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GREEK STUDIES 




MACMILLAN AND CO.. Limited 

LONDON • BOMBAY • CALCUTTA 
MELBOURNE 

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO 
ATLANTA ■ SAN FRANCISCO 

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA. Ltd. 

TORONTO 



GREEK STUDIES 



A SERIES OF ESSAYS 



BY 



WALTER PATER 



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED 

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 

1910 




V 



First Edition 1895 

Edition de Luxe 1900 

Second Edition 1901 ; Reprinted 1Q04, 1908 

Library Edition 1910 



PREFACE 

The present volume consists of a collection of 
essays by the late Mr. Pater, all of which have 
already been given to the public in various 
Magazines ; and it is owing to the kindness of 
the several proprietors of those Magazines that 
they can now be brought together in a collected 
shape. It will, it is believed, be felt, that their 
value is considerably enhanced by their appear- 
ance in a single volume, where they can throw 
light upon one another, and exhibit by their 
connexion a more complete view of the scope 
and purpose of Mr. Pater in dealing with the 
art and literature of the ancient world. 

The essays fall into two distinct groups, one 
dealing with the subjects of Greek mythology 
and Greek poetry, the other with the history of 
Greek sculpture and Greek architecture. But 
these two groups are not wholly distinct ; they 
mutually illustrate one another, and serve to 
enforce Mr. Pater's conception of the essential 

B I 



GREEK STUDIES 

unity, in all its many-sidedness, of the Greek 
character. The god understood as the "spiritual 
form " of the things of nature is not only 
the key-note of the " Study of Dionysus " ^ and 
" The Myth of Demeter and Persephone," ^ but 
reappears as contributing to the interpretation 
of the growth of Greek sculpture.^ Thus, 
though in the bibliography of his writings, 
the two groups are separated by a considerable 
interval, there is no change of view ; he had 
already reached the centre of the problem, and, 
the secret once gained, his mode of treatment 
of the different aspects of Greek life and thought 
is permanent and consistent. 

The essay on "The Myth of Demeter and 
Persephone " was originally prepared as two 
lectures, for delivery, in 1875, at the Birmingham 
and Midland Institute. These lectures were 
published in the Fortnightly Review, in Jan. and 
Feb. 1876. The "Study of Dionysus" appeared 
in the same Review in Dec. 1876. "The 
Bacchanals of Euripides " must have been 
written about the same time, as a sequel to 
the "Study of Dionysus"; for, in 1878, Mr. 
Pater revised the four essays, with the intention, 
apparently, of publishing them collectively in 
a volume, an intention afterwards abandoned. 

1 See p. 34. 2 See p. loo. ^ See pp. 220, 254. 

2 



PREFACE 

The text now printed has, except that of "The 
Bacchanals," been taken from proofs then set 
up, further corrected in manuscript. " The 
Bacchanals," written long before, was not pub- 
lished until 1889, when it appeared in Mac- 
mil Ian s Magazine for May. It was reprinted, 
without alteration, prefixed to Dr. Tyrrell's 
edition of the Bacchae. " Hippolytus Veiled " 
first appeared in August 1889, in Macmillan*s 
Magazine, It was afterwards rewritten, but 
with only a few substantial alterations, in Mr. 
Pater's own hand, with a view, probably, of 
republishing it with other essays. This last 
revise has been followed in the text now printed. 
The papers on Greek sculpture ^ are all that 
remain of a series which, if Mr. Pater had lived, 
would, probably, have grown into a still more 
important work. Such a work would have 
included one or more essays on Phidias and the 
Parthenon, of which only a fragment, though 
an important fragment, can be found amongst his 
papers ; and it was to have been prefaced by an 
Introduction to Greek Studies, only a page or 
two of which was ever written. 

* " The Beginnings ot Greek Sculpture " was published in the 
Fortnighly Review, Feb. and March 1880 ; "The Marbles of 
iEgina" in the same Review in April. "The Age of Athletic 
Prizemen " was published in the Contemporary Review in February 
of the present year. 

3 



GREEK STUDIES 

This is not the place to speak of Mr. Pater's 
private virtues, the personal charm of his char- 
acter, the brightness of his talk, the w^armth of 
his friendship, the devotion of his family life. 
But a few words may be permitted on the value 
of the work by which he will be known to those 
who never saw him. 

Persons only superficially acquainted, or by 
hearsay, with his writings, are apt to sum up his 
merits as a writer by saying that he was a master, 
or a consummate master of style ; but those who 
have really studied what he wrote do not need 
to be told that his distinction does not lie in his 
literary grace alone, his fastidious choice of 
language, his power of word-painting, but in 
the depth and seriousness of his studies. That 
the amount he has produced, in a literary life of 
thirty years, is not greater, is one proof among 
many of the spirit in which he worked. His 
genius was "an infinite capacity for taking pains." 
That delicacy of insight, that gift of penetrating 
into the heart of things, that subtleness of inter- 
pretation, which with him seems an instinct, is 
the outcome of hard, patient, conscientious study. 
If he had chosen, he might, without difficulty, 
have produced a far greater body of work of less 
value ; and from a worldly point of view, he 
would have been wise. Such was not his under- 

4 



PREFACE 

standing of the use of his talents. Cut multum 
datum est^ multum quaeretur ab eo. Those who 
wish to understand the spirit in which he worked, 
will find it in this volume. C L S 

0(t. 1894. 



CONTENTS 



rAGB 

A STUDY OF DIONYSUS: THE SPIRITUAL FORM 



OF FIRE AND DEW .... 
THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES . 
THE MYTH OF DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE— 
I 

n. ...... . 

HIPPOLYTUS VEILED : A STUDY FROM EURIPIDES 
THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE— 
I. THE HEROIC AGE OF GREEK ART 
II. THE AGE OF GRAVEN IMAGES . 
THE MARBLES OF ^GINA .... 
THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN: A CHAPTER 

IN GREEK ART 269 



9 

51 

gi 

113 
152 

187 
224 

251 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

THE SPIRITUAL FORM OF FIRE AND DEW 

Writers on mythology speak habitually of the 
religion of the Greeks. In thus speaking, they 
are really using a misleading expression, and 
should speak rather of religions ; each race and 
class of Greeks — the Dorians, the people of the 
coast, the fishers — having had a religion of its 
own, conceived of the objects that came nearest 
to it and were most in its thoughts, and the 
resulting usages and ideas never having come to 
have a precisely harmonised system, after the 
analogy of some other religions. The religion 
of Dionysus is the religion of people who pass 
their lives among the vines. As the religion of 
Demeter carries us back to the cornfields and 
farmsteads of Greece, and places us, in fancy, 
among a primitive race, in the furrow and 
beside the granary ; so the religion of Dionysus 
carries us back to its vineyards, and is a 
monument of the ways and thoughts of people 
whose days go by beside the winepress, and 

9 



i 

GREEK STUDIES 

under the green and purple shadows, and whose 
material happiness depends on the crop of grapes. 
For them the thought of Dionysus and his circle, 
a little Olympus outside the greater, covered the 
whole of life, and was a complete religion, a 
sacred representation or interpretation of the 
whole human experience, modified by the special 
limitations, the special privileges of insight or 
suggestion, incident to their peculiar mode of 
existence. 

Now, if the reader wishes to understand what 
the scope of the religion of Dionysus was to the 
Greeks who lived in it, all it represented to 
them by way of one clearly conceived yet com- 
plex symbol, let him reflect what the loss would 
be if all the effect and expression drawn from 
the imagery of the vine and the cup fell out of 
the whole body of existing poetry ; how many 
fascinating trains of reflexion, what colour and 
substance would therewith have been deducted 
from it, filled as it is, apart from the more 
aweful associations of the Christian ritual, 
apart from Galahad's cup, with all the various 
symbolism of the fruit of the vine. That 
supposed loss is but an imperfect measure of all 
that the name of Dionysus recalled to the Greek 
mind, under a single imaginable form, an out- 
ward body of flesh presented to the senses, and 
comprehending, as its animating soul, a whole 
world of thoughts, surmises, greater and less 
experiences. 

10 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

The student of the comparative science of 
religions finds in the religion of Dionysus one of 
many modes of that primitive tree-worship 
which, growing out of some universal instinctive 
belief that trees and flowers are indeed habita- 
tions of living spirits, is found almost everywhere 
in the earlier stages of civilisation, enshrined in 
legend or custom, often graceful enough, as if 
the delicate beauty of the object of worship had 
effectually taken hold on the fancy of the 
worshipper. Shelley's Sensitive Plant shows in 
what mists of poetical reverie such feeling may 
still float about a mind full of modern lights, the 
feeling we too have of a life in the green 
world, always ready to assert its claim over our 
sympathetic fancies. Who has not at moments 
felt the scruple, which is with us always regard- 
ing animal life, following the signs of animation 
further still, till one almost hesitates to pluck 
out the little soul of flower or leaf.? 

And in so graceful a faith the Greeks had 
their share ; what was crude and inane in it 
becoming, in the atmosphere of their energetic, 
imaginative intelligence, refined and humanised. 
The oak-grove of Dodona, the seat of their most 
venerable oracle, did but perpetuate the fancy 
that the sounds of the wind in the trees may be, 
for certain prepared and chosen ears, intelligible 
voices ; they could believe in the transmigration 
of souls into mulberry and laurel, mint and 
hyacinth ; and the dainty Metamorphoses of Ovid 

1 1 



GP.EEK STUDIES 

are but a fossilised form of one morsel here and 
there, from a whole world of transformation, 
with which their nimble fancy was perpetually- 
playing. "Together with them," says the 
Homeric hymn to Aphrodite, of the Hama- 
dryads, the nymphs which animate the forest 
trees, " with them, at the moment of their birth, 
grew up out of the soil, oak-tree or pine, fair, 
flourishing among the mountains. And when at 
last the appointed hour of their death has come, 
first of all, those fair trees are dried up ; the 
bark perishes from around them, and the branches 
fall away ; and therewith the soul of them 
deserts the light of the sun." 

These then are the nurses of the vine, bracing 
it with interchange of sun and shade. They 
bathe, they dance, they sing songs of enchant- 
ment, so that those who seem oddly in love with 
nature, and strange among their fellows, are still 
said to be nympholepti ; above all, they are 
weavers or spinsters, spinning or weaving with 
airiest fingers, and subtlest, many - coloured 
threads, the foliage of the trees, the petals of 
flowers, the skins of the fruit, the long thin 
stalks on which the poplar leaves are set so lightly 
that Homer compares to them, in their constant 
motion, the maids who sit spinning in the house 
of Alcinous. The nymphs of Naxos, where the 
grape-skin is darkest, weave for him a purple 
robe. Only, the ivy is never transformed, is 
visible as natural ivy to the last, pressing the 

12 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

dark outline of its leaves close upon the firm, 
white, quite human flesh of the god's forehead. 

In its earliest form, then, the religion of 
Dionysus presents us with the most graceful 
phase of this graceful worship, occupying a 
place between the ruder fancies of half-civilised 
people concerning life in flower or tree, and the 
dreamy after-fancies of the poet of the Sensitive 
Plant. He is the soul of the individual vine, 
first ; the young vine at the house-door of the 
newly married, for instance, as the vine-grower 
stoops over it, coaxing and nursing it, like a pet 
animal or a little child ; afterwards, the soul of 
the whole species, the spirit of fire and dew, 
alive and leaping in a thousand vines, as the 
higher intelligence, brooding more deeply over 
things, pursues, in thought, the generation of 
sweetness and strength in the veins of the tree, 
the transformation of water into wine, little by 
little ; noting all the influences upon it of the 
heaven above and the earth beneath ; and 
shadowing forth, in each pause of the process, 
an intervening person — what is to us but the 
secret chemistry of nature being to them the 
mediation of living spirits. So they passed on 
to think of Dionysus (naming him at last from 
the brightness of the sky and the moisture of 
the earth) not merely as the soul of the vine, 
but of all that life in flowing things of which 
the vine is the symbol, because its most emphatic 
example. At Delos he bears a son, from whom 

13 



GPvEEK STUDIES 

in turn spring the three mysterious sisters CEno, 
Spermo, and Elais, who, dwelling in the island, 
exercise respectively the gifts of turning all 
things at will into oil, and corn, and wine. In 
the Baccha of Euripides, he gives his followers, 
by miracle, honey and milk, and the water 
gushes for them from the smitten rock. He 
comes at last to have a scope equal to that of 
Demeter, a realm as wide and mysterious as hers ; 
the whole productive power of the earth is in 
him, and the explanation of its annual change. 
As some embody their intuitions of that power 
in corn, so others in wine. He is the dispenser 
of the earth's hidden wealth, giver of riches 
through the vine, as Demeter through the grain. 
And as Demeter sends the airy, dainty-wheeled 
and dainty-winged spirit of Triptolemus to bear 
her gifts abroad on all winds, so Dionysus goes 
on his eastern journey, with its many intricate 
adventures, on which he carries his gifts to 
every people. 

A little Olympus outside the greater^ I said, of 
Dionysus and his companions ; he is the centre 
of a cycle, the hierarchy of the creatures of water 
and sunlight in many degrees ; and that fantastic 
system of tree-worship places round him, not the 
fondly whispering spirits of the more graceful 
inhabitants of woodland only, the nymphs of the 
poplar and the pine, but the whole satyr circle, 
intervening between the headship of the vine 
and the mere earth, the grosser, less human 

14 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

spirits, incorporate and made visible, of the more 
coarse and sluggish sorts of vegetable strength, 
the fig, the reed, the ineradicable weed-things 
which will attach themselves, climbing about 
the vine-poles, or seeking the sun between the 
hot stones. For as Dionysus, the spiritual form 
of the vine, is of the highest human type, so the 
fig-tree and the reed have animal souls, mistake- 
able in the thoughts of a later, imperfectly re- 
membering age, for mere abstractions of animal 
nature ; Snubnose, and Sweetwine, and Silenus, 
the oldest of them all, so old that he has come 
to have the gift of prophecy. 

Quite different from them in origin and intent, 
but confused with them in form, are those other 
companions of Dionysus, Pan and his children. 
Home-spun dream of simple people, and like 
them in the uneventful tenour of his existence, 
he has almost no story ; he is but a presence ; 
the spiritual form of Arcadia, and the ways of 
human life there ; the reflexion, in sacred image 
or ideal, of its flocks, and orchards, and wild 
honey ; the dangers of its hunters ; its weariness 
in noonday heat ; its children, agile as the goats 
they tend, who run, in their picturesque rags, 
across the solitary wanderer's path, to startle 
him, in the unfamiliar upper places ; its one 
adornment and solace being the dance to the 
homely shepherd's pipe, cut by Pan first from 
the sedges of the brook Molpeia. 

Breathing of remote nature, the sense of which 

15 



GREEK STUDIES 

is so profound in the Homeric hymn to Pan, 
the pines, the foldings of the hills, the leaping 
streams, the strange echoings and dying of sound 
on the heights, " the bird, which among the 
petals of many-flowered spring, pouring out a 
dirge, sends forth her honey-voiced song," " the 
crocus and the hyacinth disorderly mixed in 
the deep grass " — things which the religion of 
Dionysus loves — Pan joins the company of the 
Satyrs. Amongst them, they give their names 
to insolence and mockery, and the finer sorts of 
malice, to unmeaning and ridiculous fear. But 
the best spirits have found in them also a certain 
human pathos, as in displaced beings, coming 
even nearer to most men, in their very rough- 
ness, than the noble and delicate person of the 
vine ; dubious creatures, half-way between the 
animal and human kinds, speculating wistfully 
on their being, because not wholly understanding 
themselves and their place in nature ; as the 
animals seem always to have this expression to 
some noticeable degree in the presence of man. 
In the later school of Attic sculpture they are 
treated with more and more of refinement, till 
in some happy moment Praxiteles conceived a 
model, often repeated, which concentrates this 
sentiment of true humour concerning them ; a 
model of dainty natural ease in posture, but with 
the legs slightly crossed, as only lowly-bred gods 
are used to carry them, and with some puzzled 
trouble of youth, you might wish for a moment 

i6 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

to smoothe away, puckering the forehead a little, 
between the pointed ears, on which the goodly 
hair of his animal strength grows low. Little 
by little, the signs of brute nature are subordin- 
ated, or disappear ; and at last, Robetta, a humble 
Italian engraver of the fifteenth century, entering 
into the Greek fancy because it belongs to all 
ages, has expressed it in its most exquisite form, 
in a design of Ceres and her children, of whom 
their mother is no longer afraid, as in the Homeric 
hymn to Pan. The puck- noses have grown 
delicate, so that, with Plato's infatuated lover, 
you may call them winsome, if you please ; and 
no one would wish those hairy little shanks away, 
with which one of the small Pans walks at her 
side, grasping her skirt stoutly ; while the other, 
the sick or weary one, rides in the arms of Ceres 
herself, who in graceful Italian dress, and decked 
airily with fruit and corn, steps across a country 
of cut sheaves, pressing it closely to her, with a 
child's peevish trouble in its face, and its small 
goat-legs and tiny hoofs folded over together, 
precisely after the manner of a little child. 

There is one element in the conception of 
Dionysus, which his connexion with the satyrs, 
Marsyas being one of them, and with Pan, from 
whom the flute passed to all the shepherds of 
Theocritus, alike illustrates, his interest, namely, 
in one of the great species of music. One form 
of that wilder vegetation, of which the Satyr 
race is the soul made visible, is the reed, which 

c 17 



GREEK STUDIES 

the creature plucks and trims into musical pipes. 
And as Apollo inspires and rules over all the 
music of strings, so Dionysus inspires and rules 
over all the music of the reed, the w^ater-plant, 
in which the ideas of w^ater and of vegetable life 
are brought close together, natural property, 
therefore, of the spirit of life in the green sap. 
I said that the religion of Dionysus was, for those 
who lived in it, a complete religion, a complete 
sacred representation and interpretation of the 
whole of life ; and as, in his relation to the vine, 
he fills for them the place of Demeter, is the life 
of the earth through the grape as she through 
the grain, so, in this other phase of his being, in 
his relation to the reed, he fills for them the place 
of Apollo ; he is the inherent cause of music and 
poetry ; he inspires ; he explains the phenomena 
of enthusiasm, as distinguished by Plato in the 
Phcedrus, the secrets of possession by a higher 
and more energetic spirit than one's own, the 
gift of self-revelation, of passing out of oneself 
through words, tones, gestures. A winged 
Dionysus, venerated at Amyclas, was perhaps 
meant to represent him thus, as the god of en- 
thusiasm, of the rising up on those spiritual 
wings, of which also we hear something in the 
Phcedrus of Plato. 

The artists of the Renaissance occupied them- 
selves much with the person and the story of 
Dionysus ; and Michelangelo, in a work still 
remaining in Florence, in which he essayed 

i8 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

with success to produce a thing which should 
pass with the critics for a piece of ancient 
sculpture, has represented him in the fulness, 
as it seems, of this enthusiasm, an image of de- 
lighted, entire surrender to transporting dreams. 
And this is no subtle after-thought of a later age, 
but true to certain finer movements of old Greek 
sentiment, though it may seem to have waited 
for the hand of Michelangelo before it attained 
complete realisation. The head of Ion leans, as 
they recline at the banquet, on the shoulder of 
Charmides ; he mutters in his sleep of things 
seen therein, but awakes as the flute -players 
enter, whom Charmides has hired for his birth- 
day supper. The soul of Callias, who sits on 
the other side of Charmides, flashes out ; he 
counterfeits, with life-like gesture, the personal 
tricks of friend or foe ; or the things he could 
never utter before, he finds words for now ; the 
secrets of life are on his lips. It is in this loosen- 
ing of the lips and heart, strictly, that Dionysus 
is the Deliverer, Eieutherios ; and of such enthusi- 
asm, or ecstasy, is, in a certain sense, an older 
patron than Apollo himself. Even at Delphi, 
the centre of Greek inspiration and of the religion 
of Apollo, his claim always maintained itself; 
and signs are not wanting that Apollo was but a 
later comer there. There, under his later reign, 
hard by the golden image of Apollo himself, near 
the sacred tripod on which the Pythia sat to 
prophesy, was to be seen a strange object — a sort 

19 



GREEK STUDIES 

of coffin or cinerary urn with the inscription, 
" Here lieth the body of Dionysus, the son of 
Semele." The pediment of the great temple 
was divided between them — Apollo with the 
nine Muses on that side, Dionysus, with perhaps 
three times three Graces, on this. A third of 
the whole year was held sacred to him ; the four 
winter months were the months of Dionysus ; and 
in the shrine of Apollo itself he was worshipped 
with almost equal devotion. 

The religion of Dionysus takes us back, then, 
into that old Greek life of the vineyards, as we 
see it on many painted vases, with much there 
as we should find it now, as we see it in Bennozzo 
Gozzoli's mediaeval fresco of the Invention of Wine 
in the Campo Santo at Pisa — the family of Noah 
presented among all the circumstances of a 
Tuscan vineyard, around the press from which 
the first wine is flowing, a painted idyll, with its 
vintage colours still opulent in decay, and not 
without its solemn touch of biblical symbolism. 
For differences, we detect in that primitive life, 
and under that Greek sky, a nimbler play of 
fancy, lightly and unsuspiciously investing all 
things with personal aspect and incident, and a 
certain mystical apprehension, now almost de- 
parted, of unseen powers beyond the material 
veil of things, corresponding to the exceptional 
vigour and variety of the Greek organisation. 
This peasant life lies, in unhistoric time, behind 
the definite forms with which poetry and a refined 

20 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

priesthood afterwards clothed the religion of 
Dionysus ; and the mere scenery and circum- 
stances of the vineyard have determined many 
things in its development. The noise of the 
vineyard still sounds in some of his epithets, 
perhaps in his best-known name — lacchus^ 
Bacchus. The masks suspended on base or 
cornice, so familiar an ornament in later Greek 
architecture, are the little faces hanging from the 
vines, and moving in the wind, to scare the birds. 
That garland of ivy, the aesthetic value of which 
is so great in the later imagery of Dionysus and 
his descendants, the leaves of which, floating 
from his hair, become so noble in the hands of 
Titian and Tintoret, w^as actually worn on the 
head for coolness ; his earliest and most sacred 
images were wrought in the wood of the vine. 
The people of the vineyard had their feast, the 
little or country Dionysia, which still lived on, side 
by side with the greater ceremonies of a later 
time, celebrated in December, the time of the 
storing of the new wine. It was then that the 
potters' fair came, calpis and amphora, together 
with lamps against the winter, laid out in order 
for the choice of buyers ; for Keramus, the 
Greek Vase, is a son of Dionysus, of wine and of 
Athene, who teaches men all serviceable and 
decorative art. Then the goat was killed, and its 
blood poured out at the root of the vines ; and 
Dionysus literally drank the blood of goats ; and, 
being Greeks, with quick and mobile sympathies, 

21 



GREEK STUDIES 

Seta-LSaifiove^, "superstitious," or rather "susceptible 
of religious impressions," some among them, 
remembering those departed since last year, add 
yet a little more, and a little wine and water for 
the dead also ; brooding how the sense of these 
things might pass below the roots, to spirits 
hungry and thirsty, perhaps, in their shadowy 
homes. But the gaiety, that gaiety which 
Aristophanes in the Acharnians has depicted with 
so many vivid touciies, as a thing of which civil 
war had deprived the villages of Attica, pre- 
ponderates over the grave. The travelling 
country show comes round with its puppets ; 
even the slaves have their holiday ; ^ the mirth 
becomes excessive ; they hide their faces under 
grotesque masks of bark, or stain them with 
wine-lees, or potters' crimson even, like the old 
rude idols painted red ; and carry in midnight 
procession such rough symbols of the productive 
force of nature as the women and children had 
best not look upon ; which will be frowned upon, 
and refine themselves, or disappear, in the feasts 
of cultivated Athens. 

Of the whole story of Dionysus, it was the 
episode of his marriage with Ariadne about 
which ancient art concerned itself oftenest, and 
with most effect. Here, although the antiquarian 

1 There were some who suspected Dionysus ot a secret demo- 
cratic interest ; though indeed he was liberator only of men's hearts, 
and i\f.vQ€fi(.v<i only because he never forgot Eleutherae, the little 
place which, in Attica, first received him. 

22 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

may still detect circumstances which link the 
persons and incidents of the legend with the 
mystical life of the earth, as symbols of its 
annual change, yet the merely human interest of 
the story has prevailed over its earlier significance ; 
the spiritual form of fire and dew has become a 
romantic lover. And as a story of romantic love, 
fullest perhaps of all the motives of classic legend 
of the pride of life, it survived with undiminished 
interest to a later world, two of the greatest 
masters of Italian painting having poured their 
whole power into it ; Titian with greater space 
of ingathered shore and mountain, and solemn 
foliage, and fiery animal life ; Tintoret with 
profounder luxury of delight in the nearness to 
each other, and imminent embrace, of glorious 
bodily presences ; and both alike with consum- 
mate beauty of physical form. Hardly less 
humanised is the Theban legend of Dionysus, the 
legend of his birth from Semele, which, out of 
the entire body of tradition concerning him, was 
accepted as central by the Athenian imagination. 
For the people of Attica, he comes from Boeotia, 
a country of northern marsh and mist, but from 
whose sombre, black marble towns came also the 
vine, the musical reed cut from its sedges, and 
the worship of the Graces, always so closely con- 
nected with the religion of Dionysus. " At 
Thebes alone," says Sophocles, " mortal women 
bear immortal gods." His mother is the 
daughter of Cadmus, himself marked out by 

23 



GREEK STUDIES 

many curious circumstances as the close kinsman 
of the earth, to which he all but returns at last, 
as the serpent, in his old age, attesting some 
closer sense lingering there of the affinity of man 
with the dust from whence he came. Semele, an 
old Greek word, as it seems, for the surface of the 
earth, the daughter of Cadmus, beloved by Zeus, 
desires to see her lover in the glory with which 
he is seen by the immortal Hera. He appears 
to her in lightning. But the mortal may not 
behold him and live. Semele gives premature 
birth to the child Dionysus ; whom, to preserve 
it from the jealousy of Hera, Zeus hides in a part 
of his thigh, the child returning into the loins of 
its father, whence in due time it is born again. 
Yet in this fantastic story, hardly less than in the 
legend of Ariadne, the story of Dionysus has 
become a story of human persons, with human 
fortunes, and even more intimately human appeal 
to sympathy ; so that Euripides, pre-eminent as 
a poet of pathos, finds in it a subject altogether 
to his mind. All the interest now turns on the 
development of its points of moral or sentimental 
significance ; the love of the immortal for the 
mortal, the presumption of the daughter of man 
who desires to see the divine form as it is ; on the 
fact that not without loss of sight, or life itself, 
can man look upon it. The travail of nature has 
been transformed into the pangs of the human 
mother ; and the poet dwells much on the 
pathetic incident of death in childbirth, making 

24 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

Dionysus, as Callimachus calls him, a seven 
months' child, cast out among its enemies, 
motherless. And as a consequence of this human 
interest, the legend attaches itself, as in an actual 
history, to definite sacred objects and places, the 
venerable relic of the wooden image which fell 
into the chamber of Semele with the lightning- 
flash, and which the piety of a later age covered 
with plates of brass ; the Ivy-Fountain near 
Thebes, the water of which was so wonderfully 
bright and sweet to drink, where the nymphs 
bathed the new-born child ; the grave of Semele, 
in a sacred enclosure grown with ancient vines, 
where some volcanic heat or flame was perhaps 
actually traceable, near the lightning-struck ruins 
of her supposed abode. 

Yet, though the mystical body of the earth is 
forgotten in the human anguish of the mother of 
Dionysus, the sense of his essence of fire and dew 
still lingers in his most sacred name, as the son 
of Semele, Dkhyrambus. We speak of a certain 
wild music in words or rhythm as dithyrambic^ 
like the dithyrambus, that is, the wild choral- 
singing of the worshippers of Dionysus. But 
Dithyrambus seems to have been, in the first 
instance, the name, not of the hymn, but of the 
god to whom the hymn is sung ; and, through 
a tangle of curious etymological speculations as 
to the precise derivation of this name, one thing 
seems clearly visible, that it commemorates, 
namely, the double birth of the vine-god ; that 

25 



GREEK STUDIES 

he is born once and again ; his birth, first of fire, 
and afterwards of dew ; the two dangers that 
beset him ; his victory over two enemies, the 
capricious, excessive heats and colds of spring. 

He is TTvptyevri^i, then, fire -born, the son of 
lightning ; lightning being to light, as regards 
concentration, what wine is to the other strengths 
of the earth. And who that has rested a hand 
on the glittering silex of a vineyard slope in 
August, where the pale globes of sweetness are 
lying, does not feel this ? It is out of the bitter 
salts of a smitten, volcanic soil that it comes up 
with the most curious virtues. The mother 
faints and is parched up by the heat which 
brings the child to the birth ; and it pierces 
through, a wonder of freshness, drawing its 
everlasting green and typical coolness out of 
the midst of the ashes ; its own stem becoming 
at last like a tangled mass of tortured metal. In 
thinking of Dionysus, then, as fire-born, the 
Greeks apprehend and embody the sentiment, 
the poetry, of all tender things which grow out 
of a hard soil, or in any sense blossom before the 
leaf, like the little mezereon-plant of English 
gardens, with its pale-purple, wine-scented flowers 
upon the leafless twigs in February, or like the 
almond-trees of Tuscany, or Aaron's rod that 
budded, or the staff in the hand of the Pope 
when Tannhauser's repentance is accepted. 

And his second birth is of the dew. The 
fire of which he was born would destroy him in 

26 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

his turn, as it withered up his mother ; a second 
danger comes ; from this the plant is protected 
by the influence of the coohng cloud, the lower 
part of his father the sky, in which it is wrapped 
and hidden, and of which it is born again, its 
second mother being, in some versions of the 
legend, Hye — the Dew. The nursery, where 
Zeus places it to be brought up, is a cave in 
Mount Nysa, sought by a misdirected ingenuity 
in many lands, but really, like the place of the 
carrying away of Persephone, a place of fantasy, 
the oozy place of springs in the hollow of the 
hillside, nowhere and everywhere, where the 
vine was " invented." The nymphs of the trees 
overshadow it from above ; the nymphs of the 
springs sustain it from below — the Hyades, those 
first leaping monads, who, as the springs become 
rain-clouds, go up to heaven among the stars, 
and descend again, as dew or shower, upon it ; 
so that the religion of Dionysus connects itself, 
not with tree-worship only, but also with ancient 
water-worship, the worship of the spiritual forms 
of springs and streams. To escape from his 
enemies Dionysus leaps into the sea, the original 
of all rain and springs, whence, in early summer, 
the women of Elis and Argos were wont to call 
him, with the singing of a hymn. And again, 
in thus commemorating Dionysus as born of the 
dew, the Greeks apprehend and embody the 
sentiment, the poetry, of water. For not the 
heat only, but its solace — the freshness of the 

27 



GREEK STUDIES 

cup — this too was felt by those people of the 
vineyard, whom the prophet Melampus had 
taught to mix always their wine with water, and 
with whom the watering of the vines became a 
religious ceremony ; the very dead, as they 
thought, drinking of and refreshed by the 
stream. And who that has ever felt the heat 
of a southern country does not know this poetry, 
the motive of the loveliest of all the works 
attributed to Giorgioiie, the Fete Champetre in 
the Louvre ; the intense sensations, the subtle 
and far-reaching symbolisms, which, in these 
places, cling about the touch and sound and 
sight of it ? Think of the darkness of the well 
in the breathless court, with the delicate ring of 
ferns kept alive just within the opening ; of the 
sound of the fresh water flowing through the 
wooden pipes into the houses of Venice, on 
summer mornings ; of the cry Acqua fresca I at 
Padua or Verona, when the people run to buy 
what they prize, in its rare purity, more than 
wine, bringing pleasures so full of exquisite 
appeal to the imagination, that, in these streets, 
the very beggars, one thinks, might exhaust all 
the philosophy of the epicurean. 

Out of all these fancies comes the vine- 
growers' god, the spiritual form of fire and dew. 
Beyond the famous representations of Dionysus 
in later art and poetry — the Bacchanals of 
Euripides, the statuary of the school of Praxiteles 
— a multitude of literary allusions and local 

28 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

customs carry us back to this world of vision 
unchecked by positive knowledge, in which the 
myth is begotten among a primitive people, as they 
wondered over the life of the thing their hands 
helped forward, till it became for them a kind 
of spirit, and their culture of it a kind of worship. 
Dionysus, as we see him in art and poetry, is the 
projected expression of the ways and dreams of 
this primitive people, brooded over and harmon- 
ised by the energetic Greek imagination ; the 
religious imagination of the Greeks being, pre- 
cisely, a unifying or identifying power, bringing 
together things naturally asunder, making, as it 
were, for the human body a soul of waters, for 
the human soul a body of flowers ; welding into 
something like the identity of a human person- 
ality the whole range of man's experiences of 
a given object, or series of objects — all their 
outward qualities, and the visible facts regarding 
them — all the hidden ordinances by which those 
facts and qualities hold of unseen forces, and have 
their roots in purely visionary places. 

