Category Archives: Thermopylae

Monday 26 June

We rose about 4 a.m., Mt Olympus, disgusting to say, invisible — considering I had made a huge careful sketch mainly depending on its appearance. A very wretched night we had passed! Gnats, flies, fleas, and other beasts! My arm got a fresh hurt in getting out of bed, and is very odious. Altogether I was thoroughly unwell. We got off by 6 or 6.30 a.m., young Leeves, who goes with us to Thermopylae, joining our party. I could not ride, so walked away down to Oreos, a foolish Port, of 6 or 8 houses. Here they said Lamia (Zeituni) was quiet. Long delay about two boats — 80 drachmas asked, but 60 taken eventually. Longer delay about embarking horses — Janni’s won’t go. At last he says he can get others at Stylidha, so we go without them. Church and I believe this to be a dodge of old Chinaman,[41] to prevent his horses being seized. At last he paid his men, and we got off in one boat, after a long discussion and refusal to pay more than 30 drachmas. If we should get no horses at Stylidha — what a fix!! A captain of a ship of war tells us that Lamia is quiet and that General Gardikiotis is there.[42] The sea is bright, blue and calm, and I, by this time, tolerably placid. Only Janni and the cook, Christodoulos, are with us. Let us hope for a short passage! Boo! Up to 3 p.m. we had a light wind, or none, but in our favour; then it changed, and we tacked and tacked and tacked, I at the bottom of the boat. The view of Parnassus and of the Thermopylae range of hills is really stupendous. {sketches 83, 84?} Arm always very bad. Tacking went on till 8 p.m., when, current being against us as well as wind, we anchored for the night. Tea — and some cold meat is the boat dinner or tea.

Edward Lear, Stylida, 26 June 1848
Copyright © Bonhams 1793 Ltd

[41] Lear often uses “Chinese” as a slur to describe wily characters.

[42] Grivas Gardikiotis, a veteran of the Greek War of Independence and commander of irregulars fighting on the King’s side in 1848.

Posted in Lamia, Oreos, Thermopylae | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tuesday 27 June

Tacking, and still tacking, we were at length off Stylidha by 9 a.m. Difficulty of landing — caiques full of people and goods — flying — others returning. Some people calling out that all the reports about the rebels were false; others that Vellenzi, the Rebel General, was poisoned and dead, etc., etc. At last we landed, and I instantly went to the shore to sketch the opposite mountains of Thermopylae, which are wondrous fine — all thronged with wood, channelled and furrowed — so purple, blue and green, and with such infinity of cracks and chasms of lilac and white snow on Oeta behind, and with the clearest little line of land along the shore of the Gulf {sketches 85, 86, wrongly dated?}. (“A great he goat” nearly destroyed me as I sat unsuspectingly on the ground.) After trying in vain for a place to bathe in — water looking too shallow — and after making another sketch in the sunshine, someone fetched me to breakfast in a khan full of people. It seems that there has been some skirmishing with the Rebels, and that the Government have the best of it — so, at least, think the people of Stylidha, for the panic is over for the present, and they are returning to their homes as fast as may be. After breakfast we found a private room, washed and rested — though my arm is still very weak and painful, and a thump I got on the head last night has not improved my general condition. Bright white gulls, in great flights, skim over the dark blue and green water. We now think of Lamia, Thermopylae, Talanti and Thebes as our tour ahead. Janni says he has got fresh horses. The mountain view opposite is one of the most solemn and grand I ever saw. At 2 p.m. we got away — I walking, by choice; Janni from having no horse; and Church’s was a slow one. The line of journey kept along the coast, with always the beautiful view of Mt Oeta and the Thermopylae cliffs, so wrinkled in foliaceous gulfs. Half way on I drew. Then we began to meet the baggage of General Mamouri’s army, which was passing from Lamia, and very wonderful picturesquenesses did they abound in — some no-shirted, others with shirts dipped in oil; all with long guns, most with swords; many carrying mandolines, and many very ruffianly to see! All more or less fine fellows and very active. In reply to our asking about Lamia, they said all was quiet there, but otherwise took no notice of us at all. We met in all some 250 or 300. Among the note-worthy objects of the baggage train was one female, one bird in a cage, and one man carrying a parasol. Lamia is very ugly from the side by which we approached it. The khan we went to was nearly full of soldiers, as is all the town. After getting some water, I walked hastily to the other side of the place, whence, seen between minarets and cypresses, the Castle and plain show finely. All the old buildings are frequented by lots of storks — on one alone I counted 18 — which clatter and clutter with their bills incessantly. Many sit quietly on the minarets. A plentiful supply of blackguard boys surrounded Church and me while sketching. {sketch 92} Afterwards we strolled about till dusk. Lamia is assuredly a very picturesque place. Returning, we soon dined, Leeves joining us. Afterwards we went out on to the wooden balcony-gallery, where some 20 soldiers were sleeping. All the air was full of stork-clatter. The bugle of sentinels calling the hour also was very curious and moody dreamy.

