This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1895
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

the sum of the whole matter. While he drew only peaceful inducements to sleep from that two-sided figure, she reads there a volume of sinister intentions, and liked little this seemingly dead goddess, who could but move among the living banefully, stealing with her night-shade into the day where she had no proper right. The gods had ever had much to do with the shaping of her fortunes and the fortunes of her kindred; and the mortal mother felt nothing less than jealousy from the hour when the lad had first delightedly called her to share his discoveries, and learn the true story (if it were not rather the malicious counterfeit) of the new divine mother to whom he has thus absolutely entrusted himself. Was not this absolute chastity itself a kind of death? She, too, in secret makes her gruesome midnight offering with averted eyes. She dreams one night he is in danger; creeps to his cubicle [172] to see; the face is covered, as he lies, against the cold. She traces the motionless outline, raises the coverlet; with the nice black head deep in the fleecy pillow he is sleeping quietly, he dreams of that other mother gliding in upon the moonbeam, and awaking turns sympathetically upon the living woman, is subdued in a moment to the expression of her troubled spirit, and understands.

And when the child departed from her for the first time, springing from his white bed before the dawn, to accompany the elders on their annual visit to the Eleusinian goddess, the after-sense of his wonderful happiness, tranquillising her in spite of herself by its genial power over the actual moment, stirred nevertheless a new sort of anxiety for the future. Her work in life henceforward was defined as a ministry to so precious a gift, in full consciousness of its risk; it became her religion, the centre of her pieties. She missed painfully his continual singing hovering about the place, like the earth itself made audible in all its humanities. Half-selfish for a moment, she prays that he may remain for ever a child, to her solace; welcomes now the promise of his chastity (though chastity were itself a kind of death) as the pledge of his abiding always with her. And these thoughts were but infixed more deeply by the sudden stroke of joy at his return home in ceremonial trim and grown more manly, with much increase of self-confidence in that brief absence among his fellows.

[173] For, from the first, the unwelcome child, the outcast, had been successful, with that special good fortune which sometimes attends the outcast. His happiness, his invincible happiness, had been found engaging, perhaps by the gods, certainly by men; and when King Theseus came to take note how things went in that rough life he had assigned them, he felt a half liking for the boy, and bade him come down to Athens and see the sights, partly by way of proof to his already somewhat exacting wife of the difference between the old love and the new as measured by the present condition of their respective offspring. The fine nature, fastidious by instinct, but bred with frugality enough to find the charm of continual surprise in that delicate new Athens, draws, as he goes, the full savour of its novelties; the marbles, the space and finish, the busy gaiety of its streets, the elegance of life there, contrasting with while it adds some mysterious endearment to the thought of his own rude home. Without envy, in hope only one day to share, to win them by kindness, he gazes on the motley garden-plots, the soft bedding, the showy toys, the delicate keep of the children of Phaedra, who turn curiously to their half-brother, venture to touch his long strange gown of homespun grey, like the soft coat of some wild creature who might let one stroke it. Close to their dainty existence for a while, he regards it as from afar; looks forward all day to the lights, the prattle, the laughter, the white [174] bread, like sweet cake to him, of their ordinary evening meal; returns again and again, in spite of himself, to watch, to admire, feeling a power within him to merit the like; finds his way back at last, still light of heart, to his own poor fare, able to do without what he would enjoy so much. As, grateful for his scanty part in things–for the make-believe of a feast in the little white loaves she too has managed to come by, sipping the thin white wine, he touches her dearly, the mother is shocked with a sense of something unearthly in his contentment, while he comes and goes, singing now more abundantly than ever a new canticle to her divine rival. Were things, after all, to go grudgingly with him? Sensible of that curse on herself, with her suspicions of his kinsfolk, of this dubious goddess to whom he has devoted himself, she anticipates with more foreboding than ever his path to be, with or without a wife–her own solitude, or his–the painful heats and cold. She fears even these late successes; it were best to veil their heads. The strong as such had ever been against her and hers. The father came again; noted the boy’s growth. Manliest of men, like Hercules in his cloak of lion’s skin, he has after all but scant liking, feels, through a certain meanness of soul, scorn for the finer likeness of himself. Might this creature of an already vanishing world, who for all his hard rearing had a manifest distinction of character, one day become his rival, full of [175] loyalty as he was already to the deserted mother?

To charming Athens, nevertheless, he crept back, as occasion served, to gaze peacefully on the delightful good fortune of others, waiting for the opportunity to take his own turn with the rest, driving down thither at last in a chariot gallantly, when all the town was assembled to celebrate the king’s birthday. For the goddess, herself turning ever kinder, and figuring more and more exclusively as the tender nurse of all things, had transformed her young votary from a hunter into a charioteer, a rearer and driver of horses, after the fashion of his Amazon mothers before him. Thereupon, all the lad’s wholesome vanity had centered on the fancy of the world-famous games then lately established, as, smiling down his mother’s terrors, and grateful to his celestial mother for many a hair-breadth escape, he practised day by day, fed the animals, drove them out, amused though companionless, visited them affectionately in the deserted stone stables of the ancient king. A chariot and horses, as being the showiest outward thing the world afforded, was like the pawn he moved to represent the big demand he meant to make, honestly, generously, on the ample fortunes of life. There was something of his old miraculous kindred, alien from this busy new world he came to, about the boyish driver with the fame of a scholar, in his grey fleecy cloak and hood of soft [175] white woollen stuff, as he drove in that morning. Men seemed to have seen a star flashing, and crowded round to examine the little mountain-bred beasts, in loud, friendly intercourse with the hero of the hour–even those usually somewhat unsympathetic half-brothers now full of enthusiasm for the outcast and his good fight for prosperity. Instinctively people admired his wonderful placidity, and would fain have shared its secret, as it were the carelessness of some fair flower upon his face. A victor in the day’s race, he carried home as his prize a glittering new harness in place of the very old one he had come with. “My chariot and horses!” he says now, with his single touch of pride. Yet at home, savouring to the full his old solitary happiness, veiled again from time to time in that ancient life, he is still the student, still ponders the old writings which tell of his divine patroness. At Athens strange stories are told in turn of him, his nights upon the mountains, his dreamy sin, with that hypocritical virgin goddess, stories which set the jealous suspicions of Theseus at rest once more. For so “dream” not those who have the tangible, appraisable world in view. Even Queen Phaedra looks with pleasure, as he comes, on the once despised illegitimate creature, at home now here too, singing always audaciously, so visibly happy, occupied, popular.

Encompassed by the luxuries of Athens, far from those peaceful mountain places, among people [177] further still in spirit from their peaceful light and shade, he did not forget the kindly goddess, still sharing with his earthly mother the prizes, or what they would buy, for the adornment of their spare abode. The tombs of the fallen Amazons, the spot where they had breathed their last, he piously visited, informed himself of every circumstance of the event with devout care, and, thinking on them amid the dainties of the royal table, boldly brought them too their share of the offerings to the heroic dead. Aphrodite, indeed–Aphrodite, of whom he had scarcely so much as heard–was just then the best-served deity in Athens, with all its new wealth of colour and form, its gold and ivory, the acting, the music, the fantastic women, beneath the shadow of the great walls still rising steadily. Hippolytus would have no part in her worship; instead did what was in him to revive the neglected service of his own goddess, stirring an old jealousy. For Aphrodite too had looked with delight upon the youth, already the centre of a hundred less dangerous human rivalries among the maidens of Greece, and was by no means indifferent to his indifference, his instinctive distaste; while the sterner, almost forgotten Artemis found once more her great moon-shaped cake, set about with starry tapers, at the appointed seasons.

They know him now from afar, by his emphatic, shooting, arrowy movements; and on [178] the day of the great chariot races “he goes in and wins.” To the surprise of all he compounded his handsome prize for the old wooden image taken from the chapel at home, lurking now in an obscure shrine in the meanest quarter of the town. Sober amid the noisy feasting which followed, unashamed, but travelling by night to hide it from their mockery, warm at his bosom, he reached the passes at twilight, and through the deep peace of the glens bore it to the old resting-place, now more worthy than ever of the presence of its mistress, his mother and all the people of the village coming forth to salute her, all doors set mystically open, as she advances.

Phaedra too, his step-mother, a fiery soul with wild strange blood in her veins, forgetting her fears of this illegitimate rival of her children, seemed now to have seen him for the first time, loved at last the very touch of his fleecy cloak, and would fain have had him of her own religion. As though the once neglected child had been another, she tries to win him as a stranger in his manly perfection, growing more than an affectionate mother to her husband’s son. But why thus intimate and congenial, she asks, always in the wrong quarter? Why not compass two ends at once? Why so squeamishly neglect the powerful, any power at all, in a city so full of religion? He might find the image of her sprightly goddess everywhere, to his [179] liking, gold, silver, native or stranger, new or old, graceful, or indeed, if he preferred it so, in iron or stone. By the way, she explains the delights of love, of marriage, the husband once out of the way; finds in him, with misgiving, a sort of forwardness, as she thinks, on this one matter, as if he understood her craft and despised it. He met her questions in truth with scarce so much as contempt, with laughing counter-queries, why people needed wedding at all? They might have found the children in the temples, or bought them, as you could buy flowers in Athens.

Meantime Phaedra’s young children draw from the seemingly unconscious finger the marriage-ring, set it spinning on the floor at his feet, and the staid youth places it for a moment on his own finger for safety. As it settles there, his step-mother, aware all the while, suddenly presses his hand over it. He found the ring there that night as he lay; left his bed in the darkness, and again, for safety, put it on the finger of the image, wedding once for all that so kindly mystical mother. And still, even amid his earthly mother’s terrible misgivings, he seems to foresee a charming career marked out before him in friendly Athens, to the height of his desire. Grateful that he is here at all, sharing at last so freely life’s banquet, he puts himself for a moment in his old place, recalling his old enjoyment of the pleasure of others; [180] feels, just then, no different. Yet never had life seemed so sufficing as at this moment- -the meat, the drink, the drives, the popularity as he comes and goes, even his step-mother’s false, selfish, ostentatious gifts. But she, too, begins to feel something of the jealousy of that other divine, would-be mistress, and by way of a last effort to bring him to a better mind in regard to them both, conducts him (immeasurable privilege!) to her own private chapel.

You could hardly tell where the apartments of the adulteress ended and that of the divine courtesan began. Haunts of her long, indolent, self-pleasing nights and days, they presented everywhere the impress of Phaedra’s luxurious humour. A peculiar glow, such as he had never before seen, like heady lamplight, or sunshine to some sleeper in a delirious dream, hung upon, clung to, the bold, naked, shameful imageries, as his step-mother trimmed the lamps, drew forth her sickly perfumes, clad afresh in piquant change of raiment the almost formless goddess crouching there in her unclean shrine or stye, set at last her foolish wheel in motion to a low chant, holding him by the wrist, keeping close all the while, as if to catch some germ of consent in his indifferent words.

And little by little he perceives that all this is for him–the incense, the dizzy wheel, the shreds of stuff cut secretly from his sleeve, the sweetened cup he drank at her offer, unavailingly;+ [181] and yes! his own features surely, in pallid wax. With a gasp of flighty laughter she ventures to point the thing out to him, full as he is at last of visible, irrepressible dislike. Ah! it was that very reluctance that chiefly stirred her. Healthily white and red, he had a marvellous air of discretion about him, as of one never to be caught unaware, as if he never could be anything but like water from the rock, or the wild flowers of the morning, or the beams of the morning star turned to human flesh. It was the self-possession of this happy mind, the purity of this virgin body, she would fain have perturbed, as a pledge to herself of her own gaudy claim to supremacy. King Theseus, as she knew, had had at least two earlier loves; for once she would be a first love; felt at moments that with this one passion once indulged, it might be happiness thereafter to remain chaste for ever. And then, by accident, yet surely reading indifference in his manner of accepting her gifts, she is ready again for contemptuous, open battle. Is he indeed but a child still, this nursling of the forbidding Amazon, of that Amazonian goddess–to be a child always? or a wily priest rather, skilfully circumventing her sorceries, with mystic precautions of his own? In truth, there is something of the priestly character in this impassible discretion, reminding her of his alleged intimacy with the rival goddess, and redoubling her curiosity, her fondness.+ [182] Phaedra, love-sick, feverish, in bodily sickness at last, raves of the cool woods, the chase, the steeds of Hippolytus, her thoughts running madly on what she fancies to be his secret business; with a storm of abject tears, foreseeing in one moment of recoil the weary tale of years to come, star-stricken as she declares, she dared at last to confess her longing to already half-suspicious attendants; and, awake one morning to find Hippolytus there kindly at her bidding, drove him openly forth in a tempest of insulting speech. There was a mordant there, like the menace of misfortune to come, in which the injured goddess also was invited to concur. What words! what terrible words! following, clinging to him, like acrid fire upon his bare flesh, as he hasted from Phaedra’s house, thrust out at last, his vesture remaining in her hands. The husband returning suddenly, she tells him a false story of violence to her bed, and is believed.

