...At length the streets grow quiet. Citizens sober or drunken are now asleep: only the vigilant Scythian archers patrol the ways till the cocks proclaim the first gray of dawn.
Chapter XIX. Country Life Around Athens
169. Importance of his Farm to an Athenian.—We have followed the doings of a typical Athenian during his ordinary activities around the city, but for the average gentleman an excursion outside the town is indispensable at least every two or three days, and perhaps every day. He must visit his farm; for his wealth and income are probably tied up there, rather than in any unaristocratic commercial and manufacturing enterprises. Homer’s “royal” heroes are not ashamed to be skilful at following the plow[*]: and no Athenian feels that he is contaminating himself by “trade” when he supervises the breeding of sheep or the raising of onions. We will therefore follow in the tracks of certain well-to-do citizens, when we turn toward the Itonian gate sometime during the morning, while the Agora is still in a busy hum, even if thus we are curtailing our hypothetical visits to the Peireus or to the bankers.
[*]See Odysseus’s boasts, “Odyssey,” XVIII. 360 et passim. The gentility of farming is emphasized by a hundred precepts from Hesiod.
170. The Country by the Ilissus: the Greeks and Natural Beauty.—Our companions are on horseback (a token of tolerable wealth in Athens), but the beasts amble along not too rapidly for nimble grooms to run behind, each ready to aid his respective master. Once outside the gate the regular road swings down to the south towards Phalerum; we, however, are in no great haste and desire to see as much as possible. The farms we are seeking lie well north of the city, but we can make a delightful circuit by skirting the city walls with the eastern shadow of the Acropolis behind us, and going at first northeast, along the groves and leafy avenues which line the thin stream of the Ilissus,[*] the second “river” of Athens.
[*]The Ilissus, unlike its sturdier rival, the Cephisus, ran dry during the summer heats; but there was enough water along its bed to create a dense vegetation.