Dionysus came later than the other gods to 
the centres of Greek life ; and, as a consequence 
of this, he is presented to us in an earlier stage 
of development than they ; that element of 
natural fact which is the original essence of all 
mythology being more unmistakeably impressed 
upon us here than in other myths. Not the 
least interesting point in the study of him is, 
that he illustrates very clearly, not only the 

29 



GREEK STUDIES 

earlier, but also a certain later influence of this 
element of natural fact, in the development of 
the gods of Greece. For the physical sense, 
latent in it, is the clue, not merely to the original 
signification of the incidents of the divine story, 
but also to the source of the peculiar imaginative 
expression Vv^hich its persons subsequently retain, 
in the forms of the higher Greek sculpture. 
And this leads me to some general thoughts on 
the relation of Greek sculpture to mythology, 
which may help to explain what the function of 
the imagination in Greek sculpture really was, 
in its handling of divine persons. 

That Zeus is, in earliest, original, primitive 
intention, the open sky, across which the thunder 
sometimes sounds, and from which the rain 
descends — is a fact which not only explains the 
various stories related concerning him, but de- 
termines also the expression which he retained 
in the work of Pheidias, so far as it is possible 
to recall it, long after the growth of those later 
stories had obscured, for the minds of his wor- 
shippers, his primary signification. If men felt, 
as Arrian tells us, that it was a calamity to die 
without having seen the Zeus of Olympia ; that 
was because they experienced the impress there 
of that which the eye and the whole being of 
man love to find above him ; and the genius of 
Pheidias had availed to shed, upon the gold and 
ivory of the physical form, the blandness, the 
breadth, the smile of the open sky ; the mild 

30 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

heat of it still coming and going, in the face of 
the father of all the children of sunshine and 
shower ; as if one of the great white clouds had 
composed itself into it, and looked down upon 
them thus, out of the midsummer noonday : so 
that those things might be felt as warm, and 
fresh, and blue, by the young and the old, the 
weak and the strong, who came to sun them- 
selves in the god's presence, as procession and 
hymn rolled on, in the fragrant and tranquil 
courts of the great Olympian temple ; while all 
the time those people consciously apprehended 
in the carved image of Zeus none but the 
personal, and really human, characteristics. 

Or think, again, of the Zeus of Dodona. 
The oracle of Dodona, with its dim grove of 
oaks, and sounding instruments of brass to 
husband the faintest whisper in the leaves, was 
but a great consecration of that sense of a 
mysterious will, of which people still feel, or 
seem to feel, the expression, in the motions of 
the wind, as it comes and goes, and which 
makes it, indeed, seem almost more than a mere 
symbol of the spirit within us. For Zeus was, 
indeed, the god of the winds also ; iEolus, their 
so-called god, being only his mortal minister, as 
having come, by long study of them, through 
signs in the fire and the like, to have a certain 
communicable skill regarding them, in relation 
to practical uses. Now, suppose a Greek 
sculptor to have proposed to himself to present 

31 



GREEK STUDIES 

to his worshippers the image of this Zeus of 
Dodona, who is in the trees and on the currents 
of the air. Then, if he had been a really 
imaginative sculptor, working as Pheidias worked, 
the very soul of those moving, sonorous creatures 
would have passed through his hand, into the 
eyes and hair of the image ; as they can actually 
pass into the visible expression of those who have 
drunk deeply of them ; as we may notice, some- 
times, in our walks on mountain or shore. 

Victory again — Nike — associated so often with 
Zeus — on the top of his staff, on the foot of his 
throne, on the palm of his extended hand — 
meant originally, mythologic science tells us, 
only the great victory of the sky, the triumph 
of morning over darkness. But that physical 
morning of her origin has its ministry to the 
later aesthetic sense also. For if Nike, when she 
appears in company with the mortal, and wholly 
fleshly hero, in whose chariot she stands to guide 
the horses, or whom she crowns with her garland 
of parsley or bay, or whose names she writes on a 
shield, is imaginatively conceived, it is because the 
old skyey influences are still not quite suppressed 
in her clear-set eyes, and the dew of the morning 
still clings to her wings and her floating hair. 

The office of the imagination, then, in Greek 
sculpture, in its handling of divine persons, is 
thus to condense the impressions of natural 
things into human form ; to retain that early 
mystical sense of water, or wind, or light, in the 

32 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

moulding of eye and brow ; to arrest it, or rather, 
perhaps, to set it free, there, as human expression. 
The body of man, indeed, was for the Greeks, 
still the genuine work of Prometheus ; its con- 
nexion with earth and air asserted in many a 
legend, not shaded down, as with us, through 
innumerable stages of descent, but direct and im- 
mediate ; in precise contrast to our physical theory 
of our life, which never seems to fade, dream 
over it as we will, out of the light of common 
day. The oracles with their messages to human 
intelligence from birds and springs of water, or 
vapours of the earth, were a witness to that con- 
nexion. Their story went back, as they believed, 
with unbroken continuity, and in the very places 
where their later life was lived, to a past, stretch- 
ing beyond, yet continuous with, actual memory, 
in which heaven and earth mingled ; to those 
who were sons and daughters of stars, and streams, 
and dew ; to an ancestry of grander men and 
women, actually clothed in, or incorporate with, 
the qualities and influences of those objects ; and 
we can hardly over-estimate the influence on 
the Greek imagination of this mythical connexion 
with the natural world, at not so remote a date, 
and of the solemnising power exercised thereby 
over their thoughts. In this intensely poetical 
situation, the historical Greeks, the Athenians of 
the age of Pericles, found themselves ; it was as 
if the actual roads on which men daily walk, 
went up and on, into a visible wonderland. 
D 33 



GREEK STUDIES 

With such habitual impressions concerning 
the body, the physical nature of man, the Greek 
sculptor, in his later day, still free in imagination, 
through the lingering influence of those early 
dreams, may have more easily infused into human 
form the sense of sun, or lightning, or cloud, 
to which it was so closely akin, the spiritual 
flesh allying itself happily to mystical meanings, 
and readily expressing seemingly unspeakable 
qualities. But the human form is a limiting 
influence also ; and in proportion as art im- 
pressed human form, in sculpture or in the 
drama, on the vaguer conceptions of the Greek 
mind, there was danger of an escape from them 
of the free spirit of air, and light, and sky. 
Hence, all through the history of Greek art, 
there is a struggle, a Streben^ as the Germans 
say, between the palpable and limited human 
form, and the floating essence it is to contain. 
On the one hand, was the teeming, still fluid 
world, of old beliefs, as we see it reflected in 
the somewhat formless theogony of Hesiod ; a 
world, the Titanic vastness of which is congruous 
with a certain sublimity of speech, when he has 
to speak, for instance, of motion or space ; as the 
Greek language itself has a primitive copious- 
ness and energy of words, for wind, fire, water, 
cold, sound — attesting a deep susceptibility to the 
impressions of those things — yet with edges, most 
often, melting into each other. On the other 
hand, there was that limiting, controlling tendency, 

34 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

identified with the Dorian influence in the history 
of the Greek mind, the spirit of a severe and 
wholly self- conscious intelligence ; bent on 
impressing everywhere, in the products of the 
imagination, the definite, perfectly conceivable 
human form, as the only worthy subject of art ; 
less in sympathy with the mystical genealogies 
of Hesiod, than with the heroes of Homer, end- 
ing in the entirely humanised religion of Apollo, 
the clearly understood humanity of the old Greek 
warriors in the marbles of iEgina. The represent- 
ation of man, as he is or might be, became the 
aim of sculpture, and the achievement of this 
the subject of its whole history ; one early carver 
had opened the eyes, another the lips, a third 
had given motion to the feet ; in various ways, 
in spite of the retention of archaic idols, the 
genuine human expression had come, with the 
truthfulness of life itself. 

These two tendencies, then, met and struggled 
and were harmonised in the supreme imagina- 
tion, of Pheidias, in sculpture — of iEschylus, in 
the drama. Hence, a series of wondrous person- 
alities, of which the Greek imagination became 
the dwelling-place ; beautiful, perfectly under- 
stood human outlines, embodying a strange, 
delightful, lingering sense of clouds and water 
and sun. Such a world, the world of really 
imaginative Greek sculpture, we still see, re- 
flected in many a humble vase or battered 
coin, in Bacchante, and Centaur, and Amazon ; 

35 



GREEK STUDIES 

evolved out of that " vasty deep *' ; with most 
command, in the consummate fragments of the 
Parthenon ; not, indeed, so that he who runs 
may read, the gifts of Greek sculpture being 
always delicate, and asking much of the receiver ; 
but yet visible, and a pledge to us, of creative 
power, as, to the worshipper, of the presence, 
which, without that material pledge, had but 
vaguely haunted the fields and groves. 

This, then, was what the Greek imagination 
did for men's sense and experience of natural 
forces, in Athene, in Zeus, in Poseidon ; for 
men's sense and experience of their own bodily 
qualities — swiftness, energy, power of concen- 
trating sight and hand and foot on a momentary 
physical act — in the close hair, the chastened 
muscle, the perfectly poised attention of the 
quoit-player; for men's sense, again, of ethical 
qualities — restless idealism, inward vision, power 
of presence through that vision in scenes behind 
the experience of ordinary men — in the idealised 
Alexander. 

To illustrate this function of the imagination, 
as especially developed in Greek art, we may 
reflect on what happens with us in the use of 
certain names, as expressing summarily, this 
name for you and that for me. — Helen, Gretchen, 
Mary — a hundred associations, trains of sound, 
forms, impressions, remembered in all sorts of 
degrees, which, through a very wide and full 
experience, they have the power of bringing with 

36 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

them ; in which respect, such names are hut 
revealing instances of the whole significance, 
power, and use of language in general. Well, — 
the mythical conception, projected at last, in 
drama or sculpture, is the name^ the instrument 
of the identification, of the given matter, — of 
its unity in variety, its outline or definition in 
mystery ; its spiritual form^ to use again the 
expression I have borrowed from William Blake 
— form, with hands, and lips, and opened eyelids 
— spiritual, as conveying to us, in that, the soul of 
rain, or of a Greek river, or of swiftness, or purity. 
To illustrate this, think what the effect would 
be, if you could associate, by some trick of 
memory, a certain group of natural objects, in all 
their varied perspective, their changes of colour 
and tone in varying light and shade, with the 
being and image of an actual person. You 
travelled through a country of clear rivers and 
wide meadows, or of high windy places, or of 
lowly grass and willows, or of the Lady of the 
Lake; and all the complex impressions of these 
objects wound themselves, as a second animated 
body, new and more subtle, around the person 
of some one left there, so that they no longer 
come to recollection apart from each other. Now 
try to conceive the image of an actual person, in 
whom, somehow, all those impressions of the 
vine and its fruit, as the highest type of the life 
of the green sap, had become incorporate ; — all 
the scents and colours of its flower and fruit, and 

37 



GREEK STUDIES 

something of its curling foliage ; the chances of 
its growth ; the enthusiasm, the easy flow of more 
choice expression, as its juices mount within one ; 
for the image is eloquent, too, in word, gesture, 
and glancing of the eyes, which seem to be 
informed by some soul of the vine within it : as 
Wordsworth says. 

Beauty born of murmuring sound 
Shall pass into her face — 

so conceive an image into which the beauty, 
" born " of the vine, has passed ; and you have 
the idea of Dionysus, as he appears, entirely 
fashioned at last by central Greek poetry and 
art, and is consecrated in the Olvo(f>6pia and the 
* KvOearripLa, the great festivals of the Winepress 
and the Flowers, 

The word wine, and with it the germ of the 
myth of Dionysus, is older than the separation of 
the Indo-Germanic race. Yet, with the people 
of Athens, Dionysus counted as the youngest of 
the gods ; he was also the son of a mortal, dead 
in childbirth, and seems always to have exercised 
the charm of the latest born, in a sort of allowable 
fondness. Through the fine-spun speculations of 
modern ethnologists and grammarians, noting the 
changes in the letters of his name, and catching 
at the slightest historical records of his worship, 
we may trace his coming from Phrygia, the 
birthplace of the more mystical elements of 

38 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

Greek religion, over the mountains of Thrace. 
On the heights of Pangaeus he leaves an oracle, 
with a perpetually burning fire, famous down 
to the time of Augustus, who reverently visited 
it. Southwards still, over the hills of Parnassus, 
which remained for the inspired women of 
Boeotia the centre of his presence, he comes 
to Thebes, and the family of Cadmus. From 
Boeotia he passes to Attica ; to the villages first ; 
at last to Athens ; at an assignable date, under 
Peisistratus ; out of the country, into the town. 

To this stage of his town-life, that Dionysus 
of " enthusiasm " already belonged ; it was to 
the Athenians of the town, to urbane young 
men, sitting together at the banquet, that those 
expressions of a sudden eloquence came, of the 
loosened utterance and finer speech, its colour and 
imagery. Dionysus, then, has entered Athens, 
to become urbane like them ; to walk along the 
marble streets in frequent procession, in the 
persons of noble youths, like those who at the 
Oschophoria bore the branches of the vine from 
his temple, to the temple oi Athene of the Parasol^ 
or of beautiful slaves ; to contribute through the 
arts to the adornment of life, yet perhaps also 
in part to weaken it, relaxing ancient austerity. 
Gradually, his rough country feasts will be out- 
done by the feasts of the town ; and as comedy 
arose out of those, so these will give rise to 
tragedy. For his entrance upon this new stage of 
his career, his coming into the town, is from the 

39 



GREEK STUDIES 

first tinged with melancholy, as if in entering 
the town he had put off his country peace. The 
other Olympians are above sorrow. Dionysus, 
like a strenuous mortal hero, like Hercules or 
Perseus, has his alternations of joy and sorrow, 
of struggle and hard-won triumph. It is out of 
the sorrows of Dionysus, then, — of Dionysus in 
winter — that all Greek tragedy grows ; out of 
the song of the sorrows of Dionysus, sung at his 
winter feast by the chorus of satyrs, singers clad 
in goat-skins, in memory of his rural life, one 
and another of whom, from time to time, steps 
out of the company to emphasise and develope 
this or that circumstance of the story ; and so 
the song becomes dramatic. He will soon forget 
that early country life, or remember it but as 
the dreamy background of his later existence. 
He will become, as always in later art and poetry, 
of dazzling whiteness ; no longer dark with the 
air and sun, but like one eV/cmr/jo^T/zcw? — brought up 
under the shade of Eastern porticoes or pavilions, 
or in the light that has only reached him softened 
through the texture of green leaves ; honey-pale, 
like the delicate people of the city, like the 
flesh of women, as those old vase-painters con- 
ceive of it, v/ho leave their hands and faces un- 
touched with the pencil on the white clay. The 
ruddy god of the vineyard, stained with wine- 
lees, or coarser colour, will hardly recognise his 
double, in the white, graceful, mournful figure, 
weeping, chastened, lifting up his arms in yearn- 

40 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

ing affection towards his late-found mother, as we 
sec him on a famous Etruscan mirror. Only, in 
thinking of this early tragedy, of these town- 
feasts, and of the entrance of Dionysus into 
Athens, you must suppose, not the later Athens 
which is oftenest in our thoughts, the Athens of 
Pericles and Pheidias ; but that little earlier 
Athens of Peisistratus, which the Persians 
destroyed, which some of us perhaps would 
rather have seen, in its early simplicity, than the 
greater one ; when the old image of the god, 
carved probably out of the stock of an enormous 
vine, had just come from the village of Eleuthers 
to his first temple in the Lenceum — the quarter 
of the winepresses, near the Limna — the marshy 
place, which in Athens represents the cave of 
Nysa ; its little buildings on the hill-top, still 
with steep rocky ways, crowding round the 
ancient temple of Erechtheus and the grave of 
Cecrops, with the old miraculous olive-tree still 
growing there, and the old snake of Athene 
Polias still alive somewhere in the temple court. 

The artists of the Italian Renaissance have 
treated Dionysus many times, and with great 
effect, but always in his joy, as an embodiment of 
that glory of nature to which the Renaissance 
was a return. But in an early engraving of 
Mocetto there is for once a Dionysus treated 
differently. The cold light of the background 
displays a barren hill, the bridge and towers of 

41 



GREEK STUDIES 

an Italian town, and quiet water. In the fore- 
ground, at the root of a vine, Dionysus is sitting, 
in a posture of statuesque weariness ; the leaves 
of the vine are grandly drawn, and wreathing 
heavily round the head of the god, suggest the 
notion of his incorporation into it. The right 
hand, holding a great vessel languidly and in- 
differently, lets the stream of wine flow along 
the earth ; while the left supports the forehead, 
shadowing heavily a face, comely, but full of an 
expression of painful brooding. One knows not 
how far one may really be from the mind of the 
old Italian engraver, in gathering from his 
design this impression of a melancholy and 
sorrowing Dionysus. But modern motives are 
clearer ; and in a Bacchus by a young Hebrew 
painter, in the exhibition of the Royal Academy 
of 1868, there was a complete and very fascinat- 
ing realisation of such a motive ; the god of the 
bitterness of wine, " of things too sweet " ; the 
sea-water of the Lesbian grape become some- 
what brackish in the cup. Touched by the 
sentiment of this subtler, melancholy Dionysus, 
we may ask whether anything similar in feeling is 
to be actually found in the range of Greek ideas ; 
— had some antitype of this fascinating figure 
any place in Greek religion P Yes ; in a certain 
darker side of the double god of nature, obscured 
behind the brighter episodes of Thebes and 
Naxos, but never quite forgotten, something 
corresponding to this deeper, more refined idea, 

42 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

really existed — the conception of Dionysus 
Zagreus ; an image, which has left, indeed, but 
little effect in Greek art and poetry, which 
criticism has to put patiently together, out of 
late, scattered hints in various writers ; but 
which is yet discernible, clearly enough to show 
that it really visited certain Greek minds here 
and there ; and discernible, not as a late after- 
thought, but as a tradition really primitive, and 
harmonious with the original motive of the idea 
of Dionysus. In its potential, though unrealised 
scope, it is perhaps the subtlest dream in Greek 
religious poetry, and is, at least, part of the 
complete physiognomy of Dionysus, as it actually 
reveals itself to the modern student, after a 
complete survey. 

The whole compass of the idea of Dionysus, 
a dual god of both summer and winter, became 
ultimately, as we saw, almost identical with that 
of Demeter. The Phrygians believed that the 
god slept in winter and awoke in summer, and 
celebrated his waking and sleeping ; or that he 
was bound and imprisoned in winter, and un- 
bound in spring. We saw how, in Elis and at 
Argos, the women called him out of the sea, 
with the singing of hymns, in early spring ; and 
a beautiful ceremony in the temple at Delphi, 
which, as we know, he shares with Apollo, 
described by Plutarch, represents his mystical 
resurrection. Yearly, about the time of the 
shortest day, just as the light begins to increase, 

43 



GREEK STUDIES 

and while hope is still tremulously strung, the 
priestesses of Dionysus were wont to assemble 
with many lights at his shrine, and there, with 
songs and dances, awoke the new-born child 
after his wintry sleep, waving in a sacred cradle, 
like the great basket used for winnowing corn, a 
symbolical image, or perhaps a real infant. He 
is twofold then — a D'dppelganger ; like Perse- 
phone, he belongs to two worlds, and has much 
in common with her, and a full share of those 
dark possibilities which, even apart from the story 
of the rape, belong to her. He is a Chthonian 
god, and, like all the children of the earth, has 
an element of sadness ; like Hades himself, he is 
hollow and devouring, an eater of man's flesh — 
sarcophagus — the grave which consumed unaware 
the ivory-white shoulder of Pelops. 

And you have no sooner caught a glimpse of 
this image, than a certain perceptible shadow 
comes creeping over the whole story ; for, in 
effect, we have seen glimpses of the sorrowing 
Dionysus, all along. Part of the interest of the 
Theban legend of his birth is that he comes of 
the marriage of a god with a mortal woman ; 
and from the first, like merely mortal heroes, he 
falls within the sphere of human chances. At 
first, indeed, the melancholy settles round the 
person of his mother, dead in childbirth, and 
ignorant of the glory of her son ; in shame, 
according to Euripides ; punished, as her own 
sisters allege, for impiety. The death of Semele 

44 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

is a sort of ideal or type of this peculiar claim 
on human pity, as the descent of Persephone 
into Hades, of all human pity over the early 
death of women. Accordingly, his triumph 
being now consummated, he descends into 
Hades, through the unfathomable Alcyonian 
lake, according to the most central version of 
the legend, to bring her up from thence ; and 
that Hermes, the shadowy conductor of souls, is 
constantly associated with Dionysus, in the story 
of his early life, is not without significance in 
this connexion. As in Delphi the winter 
months were sacred to him, so in Athens his 
feasts all fall within the four months on this and 
the other side of the shortest day ; as Persephone 
spends those four months — a third part of the 
year — in Hades. Son or brother of Persephone 
he actually becomes at last, in confused, half- 
developed tradition ; and even has his place, 
with his dark sister, in the Eleusinian mysteries, 
as lacchus ; where, on the sixth day of the feast, 
in the great procession from Athens to Eleusis, 
we may still realise his image, moving up and 
down above the heads of the vast multitude, as 
he goes, beside " the two" to the temple of 
Demeter, amid the light of torches at noonday. 

But it was among the mountains of Thrace 
that this gloomier element in the being of 
Dionysus had taken the strongest hold. As in 
the sunny villages of Attica the cheerful elements 
of his religion had been developed, so, in those 

45 



GREEK STUDIES 

wilder northern regions, people continued to 
brood over its darker side, and hence a current 
of gloomy legend descended into Greece. The 
subject of the Bacchanals of Euripides is the in- 
fatuated opposition of Pentheus, king of Thebes, 
to Dionysus and his religion ; his cruelty to the 
god, whom he shuts up in prison, and who 
appears on the stage with his delicate limbs 
cruelly bound, but who is finally triumphant ; 
Pentheus, the man of grief, being torn to pieces 
by his own mother, in the judicial madness sent 
upon her by the god. In this play, Euripides 
has only taken one of many versions of the same 
story, in all of which Dionysus is victorious, his 
enemy being torn to pieces by the sacred women, 
or by wild horses, or dogs, or the fangs of cold ; 
or the maenad Ambrosia, whom he is supposed to 
pursue for purposes of lust, suddenly becomes a 
vine, and binds him down to the earth inex- 
tricably, in her serpentine coils. 

In all these instances, then, Dionysus punishes 
his enemies by repaying them in kind. But a 
deeper vein of poetry pauses at the sorrow, and 
irk the conflict does not too soon anticipate the 
final triumph. It is Dionysus himself who 
exhausts these sufferings. Hence, in many forms 
— reflexes of all the various phases of his wintry 
existence — the image of Dionysus Zagreus, the 
Hunter — of Dionysus in winter — storming wildly 
on the dark Thracian hills, from which, like 
Ares and Boreas, he originally descends into 

46 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

Greece ; the thought of the hunter concentrat- 
ing into itself all men's forebodings over the 
departure of the year at its richest, and the death 
of all sweet things in the long-continued cold, 
when the sick and the old and little children, 
gazing out morning after morning on the dun 
sky, can hardly believe in the return any more 
of a bright day. Or he is connected with the 
fears, the dangers and hardships of the hunter 
himself, lost or slain sometimes, far from home, 
in the dense woods of the mountains, as he seeks 
his meat so ardently ; becoming, in his chase, 
almost akin to the wild beasts — to the wolf, who 
comes before us in the name of Lycurgus, one of 
his bitterest enemies — and a phase, therefore, of 
his own personality, in the true intention of the 
myth. This transformation, this image of the 
beautiful soft creature become an enemy of 
human kind, putting off himself in his madness, 
wronged by his own fierce hunger and thirst, 
and haunting, with terrible sounds, the high 
Thracian farms, is the most tragic note of the 
whole picture, and links him on to one of the 
gloomiest creations of later romance, the were- 
wolf, the belief in which still lingers in Greece, 
as in France, where it seems to become in- 
corporate in the darkest of all romantic histories, 
that of Gilles de Retz. 

And now we see why the tradition of human 
sacrifice lingered on in Greece, in connexion 
with Dionysus, as a thing of actual detail, and 

47 



GREEK STUDIES 

not remote, so that Dionysius of Halicarnassus 
counts it among the horrors of Greek religion. 
That the sacred women of Dionysus ate, in 
mystical ceremony, raw flesh, and drank blood, 
is a fact often mentioned, and commemorates, as 
it seems, the actual sacrifice of a fair boy deliber- 
ately torn to pieces, fading at last into a symbolical 
offering. At Delphi, the wolf was preserved for 
him, on the principle by which Venus loves the 
dove, and Hera peacocks ; and there were places 
in which, after the sacrifice of a kid to him, a 
curious mimic pursuit of the priest who had 
offered it represented the still surviving horror 
of one who had thrown a child to the wolves. 
The three daughters of Minyas devote themselves 
to his worship ; they cast lots, and one of them 
offers her own tender infant to be torn by the 
three, like a roe ; then the other women pursue 
them, and they are turned into bats, or moths, 
or other creatures of the night. And fable is 
endorsed by history ; Plutarch telling us how, 
before the battle of Salamis, with the assent of 
Themistocles, three Persian captive youths were 
offered to Dionysus the Devour er. 

As, then, some embodied their fears of winter 
in Persephone, others embodied them in Dionysus, 
a devouring god, whose sinister side (as the best 
wine itself has its treacheries) is illustrated in the 
dark and shameful secret society described by 
Livy, in which his worship ended at Rome, 
afterwards abolished by solemn act of the senate. 

48 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

He becomes a new Aidoneus, a hunter of men's 
souls ; like him, to be appeased only by costly 
sacrifices. 

And then, Dionysus recovering from his mid- 
winter madness, how intensely these people con- 
ceive the spring ! It is that triumphant Dionysus, 
cured of his great malady, and sane in the clear 
light of the longer days, whom Euripides in the 
Bacchanals sets before us, as still, essentially, the 
Hunter, Zagreus ; though he keeps the red 
streams and torn flesh away from the delicate 
body of the god, in his long vesture of white 
and gold, and fragrant with Eastern odours. Of 
this I hope to speak in another paper ; let me 
conclude this by one phase more of religious 
custom. 

If Dionysus, like Persephone, has his gloomy 
side, like her he has also a peculiar message for 
a certain number of refined minds, seeking, in 
the later days of Greek religion, such modifica- 
tions of the old legend as may minister to ethical 
culture, to the perfecting of the moral nature. 
A type of second birth, from first to last, he 
opens, in his series of annual changes, for minds 
on the look-out for it, the hope of a possible 
analogy, between the resurrection of nature, and 
something else, as yet unrealised, reserved for 
human souls ; and the beautiful, weeping creature, 
vexed by the wind, suffering, torn to pieces, and 
rejuvenescent again at last, like a tender shoot of 
living green out of the hardness and stony dark- 

E 49 



GREEK STUDIES 

ness of the earth, becomes an emblem or ideal 
of chastening and purification, and of final victory 
through suffering. It is the finer, mystical senti- 
ment of the few, detached from the coarser and 
more material religion of the many, and accom- 
panying it, through the course of its history, as 
its ethereal, less palpable, life-giving soul, and, 
as always happens, seeking the quiet, and not too 
anxious to make itself felt by others. With some 
unfixed, though real, place in the general scheme 
of Greek religion, this phase of the worship of 
Dionysus had its special development in the 
Orphic literature and mysteries. Obscure as are 
those followers of the mystical Orpheus, we yet 
certainly see them, moving, and playing their 
part, in the later ages of Greek religion. Old 
friends with new faces, though they had, as Plato 
witnesses, their less worthy aspect, in certain 
appeals to vulgar, superstitious fears, they seem 
to have been not without the charm of a real 
and inward religious beauty, with their neologies, 
their new readings of old legends, their sense of 
mystical second meanings, as they refined upon 
themes grown too familiar, and linked, in a 
sophisticated age, the new to the old. In this 
respect, we may perhaps liken them to the 
mendicant orders in the Middle Ages, with their 
florid, romantic theology, beyond the bounds of 
orthodox tradition, giving so much new matter 
to art and poetry. They are a picturesque 
addition, also, to the exterior of Greek life, with 

SO 



A STUDY OF DIONYSUS 

their white dresses, their dirges, their fastings 
and ecstasies, their outward asceticism and material 
purifications. And the central object of their 
worship comes before us as a tortured, persecuted, 
slain god — the suffering Dionysus — of whose 
legend they have their own special and esoteric 
version. That version, embodied in a supposed 
Orphic poem, The Occultat'wn of Dionysus ^ is 
represented only by the details that have passed 
from it into the almost endless Dionysiaca of 
Nonnus, a writer of the fourth century ; and the 
imagery has to be put back into the shrine, bit 
by bit, and finally incomplete. Its central point 
is the picture of the rending to pieces of a divine 
child, of whom a tradition, scanty indeed, but 
harmonious in its variations, had long maintained 
itself. It was in memory of it, that those who 
were initiated into the Orphic mysteries tasted of 
the raw flesh of the sacrifice, and thereafter ate 
flesh no more ; and it connected itself with that 
strange object in the Delphic shrine, the grave 
of Dionysus. 

Son, first, of Zeus, and of Persephone whom 
Zeus woos, in the form of a serpent — the white, 
golden-haired child, the best-beloved of his 
father, and destined by him to be the ruler of 
the world, grows up in secret. But one day, 
Zeus, departing on a journey in his great fond- 
ness for the child, delivered to him his crown 
and staff, and so left him — shut in a strong tower. 
Then it came to pass that the jealous Here sent 

51 



GREEK STUDIES 

out the Titans against him. They approached 
the crowned child, and with many sorts of play- 
things enticed him away, to have him in their 
power, and then miserably slew him — hacking 
his body to pieces, as the wind tears the vine, 
with the axe Pelekus, which, like the swords of 
Roland and Arthur, has its proper name. The 
fragments of the body they boiled in a great 
cauldron, and made an impious banquet upon 
them, afterwards carrying the bones to Apollo, 
whose rival the young child should have been, 
thinking to do him service. But Apollo, in 
great pity for this his youngest brother, laid the 
bones in a grave, within his own holy place. 
Meanwhile, Here, full of her vengeance, brings 
to Zeus the heart of the child, which she had 
snatched, still beating, from the hands of the 
Titans. But Zeus delivered the heart to Semele ; 
and the soul of the child remaining awhile in 
Hades, where Demeter made for it new flesh, 
was thereafter born of Semele — a second Zagreus 
— the younger, or Theban Dionysus. 



52 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

So far, I have endeavoured to present, with some- 
thing of the concrete character of a picture, 
Dionysus, the old Greek god, as we may discern 
him through a multitude of stray hints in art 
and poetry and religious custom, through modern 
speculation on the tendencies of early thought, 
through traits and touches in our own actual 
states of mind, which may seem sympathetic 
with those tendencies. In such a picture there 
must necessarily be a certain artificiality ; things 
near and far, matter of varying degrees of certainty, 
fact and surmise, being reflected and concentrated, 
for its production, as if on the surface of a mirror. 
Such concrete character, however, Greek poet or 
sculptor, from time to time, impressed on the 
vague world of popular belief and usage around 
him ; and in the Bacchanals of Euripides we have 
an example of the figurative or imaginative power 
of poetry, selecting and combining, at will, from 
that mixed and floating mass, weaving the many- 
coloured threads together, blending the various 
phases of legend — all the light and shade of the 

53 



GREEK STUDIES 

subject — into a shape, substantial and firmly set, 
through which a mere fluctuating tradition might 
retain a permanent place in men's imaginations. 
Here, in what Euripides really says, in what we 
actually see on the stage, as we read his play, 
we are dealing with a single real object, not with 
uncertain effects of many half- fancied objects. 
Let me leave you for a time almost wholly in 
his hands, while you look very closely at his 
work, so as to discriminate its outlines clearly. 