King Theseus, all his accumulated store of suspicion and dislike turning now to active hatred, flung away readily upon him, bewildered, unheard, one of three precious curses (some mystery of wasting sickness therein) with which Poseidon had indulged him. It seemed sad that one so young must call for justice, precariously, upon the gods, the dead, the very walls! Admiring youth dared hardly bid farewell to their late comrade; are generous, at most, in [183] stolen, sympathetic glances towards the fallen star. At home, veiled once again in that ancient twilight world, his mother, fearing solely for what he may suffer by the departure of that so brief prosperity, enlarged as it had been, even so, by his grateful taking of it, is reassured, delighted, happy once more at the visible proof of his happiness, his invincible happiness. Duly he returned to Athens, early astir, for the last time, to restore the forfeited gifts, drove back his gaily painted chariot to leave there behind him, actually enjoying the drive, going home on foot poorer than ever. He takes again to his former modes of life, a little less to the horses, a little more to the old studies, the strange, secret history of his favourite goddess,–wronged surely! somehow, she too, as powerless to help him; till he lay sick at last, battling one morning, unaware of his mother’s presence, with the feverish creations of the brain; the giddy, foolish wheel, the foolish song, of Phaedra’s chapel, spinning there with his heart bound thereto. “The curses of my progenitors are come upon me!” he cries. “And yet, why so? guiltless as I am of evil.” His wholesome religion seeming to turn against him now, the trees, the streams, the very rocks, swoon into living creatures, swarming around the goddess who has lost her grave quietness. He finds solicitation, and recoils, in the wind, in the sounds of the rain; till at length delirium [184] itself finds a note of returning health. The feverish wood-ways of his fancy open unexpectedly upon wide currents of air, lulling him to sleep; and the conflict ending suddenly altogether at its sharpest, he lay in the early light motionless among the pillows, his mother standing by, as she thought, to see him die. As if for the last time, she presses on him the things he had liked best in that eating and drinking she had found so beautiful. The eyes, the eyelids are big with sorrow; and, as he understands again, making an effort for her sake, the healthy light returns into his; a hand seizes hers gratefully, and a slow convalescence begins, the happiest period in the wild mother’s life. When he longed for flowers for the goddess, she went a toilsome journey to seek them, growing close, after long neglect, wholesome and firm on their tall stalks. The singing she had longed for so despairingly hovers gaily once more within the chapel and around the house.

At the crisis of that strange illness she had supposed her long forebodings about to be realised at last; but upon his recovery feared no more, assured herself that the curses of the father, the step-mother, the concurrent ill-will of that angry goddess, have done their utmost; he will outlive her; a few years hence put her to a rest surely welcome. Her misgivings, arising always out of the actual spectacle of his profound happiness, seemed at an end in this meek bliss, the more as [185] she observed that it was a shade less unconscious than of old. And almost suddenly he found the strength, the heart, in him, to try his fortune again with the old chariot; and those still unsatisfied curses, in truth, going on either side of him like living creatures unseen, legend tells briefly how, a competitor for pity with Adonis, and Icarus, and Hyacinth, and other doomed creatures of immature radiance in all story to come, he set forth joyously for the chariot-races, not of Athens, but of Troezen, her rival. Once more he wins the prize; he says good-bye to admiring friends anxious to entertain him, and by night starts off homewards, as of old, like a child, returning quickly through the solitude in which he had never lacked company, and was now to die. Through all the perils of darkness he had guided the chariot safely along the curved shore; the dawn was come, and a little breeze astir, as the grey level spaces parted delicately into white and blue, when in a moment an earthquake, or Poseidon the earth-shaker himself, or angry Aphrodite awake from the deep betimes, rent the tranquil surface; a great wave leapt suddenly into the placid distance of the Attic shore, and was surging here to the very necks of the plunging horses, a moment since enjoying so pleasantly with him the caress of the morning air, but now, wholly forgetful of their old affectionate habit of obedience, dragging their leader headlong over the rough pavements. [186] Evening and the dawn might seem to have met on that hapless day through which they drew him home entangled in the trappings of the chariot that had been his ruin, till he lay at length, grey and haggard, at the rest he had longed for dimly amid the buffeting of those murderous stones, his mother watching impassibly, sunk at once into the condition she had so long anticipated.

Later legend breaks a supernatural light over that great desolation, and would fain relieve the reader by introducing the kindly Asclepius, who presently restores the youth to life, not, however, in the old form or under familiar conditions. To her, surely, counting the wounds, the disfigurements, telling over the pains which had shot through that dear head now insensible to her touch among the pillows under the harsh broad daylight, that would have been no more of a solace than if, according to the fancy of Ovid, he flourished still, a little deity, but under a new name and veiled now in old age, in the haunted grove of Aricia, far from his old Attic home, in a land which had never seen him as he was.


[187] THE extant remains of Greek sculpture, though but a fragment of what the Greek sculptors produced, are, both in number and in excellence, in their fitness, therefore, to represent the whole of which they were a part, quite out of proportion to what has come down to us of Greek painting, and all those minor crafts which, in the Greek workshop, as at all periods when the arts have been really vigorous, were closely connected with the highest imaginative work. Greek painting is represented to us only by its distant reflexion on the walls of the buried houses of Pompeii, and the designs of subordinate though exquisite craftsmen on the vases. Of wrought metal, partly through the inherent usefulness of its material, tempting ignorant persons into whose hands it may fall to re-fashion it, we have comparatively little; while, in consequence of the perishableness of their material, nothing [188] remains of the curious wood-work, the carved ivory, the embroidery and coloured stuffs, on which the Greeks set much store–of that whole system of refined artisanship, diffused, like a general atmosphere of beauty and richness, around the more exalted creations of Greek sculpture. What we possess, then, of that highest Greek sculpture is presented to us in a sort of threefold isolation; isolation, first of all, from the concomitant arts–the frieze of the Parthenon without the metal bridles on the horses, for which the holes in the marble remain; isolation, secondly, from the architectural group of which, with most careful estimate of distance and point of observation, that frieze, for instance, was designed to be a part; isolation, thirdly, from the clear Greek skies, the poetical Greek life, in our modern galleries. And if one here or there, in looking at these things, bethinks himself of the required substitution; if he endeavours mentally to throw them back into that proper atmosphere, through which alone they can exercise over us all the magic by which they charmed their original spectators, the effort is not always a successful one, within the grey walls of the Louvre or the British Museum.

And the circumstance that Greek sculpture is presented to us in such falsifying isolation from the work of the weaver, the carpenter, and the goldsmith, has encouraged a manner of regarding it too little sensuous. Approaching it with full [189] information concerning what may be called the inner life of the Greeks, their modes of thought and sentiment amply recorded in the writings of the Greek poets and philosophers, but with no lively impressions of that mere craftsman’s world of which so little has remained, students of antiquity have for the most part interpreted the creations of Greek sculpture, rather as elements in a sequence of abstract ideas, as embodiments, in a sort of petrified language, of pure thoughts, and as interesting mainly in connexion with the development of Greek intellect, than as elements of a sequence in the material order, as results of a designed and skilful dealing of accomplished fingers with precious forms of matter for the delight of the eyes. Greek sculpture has come to be regarded as the product of a peculiarly limited art, dealing with a specially abstracted range of subjects; and the Greek sculptor as a workman almost exclusively intellectual, having only a sort of accidental connexion with the material in which his thought was expressed. He is fancied to have been disdainful of such matters as the mere tone, the fibre or texture, of his marble or cedar-wood, of that just perceptible yellowness, for instance, in the ivory-like surface of the Venus of Melos; as being occupied only with forms as abstract almost as the conceptions of philosophy, and translateable it might be supposed into any material–a habit of regarding him still further encouraged by the modern [190] sculptor’s usage of employing merely mechanical labour in the actual working of the stone.

The works of the highest Greek sculpture are indeed intellectualised, if we may say so, to the utmost degree; the human figures which they present to us seem actually to conceive thoughts; in them, that profoundly reasonable spirit of design which is traceable in Greek art, continuously and increasingly, upwards from its simplest products, the oil-vessel or the urn, reaches its perfection. Yet, though the most abstract and intellectualised of sensuous objects, they are still sensuous and material, addressing themselves, in the first instance, not to the purely reflective faculty, but to the eye; and a complete criticism must have approached them from both sides– from the side of the intelligence indeed, towards which they rank as great thoughts come down into the stone; but from the sensuous side also, towards which they rank as the most perfect results of that pure skill of hand, of which the Venus of Melos, we may say, is the highest example, and the little polished pitcher or lamp, also perfect in its way, perhaps the lowest.

To pass by the purely visible side of these things, then, is not only to miss a refining pleasure, but to mistake altogether the medium in which the most intellectual of the creations of Greek art, the Aeginetan or the Elgin marbles, for instance, were actually produced; even these having, in their origin, depended for much of [191] their charm on the mere material in which they were executed; and the whole black and grey world of extant antique sculpture needing to be translated back into ivory and gold, if we would feel the excitement which the Greek seems to have felt in the presence of these objects. To have this really Greek sense of Greek sculpture, it is necessary to connect it, indeed, with the inner life of the Greek world, its thought and sentiment, on the one hand; but on the other hand to connect it, also, with the minor works of price, intaglios, coins, vases; with that whole system of material refinement and beauty in the outer Greek life, which these minor works represent to us; and it is with these, as far as possible, that we must seek to relieve the air of our galleries and museums of their too intellectual greyness. Greek sculpture could not have been precisely a cold thing; and, whatever a colour-blind school may say, pure thoughts have their coldness, a coldness which has sometimes repelled from Greek sculpture, with its unsuspected fund of passion and energy in material form, those who cared much, and with much insight, for a similar passion and energy in the coloured world of Italian painting.

Theoretically, then, we need that world of the minor arts as a complementary background for the higher and more austere Greek sculpture; and, as matter of fact, it is just with such a world–with a period of refined and exquisite [192] tectonics+ (as the Greeks called all crafts strictly subordinate to architecture), that Greek art actually begins, in what is called the Heroic Age, that earliest, undefined period of Greek civilisation, the beginning of which cannot be dated, and which reaches down to the first Olympiad, about the year 776 B.C. Of this period we possess, indeed, no direct history, and but few actual monuments, great or small; but as to its whole character and outward local colouring, for its art, as for its politics and religion, Homer may be regarded as an authority. The Iliad and the Odyssey, the earliest pictures of that heroic life, represent it as already delighting itself in the application of precious material and skilful handiwork to personal and domestic adornment, to the refining and beautifying of the entire outward aspect of life; above all, in the lavish application of very graceful metal-work to such purposes. And this representation is borne out by what little we possess of its actual remains, and by all we can infer. Mixed, of course, with mere fable, as a description of the heroic age, the picture which Homer presents to us, deprived of its supernatural adjuncts, becomes continuously more and more realisable as the actual condition of early art, when we emerge gradually into historical time, and find ourselves at last among dateable works and real schools or masters.

The history of Greek art, then, begins, as some have fancied general history to begin, in a [193] golden age, but in an age, so to speak, of real gold, the period of those first twisters and hammerers of the precious metals–men who had already discovered the flexibility of silver and the ductility of gold, the capacity of both for infinite delicacy of handling, and who enjoyed, with complete freshness, a sense of beauty and fitness in their work–a period of which that flower of gold on a silver stalk, picked up lately in one of the graves at Mycenae, or the legendary golden honeycomb of Daedalus, might serve as the symbol. The heroic age of Greek art is the age of the hero as smith.

