« AnteriorContinuar »
“Let those that will believe it: I, for one,
Can not thus read the history of my kind :
It may sound strange and incongruous to many an ear to talk of education and literature in connection with modern Greece. We have been wont to think of the Greeks as the most barbarous and illiterate nation of Europe. We began by ignoring the natural consequences of long ages of servitude, and expected them to emerge from the slime with a robe of unsullied brilliancy. Having been disappointed in our unreasonable anticipations, we have long since ceased to take any account of their struggles in the path of improvement. The wonderful development that popular education has undergone is unknown to most; and few are aware of the existence of any schools of learning that will favorably compare with our own. When, therefore, I say that the University of Otho at Athens possesses at least as many students, and twice as large a corps of professors, as the largest of our colleges, I am stating a fact that may excite some surprise.
Shortly after my arrival at Athens I was desirous of visit
ing the University, and making some inquiries as to the course
of the roof, contrasted with the size of the building. The
principal front is said to be constructed in imitation of one of
UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. 79
When the University was founded at Athens, Asopius was called thither to fill a similar chair. He enjoys the reputation of being perhaps the best living philologist among the Greeks; and his learning is by no means confined to a single department. A fine intellectual head, and a face indicative of that rare attainment—a placid old age, ruffled by no impatient or peevish disposition—attract the admiration and affection of all the students. In their welfare Professor Asopius takes a warm interest; nor is there any one of whom the student is more ready to ask counsel. It may, indeed, be remarked that in general the coldness and hauteur which mark the relation of teacher and pupil in many of our institutions is here replaced by a friendly and even familiar intercourse. Professor Asopius was evidently pleased at the idea that an American had come to Athens to find out what facilities this city afforded to those who wished to gain a thorough knowledge of both ancient and modern Greek. He expressed the hope that I might be only the forerunner of a multitude of American scholars, and cordially invited me to his lecture-room. His lectures on the Odyssey, and on philology, and the history of the Greek poets, are held in high esteem. I began to attend them as soon as they commenced; but the indistinct utterance of the speaker is a difficulty which meets one at the very threshold. The library was the only part of the building that was open to inspection. It took me quite by surprise. I had anticipated seeing at most a few thousand books. The librarian, Mr. G. Typaldus, informed me that there were not less than 70,000 volumes, and that the annual increase was six or eight thousand. Nor does it consist of works of small value or merit. As far as my subsequent observation went, the selection seemed to be excellent; while some works—such as Napoleon's Expédition d'Egypte—are rare and costly. In the English department, however, the library is singularly incomplete; and with the exception of the Smithsonian Institute’s “Contributions to Knowledge” (of which the set is defective), there are no American publications of importance. This rapid rise of a collection of books which equals, if it does not exceed, any similar one in the United States, is the more astonishing as the outlay of money has been very small. Most of the additions have been by gifts of wealthy Greeks, and foreigners, among whom I am sorry not to be able to mention the names of any American benefactors.
From the library we walked a short distance to the house of Neophytus Bambas. An old woman answered our knock; and on asking for the kyrios, we were conducted through a corridor to a small back room, where we found Professor Bambas. He recognized Dr. King at once, and set about finding us chairs to sit down. A Greek student's room is not usually well provided with such furniture; but by the moving of a number of books and piles of manuscript, seats were provided, while the worthy Professor found a place for himself on the edge of a cot that occupied a corner of the room. One or two students, friends of his, who attended him as did the disciples of the ancient philosophers, stood just within the door, listening respectfully to our conversation. Professor Bambas was a short old man, with white hair, and long flowing beard, dressed in the monastic costume. His tone in conversation was distinct, but somewhat nasal. For the past thirty or forty years he had occupied a distinguished rank among the scholars of Greece, and he was a friend and contemporary of the great Coray. A native of Scio, so far back as 1816, after completing his studies at Paris, he taught in the Lyceum of his native city. In 1821 he joined the standard of Demetrius Ypsilantis, and for a single year followed a soldier's profession. But he soon abandoned an occupation so foreign to his inclinations, and retired to Cephallenia, and thence to Corfu, to occupy the chair of Philosophy. I was the more interested in him as having been associated with Rev. Mr. Lowndes and Mr. Nicolaides, of Philadelphia, in Asia Minor, in translating the Bible into modern Greek. The translation was made at the expense of the British and Foreign Bible Society. It was at first opposed by many natives on the ground that the language was so nearly the same as to render a version quite unnecessary. But the educated laity will now readily concede that the Scriptures must remain a dead letter to the people until they are supplied with it in an easier idiom than the original text, or the Septuagint. A second edition has, however, been
greatly altered, so as to exclude many vulgarisms whose introduction seemed unavoidable in the first, and to meet the demands of the improved state of the language. It is to be regretted that of late years Professor Bambas has shown a disposition to stand aloof from the liberal movements both in Church and State. During the invasion of Turkish territory he was among the prominent advocates of that ill-starred measure.
While we were conversing a visitor was announced, who proved to be my friend the Sciote merchant, Mr. A. He had come to revive old reminiscences and forgotten acquaintance. He was once a pupil of Bambas in Scio, where he learned the first rudiments of knowledge, at a time when his native island was still the garden of the Archipelago. The master and pupil had not met since that fearful massacre which sent every family into mourning for the greater part of its members. Bambas did not know but that the boy had fallen a victim to the devouring sword, or lingered only to meet the more appalling doom of perpetual servitude. The scene was truly touching, when the old man learned from his own lips the merchant's
He threw his arms affectionately around his former scholar's neck, and his flowing silvery locks mingled with the young man's darker hair as he kissed him, in true Oriental style, on either cheek. Then came a host of questions to be answered by each party—of friends long lost, of acquaintances in foreign lands, and of their own personal history. I felt that my presence would tend to mar the interest of the interview, and I rose to leave with a cordial invitation to come often to the Professor's sanctum. I regret to be obliged to chronicle the recent death of Neophytus Bambas-an event which deprived Greece of an honest and intelligent man whom she could ill spare, and of one who had always endeavored to serve his country to the best of his knowledge.
The number of students in attendance upon the University was daily increasing, and in about a week the various courses of lectures were successively commenced. Meanwhile I had formed the acquaintance of some more professors. Among them were Mr. Rangabes, who unites the apparently incompatible qualities necessary for the pursuit of archæology and the more graceful culture of the muse; Mr. Benthylus of the