This tragedy of the Bacchanals — a sort of 
masque or morality, as we say — a monument as 
central for the legend of Dionysus as the Homeric 
hymn for that of Demeter, is unique in Greek 
literature, and has also a singular interest in the 
life of Euripides himself. He is writing in old 
age (the piece was not played till after his death) 
not at Athens, nor for a polished Attic audience, 
but for a wilder and less temperately cultivated 
sort of people, at the court of Archelaus, in 
Macedonia. Writing in old age, he is in that 
subdued mood, a mood not necessarily sordid, in 
which (the shudder at the nearer approach of the 
unknown world coming over him more fre- 
quently than of old) accustomed ideas, conform- 
able to a sort of common sense regarding the 
unseen, oftentimes regain what they may have 
lost, in a man's allegiance. It is a sort of 
madness, he begins to think, to differ from the 
received opinions thereon. Not that he is 
insincere or ironical, but that he tends, in the 

54 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

sum of probabilities, to dwell on their more 
peaceful side ; to sit quiet, for the short remain- 
ing time, in the reflexion of the more cheerfully 
lighted side of things ; and what is accustomed 
— what holds of familiar usage — comes to seem 
the whole essence of wisdom, on all subjects ; 
and the well-known delineation of the vague 
country, in Homer or Hesiod, one's best attain- 
able mental outfit, for the journey thither. 
With this sort of quiet wisdom the whole play 
is penetrated. Euripides has said, or seemed to 
say, many things concerning Greek religion, at 
variance with received opinion ; and now, in the 
end of life, he desires to make his peace — what 
shall at any rate be peace with men. He is in the 
mood for acquiescence, or even for a palinode ; 
and this takes the direction, partly of mere 
submission to, partly of a refining upon, the 
authorised religious tradition : he calmly sophisti- 
cates this or that element of it which had 
seemed grotesque ; and has, like any modern 
writer, a theory how myths were made, and how 
in lapse of time their first signification gets to be 
obscured among mortals ; and what he submits 
to, that he will also adorn fondly, by his genius 
for words. 

And that very neighbourhood afforded him 
his opportunity. It was in the neighbourhood 
of Pella, the Macedonian capital, that the 
worship of Dionysus, the newest of the gods, 
prevailed in its most extravagant form — the 

55 



GREEK STUDIES 

Thtasus^ or wild, nocturnal procession of Bacchic 
women, retired to the woods and hills for that 
purpose, with its accompaniments of music, and 
lights, and dancing. Rational and moderate 
Athenians, as we may gather from some admis- 
sions of Euripides himself, somewhat despised all 
that ; while those who were more fanatical 
forsook the home celebrations, and went on 
pilgrimage from Attica to Cithaeron or Delphi. 
But at Pella persons of high birth took part in 
the exercise, and at a later period we read in 
Plutarch how Olympias, the mother of Alexander 
the Great, was devoted to this enthusiastic 
worship. Although in one of Botticelli's pictures 
the angels dance very sweetly, and may represent 
many circumstances actually recorded in the 
Hebrew scriptures, yet we hardly understand the 
dance as a religious ceremony ; the bare mention 
of it sets us thinking on some fundamental 
differences between the pagan religions and our 
own. It is to such ecstasies, however, that all 
nature -worship seems to tend ; that giddy, 
intoxicating sense of spring — that tingling in the 
veins, sympathetic with the yearning life of the 
earth, having, apparently, in all times and places, 
prompted some mode of wild dancing. Coleridge, 
in one of his fantastic speculations, refining on 
the German word for enthusiasm — Schwdrmerei, 
swarming, as he says, " like the swarming of bees 
together " — has explained how the sympathies of 
mere numbers, as such, the random catching on 

56 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

fire of one here and another there, when people 
are collected together, generates as if by mere 
contact, some new and rapturous spirit, not 
traceable in the individual units of a multitude. 
Such swarming was the essence of that strange 
dance of the Bacchic women : literally like 
winged things, they follow, with motives, we 
may suppose, never quite made clear even to 
themselves, their new, strange, romantic god. 
Himself a woman-like god, — it was on women 
and feminine souls that his power mainly fell. 
At Elis, it was the women who had their own 
little song with which at spring-time they pro- 
fessed to call him from the sea : at Brasias they 
had their own temple where none but women 
might enter ; and so the Thiasus^ also, is almost 
exclusively formed of women — of those w^ho 
experience most directly the influence of things 
which touch thought through the senses — the 
presence of night, the expectation of morning, 
the nearness of wild, unsophisticated, natural 
things — the echoes, the coolness, the noise of 
frightened creatures as they climbed through the 
darkness, the sunrise seen from the hill-tops, the 
disillusion, the bitterness of satiety, the deep 
slumber which comes with the morning. 
Athenians visiting the Macedonian capital would 
hear, and from time to time actually see, some- 
thing of a religious custom, in which the habit 
of an earlier world might seem to survive. As 
they saw the lights flitting over the mountains, 

57 



GREEK STUDIES 

and heard the wild, sharp cries of the women, 
there was presented, as a singular fact in the 
more prosaic actual life of a later time, an 
enthusiasm otherwise relegated to the wonderland 
of a distant past, in which a supposed primitive 
harmony and understanding between man and 
nature renewed itself. Later sisters of Centaur 
and Amazon, the Maenads, as they beat the earth 
in strange sympathy with its waking up from 
sleep, or as, in the description of the Messenger, 
in the play of Euripides, they lie sleeping in the 
glen, revealed among the morning mists, were 
themselves indeed as remnants — flecks left here 
and there and not yet quite evaporated under the 
hard light of a later and commoner day — of a 
certain cloud-world which had once covered all 
things with a veil of mystery. Whether or not, 
in what was often probably coarse as well as 
extravagant, there may have lurked some finer 
vein of ethical symbolism, such as Euripides hints 
at — the soberer influence, in the Thiasus, of keen 
air and animal expansion, certainly, for art, and a 
poetry delighting in colour and form, it was a 
custom rich in suggestion. The imitative arts 
would draw from it altogether new motives of 
freedom and energy, of freshness in old forms. 
It is from this fantastic scene that the beautiful 
wind-touched draperies, the rhythm, the heads 
suddenly thrown back, of many a Pompeian wall- 
painting and sarcophagus -frieze are originally 
derived ; and that melting languor, that perfectly 

58 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

composed lassitude of the fallen Msnad, became 
a fixed type in the school of grace, the school of 
Praxiteles. 

The circumstances of the place thus combining 
with his peculiar motive, Euripides writes the 
Bacchanals. It is this extravagant phase of 
religion, and the latest-born of the gods, which 
as an amende honorable to the once slighted tradi- 
tions of Greek belief, he undertakes to interpret 
to an audience composed of people who, like 
Scyles, the Hellenising king of Scythia, feel the 
attraction of Greek religion and Greek usage, 
but on their quainter side, and partly relish that 
extravagance. Subject and audience alike stimu- 
late the romantic temper, and the tragedy of the 
Bacchanals^ with its innovations in metre and 
diction, expressly noted as foreign or barbarous — 
all the charm and grace of the clear-pitched 
singing of the chorus, notwithstanding — with 
its subtleties and sophistications, its grotesques, 
mingled with and heightening a real shudder at 
the horror of the theme, and a peculiarly fine 
and human pathos, is almost wholly without the 
reassuring calm, generally characteristic of the 
endings of Greek tragedy : is itself excited, 
troubled, disturbing — a spotted or dappled thing, 
like the oddly dappled fawn -skins of its own 
masquerade, so aptly expressive of the shifty, 
twofold, rapidly-doubling genius of the divine, 
wild creature himself. Let us listen and watch 
the strange masks coming and going, for a while, 

59 



GREEK STUDIES 

as far as may be as we should do with a modern 
play. What are its charms ? What is still alive, 
impressive, and really poetical for us, in the dim 
old Greek play ? 

The scene is laid at Thebes, where the 
memory of Semele, the mother of Dionysus, is 
still under a cloud. Her own sisters, sinning 
against natural affection, pitiless over her pathetic 
death and finding in it only a judgment upon the 
impiety with which, having shamed herself with 
some mortal lover, she had thrown the blame of 
her sin upon Zeus, have, so far, triumphed over 
her. The true and glorious version of her story 
lives only in the subdued memory of the two 
aged men, Teiresias the prophet, and her father 
Cadmus, apt now to let things go loosely by, 
who has delegated his royal power to Pentheus, 
the son of one of those sisters — a hot-headed 
and impious youth. So things had passed at 
Thebes ; and now a strange circumstance has 
happened. An odd sickness has fallen upon the 
women : Dionysus has sent the sting of his 
enthusiasm upon them, and has pushed it to a 
sort of madness, a madness which imitates the 
true Thiasus, Forced to have the form without 
the profit of his worship, the whole female 
population, leaving distaff and spindle, and headed 
by the three princesses, have deserted the town, 
and are lying encamped on the bare rocks, or 
under the pines, among the solitudes of Cithasron. 
And it is just at this point that the divine child, 

60 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

supposed to have perished at his mother's side in 
the flames, returns to his birthplace, grown to 
manhood. 

Dionysus himself speaks the prologue. He 
is on a journey through the world to found a 
new religion ; and the first motive of this new 
religion is the vindication of the memory of his 
mother. In explaining this design, Euripides, 
who seeks always for pathetic effect, tells in few 
words, touching because simple, the story of 
Semele — here, and again still more intensely in 
the chorus which follows — the merely human 
sentiment of maternity being not forgotten, even 
amid the thought of the divine embraces of her 
fiery bed-fellow. It is out of tenderness for her 
that the son's divinity is to be revealed. A 
yearning affection, the affection with which we 
see him lifting up his arms about her, satisfied 
at last, on an old Etruscan metal mirror, has led 
him from place to place : everywhere he has 
had his dances and established his worship ; and 
everywhere his presence has been her justifica- 
tion. First of all the towns in Greece he comes 
to Thebes, the scene of her sorrows : he is 
standing beside the sacred waters of Dirce and 
Ismenus : the holy place is in sight : he hears 
the Greek speech, and sees at last the ruins of 
the place of her lying-in, at once his own birth- 
chamber and his mother's tomb. His image, as 
it detaches itself little by little from the episodes 
of the play, and is further characterised by the 

6i 



GREEK STUDIES 

songs of the chorus, has a singular completeness 
of symbolical effect. The incidents of a fully 
developed human personality are superinduced 
on the mystical and abstract essence of that 
fiery spirit in the flowing veins of the earth — 
the aroma of the green w^orld is retained in the 
fair human body, set forth in all sorts of finer 
ethical lights and shades — with a wonderful kind 
of subtlety. In the course of his long progress 
from land to land, the gold, the flowers, the 
incense of the East, have attached themselves 
deeply to him : their effect and expression rest 
now upon his flesh like the gleaming of that old 
ambrosial ointment of which Homer speaks as 
resting ever on the persons of the gods, and 
cling to his clothing — the mitre binding his 
perfumed yellow hair — the long tunic down to 
the white feet, somewhat womanly, and the 
fawn -skin, with its rich spots, wrapped about 
the shoulders. As the door opens to admit 
him, the scented air of the vineyards (for the 
vine-blossom has an exquisite perfume) blows 
through ; while the convolvulus on his mystic 
rod represents all wreathing flowery things what- 
ever, with or without fruit, as in America all 
such plants are still called vines, " Sweet upon 
the mountains," the excitement of which he loves 
so deeply and to which he constantly invites his 
followers — "sweet upon the mountains," and 
profoundly amorous, his presence embodies all 
the voluptuous abundance of Asia, its beating 

62 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

sun, its " fair-towered cities, full of inhabitants," 
which the chorus describe in their luscious 
vocabulary, with the rich Eastern names — Lydia, 
Persia, Arabia Felix : he is a sorcerer or an en- 
chanter, the tyrant Pentheus thinks : the springs 
of water, the flowing of honey and milk and 
wine, are his miracles, wrought in person. 

We shall see presently how, writing for that 
northern audience, Euripides crosses the Theban 
with the gloomier Thracian legend, and lets the 
darker stain show through. Yet, from the first, 
amid all this floweriness, a touch or trace of that 
gloom is discernible. The fawn-skin, composed 
now so daintily over the shoulders, may be worn 
with the whole coat of the animal made up, the 
hoofs gilded and tied together over the right 
shoulder, to leave the right arm disengaged to 
strike, its head clothing the human head within, 
as Alexander, on some of his coins, looks out 
from the elephant's scalp, and Hercules out of 
the jaws of a lion, on the coins of Camarina. 
Those diminutive golden horns attached to the 
forehead, represent not fecundity merely, nor 
merely the crisp tossing of the waves of streams, 
but horns of offence. And our fingers must be- 
ware of the thyrsus^ tossed about so wantonly by 
himself and his chorus. The pine-cone at its top 
does but cover a spear-point ; and the thing is a 
weapon — the sharp spear of the hunter Zagreus 
— though hidden now by the fresh leaves, and 
that button of pine-cone (useful also to dip in 

63 



GREEK STUDIES 

wine, to check the sweetness) which he has 
plucked down, coming through the forest, at 
peace for a while this spring morning. 

And the chorus emphasise this character, 
their songs weaving for the whole piece, in 
words more effective than any painted scenery, 
a certain congruous background which heightens 
all ; the intimate sense of mountains and moun- 
tain things being in this way maintained 
throughout, and concentrated on the central 
figure. "He is sweet among the mountains," 
they say, " when he drops down upon the plain, 
out of his mystic musings" — and we may think 
we see the green festoons of the vine dropping 
quickly, from foot-place to foot-place, down the 
broken hill-side in spring, when like the Bac- 
chanals, all who can, wander out of the town to 
enjoy the earliest heats. " Let us go out into 
the fields," we say ; a strange madness seems to 
lurk among the flowers, ready to lay hold on 

us also ; avrUa r^a irda-a xopev<ret SOOn the whole 

earth will dance and sing. 

Dionysus is especially a woman's deity, and 
he comes from the east conducted by a chorus 
of gracious Lydian women, his true sisters — 
Bassarids, clad like himself in the long tunic, 
or bassara. They move and speak to the music 
of clangorous metallic instruments, cymbals and 
tambourines, relieved by the clearer notes of the 
pipe ; and there is a strange variety of almost 
imitative sounds for such music, in their very 

64 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

words. The Homeric hymn to Demeter pre- 
cedes the art of sculpture, but is rich in sugges- 
tions for it ; here, on the contrary, in the first 
chorus of the Bacchanals, as elsewhere in the 
play, we feel that the poetry of Euripides is 
probably borrowing something from art ; that 
in these choruses, with their repetitions and 
refrains, he is reproducing perhaps the spirit of 
some sculptured relief which, like Luca della 
Robbia's celebrated work for the organ-loft of 
the cathedral of Florence, worked by various 
subtleties of line, not in the lips and eyes only, 
but in the drapery and hands also, to a strange 
reality of impression of musical effect on visible 
things. 

They beat their drums before the palace ; 
and then a humourous little scene, a reflex of 
the old Dionysiac comedy — of that laughter 
which was an essential element of the earliest 
worship of Dionysus — follows the first chorus. 
The old blind prophet Teiresias, and the aged 
king Cadmus, always secretly true to him, have 
agreed to celebrate the Thiasus, and accept his 
divinity openly. The youthful god has no- 
where said decisively that he will have none 
but young men in his sacred dance. But for 
that purpose they must put on the long tunic, 
and that spotted skin which only rustics wear, 
and assume the thyrsus and ivy-crown. Teiresias 
arrives and is seen knocking at the doors. And 
then, just as in the medieval mystery, comes the 

F 65 



GREEK STUDIES 

inevitable grotesque, not unwelcome to our poet, 
who is wont in his plays, perhaps not altogether 
consciously, to intensify by its relief both the 
pity and the terror of his conceptions. At the 
summons of Teiresias, Cadmus appears, already 
arrayed like him in the appointed ornaments, 
in all their odd contrast with the infirmity and 
staidness of old age. Even in old men's veins 
the spring leaps again, and they are more than 
ready to begin dancing. But they are shy of 
the untried dress, and one of them is blind — m-ot 

tei "XppeveLv ; ttoI KaOca-rdvat "rroSa ; koX Kpara aeia-ai 

ttoXlov ; and then the difficulty of the way ! the 
long, steep journey to the glens ! may pilgrims 
boil their peas ? might they proceed to the place 
in carriages ? At last, while the audience laugh 
more or less delicately at their aged fumblings, 
in some co-operative manner, the eyes of the 
one combining with the hands of the other, 
the pair are about to set forth. 

Here Pentheus is seen approaching the palace 
in extreme haste. He has been absent from 
home, and returning, has just heard of the state 
of things at Thebes — the strange malady of the 
women, the dancings, the arrival of the mysteri- 
ous stranger : he finds all the women departed 
from the town, and sees Cadmus and Teiresias in 
masque. Like the exaggerated diabolical figures 
in some of the religious plays and imageries of 
the Middle Age, he is an impersonation of stupid 
impiety, one of those whom the gods willing to 

66 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

destroy first infatuate. Alternating between glib 
unwisdom and coarse mockery, between violence 
and a pretence of moral austerity, he understands 
only the sorriest motives ; thinks the whole thing 
feigned, and fancies the stranger, so effeminate, so 
attractive of women with whom he remains day 
and night, but a poor sensual creature, and the 
real motive of the Bacchic women the indulg- 
ence of their lust ; his ridiculous old grandfather 
he is ready to renounce, and accuses Teiresias of 
having in view only some fresh source of pro- 
fessional profit to himself in connexion with some 
new-fangled oracle ; his petty spite avenges itself 
on the prophet by an order to root up the sacred 
chair, where he sits to watch the birds for 
divination, and disturb the order of his sacred 
place ; and even from the moment of his en- 
trance the mark of his doom seems already set 
upon him, in an impotent trembling which 
others notice in him. Those of the women 
who still loitered, he has already caused to be 
shut up in the common prison ; the others, with 
Ino, Autonoe, and his own mother. Agave, he 
will hunt out of the glens ; while the stranger 
is threatened with various cruel forms of death. 
But Teiresias and Cadmus stay to reason with 
him, and induce him to abide wisely with them ; 
the prophet fittingly becomes the interpreter of 
Dionysus, and explains the true nature of the 
visitor ; his divinity, the completion or counter- 
part of that of Demeter ; his gift of prophecy ; 

6/ 



GREEK STUDIES 

all the soothing influences he brings with him ; 
above all, his gift of the medicine of sleep to 
weary mortals. But the reason of Pentheus is 
already sickening, and the judicial madness 
gathering over it. Teiresias and Cadmus can 
but " go pray." So again, not without the 
laughter of the audience, supporting each other 
a little grotesquely against a fall, they get away 
at last. 

And then, again, as in those quaintly carved 
and coloured imageries of the Middle Age — the 
martyrdom of the youthful Saint Firmin, for 
instance, round the choir at Amiens — comes the 
full contrast, with a quite medieval simplicity 
and directness, between the insolence of the 
tyrant, now at last in sight of his prey, and the 
outraged beauty of the youthful god, meek, 
surrounded by his enemies, like some fair wild 
creature in the snare of the hunter. Dionysus 
has been taken prisoner ; he is led on to the 
stage, with his hands bound, but still holding 
the thyrsus. Unresisting he had submitted him- 
self to his captors ; his colour had not changed ; 
with a smile he had bidden them do their will, 
so that even they are touched with awe, and are 
almost ready to admit his divinity. Marvel- 
lously white and red, he stands there ; and now, 
unwilling to be revealed to the unworthy, and 
requiring a fitness in the receiver, he represents 
himself, in answer to the inquiries of Pentheus, 
not as Dionysus, but simply as the god's prophet, 

68 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

in full trust in whom he desires to hear his 
sentence. Then the long hair falls to the ground 
under the shears ; the mystic wand is torn from 
his hand, and he is led away to be tied up, like 
some dangerous wild animal, in a dark place 
near the king's stables. 

Up to this point in the play, there has been 
a noticeable ambiguity as to the person of 
Dionysus, the main figure of the piece ; he is in 
part Dionysus, indeed ; but in part, only his 
messenger, or minister preparing his way ; a 
certain harshness of effect in the actual appear- 
ance of a god upon the stage being in this way 
relieved, or made easy, as by a gradual revelation 
in two steps. To Pentheus, in his invincible 
ignorance, his essence remains to the last un- 
revealed, and even the women of the chorus 
seem to understand in him, so far, only the 
forerunner of their real leader. As he goes away 
bound, therefore, they too, threatened also in 
their turn with slavery, invoke his greater 
original to appear and deliver them. In pathetic 
cries they reproach Thebes for rejecting them — 
Ti fi dvatvei, rl fie (f)€v<y€i<i ; yet they foretell his 
future greatness ; a new Orpheus, he will more 
than renew that old miraculous reign over 
animals and plants. Their song is full of 
suggestions of wood and river. It is as if, for a 
moment, Dionysus became the suffering vine 
again ; and the rustle of the leaves and water 
come through their words to refresh it. The 

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GREEK STUDIES 

fountain of Dirce still haunted by the virgins of 
Thebes, where the infant god was cooled and 
washed from the flecks of his fiery birth, becomes 
typical of the coolness of all springs, and is made, 
by a really poetic licence, the daughter of the 
distant Achelous — the earliest born, the father in 
myth, of all Greek rivers. 

A giddy sonorous scene of portents and 
surprises follows — a distant, exaggerated, dramatic 
reflex of that old thundering tumult of the festival 
in the vineyard — in which Dionysus reappears, 
miraculously set free from his bonds. First, in 
answer to the deep-toned invocation of the chorus, 
a great voice is heard from within, proclaiming 
him to be the son of Semele and Zeus. Then, 
amid the short, broken, rapturous cries of the 
women of the chorus, proclaiming him master, 
the noise of an earthquake passes slowly ; the 
pillars of the palace are seen waving to and fro ; 
while the strange, memorial fire from the tomb 
of Semele blazes up and envelopes the whole 
building. The terrified women fling themselves 
on the ground ; and then, at last, as the place is 
shaken open, Dionysus is seen stepping out from 
among the tottering masses of the mimic palace, 
bidding them arise and fear not. But just here 
comes a long pause in the action of the play, in 
which we must listen to a messenger newly 
arrived from the glens, to tell us what he has 
seen there, among the Maenads. The singular, 
somewhat sinister beauty of this speech, and a 

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THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

similar one subsequent — a fair description of 
morning on the mountain-tops, with the Bacchic 
women sleeping, which turns suddenly to a hard, 
coarse picture of animals cruelly rent — is one of 
the special curiosities which distinguish this play ; 
and, as it is wholly narrative, I shall give it in 
English prose, abbreviating, here and there, 
some details which seem to have but a metrical 
value : — 

" I was driving my herd of cattle to the 
summit of the scaur to feed, what time the sun 
sent forth his earliest beams to warm the earth. 
And lo ! three companies of women, and at the 
head of one of them Autonoe, thy mother Agave 
at the head of the second, and Ino at the head of 
the third. And they all slept, with limbs re- 
laxed, leaned against the low boughs of the pines, 
or with head thrown heedlessly among the oak- 
leaves strewn upon the ground — all in the sleep 
of temperance, not, as thou saidst, pursuing 
Cypris through the solitudes of the forest, 
drunken with wine, amid the low rustling of 
the lotus-pipe. 

" And thy mother, when she-heard the lowing 
of the kine, stood up in the midst of them, and 
cried to them to shake off sleep. And they, 
casting slumber from their eyes, started upright, 
a marvel of beauty and order, young and old 
and maidens yet unmarried. And first, they let 
fall their hair upon their shoulders ; and those 

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GREEK STUDIES 

whose cinctures were unbound re-composed the 
spotted fawn-skins, knotting them about with 
snakes, which rose and licked them on the chin. 
Some, lately mothers, who with breasts still 
swelling had left their babes behind, nursed in 
their arms antelopes, or wild whelps of wolves, 
and yielded them their milk to drink ; and upon 
their heads they placed crowns of ivy or of oak, 
or of flowering convolvulus. Then one, taking 
a thyrsus-wand, struck with it upon a rock, and 
thereupon leapt out a fine rain of water ; another 
let down a reed upon the earth, and a fount of 
wine was sent forth there ; and those whose 
thirst was for a white stream, skimming the 
surface with their finger-tips, gathered from it 
abundance of milk ; and from the ivy of the 
mystic wands streams of honey distilled. Verily ! 
hadst thou seen these things, thou wouldst have 
worshipped whom now thou revilest. 

" And we shepherds and herdsmen came 
together to question with each other over this 
matter — what strange and terrible things they 
do. And a certain wayfarer from the city, 
subtle in speech, spake to us — ' O ! dwellers 
upon these solemn ledges of the hills, will ye 
that we hunt down, and take, amid her revelries. 
Agave, the mother of Pentheus, according to 
the king's pleasure ? ' And he seemed to us to 
speak wisely ; and we lay in wait among the 
bushes ; and they, at the time appointed, began 
moving their wands for the Bacchic dance, 

72 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

calling with one voice upon Bromius ! — lacchus ! 
— the son of Zeus ! and the whole mountain 
was moved with ecstasy together, and the wild 
creatures ; nothing but was moved in their 
running. And it chanced that Agave, in her 
leaping, lighted near me, and I sprang from my 
hiding-place, willing to lay hold on her ; and 
she groaned out, * O ! dogs of hunting, these 
fellows are upon our traces ; but follow me ! 
follow ! with the mystic wands for weapons in 
your hands.* And we, by flight, hardly escaped 
tearing to pieces at their hands, who thereupon 
advanced with knifeless fingers upon the young 
of the kine, as they nipped the green ; and then 
hadst thou seen one holding a bleating calf in 
her hands, with udder distent, straining it 
asunder ; others tore the heifers to shreds 
amongst them ; tossed up and down the morsels 
lay in sight — flank or hoof — or hung from the 
fir-trees, dropping churned blood. The fierce, 
horned bulls stumbled forward, their breasts 
upon the ground, dragged on by myriad hands 
of young women, and in a moment the inner 
parts were rent to morsels. So, like a flock of 
birds aloft in flight, they retreat upon the level 
lands outstretched below, which by the waters of 
Asopus put forth the fair -flowering crop of 
Theban people — Hysias and Erythras — below the 
precipice of Cithaeron." — 

A grotesque scene follows, in which the 

n 



GREEK STUDIES 

humour we noted, on seeing those two old men 
diffidently set forth in chaplet and fawn -skin, 
deepens into a profound tragic irony. Pentheus 
is determined to go out in arms against the 
Bacchanals and put them to death, when a sudden 
desire seizes him to witness them in their en- 
campment upon the mountains. Dionysus, 
whom he still supposes to be but a prophet or 
messenger of the god, engages to conduct him 
thither ; and, for greater security among the 
dangerous women, proposes that he shall disguise 
himself in female attire. As Pentheus goes 
within for that purpose, he lingers for a moment 
behind him, and in prophetic speech declares 
the approaching end ; — the victim has fallen 
into the net ; and he goes in to assist at the 
toilet, to array him in the ornaments which he 
will carry to Hades, destroyed by his own 
mother's hands. It is characteristic of Euripides 
— part of his fine tact and subtlety — to relieve 
and justify what seems tedious, or constrained, 
or merely terrible and grotesque, by a suddenly 
suggested trait of homely pathos, or a glimpse 
of natural beauty, or a morsel of form or colour 
seemingly taken directly from picture or 
sculpture. So here, in this fantastic scene our 
thoughts are changed in a moment by the sing- 
ing of the chorus, and divert for a while to the 
dark-haired tresses of the wood ; the breath of 
the river-side is upon us ; beside it, a fawn 
escaped from the hunter's net is flying swiftly in 

74 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

its joy ; like it, the Msenad rushes along ; and 
we see the little head thrown back upon the 
neck, in deep aspiration, to drink in the dew. 

Meantime, Pentheus has assumed his disguise, 
and comes forth tricked up with false hair and 
the dress of a Bacchanal ; but still with some 
misgivings at the thought of going thus attired 
through the streets of Thebes, and with many- 
laughable readjustments of the unwonted articles 
of clothing. And with the woman's dress, his 
madness is closing faster round him ; just before, 
in the palace, terrified at the noise of the earth- 
quake, he had drawn sword upon a mere fantastic 
appearance, and pierced only the empty air. 
Now he begins to see the sun double, and 
Thebes with all its towers repeated, while his 
conductor seems to him transformed into a wild 
beast ; and now and then, we come upon some 
touches of a curious psychology, so that we 
might almost seem to be reading a modern poet. 
As if Euripides had been aware of a not unknown 
symptom of incipient madness (it is said) in 
which the patient, losing the sense of resistance, 
while lifting small objects imagines himself to 
be raising enormous weights, Pentheus, as he 
lifts the thyrsus^ fancies he could lift Cithseron 
with all the Bacchanals upon it. At all this 
the laughter of course will pass round the 
theatre ; while those who really pierce into the 
purpose of the poet, shudder, as they see the 
victim thus grotesquely clad going to his doom, 

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GREEK STUDIES 

already foreseen in the ominous chant of the 
chorus — and as it were his grave-clothes, in the 
dress which makes him ridiculous. 

Presently a messenger arrives to announce 
that Pentheus is dead, and then another curious 
narrative sets forth the manner of his death. 
Full of wild, coarse, revolting details, of course 
not without pathetic touches, and with the 
loveliness of the serving Masnads, and of their 
mountain solitudes- -their trees and water — never 
quite forgotten, it describes how, venturing as a 
spy too near the sacred circle, Pentheus was 
fallen upon, like a wild beast, by the mystic 
huntresses and torn to pieces, his mother being 
the first to begin " the sacred rites of slaughter." 

And at last Agave herself comes upon the 
stage, holding aloft the head of her son, fixed 
upon the sharp end of the thyrsus^ calling upon 
the women of the chorus to welcome the revel 
of the Evian god ; who, accordingly, admit her 
into the company, professing themselves her 
fellow-revellers, the Bacchanals being thus ab- 
sorbed into the chorus for the rest of the play. 
For, indeed, all through it, the true, though 
partly suppressed relation of the chorus to the 
Bacchanals is this, that the women of the chorus, 
staid and temperate for the moment, following 
Dionysus in his alternations, are but the paler 
sisters of his more wild and gloomy votaries — 
the true followers of the mystical Dionysus — 
the real chorus of Zagreus ; the idea that their 

76 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

violent proceedings are the result of madness only, 
sent on them as a punishment for their original 
rejection of the god, being, as I said, when seen 
from the deeper motives of the myth, only a 
" sophism " of Euripides — a piece of rationalism 
of which he avails himself for the purpose of 
softening down the tradition of which he has 
undertaken to be the poet. Agave comes on 
the stage, then, blood-stained, exulting in her 
" victory of tears," still quite visibly mad indeed, 
and with the outward signs of madness, and as 
her mind wanders, musing still on the fancy 
that the dead head in her hands is that of a lion 
she has slain among the mountains — a young 
lion, she avers, as she notices the down on the 
young man's chin, and his abundant hair — a 
fancy in which the chorus humour her, willing 
to deal gently with the poor distraught creature. 
Supported by them, she rejoices " exceedingly, 
exceedingly," declaring herself " fortunate " in 
such goodly spoil ; priding herself that the 
victim has been slain, not with iron weapons, 
but with her own white fingers, she summons 
all Thebes to come and behold. She calls for 
her aged father to draw near and see ; and for 
Pentheus himself, at last, that he may mount 
and rivet her trophy, appropriately decorative 
there, between the triglyphs of the cornice below 
the roof, visible to all. 

And now, from this point onwards, Dionysus 
himself becomes more and more clearly discern- 

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GREEK STUDIES 

ible as the hunter, a wily hunter, and man the 
prey he hunts for ; " Our king is a hunter," 
cry the chorus, as they unite in Agave's triumph 
and give their sanction to her deed. And as the 
Bacchanals supplement the chorus, and must be 
added to it to make the conception of it complete ; 
so in the conception of Dionysus also a certain 
transference, or substitution, must be made — 
much of the horror and sorrow of Agave, of 
Pentheus, of the whole tragic situation, must be 
transferred to him, if we wish to realise in the 
older, profounder, and more complete sense of 
his nature, that mystical being of Greek tradition 
to whom all these experiences — his madness, the 
chase, his imprisonment and death, his peace 
again — really belong ; and to discern which, 
through Euripides' peculiar treatment of his 
subject, is part of the curious interest of this 
play. 

Through the sophism of Euripides ! For that, 
again, is the really descriptive word, with which 
Euripides, a lover of sophisms, as Aristophanes 
knows, himself supplies us. Well ; — this softened 
version of the Bacchic madness is a sophism of 
Euripides ; and Dionysus Omophagus — the eater 
of raw flesh, must be added to the golden image 
of Dionysus Meilichius — the honey-sweet, if the 
old tradition in its completeness is to be, in spite 
of that sophism, our closing impression ; if we 
are to catch, in its fulness, that deep under- 
current of horror which runs below, all through 

;8 



THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES 

this masque of spring, and realise the spectacle 
of that wild chase, in which Dionysus is ulti- 
mately both the hunter and the spoil. 

