The Arles race a mixture of Greek and Gaulish - The colonisation by the Romans - The type of beauty in Arles - The amphitheatre - A bull-baiting - Provencal bull-baits different from Spanish bull-fights - The theatre - The ancient Greek stage - The destruction of the Arles theatre - Excavation of the orchestra - Discovery of the Venus of Arles - A sick girl - Palace of Constantine.

Before describing Arles I began with the Elysian Fields, the great cemetery of Pagan and Christian Arles, for this seems to have affected the whole town, and with the dust of ages to have smothered the life out of it.

Now let us look at the remains of ancient Arles. But first of all let me observe that the Arles race prides itself on its singular purity of descent. There was, unquestionably, a Gaulish settlement there. The Keltic name Ar-lath, the "moist habitation," tells us as much. So does the legend of Protis and Gyptis, already related. But it was speedily occupied by a large Greek contingent, and the race was formed of Greek and Gaulish blood united. In the year B.C. 46 a Roman colony was planted at Arles. Caesar, desirous of paying off his debt of gratitude to the officers and soldiers who had served him in his wars, commissioned Claudius Tiberius Nero, one of his quaestors, father and grandfather of the emperors Tiberius, Claudius, and Caligula, to conduct two colonies into Southern Gaul, one was settled at Narbonne and the other at Arles, and this was one of the first military colonies planted beyond Italy.

The office of this Tiberius was to portion out the land among the veteran soldiers, six thousand men of the Sixth Legion occupied the town and country round - such of it, at all events, as was not under water - and thenceforth the city took the name of Arelate Sextanorum. Tacitus gives us a picture of the proceedings on such occasions. After the tribunes and the centurions came a cloud of officials calledagrimensores, surveyors, charged with the duty of parcelling out the soil among the new comers. Then followed a hierarchy of civil officers, religious, judicial, administrative, all under the direction of an administrator-general, who was entitled curator coloniae. From that moment the transformation of the colonial town into a little Rome was a matter of time only. The new comers constructed a capitol, a forum, temples, triumphal arches, aqueducts, markets; besides these, theatres, a circus, baths. In a very few years the aspect of Arles was completely changed. A mercantile city of Graeco-Gauls had become Latinised, bureaucratic, and nattered itself that it was like its new parent on the Tiber. It called itself Gallula Roma, Arelas.

Consequently, we find in Arles a strong current of Roman blood mingled with the Greek and Gallic, and there has been practically no other admixture. Cut off from the country round by its marshes and lagoons, it has maintained its purity of blood and its characteristic stamp of face. The Arles women are said to be, believe themselves to be, and show to everyone that they believe themselves to be, the handsomest women in France. Their type is quite distinct from that of the inhabitants of Nimes, Marseilles, Aix, and even of the peasantry outside the gates of Arles. What is the more singular is that this peculiarity of type is not noticeable among the men. Among the women it is quite unmistakable. Their straight brows and noses are sometimes Greek, but the Roman arch appears as frequently as the straight nose; they have magnificent dark eyes; black hair which is curled up over their broad straight brows, brought forward about their faces so as to form a dark misty halo round the olive-complexioned features, then tied into a horn at the top of the head, which is bound round with black satin ribbon, that flows down at the back. The face is haughty, noble, somewhat imperious. Queens these Arelaises feel themselves to be, down to the fishwives in the market-place; they walk as queens, as well as the cobble stones will permit, and bear themselves, their black mantillas cast over their arms, in a queen-like manner.

I had a fine opportunity of studying them, for I went to the first bull-fight of the season in the old Roman arena, and all Arles was there, male and female, down to the babies in arms. Between each course all the spectators promenaded under the galleries and on the terrace at the top of the amphitheatre, the women in gala dress of white lace bodices, black mantle, and dark silk skirts; and a very fine sight they were; it was worth the forty centimes I paid for admission to see these majestic women pace along and sweep the little men from their path as they careered round and round the amphitheatre, with cold, stern faces, full of pride of ancestry and conscious beauty.

I will quote the opinion on the Arles type of a very competent judge perfectly acquainted with the whole of Provence: - "It can be affirmed without contradiction that Greek beauty exists at Arles, and exists only among the women. The men are clumsy, small and vulgar, rude in form and rough in vocal intonation. The women, on the contrary, have preserved the ancestral delicacy. The face is that of a cameo, the nose is straight, the chin very Greek, the ear delicately modelled; the eyes, admirably shaped, have in them a sort of Attic grace, transmitted from their mothers, and to be handed on to the children.

"To get an idea of this characteristic type, one must not study two or three subjects, but must observe the whole population en bloc, and especially compare it with the neighbouring populations. The result of such a comparison brings out with force the grand lines constituting in the Arelaise the character of a perfectly definite and distinct race." [1]

[Footnote 1: Lentheric, op. cit.]

