3. The Small Size and Sterility of Attica.—Attica was a very small country according to modern notions, and Athens the only large city therein. The land barely covered some 700 square miles, with 40 square miles more, if one includes the dependent island of Salamis. It was thus far smaller than the smallest of our American “states” (Rhode Island = 1250 square miles), and was not so large as many American counties. It was really a triangle of rocky, hill-scarred land thrust out into the Aegean Sea, as if it were a sort of continuation of the more level district of Boeotia. Yet small as it was, the hills inclosing it to the west, the seas pressing it form the northeast and south, gave it a unity and isolation all its own. Attica was not an island; but it could be invaded only by sea, or by forcing the resistance which could be offered at the steep mountain passes towards Boeotia or Megara. Attica was thus distinctly separated from the rest of Greece. Legends told how, when the half-savage Dorians had forced themselves southward over the mainland, they had never penetrated into Attica; and the Athenians later prided themselves upon being no colonists from afar, but upon being “earth-sprung,”—natives of the soil which they and their twenty-times grandfathers had held before them.
This triangle of Attica had its peculiar shortcomings and virtues. It was for the most part stony and unfertile. Only a shallow layer of good soil covered a part of its hard foundation rock, which often in turn lay bare on the surface. The Athenian farmer had a sturdy struggle to win a scanty crop, and about the only products he could ever raise in abundance for export were olives (which seemed to thrive on scanty soil and scanty rainfall) and honey, the work of the mountain bees.
4. The Physical Beauty of Attica.—Yet Attica had advantages which more than counterbalanced this grudging of fertility. All Greece, to be sure, was favored by the natural beauty of its atmosphere, seas, and mountains, but Attica was perhaps the most favored portion of all, Around her coasts, rocky often and broken by pebbly beaches and little craggy peninsulas, surged the deep blue Aegean, the most glorious expanse of ocean in the world. Far away spread the azure water[*],—often foam-crested and sometimes alive with the dolphins leaping at their play,—reaching towards a shimmering sky line where rose “the isles of Greece,” masses of green foliage, or else of tawny rock, scattered afar, to adapt the words of Homer, “like shields laid on the face of the glancing deep.”
[*]The peculiar blueness of the water near Attica is probably caused by the clear rocky bottom of the sea, as well as by the intensity of the sunlight.
Above the sea spread the noble arch of the heavens,—the atmosphere often dazzlingly bright, and carrying its glamour and sparkle almost into the hearts of men. The Athenians were proud of the air about their land. Their poets gladly sung its praises, as, for example, Euripides[*], when he tells how his fellow countrymen enjoy being—