But meantime another person appears on the 
stage ; Cadmus enters, followed by attendants 
bearing on a bier the torn limbs of Pentheus, 
which lying wildly scattered through the tangled 
wood, have been with difficulty collected and 
now decently put together and covered over. 
In the little that still remains before the end of 
the play, destiny now hurrying things rapidly 
forward, and strong emotions, hopes and fore- 
bodings being now closely packed, Euripides has 
before him an artistic problem of enormous 
difficulty. Perhaps this very haste and close- 
packing of the matter, which keeps the mind 
from dwelling overmuch on detail, relieves its 
real extravagance, and those who read it care- 
fully will think that the pathos of Euripides has 
been equal to the occasion. In a few profoundly 
designed touches he depicts the perplexity of 
Cadmus, in whose house a god had become an 
inmate, only to destroy it — the regret of the old 
man for the one male child to whom that house 
had looked up as the pillar whereby aged people 
might feel secure; the piteous craziness of Agave; 
the unconscious irony with which she caresses 
the florid, youthful head of her son ; the delicate 
breaking of the thing to her reviving intelligence, 
as Cadmus, though he can but wish that she 
might live on for ever in her visionary enjoy- 

79 



GREEK STUDIES 

ment, prepares the way, by playing on that other 
horrible legend of the Theban house, the tearing 
of Actaeon to death — he too destroyed by a god. 
He gives us the sense of Agave's gradual return 
to reason through many glimmering doubts, till 
she wakes up at last to find the real face turned 
up towards the mother and murderess ; the quite 
naturally spontaneous sorrow of the mother, end- 
ing with her confession, down to her last sigh, 
and the final breaking up of the house of Cadmus ; 
with a result so genuine, heartfelt, and dignified 
withal in its expression of a strange ineffable 
woe, that a fragment of it, the lamentation of 
Agave over her son, in which the long -pent 
agony at last finds vent, were, it is supposed, 
adopted into his paler work by an early Christian 
poet, and have figured since, as touches of real 
fire, in the Christus Fattens of Gregory Nazianzen, 



80 



THE MYTH OF 
DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 



No chapter in the history of human imagination 
is more curious that the myth of Demeter, and 
Kore or Persephone. Alien in some respects 
from the genuine traditions of Greek mythology, 
a relic of the earlier inhabitants of Greece, and 
having but a subordinate place in the religion 
of Homer, it yet asserted its interest, little by 
little, and took a complex hold on the minds 
of the Greeks, becoming finally the central and 
most popular subject of their national worship. 
Following its changes, we come across various 
phases of Greek culture, which are not without 
their likenesses in the modern mind. We trace 
it in the dim first period of instinctive popular 
conception ; we see it connecting itself with 
many impressive elements of art, and poetry, and 
religious custom, with the picturesque supersti- 
tions of the many, and with the finer intuitions 
of the few ; and besides this, it is in itself full of 
G 8i 



GREEK STUDIES 

interest and suggestion, to all for whom the 
ideas of the Greek religion have any real 
meaning in the modern world. And the fortune 
of the myth has not deserted it in later times. 
In the year 1780, the long-lost text of the 
Homeric Hymn to Demeter was discovered 
among the manuscripts of the imperial library 
at Moscow ; and, in our own generation, the 
tact of an eminent student of Greek art. Sir 
Charles Newton, has restored to the world the 
buried treasures of the little temple and precinct 
of Demeter, at Cnidus, which have many claims 
to rank in the central order of Greek sculpture. 
The present essay is an attempt to select and 
weave together, for those who are now approach- 
ing the deeper study of Greek thought, whatever 
details in the development of this myth, arranged 
with a view rather to a total impression than to 
the debate of particular points, may seem likely 
to increase their stock of poetical impressions, 
and to add to this some criticisms on the expres- 
sion which it has left of itself in extant art and 
poetry. 

The central expression, then, of the story of 
Demeter and Persephone is the Homeric hymn, 
to which Grote has assigned a date at least as 
early as six hundred years before Christ. The 
one survivor of a whole family of hymns on this 
subject, it was written, perhaps, for one of those 
contests which took place on the seventh day of 
the Eleusinian festival, and in which a bunch of 

82 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

ears of corn was the prize ; perhaps, for actual 
use in the mysteries themselves, by the Hiero- 
phantesy or Interpreter, who showed to the 
worshippers at Eleusis those sacred places to 
which the poem contains so many references. 
About the composition itself there are many 
difficult questions, with various surmises as to 
why it has remained only in this unique manu- 
script of the end of the fourteenth century. 
Portions of the text are missing, and there are 
probably some additions by later hands ; yet 
most scholars have admitted that it possesses 
some of the true characteristics of the Homeric 
style, some genuine echoes of the age immedi- 
ately succeeding that which produced the Iliad 
and the Odyssey. Listen now to a somewhat 
abbreviated version of it. 

" I begin the song of Demeter " — says the 
prize-poet, or the Interpreter, the Sacristan of 
the holy places — " the song of Demeter and her 
daughter Persephone, whom Aidoneus carried 
away by the consent of Zeus, as she played, 
apart from her mother, with the deep-bosomed 
daughters of the Ocean, gathering flowers in a 
meadow of soft grass — roses and the crocus and 
fair violets and flags, and hyacinths, and, above 
all, the strange flower of the narcissus, which 
the Earth, favouring the desire of Aidoneus, 
brought forth for the first time, to snare the 
footsteps of the flower-like girl. A hundred 

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GREEK STUDIES 

heads of blossom grew up from the roots of it, 
and the sky and the earth and the salt wave of 
the sea were glad at the scent thereof. She 
stretched forth her hands to take the flower ; 
thereupon the earth opened, and the king of the 
great nation of the dead sprang out with his 
immortal horses. He seized the unwilling girl, 
and bore her away weeping, on his golden 
chariot. She uttered a shrill cry, calling upon 
her father Zeus ; but neither man nor god heard 
her voice, nor even the nymphs of the meadow 
where she played ; except Hecate only, the 
daughter of Persaeus, sitting, as ever, in her cave, 
half veiled with a shining veil, thinking delicate 
thoughts ; she, and the Sun also, heard her. 

" So long as she could still see the earth, and 
the sky, and the sea with the great waves moving, 
and the beams of the sun, and still thought to 
see again her mother, and the race of the ever- 
living gods, so long hope soothed her, in the 
midst of her grief. The peaks of the hills and 
the depths of the sea echoed her cry. And the 
mother heard it. A sharp pain seized her at the 
heart ; she plucked the veil from her hair, and 
cast down the blue hood from her shoulders, and 
fled forth like a bird, seeking Persephone over 
dry land and sea. But neither man nor god 
would tell her the truth ; nor did any bird come 
to her as a sure messenger. 

" Nine days she wandered up and down upon 
the earth, having blazing torches in her hands ; 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

and, in her great sorrow, she refused to taste of 
ambrosia, or of the cup of the sweet nectar, nor 
washed her face. But when the tenth morning 
came, Hecate met her, having a light in her 
hands. But Hecate had heard the voice only, 
and had seen no one, and could not tell Demeter 
who had borne the girl away. And Demeter 
said not a word, but fled away swiftly with her, 
having the blazing torches in her hands, till they 
came to the Sun, the watchman both of gods 
and men ; and the goddess questioned him, and 
the Sun told her the whole story. 

" Then a more terrible grief took possession 
of Demeter, and, in her anger against Zeus, she 
forsook the assembly of the gods and abode 
among men, for a long time veiling her beauty 
under a worn countenance, so that none who 
looked upon her knew her, until she came to the 
house of Celeus, who was then king of Eleusis. 
In her sorrow, she sat down at the wayside by 
the virgin's well, where the people of Eleusis 
come to draw water, under the shadow of an 
olive-tree. She seemed as an aged woman whose 
time of child-bearing is gone by, and from 
whom the gifts of Aphrodite have been with- 
drawn, like one of the hired servants, who nurse 
the children or keep house, in kings' palaces. 
And the daughters of Celeus, four of them, like 
goddesses, possessing the flower of their youth, 
Callidice, Cleisidice, Demo, and Callithoe the 
eldest of them, coming to draw water that they 

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GREEK STUDIES 

might bear it in their brazen pitchers to their 
father's house, saw Demeter and knew her not. 
The gods are hard for men to recognise. 

" They asked her kindly what she did there, 
alone ; and Demeter answered, dissemblingly, 
that she was escaped from certain pirates, who 
had carried her from her home and meant to 
sell her as a slave. Then they prayed her to 
abide there while they returned to the palace, 
to ask their mother's permission to bring her 
home. 

" Demeter bowed her head in assent ; and 
they, having filled their shining vessels with 
water, bore them away, rejoicing in their beauty. 
They came quickly to their father's house, and 
told their mother what they had seen and heard. 
Their mother bade them return, and hire the 
woman for a great price ; and they, like the 
hinds or young heifers leaping in the fields in 
spring, fulfilled with the pasture, holding up the 
folds of their raiment, sped along the hollow 
road-way, their hair, in colour like the crocus, 
floating about their shoulders as they went. 
They found the glorious goddess still sitting by 
the wayside, unmoved. Then they led her to 
their father's house ; and she, veiled from head 
to foot, in her deep grief, followed them on the 
way, and her blue robe gathered itself as she 
walked, in many folds about her feet. They 
came to the house, and passed through the 
sunny porch, where their mother, Metaneira, was 

86 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

sitting against one of the pillars of the roof, 
having a young child in her bosom. They ran 
up to her ; but Demeter crossed the threshold, 
and, as she passed through, her head rose and 
touched the roof, and her presence filled the 
doorway with a divine brightness. 

" Still they did not wholly recognise her. 
After a time she was made to smile. She refused 
to drink wine, but tasted of a cup mingled of 
water and barley, flavoured with mint. It 
happened that Metaneira had lately borne a 
child. It had come beyond hope, long after its 
elder brethren, and was the object of a pecu- 
liar tenderness and of many prayers with all. 
Demeter consented to remain, and become the 
nurse of this child. She took the child in her 
immortal hands, and placed it in her fragrant 
bosom ; and the heart of the mother rejoiced. 
Thus Demeter nursed Demophoon. And the 
child grew like a god, neither sucking the breast, 
nor eating bread ; but Demeter daily anointed 
it with ambrosia, as if it had indeed been the 
child of a god, breathing sweetly over it and 
holding it in her bosom ; and at nights, when 
she lay alone with the child, she would hide it 
secretly in the red strength of the fire, like a 
brand ; for her heart yearned towards it, and she 
would fain have given to it immortal youth. 

" But the foolishness of his mother prevented 
it. For a suspicion growing up within her, she 
awaited her time, and one night peeped in upon 

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GREEK STUDIES 

them, and thereupon cried out in terror at what 
she saw. And the goddess heard her ; and a 
sudden anger seizing her, she plucked the child 
from the fire and cast it on the ground, — the 
child she would fain have made immortal, but 
who must now share the common destiny of all 
men, though some inscrutable grace should still 
be his, because he had lain for awhile on the 
knees and in the bosom of the goddess. 

"Then Demetcr manifested herself openly. 
She put away the mask of old age, and changed 
her form, and the spirit of beauty breathed about 
her. A fragrant odour fell from her raiment, 
and her flesh shone from afar ; the long yellow 
hair descended waving over her shoulders, and 
the great house was filled as with the brightness 
of lightning. She passed out through the halls ; 
and Metaneira fell to the earth, and was speech- 
less for a long time, and remembered not to lift 
the child from the ground. But the sisters, 
hearing its piteous cries, leapt from their beds 
and ran to it. Then one of them lifted the child 
from the earth, and wrapped it in her bosom, 
and another hastened to her mother's chamber to 
awake her : they came round the child, and 
washed away the flecks of the fire from its pant- 
ing body, and kissed it tenderly all about : but 
the anguish of the child ceased not ; the arms 
of other and different nurses were about to 
enfold it. 

" So, all night, trembling with fear, they 

88 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

sought to propitiate the glorious goddess ; and 
in the morning they told all to their father, 
Celeus. And he, according to the commands 
of the goddess, built a fair temple ; and all the 
people assisted ; and when it was finished every 
man departed to his own home. Then Demeter 
returned, and sat down within the temple-walls, 
and remained still apart from the company of 
the gods, alone in her wasting regret for her 
daughter Persephone. 

" And, in her anger, she sent upon the earth 
a year of grievous famine. The dry seed re- 
mained hidden in the soil ; in vain the oxen 
drew the ploughshare through the furrows ; 
much white seed-corn fell fruitless on the earth, 
and the whole human race had like to have 
perished, and the gods had no more service of 
men, unless Zeus had interfered. First he sent 
Iris, afterwards all the gods, one by one, to turn 
Demeter from her anger ; but none was able to 
persuade her ; she heard their words with a hard 
countenance, and vowed by no means to return 
to Olympus, nor to yield the fruit of the earth, 
until her eyes had seen her lost daughter again. 
Then, last of all, Zeus sent Hermes into the 
kingdom of the dead, to persuade Aidoneus to 
suffer his bride to return to the light of day. 
And Hermes found the king at home in his 
palace, sitting on a couch, beside the shrinking 
Persephone, consumed within herself by desire 
for her mother. A doubtful smile passed over 

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GREEK STUDIES 

the face of Aidoneus ; yet he obeyed the message, 
and bade Persephone return ; yet praying her a 
little to have gentle thoughts of him, nor judge 
him too hardly, who was also an immortal god. 
And Persephone arose up quickly in great joy ; 
only, ere she departed, he caused her to eat a 
morsel of sweet pomegranate, designing secretly 
thereby, that she should not remain always upon 
earth, but might some time return to him. And 
Aidoneus yoked the horses to his chariot ; and 
Persephone ascended into it ; and Hermes took 
the reins in his hands and drove out through the 
infernal halls ; and the horses ran willingly ; and 
they two quickly passed over the ways of that 
long journey, neither the waters of the sea, nor 
of the rivers, nor the deep ravines of the hills, 
nor the cliffs of the shore, resisting them ; till 
at last Hermes placed Persephone before the 
door of the temple where her mother was ; who, 
seeing her, ran out quickly to meet her, like a 
Maenad coming down a mountain -side, dusky 
with woods. 

" So they spent all that day together in inti- 
mate communion, having many things to hear 
and tell. Then Zeus sent to them Rhea, his 
venerable mother, the oldest of divine persons, 
to bring them back reconciled, to the company 
of the gods ; and he ordained that Persephone 
should remain two parts of the year with her 
mother, and one third part only with her husband, 
in the kingdom of the dead. So Demeter suffered 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

the earth to yield its fruits once more, and the 
land was suddenly laden with leaves and tiowers 
and waving corn. Also she visited Triptolemus 
and the other princes of Eleusis, and instructed 
them in the performance of her sacred rites, — 
those mysteries of which no tongue may speak. 
Only, blessed is he whose eyes have seen them ; 
his lot after death is not as the lot of other 
men ! " 

In the story of Demeter, as in all Greek 
myths, we may trace the action of three differ- 
ent influences, which have moulded it with 
varying effects, in three successive phases of its 
development. There is first its half-conscious, 
instinctive, or mystical, phase, in which, under 
the form of an unwritten legend, living from 
mouth to mouth, and with details changing as 
it passes from place to place, there lie certain 
primitive impressions of the phenomena of the 
natural world. We may trace it next in its 
conscious, poetical or literary, phase, in which 
the poets become the depositaries of the vague 
instinctive product of the popular imagination, 
and handle it with a purely literary interest, 
fixing its outlines, and simplifying or developing 
its situations. Thirdly, the myth passes into the 
ethical phase, in which the persons and the 
incidents of the poetical narrative are realised 
as abstract symbols, because intensely character- 
istic examples, of moral or spiritual conditions. 

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GREEK STUDIES 

Behind the adventures of the stealing of Per- 
sephone and the wanderings of Demeter in search 
of her, as we find them in the Homeric hymn, 
we may discern the confused conception, under 
which that early age, in which the myths were 
first created, represented to itself those changes 
in physical things, that order of summer and 
winter, of which it had no scientific, or systematic 
explanation, but in which, nevertheless, it divined 
a multitude of living agencies, corresponding to 
those ascertained forces, of which our colder 
modern science tells the number and the names. 
Demeter — Demeter and Persephone, at first, in a 
sort of confused union — is the earth, in the fixed 
order of its annual changes, but also in all the 
accident and detail of the growth and decay of 
its children. Of this conception, floating loosely 
in the air, the poets of a later age take possession ; 
they create Demeter and Persephone as we know 
them in art and poetry. From the vague and 
fluctuating union, in which together they had 
represented the earth and its changes, the mother 
and the daughter define themselves with special 
functions, and with fixed, well-understood relation- 
ships, the incidents and emotions of which soon 
weave themselves into a pathetic story. Lastly, 
in proportion as the literary or assthetic activity 
completes the picture or the poem, the ethical 
interest makes itself felt. These strange persons 
— Demeter and Persephone — these marvellous 
incidents — the translation into Hades, the seeking 

92 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

of Demeter, the return of Persephone to her, — 
lend themselves to the elevation and correction 
of the sentiments of sorrow and awe, by the 
presentment to the senses and the imagination of 
an ideal expression of them. Demeter cannot but 
seem the type of divine grief Persephone is the 
goddess of death, yet with a promise of life to 
come. Those three phases, then, which are more 
or less discernible in all mythical development, 
and constitute a natural order in it, based on the 
necessary conditions of human apprehension, are 
hxed more plainly, perhaps, than in any other 
passage of Greek mythology in the story of 
Demeter. And as the Homeric hymn is the 
central expression of its literary or poetical phase, 
so the marble remains, of which I shall have 
to speak by and bye, are the central extant illus- 
tration of what I have called its ethical phase. 

Homer, in the Iliad, knows Demeter, but 
only as the goddess of the fields, the originator 
and patroness of the labours of the countryman, 
in their yearly order. She stands, with her 
hair yellow like the ripe corn, at the threshing- 
floor, and takes her share in the toil, the heap 
of grain whitening, as the flails, moving in the 
wind, disperse the chaff. Out in the fresh fields, 
she yields to the embraces of lasion, to the 
extreme jealousy of Zeus, who slays her mortal 
lover with lightning. The flowery town of 
Pyrasus — the wheat-town^ — an ancient place in 
Thessaly, is her sacred precinct. But when 

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GREEK STUDIES 

Homer gives a list of the orthodox gods, her 
name is not mentioned. 

Homer, in the Odyssey, knows Persephone 
also, but not as Kore ; only as the queen of the 
dead — iiraivT) U€p<r€<f)6vr) — dreadful Persephone, the 
goddess of destruction and death, according to 
the apparent import of her name. She accom- 
plishes men's evil prayers ; she is the mistress 
and manager of men's shades, to which she can 
dispense a little more or less of life, dwelling in 
her mouldering palace on the steep shore of the 
Oceanus, with its groves of barren willows and 
tall poplars. But that Homer knew her as the 
daughter of Demeter there are no signs ; and of 
his knowledge of the rape of Persephone there 
is only the faintest sign, — he names Hades by 
the golden reins of his chariot, and his beautiful 
horses. 

The main theme, then, the most characteristic 
peculiarities, of the story, as subsequently de- 
veloped, are not to be found, expressly, in the 
true Homer. We have in him, on the one hand, 
Demeter, as the perfectly fresh and blithe goddess 
of the fields, whose children, if she has them, 
must be as the perfectly discreet and peaceful, 
unravished Kore ; on the other hand, we have 
Persephone, as the wholly terrible goddess of 
death, who brings to Ulysses the querulous 
shadows of the dead, and has the head of the 
gorgon Medusa in her keeping. And it is only 
when these two contrasted images have been 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

brought into intimate relationship, only when 
Kore and Persephone have been identified, that 
the deeper mythology of Demeter begins. 

This combination has taken place in Hesiod ; 
and in three lines of the Theogony we find the steal- 
ing of Persephone by Aidoneus,^ — one of those 
things in Hesiod, perhaps, which are really older 
than Homer. Hesiod has been called the poet 
of helots, and is thought to have preserved some 
of the traditions of those earlier inhabitants of 
Greece who had become a kind of serfs ; and in 
a certain shadowiness in his conceptions of the 
gods, contrasting with the concrete and heroic 
forms of the gods of Homer, we may perhaps 
trace something of the quiet unspoken brooding 
of a subdued people — of that silently dreaming 
temper to which the story of Persephone properly 
belongs. However this may be, it is in Hesiod 
that the two images, unassociated in Homer — 
the goddess of summer and the goddess of death, 
Kore and Persephone — are identified with much 
significance ; and that strange, dual being makes 
her first appearance, whose latent capabilities the 
poets afterwards developed ; among the rest, a 
peculiar blending of those two contrasted aspects, 
full of purpose for the duly chastened intelligence ; 
death, resurrection, rejuvenescence. — Awake, and 
sing, ye that dwell in the dust ! 

^ Theogony, 912-914 : 

Ai>rip 6 A-fifirfrpot iro\v<f>6pPrit is X^xo» ^\BtP, 
fj T^Kt YlfpcttpbvT)* \tvKil)\(vov, fjv 'A'iBwi'evi 
^pTac€v ^j ira/xi fiijrpoi • fouKt 5i /np-Ura Z«/f. 

95 



GREEK STUDIES 

Modern science explains the changes of the 
natural world by the hypothesis of certain un- 
conscious forces ; and the sum of these forces, 
in their combined action, constitutes the scientific 
conception of nature. But, side by side with 
the growth of this more mechanical conception, 
an older and more spiritual, Platonic, philosophy 
has always maintained itself, a philosophy more 
of instinct than of the understanding, the mental 
starting-point of which is not an observed 
sequence of outward phenomena, but some 
such feeling as most of us have on the first 
warmer days in spring, when we seem to feel 
the genial processes of nature actually at work ; 
as if just below the mould, and in the hard wood 
of the trees, there were really circulating some 
spirit of life, akin to that which makes its 
energies felt within ourselves. Starting with a 
hundred instincts such as this, that older un- 
mechanical, spiritual, or Platonic, philosophy 
envisages nature rather as the unity of a living 
spirit or person, revealing itself in various degrees 
to the kindred spirit of the observer, than as a 
system of mechanical forces. Such a philosophy 
is a systematised form of that sort of poetry (we 
may study it, for instance, either in Shelley or 
in Wordsworth), which also has its fancies of a 
spirit of the earth, or of the sky, — a personal 
intelligence abiding in them, the existence of 
which is assumed in every suggestion such poetry 
makes to us of a sympathy between the ways 

96 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

and aspects of outward nature and the moods of 
men. And what stood to the primitive intel- 
ligence in place of such metaphysical conceptions 
were those cosmical stories or myths, such as 
this of Demeter and Persephone, which spring- 
ing up spontaneously in many minds, came at 
last to represent to them, in a certain number of 
sensibly realised images, all they knew, felt, or 
fancied, of the natural world about them. The 
sky in its unity and its variety, — the sea in its 
unity and its variety, — mirrored themselves 
respectively in these simple, but profoundly im- 
pressible spirits, as Zeus, as Glaucus or Poseidon. 
And a large part of their experience — all, that 
is, that related to the earth in its changes, the 
growth and decay of all things born of it — was 
covered by the story of Demeter, the myth of 
the earth as a mother. They thought of 
Demeter as the old Germans thought of Hertha, 
or the later Greeks of Pan, as the Egyptians 
thought of Isis, the land of the Nile, made green 
by the streams of Osiris, for whose coming Isis 
longs, as Demeter for Persephone ; thus naming 
together in her all their fluctuating thoughts, 
impressions, suspicions, of the earth and its 
appearances, their whole complex divination of 
a mysterious life, a perpetual working, a con- 
tinous act of conception there. Or they thought 
of the many-coloured earth as the garment of 
Demeter, as the great modern pantheist poet 
speaks of it as the " garment of God." Its 
H 97 



GREEK STUDIES 

brooding fertility ; the spring flowers breaking 
from its surface, the thinly disguised unhealth- 
fulness of their heavy perfume, and of their 
chosen places of growth ; the delicate, feminine, 
Prosperina-like motion of all growing things ; 
its fruit, full of drowsy and poisonous, or fresh, 
reviving juices ; its sinister caprices also, its 
droughts and sudden volcanic heats ; the long 
delays of spring ; its dumb sleep, so suddenly 
flung away ; the sadness which insinuates itself 
into its languid luxuriance ; all this grouped 
itself round the persons of Demeter and her 
circle. They could turn always to her, from 
the actual earth itself, in aweful yet hopeful 
prayer, and a devout personal gratitude, and 
explain it through her, in its sorrow and its 
promise, its darkness and its helpfulness to man. 

The personification of abstract ideas by 
modern painters or sculptors, of wealth, of 
commerce, of health, for instance, shocks, in 
most cases, the esthetic sense, as something con- 
ventional or rhetorical, as a mere transparent 
allegory, or figure of speech, which could please 
almost no one. On the other hand, such sym- 
bolical representations, under the form of human 
persons, as Giotto's Virtues and Vices at Padua, 
or his Saint Poverty at Assisi, or the series of the 
planets in certain early Italian engravings, are 
profoundly poetical and impressive. They seem 
to be something more than mere symbolism, 

98 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

and to be connected with some peculiarly sym- 
pathetic penetration, on the part of the artist, 
into the subjects he intended to depict. Sym- 
bolism intense as this, is the creation of a special 
temper, in which a certain simplicity, taking all 
things literally, c2u pied de la lettre^ is united to a 
vivid pre-occupation with the aesthetic beauty of 
the image itself, the figured side of figurative 
expression, the form of the metaphor. When 
it is said, " Out of his mouth goeth a sharp 
sword," that temper is ready to deal directly and 
boldly with that difficult image, like that old 
designer of the fourteenth century, who has 
depicted this, and other images of the Apocalypse, 
in a coloured window at Bourges. Such sym- 
bolism cares a great deal for the hair of Temper- 
ance^ discreetly bound, for some subtler likeness 
to the colour of the sky in the girdle of Hope^ 
for the inwoven flames in the red garment of 
Charity. And what was specially peculiar to the 
temper of the old Florentine painter, Giotto, to 
the temper of his age in general, doubtless, more 
than to that of ours, was the persistent and 
universal mood of the age in which the story 
of Demeter and Persephone was first created. 
If some painter of our own time has conceived 
the image of The Day so intensely, that we hardly 
think of distinguishing between the image, with 
its girdle of dissolving morning mist, and the 
meaning of the image ; if William Blake, to 
our so great delight, makes the morning stars 

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GREEK STUDIES 

literally " sing together " — these fruits of indi- 
vidual genius are in part also a " survival " from 
a different age, with the whole mood of which 
this mode of expression was more congruous 
than it is with ours. But there are traces of the 
old temper in the man of to-day also ; and 
through these we can understand that earlier 
time — a very poetical time, with the more highly 
gifted peoples — in which every impression men 
received of the action of powers without or 
within them suggested to them the presence of 
a soul or will, like their own — a person, with 
a living spirit, and senses, and hands, and feet ; 
which, when it talked of the return of Kore to 
Demeter, or the marriage of Zeus and Here, was 
not using rhetorical language, but yielding to a 
real illusion ; to which the voice of man " was 
really a stream, beauty an effluence, death a mist.'* 

The gods of Greek mythology overlap each 
other ; they are confused or connected with each 
other, lightly or deeply, as the case may be, and 
sometimes have their doubles, at first sight as in 
a troubled dream, yet never, when we examine 
each detail more closely, without a certain truth 
to human reason. It is only in a limited sense 
that it is possible to lift, and examine by itself, 
one thread of the network of story and imagery, 
which, in a certain age of civilisation, wove itself 
over every detail of life and thought, over every 
name in the past, and almost every place in 

lOO 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

Greece. The storv of Demeter, then, was the 
work of no single author or place or time ; the 
poet of its first phase was no single person, but 
the whole consciousness of an age, though an 
age doubtless with its differences of more or less 
imaginative individual minds — with one, here or 
there, eminent, though but by a little, above a 
merely receptive majority, the spokesman of a uni- 
versal, though faintly-felt prepossession, attach- 
ing the errant fancies of the people around him 
to definite names and images. The myth grew 
up gradually, and at many distant places, in m_any 
minds, independent of each other, but dealing 
in a common temper with certain elements and 
aspects of the natural world, as one here, and 
another there, seemed to catch in that incident 
or detail which flashed more incisively than 
others on the inward eye, some influence, or 
feature, or characteristic of the great mother. 
The various epithets of Demeter, the local 
variations of her story, its incompatible inci- 
dents, bear witness to the manner of its genera- 
tion. They illustrate that indefiniteness which 
is characteristic of Greek mythology, a theology 
with no central authority, no link on historic 
time, liable from the first to an unobserved trans- 
formation. They indicate the various, far-distant 
spots from which the visible body of the goddess 
slowlv collected its constituents, and came at last 
to have a well-defined existence in the popular 
mind. In this sense, Demeter appears to one in 

lOI 



GREEK STUDIES 

her anger, sullenly withholding the fruits of the 
earth, to another in her pride of Persephone, to 
another in her grateful gift of the arts of agri- 
culture to man ; at last only, is there a general 
recognition of a clearly-arrested outline, a tangible 
embodiment, which has solidified itself in the 
imagination of the people, they know not how. 

The worship of Demeter belongs to that older 
religion, nearer to the earth, which some have 
thought they could discern, behind the more 
definitely national mythology of Homer. She 
is the goddess of dark caves, and is not wholly 
free from monstrous form. She gave men the 
first fig in one place, the first poppy in another ; 
in another, she first taught the old Titans to 
mow. She is the mother of the vine also ; and 
the assumed name by which she called herself 
in her wanderings, is Dos — a gift ; the crane, as 
the harbinger of rain, is her messenger among 
the birds. She knows the magic powers of 
certain plants, cut from her bosom, to bane or 
bless ; and, under one of her epithets, herself 
presides over the springs, as also coming from 
the secret places of the earth. She is the 
goddess, then, at first, of the fertility of the 
earth in its wildness ; and so far, her attributes 
are to some degree confused with those of the 
Thessalian Gaia and the Phrygian Cybele. 
Afterwards, and it is now that her most character- 
istic attributes begin to concentrate themselves, 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

she separates herself from these confused rela- 
tionships, as specially the goddess of agriculture, 
of the fertility of the earth when furthered by 
human skill. She is the preserver of the seed 
sown in hope, under many epithets derived from 
the incidents of vegetation, as the simple country- 
man names her, out of a mind full of the various 
experiences of his little garden or farm. She 
is the most definite embodiment of all those 
riuctuating mystical instincts, of which Gaia,^ 
the mother of the earth's gloomier offspring, is 
a vaguer and mistier one. There is nothing of 
the confused outline, the mere shadowiness of 
mystical dreaming, in this most concrete human 
figure. No nation, less aesthetically gifted than 
the Greeks, could have thus lightly thrown its 
mystical surmise and divination into images so 
clear and idyllic as those of the solemn goddess 
of the country, in whom the characteristics of 
the mother are expressed with so much tender- 
ness, and the " beauteous head " of Kore, then 
so fresh and peaceful. 

In this phase, then, the story of Demeter 
appears as the peculiar creation of country-people 
of a high impressibility, dreaming over their 
work in spring or autumn, half consciously 
touched by a sense of its sacredness, and a sort of 

* In the Homeric hymn, pre-eminently, of the flower which 
grew up for the first time, to snare the footsteps of Kore, the 
fair but deadly Narcissus, the flower of vapKi], the numbness of 
death. 

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GREEK STUDIES 

mystery about it. For there is much in the life 
of the farm everywhere which gives to persons 
of any seriousness of disposition, special oppor- 
tunity for grave and gentle thoughts. The 
temper of people engaged in the occupations of 
country life, so permanent, so " near to nature," 
is at all times alike ; and the habitual solemnity 
of thought and expression which Wordsworth 
found in the peasants of Cumberland, and the 
painter Fran9ois Millet in the peasants of Brittany, 
may well have had its prototype in early Greece. 
And so, even before the development, by the 
poets, of their aweful and passionate story, 
Demeter and Persephone seem to have been 
pre-eminently the venerable^ or aweful^ goddesses. 
Demeter haunts the fields in spring, when the 
young lambs are dropped ; she visits the barns 
in autumn ; she takes part in mowing and bind- 
ing up the corn, and is the goddess of sheaves. 
She presides over all the pleasant, significant 
details of the farm, the threshing-floor and the 
full granary, and stands beside the woman baking 
bread at the oven. With these fancies are 
connected certain simple rites ; the half-under- 
stood local observance, and the half- believed 
local legend, reacting capriciously on each other. 
They leave her a fragment of bread and a morsel 
of meat, at the cross-roads, to take on her journey ; 
and perhaps some real Demeter carries them 
away, as she wanders through the country. 
The incidents of their yearly labour become to 

104 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

them acts of worship ; they seek her hlessing 
through many expressive names, and almost 
catch sight of her, at dawn or evening, in the 
nooks of the fragrant fields. She lays a finger 
on the grass at the road -side, and some new 
flower comes up. All the picturesque imple- 
ments of country life are hers ; the poppy also, 
emblem of an inexhaustible fertility, and full 
of mysterious juices for the alleviation of pain. 
The countrywoman who puts her child to sleep 
in the great, cradle-like, basket, for winnowing 
the corn, remembers Demeter Courotrophos, the 
mother of corn and children alike, and makes it 
a little coat out of the dress worn by its father 
at his initiation into her mysteries. Yet she is 
an angry goddess too, sometimes — Demeter 
Erinnys, the goblin of the neighbourhood, haunt- 
ing its shadowy places. She lies on the ground 
out of doors on summer nights, and becomes wet 
with the dew. She grows young again every 
spring, yet is of great age, the wrinkled woman 
of the Homeric hymn, who becomes the nurse 
of Demophoon. Other lighter, errant stories 
nest themselves, as time goes on, within the 
greater. The water-newt, which repels the lips 
of the traveller who stoops to drink, is a certain 
urchin. Abas, who spoiled by his mockery the 
pleasure of the thirsting goddess, as she drank 
once of a wayside spring in her wanderings. 
The night - owl is the transformed Ascalabus, 
who alone had seen Persephone eat that morsel 

loS 



GREEK STUDIES 

of pomegranate, in the garden of Aidoneus. The 
bitter wild mint was once a girl, who for a 
moment had made her jealous, in Hades. 