There are in Homer two famous descriptive passages in which this delight in curious metal-work is very prominent; the description in the Iliad of the shield of Achilles* and the description of the house of Alcinous in the Odyssey.* The shield of Achilles is part of the suit of armour which Hephaestus makes for him at the request of Thetis; and it is wrought of variously Coloured metals, woven into a great circular composition in relief, representing the world and the life in it. The various activities of man are recorded in this description in a series of idyllic incidents with such complete freshness, liveliness, and variety, that the reader from time to time may well forget himself, and fancy he is reading a mere description of the incidents of actual life. [194] We peep into a little Greek town, and see in dainty miniature the bride coming from her chamber with torch-bearers and dancers, the people gazing from their doors, a quarrel between two persons in the market-place, the assembly of the elders to decide upon it. In another quartering is the spectacle of a city besieged, the walls defended by the old men, while the soldiers have stolen out and are lying in ambush. There is a fight on the river-bank; Ares and Athene, conspicuous in gold, and marked as divine persons by a scale larger than that of their followers, lead the host. The strange, mythical images of Kêr, Eris, and Kudoimos mingle in the crowd. A third space upon the shield depicts the incidents of peaceful labour–the ploughshare passing through the field, of enameled black metal behind it, and golden before; the cup of mead held out to the ploughman when he reaches the end of the furrow; the reapers with their sheaves; the king standing in silent pleasure among them, intent upon his staff. There are the labourers in the vineyard in minutest detail; stakes of silver on which the vines hang; the dark trench about it, and one pathway through the midst; the whole complete and distinct, in variously coloured metal. All things and living creatures are in their places–the cattle coming to water to the sound of the herdsman’s pipe, various music, the rushes by the water-side, a lion-hunt with dogs, [195] the pastures among the hills, a dance, the fair dresses of the male and female dancers, the former adorned with swords, the latter with crowns. It is an image of ancient life, its pleasure and business. For the centre, as in some quaint chart of the heavens, are the earth and the sun, the moon and constellations; and to close in all, right round, like a frame to the picture, the great river Oceanus, forming the rim of the shield, in some metal of dark blue.

Still more fascinating, perhaps, because more completely realisable by the fancy as an actual thing–realisable as a delightful place to pass time in–is the description of the palace of Alcinous in the little island town of the Phaeacians, to which we are introduced in all the liveliness and sparkle of the morning, as real as something seen last summer on the sea-coast; although, appropriately, Ulysses meets a goddess, like a young girl carrying a pitcher, on his way up from the sea. Below the steep walls of the town, two projecting jetties allow a narrow passage into a haven of stone for the ships, into which the passer-by may look down, as they lie moored below the roadway. In the midst is the king’s house, all glittering, again, with curiously wrought metal; its brightness is “as the brightness of the sun or of the moon.” The heart of Ulysses beats quickly when he sees it standing amid plantations ingeniously watered, its floor and walls of brass throughout, with continuous [196] cornice of dark iron; the doors are of gold, the door-posts and lintels of silver, the handles, again, of gold–

The walls were massy brass; the cornice high Blue metals crowned in colours of the sky; Rich plates of gold the folding-doors incase; The pillars silver on a brazen base;
Silver the lintels deep-projecting o’er; And gold the ringlets that command the door.

Dogs of the same precious metals keep watch on either side, like the lions over the old gate-way of Mycenae, or the gigantic, human-headed bulls at the entrance of an Assyrian palace. Within doors the burning lights at supper-time are supported in the hands of golden images of boys, while the guests recline on a couch running all along the wall, covered with peculiarly sumptuous women’s work.

From these two glittering descriptions manifestly something must be deducted; we are in wonder-land, and among supernatural or magical conditions. But the forging of the shield and the wonderful house of Alcinous are no merely incongruous episodes in Homer, but the consummation of what is always characteristic of him, a constant preoccupation, namely, with every form of lovely craftsmanship, resting on all things, as he says, like the shining of the sun. We seem to pass, in reading him, through the treasures of some royal collection; in him the presentation of almost every aspect of life is [197] beautified by the work of cunning hands. The thrones, coffers, couches of curious carpentry, are studded with bossy ornaments of precious metal effectively disposed, or inlaid with stained ivory, or blue cyanus, or amber, or pale amber-like gold; the surfaces of the stone conduits, the sea-walls, the public washing-troughs, the ramparts on which the weary soldiers rest themselves when returned to Troy, are fair and smooth; all the fine qualities, in colour and texture, of woven stuff are carefully noted–the fineness, closeness, softness, pliancy, gloss, the whiteness or nectar-like tints in which the weaver delights to work; to weave the sea-purple threads is the appropriate function of queens and noble women. All the Homeric shields are more or less ornamented with variously coloured metal, terrible sometimes, like Leonardo’s, with some monster or grotesque. The numerous sorts of cups are bossed with golden studs, or have handles wrought with figures, of doves, for instance. The great brazen cauldrons bear an epithet which means flowery. The trappings of the horses, the various parts of the chariots, are formed of various metals. The women’s ornaments and the instruments of their toilet are described–

porpas te gnamptas th’ helikas, kalukas te kai hormous+

–the golden vials for unguents. Use and beauty are still undivided; all that men’s hands are set to make has still a fascination alike for workmen [198] and spectators. For such dainty splendour Troy, indeed, is especially conspicuous. But then Homer’s Trojans are essentially Greeks–Greeks of Asia; and Troy, though more advanced in all elements of civilisation, is no real contrast to the western shore of the Aegean. It is no barbaric world that we see, but the sort of world, we may think, that would have charmed also our comparatively jaded sensibilities, with just that quaint simplicity which we too enjoy in its productions; above all, in its wrought metal, which loses perhaps more than any other sort of work by becoming mechanical. The metal-work which Homer describes in such variety is all hammer-work, all the joinings being effected by pins or riveting. That is just the sort of metal-work which, in a certain naïveté and vigour, is still of all work the most expressive of actual contact with dexterous fingers; one seems to trace in it, on every particle of the partially resisting material, the touch and play of the shaping instruments, in highly trained hands, under the guidance of exquisitely disciplined senses–that cachet, or seal of nearness to the workman’s hand, which is the special charm of all good metal-work, of early metal-work in particular.

Such descriptions, however, it may be said, are mere poetical ornament, of no value in helping us to define the character of an age. But what is peculiar in these Homeric descriptions, [199] what distinguishes them from others at first sight similar, is a sort of internal evidence they present of a certain degree of reality, signs in them of an imagination stirred by surprise at the spectacle of real works of art. Such minute, delighted, loving description of details of ornament, such following out of the ways in which brass, gold, silver, or paler gold, go into the chariots and armour and women’s dress, or cling to the walls–the enthusiasm of the manner– is the warrant of a certain amount of truth in all that. The Greek poet describes these things with the same vividness and freshness, the same kind of fondness, with which other poets speak of flowers; speaking of them poetically, indeed, but with that higher sort of poetry which seems full of the lively impression of delightful things recently seen. Genuine poetry, it is true, is always naturally sympathetic with all beautiful sensible things and qualities. But with how many poets would not this constant intrusion of material ornament have produced a tawdry effect! The metal would all be tarnished and the edges blurred. And this is because it is not always that the products of even exquisite tectonics can excite or refine the aesthetic sense. Now it is probable that the objects of oriental art, the imitations of it at home, in which for Homer this actual world of art must have consisted, reached him in a quantity, and with a novelty, just sufficient to warm and stimulate without [200] surfeiting the imagination; it is an exotic thing of which he sees just enough and not too much. The shield of Achilles, the house of Alcinous, are like dreams indeed, but this sort of dreaming winds continuously through the entire Iliad and Odyssey–a child’s dream after a day of real, fresh impressions from things themselves, in which all those floating impressions re-set themselves. He is as pleased in touching and looking at those objects as his own heroes; their gleaming aspect brightens all he says, and has taken hold, one might think, of his language, his very vocabulary becoming chryselephantine. Homer’s artistic descriptions, though enlarged by fancy, are not wholly imaginary, and the extant remains of monuments of the earliest historical age are like lingering relics of that dream in a tamer but real world.

The art of the heroic age, then, as represented in Homer, connects itself, on the one side, with those fabulous jewels so prominent in mythological story, and entwined sometimes so oddly in its representation of human fortunes–the necklace of Eriphyle, the necklace of Helen, which Menelaus, it was said, offered at Delphi to Athene Pronoea, on the eve of his expedition against Troy–mythical objects, indeed, but which yet bear witness even thus early to the aesthetic susceptibility of the Greek temper. But, on the other hand, the art of the heroic age connects itself also with the actual early beginnings [201] of artistic production. There are touches of reality, for instance, in Homer’s incidental notices of its instruments and processes; especially as regards the working of metal. He goes already to the potter’s wheel for familiar, life-like illustration. In describing artistic wood-work he distinguishes various stages of work; we see clearly the instruments for turning and boring, such as the old-fashioned drill-borer, whirled round with a string; he mentions the names of two artists, the one of an actual workman, the other of a craft turned into a proper name–stray relics, accidentally preserved, of a world, as we may believe, of such wide and varied activity. The forge of Hephaestus is a true forge; the magic tripods on which he is at work are really put together by conceivable processes, known in early times. Compositions in relief similar to those which he describes were actually made out of thin metal plates cut into a convenient shape, and then beaten into the designed form by the hammer over a wooden model. These reliefs were then fastened to a differently coloured metal background or base, with nails or rivets, for there is no soldering of metals as yet. To this process the ancients gave the name of empaestik,+ such embossing being still, in our own time, a beautiful form of metal-work.

Even in the marvellous shield there are other and indirect notes of reality. In speaking of the shield of Achilles, I departed intentionally from [202] the order in which the subjects of the relief are actually introduced in the Iliad, because, just then, I wished the reader to receive the full effect of the variety and elaborateness of the composition, as a representation or picture of the whole of ancient life embraced within the circumference of a shield. But in the order in which Homer actually describes those episodes he is following the method of a very practicable form of composition, and is throughout much closer than we might at first sight suppose to the ancient armourer’s proceedings. The shield is formed of five superimposed plates of different metals, each plate of smaller diameter than the one immediately below it, their flat margins showing thus as four concentric stripes or rings of metal, around a sort of boss in the centre, five metals thick, and the outermost circle or ring being the thinnest. To this arrangement the order of Homer’s description corresponds. The earth and the heavenly bodies are upon this boss in the centre, like a little distant heaven hung above the broad world, and from this Homer works out, round and round, to the river Oceanus, which forms the border of the whole; the subjects answering to, or supporting each other, in a sort of heraldic order–the city at peace set over against the city besieged- -spring, summer, and autumn balancing each other–quite congruously with a certain heraldic turn common in contemporary Assyrian art, which delights in [203] this sort of conventional spacing out of its various subjects, and especially with some extant metal chargers of Assyrian work, which, like some of the earliest Greek vases with their painted plants and flowers conventionally arranged, illustrate in their humble measure such heraldic grouping.

The description of the shield of Hercules, attributed to Hesiod, is probably an imitation of Homer, and, notwithstanding some fine mythological impersonations which it contains, an imitation less admirable than the original. Of painting there are in Homer no certain indications, and it is consistent with the later date of the imitator that we may perhaps discern in his composition a sign that what he had actually seen was a painted shield, in the pre-dominance in it, as compared with the Homeric description, of effects of colour over effects of form; Homer delighting in ingenious devices for fastening the metal, and the supposed Hesiod rather in what seem like triumphs of heraldic colouring; though the latter also delights in effects of mingled metals, of mingled gold and silver especially– silver figures with dresses of gold, silver centaurs with pine-trees of gold for staves in their hands. Still, like the shield of Achilles, this too we must conceive as formed of concentric plates of metal; and here again that spacing is still more elaborately carried out, narrower intermediate rings being apparently [204] introduced between the broader ones, with figures in rapid, horizontal, unbroken motion, carrying the eye right round the shield, in contrast with the repose of the downward or inward movement of the subjects which divide the larger spaces; here too with certain analogies in the rows of animals to the designs on the earliest vases.

