LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XI

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Halt at Zitza.—The river Acheron.—Greek wine.—A Greek chariot.—Arrival at Tepellené.—The vizier’s palace.

The travellers, on their arrival at Zitza, went to the monastery to solicit accommodation; and after some parley with one of the monks, through a small grating in a door plated with iron, on which marks of violence were visible, and which, before the country had been tranquillised under the vigorous dominion of Ali Pashaw, had been frequently battered in vain by the robbers who then infested the neighbourhood. The prior, a meek and lowly man, entertained them in a warm chamber with grapes and a pleasant white wine, not trodden out by the feet, as he informed them, but expressed by the hand. To this gentle and kind host Byron alludes in his description of “Monastic Zitza.”

Amid the grove that crowns yon tufted hill,
Which, were it not for many a mountain nigh
Rising in lofty ranks, and loftier still,
Might well itself be deem’d of dignity;
The convent’s white walls glisten fair on high:
Here dwells the caloyer, nor rude is he,
Nor niggard of his cheer; the passer-by
Is welcome still; nor heedless will he flee
From hence, if he delight kind Nature’s sheen to see.

Having halted a night at Zitza, the travellers proceeded on their journey next morning, by a road which led through the vineyards around the villages, and
the view from a barren hill, which they were obliged to cross, is described with some of the most forcible touches of the poet’s pencil.

Dusky and huge, enlarging on the sight,
Nature’s volcanic amphitheatre,
Chimera’s Alps, extend from left to right;
Beneath, a living valley seems to stir.
Flocks play, trees wave, streams flow, the mountain fir
Nodding above; behold Black Acheron!
Once consecrated to the sepulchre.
Pluto! if this be hell I look upon,
Close shamed Elysium’s gates; my shade shall seek for none!

The Acheron, which they crossed in this route, is now called the Kalamas, a considerable stream, as large as the Avon at Bath but towards the evening they had some cause to think the Acheron had not lost all its original horror; for a dreadful thunderstorm came on, accompanied with deluges of rain, which more than once nearly carried away their luggage and horses. Byron himself does not notice this incident in Childe Harold, nor even the adventure more terrific which he met with alone in similar circumstances on the night before their arrival at Zitza, when his guides lost their way in the defiles of the mountains—adventures sufficiently disagreeable in the advent, but full of poesy in the remembrance.

The first halt, after leaving Zitza, was at the little village of Mosure, where they were lodged in a miserable cabin, the residence of a poor priest, who treated them with all the kindness his humble means afforded. From this place they proceeded next morning through a wild and savage country, interspersed with vineyards, to Delvinaki, where it would seem they first met with genuine Greek wine, that is, wine mixed with resin and lime—a more odious draught at the first taste than any drug the apothecary mixes. Considering how much of allegory entered into the composition of the
Greek mythology, it is probable that in representing the infant Bacchus holding a pine, the ancient sculptors intended an impersonation of the circumstance of resin being employed to preserve new wine.

The travellers were now in Albania, the native region of Ali Pashaw, whom they expected to find at Libokavo; but on entering the town, they were informed that he was further up the country at Tepellené, or Tepalen, his native place. In their route from Libokavo to Tepalen they met with no adventure, nor did they visit Argyro-castro, which they saw some nine or ten miles off—a large city, supposed to contain about twenty thousand inhabitants, chiefly Turks. When they reached Cezarades, a distance of not more than nine miles, which had taken them five hours to travel, they were agreeably accommodated for the night in a neat cottage; and the Albanian landlord, in whose demeanour they could discern none of that cringing, downcast, sinister look which marked the degraded Greek, received them with a hearty welcome.

Next morning they resumed their journey, and halted one night more before they reached Tepellené, in approaching which they met a carriage, not inelegantly constructed after the German fashion, with a man on the box driving four-in-hand, and two Albanian soldiers standing on the footboard behind. They were floundering on at a trot through mud and mire, boldly regardless of danger; but it seemed to the English eyes of the travellers impossible that such a vehicle should ever be able to reach Libokavo, to which it was bound. In due time they crossed the river Laos, or Voioutza, which was then full, and appeared both to Byron and his friend as broad as the Thames at Westminster; after crossing it on a stone bridge, they came in sight of Tepellené, when

The sun had sunk behind vast Tomerit,
And Laos, wide and fierce, came roaring by;
The shades of wonted night were gathering yet,
When down the steep banks, winding warily,
Childe Harold saw, like meteors in the sky,
The glittering minarets of Tepalen,
Whose walls o’erlook the stream; and drawing nigh,
He heard the busy hum of warrior-men
Swelling the breeze that sigh’d along the lengthening glen.

On their arrival, they proceeded at once to the residence of Ali Pashaw, an extensive rude pile, where they witnessed a scene, not dissimilar to that which they might, perhaps, have beheld some hundred years ago, in the castle-yard of a great feudal baron. Soldiers, with their arms piled against the wall, were assembled in different parts of the court, several horses, completely caparisoned, were led about, others were neighing under the hands of the grooms; and for the feast of the night, armed cooks were busy dressing kids and sheep. The scene is described with the poet’s liveliest pencil.

Richly caparison’d a ready row
Of armed horse, and many a warlike store,
Circled the wide extending court below;
Above, strange groups adorn’d the corridor,
And ofttimes through the area’s echoing door,
Some high-capp’d Tartar spurr’d his steed away.
The Turk, the Greek, the Albanian, and the Moor
Here mingled in their many-hued array,
While the deep war-drum’s sound announced the close of day.
———Some recline in groups,
Scanning the motley scene that varies round.
There some grave Moslem to devotion stoops,
And some that smoke, and some that play, are found.
Here the Albanian proudly treads the ground
Half-whispering, there the Greek is heard to prate.
Hark! from the mosque the nightly solemn sound;
The Muezzin’s call doth shake the minaret.
“There is no god but God!—to prayer—lo, God is great!”

The peculiar quietness and ease with which the Mahommedans say their prayers, struck the travellers as one of the most peculiar characteristics which they had yet witnessed of that people. Some of the
graver sort began their devotions in the places where they were sitting, undisturbed and unnoticed by those around them who were otherwise engaged. The prayers last about ten minutes; they are not uttered aloud, but generally in a low voice, sometimes with only a motion of the lips; and, whether performed in the public street or in a room, attract no attention from the bystanders. Of more than a hundred of the guards in the gallery of the vizier’s mansion at Tepellené, not more than five or six were seen at prayers. The Albanians are not reckoned strict Mahommedans; but no Turk, however irreligious himself, ever disturbs the devotion of others.

It was then the fast of Ramazan, and the travellers, during the night, were annoyed with the perpetual noise of the carousal kept up in the gallery, and by the drum, and the occasional voice of the Muezzin.

Just at this season Ramazani’s fast
Through the long day its penance did maintain:
But when the lingering twilight hour was past,
Revel and feast assumed the rule again.
Now all was bustle, and the menial train
Prepared and spread the plenteous board within;
The vacant gallery now seem’d made in vain,
But from the chambers came the mingling din,
And page and slave, anon, were passing out and in.