The episode of Triptolemus, to whom 
Demeter imparts the mysteries of the plough, 
like the details of some sacred rite, that he may 
bear them abroad to all people, embodies, in 
connexion with her, another group of the circum- 
stances of country life. As with all the other 
episodes of the story, there are here also local 
variations, traditions of various favourites of the 
goddess at different places, of whom grammarians 
can tell us, finally obscured behind the greater 
fame of Triptolemus of Eleusis. One might 
fancy, at first, that Triptolemus was a quite 
Boeotian divinity, of the ploughshare. Yet we 
know that the thoughts of the Greeks concern- 
ing the culture of the earth from which they 
came, were most often noble ones ; and if we 
examine carefully the works of ancient art which 
represent him, the second thought will suggest 
itself, that there was nothing clumsy or coarse 
about this patron of the plough — something, 
rather, of the movement of delicate wind or fire, 
about him and his chariot. And this finer 
character is explained, if, as we are justified in 
doing, we bring him into closest connexion with 
that episode, so full of a strange mysticism, of 
the Nursing of Demophoon^ in the Homeric hymn. 
For, according to some traditions, none other 

1 06 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

than Triptolemus himself was the subject of that 
mysterious experiment, in which Demeter laid 
the child nightly, in the red heat of the fire ; 
and he lives afterwards, not immortal indeed, not 
wholly divine, yet, as Shakspere says, a " nimble 
spirit," feeling little of the weight of the material 
world about him — the element of winged fire in 
the clay. The delicate, fresh, farm-lad we may 
still actually see sometimes, like a graceful field- 
flower among the corn, becomes, in the sacred 
legend of agriculture, a king's son ; and then, 
the fire having searched out from him the 
grosser elements on that famous night, all com- 
pact now of spirit, a priest also, administering 
the gifts of Demeter to all the earth. Certainly, 
the extant works of art which represent him, 
gems or vase-paintings, conform truly enough to 
this ideal of a " nimble spirit," though he wears 
the broad country hat, which Hermes also wears, 
going swiftly, half on the airy, mercurial wheels 
of his farm instrument, harrow or plough — half 
on wings of serpents — the worm, symbolical of 
the soil, but winged, as sending up the dust 
committed to it, after subtle firing, in colours 
and odours of fruit and flowers. It is an alto- 
gether sacred character, again, that he assumes 
in another precious work, of the severer period 
of Greek art, lately discovered at Eleusis, and 
now preserved in the museum of Athens, a 
singularly refined bas-relief, in which he stands, 
a firm and serious youth, between Demeter and 

107 



GREEK STUDIES 

Persephone, who places her hand as with some 
sacred influence, and consecrating gesture, upon 
him. 

But the house of the prudent countryman 
will be, of course, a place of honest manners ; 
and Demeter Thesmophoros is the guardian of 
married life, the deity of the discretion of wives. 
She is therefore the founder of civilised order. 
The peaceful homes of men, scattered about the 
land, in their security — Demeter represents these 
fruits of the earth also, not without a suggestion 
of the white cities, which shine upon the hills 
above the waving fields of corn, seats of justice 
and of true kingship. She is also in a certain 
sense the patron of travellers, having, in her 
long wanderings after Persephone, recorded and 
handed down those omens, caught from little 
things — the birds which crossed her path, the 
persons who met her on the way, the words they 
said, the things they carried in their hands, 
elvoBta avfi^oka — by noting which, men bring 
their journeys to a successful end ; so that the 
simple countryman may pass securely on his way ; 
and is led by signs from the goddess herself, 
when he travels far to visit her, at Hermione or 
Eleusis. 

So far the attributes of Demeter and Kore 
are similar. In the mythical conception, as in 
the religious acts connected with it, the mother 
and the daughter are almost interchangeable ; 

io8 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

they are the two goddesses, the twin- named. 
Gradually, the office of Persephone is developed, 
defines itself; functions distinct from those of 
Demeter are attributed to her. Hitherto, always 
at the side of Demeter and sharing her worship, 
she now appears detached from her, going and 
coming, on her mysterious business. A third 
part of the year she abides in darkness ; she 
comes up in the spring ; and every autumn, 
when the countryman sows his seed in the 
earth, she descends thither again, and the world 
of the dead lies open, spring and autumn, to 
let her in and out. Persephone, then, is the 
summer-time, and, in this sense, a daughter of 
the earth ; but the summer as bringing winter ; 
the flowery splendour and consummated glory of 
the year, as thereafter immediately beginning to 
draw near to its end, as the first yellow leaf 
crosses it, in the first severer wind. She is the 
last day of spring, or the first day of autumn, in 
the threefold division of the Greek year. Her 
story is, indeed, but the story, in an intenser 
form, of Adonis, of Hyacinth, of Adrastus — the 
king's blooming son, fated, in the story of 
Herodotus, to be wounded to death with an 
iron spear — of Linus, a fair child who is torn 
to pieces by hounds every spring-time — of the 
English Sleeping Beauty. From being the 
goddess of summer and the flowers, she becomes 
the goddess of night and sleep and death, con- 
fuseable with Hecate, the goddess of midnight 

109 



GREEK STUDIES 

terrors, — Koprj appriro<i, the mother of the Erinnyes, 
who appeared to Pindar, to warn him of his 
approaching death, upbraiding him because he 
had made no hymn in her praise, which swan*s 
song he thereupon began, but finished with her. 
She is a twofold goddess, therefore, according as 
one or the other of these two contrasted aspects 
of her nature is seized, respectively. A duality, 
an inherent opposition in the very conception of 
Persephone, runs all through her story, and is 
part of her ghostly power. There is ever some- 
thing in her of a divided or ambiguous identity : 
hence the many euphemisms of later language 
concerning her. 

The " worship of sorrow," as Goethe called 
it, is sometimes supposed to have had almost 
no place in the religion of the Greeks. Their 
religion has been represented as a religion of 
mere cheerfulness, the worship by an untroubled, 
unreflecting humanity, conscious of no deeper 
needs, of the embodiments of its own joyous 
activity. It helped to hide out of their sight 
those traces of decay and weariness, of which the 
Greeks were constitutionally shy, to keep them 
from peeping too curiously into certain shadowy 
places, appropriate enough to the gloomy imagina- 
tion of the middle age ; and it hardly proposed 
to itself to give consolation to people who, in 
truth, were never " sick or sorry." But this 
familiar view of Greek religion is based on ^ 
consideration of a part only of what is known 

no 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

concerning it, and really involves a misconception, 
akin to that which underestimates the influence 
of the romantic spirit generally, in Greek poetry 
and art ; as if Greek art had dealt exclusively 
with human nature in its sanity, suppressing all 
motives of strangeness, all the beauty which is 
born of difficulty, permitting nothing but an 
Olympian, though perhaps somewhat wearisome 
calm. In effect, such a conception of Greek art 
and poetry leaves in the central expressions of 
Greek culture none but negative qualities ; and 
the legend of Demeter and Persephone, perhaps 
the most popular of all Greek legends, is sufficient 
to show that the " worship of sorrow " was not 
without its function in Greek religion ; their 
legend is a legend made by and for sorrowful, 
wistful, anxious people ; while the most import- 
ant artistic monuments of that legend sufficiently 
prove that the Romantic spirit was really at 
work in the minds of Greek artists, extracting 
by a kind of subtle alchemy, a beauty, not with- 
out the elements of tranquillity, of dignity and 
order, out of a matter, at first sight painful and 
strange. 

The student of origins^ as French critics say, 
of the earliest stages of art and poetry, must 
be content to follow faint traces ; and in what 
has been here said, much may seem to have 
been made of little, with too much completion, 
by a general framework or setting, of what after 

III 



GREEK STUDIES 

all are but doubtful or fragmentary indications. 
Yet there is a certain cynicism too, in that over- 
positive temper, which is so jealous of our catch- 
ing any resemblance in the earlier world to the 
thoughts that really occupy our own minds, and 
which, in its estimate of the actual fragments of 
antiquity, is content to find no seal of human 
intelligence upon them. Slight indeed in them- 
selves, these fragmentary indications become 
suggestive of much, when viewed in the light of 
such general evidence about the human imagina- 
tion as is afforded by the theory of " comparative 
mythology," or what is called the theory of 
" animism." Only, in the application of these 
theories, the student of Greek religion must 
never forget that, after all, it is with poetry, not 
with systematic theological belief or dogma, that 
he has to do. As regards this story of Demeter 
and Persephone, what we actually possess is some 
actual fragments of poetry, some actual fragments 
of sculpture ; and with a curiosity, justified by the 
direct aesthetic beauty of these fragments, we feel 
our way backwards to that engaging picture of 
the poet-people, with which the ingenuity of 
modern theory has filled the void in our know- 
ledge. The abstract poet of that first period of 
mythology, creating in this wholly impersonal, 
intensely spiritual way, — the abstract spirit of 
poetry itself, rises before the mind ; and, in speak- 
ing of this poetical age, we must take heed, before 
all things, in no sense to misconstrue the poets. 

112 



II 



The stories of the Greek mythology, like other 
things which belong to no man, and for which 
no one in particular is responsible, had their 
fortunes. In that world of floating fancies there 
was a struggle for life ; there were myths which 
never emerged from that first stage of popular 
conception, or were absorbed by stronger com- 
petitors, because, as some true heroes have done, 
they lacked the sacred poet or prophet, and were 
never remodelled by literature ; while, out of 
the myth of Demeter, under the careful conduct 
of poetry and art, came the little pictures, the 
idylls, of the Homeric hymn, and the gracious 
imagery of Praxiteles. The myth has now 
entered its second or poetical phase, then, in 
which more definite fancies are grouped about 
the primitive stock, in a conscious literary temper, 
and the whole interest settles round the images 
of the beautiful girl going down into the darkness, 
and the weary woman who seeks her lost daughter 
— divine persons, then sincerely believed in by 
the majority of the Greeks. The Homeric hymn 
I 113 



GREEK STUDIES 

is the central monument of this second phase. 
In it, the changes of the natural year have become 
a personal history, a story of human affection 
and sorrow, yet with a far-reaching religious 
significance also, of which the mere earthly spring 
and autumn are but an analogy ; and in the 
development of this human element, the writer 
of the hymn sometimes displays a genuine power 
of pathetic expression. The whole episode of 
the fostering of Demophoon, in which over the 
body of the dying child human longing and 
regret are blent so subtly with the mysterious 
design of the goddess to make the child immortal, 
is an excellent example of the sentiment of pity 
in literature. Yet though it has reached the 
stage of conscious literary interpretation, much 
of its early mystical or cosmical character still 
lingers about the story, as it is here told. Later 
mythologists simply define the personal history ; 
but in this hymn we may, again and again, trace 
curious links of connexion with the original 
purpose of the myth. Its subject is the weary 
woman, indeed, our Lady of Sorrows, the mater 
dolorosa of the ancient world, but with a certain 
latent reference, all through, to the mystical 
person of the earth. Her robe of dark blue is 
the raiment of her mourning, but also the blue 
robe of the earth in shadow, as we see it in 
Titian*s landscapes ; her great age is the age of 
the immemorial earth ; she becomes a nurse, 
therefore, holding Demophoon in her bosom ; 

114 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

the folds of her garment are fragrant, not merely 
with the incense of Eleusis, but with the natural 
perfume of flowers and fruit. The sweet breath 
with w^hich she nourishes the child Demophoon, 
is the warm west wind, feeding all germs of 
vegetable life ; her bosom, where he lies, is the 
bosom of the earth, with its strengthening heat, 
reserved and shy, offended if human eyes scrutinise 
too closely its secret chemistry ; it is with the 
earth's natural surface of varied colour that she 
has, " in time past, given pleasure to the sun " ; 
the yellow hair which falls suddenly over her 
shoulders, at her transformation in the house of 
Celeus, is still partly the golden corn ; — in art 
and poetry she is ever the blond goddess ; tarry- 
ing in her temple, of which an actual hollow 
in the earth is the prototype, among the spicy 
odours of the Eleusinian ritual, she is the spirit 
of the earth, lying hidden in its dark folds until 
the return of spring, among the flower-seeds and 
fragrant roots, like the seeds and aromatic woods 
hidden in the wrappings of the dead. Through- 
out the poem, we have a sense of a certain near- 
ness to nature, surviving from an earlier world ; 
the sea is understood as a person, yet is still the 
real sea, with the waves moving. When it is 
said that no bird gave Demeter tidings of Perse- 
phone, we feel that to that earlier world, ways 
of communication between all creatures may have 
seemed open, which are closed to us. It is Iris 
who brings to Demeter the message of Zeus ; 

115 



GREEK STUDIES 

that is, the rainbow signifies to the earth the 
good-will of the rainy sky towards it. Persephone 
springing up with great joy from the couch of 
Aidoneus, to return to her mother, is the sudden 
outburst of the year. The heavy and narcotic 
aroma of spring flowers hangs about her, as 
about the actual spring. And this mingling 
of the primitive cosmical import of the myth 
with the later, personal interests of the story, is 
curiously illustrated by the place which the poem 
assigns to Hecate. This strange Titaness is, first, 
a nymph only ; afterwards, as if changed incur- 
ably by the passionate cry of Persephone, she 
becomes her constant attendant, and is even 
identified with her. But in the Homeric hymn 
her lunar character is clear ; she is really the 
moon only, who hears the cry of Persephone, 
as the sun saw her, when Aidoneus carried her 
away. One morning, as the mother wandered, 
the moon appeared, as it does in its last quarter, 
rising very bright, just before dawn ; that is, in 
the words of the Homeric hymn — "on the tenth 
morning Hecate met her, having a light in her 
hands." The fascinating, but enigmatical figure, 
"sitting ever in her cave, half-veiled with a 
shining veil, thinking delicate thoughts," in 
which we seem to see the subject of some picture 
of the Italian Renaissance, is but the lover of 
Endymion — like Persephone, withdrawn, in her 
season, from the eyes of men. The sun saw her ; 
the moon saw her not, but heard her cry, and is 

ii6 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

ever after the half-veiled attendant of the queen 
of dreams and of the dead. 

But the story of Demeter and Persephone 
lends itself naturally to description, and it is in 
descriptive beauties that the Homeric hymn 
excels ; its episodes are finished designs, and 
directly stimulate the painter and the sculptor 
to a rivalry with them. Weaving the names of 
the flowers into his verse, names familiar to us 
in English, though their Greek originals are 
uncertain, the writer sets Persephone before us, 
herself like one of them — KoKuKco-m^; — like the 
budding calyx of a flower, — in a picture, which, 
in its mingling of a quaint freshness and simpli- 
city with a certain earnestness, reads like a 
description of some early Florentine design, such 
as Sandro Botticelli's Allegory of the Seasons, By 
an exquisite chance also, a common metrical 
expression connects the perfume of the newly- 
created narcissus with the salt odour of the sea. 
Like one of those early designs also, but with a 
deeper infusion of religious earnestness, is the 
picture of Demeter sitting at the wayside, in 
shadow as always, with the well of water and 
the olive-tree. She has been journeying all 
night, and now it is morning, and the daughters 
of Celeus bring their vessels to draw water. 
That image of the seated Demeter, resting after 
her long flight " through the dark continent," 
or in the house of Celeus, when she refuses the 
red wine, or again, solitary, in her newly-finished 

117 



GREEK STUDIES 

temple of Eleusis, enthroned in her grief, fixed 
itself deeply on the Greek imagination, and 
became a favourite subject of Greek artists. 
When the daughters of Celeus come to conduct 
her to Eleusis, they come as in a Greek frieze, 
full of energy and motion and waving lines, but 
with gold and colours upon it. Eleusis — coming 
— the coming of Demeter thither, as thus told in 
the Homeric hymn, is the central instance in 
Greek mythology of such divine appearances. 
" She leaves for a season the company of the 
gods and abides among men ; " and men's merit 
is to receive her in spite of appearances. Meta- 
neira and others, in the Homeric hymn, partly 
detect her divine character ; they find x^pt? — a 
certain gracious air — about her, which makes 
them think her, perhaps, a royal person in dis- 
guise. She becomes in her long wanderings 
almost wholly humanised, and in return, she 
and Persephone, alone of the Greek gods, seem 
to have been the objects of a sort of personal 
love and loyalty. Yet they are ever the solemn 
goddesses, — 6eal ceiivai, the word expressing re- 
ligious awe, the Greek sense of the divine 
presence. 

Plato, in laying down the rules by which the 
poets are to be guided in speaking about divine 
things to the citizens of the ideal republic, 
forbids all those episodes of mythology which 
represent the gods as assuming various forms, 
and visiting the earth in disguise. Below the 

ii8 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

express reasons which he assigns for this rule, 
we may perhaps detect that instinctive antagonism 
to the old HeracHtean philosophy of perpetual 
change, which forces him, in his theory of morals 
and the state, of poetry and music, of dress and 
manners even, and of style in the very vessels 
and furniture of daily life, on an austere simpli- 
city, the older Dorian or Egyptian type of a 
rigid, eternal immobility. The disintegrating, 
centrifugal inHuence, which had penetrated, as 
he thought, political and social existence, making 
men too myriad-minded, had laid hold on the 
life of the gods also, and, even in their calm 
sphere, one could hardly identify a single divine 
person as himself, and not another. There must, 
then, be no doubling, no disguises, no stories of 
transformation. The modern reader, however, 
will hardly acquiesce in this " improvement " of 
Greek mythology. He finds in these stories, 
like that, for instance, of the appearance of 
Athene to Telemachus, in the first book of the 
Odyssey, which has a quite biblical mysticity 
and solemnity, — stories in which, the hard 
material outline breaking up, the gods lay aside 
their visible form like a garment, yet remain 
essentially themselves, — not the least spiritual 
element of Greek religion, an evidence of the 
sense therein of unseen presences, which might 
at any moment cross a man's path, to be recog- 
nised, in half disguise, by the more delicately 
trained eye, here or there, by one and not by 

119 



GREEK STUDIES 

another. Whatever religious elements they 
lacked, they had at least this sense of subtler 
and more remote ways of personal presence. 

And as there are traces in the Homeric hymn 
of the primitive cosmical myth, relics of the first 
stage of the development of the story, so also 
many of its incidents are probably suggested by 
the circumstances and details of the Eleusinian 
ritual. There were religious usages before there 
were distinct religious conceptions, and these 
antecedent religious usages shape and determine, 
at many points, the ultimate religious conception, 
as the details of the myth interpret or explain 
the religious custom. The hymn relates the 
legend of certain holy places, to which various 
impressive religious rites had attached them- 
selves — the holy well, the old fountain, the stone 
of sorrow, which it was the office of the " inter- 
preter " of the holy places to show to the people. 
The sacred way which led from Athens to 
Eleusis was rich in such memorials. The nine 
days of the wanderings of Demeter in the 
Homeric hymn are the nine days of the duration 
of the greater or autumnal mysteries ; the jesting 
of the old woman lambe, who endeavours to 
make Demeter smile, are the customary mockeries 
with which the worshippers, as they rested on 
the bridge, on the seventh day of the feast, 
assailed those who passed by. The torches in 
the hands of Demeter are borrowed from the 
same source ; and the shadow in which she is 

120 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

constantly represented, and which is the peculiar 
sign of her grief, is partly ritual, and a relic of 
the caves of the old Chthonian worship, partly 
poetical — expressive, half of the dark earth to 
which she escapes from Olympus, half of her 
mourning. She appears consistently, in the 
hymn, as a teacher of rites, transforming daily 
life, and the processes of life, into a religious 
solemnity. With no misgiving as to the pro- 
prieties of a mere narration, the hymn-writer 
mingles these symbolical imitations with the 
outlines of the original story ; and, in his 
Demeter, the dramatic person of the mysteries 
mixes itself with the primitive mythical figure. 
And the worshipper, far from being offended by 
these interpolations, may have found a special 
impressiveness in them, as they linked continu- 
ously its inner sense with the outward imagery 
of the ritual. 

And, as Demeter and her story embodied 
themselves gradually in the Greek imagination, 
so these mysteries in which her worship found 
its chief expression, grew up little by little, 
growing always in close connexion with the 
modifications of the story, sometimes prompting 
them, at other times suggested by them. That 
they had a single special author is improbable, 
and a mere invention of the Greeks, ignorant of 
their real history and the general analogy of 
such matters. Here again, as in the story itself, 
the idea of development, of degrees, of a slow 

121 



GREEK STUDIES 

and natural growth, impeded here, diverted 
there, is the illuminating thought which earlier 
critics lacked. " No tongue may speak of them," 
says the Homeric hymn ; and the secret has 
certainly been kept. The antiquarian, dealing, 
letter by letter, with what is recorded of them, 
has left few certain data for the reflexion of the 
modern student of the Greek religion ; and of 
this, its central solemnity, only a fragmentary 
picture can be made. It is probable that these 
mysteries developed the symbolical significance 
of the story of the descent into Hades, the com- 
ing of Demeter to Eleusis, the invention of 
Persephone. They may or may not have been 
the vehicle of a secret doctrine, but were certainly 
an artistic spectacle, giving, like the mysteries of 
the middle age, a dramatic representation of the 
sacred story, — perhaps a detailed performance, 
perhaps only such a conventional representation, 
as was afforded for instance by the medieval 
ceremonies of Palm Sunday ; the whole, probably, 
centering in an image of Demeter — the work of 
Praxiteles or his school, in ivory and gold. There 
is no reason to suppose any specific difference 
between the observances of the Eleusinian festival 
and the accustomed usages of the Greek religion ; 
nocturns, libations, quaint purifications, proces- 
sions — are common incidents of all Greek wor- 
ship ; in all religious ceremonies there is an 
element of dramatic symbolism ; and what we 
really do see, through those scattered notices, 

122 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

are things which have their parallels in a later 
age, the whole being not altogether unlike a 
modern pilgrimage. The exposition of the 
sacred places — the threshing-floor of Triptolemus, 
the rocky seat on which Demeter had rested in 
her sorrow, the well of Callichorus — is not so 
strange, as it would seem, had it no modern 
illustration. The libations, at once a watering 
of the vines and a drink-offering to the dead — 
still needing men's services, waiting for purifica- 
tion perhaps, or thirsting, like Dante's Adam of 
Brescia, in their close homes — must, to almost 
all minds, have had a certain natural impressive- 
ness ; and a parallel has sometimes been drawn 
between this festival and All Souls' Day. 

And who, everywhere, has not felt the 
mystical influence of that prolonged silence, the 
mystic silence, from which the very word 
" mystery " has its origin ? Something also 
there undoubtedly was, which coarser minds 
might misunderstand. On one day, the initiated 
went in procession to the sea-coast, where they 
underwent a purification by bathing in the sea. 
On the fifth night there was the torchlight pro- 
cession ; and, by a touch of real life in him, we 
gather from the first page of Plato's Republic that 
such processions were popular spectacles, having 
a social interest, so that people made much of 
attending them. There was the procession of 
the sacred basket filled with poppy -seeds and 
pomegranates. There was the day of rest, after 

123 



GREEK STUDIES 

the stress and excitement of the " great night." 
On the sixth day, the image of lacchus, son of 
Demeter, crowned with myrtle and having a 
torch in its hand, was carried in procession, 
through thousands of spectators, along the sacred 
way, amid joyous shouts and songs. We have 
seen such processions ; we understand how many 
different senses, and how lightly, various spectators 
may put on them ; how little definite meaning 
they may have even for those who officiate in 
them. Here, at least, there was the image itself, 
in that age, with its close connexion between 
religion and art, presumably fair. Susceptibility 
to the impressions of religious ceremonial must 
always have varied with the peculiarities of in- 
dividual temperament, as it varies in our own day ; 
and Eleusis, with its incense and sweet singing, 
may have been as little interesting to the out- 
ward senses of some worshippers there, as the 
stately and affecting ceremonies of the medieval 
church to many of its own members. In a 
simpler yet profounder sense than has sometimes 
been supposed, these things were really addressed 
to the initiated only.-^ 

We have to travel a long way from the 
Homeric hymn to the hymn of Callimachus, who 
writes in the end of Greek literature, in the 
third century before Christ, in celebration of the 
procession of the sacred basket of Demeter, not 

* The great Greek myths are, in truth, like abstract forces, which 
ally themselves to various conditions. 

124 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

at the Attic, but at the Alexandrian Eleusinia. 
He developes, in something of the prosaic spirit 
of a medieval writer of " mysteries," one of the 
burlesque incidents of the story, the insatiable 
hunger which seized on Erysichthon because he 
cut down a grove sacred to the goddess. Yet he 
finds his opportunities for skilful touches of 
poetry ; — " As the four white horses draw her 
sacred basket," he says, " so will the great goddess 
bring us a white spring, a white summer." He 
describes the grove itself, with its hedge of trees, 
so thick that an arrow could hardly pass through, 
its pines and fruit-trees and tall poplars within, 
and the water, like pale gold, running from the 
conduits. It is one of those famous poplars that 
receives the first stroke ; it sounds heavily to its 
companion trees, and Demeter perceives that her 
sacred grove is suffering. Then comes one of 
those transformations which Plato will not allow. 
Vainly anxious to save the lad from his ruin, she 
appears in the form of a priestess, but with the 
long hood of the goddess, and the poppy in her 
hand ; and there is something of a real shudder, 
some still surviving sense of a haunting presence 
in the groves, in the verses which describe her 
sudden revelation, when the workmen flee away, 
leaving their axes in the cleft trees. 

Of the same age as the hymn of Callimachus, 
but with very different qualities, is the idyll of 
Theocritus on the Shepherds' 'Journey. Although 
it is possible to define an epoch in mythological 

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development in which literary and artificial 
influences began to remodel the primitive, popular 
legend, yet still, among children, and unchanging 
childlike people, we may suppose that that primi- 
tive stage always survived, and the old, instinctive 
influences were still at work. As the subject of 
popular religious celebrations also, the myth was 
still the property of the people, and surrendered 
to its capricious action. The shepherds in 
Theocritus, on th;;ir way to celebrate one of the 
more homely feasts of Demeter, about the time 
of harvest, are examples of these childlike people ; 
the age of the poets has long since come, but 
they are of the older and simpler order, lingering 
on in the midst of a more self-conscious world. 
In an idyll, itself full of the delightful gifts of 
Demeter, Theocritus sets them before us ; 
through the blazing summer day's journey, the 
smiling image of the goddess is always before 
them ; and now they have reached the end of 
their journey : — 

" So I, and Eucritus, and the fair Amyntichus, 
turned aside into the house of Phrasidamus, and 
lay down with delight in beds of sweet tamarisk 
and fresh cuttings from the vines, strewn on the 
ground. Many poplars and elm - trees were 
waving over our heads, and not far off the running 
of the sacred water from the cave of the nymphs 
warbled to us ; in the shimmering branches the 
sun-burnt grasshoppers were busy with their talk, 
and from afar the little owl cried softly, out of 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

the tangled thorns of the blackberry ; the larks 
were singing and the hedge-birds, and the turtle- 
dove moaned ; the bees flew round and round the 
fountains, murmuring softly ; the scent of late 
summer and of the fall of the year was every- 
where ; the pears fell from the trees at our feet, 
and apples in number rolled down at our sides, 
and the young plum-trees were bent to the earth 
with the weight of their fruit. The wax, four 
years old, was loosed from the heads of the wine- 
jars. O ! nymphs of Castalia, who dwell on the 
steeps of Parnassus, tell me, I pray you, was it a 
draught like this that the aged Chiron placed 
before Hercules, in the stony cave of Pholus ? 
Was it nectar like this that made the mighty 
shepherd on Anapus' shore, Polyphemus, who 
flung the rocks upon Ulysses' ships, dance among 
his sheepfolds ? — A cup like this ye poured out 
now upon the altar of Demeter, who presides 
over the threshing-floor. May it be mine, once 
more, to dig my big winnowing-fan through her 
heaps of corn ; and may I see her smile upon me, 
holding poppies and handfuls of corn in her two 
hands ! " 

Some of the modifications of the story of 
Demeter, as we find it in later poetry, have been 
supposed to be due, not to the genuine action of 
the Greek mind, but to the influence of that so- 
called Orphic literature, which, in the generation 
succeeding Hesiod, brought, from Thessaly and 
Phrygia, a tide of mystical ideas into the Greek 

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religion, sometimes, doubtless, confusing the clear- 
ness and naturalness of its original outlines, but 
also sometimes imparting to them a new and 
peculiar grace. Under the influence of this 
Orphic poetry, Demeter was blended, or identi- 
fied, with Rhea Cybele, the mother of the gods, 
the wilder earth -goddess of Phrygia ; and the 
romantic figure of Dionysus Zagreus, Dionysus 
the Hunter^ that most interesting, though some- 
what melancholy variation on the better known 
Dionysus, was brought, as son or brother of 
Persephone, into her circle, the mystical vine, 
who, as Persephone descends and ascends from 
the earth, is rent to pieces by the Titans every 
year and remains long in Hades, but every spring- 
time comes out of it again, renewing his youth. 
This identification of Demeter with Rhea Cybele 
is the motive which has inspired a beautiful 
chorus in the Helena — the new Helena — of 
Euripides, that great lover of all subtle refine- 
ments and modernisms, who, in this play, has 
worked on a strange version of the older story, 
which relates that Helen had never really gone 
to Troy at all, but sent her soul only there, apart 
from her sweet body, which abode all that time 
in Egypt, at the court of King Proteus, where 
she is found at last by her husband Menelaus, so 
that the Trojan war was about a phantom, after 
all. The chorus has even less than usual to do 
with the action of the play, being linked to it 
only by a sort of parallel, which may be under- 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

stood, between Menelaus seeking Helen, and 
Demeter seeking Persephone. Euripides, then, 
takes the matter of the Homeric hymn into the 
region of a higher and swifter poetry, and connects 
it with the more stimulating imagery of the 
Idaean mother. The Orphic mysticism or enthusi- 
asm has been admitted into the story, which is 
now full of excitement, the motion of rivers, the 
sounds of the Bacchic cymbals heard over the 
mountains, as Demeter wanders among the woody 
valleys seeking her lost daughter, all directly 
expressed in the vivid Greek words. Demeter 
is no longer the subdued goddess of the quietly- 
ordered fields, but the mother of the gods, who 
has her abode in the heights of Mount Ida, who 
presides over the dews and waters of the white 
springs, whose flocks feed, not on grain, but on 
the curling tendrils of the vine, both of which 
she withholds in her anger, and whose chariot is 
drawn by wild beasts, fruit and emblem of the 
earth in its fiery strength. Not Hecate, but 
Pallas and Artemis, in full armour, swift-footed, 
vindicators of chastity, accompany her in her 
search for Persephone, who is already expressly, 
KopT] appr)To<i — "the maiden whom none may 
name." When she rests from her long wander- 
ings, it is into the stony thickets of Mount Ida, 
deep with snow, that she throws herself, in her 
profound grief. When Zeus desires to end her 
pain, the Muses and the " solemn " Graces are 
sent to dance and sing before her. It is then 
K 129 



GREEK STUDIES 

that Cypris, the goddess of beauty, and the 
original cause, therefore, of her distress, takes 
into her hands the brazen tambourines of the 
Dionysiac worship with their Chthonian or deep- 
noted sound ; and it is she, not the old lambe, 
who with this wild music, heard thus for the 
first time, makes Demeter smile at last. " Great," 
so the chorus ends with a picture, " great is the 
power of the stoles of spotted fawn-skins, and 
the green leaves of ivy twisted about the sacred 
wands, and the wheeling motion of the tambourine 
whirled round in the air, and the long hair 
floating unbound in honour of Bromius, and the 
nocturns of the goddess, when the moon looks 
full upon them." 