In Hesiod then, as in Homer, there are undesigned notes of correspondence between the partly mythical ornaments imaginatively enlarged of the heroic age, and a world of actual handicrafts. In the shield of Hercules another marvellous detail is added in the image of Perseus, very daintily described as hovering in some wonderful way, as if really borne up by wings, above the surface. And that curious, haunting sense of magic in art, which comes out over and over again in Homer–in the golden maids, for instance, who assist Hephaestus in his work, and similar details which seem at first sight to destroy the credibility of the whole picture, and make of it a mere wonder-land–is itself also, rightly understood, a testimony to a real excellence in the art of Homer’s time. It is sometimes said that works of art held to be miraculous are always of an inferior kind; but at least it was not among those who thought them inferior that the belief in their miraculous power began. If the golden images move like living creatures, and the armour of Achilles, so [205] wonderfully made, lifts him like wings, this again is because the imagination of Homer is really under the stimulus of delightful artistic objects actually seen. Only those to whom such artistic objects manifest themselves through real and powerful impressions of their wonderful qualities, can invest them with properties magical or miraculous.

I said that the inherent usefulness of the material of metal-work makes the destruction of its acquired form almost certain, if it comes into the possession of people either barbarous or careless of the work of a past time. Greek art is for us, in all its stages, a fragment only; in each of them it is necessary, in a somewhat visionary manner, to fill up empty spaces, and more or less make substitution; and of the finer work of the heroic age, thus dimly discerned as an actual thing, we had at least till recently almost nothing. Two plates of bronze, a few rusty nails, and certain rows of holes in the inner surface of the walls of the “treasury” of Mycenae, were the sole representatives of that favourite device of primitive Greek art, the lining of stone walls with burnished metal, of which the house of Alcinous in the Odyssey is the ideal picture, and the temple of Pallas of the Brazen House at Sparta, adorned in the interior with a coating of reliefs in metal, a later, historical example. Of the heroic or so-called Cyclopean architecture, that “treasury,” [206] a building so imposing that Pausanias thought it worthy to rank with the Pyramids, is a sufficient illustration. Treasury, or tomb, or both (the selfish dead, perhaps, being supposed still to find enjoyment in the costly armour, goblets, and mirrors laid up there), this dome-shaped building, formed of concentric rings of stones gradually diminishing to a coping-stone at the top, may stand as the representative of some similar buildings in other parts of Greece, and of many others in a similar kind of architecture elsewhere, constructed of large many-sided blocks of stone, fitted carefully together without the aid of cement, and remaining in their places by reciprocal resistance. Characteristic of it is the general tendency to use vast blocks of stone for the jambs and lintels of doors, for instance, and in the construction of gable-shaped passages; two rows of such stones being made to rest against each other at an acute angle, within the thickness of the walls.

So vast and rude, fretted by the action of nearly three thousand years, the fragments of this architecture may often seem, at first sight, like works of nature. At Argos, Tiryns, Mycenae, the skeleton of the old architecture is more complete. At Mycenae the gateway of the acropolis is still standing with its two well-known sculptured lions–immemorial and almost unique monument of primitive Greek sculpture–supporting, herald-wise, a symbolical pillar on the [207] vast, triangular, pedimental stone above. The heads are gone, having been fashioned possibly in metal by workmen from the East. On what may be called the façade, remains are still discernible of inlaid work in coloured stone, and within the gateway, on the smooth slabs of the pavement, the wheel-ruts are still visible. Connect them with those metal war-chariots in Homer, and you may see in fancy the whole grandiose character of the place, as it may really have been. Shut within the narrow enclosure of these shadowy citadels were the palaces of the kings, with all that intimacy which we may sometimes suppose to have been alien from the open-air Greek life, admitting, doubtless, below the cover of their rough walls, many of those refinements of princely life which the Middle Age found possible in such places, and of which the impression is so fascinating in Homer’s description, for instance, of the house of Ulysses, or of Menelaus at Sparta. Rough and frowning without, these old châteaux of the Argive kings were delicate within with a decoration almost as dainty and fine as the network of weed and flower that now covers their ruins, and of the delicacy of which, as I said, that golden flower on its silver stalk or the golden honeycomb of Daedalus, might be taken as representative. In these metal-like structures of self-supporting polygons, locked so firmly and impenetrably together, with the whole mystery of the reasonableness [208] of the arch implicitly within them, there is evidence of a complete artistic command over weight in stone, and an understanding of the “law of weight.” But over weight only; the ornament still seems to be not strictly architectural, but, according to the notices of Homer, tectonic, borrowed from the sister arts, above all from the art of the metal-workers, to whom those spaces of the building are left which a later age fills with painting, or relief in stone. The skill of the Asiatic comes to adorn this rough native building; and it is a late, elaborate, somewhat voluptuous skill, we may understand, illustrated by the luxury of that Asiatic chamber of Paris, less like that of a warrior than of one going to the dance. Coupled with the vastness of the architectural works which actually remain, such descriptions as that in Homer of the chamber of Paris and the house of Alcinous furnish forth a picture of that early period–the tyrants’ age, the age of the acropoleis, the period of great dynasties with claims to “divine right”‘ and in many instances at least with all the culture of their time. The vast buildings make us sigh at the thought of wasted human labour, though there is a public usefulness too in some of these designs, such as the draining of the Copaic lake, to which the backs of the people are bent whether they will or not. For the princes there is much of that selfish personal luxury which is a constant trait of feudalism in [209] all ages. For the people, scattered over the country, at their agricultural labour, or gathered in small hamlets, there is some enjoyment, perhaps, of the aspect of that splendour, of the bright warriors on the heights–a certain share of the nobler pride of the tyrants themselves in those tombs and dwellings. Some surmise, also, there seems to have been, of the “curse” of gold, with a dim, lurking suspicion of curious facilities for cruelty in the command over those skilful artificers in metal– some ingenious rack or bull “to pinch and peel”–the tradition of which, not unlike the modern Jacques Bonhomme’s shudder at the old ruined French donjon or bastille, haunts, generations afterwards, the ruins of those “labyrinths” of stone, where the old tyrants had their pleasures. For it is a mistake to suppose that that wistful sense of eeriness in ruined buildings, to which most of us are susceptible, is an exclusively modern feeling. The name Cyclopean, attached to those desolate remains of buildings which were older than Greek history itself, attests their romantic influence over the fancy of the people who thus attributed them to a superhuman strength and skill. And the Cyclopes, like all the early mythical names of artists, have this note of reality, that they are names not of individuals but of classes, the guilds or companies of workmen in which a certain craft was imparted and transmitted. The Dactyli, the Fingers, are the [210] first workers in iron; the savage Chalybes in Scythia the first smelters; actual names are given to the old, fabled Telchines– Chalkon, Argyron, Chryson–workers in brass, silver, and gold, respectively.+ The tradition of their activity haunts the several regions where those metals were found. They make the trident of Poseidon; but then Poseidon’s trident is a real fisherman’s instrument, the tunny-fork. They are credited, notwithstanding, with an evil sorcery, unfriendly to men, as poor humanity remembered the makers of chains, locks, Procrustean beds; and, as becomes this dark recondite mine and metal work, the traditions about them are gloomy and grotesque, confusing mortal workmen with demon guilds.

To this view of the heroic age of Greek art as being, so to speak, an age of real gold, an age delighting itself in precious material and exquisite handiwork in all tectonic crafts, the recent extraordinary discoveries at Troy and Mycenae are, on any plausible theory of their date and origin, a witness. The aesthetic critic needs always to be on his guard against the confusion of mere curiosity or antiquity with beauty in art. Among the objects discovered at Troy–mere curiosities, some of them, however interesting and instructive–the so-called royal cup of Priam, in solid gold, two-handled and double- lipped, (the smaller lip designed for the host and his libation, the larger for the guest,) has, in the [211] very simplicity of its design, the grace of the economy with which it exactly fulfils its purpose, a positive beauty, an absolute value for the aesthetic sense, while strange and new enough, if it really settles at last a much-debated expression of Homer; while the “diadem,” with its twisted chains and flowers of pale gold, shows that those profuse golden fringes, waving so comely as he moved, which Hephaestus wrought for the helmet of Achilles, were really within the compass of early Greek art.

And the story of the excavations at Mycenae reads more like some well-devised chapter of fiction than a record of sober facts. Here, those sanguine, half-childish dreams of buried treasure discovered in dead men’s graves, which seem to have a charm for every one, are more than fulfilled in the spectacle of those antique kings, lying in the splendour of their crowns and breastplates of embossed plate of gold; their swords, studded with golden imagery, at their sides, as in some feudal monument; their very faces covered up most strangely in golden masks. The very floor of one tomb, we read, was thick with gold- dust–the heavy gilding fallen from some perished kingly vestment; in another was a downfall of golden leaves and flowers; and, amid this profusion of thin fine fragments, were rings, bracelets, smaller crowns as if for children, dainty butterflies for ornaments of dresses, and that golden flower on a silver stalk–all of pure, [212] soft gold, unhardened by alloy, the delicate films of which one must touch but lightly, yet twisted and beaten, by hand and hammer, into wavy, spiral relief, the cuttle-fish with its long undulating arms appearing frequently.

It is the very image of the old luxurious life of the princes of the heroic age, as Homer describes it, with the arts in service to its kingly pride. Among the other costly objects was one representing the head of a cow, grandly designed in gold with horns of silver, like the horns of the moon, supposed to be symbolical of Here, the great object of worship at Argos. One of the interests of the study of mythology is that it reflects the ways of life and thought of the people who conceived it; and this religion of Here, the special religion of Argos, is congruous with what has been here said as to the place of art in the civilisation of the Argives; it is a reflexion of that splendid and wanton old feudal life. For Here is, in her original essence and meaning, equivalent to Demeter–the one living spirit of the earth, divined behind the veil of all its manifold visible energies. But in the development of a common mythological motive the various peoples are subject to the general limitations of their life and thought; they can but work outward what is within them; and the religious conceptions and usages, ultimately derivable from one and the same rudimentary instinct, are sometimes most diverse. Out of [213] the visible, physical energies of the earth and its system of annual change, the old Pelasgian mind developed the person of Demeter, mystical and profoundly aweful, yet profoundly pathetic, also, in her appeal to human sympathies. Out of the same original elements, the civilisation of Argos, on the other hand, developes the religion of Queen Here, a mere Demeter, at best, of gaudy flower-beds, whose toilet Homer describes with all its delicate fineries; though, characteristically, he may still allow us to detect, perhaps, some traces of the mystical person of the earth, in the all-pervading scent of the ambrosial unguent with which she anoints herself, in the abundant tresses of her hair, and in the curious variegation of her ornaments. She has become, though with some reminiscence of the mystical earth, a very limited human person, wicked, angry, jealous–the lady of Zeus in her castle-sanctuary at Mycenae, in wanton dalliance with the king, coaxing him for cruel purposes in sweet sleep, adding artificial charms to her beauty.

Such are some of the characteristics with which Greek art is discernible in that earliest age. Of themselves, they almost answer the question which next arises–Whence did art come to Greece? or was it a thing of absolutely native growth there? So some have decidedly maintained. Others, who lived in an age possessing little or no knowledge of Greek monuments anterior to the full development of art under [214] Pheidias, and who, in regard to the Greek sculpture of the age of Pheidias, were like people criticising Michelangelo, without knowledge of the earlier Tuscan school–of the works of Donatello and Mino da Fiesole–easily satisfied themselves with theories of its importation ready-made from other countries. Critics in the last century, especially, noticing some characteristics which early Greek work has in common, indeed, with Egyptian art, but which are common also to all such early work everywhere, supposed, as a matter of course, that it came, as the Greek religion also, from Egypt–that old, immemorial half-known birthplace of all wonderful things. There are, it is true, authorities for this derivation among the Greeks themselves, dazzled as they were by the marvels of the ancient civilisation of Egypt, a civilisation so different from their own, on the first opening of Egypt to Greek visitors. But, in fact, that opening did not take place till the reign of Psammetichus, about the middle of the seventh century B.C., a relatively late date. Psammetichus introduced and settled Greek mercenaries in Egypt, and, for a time, the Greeks came very close to Egyptian life. They can hardly fail to have been stimulated by that display of every kind of artistic workmanship gleaming over the whole of life; they may in turn have freshened it with new motives. And we may remark, that but for the peculiar usage of Egypt concerning the tombs of the dead, but [215] for their habit of investing the last abodes of the dead with all the appurtenances of active life, out of that whole world of art, so various and elaborate, nothing but the great, monumental works in stone would have remained to ourselves. We should have experienced in regard to it, what we actually experience too much in our knowledge of Greek art–the lack of a fitting background, in the smaller tectonic work, for its great works in architecture, and the bolder sort of sculpture.