As I have already mentioned the amphitheatre, I will begin my account of the antiquities of Arles with that. In the Middle Ages it was turned into a fortified bourg in the heart of fortified Arles; it contained streets about as broad as a man could walk up and touch walls on both sides with arms akimbo, a crowd of houses, and two chapels or churches. Four great towers were erected at the cardinal points, and the vast galleries and arcades were a very warren of human habitations. Constructed of huge blocks of limestone, laid without cement, the amphitheatre forms an ellipse, whose axis measures four hundred and twenty feet by three hundred and ten feet. It is said to be able to contain twenty-six thousand spectators, which is just two thousand five hundred more persons than the entire population of modern Arles.

Externally it presents two stages of sixty arcades, between the arches are engaged Doric pillars in the lower storey, those above are Corinthian, but only about six of the capitals of these latter remain. There are, within, three stages of seats, those for the senators, those for the knights, and the upper range for the common people, now much mutilated, and turned into a promenade. Fortunately the accumulation of earth over which the houses were built within the arena was so great, that when that was cleared away, the marble casing of the podium was disclosed in very tolerable perfection.

When I visited the amphitheatre, Les Arenes they are called, it was to see a Course aux Taureaux. The Provencals are passionately fond of these bull-baits, which take place weekly through the summer, beginning at Easter, but it is only at Arles and Nimes that they are carried out in the ancient Roman amphitheatres.

These courses are quite distinct from the Spanish bull-fights. There is no brutality, no torturing of the beast with arrows and crackers, no goring of horses. The bull is uninjured, and, though he gets furious, clearly relishes the fight, and in some cases cannot be induced to abandon it. The old proconsular seat was draped, and occupied by the prefet and madame, and the sous-prefet. The spectators went where they liked, men paid fourpence, women threepence for admission. The arena was enclosed within a screen of strong timber boards.

Five wild bulls from the Camargue were advertised to be baited. One, a strong black fellow, Nero, was clearly a favourite - his name was announced in very large letters. Every bull is given a rosette of coloured ribbons, fastened between his horns, and the sport consists in plucking away this rosette, and bearing it in safety beyond the barricades. Should a rosette fall to the ground, it does not count. A prize is given to whoever recovers a rosette. The blood-red rosette of Nero entitled the snatcher of it to one hundred francs. Another characteristic feature of the Provencal courses is that there are no professional toreadors. Any man or boy who likes enters the lists against the bull. Usually there are from a dozen to a score and a half in the arena, all endeavouring to pluck the bunch of ribbons from the brow of the enraged bull.

From practice, and acquaintance with the habits of bulls, the young men become very skilful, and fatal accidents are rare. The amateur runs up alongside of the bull, swings himself round in front of it, and makes his snatch. The bull at once goes at him, and he takes to his heels. When he is flying a second invariably runs across his path at right angles, and the bull can never resist the temptation of turning upon this second. If he also is hard pressed, a third crosses between him and the bull, and again diverts the angry beast. In one case a man's foot slipped as he was flying, and he fell. Then the bull was on him before another could intervene, but the brute rolled over the prostrate man, who got up, shook himself, and cleared the barricade.

One very nimble young fellow in a grey shirt had attracted general attention by his dexterity. He was resolved to have Nero's rosette. He managed to wrench it from between the bull's horns, but not completely to disengage it. The bull drove after him so close that it was impossible for another man to run between, the grey shirt reached the barrier and swung over, but the horns caught his nether garment and rent it, fortunately without really injuring the man, who, however, was not able to enter the arena again that day.

When a course has been run the doors are opened, and one or two young bulls are sent into the arena; they run round, and the bull who has been baited adjoins them, and they all run out together. Nero, however, would not go. He was fagged, but his blood was up. Five bulls were sent in to lure him away, but he was resolved to gore his man before he left. His rosette he had dangling on his brow, uncaptured.

Then the keepers entered with a species of halbert, with half-moon shaped steels at the head, and one small spike in the midst. With this they caught the horns of Nero, and he was forced to retreat before the men, for if he resisted the spike entered his head and hurt him. Thus finally, by sheer force, he was driven, snorting, pawing the ground, and with arched tail from off the place of contest.

The sport is good. It is not cruel. It draws out the courage, provokes dexterity and nimbleness, and takes the place in Provence that cricket does in England and golf in Scotland.

The Romans loved the brutal and demoralising games of the amphitheatre. Wherever they went they erected these huge places for entertaining themselves with the spectacle of suffering. There never was an amphitheatre at Marseilles, for Marseilles was Greek and not Roman, and to the Greek such spectacles were abhorrent.

At Arles there are the equally interesting remains of a theatre. The stage is fairly perfect, with its customary scenery of Corinthian pillars grouped so as to form two doors for entrance and exit between them. The pillars of this permanent scene are not all in place. Two are standing, and the bases of others remain. At the proscenium may be noticed the grooves into which the beams fitted for the wooden small stage that stood forward in front of the curtain.

