fly past with a stick, they chattere

d a sort of How-d'ye-do to one another. This civility was so uniformly and reciprocally performed, that the politeness of the stork may be regarded as even less disputable than its piety.

The road from that coffee-house lies for a mile or two along the side of a marshy lake, the environs of which are equally dreary and barren; an extensive plain succeeds, on which I noticed several broken columns of marble, and the evident traces of an ancient causeway, which apparently led through the water. Near the extremity of the lake was another small coffee-house, with a burial-ground and a mosque near it; and about four or five miles beyond I passed a spot, to which several Turks brought a coffinless corpse, and laid it on the grass while they silently dug a grave to receive it.

The road then ascended the hills on the south side of the plain, of which the marshy lake was the centre, and passed through a tract of country calculated to inspire only apprehension and melancholy. Not a habitation nor vestige of living man was in sight, but several cemeteries, with their dull funereal cypresses and tombstones served to show that the country had once been inhabited.

Just as the earliest stars began to twinkle I arrived at a third coffee-house on the roadside, with a little mosque before it, a spreading beech tree for travellers to recline under in the spring, and a rude shed for them in showers or the more intense sunshine of summer. Here I rested for the night, and in the morning at daybreak resumed my journey.

After a short ride I reached the borders of the plain of Ephesus, across which I passed along a road rudely constructed, and raised above the marsh, consisting of broken pillars, entablatures, and inscriptions, at the end of which two other paths diverge; one strikes off to the left, and leads over the Cayster by a bridge above the castle of Aiasaluk-the other, leading to the right, or west, goes directly to Scala Nuova, the ancient Neapolis. By the latter Byron and his friend proceeded towards the ferry, which they crossed, and where they found the river about the size of the Cam at Cambridge, but more rapid and deeper. They then rode up the south bank, and about three o'clock in the afternoon arrived at Aiasaluk, the miserable village which now represents the city of Ephesus.

Having put up their beds in a mean khan, the only one in the town, they partook of some cold provisions which they had brought with them on a stone seat by the side of a fountain, on an open green near to a mosque, shaded with tall cypresses. During their repast a young Turk approached the fountain, and after washing his feet and hands, mounted a flat stone, placed evidently for the purpose on the top of the wall surrounding the mosque, and devoutly said his prayers, totally regardless of their appearance and operations.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in exploring the ruins of Aiasaluk, and next morning they proceeded to examine those of the castle, and the mouldering magnificence of Ephesus. The remains of the celebrated temple of Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world, could not be satisfactorily traced; fragments of walls and arches, which had been plated with marble, were all they could discover, with many broken columns that had once been mighty in their altitude and strength: several fragments were fifteen feet long, and of enormous circumference. Such is the condition of that superb edifice, which was, in its glory, four hundred and twenty feet long by two hundred and twenty feet broad, and adorned with more than a hundred and twenty columns sixty feet high.

When the travellers had satisfied their curiosity, if that can be called satisfaction which found no entire form, but saw only the rubbish of desolation and the fragments of destruction, they returned to Smyrna.

The investigation of the ruins of Ephesus was doubtless interesting at the time, but the visit produced no such impression on the mind of Byron as might have been expected. He never directly refers to it in his works: indeed, after Athens, the relics of Ephesus are things but of small import, especially to an imagination which, like that of the poet, required the action of living characters to awaken its dormant sympathies.

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