The poem of Claudian on the Rape of Proser- 
pine^ the longest extant work connected with the 
story of Demeter, yet itself unfinished, closes the 
world of classical poetry. Writing in the fourth 
century of the Christian era, Claudian has his 
subject before him in the whole extent of its 
various development, and also profits by those 
many pictorial representations of it, which, from 
the famous picture of Polygnotus downwards, 
delighted the ancient world. His poem, then, 
besides having an intrinsic charm, is valuable for 
some reflexion in it of those lost works, being 
itself pre-eminently a work in colour, and 
excelling in a kind of painting in words, which 
brings its subject very pleasantly almost to the 
eye of the reader. The mind of this late votary 

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OEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

of the old gods, in a world rapidly changing, is 
crowded with all the beautiful forms generated 
by mythology, and now about to be forgotten. 
In this after-glow of Latin literature, lighted up 
long after their fortune had set, and just before 
their long night began, they pass before us, in 
his verses, with the utmost clearness, like the 
figures in an actual procession. The nursing of 
the infant Sun and Moon by Tethys ; Proserpine 
and her companions gathering flowers at early 
dawn, when the violets are drinking in the dew, 
still lying white upon the grass ; the image of 
Pallas winding the peaceful blossoms about the 
steel crest of her helmet ; the realm of Proserpine, 
softened somewhat by her coming, and filled with 
a quiet joy ; the matrons of Elysium crowding 
to her marriage toilet, with the bridal veil of 
yellow in their hands ; the Manes, crowned 
with ghostly flowers yet warmed a little, at the 
marriage feast ; the ominous dreams of the 
mother ; the desolation of the home, like an 
empty bird's-nest or an empty fold, when she 
returns and finds Proserpine gone, and the spider 
at work over her unfinished embroidery ; the 
strangely-figured raiment, the flowers in the 
grass, which were once blooming youths, having 
both their natural colour and the colour of their 
poetry in them, and the clear little fountain there, 
which was once the maiden Cyane ; — all this is 
shown in a series of descriptions, like the designs 
in some unwinding tapestry, like Proserpine's own 

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GREEK STUDIES 

embroidery, the description of which is the most 
brilliant of these pictures, and, in its quaint con- 
fusion of the images of philosophy with those of 
mythology, anticipates something of the fancy of 
the Italian Renaissance. 

" Proserpina, filling the house soothingly with 
her low song, was working a gift against the 
return of her mother, with labour all to be in 
vain. In it, she marked out with her needle the 
houses of the gods and the series of the elements, 
showing by what law, nature, the parent of all, 
settled the strife of ancient times, and the seeds 
of things disparted into their places ; the lighter 
elements are borne aloft, the heavier fall to the 
centre ; the air grows bright with heat, a blazing 
light whirls round the firmament ; the sea flows ; 
the earth hangs suspended in its place. And 
there were divers colours in it ; she illuminated 
the stars with gold, infused a purple shade into 
the water, and heightened the shore with gems 
of flowers ; and, under her skilful hand, the 
threads, with their inwrought lustre, swell up, 
in momentary counterfeit of the waves ; you 
might think that the sea-wind flapped against 
the rocks, and that a hollow murmur came 
creeping over the thirsty sands. She puts in 
the five zones, marking with a red ground the 
midmost zone, possessed by burning heat ; its 
outline was parched and stiff; the threads seemed 
thirsty with the constant sunshine ; on either 
side lay the two zones proper for human life, 

132 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

where a gentle temperance reigns ; and at the 
extremes she drew the twin zones of numbing 
cold, making her work dun and sad with the 
hues of perpetual frost. She paints in, too, the 
sacred places of Dis, her father's brother, and 
the Manes, so fatal to her ; and an omen of her 
doom was not wanting ; for, as she worked, as 
if with foreknowledge of the future, her face 
became wet with a sudden burst of tears. And 
now, in the utmost border of the tissue, she had 
begun to wind in the wavy line of the river 
Oceanus, with its glassy shallows ; but the door 
sounds on its hinges, and she perceives the 
goddesses coming ; the unfinished work drops 
from her hands, and a ruddy blush lights up 
in her clear and snow-white face." 

I have reserved to the last what is perhaps 
the daintiest treatment of this subject in classical 
literature, the account of it which Ovid gives in 
the Fasti — a kind of Roman Calendar — for the 
seventh of April, the day of the games of Ceres. 
He tells over again the old story, with much 
of which, he says, the reader will be already 
familiar ; but he has something also of his own 
to add to it, which the reader will hear for the 
first time ; and, like one of those old painters 
who, in depicting a scene of Christian history, 
drew from their own fancy or experience its 
special setting and accessories, he translates the 
story into something very different from the 
Homeric hymn. The writer of the Homeric 

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GREEK STUDIES 

hymn had made Celeus a king, and represented 
the scene at Eleusis in a fair palace, like the 
Venetian painters who depict the persons of the 
Holy Family with royal ornaments. Ovid, on 
the other hand, is more like certain painters of 
the early Florentine school, who represent the 
holy persons amid the more touching circum- 
stances of humble life ; and the special something 
of his own which he adds, is a pathos caught 
from homely things, not without a delightful, 
just perceptible, shade of humour even, so rare in 
such work. All the mysticism has disappeared ; 
but, instead, we trace something of that "worship 
of sorrow," which has been sometimes sup- 
posed to have had no place in classical religious 
sentiment. In Ovid's well -finished elegiacs, 
Persephone's flower -gathering, the Anthology^ 
reaches its utmost delicacy ; but I give the fol- 
lowing episode for the sake of its pathetic 
expression, 

" After many wanderings Ceres was come to 
Attica. There, in the utmost dejection, for the 
first time, she sat down to rest on a bare stone, 
which the people of Attica still call the stone of 
sorrow. For many days she remained there 
motionless, under the open sky, heedless of the 
rain and of the frosty moonlight. Places have 
their fortunes ; and what is now the illustrious 
town of Eleusis was then the field of an old man 
named Celeus. He was carrying home a load of 
acorns, and wild berries shaken down from the 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

brambles, and dry wood for burning on the 
hearth ; his little daughter was leading two 
goats home from the hills ; and at home there 
was a little boy lying sick, in his cradle. 
* Mother,' said the little girl — and the goddess 
was moved at the name of mother — ' what do 
you, all alone, in this solitary place ? ' The old 
man stopped too, in spite of his heavy burden, 
and bade her take shelter in his cottage, though 
it was but a little one. But at first she refused to 
come ; she looked like an old woman, and an old 
woman's coif confined her hair ; and as the man 
still urged her, she said to him, ' Heaven bless 
you ; and may children always be yours ! My 
daughter has been stolen from me. Alas ! how 
much happier is your lot than mine ' ; and, 
though weeping is impossible for the gods, as 
she spoke, a bright drop, like a tear, fell into her 
bosom. Soft-hearted, the little girl and the old 
man weep together. And after that the good 
man said, ' Arise ! despise not the shelter of my 
little home ; so may the daughter whom you 
seek be restored to you.' ' Lead me,' answered 
the goddess ; ' you have found out the secret of 
moving me ; * and she arose from the stone, and 
followed the old man ; and as they went he told 
her of the sick child at home — how he is restless 
with pain, and cannot sleep. And she, before 
entering the little cottage, gathered from the 
untended earth the soothing and sleep-giving 
poppy; and as she gathered it, it is said that she 

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GREEK STUDIES 

forgot her vow, and tasted of the seeds, and broke 
her long fast, unaware. As she came through the 
door, she saw the house full of trouble, for now 
there was no more hope of life for the sick 
boy. She saluted the mother, whose name was 
Metaneira, and humbly kissed the lips of the child, 
with her own lips ; then the paleness left its face, 
and suddenly the parents see the strength return- 
ing to its body ; so great is the force that comes 
from the divine mouth. And the whole family 
was full of joy — the mother and the father and 
the little girl ; they were the whole house- 
hold. " 1 

Three profound ethical conceptions, three im- 
pressive sacred figures, have now defined them- 
selves for the Greek imagination, condensed from 
all the traditions which have now been traced, 
from the hymns of the poets, from the instinctive 
and unformulated mysticism of primitive minds. 
Demeter is become the divine sorrowing mother. 
Kore, the goddess of summer, is become Per- 
sephone, the goddess of death, still associated 
with the forms and odours of flowers and fruit, 
yet as one risen from the dead also, presenting 
one side of her ambiguous nature to men's 
gloomier fancies. Thirdly, there is the image of 
Demeter enthroned, chastened by sorrow, and 
somewhat advanced in age, blessing the earth, in 
her joy at the return of Kore. The myth has 

1 With this may be connected another passage of Ovid— 
Metamorphoses^ v. 391-408. 

136 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

now entered on the third phase ot its life, in 
which it becomes the property of those more 
elevated spirits, who, in the decline of the Greek 
religion, pick and choose and modify, with 
perfect freedom of mind, whatever in it may 
seem adapted to minister to their culture. In 
this way, the myths of the Greek religion 
become parts of an ideal, visible embodiments of 
the susceptibilities and intuitions of the nobler 
kind of souls ; and it is to this latest phase 
of mythological development that the highest 
Greek sculpture allies itself. Its function is to 
give visible aesthetic expression to the constituent 
parts of that ideal. As poetry dealt chiefly with 
the incidents of the story, so it is with the person- 
ages of the story — with Demeter and Kore them- 
selves — that sculpture has to do. 

For the myth of Demeter, like the Greek 
religion in general, had its unlovelier side, 
grotesque, unhellenic, unglorified by art, illus- 
trated well enough by the description Pausanias 
gives us of his visit to the cave of the Black 
Demeter at Phigalia. In his time the image 
itself had vanished ; but he tells us enough about 
it to enable us to realise its general characteristics, 
monstrous as the special legend with which it 
was connected, the black draperies, the horse's 
head united to the woman's body, with the 
carved reptiles creeping about it. If, with the 
thought of this gloomy image of our mother the 
earth, in our minds, we take up one of those coins 

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GREEK STUDIES 

which bear the image of Kore or Demeter,^ we 
shall better understand what the function of 
sculpture really was, in elevating and refining the 
religious conceptions of the Greeks. Looking 
on the profile, for instance, on one of those coins 
of Messene, which almost certainly represent 
Demeter, and noting the crisp, chaste opening of 
the lips, the minutely wrought earrings, and 
the delicately touched ears of corn, — this trifling 
object being justly regarded as, in its aesthetic 
qualities, an epitome of art on a larger scale, — we 
shall see how far the imagination of the Greeks 
had travelled from what their Black Demeter 
shows us had once been possible for them, and in 
making the gods of their worship the objects 
of a worthy companionship in their thoughts. 
Certainly, the mind of the old workman who 
struck that coin was, if we may trust the 
testimony of his work, unclouded by impure or 
gloomy shadows. The thought of Demeter is 
impressed here, with all the purity and propor- 
tion, the purged and dainty intelligence of the 
human countenance. The mystery of it is indeed 
absent, perhaps could hardly have been looked 
for in so slight a thing, intended for no sacred 
purpose, and tossed lightly from hand to hand. 
But in his firm hold on the harmonies of the 
human face, the designer of this tranquil head of 

* On these small objects the mother and daughter are hard to 
distinguish, the latter being recognisable only by a greater delicacy 
in the features and the more evident stamp of youth 

138 



DExMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

Demeter is on the one road to a command over 
the secrets of all imaginative pathos and mystery; 
though, in the perfect fairness and blitheness of 
his work, he might seem almost not to have 
known the incidents of her terrible story. 

It is probable that, at a later period than in 
other equally important temples of Greece, the 
earlier archaic representation of Demeter in the 
sanctuary of Eleusis, was replaced by a more 
beautiful image in the new style, with face 
and hands of ivory, having therefore, in tone 
and texture, some subtler likeness to women's 
flesh, and the closely enveloping drapery being 
constructed in daintily beaten plates of gold. 
Praxiteles seems to have been the first to bring 
into the region of a freer artistic handling these 
shy deities of the earth, shrinking still within 
the narrow restraints of a hieratic, conventional 
treatment, long after the more genuine Olympians 
had broken out of them. The school of 
Praxiteles, as distinguished from that of Pheidias, 
is especially the school of grace, relaxing a little 
the severe ethical tension of the latter, in favour 
of a slightly Asiatic sinuosity and tenderness. 
Pausanias tells us that he carved the two 
goddesses for the temple of Demeter at Athens ; 
and Pliny speaks of two groups of his in brass, 
the one representing the stealing of Persephone, 
the other her later, annual descent into Hades, 
conducted thither by the now pacified mother. 
All alike have perished ; though perhaps some 

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GREEK STUDIES 

more or less faint reflexion of the most important 
of these designs may still be traced on many 
painted vases which depict the stealing of 
Persephone, — a helpless, plucked flower in the 
arms of Aidoneus. And in this almost traditional 
form, the subject was often represented, in low 
relief, on tombs, some of which still remain ; in 
one or two instances, built up, oddly enough, in 
the walls of Christian churches. On the tombs 
of women who had died in early life, this was a 
favourite subject, some likeness of the actual 
lineaments of the deceased being sometimes 
transferred to the features of Persephone. 

Yet so far, it might seem, when we consider 
the interest of this story in itself, and its im- 
portance in the Greek religion, that no adequate 
expression of it had remained to us in works of 
art. But in the year 1857, the discovery of the 
marbles, in the sacred precinct of Demeter at 
Cnidus, restored to us an illustration of the myth 
in its artistic phase, hardly less central than the 
Homeric hymn in its poetical phase. With the 
help of the descriptions and plans of Mr. 
Newton's book,^ we can form, as one always 
wishes to do in such cases, a clear idea of the 
place where these marbles — three statues of the 
best style of Greek sculpture, now in the British 
Museum — were found. Occupying a ledge of 
rock, looking towards the sea, at the base of a 

1 A Hiitery of Discoveries at Halicamassus^ Cnidus^ and 
Branchida, 

140 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

cliff of upheaved limestone, of singular steepness 
and regularity of surface, the spot presents indi- 
cations of volcanic disturbance, as if a chasm 
in the earth had opened here. It was this 
character, suggesting the belief in an actual con- 
nexion with the interior of the earth (local 
tradition claiming it as the scene of the stealing 
of Persephone), which probably gave rise, as in 
other cases where the landscape presented some 
peculiar feature in harmony with the story, to 
the dedication upon it of a house and an image 
of Demeter, with whom were associated Kore 
and " the gods with Demeter " — oi deo\ irapa 
Aafidrpi — Aidoneus, and the mystical or Chthonian 
Dionysus. The house seems to have been a 
small chapel only, of simple construction, and 
designed for private use, the site itself having 
been private property, consecrated by a particular 
family, for their own religious uses, although 
other persons, servants or dependents of the 
founders, may also have frequented it. The 
architecture seems to have been insignificant, but 
the sculpture costly and exquisite, belonging, if 
contemporary with the erection of the building, 
to a great period of Greek art, of which also it is 
judged to possess intrinsic marks — about the year 
350 before Christ, the probable date of the 
dedication of the little temple. The artists by 
whom these works were produced were, there- 
fore, either the contemporaries of Praxiteles, 
whose Venus was for many centuries the glory of 

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GREEK STUDIES 

Cnidus, or belonged to the generation im- 
mediately succeeding him. The temple itself 
was probably thrown down by a renewal of the 
volcanic disturbances ; the statues however 
remaining, and the ministers and worshippers 
still continuing to make shift for their sacred 
business in the place, now doubly venerable, but 
with its temple unrestored, down to the second 
or third century of the Christian era, its fre- 
quenters being now perhaps mere chance comers, 
the family of the original donors having become 
extinct, or having deserted it. Into this later 
arrangement, clearly divined by Mr. Newton, 
through those faint indications which mean 
much for true experts, the extant remains, as 
they were found upon the spot, permit us to 
enter. It is one of the graves of that old religion, 
but with much still fresh in it. We see it with 
its provincial superstitions, and its curious magic 
rites, but also with its means of really solemn 
impressions, in the culminating forms of Greek 
art ; the two faces of the Greek religion con- 
fronting each other here, and the whole having 
that rare peculiarity of a kind of personal stamp 
upon it, the place having been designed to meet 
the fancies of one particular soul, or at least of 
one family. It is always difficult to bring the 
every-day aspect of Greek religion home to us ; 
but even the slighter details of this little 
sanctuary help us to do this ; and knowing so 
little, as we do, of the greater mysteries of 

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DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

Demeter, this glance into an actual religious 
place dedicated to her, and with the air of her 
worship still about it, is doubly interesting. The 
little votive figures of the goddesses, in baked 
earth, were still lying stored in the small treasury 
intended for such objects, or scattered about the 
feet of the images, together with lamps in great 
number, a lighted lamp being a favourite offering, 
in memory of the torches with which Demeter 
sought Persephone, or from some sense of 
inherent darkness in these gods of the earth ; 
those torches in the hands of Demeter being 
indeed originally the artificial warmth and 
brightness of lamp and fire, on winter nights. 
The dira or spells, — KardSeafMOL — binding or 
devoting certain persons to the infernal gods, 
inscribed on thin rolls of lead, with holes, some- 
times, for hanging them up about those quiet 
statues, still lay, just as they were left, anywhere 
within the sacred precinct, illustrating at once 
the gloomier side of the Greek religion in general, 
and of Demeter and Persephone especially, in 
their character of avenging deities, and as relics 
of ancient magic, reproduced so strangely at 
other times and places, reminding us of the per- 
manence of certain odd ways of human thought. 
A woman binds with her spell the person who 
seduces her husband away from her and her 
children ; another, the person who has accused her 
of preparing poison for her husband ; another 
devotes one who has not restored a borrowed 

143 



GREEK STUDIES 

garment, or has stolen a bracelet, or certain 
drinking-horns ; and, from some instances, we 
might infer that this was a favourite place of 
worship for the poor and ignorant. In this 
living picture, we find still lingering on, at the 
foot of the beautiful Greek marbles, that phase 
of religious temper which a cynical mind might 
think a truer link of its unity and permanence 
than any higher aesthetic instincts — a phase of it, 
which the art of sculpture, humanising and 
refining man*s conceptions of the unseen, tended 
constantly to do away. For the higher side of 
the Greek religion, thus humanised and refined 
by art, and elevated by it to the sense of beauty, 
is here also. 

There were three ideal forms, as we saw, 
gradually shaping themselves in the development 
of the story of Demeter, waiting only for complete 
realisation at the hands of the sculptor ; and 
now, with these forms in our minds, let us place 
ourselves in thought before the three images 
which once probably occupied the three niches 
or ambries in the face of that singular cliff at 
Cnidus, one of them being then wrought on a 
larger scale. Of the three figures, one prob- 
ably represents Persephone, as the goddess of 
the dead ; the second, Demeter enthroned ; the 
third is probably a portrait-statue of a priestess of 
Demeter, but may perhaps, even so, represent 
Demeter herself, Demeter Achcea^ Ceres Deserta, 
the mater dolorosa of the Greeks, a type not as yet 

144 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

recognised in any other work of ancient art. 
Certainly, it seems hard not to believe that this 
work is in some way connected with the legend 
of the place to which it belonged, and the main 
subject of which it realises so completely ; and, 
at least, it shows how the higher Greek sculpture 
would have worked out this motive. If Demeter 
at all, it is Demeter the seeker, — At;^, — as she 
was called in the mysteries, in some pause of her 
restless wandering over the world in search of the 
lost child, and become at last an abstract type of 
the wanderer. The Homeric hymn, as we saw, 
had its sculptural motives, the great gestures of 
Demeter, who was ever the stately goddess, as 
she followed the daughters of Celeus, or sat by 
the well-side, or went out and in, through the 
halls of the palace, expressed in monumental 
words. With the sentiment of that monumental 
Homeric presence this statue is penetrated, unit- 
ing a certain solemnity of attitude and bearing, 
to a profound piteousness, an unrivalled pathos of 
expression. There is something of the pity of 
Michelangelo's mater dolorosa^ in the wasted form 
and marred countenance, yet with the light 
breaking faintly over it from the eyes, which, 
contrary to the usual practice in ancient sculpture, 
are represented as looking upwards. It is the 
aged woman who has escaped from pirates, who 
has but just escaped being sold as a slave, calling 
on the young for pity. The sorrows of her long 
wanderings seem to have passed into the marble ; 

L 145 



GREEK STUDIES 

and in this too, it meets the demands which the 
reader of the Homeric hymn, with its command 
over the resources of human pathos, makes upon 
the sculptor. The tall figure, in proportion 
above the ordinary height, is veiled, and clad to 
the feet in the longer tunic, its numerous folds 
hanging in heavy parallel lines, opposing the 
lines of the peplus, or cloak, which cross it 
diagonally over the breast, enwrapping the upper 
portion of the body somewhat closely. It is the 
very type of the wandering woman, going grandly, 
indeed, as Homer describes her, yet so human in 
her anguish, that we seem to recognise some far 
descended shadow of her, in the homely figure of 
the roughly clad French peasant woman, who, in 
one of Corot's pictures, is hasting along under a 
sad light, as the day goes out behind the little 
hill. We have watched the growth of the 
merely personal sentiment in the story ; and we 
may notice that, if this figure be indeed Demeter, 
then the conception of her has become wholly 
humanised ; no trace of the primitive cosmical 
import of the myth, no colour or scent of the 
mystical earth, remains about it. 

The seated figure, much mutilated, and worn 
by long exposure, yet possessing, according to 
the best critics, marks of the school of Praxiteles, 
is almost undoubtedly the image of Demeter 
enthroned. Three times in the Homeric hymn 
she is represented as sitting, once by the fountain 
at the wayside, again in the house of Celeus, and 

146 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

again in the newly finished temple of Eleusis ; 
but always in sorrow ; seated on the -rrerpa 
arfika<rr(y;, which, as Ovid told us, the people of 
Attica still called the stone of sorrow. Here she 
is represented in her later state of reconciliation, 
enthroned as the glorified mother of all things. 
The delicate plaiting of the tunic about the 
throat, the formal curling of the hair, and a 
certain weight of over-thoughtfulness in the 
brows, recall the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, 
a master, one of whose characteristics is a very 
sensitive expression of the sentiment of maternity. 
It reminds one especially of a work by one of his 
scholars, the Virgin of the Balances, in the Louvre, 
a picture which has been thought to represent, 
under a veil, the blessing of universal nature, 
and in which the sleepy-looking heads, with 
a peculiar grace and refinement of somewhat 
advanced life in them, have just this half-weary 
posture. We see here, then, the Here of the 
world below, the Stygian Juno, the chief of 
those Elysian matrons who come crowding, in 
the poem of Claudian, to the marriage toilet of 
Proserpine, the goddess of the fertility of the 
earth and of all creatures, but still of fertility as 
arisen out of death ; ^ and therefore she is not 
without a certain pensiveness, having seen the 
seed fall into the ground and die, many times. 
Persephone is returned to her, and the hair 

1 Pallere ligustra, 
Eispirare rosas, decrescere lilia vidi. 



GREEK STUDIES 

spreads, like a rich harvest, over her shoulders ; 
but she is still veiled, and knov^rs that the seed 
must fall into the ground again, and Persephone 
descend again from her. 

The statues of the supposed priestess, and of 
the enthroned Demeter, are of more than the 
size of life ; the figure of Persephone is but 
seventeen inches high, a daintily handled toy of 
Parian marble, the miniature copy perhaps of a 
much larger work, vv^hich might well be repro- 
duced on a magnified scale. The conception 
of Demeter is throughout chiefly human, and 
even domestic, though never without a hieratic 
interest, because she is not a goddess only, but 
also a priestess. In contrast, Persephone is 
wholly unearthly, the close companion, and even 
the confused double, of Hecate, the goddess of 
midnight terrors, — Despcena^ — the final mistress 
of all that lives ; and as sorrow is the character- 
istic sentiment of Demeter, so awe of Persephone. 
She is compact of sleep, and death, and flowers, 
but of narcotic flowers especially, — a revenanty 
who in the garden of Aidoneus has eaten of the 
pomegranate, and bears always the secret of 
decay in her, of return to the grave, in the 
mystery of those swallowed seeds ; sometimes, 
in later work, holding in her hand the key of 
the great prison-house, but which unlocks all 
secrets also ; (there, finally, or through oracles 
revealed in dreams ;) sometimes, like Demeter, 
the poppy, emblem of sleep and death by its 

148 



DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

narcotic juices, of life and resurrection by its 
innumerable seeds, of the dreams, therefore, that 
may intervene between falling asleep and waking. 
Treated as it is in the Homeric hymn, and still 
more in this statue, the image of Persephone 
may be regarded as the result of many efforts to 
lift the old Chthonian gloom, still lingering on 
in heavier souls, concerning the grave, to connect 
it with impressions of dignity and beauty, and a 
certain sweetness even ; it is meant to make 
men in love, or at least at peace, with death. 
The Persephone of Praxiteles' school, then, 
is Aphrodite -Persephone^ Venus -Ltbitina. Her 
shadowy eyes have gazed upon the fainter 
colouring of the under-world, and the tranquillity, 
born of it, has " passed into her face " ; for the 
Greek Hades is, after all, but a quiet, twilight 
place, not very different from that House of Fame 
where Dante places the great souls of the 
classical world ; Aidoneus himself being con- 
ceived, in the highest Greek sculpture, as but a 
gentler Zeus, the great innkeeper ; so that when 
a certain Greek sculptor had failed in his por- 
traiture of Zeus, because it had too little hilarity, 
too little, in the eyes and brow, of the open and 
cheerful sky, he only changed its title, and the 
thing passed excellently, with its heavy locks 
and shadowy eyebrows, for the god of the dead. 
The image of Persephone, then, as it is here 
composed, with the tall, tower-like head-dress, 
from which the veil depends — the corn-basket, 

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GREEK STUDIES 

originally carried thus by the Greek women, 
balanced on the head — giving the figure unusual 
length, has the air of a body bound about with 
grave-clothes ; while the archaic hands and feet, 
and a certain stiffness in the folds of the drapery, 
give it something of a hieratic character, and to 
the modern observer may suggest a sort of kin- 
ship with the more chastened kind of Gothic 
work. But quite of the school of Praxiteles is 
the general character of the composition ; the 
graceful waving of the hair, the fine shadows of 
the little face, of the eyes and lips especially, 
like the shadows of a flower — a flower risen noise- 
lessly from its dwelling in the dust — though still 
with that fulness or heaviness in the brow, as of 
sleepy people, which, in the delicate gradations 
of Greek sculpture, distinguish the infernal deities 
from their Olympian kindred. The object placed 
in the hand may be, perhaps, a stiff, archaic flower, 
but is probably the partly consumed pomegranate 
— one morsel gone ; the most usual emblem of 
Persephone being this mystical fruit, which, 
because of the multitude of its seeds, was to the 
Romans a symbol of fecundity, and was sold at 
the doors of the temple of Ceres, that the women 
might offer it there, and bear numerous children; 
and so, to the middle age, became a symbol of 
the fruitful earth itself ; and then of that other 
seed sown in the dark under-world ; and at last 
of that whole hidden region, so thickly sown, 
which Dante visited, Michelino painting him, 

150 



DEiMETER AND PERSEPHONE 

in the Duomo of Florence, with this fruit in his 
hand, and Botticelli putting it into the childish 
hands of Him, who, if men " go down into hell, 
is there also." 

There is an attractiveness in these goddesses 
of the earth, akin to the influence of cool places, 
quiet houses, subdued light, tranquillising voices. 
What is there in this phase of ancient religion 
for us, at the present day ? The myth of Demeter 
and Persephone, then, illustrates the power of 
the Greek religion as a religion of pure ideas — 
of conceptions, which having no link on historical 
fact, yet, because they arose naturally out of the 
spirit of man, and embodied, in adequate symbols, 
his deepest thoughts concerning the conditions 
of his physical and spiritual life, maintained their 
hold through many changes, and are still not 
without a solemnising power even for the modern 
mind, which has once admitted them as recognised 
and habitual inhabitants ; and, abiding thus for 
the elevation and purifying of our sentiments, 
long after the earlier and simpler races of their 
worshippers have passed away, they may be a 
pledge to us of the place in our culture, at once 
legitimate and possible, of the associations, the 
conceptions, the imagery, of Greek religious 
poetry in general, of the poetry of all religions. 



151 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

A STUDY FROM EURIPIDES 

Centuries of zealous archaeology notwithstand- 
ing, many phases of the so varied Greek genius 
are recorded for the modern student in a kind of 
shorthand only, or not at all. Even for Pausanias, 
visiting Greece before its direct part in affairs 
was quite played out, much had perished or 
grown dim — of its art, of the truth of its 
outward history, above all of its religion as a 
credible or practicable thing. And yet Pausanias 
visits Greece under conditions as favourable for 
observation as those under which later travellers, 
Addison or Eustace, proceed to Italy. For him 
the impress of life in those old Greek cities is 
not less vivid and entire than that of medieval 
Italy to ourselves ; at Siena, for instance, with 
its ancient palaces still in occupation, its public 
edifices as serviceable as if the old republic had 
but just now vacated them, the tradition of their 
primitive worship still unbroken in its churches. 
Had the opportunities in which Pausanias was 

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HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

fortunate been ours, how many haunts of the 
antique Greek life unnoticed by him we should 
have peeped into, minutely systematic in our 
painstaking ! how many a view would broaden 
out where he notes hardly anything at all on his 
map of Greece ! 

One of the most curious phases of Greek 
civilisation which has thus perished for us, and 
regarding which, as we may fancy, we should 
have made better use of that old traveller's 
facilities, is the early Attic deme-life — its pictur- 
esque, intensely localised variety, in the hollow 
or on the spur of mountain or sea-shore ; and 
with it many a relic of primitive religion, many 
an early growth of art parallel to what Vasari 
records of artistic beginnings in the smaller cities 
of Italy. Colonus and Acharnse, surviving still 
so vividly by the magic of Sophocles, of Aristo- 
phanes, are but isolated examples of a wide- 
spread manner of life, in which, amid many 
provincial peculiarities, the first, yet perhaps the 
most costly and telling steps were made in all 
the various departments of Greek culture. Even 
in the days of Pausanias, Pirasus was still trace- 
able as a distinct township, once the possible 
rival of Athens, with its little old covered market 
by the seaside, and the symbolical picture of the 
place, its Genius, visible on the wall. And that 
is but the type of what there had been to know 
of threescore and more village communities, each 
having its own altars, its special worship and 

153 



GREEK STUDIES 

place of civic assembly, its trade and crafts, its 
name drawn from physical peculiarity or famous 
incident, its body of heroic tradition. Lingering 
on while Athens, the great deme, gradually 
absorbed into itself more and more of their 
achievements, and passing away almost com- 
pletely as political factors in the Peloponnesian 
war, they were still felt, we can hardly doubt, 
in the actual physiognomy of Greece. That 
variety in unity, v.'^hich its singular geographical 
formation secured to Greece as a whole, was at 
its utmost in these minute reflexions of the 
national character, with all the relish of local 
difference — new art, new poetry, fresh ventures 
in political combination, in the conception of 
life, springing as if straight from the soil, like 
the thorn-blossom of early spring in magic lines 
over all that rocky land. On the other hand, it 
was just here that ancient habits clung most 
tenaciously — that old-fashioned, homely, delight- 
ful existence, to which the refugee, pent up in 
Athens in the years of the Peloponnesian war, 
looked back so fondly. If the impression of 
Greece generally is but enhanced by the littleness 
of the physical scene of events intellectually so 
great — such a system of grand lines, restrained 
within so narrow a compass^ as in one of its fine 
coins — still more would this be true of those 
centres of country life. Here, certainly, was 
that assertion of seemingly small interests, which 
brings into free play, and gives his utmost value 

154 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

to, the individual ; making his warfare, equally 
with his more peaceful rivalries, deme against 
deme, the mountain against the plain, the sea- 
shore, (as in our own old Border life, but played 
out here by wonderfully gifted people) tangible 
as a personal history, to the doubling of its 
fascination for those whose business is with the 
survey of the dramatic side of life. 

As with civil matters, so it was also, we may 
fairly suppose, with religion ; the demc-life was 
a manifestation of religious custom and sentiment, 
in all their primitive local variety. As Athens, 
gradually drawing into itself the various elements 
of provincial culture, developed, with authority, 
the central religious position, the demes-men 
did but add the worship of Athene Polias, the 
goddess of the capital, to their own pre-existent 
ritual uses. Of local and central religion alike, 
time and circumstance had obliterated much 
when Pausanias came. A devout spirit, with 
religion for his chief interest, eager for the trace 
of a divine footstep, anxious even in the days of 
Lucian to deal seriously with what had counted 
for so much to serious men, he has, indeed, to 
lament that " Pan is dead " : — *' They come no 
longer ! " — " These things happen no longer ! " 
But the Greek — his very name also, Hellen^ was 
the title of a priesthood — had been religious 
abundantly, sanctifying every detail of his actual 
life with the religious idea ; and as Pausanias 
goes on his way he finds many a remnant of that 

155 



GREEK STUDIES 

earlier estate of religion, when, as he fancied, it 
had been nearer the gods, as it was certainly 
nearer the earth. It is marked, even in decay, 
with varieties of place ; and is not only continuous 
but in situ. At Phigaleia he makes his offerings 
to Demeter, agreeably to the paternal rites of the 
inhabitants, wax, fruit, undressed wool " still full 
of the sordes of the sheep." A dream from 
heaven cuts short his notice of the mysteries of 
Eleusis. He sees the stone, " big enough for a 
little man," on which Silenus was used to sit and 
rest ; at Athens, the tombs of the Amazons, of 
the purple-haired Nisus, of Deucalion ; — " it is 
a manifest token that he had dwelt there." The 
worshippers of Poseidon, even at his temple 
among the hills, might still feel the earth 
fluctuating beneath their feet. And in care for 
divine things, he tells us, the Athenians outdid 
all other Greeks. Even in the days of Nero it 
revealed itself oddly ; and it is natural to suppose 
that of this temper the demes, as the proper 
home of conservatism, were exceptionally express- 
ive. Scattered in those remote, romantic villages, 
among their olives or sea-weeds, lay the heroic 
graves, the relics, the sacred images, often rude 
enough amid the delicate tribute of later art ; 
this too oftentimes finding in such retirement its 
best inspirations, as in some Attic Fiesole. Like 
a network over the land of gracious poetic 
tradition, as also of undisturbed ceremonial usage 
surviving late for those who cared to seek it, the 

156 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

local religions had been never wholly superseded 
by the worship of the great national temples. 
They were, in truth, the most characteristic 
developments of a faith essentially earth-born or 
indigenous. 

