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Letter XIV. 1892

To Gregory his friend.

My brother Gregory writes me word that he has long been wishing to be with me, and adds that you are of the same mind; however, I could not wait, partly as being hard of belief, considering I have been so often disappointed, and partly because I find myself pulled all ways by business.  I must at once make for Pontus, where, perhaps, God willing, I may make an end of wandering.  After renouncing, with trouble, the idle hopes which I once had, [about you] 1893 or rather the dreams, (for it is well said that hopes are waking dreams), I departed into Pontus in quest of a place to live in.  There God has opened on me a spot exactly answering to my taste, so that I actually see before my eyes what I have often pictured to my mind in idle fancy.  There is a lofty mountain covered with thick woods, watered towards the north with cool and transparent streams.  A plain lies beneath, enriched by the waters which are ever draining off from it; and skirted by a spontaneous profusion of trees almost thick enough to be a fence; so as even to surpass Calypso’s Island, which Homer seems to have considered the most beautiful spot on the earth.  Indeed it is like an island, enclosed as it is on all sides; for deep hollows cut off two sides of it; the river, which has lately fallen down a precipice, runs all along the front and is impassable as a wall; while the mountain extending itself behind, and meeting the hollows in a crescent, stops up the path at its roots.  There is but one pass, and I am master of it.  Behind my abode there is another gorge, rising into a ledge up above, so as to command the extent of the plains and the stream p. 125 which bounds it, which is not less beautiful, to my taste, than the Strymon as seen from Amphipolis. 1894   For while the latter flows leisurely, and swells into a lake almost, and is too still to be a river, the former is the most rapid stream I know, and somewhat turbid, too, from the rocks just above; from which, shooting down, and eddying in a deep pool, it forms a most pleasant scene for myself or any one else; and is an inexhaustible resource to the country people, in the countless fish which its depths contain.  What need to tell of the exhalations from the earth, or the breezes from the river?  Another might admire the multitude of flowers, and singing birds; but leisure I have none for such thoughts.  However, the chief praise of the place is, that being happily disposed for produce of every kind, it nurtures what to me is the sweetest produce of all, quietness; indeed, it is not only rid of the bustle of the city, but is even unfrequented by travellers, except a chance hunter.  It abounds indeed in game, as well as other things, but not, I am glad to say, in bears or wolves, such as you have, but in deer, and wild goats, and hares, and the like.  Does it not strike you what a foolish mistake I was near making when I was eager to change this spot for your Tiberina, 1895 the very pit of the whole earth?

Pardon me, then, if I am now set upon it; for not Alcmæon himself, I suppose, could endure to wander further when he had found the Echinades. 1896



Placed after Basil’s choice of his Pontic retreat.  Translated by Newman, whose version is here given (Church of the Fathers, 126).  On the topography, cf. Letters iii., x., ccxxiii., and remarks in the Prolegomena.


Omitted by Newman.


The hill, of which the western half is covered by the ruins of Amphipolis, is insulated by the Strymon on the north-west and south, and a valley on the east.  To the north-west the Strymon widens into a lake, compared by Dr. Arnold to that formed by the Mincio at Mantua.  cf. Thucyd. iv. 108 and v. 7.


Tiberina was a district in the neighbourhood of Gregory’s home at Arianzus.  cf. Greg. Naz., Ep. vi. and vii.


“Alcmæon slew his mother; but the awful Erinnys, the avenger of matricide, inflicted on him a long and terrible punishment, depriving him of his reason, and chasing him about from place to place without the possibility of repose or peace of mind.  He craved protection and cure from the god at Delphi, who required him to dedicate at the temple, as an offering, the precious necklace of Kadmus, that irresistible bribe which had originally corrupted Eriphyle.  He further intimated to the unhappy sufferer that, though the whole earth was tainted with his crime and had become uninhabitable for him, yet there was a spot of ground which was not under the eye of the sun at the time when the matricide was committed, and where, therefore, Alcmæon might yet find a tranquil shelter.  The promise was realised at the mouth of the river Achelous, whose turbid stream was perpetually depositing new earth and forming additional islands.  Upon one of these Alcmæon settled permanently and in peace.”  Grote, Hist. Gr. i. 381.

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