Ephesus

December 20 2006

February 11 1921.

I approached Ancient Ephesus from the slopes of a limestone hill spangled with crimson anemones, gashed with the quarries from which the stones of the city were hewn, and crowned with the remnants of towers and curtain walls. I had chosen my direction so as to descend upon the theatre from above, and the view, suddenly disclosed, of the vast cavity, with the seats still in place and the stage buildings standing, was as impressive as I had expected it to be. Beyond it the great central thoroughfare of the city, a streak of marble pavement showing up against the green of the plain, led down to the ancient harbour, now a reed-bed, yellow and brown. Parallel to the thoroughfare on our left stood the mountain of Coressus, with Lysimachus’s fortifications on the sky-line. Beyond, on a separate and lower hill of limestone, stood “the Prison of Saint Paul” [no attribution], a tower in a salient of the city’s defences. Beyond that again lay the sea, deep blue against the horizon, and to our right stretched the plain of alluvium which has choked the harbour and driven the sea away. The River Caÿster, which built the plain and co-operated with the folly of Man to the city’s undoing, wound like a snake in spiteful loops and curves through the feverish levels which it has laid down.

That is a quotation in the Study from The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922. He says that the passage was written “at Smyrna on the 21st February, 1921”. He goes on in the Study:

At the instant at which this historic panorama impinged on the spectator’s eyes, the empty theatre peopled itself with a tumultuous throng as the breath came into the dead and they lived and stood up upon their feet. [No footnote here, but that is Ezekiel.] “Some … cried one thing and some another; for the assembly was confused, and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.” [Footnote: Acts xix. 32] Those two dishevelled figures must be Gaius and Aristarchus; that ineffectual-looking creature must be Alexander. What is this rhythmic roar into which the babel of tongues is resolving itself? Will Gaius and Aristarchus escape with their lives? Thank Heaven for the intrepid town clerk’s promptness and presence of mind. But at the moment when the cries of “Great is Diana” are dying down and the clerk is beginning to reason tactfully with the crowd, the life flickers out of the scene as the spectator is carried up again instantaneously to the current surface of the Time-stream from an abyss, nineteen centuries deep, into which the impact of the sight of the theatre at Ephesus had plunged him.

Gaius and Aristarchus were companions of St Paul, both Macedonians. The goddess Diana was worshipped in Ephesus. The city had assembled to defend her cult against the alien preaching, and dragged Aristarchus and Gaius with it. Paul himself wanted to go in among the crowd, but his companions would not allow him. A Jew called Alexander tried to defend them, but the crowd merely shouted “Great is Diana”. The town clerk was a very tactful arbiter.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

4 Responses to “Ephesus”


  1. […] January 6th, 2007 I have quoted Toynbee’s description of his visit to Ephesus. He could lose himself in a reverie at a historical site, as if he had known it centuries before. […]


  2. […] c AD 57 April 3rd, 2007 An earlier post quoted Toynbee’s account of a reverie into which he fell when visiting Ephesus and of a […]


  3. […] Ephesus Cimmerian darkness Athens, c AD 52-53 Ephesus, c AD 57 Carabas and the mob Kaisarion (the Alexandrian Gymnasium) […]


  4. […] Another Time-pocket: Ephesus. […]


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