VII. The Greeks
8. Contrast between Cretans and Macedonians
It is not in Macedonia that the Greeks are seen to the best advantage. There they have degenerated into a race of townsmen, who form an ignoble aristocracy of talent, half clerical, half commercial, which exploits an alien peasantry that it despises. The true Greek is to be sought in the Highlands and the Isles. I could wish that my acquaintance with the Greeks had ended in Crete. There one still
may meet a Greek people, primitive, lovable, wedded to the soil, whose
courtesy, hospitality, and native dignity centuries of oppression have
not perverted. Living in daily commerce with the mountains and the sea-breezes,
waging a warfare that knew no compromise with their secular enemy the Turk,
they know nothing of those elaborate disloyalties, those perverting feuds
which have corroded the honour and the humanity of their Continental brethren.
For them Hellenism is a simple ideal of liberty, untainted by policy, unstained
by any base alliance. It is no matter of controversy or polemics. It is
a legend, a faith to which even the powers of nature do homage. Their very
fairies are Greeks, and the very winds that toss their barks are the servants
of Hellenism and its hero Alexander. When their fishing-boats are buffeted
by the wind — so the island folk believe — the Queen of the Nereids, who
is Alexander's sister, dances in the foam about their prow, anxious and
troubled of mien. But the seamen look her in the face and answer her dumb
inquiry with the age-old formula, "Thy brother Alexander lives and reigns."
And so it is. Where Hellenism is still married to its barren rocks and
the waves that cradled it, it lives triumphant and unspoiled. Its decadence
is only in the ghettos and bazaars and the breathless city lanes.
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