But, one by one, at last, as in the medieval parallel, monuments illustrative of the earlier growth of Greek art before the time of Pheidias have come to light, and to a just appreciation. They show that the development of Greek art had already proceeded some way before the opening of Egypt to the Greeks, and point, if to a foreign source at all, to oriental rather than Egyptian influences; and the theory which derived Greek art, with many other Greek things, from Egypt, now hardly finds supporters. In Greece all things are at once old and new. As, in physical organisms, the actual particles of matter have existed long before in other combinations; and what is really new in a new organism is the new cohering force–the mode of life,–so, in the products of Greek civilisation, the actual elements are traceable elsewhere by antiquarians who care to trace them; the elements, for instance, of its peculiar national [216] architecture. Yet all is also emphatically autochthonous, as the Greeks said, new-born at home, by right of a new, informing, combining spirit playing over those mere elements, and touching them, above all, with a wonderful sense of the nature and destiny of man–the dignity of his soul and of his body–so that in all things the Greeks are as discoverers. Still, the original and primary motive seems, in matters of art, to have come from without; and the view to which actual discovery and all true analogies more and more point is that of a connexion of the origin of Greek art, ultimately with Assyria, proximately with Phoenicia, partly through Asia Minor, and chiefly through Cyprus–an original connexion again and again re-asserted, like a surviving trick of inheritance, as in later times it came in contact with the civilisation of Caria and Lycia, old affinities being here linked anew; and with a certain Asiatic tradition, of which one representative is the Ionic style of architecture, traceable all through Greek art–an Asiatic curiousness, or poikilia,+ strongest in that heroic age of which I have been speaking, and distinguishing some schools and masters in Greece more than others; and always in appreciable distinction from the more clearly defined and self-asserted Hellenic influence. Homer himself witnesses to the intercourse, through early, adventurous commerce, as in the bright and animated picture with which [217] the history of Herodotus begins, between the Greeks and Eastern countries. We may, perhaps, forget sometimes, thinking over the greatness of its place in the history of civilisation, how small a country Greece really was; how short the distances upwards, from island to island, to the coast of Asia, so that we can hardly make a sharp separation between Asia and Greece, nor deny, besides great and palpable acts of importation, all sorts of impalpable Asiatic influences, by way alike of attraction and repulsion, upon Greek manners and taste. Homer, as we saw, was right in making Troy essentially a Greek city, with inhabitants superior in all culture to their kinsmen on the Western shore, and perhaps proportionally weaker on the practical or moral side, and with an element of languid Ionian voluptuousness in them, typified by the cedar and gold of the chamber of Paris–an element which the austere, more strictly European influence of the Dorian Apollo will one day correct in all genuine Greeks. The Aegean, with its islands, is, then, a bond of union, not a barrier; and we must think of Greece, as has been rightly said, as its whole continuous shore.

The characteristics of Greek art, indeed, in the heroic age, so far as we can discern them, are those also of Phoenician art, its delight in metal among the rest, of metal especially as an element in architecture, the covering of everything with plates of metal. It was from [218] Phoenicia that the costly material in which early Greek art delighted actually came–ivory, amber, much of the precious metals. These the adventurous Phoenician traders brought in return for the mussel which contained the famous purple, in quest of which they penetrated far into all the Greek havens. Recent discoveries present the island of Cyprus, the great source of copper and copper- work in ancient times, as the special mediator between the art of Phoenicia and Greece; and in some archaic figures of Aphrodite with her dove, brought from Cyprus and now in the British Museum–objects you might think, at first sight, taken from the niches of a French Gothic cathedral–are some of the beginnings, at least, of Greek sculpture manifestly under the influence of Phoenician masters. And, again, mythology is the reflex of characteristic facts. It is through Cyprus that the religion of Aphrodite comes from Phoenicia to Greece. Here, in Cyprus, she is connected with some other kindred elements of mythological tradition, above all with the beautiful old story of Pygmalion, in which the thoughts of art and love are connected so closely together. First of all, on the prows of the Phoenician ships, the tutelary image of Aphrodite Euploea, the protectress of sailors, comes to Cyprus–to Cythera; it is in this simplest sense that she is, primarily, Anadyomene.+ And her connexion [219] with the arts is always an intimate one. In Cyprus her worship is connected with an architecture, not colossal, but full of dainty splendour–the art of the shrine-maker, the maker of reliquaries; the art of the toilet, the toilet of Aphrodite; the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite is full of all that; delight in which we have seen to be characteristic of the true Homer.

And now we see why Hephaestus, that crook-backed and uncomely god, is the husband of Aphrodite. Hephaestus is the god of fire, indeed; as fire he is flung from heaven by Zeus; and in the marvellous contest between Achilles and the river Xanthus in the twenty-first book of the Iliad, he intervenes in favour of the hero, as mere fire against water. But he soon ceases to be thus generally representative of the functions of fire, and becomes almost exclusively representative of one only of its aspects, its function, namely, in regard to early art; he becomes the patron of smiths, bent with his labour at the forge, as people had seen such real workers; he is the most perfectly developed of all the Daedali, Mulcibers, or Cabeiri. That the god of fire becomes the god of all art, architecture included, so that he makes the houses of the gods, and is also the husband of Aphrodite, marks a threefold group of facts; the prominence, first, of a peculiar kind of art in early Greece, that beautiful metal-work, with [220] which he is bound and bent; secondly, the connexion of this, through Aphrodite, with an almost wanton personal splendour; the connexion, thirdly, of all this with Cyprus and Phoenicia, whence, literally, Aphrodite comes. Hephaestus is the “spiritual form” of the Asiatic element in Greek art.

This, then, is the situation which the first period of Greek art comprehends; a people whose civilisation is still young, delighting, as the young do, in ornament, in the sensuous beauty of ivory and gold, in all the lovely productions of skilled fingers. They receive all this, together with the worship of Aphrodite, by way of Cyprus, from Phoenicia, from the older, decrepit Eastern civilisation, itself long since surfeited with that splendour; and they receive it in frugal quantity, so frugal that their thoughts always go back to the East, where there is the fulness of it, as to a wonder-land of art. Received thus in frugal quantity, through many generations, that world of Asiatic tectonics stimulates the sensuous capacity in them, accustoms the hand to produce and the eye to appreciate the more delicately enjoyable qualities of material things. But nowhere in all this various and exquisite world of design is there as yet any adequate sense of man himself, nowhere is there an insight into or power over human form as the expression of human soul. Yet those arts of design in which that younger people delights [221] have in them already, as designed work, that spirit of reasonable order, that expressive congruity in the adaptation of means to ends, of which the fully developed admirableness of human form is but the consummation– a consummation already anticipated in the grand and animated figures of epic poetry, their power of thought, their laughter and tears. Under the hands of that younger people, as they imitate and pass largely and freely beyond those older craftsmen, the fire of the reasonable soul will kindle, little by little, up to the Theseus of the Parthenon and the Venus of Melos.

The ideal aim of Greek sculpture, as of all other art, is to deal, indeed, with the deepest elements of man’s nature and destiny, to command and express these, but to deal with them in a manner, and with a kind of expression, as clear and graceful and simple, if it may be, as that of the Japanese flower-painter. And what the student of Greek sculpture has to cultivate generally in himself is the capacity for appreciating the expression of thought in outward form, the constant habit of associating sense with soul, of tracing what we call expression to its sources. But, concurrently with this, he must also cultivate, all along, a not less equally constant appreciation of intelligent workmanship in work, and of design in things designed, of the rational control of matter everywhere. From many sources he may feed this sense of intelligence [222] and design in the productions of the minor crafts, above all in the various and exquisite art of Japan. Carrying a delicacy like that of nature itself into every form of imitation, reproduction, and combination– leaf and flower, fish and bird, reed and water–and failing only when it touches the sacred human form, that art of Japan is not so unlike the earliest stages of Greek art as might at first sight be supposed. We have here, and in no mere fragments, the spectacle of a universal application to the instruments of daily life of fitness and beauty, in a temper still unsophisticated, as also unelevated, by the divination of the spirit of man. And at least the student must always remember that Greek art was throughout a much richer and warmer thing, at once with more shadows, and more of a dim magnificence in its surroundings, than the illustrations of a classical dictionary might induce him to think. Some of the ancient temples of Greece were as rich in aesthetic curiosities as a famous modern museum. That Asiatic poikilia,+ that spirit of minute and curious loveliness, follows the bolder imaginative efforts of Greek art all through its history, and one can hardly be too careful in keeping up the sense of this daintiness of execution through the entire course of its development. It is not only that the minute object of art, the tiny vase-painting, intaglio, coin, or cameo, often reduces into the palm of the hand lines grander than those of [223] many a life-sized or colossal figure; but there is also a sense in which it may be said that the Venus of Melos, for instance, is but a supremely well-executed object of vertu, in the most limited sense of the term. Those solemn images of the temple of Theseus are a perfect embodiment of the human ideal, of the reasonable soul and of a spiritual world; they are also the best made things of their kind, as an urn or a cup is well made.

A perfect, many-sided development of tectonic crafts, a state such as the art of some nations has ended in, becomes for the Greeks a mere opportunity, a mere starting-ground for their imaginative presentment of man, moral and inspired. A world of material splendour, moulded clay, beaten gold, polished stone;–the informing, reasonable soul entering into that, reclaiming the metal and stone and clay, till they are as full of living breath as the real warm body itself; the presence of those two elements is continuous throughout the fortunes of Greek art after the heroic age, and the constant right estimate of their action and reaction, from period to period, its true philosophy.


192. +The related Greek noun technê is defined as follows: “art, skill, regular method of making a thing.” (Liddell and Scott.)

193. *Il. xviii.468-608.

193. *Od. vii.37-132.

197. +Transliteration: porpas te gnamptas th’ helikas, kalukas te kai hormous. Translation: “delicate brooches, spriralled bracelets, rosettes, and necklaces.” Homer, Iliad 18.400.

201. +Empaestik derives from the verb empaiô, “to strike in, stamp.” (Liddell and Scott.)

210. +The names are etymological–chalkos, argyros, and chrysos signify, respectively, brass (or copper), silver, and gold.

216. +Transliteration: poikilia. Liddell and Scott definition: “embroidery . . . (metaph.) cunning.” The metaphorical sense is the one Pater invokes.

218. +Euploea . . . Anadyomene. Euploea means “fair voyage”; Anadyomene, a participial form derived from the verb anadyô, “to rise, esp. from the sea,” (Liddell-Scott) may be rendered “she who emerges from the sea.”

222. +Transliteration: poikilia. Liddell and Scott definition: “embroidery . . . (metaph.) cunning.” The metaphorical sense is the one Pater invokes.


[224] CRITICS of Greek sculpture have often spoken of it as if it had been always work in colourless stone, against an almost colourless background. Its real background, as I have tried to show, was a world of exquisite craftsmanship, touching the minutest details of daily life with splendour and skill, in close correspondence with a peculiarly animated development of human existence–the energetic movement and stir of typically noble human forms, quite worthily clothed–amid scenery as poetic as Titian’s. If shapes of colourless stone did come into that background, it was as the undraped human form comes into some of Titian’s pictures, only to cool and solemnise its splendour; the work of the Greek sculptor being seldom in quite colourless stone, nor always or chiefly in fastidiously selected marble even, but often in richly toned metal (this or that sculptor preferring some special variety of the bronze he worked in, such as the [225] hepatizôn or liver-coloured bronze, or the bright golden alloy of Corinth), and in its consummate products chryselephantine,–work in gold and ivory, on a core of cedar. Pheidias, in the Olympian Zeus, in the Athene of the Parthenon, fulfils what that primitive, heroic goldsmiths’ age, dimly discerned in Homer, already delighted in; and the celebrated work of which I have first to speak now, and with which Greek sculpture emerges from that half-mythical age and becomes in a certain sense historical, is a link in that goldsmiths’ or chryselephantine tradition, carrying us forwards to the work of Pheidias, backwards to the elaborate Asiatic furniture of the chamber of Paris.

