I've stood upon Achilles' tomb
And heard Troy doubted; time will doubt of Rome.
Byron, "Don Juan," Canto
BYRON was wrong. Time does not doubt of Troy or Rome. But who
today remembers the achievements of Miletus? The grandeur and the
erudition of the city of Miletus passed from the collective memory
before 1900. Our Victorian forebears, taught by rote, memorized "The
Wise Men of Greece," a set of poems by J.S. Blackie. One verse
contains the lines, "The wise man of Miletus thus declared/ The
first of things is water."
That was probably the last the average person heard of what in
6th-century B.C. was the greatest city in the Greek world, the
beacon of Western science and civilization. Miletus was, as an
archeologist has written, "one of the most beautiful and important
cities of the ancient world for over a thousand years."
Maid of Athens! I am gone
Think of me, sweet, when alone.
Though I fly to Istanbol (sic),
Athens holds my heart and soul:
Byron, "Maid of Athens, Ere We
George Gordon, Lord Byron sailed from Athens to Turkey in March
of 1810. He landed at Izmir, ancient Smyna, in the center of the
coast of Asia Minor, and traveled to the site of the temple of
Artemis at the ruined city of Ephesus. The unexcavated city did not
inspire him. Sourly, he wrote that "the temple has almost perished,
and St. Paul need not trouble himself to epistolize the present
brood of Ephesians." On the Greek mainland, deserted Delphi,
similarly buried, had similarly bored him.
The remains of ancient Greece visible in Turkey barely touched
Byron's poetry. In "Childe Harold" he claimed, wrongly it turns out,
to have beheld the famous temple of Artemis at Ephesis. In "Don
Juan" he wrote of hearing jackals wail in the Ephesian ruins.
Although the particular stretch of coast Byron visited is replete
with antiquities, Byron did not fully embrace the presence of
ancient Greece in early 19th-century Turkey. He viewed the Turks as
the oppressors of modern Greece. His poetry rings with resentment.
In what may be his most quoted passage, he dreams "that Greece might
still be free." Little wonder then that during his brief stay on the
western Turkish coast he did not continue from Ephesus along the
rough track a few score miles south to Miletus.
There is a temple in ruin stands,
Fashion'd by long forgotten hands;
Two or three columns, and many a stone,
Marble and granite, with grass o'ergrown!
Out upon Time! it will leave no more
Of the things to come than the things before!
Out upon Time! who for ever will leave
But enough of the past for the future to grieve
O'er that which hath been, and o'er that which must be:
What we have seen, our sons shall see;
Remnants of things that have pass'd away,
Fragments of stone, rear'd by creatures of clay!
Byron, "The Siege of
For much of the 19th century, Miletus was a reedy swamp, strewn
with columns and debris. …