After our ship left Smyrna, where the camels are the finest in the world, and where the rugs set you crazy, we came across to the Piraeus, and arrived so late that very few of the passengers dared to land for fear the ship would sail without them. It was blowing a perfect gale, the sea was rough, and the captain too cross to tell us how long we would have on shore. I looked at my companion and she looked at me. In that one glance we decided that we would see the Acropolis or die in the attempt. A Cook’s guide was watching our indecision with hungry eyes. We have since named him Barabbas, for reasons known to every unfortunate who ever fell into his hands. But he was clever. He said that we might cut his head off if he did not get us back to the boat in time. We assured him that we would gladly avail ourselves of his permission if that ship sailed without us. Then we scuttled down the heaving stairway at the ship’s side, and away we went over (or mostly through) the waves to the Piraeus. There we took a carriage, and at the maddest gallop it ever was my lot to travel we raced up that lovely smooth avenue, between rows of wild pepper-trees which met overhead, to Athens; through Athens at a run, and reached the Acropolis, blown almost to pieces ourselves, and with the horses in a white foam.
Up to that time the Acropolis had been but a name to me. I landed because it was a sight to see, and I thought an hour or so would be better than to miss it altogether. But when I climbed that hill and set my foot within that majestic ruin, something awful clutched at my heart. I could not get my breath. The tears came into my eyes, and all at once I was helpless in the grasp of the most powerful emotion which ever has come over me in all Europe. I could not understand it, for I came in an idle mood, no more interested in it than in scores of other wonders I was thirsting to see; Luxor, Karnak, Philae, Denderah—all of those invited me quite as much as the Acropolis, but here I was speechless with surprise at my own emotion, I can imagine that such violence of feeding might turn a child into a woman, a boy into a man. All at once I saw the whole of Greek art in its proper setting. The Venus of Milo was no longer in the Louvre against its red background, where French taste has placed it, the better to set it off. Its cold, proud beauty was here again in Greece; the Hermes at Olympia; the Wingless Victory from the temple of Nike Apteros, made wingless that victory might never depart from Athens; the lovelier Winged Victory from the Louvre, with her electric poise, the most exhilarating, the most inspiring, the most intoxicating Victory the world has ever known, was loosed from her marble prison, and was again breathing the pure air of her native hills. Their white figures came crowding into my mind.