When Pausanias visited Olympia, towards the end of the second century after Christ, he beheld, among other precious objects in the temple of Here, a splendidly wrought treasure-chest of cedar-wood, in which, according to a legend, quick as usual with the true human colouring, the mother of Cypselus had hidden him, when a child, from the enmity of her family, the Bacchiadae, then the nobility of Corinth. The child, named Cypselus after this incident (Cypsele being a Corinthian word for chest), became tyrant of Corinth, and his grateful descendants, as it was said, offered the beautiful old chest to the temple of Here, as a memorial of his preservation. That would have been not long after the year 625 B.C. So much for the [226] story which Pausanias heard–but inherent probability, and some points of detail in his description, tend to fix the origin of the chest at a date at least somewhat later; and as Herodotus, telling the story of the concealment of Cypselus, does not mention the dedication of the chest at Olympia at all, it may perhaps have been only one of many later imitations of antique art. But, whatever its date, Pausanias certainly saw the thing, and has left a long description of it, and we may trust his judgment at least as to its archaic style. We have here, then, something plainly visible at a comparatively recent date, something quite different from those perhaps wholly mythical objects described in Homer,–an object which seemed to so experienced an observer as Pausanias an actual work of earliest Greek art. Relatively to later Greek art, it may have seemed to him, what the ancient bronze doors with their Scripture histories, which we may still see in the south transept of the cathedral of Pisa, are to later Italian art.

Pausanias tells us nothing as to its size, nor directly as to its shape. It may, for anything he says, have been oval, but it was probably rectangular, with a broad front and two narrow sides, standing, as the maker of it had designed, against the wall; for, in enumerating the various subjects wrought upon it, in five rows one above another, he seems to proceed, beginning at the bottom on the right-hand side, along the front [227] from right to left, and then back again, through the second row from left to right, and, alternating thus, upwards to the last subject, at the top, on the left-hand side.

The subjects represented, most of which had their legends attached in difficult archaic writing, were taken freely, though probably with a leading idea, out of various poetic cycles, as treated in the works of those so-called cyclic poets, who continued the Homeric tradition. Pausanias speaks, as Homer does in his description of the shield of Achilles, of a kind and amount of expression in feature and gesture certainly beyond the compass of any early art, and we may believe we have in these touches only what the visitor heard from enthusiastic exegetae, the interpreters or sacristans; though any one who has seen the Bayeux tapestry, for instance, must recognise the pathos and energy of which, when really prompted by genius, even the earliest hand is capable. Some ingenious attempts have been made to restore the grouping of the scenes, with a certain formal expansion or balancing of subjects, their figures and dimensions, in true Assyrian manner, on the front and sides. We notice some fine emblematic figures, the germs of great artistic motives in after times, already playing their parts there,–Death, and Sleep, and Night. “There was a woman supporting on her right arm a white child sleeping; and on the other arm she held a dark child, as if asleep; [228] and they lay with their feet crossed. And the inscription shows, what might be understood without it, that they are Death and Sleep, and Night, the nurse of both of them.”

But what is most noticeable is, as I have already said, that this work, like the chamber of Paris, like the Zeus of Pheidias, is chryselephantine, its main fabric cedar, and the figures upon it partly of ivory, partly of gold,* but (and this is the most peculiar characteristic of its style) partly wrought out of the wood of the chest itself. And, as we read the description, we can hardly help distributing in fancy gold and ivory, respectively, to their appropriate functions in the representation. The cup of Dionysus, and the wings of certain horses there, Pausanias himself tells us were golden. Were not the apples of the Hesperides, the necklace of Eriphyle, the bridles, the armour, the unsheathed sword in the hand of Amphiaraus, also of gold? Were not the other children, like the white image of Sleep, especially the naked child Alcmaeon, of ivory? with Alcestis and Helen, and that one of the Dioscuri whose beard was still ungrown? Were not ivory and gold, again, combined in the throne of Hercules, and in the three goddesses conducted before Paris?

The “chest of Cypselus” fitly introduces the first historical period of Greek art, a period [229] coming down to about the year 560 B.C., and the government of Pisistratus at Athens; a period of tyrants like Cypselus and Pisistratus himself, men of strong, sometimes unscrupulous individuality, but often also acute and cultivated patrons of the arts. It begins with a series of inventions, one here and another there,–inventions still for the most part technical, but which are attached to single names; for, with the growth of art, the influence of individuals, gifted for the opening of new ways, more and more defines itself; and the school, open to all comers, from which in turn the disciples may pass to all parts of Greece, takes the place of the family, in which the knowledge of art descends as a tradition from father to son, or of the mere trade-guild. Of these early industries we know little but the stray notices of Pausanias, often ambiguous, always of doubtful credibility. What we do see, through these imperfect notices, is a real period of animated artistic activity, richly rewarded. Byzes of Naxos, for instance, is recorded as having first adopted the plan of sawing marble into thin plates for use on the roofs of temples instead of tiles; and that his name has come down to us at all, testifies to the impression this fair white surface made on its first spectators. Various islands of the Aegean become each the source of some new artistic device. It is a period still under the reign of Hephaestus, delighting, above all, in magnificent [230] metal-work. “The Samians,” says Herodotus, “out of a tenth part of their profits–a sum of six talents–caused a mixing vessel of bronze to be made, after the Argolic fashion; around it are projections of griffins’ heads; and they dedicated it in the temple of Here, placing beneath it three colossal figures of bronze, seven cubits in height, leaning upon their knees.” That was in the thirty-seventh Olympiad, and may be regarded as characteristic of the age. For the popular imagination, a kind of glamour, some mysterious connexion of the thing with human fortunes, still attaches to the curious product of artistic hands, to the ring of Polycrates, for instance, with its early specimen of engraved smaragdus, as to the mythical necklace of Harmonia. Pheidon of Argos first makes coined money, and the obelisci–the old nail-shaped iron money, now disused- -are hung up in the temple of Here; for, even thus early, the temples are in the way of becoming museums. Names like those of Eucheir and Eugrammus, who were said to have taken the art of baking clay vases from Samos to Etruria, have still a legendary air, yet may be real surnames; as in the case of Smilis, whose name is derived from a graver’s tool, and who made the ancient image of Here at Samos. Corinth–mater statuariae–becomes a great nursery of art at an early time. Some time before the twenty-ninth Olympiad, Butades of Sicyon, the potter, settled there. The record of [231] early inventions in Greece is sometimes fondly coloured with human sentiment or incident. It is on the butterfly wing of such an incident–the love-sick daughter of the artist, who outlines on the wall the profile of her lover as he sleeps in the lamplight, to keep by her in absence–that the name of Butades the potter has come down to us. The father fills up the outline, long preserved, it was believed, in the Nymphaeum at Corinth, and hence the art of modelling from the life in clay. He learns, further, a way of colouring his clay red, and fixes his masks along the temple eaves.

The temple of Athene Chalcioecus–Athene of the brazen house–at Sparta, the work of Gitiades, celebrated about this time as architect, statuary, and poet; who made, besides the image in her shrine, and besides other Dorian songs, a hymn to the goddess–was so called from its crust or lining of bronze plates, setting forth, in richly embossed imagery, various subjects of ancient legend. What Pausanias, who saw it, describes, is like an elaborate development of that method of covering the interiors of stone buildings with metal plates, of which the “Treasury” at Mycenae is the earliest historical, and the house of Alcinous the heroic, type. In the pages of Pausanias, that glitter, “as of the moon or the sun,” which Ulysses stood still to wonder at, may still be felt. And on the right hand of this “brazen house,” he tells us, stood an [232] image of Zeus, also of bronze, the most ancient of all images of bronze. This had not been cast, nor wrought out of a single mass of metal, but, the various parts having been finished separately (probably beaten to shape with the hammer over a wooden mould), had been fitted together with nails or rivets. That was the earliest method of uniting the various parts of a work in metal–image, or vessel, or breastplate–a method allowing of much dainty handling of the cunning pins and rivets, and one which has its place still, in perfectly accomplished metal-work, as in the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Coleoni, by Andrea Verrocchio, in the piazza of St. John and St. Paul at Venice. In the British Museum there is a very early specimen of it,–a large egg-shaped vessel, fitted together of several pieces, the projecting pins or rivets, forming a sort of diadem round the middle, being still sharp in form and heavily gilt. That method gave place in time to a defter means of joining the parts together, with more perfect unity and smoothness of surface, the art of soldering; and the invention of this art–of soldering iron, in the first instance–is coupled with the name of Glaucus of Chios, a name which, in connexion with this and other devices for facilitating the mechanical processes of art,–for perfecting artistic effect with economy of labour–became proverbial, the “art of Glaucus” being attributed to those who work well with rapidity and ease.

[233] Far more fruitful still was the invention of casting, of casting hollow figures especially, attributed to Rhoecus and Theodorus, architects of the great temple at Samos. Such hollow figures, able, in consequence of their lightness, to rest, almost like an inflated bladder, on a single point–the entire bulk of a heroic rider, for instance, on the point of his horse’s tail–admit of a much freer distribution of the whole weight or mass required, than is possible in any other mode of statuary; and the invention of the art of casting is really the discovery of liberty in composition.*

And, at last, about the year 576 B.C., we come to the first true school of sculptors, the first clear example, as we seem to discern, of a communicable style, reflecting and interpreting some real individuality (the double personality, in this case, of two brothers) in the masters who evolved it, conveyed to disciples who came to acquire it from distant places, and taking root through them at various centres, where the names of the [234] masters became attached, of course,. to many fair works really by the hands of the pupils. Dipoenus and Scyllis, these first true masters, were born in Crete; but their work is connected mainly with Sicyon, at that time the chief seat of Greek art. “In consequence of some injury done them,” it is said, “while employed there upon certain sacred images, they departed to another place, leaving their work unfinished; and, not long afterwards, a grievous famine fell upon Sicyon. Thereupon, the people of Sicyon, inquiring of the Pythian Apollo how they might be relieved, it was answered them, ‘if Dipoenus and Scyllis should finish those images of the gods’; which thing the Sicyonians obtained from them, humbly, at a great price.” That story too, as we shall see, illustrates the spirit of the age. For their sculpture they used the white marble of Paros, being workers in marble especially, though they worked also in ebony and in ivory, and made use of gilding. “Figures of cedar-wood, partly incrusted with gold”–kedrou zôdia chrysô diênthismena+–Pausanias says exquisitely, describing a certain work of their pupil, Dontas of Lacedaemon. It is to that that we have definitely come at last, in the school of Dipoenus and Scyllis.

Dry and brief as these details may seem, they are the witness to an active, eager, animated period of inventions and beginnings, in which the Greek workman triumphs over the first [235] rough mechanical difficulties which beset him in the endeavour to record what his soul conceived of the form of priest or athlete then alive upon the earth, or of the ever-living gods, then already more seldom seen upon it. Our own fancy must fill up the story of the unrecorded patience of the workshop, into which we seem to peep through these scanty notices–the fatigue, the disappointments, the steps repeated, ending at last in that moment of success, which is all Pausanias records, somewhat uncertainly.