And how often must the student of fine art, 
again, wish he had the same sort of knowledge 
about its earlier growth in Greece, that he 
actually possesses in the case of Italian art ! 
Given any development at all in this matter, 
there must have been phases of art, which, if 
immature, were also veritable expressions of 
power to come, intermediate discoveries of beauty, 
such as are by no means a mere anticipation, 
and of service only as explaining historically 
larger subsequent achievements, but of permanent 
attractiveness in themselves, being often, indeed, 
the true maturity of certain amiable artistic 
qualities. And in regard to Greek art at its 
best — the Parthenon — no less than to the art 
of the Renaissance at its best — the Sistine Chapel 
— the more instructive light would be derived 
rather from what precedes than what follows 
such central success, from the determination to 
apprehend the fulfilment of past effort rather 
than the eve of decline, in the critical, central 
moment which partakes of both. Of such early 
promise, early achievement, we have in the case 
of Greek art little to compare with what is 
extant of the youth of the arts in Italy. Over- 
beck's careful gleanings of its history form indeed 

157 



GREEK STUDIES 

a sorry relic as contrasted with Vasari's intima- 
tions of the beginnings of the Renaissance. 
Fired by certain fragments of its earlier days, of 
a beauty, in truth, absolute, and vainly longing 
for more, the student of Greek sculpture indulges 
the thought of an ideal of youthful energy 
therein, yet withal of youthful self-restraint ; 
and again, as with survivals of old religion, the 
privileged home, he fancies, of that ideal must 
have been in tho«;e venerable Attic townships, 
as to a large extent it passed away with them. 

The budding of new art, the survival of 
old religion, at isolated centres of provincial 
life, where varieties of human character also 
were keen, abundant, asserted in correspondingly 
effective incident — this is what irresistible fancy 
superinduces on historic details, themselves 
meagre enough. The sentiment of antiquity 
is indeed a characteristic of all cultivated people, 
even in what may seem the freshest ages, and 
not exclusively a humour of our later world. 
In the earliest notices about them, as we know, 
the people of Attica appear already impressed 
by the immense antiquity of their occupation 
of its soil, of which they claim to be the very 
first flower. Some at least of those old demes- 
men we may well fancy sentimentally reluctant 
to change their habits, fearful of losing too 
much of themselves in the larger stream of life, 
clinging to what is antiquated as the work of 
centralisation goes on, needful as that work was, 

158 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

with the great *' Eastern difficulty " already ever 
in the distance. The fear of Asia, barbaric, 
splendid, hardly known, yet haunting the curious 
imagination of those who had borrowed thence 
the art in which they were rapidly excelling it, 
developing, as we now see, in the interest of 
Greek humanity, crafts begotten of tyrannic 
and illiberal luxury, was finally to suppress the 
rivalries of those primitive centres of activity, 
when the " invincible armada " of the common 
foe came into sight. 

At a later period civil strife was to destroy their 
last traces. The old hoplite, from Rhamnus or 
Acharnze, pent up in beleaguered Athens during 
that first summer of the Peloponnesian war, 
occupying with his household a turret of the 
wall, as Thucydides describes — one of many 
picturesque touches in that severe historian — 
could well remember the ancient provincial life 
which this conflict with Sparta was bringing to 
an end. He could recall his boyish, half-scared 
curiosity concerning those Persian ships, coming 
first as merchantmen, or with pirates on occa- 
sion, in the half-savage, wicked splendours of 
their decoration, the monstrous figure-heads, their 
glittering freightage. Men would hardly have 
trusted their women or children with that sus- 
picious crew, hovering through the dusk. There 
were soothsayers, indeed, who had long foretold 
what happened soon after, giving shape to vague, 
supernatural terrors. And then he had crept 

159 



GREEK STUDIES 

from his hiding-place with other lads to go view 
the enemies' slain at Marathon, beside those 
belated Spartans, this new war with whom seemed 
to be reviving the fierce local feuds of his younger 
days. Paraloi and Diacrioi had ever been rivals. 
Very distant it all seemed now, with all the 
stories he could tell ; for in those crumbling 
little towns, as heroic life had lingered on into 
the actual, so, at an earlier date, the supernatural 
into the heroic. Like mist at dawn, the last 
traces of its divine visitors had then vanished 
from the land, where, however, they had already 
begotten " our best and oldest families." 

It was Theseus, uncompromising young master 
of the situation, in fearless application of " the 
modern spirit " of his day to every phase of life 
where it was applicable, who, at the expense of 
Attica, had given Athens a people, reluctant 
enough, in truth, as Plutarch suggests, to desert 
" their homes and religious usages and many good 
and gracious kings of their own " for this elect 
youth, who thus figures, passably, as a kind of 
mythic shorthand for civilisation, making roads 
and the like, facilitating travel, suppressing 
various forms of violence, but many innocent 
things as well. So it must needs be in a world 
where, even hand in hand with a god-assisted 
hero. Justice goes blindfold. He slays the bull 
of Marathon and many another local tyrant, 
but also exterminates that delightful creature, 
the Centaur. The Amazon, whom Plato will 

i6o 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

reinstate as the type of improved womanhood, 
has no better luck than Phasa, the sow-pig ot 
Crommyon, foul old landed-proprietress. They 
exerted, however, the prerogative of poetic pro- 
test, and survive thereby. Centaur and Amazon, 
as we see them in the fine art of Greece, re- 
present the regret of Athenians themselves for 
something that could never be brought to life 
again, and have their pathos. Those young 
heroes contending with Amazons on the frieze 
of the Mausoleum had best make haste with 
their bloody work, if young people's eyes can 
tell a true story. A type still of progress 
triumphant through injustice, set on improving 
things off the face of the earth, Theseus took 
occasion to attack the Amazons in their mountain 
home, not long after their ruinous conflict with 
Hercules, and hit them when they were down. 
That greater bully had laboured off on the 
world's highway, carrying with him the official 
girdle of Antiope, their queen, gift of Ares, and 
therewith, it would seem, the mystic secret of 
their strength. At sight of this new foe, at any 
rate, she came to a strange submission. The 
savage virgin had turned to very woman, and 
was presently a willing slave, returning on the 
gaily appointed ship in all haste to Athens, 
where in supposed wedlock she bore King 
Theseus a son. 

With their annual visit — visit to the Gar- 
gareans ! — for the purpose of maintaining their 

M i6i 



GREEK STUDIES 

species, parting with their boys early, these 
husbandless women could hardly be supposed a 
very happy, certainly not a very joyous people. 
They figure rather as a sorry measure of the luck 
of the female sex in taking a hard natural law into 
their own hands, and by abnegation of all tender 
companionship making shift with bare inde- 
pendence, as a kind of second-best — the best 
practicable by them in the imperfect actual con- 
dition of things. But the heart-strings would 
ache still where the breast had been cut away. 
The sisters of Antiope had come, not immedi- 
ately, but in careful array of battle, to bring back 
the captive. All along the weary roads from 
the Caucasus to Attica, their traces had remained 
in the great graves of those who died by the way. 
Against the little remnant, carrying on the fight 
to the very midst of Athens, Antiope herself 
had turned, all other thoughts transformed now 
into wild idolatry of her hero. Superstitious, or 
in real regret, the Athenians never forgot their 
tombs. As for Antiope, the conscience of her 
perfidy remained with her, adding the pang 
of remorse to her own desertion, when King 
Theseus, with his accustomed bad faith to women, 
set her, too, aside in turn. Phaedra, the true 
wife, was there, peeping suspiciously at her 
arrival ; and even as Antiope yielded to her 
lord's embraces the thought had come that a 
male child might be the instrument of her anger, 
and one day judge her cause. 

162 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

In one of these doomed, decaying villages, 
then. King Theseus placed the woman and her 
babe, hidden, yet secure, within the Attic border, 
as men veil their mistakes or crimes. They 
might pass av^^ay, they and their story, together 
with the memory of other antiquated creatures 
of such places, who had had connubial dealings 
with the stars. The white, paved waggon-track, 
a by-path of the sacred way to Eleusis, zigzagged 
through sloping olive-yards, from the plain of 
silvered blue, with Athens building in the 
distance, and passed the door of the rude stone 
house, furnished scantily, which no one had 
ventured to inhabit of late years till they came 
there. On the ledges of the grey cliffs above, 
the laurel groves, stem and foliage of motionless 
bronze, had spread their tents. Travellers bound 
northwards were glad to repose themselves there, 
and take directions, or provision for their journey 
onwards, from the highland people, who came 
down hither to sell their honey, their cheese, 
and woollen stuff, in the tiny market-place. At 
dawn the great stars seemed to halt a while, 
burning as if for sacrifice to some pure deity, 
on those distant, obscurely named heights, like 
broken swords, the rim of the world. A little 
later you could just see the newly opened quarries, 
like streaks of snow on their russet-brown bosoms. 
Thither in spring-time all eyes turned from 
Athens devoutly, intent till the first shaft of 
lightning gave signal for the departure of the 

163 



GREEK STUDIES 

sacred ship to Delos. Racing over those rocky 
surfaces, the virgin air descended hither with 
the secret of profound sleep, as the child lay in 
its cubicle hewn in the stone, the white fleeces 
heaped warmly round him. In the wild Amazon's 
soul, to her surprise, and at first against her will, 
the maternal sense had quickened from the 
moment of his conception, and (that burst of 
angry tears with which she had received him 
into the world once dried up), kindling more 
eagerly at every token of manly growth, had at 
length driven out every other feeling. And this 
animal sentiment, educating the human hand 
and heart in her, had become a moral one, when, 
King Theseus leaving her in anger, visibly 
unkind, the child had crept to her side, and 
tracing with small fingers the wrinkled lines 
of her woebegone brow, carved there as if by 
a thousand years of sorrow, had sown between 
himself and her the seed of an undying sympathy. 
She was thus already on the watch for a host 
of minute recognitions on his part, of the self- 
sacrifice involved in her devotion to a career of 
which she must needs drain out the sorrow, 
careful that he might taste only the joy. So 
far, amid their spare living, the child, as if 
looking up to the warm broad wing of her love 
above him, seemed replete with comfort. Yet 
in his moments of childish sickness, the first 
passing shadows upon the deep joy of her 
motherhood, she teaches him betimes to soothe 

164 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

or cheat pain — little bodily pains only, hitherto. 
She ventures sadly to assure him of the harsh 
necessities of life : " Courage, child ! Every 
one must take his share of suffering. Shift not 
thy body so vehemently. Pain, taken quietly, is 
easier to bear." 

Carefully inverting the habits of her own rude 
childhood, she learned to spin the wools, white and 
grey, to clothe and cover him pleasantly. The 
spectacle of his unsuspicious happiness, though 
at present a matter of purely physical conditions, 
awoke a strange sense of poetry, a kind of artistic 
sense in her, watching, as her own long-deferred 
recreation in life, his delight in the little delicacies 
she prepared to his liking — broiled kids' flesh, 
the red wine, the mushrooms sought through 
the early dew — his hunger and thirst so daintily 
satisfied, as he sat at table, like the first-born of 
King Theseus, with two wax-lights and a fire 
at dawn or nightfall dancing to the prattle and 
laughter, a bright child, never stupidly weary. 
At times his very happiness would seem to her 
like a menace of misfortune to come. Was 
there not with herself the curse of that unsisterly 
action ? and not far from him, the terrible danger 
of the father's, the step-mother's jealousy, the 
mockery of those half-brothers to come .? Ah ! 
how perilous for happiness the sensibilities 
which make him so exquisitely happy now ! 
Before they started on their dreadful visit to the 
Minotaur, says Plutarch, the women told their 

165 



GREEK STUDIES 

sons many tales and other things to encourage 
them ; and, even as she had furnished the child 
betimes with rules for the solace of bodily pain, 
so now she would have brought her own sad 
experience into service in precepts for the ejection 
of its festering power out of any other trouble 
that might visit him. Already those little dis- 
appointments which are as the shadow beside 
all conscious enjoyment, were no petty things 
to her, but had for her their pathos, as children's 
troubles will have, in spite of the longer chance 
before them. They were as the first steps in a 
long story of deferred hopes, or anticipations of 
death itself and the end of them. 

The gift of Ares gone, the mystic girdle she 
would fain have transferred to the child, that 
bloody god of storm and battle, hereditary 
patron of her house, faded from her thoughts 
together with the memory of her past life — the 
more completely, because another familiar though 
somewhat forbidding deity, accepting certainly 
a cruel and forbidding worship, was already in 
possession, and reigning in the new home when 
she came thither. Only, thanks to some kindly 
local influence (by grace, say, of its delicate air), 
Artemis, this other god she had known in the 
Scythian wilds, had put aside her fierce ways, 
as she paused awhile on her heavenly course 
among these ancient abodes of men, gliding 
softly, mainly through their dreams, with abun- 
dance of salutary touches. Full, in truth, of 

i66 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

grateful memory of some timely service at 
human hands ! In these highland villages the 
tradition of celestial visitants clung fondly, of 
god or hero, belated or misled on long journeys, 
yet pleased to be among the sons of men, as 
their way led them up the steep, narrow, 
crooked street, condescending to rest a little, 
as one, under some sudden stress not clearly 
ascertained, had done here, in this very house, 
thereafter for ever sacred. The place and its 
inhabitants, of course, had been something 
bigger in the days of those old mythic hospitali- 
ties, unless, indeed, divine persons took kindly 
the will for the deed — very different, surely, 
from the present condition of things, for there 
was little here to detain a delicate traveller, even 
in the abode of Antiope and her son, though it 
had been the residence of a king. 

Hard by stood the chapel of the goddess, 
who had thus adorned the place with her 
memories. The priests, indeed, were already 
departed to Athens, carrying with them the 
ancient image, the vehicle of her actual presence, 
as the surest means of enriching the capital at 
the expense of the country, where she must now 
make poor shift of the occasional worshipper 
on his way through these mountain passes. But 
safely roofed beneath the sturdy tiles of grey 
Hymettus marble, upon the walls of the little 
square recess enclosing the deserted pedestal, a 
series of crowded imageries, in the devout spirit 

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GREEK STUDIES 

of earlier days, were eloquent concerning her. 
Here from scene to scene, touched with silver 
among the wild and human creatures in dun 
bronze, with the moon's disk around her head, 
shrouded closely, the goddess of the chase still 
glided mystically through all the varied incidents 
of her story, in all the detail of a written book. 

A book for the delighted reading of a scholar, 
willing to ponder at leisure, to make his way 
surely, and understand. Very different, certainly, 
from the cruel -featured little idol his mother 
had brought in her bundle — the old Scythian 
Artemis, hanging there on the wall, side by side 
with the forgotten Ares, blood-red, — the goddess 
reveals herself to the lad, poring through the 
dusk by taper-light, as at once a virgin, neces- 
sarily therefore the creature of solitude, yet also 
as the assiduous nurse of children, and patroness 
of the young. Her friendly intervention at the 
act of birth everywhere, her claim upon the 
nursling, among tame and wild creatures equally, 
among men as among gods, nay ! among the 
stars (upon the very star of dawn), gave her a 
breadth of influence seemingly coextensive with 
the sum of things. Yes ! his great mother was 
in touch with everything. Yet throughout he 
can but note her perpetual chastity, with pleas- 
urable though half- suspicious wonder at the 
mystery, he knows not what, involved therein, 
as though he awoke suddenly in some distant, 
unexplored region of her person and activity. 

i68 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

VVhv the lighted torch always, and that long 
straight vesture rolled round so formally ? Was 
it only against the cold of these northern 
heights ? 

To her, nevertheless, her maternity, her 
solitude, to this virgin mother, who, with no 
husband, no lover, no fruit of her own, is so 
tender to the children of others, in a full heart 
he devotes himself — his immaculate body and 
soul. Dedicating himself thus, he has the sense 
also that he becomes more entirely than ever 
the chevalier of his mortal mother, of her sad 
cause. The devout, diligent hands clear away 
carefully the dust, the faded relics of her former 
worship ; a worship renewed once more as the 
sacred spring, set free from encumbrance, in 
answer to his willing ministries murmurs again 
under the dim vault in its marble basin, work 
of primitive Titanic fingers — flows out through 
its rocky channel, filling the whole township 
with chaste thoughts of her. 

Through much labour at length he comes to 
the veritable story of her birth, like a gift direct 
from the goddess herself to this loyal soul. 
There were those in later times who, like 
iEschylus, knew Artemis as the daughter not of 
Leto but of Demeter, according to the version 
of her history now conveyed to the young 
Hippolytus, together with some deepened insight 
into her character. The goddess of Eleusis, on 
a journey, in the old days when, as Plato says, 

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GREEK STUDIES 

men lived nearer the gods, finding herself with 
child by some starry inmate of those high places, 
had lain down in the rock-hewn cubicle of the 
inner chamber, and, certainly in sorrow, brought 
forth a daughter. Here was the secret at once 
of the genial, all-embracing maternity of this 
new strange Artemis, and of those more dubious 
tokens, the lighted torch, the winding-sheet, the 
arrow of death on the string — of sudden death, 
truly, which may be thought after all the 
kindest, as prevenient of all disgraceful sickness 
or waste in the unsullied limbs. For the late 
birth into the world of this so shadowy daughter 
was somehow identified with the sudden passing 
into Hades of her first-born, Persephone. As 
he scans those scenes anew, an awful surmise 
comes to him ; his divine patroness moves there 
as death, surely. Still, however, gratefully 
putting away suspicion, he seized even in these 
ambiguous imageries their happier suggestions, 
satisfied in thinking of his new mother as but 
the giver of sound sleep, of the benign night, 
whence — mystery of mysteries ! — good things 
are born softly, from which he awakes betimes 
for his healthful service to her. Either way, 
sister of Apollo or sister of Persephone, to him 
she should be a power of sanity, sweet as the 
flowers he offered her gathered at dawn, setting 
daily their purple and white frost against her 
ancient marbles. There was more certainly 
than the first breath of day in them. Was there 

170 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

here something ot" her person, her sensible 
presence, by way of direct response to him in 
his early devotion, astir for her sake before the 
very birds, nesting here so freely, the quail 
above all, in some privileged connexion with 
her story still unfathomed by the learned youth ? 
Amid them he too found a voice, and sang 
articulately the praises of the great goddess. 

Those more dubious traits, nevertheless, so 
lightly disposed of by Hippolytus (Hecate thus 
counting for him as Artemis goddess of health), 
became to his mother, in the light of her sad 
experience, 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 him- 
self. 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 

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GREEK STUDIES 

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, tranquillis- 
ing 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 hover- 
ing 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. 

172 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

For, from the first, the unwelcome child, the 
outcast, had been successful, with that special 
good fortune which sometimes attends the out- 
cast. 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 off- 
spring. 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 Phsedra, 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 

173 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 dfstinction of 
character, one day become his rival, full of 

174 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

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 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 enthusi- 
asm 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 

176 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

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 instinc- 
tive 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 

N 177 



GREEK STUDIES 

the day of the great chariot races " he goes in 
and wins." To the surprise of all he com- 
pounded 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. 

Phasdra 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 

178 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

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 v^ay ; 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 ; 

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GREEK STUDIES 

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 privi- 
lege ! ) 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, unavail- 

i8o 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

ingly ; 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 marvel- 
lous 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 per- 
turbed, 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 rernain 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, remind- 
ing her of his alleged intimacy with the rival 
goddess, and redoubling her curiosity, her fond- 

i8i 



GREEK STUDIES 

ness. Phaedra, love -sick, feverish, in bodily 
sickness at last, raves of the cool w^oods, 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 de- 
clares, 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 

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HIPPOLVTUS VEILED 

stolen, sympathetic glances towards the tallen 
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 

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GREEK STUDIES 

itself finds a note of returning health. The 
feverish wood-ways of his fancy open unex- 
pectedly 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 grate- 
fully, 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 

184 



HIPPOLYTUS VEILED 

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. 

185 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 impass- 
ibly, 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 dis- 
figurements, 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. 



1 86 



THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK 
SCULPTURE 

I 

THE HEROIC AGE OF GREEK ART 

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 

187 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 concomi- 
tant 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 

i88 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

information concerning what may be called the 
inner lite 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 

189 



GREEK STUDIES 

sculptor's usage of employing merely mechanical 
labour in the actual working of the stone. 

The works of the highest Greek sculpture are 
indeed tntellectualised^ 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, continu- 
ously 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 iEginetan or the Elgin marbles, 
for instance, were actually produced ; ev'^en these 
having, in their origin, depended for much of 

190 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 

191 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 delight- 
ing 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 

192 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 tiexibility 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 Mycenas, 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 descrip- 
tion of the house of i\lcinous in the Odyssey.' 
The shield of Achilles is part of the suit of 
armour which Hephsstus makes for him at the 
request of Thetis ; and it is wrought of variously 
coloured metals, woven into a great circular com- 
position 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. 

1 //. iviii. 468-608. ' Qd. vii. 37-132. 

o 193 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 Ker, 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 
enamelled black metal behind it, and golden 
before ; the cup of mead held out to the plough- 
man when he reaches the end of the furrow ; 
the reapers with their sheaves ; the king stand- 
ing in silent pleasure among them, intent upon 
his staff. There are the labourers in the vine- 
yard 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, 

194 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 tlie 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 
Phasacians, 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 bright- 
ness 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 

195 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 j 

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- 
w^ay of Mycenas, 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 run- 
ning all along the wall, covered with peculiarly 
sumptuous women's work. 

From these two glittering descriptions mani- 
festly 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 con- 
summation 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 

196 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 ram- 
parts 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 fiowery. 
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 — 

— 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 

197 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 iEgean. It is no barbaric 
world that we see, but the sort of world, we may 
think, that would have charmed also our com- 
paratively 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-^ovk^ all the joinings being effected 
by pins or riveting. That is just the sort of 
metal-work which, in a certain naivete 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 descrip- 

198 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

tions, 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 orna- 
ment, 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 

199 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 them- 
selves. He is as pleased in touching and looking 
at those objects as his own heroes ; their gleam- 
ing 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 mytho- 
logical 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 Proncea 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 begin- 

200 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

nings of artistic production. There are touches 
of reality, for instance, in Homer's incidental 
notices of its instruments and processes ; especi- 
ally 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 Hephsstus 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 
empastik, 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 

201 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 composi- 
tion, 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 com- 
position, 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 con- 
gruously with a certain heraldic turn common 
in contemporary Assyrian art, which delights in 

202 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 mytho- 
logical impersonations which it contains, an 
imitation less admirable than the original. Of 
painting there are in Homer no certain indi- 
cations, 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 
ior 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 

203 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 

204 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 dis- 
cerned 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," 

205 



GREEK STUDIES 

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, 
Mycenas, the skeleton of the old architecture is 
more complete. At Mycense the gateway of the 
acropolis is still standing with its two well-known 
sculptured lions — immemorial and almost unique 
monument of primitive Greek sculpture — sup- 
porting, herald-wise, a symbolical pillar on the 

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BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 fa^ade^ 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 chateaux 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 reason- 

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GREEK STUDIES 

ableness 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 

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BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

all ages. For the people, scattered over the 
country, at their agricultural labour, or gathered 
in small hamlets, there is some enjoyment, per- 
haps, 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 work- 
men in which a certain craft was imparted and 
transmitted. The Dactyli, the Fingers^ are the 
p 209 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 de- 
lighting 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 

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BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

very simplicity of its design, the grace of the 
economy with which it exactly fulfils its pur- 
pose, a positive beauty, an absolute value for the 
aesthetic sense, while strange and new enough, 
if it really settles at last a much-debated expres- 
sion 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 Hephasstus wrought 
for the helmet of Achilles, were really within 
the compass of early Greek art. 

And the story of the excavations at Mycense 
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, 

21 I 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 un- 
dulating 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 develop- 
ment of a common mythological motive the 
various peoples are subject to the general limit- 
ations 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 

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BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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, character- 
istically, 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 Mycenas, 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 possess- 
ing little or no knowledge of Greek monuments 
anterior to the full development of art under 

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GREEK STUDIES 

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 deriva- 
tion among the Greeks themselves, dazzled as 
they were by the marvels of the ancient civil- 
isation 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 

214 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 de- 
rived 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 com- 
binations ; 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 

215 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 civil- 
isation 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 troiKCkla, 
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 influ- 
ence. Homer himself witnesses to the inter- 
course, through early, adventurous commerce, as 
in the bright and animated picture with which 

216 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 onwards, 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 importa- 
tion, 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 JEgca.n, 
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 every- 
thing with plates of metal. It was from 

217 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 dis- 
coveries 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 Euplcea, the 
protectress of sailors, comes to Cyprus — to 
Cythera ; it is in this simplest sense that she 
is, primarily, Anadyomene, And her connexion 

218 



BEGINNINGS OF GREER SCULPTURE 

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 Hephsstus, 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 Dasdali, 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 

219 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 genera- 
tions, 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 

220 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

have in them already, as designed work, that 
spirit of reasonable order, that expressive con- 
gruity in the adaptation of means to ends, of 
which the fully developed admirableness of 
human form is but the consummation — a con- 
summation 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 com- 
mand 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 appre- 
ciating 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 ivorkmanship 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 

221 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 irotKiKia, 
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 

222 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 oi njertu^ 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 tnade 
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 oppor- 
tunity, a mere starting-ground for their imagin- 
ative 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. 



223 



II 

THE AGE OF GRAVEN IMAGES 

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 

224 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

hepatizon or liver-coloured bronze, or the bright 
golden alloy of Corinth), and in its consuminate 
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 Bacchiada, 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 

Q 225 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 

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BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 lead- 
ing 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 exegeta^ 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 Sleeps 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 ; 

22J 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 chrysele- 
phantine, 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 

^ Xpva-ovv is the word Pausanias uses, of the cup in the hand of 
Dionysus — the wood was flated with gold.' 

228 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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, — in- 
ventions 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 iEgean 
become each the source of some new artistic 
device. It is a period still under the reign of 
Hephaestus, delighting, above all, in magnificent 

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GREEK STUDIES 

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 be- 
neath 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 Har- 
monia. 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 statuaria — 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 

230 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

earlv 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 Nymphaum 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 Chalcicecus — Athene 
of the brazen house — at Sparta, the work of 
Gitiades, celebrated about this time as archi- 
tect, 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 

231 



GREEK STUDIES 

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. 

232 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

Far more fruitful still was the invention of 
casting, of casting hollow figures especially, 
attributed to Rhoecus and Theodoras, 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 communi- 
cable 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 

* Pausanias, in recording the invention of casting, uses the word 
(X<DV€vcravTOj but does not tell us whether the model was of wai, 
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 wax 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. 

233 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 Dipcenus 
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" — 
Kk^pov ^a)Bia xP^a-a hL7)v6i(xiiiva — Pausanias says 
exquisitely, describing a certain work of their 
pupil, Dontas of Lacedsemon. 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 

234 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

rough mechanical difficulties which beset him 
in the endeavour to record what his soul con- 
ceived 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 
Amyclcean 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 

235 



GREEK STUDIES 

Hyacinth, son of the founder of that place, 
beloved by Apollo for his beauty, and accident- 
ally 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 Amyclas 
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 decora- 
tions 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 

236 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 Dasdalus ; for Dsdalus 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 

237 



GREEK STUDIES 

chamber in which Nausicaa sleeps, in the 
Odyssey, being that, like some exquisite Swiss 
chalet^ it is wrought in wood. But it came 
about that those workers in wood, whom Daedalus 
represents, the early craftsmen of Crete especi- 
ally, 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. Where- 
ever 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 associa- 
tions ; such free-standing being apparently un- 
known 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 

238 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 pro- 
portions 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 

239 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 in- 
telligible 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, fiill 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 

240 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

new gods of bronze, or marble, or tlcsh-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 chrysele- 
phantine, 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 

R 241 



GREEK STUDIES 

division, we come to something like real person- 
alities, to men with individual characteristics — 
such men as Ageladas of Argos, Gallon and 
Onatas of iEgina, and Ganachus of Sicyon. 
Mere fragment as our information concerning 
these early masters is at the best, it is at least 
unmistakeably information about men with per- 
sonal 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 Ghrist — 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 Ganachus 
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 toreutice 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, 

242 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 Didymaum, was probably 
the task ot 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 Michel- 
angelo. 

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- 

243 



GREEK STUDIES 

wood, 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 sym- 
bolical perhaps, like the sacred pillar for which 
Bathycles made his throne at Amyclas, 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 

* Now preserved at Munich. 
244 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 

245 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 re- 
semblance 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 Tcnea, 
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 ; 

246 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

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 conven- 
tional, 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 influ- 
ences 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 

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GREEK STUDIES 

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 Beard- 
less /Esculapius, 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 chrys- 
elephantine Aphrodite, as we see it very dis- 
tinctly 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 
hierokepisy 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 

248 



BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE 

goddess and offer their prayers from the door- 
way. The seated image is the work of Cana- 
chus 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 arc 
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 naivete — 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 

249 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 cen- 
tury 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 fresh- 
ness, 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 work- 
men, 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. 



250 



THE MARBLES OF ^GINA 

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 chrysele- 
phantine 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, intel- 
lectual 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 Euro- 
pean 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 

251 



GREEK STUDIES 

its passion and thought, has become more or less 
definitely the aim of all artistic handicraft. 

In undergoing the action of these two oppos- 
ing 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 fore- 
thought 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 sub- 
ordinate 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. 

252 



THE MARBLES OF .^GINA 

It is this centrifugal tendency which Plato is 
desirous to cure, by maintaining, over against it, 
the Dorian inHuence 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 trace- 
able 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 illustra- 
tion of it, in its love of order, of that severe com- 
position 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. 

253 



GREEK STUDIES 

For as that Ionian influence, the chrysele- 
phantine influence, had its patron in Hephsstus, 
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 develop- 
ment 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 manifesta- 
tions. He represents all those specially European 
ideas, of a reasonable, personal freedom, as under- 
stood 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 ascesis ; his 
religion is a sort of embodied equity, its aim the 
realisation of fair reason and just consideration of 
the truth of things everywhere. 

254 



THE MARBLES OF i^GINA 

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 know- 
ledge 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 char- 
acteristic 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 de- 
veloped, 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 
255 



GREEK STUDIES 

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 con- 
sistently maintained to the end of Greek art, by a 
steady hold upon and preoccupation with the in- 
ward 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 in- 
adequate, 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 
a caricature, or is at least untouched by any 
higher ideal. To that Asiatic tradition, then, 
with its perfect craftsmanship, its consummate 
skill in design, its power of hand, the Dorian, the 
European, the true Hellenic influence brought a 
revelation of the soul and body of man. 

And we come at last in the marbles of JEgim 
to a monument, which bears upon it the full 
expression of this humanism, — ^to a work, in 
which the presence of man, realised with com- 
plete mastery of hand, and with clear apprehen- 
sion of how he actually is and moves and looks, 

256 



THE MARBLES OF i^GINA 

is touched with the freshest sense of that new- 
found, inward vahie ; the energy of worthy 
passions purifying, the light of his reason shining 
through, bodily forms and motions, solemnised, 
attractive, pathetic. We have reached an extant 
work, real and visible, of an importance out of 
all proportion to anything actually remaining of 
earlier art, and justifying, by its direct interest 
and charm, our long prelude on the beginnings 
of Greek sculpture, while there was still almost 
nothing actually to see. 