Edward Lear, Lamia, 27 June 1848
Private Collection
Posted in Lamia, Stylidha, Thermopylae | Tagged | 3 Comments

Friday 30 June

Rose about 2 a.m., having resolved to go on my own hook, unimpeded by waiting for others, to draw the Katavothra range before the sun was up. So before 3 a.m. I was a long way down towards the plain, and drew till 4 {sketch 98} — a magnificent bit of scenery, all as yet dark and solemn. These were the sounds accompanying: far barking dogs, clattering storks, tinkle of innumerable goat-bells, blow bugles.

Edward Lear, Zeitum (Lamia), 30 June 1848
Private Collection

Came up and breakfasted. This khan is not at all bad, barring the row the many soldiers make on all sides, particularly when they sing (so to speak). (Khan so called generally, because one tries to live there, but can’t!) We didn’t go off till 5.30 a.m. — and hot it was along the plain — grasshoppers to boot. Hotter and hotter than ever to the Spercheius, about which were pretty bits of scenery, and, looking back, Zeituni showing like a border town, which it is. On the bridge of Alemanni I drew {sketch 101}– it was broiling — horses meanwhile in the river. C. and Janni rode on soon, after the baggage, I drew again. Not long after we entered the marsh, on the paved road running just below the cliffs — stretch of marshy ground towards the gulf or sea.

Walking on, I came to the hot springs covering all the slope from cliffs to sea with white crust. {sketch 103?} Just beyond was Janni, pitching the tent. Drank at a fountain — query that of the Spartans.

Edward Lear, Thermopylae Hot Springs under Mount Kallidromos, undated
Private Collection

Drew the “Straits,” though they are not much of “Straits” now {sketch 104?}, and mooned about with C.M.C. along the side of the blue, hot lake.

Edward Lear, Thermopylae, 30 June 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48e, by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

Dinner at 11 a.m., and now I am lying below the tent, the vast foreshortened mountain above, fringed with underwood and pine ad infinitum on a ground of purple rock. Doves coo. Slept, woke at 1.30. Fine and picturesque peasants at fountain. Leeves goeth back to Zeituni, to my great pleasure. Janni and luggage went on ahead. Church, I, two horses and Paniotti, a new man, ascended for a long while by pleasant, shady low-wooded paths, with views all over the Gulf. Once we drew — the (narrow) plain below the Thermopylae hills, which are really exquisite! — the rich unfoldedness of the purple plain, and the immensity of the Katavothra range! — altogether one of the most splendid scenes I ever drew. {sketch 105?} Onward — dells with water, and hills with oak, and lilac hemp, blooming myrtle, lentisk, hollyhock and cistus. An hour before sunset we had climbed up a rocky ravine, above the orange coloured sides of which the Castle of Bodonitza had long been visible. This ravine was surprising as to colour — lit up by the last sunlight, the richest apricot, with tufts of green foliage and overhanging oaks, and bright or dark pines feathering, down, down, down, to an abyss shadowy — dark vegetation and gray rocks, beyond the golden plain, and the lilac sea and hills. Farther on, the sun having set, we descended to a valley with a lovely rushing fountain, near a village where the women were dressed like those of Atina[45] — and dogs, such dogs, came out devouringly.