And as this period begins with the chest of Cypselus, so it ends with a work in some respects similar, also seen and described by Pausanias–the throne, as he calls it, of the Amyclaean Apollo. It was the work of a well-known artist, Bathycles of Magnesia, who, probably about the year 550 B.C., with a company of workmen, came to the little ancient town of Amyclae, near Sparta, a place full of traditions of the heroic age. He had been invited thither to perform a peculiar task–the construction of a throne; not like the throne of the Olympian Zeus, and others numerous in after times, for a seated figure, but for the image of the local Apollo; no other than a rude and very ancient pillar of bronze, thirty cubits high, to which, Hermes-wise, head, arms, and feet were attached. The thing stood upright, as on a base, upon a kind of tomb or reliquary, in which, according to tradition, lay the remains of the young prince [236] Hyacinth, son of the founder of that place, beloved by Apollo for his beauty, and accidentally struck dead by him in play, with a quoit. From the drops of the lad’s blood had sprung up the purple flower of his name, which bears on its petals the letters of the ejaculation of woe; and in his memory the famous games of Amyclae were celebrated, beginning about the time of the longest day, when the flowers are stricken by the sun and begin to fade–a festival marked, amid all its splendour, with some real melancholy, and serious thought of the dead. In the midst of the “throne” of Bathycles, this sacred receptacle, with the strange, half-humanised pillar above it, was to stand, probably in the open air, within a consecrated enclosure. Like the chest of Cypselus, the throne was decorated with reliefs of subjects taken from epic poetry, and it had supporting figures. Unfortunately, what Pausanias tells us of this monument hardly enables one to present it to the imagination with any completeness or certainty; its dimensions he himself was unable exactly to ascertain, and he does not tell us its material. There are reasons, however, for supposing that it was of metal; and amid these ambiguities, the decorations of its base, the grave or altar-tomb of Hyacinth, shine out clearly, and are also, for the most part, clear in their significance.

“There are wrought upon the altar figures, on the one side of Biris, on the other of [237] Amphitrite and Poseidon. Near Zeus and Hermes, in speech with each other, stand Dionysus and Semele, and, beside her, Ino. Demeter, Kore, and Pluto are also wrought upon it, the Fates and the Seasons above them, and with them Aphrodite, Athene, and Artemis. They are conducting Hyacinthus to heaven, with Polyboea, the sister of Hyacinthus, who died, as is told, while yet a virgin. . . . Hercules also is figured on the tomb; he too carried to heaven by Athene and the other gods. The daughters of Thestius also are upon the altar, and the Seasons again, and the Muses.”

It was as if many lines of solemn thought had been meant to unite, about the resting-place of this local Adonis, in imageries full of some dim promise of immortal life.

But it was not so much in care for old idols as in the making of new ones that Greek art was at this time engaged. This whole first period of Greek art might, indeed, be called the period of graven images, and all its workmen sons of Daedalus; for Daedalus is the mythical, or all but mythical, representative of all those arts which are combined in the making of lovelier idols than had heretofore been seen. The old Greek word which is at the root of the name Daedalus,+ the name of a craft rather than a proper name, probably means to work curiously–all curiously beautiful wood-work is Daedal work; the main point about the curiously beautiful [238] chamber in which Nausicaa sleeps, in the Odyssey, being that, like some exquisite Swiss châlet, it is wrought in wood. But it came about that those workers in wood, whom Daedalus represents, the early craftsmen of Crete especially, were chiefly concerned with the making of religious images, like the carvers of Berchtesgaden and Oberammergau, the sort of daintily finished images of the objects of public or private devotion which such workmen would turn out. Wherever there was a wooden idol in any way fairer than others, finished, perhaps, sometimes, with colour and gilding, and appropriate real dress, there the hand of Daedalus had been. That such images were quite detached from pillar or wall, that they stood free, and were statues in the proper sense, showed that Greek art was already liberated from its earlier Eastern associations; such free-standing being apparently unknown in Assyrian art. And then, the effect of this Daedal skill in them was, that they came nearer to the proper form of humanity. It is the wonderful life-likeness of these early images which tradition celebrates in many anecdotes, showing a very early instinctive turn for, and delight in naturalism, in the Greek temper. As Cimabue, in his day, was able to charm men, almost as with illusion, by the simple device of half-closing the eyelids of his personages, and giving them, instead of round eyes, eyes that seemed to be in some degree sentient, and to feel [239] the light; so the marvellous progress in those Daedal wooden images was, that the eyes were open, so that they seemed to look,–the feet separated, so that they seemed to walk. Greek art is thus, almost from the first, essentially distinguished from the art of Egypt, by an energetic striving after truth in organic form. In representing the human figure, Egyptian art had held by mathematical or mechanical proportions exclusively. The Greek apprehends of it, as the main truth, that it is a living organism, with freedom of movement, and hence the infinite possibilities of motion, and of expression by motion, with which the imagination credits the higher sort of Greek sculpture; while the figures of Egyptian art, graceful as they often are, seem absolutely incapable of any motion or gesture, other than the one actually designed. The work of the Greek sculptor, together with its more real anatomy, becomes full also of human soul.

That old, primitive, mystical, first period of Greek religion, with its profound, though half-conscious, intuitions of spiritual powers in the natural world, attaching itself not to the worship of visible human forms, but to relics, to natural or half-natural objects–the roughly hewn tree, the unwrought stone, the pillar, the holy cone of Aphrodite in her dimly-lighted cell at Paphos–had passed away. The second stage in the development of Greek religion had come; a [240] period in which poet and artist were busily engaged in the work of incorporating all that might be retained of the vague divinations of that earlier visionary time, in definite and intelligible human image and human story. The vague belief, the mysterious custom and tradition, develope themselves into an elaborately ordered ritual– into personal gods, imaged in ivory and gold, sitting on beautiful thrones. Always, wherever a shrine or temple, great or small, is mentioned, there, we may conclude, was a visible idol, there was conceived to be the actual dwelling-place of a god. And this understanding became not less but more definite, as the temple became larger and more splendid, full of ceremony and servants, like the abode of an earthly king, and as the sacred presence itself assumed, little by little, the last beauties and refinements of the visible human form and expression.

In what we have seen of this first period of Greek art, in all its curious essays and inventions, we may observe this demand for beautiful idols increasing in Greece–for sacred images, at first still rude, and in some degree the holier for their rudeness, but which yet constitute the beginnings of the religious style, consummate in the work of Pheidias, uniting the veritable image of man in the full possession of his reasonable soul, with the true religious mysticity, the signature there of something from afar. One by one these [241] new gods of bronze, or marble, or flesh-like ivory, take their thrones, at this or that famous shrine, like the images of this period which Pausanias saw in the temple of Here at Olympia–the throned Seasons, with Themis as the mother of the Seasons (divine rectitude being still blended, in men’s fancies, with the unchanging physical order of things) and Fortune, and Victory “having wings,” and Kore and Demeter and Dionysus, already visibly there, around the image of Here herself, seated on a throne; and all chryselephantine, all in gold and ivory. Novel as these things are, they still undergo consecration at their first erecting. The figure of Athene, in her brazen temple at Sparta, the work of Gitiades, who makes also the image and the hymn, in triple service to the goddess; and again, that curious story of Dipoenus and Scyllis, brought back with so much awe to remove the public curse by completing their sacred task upon the images, show how simply religious the age still was–that this widespread artistic activity was a religious enthusiasm also; those early sculptors have still, for their contemporaries, a divine mission, with some kind of hieratic or sacred quality in their gift, distinctly felt.

The development of the artist, in the proper sense, out of the mere craftsman, effected in the first division of this period, is now complete; and, in close connexion with that busy graving of religious images, which occupies its second [242] division, we come to something like real personalities, to men with individual characteristics–such men as Ageladas of Argos, Callon and Onatas of Aegina, and Canachus of Sicyon. Mere fragment as our information concerning these early masters is at the best, it is at least unmistakeably information about men with personal differences of temper and talent, of their motives, of what we call style. We have come to a sort of art which is no longer broadly characteristic of a general period, one whose products we might have looked at without its occurring to us to ask concerning the artist, his antecedents, and his school. We have to do now with types of art, fully impressed with the subjectivity, the intimacies of the artist.

Among these freer and stronger personalities emerging thus about the beginning of the fifth century before Christ–about the period of the Persian war–the name to which most of this sort of personal quality attaches, and which is therefore very interesting, is the name of Canachus of Sicyon, who seems to have comprehended in himself all the various attainments in art which had been gradually developed in the schools of his native city–carver in wood, sculptor, brass-cutter, and toreutes; by toreuticê+ being meant the whole art of statuary in metals, and in their combination with other materials. At last we seem to see an actual person at work, and to some degree can follow, with natural curiosity, [243] the motions of his spirit and his hand. We seem to discern in all we know of his productions the results of individual apprehension–the results, as well as the limitations, of an individual talent.

It is impossible to date exactly the chief period of the activity of Canachus. That the great image of Apollo, which he made for the Milesians, was carried away to Ecbatana by the Persian army, is stated by Pausanias; but there is a doubt whether this was under Xerxes, as Pausanias says, in the year 479 B.C., or twenty years earlier, under Darius. So important a work as this colossal image of Apollo, for so great a shrine as the Didymaeum, was probably the task of his maturity; and his career may, therefore, be regarded as having begun, at any rate, prior to the year 479 B.C., and the end of the Persian invasion the event which may be said to close this period of art. On the whole, the chief period of his activity is thought to have fallen earlier, and to have occupied the last forty years of the previous century; and he would thus have flourished, as we say, about fifty years before the manhood of Pheidias, as Mino of Fiesole fifty years before the manhood of Michelangelo.

His chief works were an Aphrodite, wrought for the Sicyonians in ivory and gold; that Apollo of bronze carried away by the Persians, and restored to its place about the year B.C. 350; and a reproduction of the same work in cedar-wood [244], for the sanctuary of Apollo of the Ismenus, at Thebes. The primitive Greek worship, as we may trace it in Homer, presents already, on a minor scale, all the essential characteristics of the most elaborate Greek worship of after times– the sacred enclosure, the incense and other offerings, the prayer of the priest, the shrine itself–a small one, roofed in by the priest with green boughs, not unlike a wayside chapel in modern times, and understood to be the dwelling-place of the divine person–within, almost certainly, an idol, with its own sacred apparel, a visible form, little more than symbolical perhaps, like the sacred pillar for which Bathycles made his throne at Amyclae, but, if an actual image, certainly a rude one.

That primitive worship, traceable in almost all these particulars, even in the first book of the Iliad, had given place, before the time of Canachus at Sicyon, to a more elaborate ritual and a more completely designed image-work; and a little bronze statue, discovered on the site of Tenea, where Apollo was the chief object of worship,* the best representative of many similar marble figures– those of Thera and Orchomenus, for instance–is supposed to represent Apollo as this still early age conceived him–youthful, naked, muscular, and with the germ of the Greek profile, but formally smiling, and with a formal diadem or fillet, over the long hair which [245] shows him to be no mortal athlete. The hands, like the feet, excellently modelled, are here extended downwards at the sides; but in some similar figures the hands are lifted, and held straight outwards, with the palms upturned. The Apollo of Canachus also had the hands thus raised, and on the open palm of the right hand was placed a stag, while with the left he grasped the bow. Pliny says that the stag was an automaton, with a mechanical device for setting it in motion, a detail which hints, at least, at the subtlety of workmanship with which those ancient critics, who had opportunity of knowing, credited this early artist. Of this work itself nothing remains, but we possess perhaps some imitations of it. It is probably this most sacred possession of the place which the coins of Miletus display from various points of view, though, of course, only on the smallest scale. But a little bronze figure in the British Museum, with the stag in the right hand, and in the closed left hand the hollow where the bow has passed, is thought to have been derived from it; and its points of style are still further illustrated by a marble head of similar character, also preserved in the British Museum, which has many marks of having been copied in marble from an original in bronze. A really ancient work, or only archaic, it certainly expresses, together with all that careful patience and hardness of workmanship which is characteristic of an early age, a certain Apolline [246] strength–a pride and dignity in the features, so steadily composed, below the stiff, archaic arrangement of the long, fillet-bound locks. It is the exact expression of that midway position, between an involved, archaic stiffness and the free play of individual talent, which is attributed to Canachus by the ancients.