The ancient Greek theatre was composed, like that of our days, of a hemicycle for the spectators, and a rectangular portion that formed the place for dramatic performance. The pit was a semicircle, and was not fitted with seats, but constituted the orchestra. This orchestra among the Greeks formed an inferior stage, and, as its name implies, was reserved for the ballet. It was not till Roman times that specially privileged spectators were admitted into it, but it never had the musicians installed in it. These latter were placed in front of the stage, much where is our modern proscenium. The actors performed, as nowadays, on the boarded anterior portion, which was called the pulpitum. Finally, to facilitate communication between the stage and the orchestra, a pair of flights of steps descended laterally from the proscenium. In the centre of the pit or orchestra was usually placed an altar to Bacchus, around which the choirs executed their evolutions; and against this little altar sat the prompter, hidden by it, whilst some flute-players stood beside the altar, in flowing robes, acting as ballet masters, and giving the measure with the shrill notes of their pipes.

The Greek tragedy, therefore, had a double action, one on the stage proper and the other below, and all was graceful and refined. The purest taste, the most elevated sentiments, were the characteristics of the Greek drama, and the most beautiful and stirring effects were produced by means of the utmost simplicity. Thus, when the Tragedy of the Persae of AEschylus was being performed, the depth of the stage opened, to show in the distance the blue sea on which a recent victory had taken place, with the rocky isle of Salamis bathed in the tints of the Eastern setting sun. A thrill of the most lively emotion ran instantly through the whole crowd of spectators. But with the Romans the theatre lost its dignity, and was degraded to low buffoonery, indecencies the most repulsive, and to gaudy spectacles. So bad was the moral result produced by the theatre, that the first Christian bishops who were able to do so, stirred their adherents to the destruction of this breeding-place of moral pestilence. The MS. chronicles of the church of Arles have preserved the name of the man who destroyed the theatre. He was a deacon, Cyril; acting under a strong moral impulse, filled with righteous indignation at the obscenities perpetrated on the boards, he roused the Christian populace of Arles to attack and wreck the theatre and expel the actors. The mob burst in - tore the marble from the proscenium, smashed the statues of admirable Greek sculpture, overthrew the altar and ground it to powder, upset the columns, and reduced it to a state of ruin very little better than that in which it is at present. Heads of statues were knocked off, bas-reliefs broken in half, cornices, capitals, were thrown into the pit and choked it to the level of the stage.

In 1651 the pick was set to work to clear out this orchestra, and almost the first stroke revealed one of the most admirable works of Greek sculpture that has descended to us, the Venus of Arles, an imitation or reproduction of the celebrated Venus of Praxiteles, now, unhappily, lost. This statue lay before the columns of the proscenium and had been saved from destruction by the ruins that had buried it. Head and body are almost intact, only the arms were gone.

The goddess is half naked, like the Venus of Milo. The bust is slightly turned. Head and coiffure are of the noblest and purest execution.

It was evening when I visited the theatre, a balmy spring evening, where shelter could be obtained from a cold wind. The pink Judas trees were in full flower. The syringas scented the air. The golden sunlight filled the theatre with light and warmth. But two persons were present, except myself. Seated on one of the white marble steps for the audience, was an Arles mother with a royal face, in the quaintly beautiful costume the women of all classes still affect, and she had spread her mantle over the shoulders of a girl of fourteen, sick, with face of the purest alabaster, and of features as fine as were ever traced for Venus Anadyomene, with large, solemn, dreamy eyes, watching a robin that was perched on the proscenium and was twittering.

The pity, love, and sorrow of that mother's heart were not to be read in her calm disciplined countenance, but I could see the emotions flow in short wavelets from her heart, through the arm that encircled the sick girl, into the hand that rhythmically contracted and expanded on the sharp little shoulder, rocking the child in the warm sun, against her own heart, and with her dark eyes looking into the future, in which she would have no more the child at her side to sway. In that theatre! - the ebbing tide of a white and limpid life taking its last sunning, where the crowds had laughed and roared their applause at sights and songs of unspeakable foulness.

In the museum may be seen some of the treasures from the theatre, a head of Augustus, a so-called Livia, a bust of the young Marcellus, bas-reliefs, dancing women, a few inscriptions, and the seal of a Roman dentist, which I suppose he lost there one day when watching a play, and which has recently been found there.

It is worth the visitor's while to walk by the broad muddy Rhone, and observe the clumsy picturesque vessels moored there, or gliding down the turgid stream. So clumsy is the construction that some are provided with two rudders, one being found insufficient to direct the course of these tubs.

At Arles, near the river, is a palace of Constantine the Great, now turned into cottages and sheds, and in a very ruinous condition, but sufficient of it is preserved to show what a falling off in architecture had ensued through the anarchy of rising and sinking emperors, and the destruction of the great families of the Patriciate. Employment for architects and sculptors was gone in times of proscription and military revolts, and apparently all at once the arts that had reached the utmost perfection fell into a condition of the most abject degradation.