Edward Lear, Near Vodonitza, 30 June 1848
Private Collection

Here we conferred on our future route. It was necessary to reconsider our original plans, which were to take the mountain road under Parnassus, Delphi and Solona. But Lear’s indefatigable energy, especially during the last few days in the deep sunk valley of the Spercheius, in the brooding heat (thermometer at 90°) at the end of June, had tired him out, suffering as he always was from pain in his shoulder — and we considered that it was more prudent now to make for Thebes by an easier route, so as to be within reach of Athens, in case of need.

Edward Lear, Thebes and Cithaeron, 3 July 1848
Private Collection

It was well we did so. Though several drawings in the first days of July were done during the ride to Thebes by Atalanti and Proskynas {sketch 107}, and some of his best sketches were made of the plain and mountains round Thebes {sketches 112, 115}, yet some of his latest drawings numbered 115 and 118 contain the evidence of his own notes that he was getting ill.

Edward Lear, Near Thebes, July 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Thebes, 4 July 1848
Private Collection

One day in July a high cold blast of North wind swept down the plain, and one of his sketches contains the words “high wind — so cold — must go in for coat,” and on another numbered 118, his last, after a ride to Plataea, “Ah mi sento male!”

Edward Lear, Thebes, Thebes, 4 July 1848
Private Collection

This was followed by symptoms of fever which made him helpless and at times delirious and a cause of great anxiety for several days. We were lodged in a Greek house, with quiet hospitality and kindness, and under treatment by the local Greek doctor, before the doctors came out from Athens and he was fit to be removed.

Edward Lear, Plataea, 5 July 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Plataea, Shepherds resting on ruins, 5 July 1848
Private Collection

So our tour, which had begun badly, came to an abrupt and unfortunate conclusion. No more need be added to these notes of travel than that it is pleasant after all to recall that the confidences and sympathies which illness called out between us as fellow travellers, under trying circumstances, contributed no less than the brightest remembrance of much enjoyment, to lay the foundation of a friendship which followed and lasted for forty years, until the end of Lear’s life.

Edward Lear, The Temple of Hephaestus, 26 July 1848
Private Collection

Lear recovered sufficiently at Athens to be able to take some more sketches. {sketches 125, 126, 127, 128-131, 143A} At the end of the month of July we left together in the steamer for Constantinople, and he made the last sketch, the columns of the temple of Athena from the deck as we rounded the promontory of Sunium.

Edward Lear, Athens, 23 July 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48z, reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

This short tour, the first episode in his travels, was sufficient to give evidence of his fine artistic taste and poetic imagination, no less than of those qualities as an humorist for which he is better known. It was also shown that the happy outpourings of excellent folly in his “Books of Nonsense” were often produced in resistance to and the reaction from fits of depression and low spirits, the natural outcome in times of ill health and disappointments and failure of attainment to high ideals. My short experience in his companionship gave opportunity to feel the truth and the justice of the memoir which followed his death, by his well-known friend and fellow traveller in Greece next year, of which this is an extract: “From first to last he was, in whatever circumstances of ill-health or difficulty, an indomitable traveller. His sketches were not only the basis of more finished work, but are an extraordinary record in themselves of topographical accuracy, abounding in beauty, delicacy and truth.” [46]

Edward Lear, Kara, July 1848
MS Typ 55.26 (469), Reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

[45] In the Abruzzi, which Lear had visited in 1842.

[46] Lear’s lifelong friend Franklin Lushington, who was to travel with him in the Peloponnese in 1849, is given the last word; Church is quoting from the entry on Lear by “F.L.” in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britanica (1911).

Posted in Atalanti, Athens, Plataea, Proskynas, Thebes, Thermopylae | Tagged , | Leave a comment