His Apollo of cedar-wood, which inhabited a temple near the gates of Thebes, on a rising ground, below which flowed the river Ismenus, had, according to Pausanias, so close a resemblance to that at Miletus that it required little skill in one who had seen either of them to tell what master had designed the other. Still, though of the same dimensions, while one was of cedar the other was of bronze– a reproduction one of the other we may believe, but with the modifications, according to the use of good workmen even so early as Canachus, due to the difference of the material. For the likeness between the two statues, it is to be observed, is not the mechanical likeness of those earlier images represented by the statuette of Tenea, which spoke, not of the style of one master, but only of the manufacture of one workshop. In those two images of Canachus–the Milesian Apollo and the Apollo of the Ismenus–there were resemblances amid differences; resemblances, as we may understand, in what was nevertheless peculiar, novel, and even innovating in the precise conception of the god therein set forth; [247] resemblances which spoke directly of a single workman, though working freely, of one hand and one fancy, a likeness in that which could by no means be truly copied by another; it was the beginning of what we mean by the style of a master. Together with all the novelty, the innovating and improving skill, which has made Canachus remembered, an attractive, old-world, deeply-felt mysticity seems still to cling about what we read of these early works. That piety, that religiousness of temper, of which the people of Sicyon had given proof so oddly in their dealings with those old carvers, Scyllis and Dipoenus, still survives in the master who was chosen to embody his own novelty of idea and execution in so sacred a place as the shrine of Apollo at Miletus. Something still conventional, combined, in these images, with the effect of great artistic skill, with a palpable beauty and power, seems to have given them a really imposing religious character. Escaping from the rigid uniformities of the stricter archaic style, he is still obedient to certain hieratic influences and traditions; he is still reserved, self-controlled, composed or even mannered a little, as in some sacred presence, with the severity and strength of the early style.

But there are certain notices which seem to show that he had his purely poetical motives also, as befitted his age; motives which prompted works of mere fancy, like his Muse [248] with the Lyre, symbolising the chromatic style of music; Aristocles his brother, and Ageladas of Argos executing each another statue to symbolise the two other orders of music. The Riding Boys, of which Pliny speaks, like the mechanical stag on the hand of Apollo, which he also describes, were perhaps mechanical toys, as Benvenuto Cellini made toys. In the Beardless Aesculapius, again–the image of the god of healing, not merely as the son of Apollo, but as one ever young–it is the poetry of sculpture that we see.

This poetic feeling, and the piety of temper so deeply impressed upon his images of Apollo, seem to have been combined in his chryselephantine Aphrodite, as we see it very distinctly in Pausanias, enthroned with an apple in one hand and a poppy in the other, and with the sphere, or polos, about the head, in its quaint little temple or chapel at Sicyon, with the hierokêpis, or holy garden, about it. This is what Canachus has to give us instead of the strange, symbolical cone, with the lights burning around it, in its dark cell–the form under which Aphrodite was worshipped at her famous shrine of Paphos.

“A woman to keep it fair,” Pausanias tells us, “who may go in to no man, and a virgin called the water-bearer, who holds her priesthood for a year, are alone permitted to enter the sacred place. All others may gaze upon the [249] goddess and offer their prayers from the doorway. The seated image is the work of Canachus of Sicyon. It is wrought in ivory and gold, bearing a sphere on the head, and having in the one hand a poppy and in the other an apple. They offer to her the thighs of all victims excepting swine, burning them upon sticks of juniper, together with leaves of lad’s-love, a herb found in the enclosure without, and nowhere else in the world. Its leaves are smaller than those of the beech and larger than the ilex; in form they are like an oak-leaf, and in colour resemble most the leaves of the poplar, one side dusky, the other white.”

That is a place one would certainly have liked to see. So real it seems!–the seated image, the people gazing through the doorway, the fragrant odour. Must it not still be in secret keeping somewhere?– we are almost tempted to ask; maintained by some few solitary worshippers, surviving from age to age, among the villagers of Achaia.

In spite of many obscurities, it may be said that what we know, and what we do not know, of Canachus illustrates the amount and sort of knowledge we possess about the artists of the period which he best represents. A naïveté–a freshness, an early-aged simplicity and sincerity–that, we may believe, had we their works before us, would be for us their chief aesthetic charm. Cicero remarked that, in contrast with [250] the works of the next generation of sculptors, there was a stiffness in the statues of Canachus which made them seem untrue to nature–“Canachi signa rigidiora esse quam ut imitentur veritatem.” But Cicero belongs to an age surfeited with artistic licence, and likely enough to undervalue the severity of the early masters, the great motive struggling still with the minute and rigid hand. So the critics of the last century ignored, or underrated, the works of the earlier Tuscan sculptors. In what Cicero calls “rigidity” of Canachus, combined with what we seem to see of his poetry of conception, his freshness, his solemnity, we may understand no really repellent hardness, but only that earnest patience of labour, the expression of which is constant in all the best work of an early time, in the David of Verrocchio, for instance, and in the early Flemish painters, as it is natural and becoming in youth itself. The very touch of the struggling hand was upon the work; but with the interest, the half-repressed animation of a great promise, fulfilled, as we now see, in the magnificent growth of Greek sculpture in the succeeding age; which, however, for those earlier workmen, meant the loins girt and the half-folded wings not yet quite at home in the air, with a gravity, a discretion and reserve, the charm of which, if felt in quiet, is hardly less than that of the wealth and fulness of final mastery.


228. *Chrysoun is the word Pausanias uses, of the cup in the hand of Dionysus–the wood was plated with gold. Liddell and Scott definition of the adjective chryseos: “golden, of gold, inlaid with gold.”

233. *Pausanias, in recording the invention of casting, uses the word echôneusanto, but does not tell us whether the model was of wax, as in the later process; which, however, is believed to have been the case. For an animated account of the modern process:–the core of plaister roughly presenting the designed form; the modelling of the waxen surface thereon, like the skin upon the muscles, with all its delicate touches–vein and eyebrow; the hardening of the plaister envelope, layer over layer, upon this delicately finished model; the melting of the way by heat, leaving behind it in its place the finished design in vacuo, which the molten stream of metal subsequently fills; released finally, after cooling, from core and envelope–see Fortnum’s Handbook of Bronzes, Chapter II.

+Liddell and Scott definition of the noun chônê and the verb chônnymi: “a melting-pit, a mould to cast in. . . . to throw or heap up . . . to cover with a mound of earth, bury.”

234. +Transliteration: kedrou zôdia chrysô diênthismena. Pater’s translation: “Figures of cedar-wood, partly incrusted with gold.” The root verb anthizô means “to strew with flowers…and so, to dye with colours.” (Liddell and Scott.) Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book VI, Chapter 19, Section 12. Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio, 3 vols. F. Spiro. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903.

237. +Daidaleos means “cunningly or curiously wrought”; it is derived from the verb daidallô, “to work cunningly, work with curious art….” (Liddell and Scott.)

242. +The verb toreuô means “to bore through . . . to work in relief . . . to chase.” (Liddell and Scott.)

244. *Now preserved at Munich.


[251] I HAVE dwelt the more emphatically upon the purely sensuous aspects of early Greek art, on the beauty and charm of its mere material and workmanship, the grace of hand in it, its chryselephantine character, because the direction of all the more general criticism since Lessing has been, somewhat one-sidedly, towards the ideal or abstract element in Greek art, towards what we may call its philosophical aspect. And, indeed, this philosophical element, a tendency to the realisation of a certain inward, abstract, intellectual ideal, is also at work in Greek art–a tendency which, if that chryselephantine influence is called Ionian, may rightly be called the Dorian, or, in reference to its broader scope, the European influence; and this European influence or tendency is really towards the impression of an order, a sanity, a proportion in all work, which shall reflect the inward order of human reason, now fully conscious of itself,–towards a sort of art in which the record and delineation of humanity, as active in the wide, inward world of [252] its passion and thought, has become more or less definitely the aim of all artistic handicraft.

In undergoing the action of these two opposing influences, and by harmonising in itself their antagonism, Greek sculpture does but reflect the larger movements of more general Greek history. All through Greek history we may trace, in every sphere of the activity of the Greek mind, the action of these two opposing tendencies,–the centrifugal and centripetal tendencies, as we may perhaps not too fancifully call them. There is the centrifugal, the Ionian, the Asiatic tendency, flying from the centre, working with little forethought straight before it, in the development of every thought and fancy; throwing itself forth in endless play of undirected imagination; delighting in brightness and colour, in beautiful material, in changeful form everywhere, in poetry, in philosophy, even in architecture and its subordinate crafts. In the social and political order it rejoices in the freest action of local and personal influences; its restless versatility drives it towards the assertion of the principles of separatism, of individualism–the separation of state from state, the maintenance of local religions, the development of the individual in that which is most peculiar and individual in him. Its claim is in its grace, its freedom and happiness, its lively interest, the variety of its gifts to civilisation; its weakness is self-evident, and was what made the unity of Greece impossible. [253] It is this centrifugal tendency which Plato is desirous to cure, by maintaining, over against it, the Dorian influence of a severe simplification everywhere, in society, in culture, in the very physical nature of man. An enemy everywhere to variegation, to what is cunning or “myriad-minded,” he sets himself, in mythology, in music, in poetry, in every kind of art, to enforce the ideal of a sort of Parmenidean abstractness and calm.

This exaggerated ideal of Plato’s is, however, only the exaggeration of that salutary European tendency, which, finding human mind the most absolutely real and precious thing in the world, enforces everywhere the impress of its sanity, its profound reflexions upon things as they really are, its sense of proportion. It is the centripetal tendency, which links individuals to each other, states to states, one period of organic growth to another, under the reign of a composed, rational, self-conscious order, in the universal light of the understanding.

Whether or not this temper, so clearly traceable as a distinct influence in the course of Greek development, was indeed the peculiar gift of the Dorian race, certainly that race is the best illustration of it, in its love of order, of that severe composition everywhere, of which the Dorian style of architecture is, as it were, a material symbol–in its constant aspiration after what is earnest and dignified, as exemplified most evidently in the religion of its predilection, the religion of Apollo. [254] For as that Ionian influence, the chryselephantine influence, had its patron in Hephaestus, belonged to the religion of Hephaestus, husband of Aphrodite, the representation of exquisite workmanship, of fine art in metal, coming from the East in close connexion with the artificial furtherance, through dress and personal ornament, of the beauty of the body; so that Dorian or European influence embodied itself in the religion of Apollo. For the development of this or that mythological conception, from its root in fact or law of the physical world, is very various in its course. Thus, Demeter, the spirit of life in grass,–and Dionysus, the “spiritual form” of life in the green sap,- -remain, to the end of men’s thoughts and fancies about them, almost wholly physical. But Apollo, the “spiritual form” of sunbeams, early becomes (the merely physical element in his constitution being almost wholly suppressed) exclusively ethical,–the “spiritual form” of inward or intellectual light, in all its manifestations. He represents all those specially European ideas, of a reasonable, personal freedom, as understood in Greece; of a reasonable polity; of the sanity of soul and body, through the cure of disease and of the sense of sin; of the perfecting of both by reasonable exercise or ascêsis; his religion is a sort of embodied equity, its aim the realisation of fair reason and just consideration of the truth of things everywhere.

[255] I cannot dwell on the general aspects of this subject further, but I would remark that in art also the religion of Apollo was a sanction of, and an encouragement towards the true valuation of humanity, in its sanity, its proportion, its knowledge of itself. Following after this, Greek art attained, in its reproductions of human form, not merely to the profound expression of the highest indwelling spirit of human intelligence, but to the expression also of the great human passions, of the powerful movements as well as of the calm and peaceful order of the soul, as finding in the affections of the body a language, the elements of which the artist might analyse, and then combine, order, and recompose. In relation to music, to art, to all those matters over which the Muses preside, Apollo, as distinct from Hermes, seems to be the representative and patron of what I may call reasonable music, of a great intelligence at work in art, of beauty attained through the conscious realisation of ideas. They were the cities of the Dorian affinity which early brought to perfection that most characteristic of Greek institutions, the sacred dance, with the whole gymnastic system which was its natural accompaniment. And it was the familiar spectacle of that living sculpture which developed, perhaps, beyond everything else in the Greek mind, at its best, a sense of the beauty and significance of the human form.

Into that bewildered, dazzling world of minute [256] and dainty handicraft–the chamber of Paris, the house of Alcinous–in which the form of man alone had no adequate place, and as yet, properly, was not, this Dorian, European, Apolline influence introduced the intelligent and spiritual human presence, and gave it its true value, a value consistently maintained to the end of Greek art, by a steady hold upon and preoccupation with the inward harmony and system of human personality.

In the works of the Asiatic tradition–the marbles of Nineveh, for instance–and, so far as we can see, in the early Greek art, which derives from it, as, for example, in the archaic remains from Cyprus, the form of man is inadequate, and below the measure of perfection attained there in the representation of the lower forms of life; just as in the little reflective art of Japan, so lovely in its reproduction of flower or bird, the human form alone comes almost as