The Last Galley Impressions and Tales HTML version
In the spring of the year 528, a small brig used to run as a passenger boat between
Chalcedon on the Asiatic shore and Constantinople. On the morning in question, which
was that of the feast of Saint George, the vessel was crowded with excursionists who
were bound for the great city in order to take part in the religious and festive celebrations
which marked the festival of the Megalo-martyr, one of the most choice occasions in the
whole vast hagiology of the Eastern Church. The day was fine and the breeze light, so
that the passengers in their holiday mood were able to enjoy without a qualm the many
objects of interest which marked the approach to the greatest and most beautiful capital in
On the right, as they sped up the narrow strait, there stretched the Asiatic shore, sprinkled
with white villages and with numerous villas peeping out from the woods which adorned
it. In front of them, the Prince's Islands, rising as green as emeralds out of the deep
sapphire blue of the Sea of Marmora, obscured for the moment the view of the capital. As
the brig rounded these, the great city burst suddenly upon their sight, and a murmur of
admiration and wonder rose from the crowded deck. Tier above tier it rose, white and
glittering, a hundred brazen roofs and gilded statues gleaming in the sun, with high over
all the magnificent shining cupola of Saint Sophia. Seen against a cloudless sky, it was
the city of a dream-too delicate, too airily lovely for earth.
In the prow of the small vessel were two travellers of singular appearance. The one was a
very beautiful boy, ten or twelve years of age, swarthy, clear-cut, with dark, curling hair
and vivacious black eyes, full of intelligence and of the joy of living. The other was an
elderly man, gaunt-faced and grey-bearded, whose stern features were lit up by a smile as
he observed the excitement and interest with which his young companion viewed the
beautiful distant city and the many vessels which thronged the narrow strait.
"See! see!" cried the lad. "Look at the great red ships which sail out from yonder harbour.
Surely, your holiness, they are the greatest of all ships in the world."
The old man, who was the abbot of the monastery of Saint Nicephorus in Antioch, laid
his hand upon the boy's shoulder.
"Be wary, Leon, and speak less loudly, for until we have seen your mother we should
keep ourselves secret. As to the red galleys they are indeed as large as any, for they are
the Imperial ships of war, which come forth from the harbour of Theodosius. Round
yonder green point is the Golden Horn, where the merchant ships are moored. But now,
Leon, if you follow the line of buildings past the great church, you will see a long row of
pillars fronting the sea. It marks the Palace of the Caesars."
The boy looked at it with fixed attention. "And my mother is there," he whispered.