These fifteen figures of Parian marble, of 
about two-thirds the size of life, forming, with 
some deficiencies, the east and west gables of a 
temple of Athene, the ruins of which still stand 
on a hill-side by the sea-shore, in a remote part 
of the island of iEgina, were discovered in the 
year 1811, and having been purchased by the 
Crown Prince, afterwards King Louis I., of 
Bavaria, are now the great ornament of the 
Glyptothek^ or Museum of Sculpture, at Munich. 
The group in each gable consisted of eleven 
figures ; and of the fifteen larger figures dis- 
covered, five belong to the eastern, ten to the 
western gable, so that the western gable is 
complete with the exception of one figure, which 
should stand in the place to which, as the groups 
are arranged at Munich, the beautiful figure, 
bending down towards the fallen leader, has 
been actually transferred from the eastern gable ; 
certain fragments showing that the lost figure 

s 257 



GREEK STUDIES 

corresponded essentially to this, which has there- 
fore been removed hither from its place in the 
less complete group to which it properly belongs. 
For there arc two legitimate views or motives in 
the restoration of ancient sculpture, the anti- 
quarian and the assthetic, as they may be termed 
respectively ; the former limiting itself to the 
bare presentation of what actually remains of the 
ancient work, braving all shock to living eyes 
from the mutilated nose or chin ; while the 
latter, the aesthetic method, requires that, with 
the least possible addition or interference, by the 
most skilful living hand procurable, the object 
shall be made to please, or at least content the 
living eye seeking enjoyment and not a bare fact 
of science, in the spectacle of ancient art. This 
latter way of restoration, — the assthetic way, — 
followed by the famous connoisseurs of the 
Renaissance, has been followed here ; and the 
visitor to Munich actually sees the marbles of 
iEgina, as restored after a model by the tasteful 
hand of Thorwaldsen. 

Different views have, however, been main- 
tained as to the right grouping of the figures ; 
but the composition of the two groups was 
apparently similar, not only in general character 
but in a certain degree of correspondence of all the 
figures, each to each. And in both the subject 
is a combat, — a combat between Greeks and 
Asiatics concerning the body of a Greek hero, 
fallen among the foemen, — an incident so char- 

258 



THE MARBLES OF ^GINA 

acteristic of the poetry of the heroic wars. In 
both cases, Athene, whose temple this sculpture 
was designed to decorate, intervenes, her image 
being complete in the western gable, the head 
and some other fragments remaining of that in 
the eastern. The incidents represented were 
probably chosen with reference to the traditions 
of JEginz in connexion w^ith the Trojan war. 
Greek legend is ever deeply coloured by local 
interest and sentiment, and this monument 
probably celebrates Telamon, and Ajax his son, 
the heroes who established the fame of iEgina, 
and whom the united Greeks, on the morning 
of the battle of Salamis, in which the ^Eginetans 
were distinguished above all other Greeks in 
bravery, invited as their peculiar, spiritual allies 
from that island. 

Accordingly, antiquarians are, for the most 
part, of opinion that the eastern gable represents 
the combat of Hercules (Hercules being the only 
figure among the warriors certainly to be identi- 
fied), and of his comrade Telamon, against 
Laomedon of Troy, in which, properly, Hercules 
was leader, but here, as squire and archer, is 
made to give the first place to Telamon, as the 
titular hero of the place. Opinion is not so 
definite regarding the subject of the western 
gable, which, however, probably represents the 
combat between the Greeks and Trojans over 
the body of Patroclus. In both cases an vEginetan 
hero, in the eastern gable Telamon, in the western 

259 



GREEK STUDIES 

his son Ajax, is represented in the extreme crisis 
of battle, such a crisis as, according to the deep 
rehgiousness of the Greeks of that age, was a 
motive for the visible intervention of the goddess 
in favour of her chosen people. 

Opinion as to the date of the work, based 
mainly on the characteristics of the work itself, 
has varied within a period ranging from the 
middle of the sixtieth to the middle of the 
seventieth Olympiad, inclining on the whole to 
the later date, in the period of the Ionian revolt 
against Persia, and a few years earlier than the 
battle of Marathon. 

In this monument, then, we have a revelation 
in the sphere of art, of the temper which made 
the victories of Marathon and Salamis possible, of 
the true spirit of Greek chivalry as displayed in 
the Persian war, and in the highly ideal con- 
ception of its events, expressed in Herodotus and 
approving itself minutely to the minds of the 
Greeks, as a series of affairs in which the gods 
and heroes of old time personally intervened, and 
that not as mere shadows. It was natural that 
the high-pitched temper, the stress of thought 
and feeling, which ended in the final conflict of 
Greek liberty with Asiatic barbarism, should 
stimulate quite a new interest in the poetic 
legends of the earlier conflict between them in 
the heroic age. As the events of the Crusades 
and the chivalrous spirit of that period, leading 
men's minds back to ponder over the deeds of 

260 



THE MARBLES OF .€GINA 

Charlemagne and his paladins, gave birth to the 
composition of the Song of Roland, just so this 
i^ginetan sculpture displays the Greeks of a 
later age feeding their enthusiasm on the legend 
of a distant past, and is a link between Herodotus 
and Homer. In those ideal figures, pensive a 
little from the first, we may suppose, with the 
shadowiness of a past age, wc may yet see how 
Greeks of the time of Themistocles really con- 
ceived of Homeric knight and squire. 

Some other fragments of art, also discovered 
in i^gina, and supposed to be contemporary with 
the temple of Athene, tend, by their roughness 
and immaturity, to show that this small building, 
so united in its effect, so complete in its simplicity, 
in the symmetry of its two main groups of 
sculpture, was the perfect artistic flower of its 
time and place. Yet within the limits of this 
simple unity, so important an element in the 
charm and impressiveness of the place, a certain 
inequality of design and execution may be 
detected ; the hand of a slightly earlier master, 
probably, having worked in the western gable, 
while the master of the eastern gable has gone 
some steps farther than he in fineness and power 
of expression ; the stooping figure of the sup- 
posed Ajax, — belonging to the western group in 
the present arrangement, but really borrowed, as 
I said, from the eastern, — which has in it some- 
thing above the type of the figures grouped round 
it, being this later sculptor's work. Yet Over- 

261 



GREEK STUDIES 

beck, who has elaborated the points of this 
distinction of styles, commends without reserve 
the technical excellence of the whole work, 
executed, as he says, " with an application of all 
known instruments of sculpture ; the delicate 
calculation of weight in the composition of the 
several parts, allowing the artist to dispense with 
all artificial supports, and to set his figures, with 
all their complex motions, and yet with plinths 
only three inches thick, into the basis of the 
gable ; the bold use of the chisel, which wrought 
the shield, on the freely-held arm, down to a 
thickness of scarcely three inches ; the fineness 
of the execution, even in parts of the work 
invisible to an ordinary spectator, in the diligent 
finishing of which the only motive of the artist 
was to satisfy his own conviction as to the nature 
of good sculpture." 

It was the Dorian cities, Plato tells us, which 
first shook off the false Asiatic shame, and 
stripped off their clothing for purposes of 
exercise and training in the gymnasium ; and it 
was part of the Dorian or European influence to 
assert the value in art of the unveiled and healthy 
human form. And here the artists of ^gina, 
notwithstanding Homer's description of Greek 
armour, glowing like the sun itself, have dis- 
played the Greek warriors — Greek and Trojan 
alike — not in the equipments they would really 
have worn, but naked, — flesh fairer than that 
golden armour, though more subdued and tran- 

262 



THE MARBLES OF JEGINA 

quil in effect on the spectator, the undraped 
form of man coming like an embodiment of 
the Hellenic spirit, and as an element of temper- 
ance, into the somewhat gaudy spectacle of 
Asiatic, or archaic art. Paris alone bears his 
dainty trappings, characteristically, — a coat ot 
golden scale-work, the scales set on a lining of 
canvas or leather, shifting deftly over the delicate 
body beneath, and represented on the gable by 
the gilding, or perhaps by real gilt metal. 

It was characteristic also of that more truly 
Hellenic art — another element of its temperance 
— to adopt the use of marble in its works ; and 
the material of these figures is the white marble 
of Paros. Traces of colour have, however, been 
found on certain parts of them. The outer 
surfaces of the shields and helmets have been 
blue ; their inner parts and. the crests of the 
helmets, red ; the hem of the drapery of Athene, 
the edges of her sandals, the plinths on which 
the figures stand, also red ; one quiver red, 
another blue ; the eyes and lips, too, coloured ; 
perhaps, the hair. There was just a limited and 
conventionalised use of colour, in effect, upon 
the marble. 

And although the actual material of these 
figures is marble, its coolness and massiveness 
suiting the growing severity of Greek thought, 
yet they have their reminiscences of work in 
bronze, in a certain slimness and tenuity, a certain 
dainty lightness of poise in their grouping, which 

263 



GREEK STUDIES 

remains in the memory as a peculiar note of their 
style ; the possibility of such easy and graceful 
balancing being one of the privileges or oppor- 
tunities of statuary in cast metal, of that hollow 
casting in which the whole weight of the work 
is so much less than that of a work of equal size 
in marble, and which permits so much wider 
and freer a disposition of the parts about its centre 
of gravity. In JEgina. the tradition of metal- 
work seems to have been strong, and Onatas, 
whose name is closely connected with -^gina, 
and who is contemporary with the presumably 
later portion of this monument, was above all a 
worker in bronze. Here again, in this lurking 
spirit of metal-work, we have a new element of 
complexity in the character of these precious 
remains. And then, to compass the whole work 
in our imagination, we must conceive yet another 
element in the conjoint effect ; metal being 
actually mingled with the marble, brought thus 
to its daintiest point of refinement, as the little 
holes indicate, bored into the marble figures for 
the attachment of certain accessories in bronze, 
— lances, swords, bows, the Medusds head on the 
agis of Athene, and its fringe of little snakes. 

And as there was no adequate consciousness 
and recognition of the essentials of man's nature 
in the older, oriental art, so there is no pathos, 
no humanity in the more special sense, but a kind 
of hardness and cruelty rather, in those oft- 
repeated, long, matter-of-fact processions, on the 

264 



THE MARBLES OF i^GINA 

marbles of Nineveh, of slave-like soldiers on 
their way to battle mechanically, or of captives 
on their w^ay to slavery or death, for the satisfac- 
tion of the Great King. These Greek, marbles, 
on the contrary, with that figure yearning forward 
so graciously to the fallen leader, are deeply 
impressed with a natural pathetic effect — the 
true reflexion again of the temper of Homer in 
speaking of war. Ares, the god of war himself, 
we must remember, is, according to his original 
import, the god of storms, of winter raging 
among the forests of the Thracian mountains, a 
brother of the north wind. It is only afterwards 
that, surviving many minor gods of war, he 
becomes a leader of hosts, a sort of divine knight 
and patron of knighthood ; and, through the old 
intricate connexion of love and war, and that 
amorousness which is the universally conceded 
privilege of the soldier's life, he comes to be 
very near Aphrodite, — the paramour of the 
goddess of physical beauty. So that the idea of 
a sort of soft dalliance mingles, in his character, 
so unlike that of the Christian leader. Saint 
George, with the idea of savage, warlike im- 
pulses ; the fair, soft creature suddenly raging 
like a storm, to which, in its various wild inci- 
dents, war is constantly likened in Homer ; the 
effects of delicate youth and of tempest blending, 
in Ares, into one expression, not without that 
cruelty which mingles also, like the influence of 
some malign fate upon him, with the finer 

265 



GREEK STUDIES 

characteristics of Achilles, who is a kind of 
merely human double of Ares. And in Homer's 
impressions of war the same elements are blent, 
— the delicacy, the beauty of youth, especially, 
which makes it so fit for purposes of love, 
spoiled and wasted by the random flood and fire 
of a violent tempest ; the glittering beauty of 
the Greek " war-men," expressed in so many 
brilliant figures, and the splendour of their 
equipments, in collision with the miserable 
accidents of battle, and the grotesque indignities 
of death in it, brought home to our fancy by a 
hundred pathetic incidents, — the sword hot with 
slaughter, the stifling blood in the throat, the 
spoiling of the body in every member severally. 
He thinks of, and records, at his early ending, 
the distant home from which the boy came, who 
goes stumbling now, just stricken so wretchedly, 
his bowels in his hands. He pushes the ex- 
pression of this contrast to the macabre even, 
suggesting the approach of those lower forms of 
life which await to-morrow the fair bodies of 
the heroes, who strive and fall to-day like these 
in the ^ginetan gables. For it is just that two- 
fold sentiment which this sculpture has embodied. 
The seemingly stronger hand which wrought 
the eastern gable has shown itself strongest in 
the rigid expression of the truth of pain, in the 
mouth of the famous recumbent figure on the 
extreme left, the lips just open at the corner, and 
in the hard-shut lips of Hercules. Otherwise, 

266 



THE MARBLES OF iEGINA 

these figures all smile faintly, almost like the 
monumental effigies of the Middle Age, with a 
smile which, even if it be but a result of the 
mere conventionality of an art still somewhat 
immature, has just the pathetic effect of Homer's 
conventional epithet " tender," when he speaks 
of the tlesh of his heroes. 

And together with this touching power there is 
also in this work the effect of an early simplicity, 
the charm of its limitations. For as art which 
has passed its prime has sometimes the charm 
of an absolute refinement in taste and w^orkman- 
ship, so immature art also, as we now see, has 
its own attractiveness in the narjete^ the freshness 
of spirit, which finds power and interest in 
simple motives of feeling, and in the freshness 
of hand, which has a sense of enjoyment in 
mechanical processes still performed unmechanic- 
ally, in the spending of care and intelligence 
on every touch. As regards Italian art, the 
sculpture and paintings of the earlier Renais- 
sance, the aesthetic value of this naivete is now 
well understood ; but it has its value in Greek 
sculpture also. There, too, is a succession ot 
phases through which the artistic power and 
purpose grew to maturity, with the enduring 
charm of an unconventional, unsophisticated 
freshness, in that very early stage of it illustrated 
by these marbles of ^gina, not less than in 
the work of Verrocchio and Mino of Fiesole. 
Effects of this we may note in that sculpture 

267 



GREEK STUDIES 

of iEgina, not merely in the simplicity, or 
monotony even, of the whole composition, and 
in the exact and formal correspondence of one 
gable to the other, but in the simple readiness 
with which the designer makes the two second 
spearmen kneel, against the probability of the 
thing, so as just to fill the space he has to 
compose in. The profiles are still not yet of 
the fully developed Greek type, but have a 
somewhat sharp prominence of nose and chin, as 
in Etrurian design, in the early sculpture of 
Cyprus, and in the earlier Greek vases ; and 
the general proportions of the body in relation 
to the shoulders are still somewhat archaically 
slim. But then the workman is at work in 
dry earnestness, with a sort of hard strength in 
detail, a scrupulousness verging on stiffness, like 
that of an early Flemish painter ; he communi- 
cates to us his still youthful sense of pleasure in 
the experience of the first rudimentary difficulties 
of his art overcome. And withal, these figures 
have in them a true expression of life, of anima- 
tion. In this monument of Greek chivalry, 
pensive and visionary as it may seem, those old 
Greek knights live with a truth like that of 
Homer or Chaucer. In a sort of stifif grace, 
combined with a sense of things bright or 
sorrowful directly felt, the iEginetan workman 
is as it were the Chaucer of Greek sculpture. 



268 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

A CHAPTER IN GREEK ART 

It is pleasant when, looking at medieval sculpture, 
we are reminded of that of Greece ; pleasant 
likewise, conversely, in the study of Greek work 
to be put on thoughts of the Middle Age. To 
the refined intelligence, it would seem, there is 
something attractive in complex expression as 
such. The Marbles of Mgina, then, may remind 
us of the Middle Age where it passes into the 
early Renaissance, of its most tenderly finished 
warrior-tombs at Westminster or in Florence. 
A less mature phase of medieval art is recalled 
to our fancy by a primitive Greek work in the 
Museum of Athens, Hermes, bearing a ram, a 
little one, upon his shoulders. He bears it thus, 
had borne it round the walls of Tanagra, as its 
citizens told, by way of purifying that place from 
the plague, and brings to mind, of course, later 
images of the '* Good Shepherd." It is not the 
subject of the work, however, but its style, that 
sets us down in thought before some gothic 

269 



GREEK STUDIES 

cathedral front. Suppose the Hermes Kriophorus 
lifted into one of those empty niches, and the 
archaeologist will inform you rightly, as at 
Auxerre or Wells, of Italian influence, perhaps 
of Italian workmen, and along with them indirect 
old Greek influence coming northwards ; while 
the connoisseur assures us that all good art, at 
its respective stages of development, is in essential 
qualities everywhere alike. It is observed, as a 
note of imperfect r^kill, that in that carved block 
of stone the animal is insufficiently detached 
from the shoulders of its bearer. Again, how 
precisely gothic is the effect ! Its very limita- 
tion as sculpture emphasises the function of the 
thing as an architectural ornament. And the 
student of the Middle Age, if it came within 
his range, would be right in so esteeming it. 
Hieratic, stiff and formal, if you will, there is 
a knowledge of the human body in it neverthe- 
less, of the body, and of the purely animal soul 
therein, full of the promise of what is coming in 
that chapter of Greek art which may properly 
be entitled, " The Age of Athletic Prizemen." 

That rude image, a work perhaps of Calamis 
of shadowy fame, belongs to a phase of art still 
in grave-clothes or swaddling-bands, still strictly 
surbordinate to religious or other purposes not 
immediately its own. It had scarcely to wait 
for the next generation to be superseded, and we 
need not wonder that but little of it remains. 
But that it was a widely active phase of art, with 

270 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

all the vigour of local varieties, is attested by 
another famous archaic monument, too full of a 
kind of sacred poetr^^ to be passed by. The 
reader does not need to be reminded that the 
Greeks, vivid as was their consciousness of this 
life, cared much always for the graves of the 
dead ; that to be cared for, to be honoured, in 
one's grave, to have rvfifio^ dfi(f)L7ro\o<i^ a frequented 
tomb, as Pindar says, was a considerable motive 
with them, even among the young. In the 
study of its funeral monuments we might indeed 
follow closely enough the general development 
of art in Greece from beginning to end. The 
carved slab of the ancient shepherd of Orcho- 
menus, with his dog and rustic staff, the stele 
of the ancient man-at-arms signed " Aristocles," 
rich originally with colour and gold and fittings 
of bronze, are among the few still visible pictures, 
or portraits, it may be, of the earliest Greek life. 
Compare them, compare their expression, for 
a moment, with the deeply incised tombstones 
of the Brethren of St. Francis and their clients, 
which still roughen the pavement of Santa 
Croce at Florence, and recal the varnished poly- 
chrome decoration of those Greek monuments in 
connexion with the worn-out blazonry of the 
funeral brasses of England and Flanders. The 
Shepherd, the Hoplite, begin a series continuous 
to the era of full Attic mastery in its gentlest 
mood, with a large and varied store of memorials 
of the dead, which, not so strangely as it may 

271 



GREEK STUDIES 

seem at first sight, are like selected pages from 
daily domestic life. See, for instance, at the 
British Museum, Trypho, "the son of Eutychus," 
one of the very pleasantest human likenesses 
there, though it came from a cemetery — a son 
it was hard to leave in it at nineteen or twenty. 
With all the suppleness, the delicate muscu- 
larity, of the flower of his youth, his handsome 
face sweetened by a kind and simple heart, in 
motion, surely, he steps forth from some shadowy 
chamber, strigil in hand, as of old, and with his 
coarse towel or cloak of monumental drapery 
over one shoulder. But whither precisely, you 
may ask, and as what, is he moving there in the 
doorway ? Well ! in effect, certainly, it is the 
memory of the dead lad, emerging thus from 
his tomb, — the still active soul, or permanent 
thought, of him, as he most liked to be. 

The Harpy Tomb, so called from its mysterious 
winged creatures with human faces, carrying the 
little shrouded souls of the dead, is a work many 
generations earlier than that graceful monument 
of Trypho. It was from an ancient cemetery 
at Xanthus in Lycia that it came to the British 
Museum. The Lycians were not a Greek 
people ; but, as happened even with "barbarians'* 
dwelling on the coast of Asia Minor, they 
became lovers of the Hellenic culture, and Xan- 
thus, their capital, as may be judged from the 
beauty of its ruins, managed to have a consider- 
able portion in Greek art, though infusing it 

272 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

with a certain Asiatic colour. The tVugally 
designed frieze of the Harpy Tomb, in the 
lowest possible relief, might fairly be placed 
between the monuments of Assyria and those 
primitive Greek works among which it now 
actually stands. The stiffly ranged figures in 
any other than strictly archaic work would seem 
affected. But what an undercurrent of refined 
sentiment, presumably not Asiatic, not "barbaric," 
lifting those who felt thus about death so early 
into the main stream of Greek humanity, and to 
a level of visible refinement in execution duly 
expressive of it ! 

In that old burial-place of Xanthus, then, a 
now nameless family, or a single bereaved member 
of it, represented there as a diminutive figure 
crouching on the earth in sorrow, erected this 
monument, so full of family sentiment, and of so 
much value as illustrating what is for us a some- 
what empty period in the history of Greek art, 
strictly so called. Like the less conspicuously 
adorned tombs around it, like the tombs in 
Homer, it had the form of a tower — a square 
tower about twenty-four feet high, hollowed at 
the top into a small chamber, for the reception, 
through a little doorway, of the urned ashes of 
the dead. Four sculptured slabs were placed at 
this level on the four sides of the tower in the 
manner of a frieze. I said that the winged 
creatures with human faces carry the little souls 
of the dead. The interpretation of these mystic 

T 273 



GREEK STUDIES 

imageries is, in truth, debated. But in face of 
them, and remembering how the sculptors and 
glass -painters of the Middle Age constantly 
represented the souls of the dead as tiny bodies, 
one can hardly doubt as to the meaning of these 
particular details which, repeated on every side, 
seem to give the key-note of the whole composi- 
tion.-^ Those infernal, or celestial, birds, indeed, 
are not true to what is understood to be the 
harpy form. Call them sirens, rather. People, 
and not only old people, as you know, appear 
sometimes to have been quite charmed away by 
what dismays most of us. The tiny shrouded 
figures which the sirens carry are carried very 
tenderly, and seem to yearn in their turn towards 
those kindly nurses as they pass on their way to 
a new world. Their small stature, as I said, 
does not prove them infants, but only new-born 
into that other life, and contrasts their helpless- 
ness with the powers, the great presences, now 
around them. A cow, far enough from Myron's 
famous illusive animal, suckles her calf. She is 

^ In some fine reliefs of the thirteenth century, Jesus himself 
draws near to the deathbed of his Mother. The soul has already- 
quitted her body, and is seated, a tiny crowned figure, on his left 
arm (as she had carried Him) to be taken to heaven. In the 
beautiful early fourteenth century monument of Aymer de Valence 
at Westminster, the soul of the deceased, " a small figure wrapped 
in a mantle," is supported by two angels at the head of the tomb. 
Among many similar instances may be mentioned the soul of the 
beggar, Lazarus, on a carved capital at Vezelay ; and the same 
subject in a coloured window at Bourges. The clean, white little 
creature seems glad to escape from the body, tattooed all over with 
its sores in a regular pattern. 

274 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

one ot almost any number of artistic symbols of 
new-birth, of the renewal of life, drawn from a 
world which is, after all, so full of it. On one 
side sits enthroned, as some have thought, the 
Goddess of Death ; on the opposite side the 
Goddess of Life, with her flowers and fruit. 
Towards her three young maidens are advancing 
— were they still alive thus, graceful, virginal, 
with their long, plaited hair, and long, delicately- 
folded tunics, looking forward to carry on their 
race into the future ? Presented severally, on 
the other sides of the dark hollow within, three 
male persons — a young man, an old man, and 
a boy — seem to be bringing home, somewhat 
wearily, to their " long home," the young man, 
his armour, the boy, and the old man, like old 
Socrates, the mortuary cock, as they approach 
some shadowy, ancient deity of the tomb, or it 
may be the throned impersonation of their 
" fathers of old." The marble surface was 
coloured, at least in part, with fixtures of metal 
here and there. The designer, whoever he may 
have been, was possessed certainly of some 
tranquillising second thoughts concerning death, 
which may well have had their value for 
mourners ; and he has expressed those thoughts, 
if lispingly, yet with no faults of commission, 
with a befitting grace, and, in truth, at some 
points, with something already of a really 
Hellenic definition and vigour. He really speaks 
to us in his work, through his symbolic and 

275 



GREEK STUDIES 

imitative figures, — speaks to our intelligence 
persuasively. 

The surviving thought of the lad Trypho, 
returning from his tomb to the living, was of 
athletic character ; how he was and looked 
when in the flower of his strength. And it is 
not of the dead but of the living, who look and 
are as he, that the artistic genius of this period 
is full. It is a period, truly, not of battles, such 
as those commemorated in the Marbles of Mgtna^ 
but of more peaceful contests — at Olympia, at 
the Isthmus, at Delphi — the glories of which 
Pindar sang in language suggestive of a sort of 
metallic beauty, firmly cut and embossed, like 
crowns of wild olive, of parsley and bay, in crisp 
gold. First, however, it had been necessary that 
Greece should win its liberty, political standing- 
ground, and a really social air to breathe in, with 
development of the youthful limbs. Of this 
process Athens was the chief scene ; and the 
earliest notable presentment of humanity by 
Athenian art was in celebration of those who 
had vindicated liberty with their lives — two 
youths again, in a real incident, which had, 
however, the quality of a poetic invention, 
turning, as it did, on that ideal or romantic 
friendship which was characteristic of the 
Greeks. 

With something, perhaps, of hieratic con- 
vention, yet presented as they really were, as 
friends and admirers loved to think of them, 

276 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

Harmodius and Aristogeiton stood, then, soon 
after their heroic death, side by side in bronze, 
the work of Antenor, in a way not to be forgotten, 
when, thirty years afterwards, a foreign tyrant, 
Xerxes, carried them away to Persia. Kritios 
and Nesistes were, therefore, employed for a 
reproduction of them, which would naturally 
be somewhat more advanced in style. In its 
turn this also disappeared. The more curious 
student, however, would still fancy he saw the 
trace of it — of that copy, or of the original, after- 
wards restored to Athens — here or there, on vase 
or coin. But in fact the very images of the 
heroic youths were become but ghosts, haunting 
the story of Greek art, till they found or seemed 
to find a body once more when, not many years 
since, an acute observer detected, as he thought, 
in a remarkable pair of statues in the Museum 
of Naples, if freed from incorrect restorations 
and rightly set together, a veritable descendant 
from the original work of Antenor. With all 
their truth to physical form and movement, with 
a conscious mastery of delineation, they were, 
nevertheless, in certain details, in the hair, for 
instance, archaic, or rather archaistic — designedly 
archaic, as from the hand of a workman, for 
whom, in this subject, archaism, the very touch 
of the ancient master, had a sentimental or even 
a religious value. And unmistakeably they were 
young assassins, moving, with more than fraternal 
unity, the younger in advance of and covering 

277 



GREEK STUDIES 

the elder, according to the account given by 
Herodotus, straight to their purpose ; — against 
two wicked brothers, as you remember, two 
good friends, on behalf of the dishonoured sister 
of one of them. 

Archasologists have loved to adjust them 
tentatively, with various hypotheses as to the 
precise manner in which they thus went together. 
Meantime they have figured plausibly as repre- 
sentative of Attic sculpture at the end of its 
first period, still immature indeed, but with a 
just claim to take breath, so to speak, having 
now accomplished some stades of the journey. 
Those young heroes of Athenian democracy, 
then, indicate already what place Athens and 
Attica will occupy in the supreme age of art 
soon to come ; indicate also the subject from 
which that age will draw the main stream of its 
inspiration — living youth, " iconic " in its exact 
portraiture, or " heroic " as idealised in various 
degrees under the influence of great thoughts 
about it — youth in its self-denying contention 
towards great effects ; great intrinsically, as at 
Marathon, or when Harmodius and Aristogeiton 
fell, or magnified by the force and splendour of 
Greek imagination with the stimulus of the 
national games. For the most part, indeed, 
it is not with youth taxed spasmodically, like 
that of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and the 
" necessity " that was upon it, that the Athenian 
mind and heart are now busied ; but with youth 

278 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

in its voluntary labours, its habitual and measured 
discipline, labour for its own sake, or in wholly 
friendly contest for prizes which in reality borrow 
all their value from the quality of the receiver. 

We are with Pindar, you see, in this athletic 
age of Greek sculpture. It is the period no 
longer of battle against a foreign foe, recalling 
the Homeric ideal, nor against the tyrant at 
home, fixing a dubious ideal for the future, but 
of peaceful combat as a fine art — pulvis Olympicus, 
Anticipating the arts, poetry, a generation before 
Myron and Polycleitus, had drawn already from 
the youthful combatants in the great national 
games the motives of those Odes, the bracing 
words of which, as I said, are like work in fine 
bronze, or, as Pindar himself suggests, in ivory 
and gold. Sung in the victor's supper-room, or 
at the door of his abode, or with the lyre and 
the pipe as they took him home in procession 
through the streets, or commemorated the happy 
day, or in a temple where he laid up his crown, 
Pindar's songs bear witness to the pride of family 
or township in the physical perfection of son or 
citizen, and his consequent success in the long 
or the short foot-race, or the foot-race in armour, 
or the pentathlon, or any part of it. " Now on 
one, now on another," as the poet tells, " doth 
the grace that quickcneth (quickeneth, literally, 
on the race-course) look favourably." "Apto-rov 
v^oip he declares indeed, and the actual prize, as 
we know, was in itself of little or no worth — a 

279 



GREEK STUDIES 

cloak, in the Athenian games, but at the greater 
games a mere handful of parsley, a few sprigs of 
pine or wild olive. The prize has, so to say, 
only an intellectual or moral value. Yet actually 
Pindar's own verse is all of gold and wine and 
flowers, is itself avowedly a flower, or " liquid 
nectar," or " the sweet fruit of his soul to men 
that are winners in the games." " As when 
from a wealthy hand one lifting a cup, made 
glad within with the dew of the vine, maketh 
gift thereof to a youth " : — the keynote of 
Pindar's verse is there ! This brilliant living 
youth of his day, of the actual time, for whom, 
as he says, he "awakes the clear -toned gale 
of song" — eVeW oliiov \iyvv — that song mingles 
sometimes with the splendours of a recorded 
ancient lineage, or with the legendary greatness 
of a remoter past, its gods and heroes, patrons or 
ancestors, it might be, of the famous young man 
of the hour, or with the glory and solemnity of 
the immortals themselves taking a share in 
mortal contests. On such pretext he will tell 
a new story, or bring to its last perfection by his 
manner of telling it, his pregnancy and studied 
beauty of expression, an old one. The tale of 
Castor and Polydeukes, the appropriate patrons 
of virginal yet virile youth, starred and mounted, 
he tells in all its human interest. 

" Ample is the glory stored up for Olympian 
winners." And what Pindar's contemporaries 
asked of him for the due appreciation, the 

280 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

consciousness, of it, by way of song, that the 
next generation sought, by way of sculptural 
memorial in marble, and above all, as it seems, 
in bronze. The keen demand for athletic 
statuary, the honour attached to the artist 
employed to make his statue at Olympia, or at 
home, bear witness again to the pride with 
which a Greek town, the pathos, it might be, 
with which a family, looked back to the 
victory of one of its members. In the courts of 
Olympia a whole population in marble and 
bronze gathered quickly, — a world of portraits, 
out of which, as the purged and perfected essence, 
the ideal soul, of them, emerged the Diadumenus, 
tor instance, the Discobolus, the so-called "Jason of 
the Louvre. Olympia was in truth, as Pindar 
says again, a mother of gold-crowned contests, the 
mother of a large offspring. All over Greece 
the enthusiasm for gymnastic, for the life of the 
gymnasia, prevailed. It was a gymnastic which, 
under the happy conditions of that time, was 
already surely what Plato pleads for, already one 
half music, fiovaiK^, a matter, partly, of character 
and of the soul, of the fair proportion between 
soul and body, of the soul with itself. Who 
can doubt it who sees and considers the still 
irresistible grace, the contagious pleasantness, of 
the Discobolus, the Diadumenus, and a few other 
precious survivals from the athletic age which 
immediately preceded the manhood of Pheidias, 
between the Persian and the Peloponnesian wars ? 

281 



GREEK STUDIES 

Now, this predominance of youth, of the 
youthful form, in art, of bodily gymnastic pro- 
moting natural advantages to the utmost, of the 
physical perfection developed thereby, is a sign 
that essential mastery has been achieved by the 
artist — the power, that is to say, of a full and 
free realisation. For such youth, in its very 
essence, is a matter properly within the limits of 
the visible, the empirical, world ; and in the 
presentment of it there will be no place for 
symbolic hint, none of that reliance on the help- 
ful imagination of the spectator, the legitimate 
scope of which is a large one, when art is dealing 
with religious objects, with what in the fulness 
of its own nature is not really expressible at all. 
In any passable representation of the Greek 
discobolus^ as in any passable representation of an 
English cricketer, there can be no successful 
evasion of the natural difficulties of the thing to 
be done — the difficulties of competing with 
nature itself, or its maker, in that marvellous 
combination of motion and rest, of inward 
mechanism with the so smoothly finished sur- 
face and outline — finished ad unguem — which 
enfold it. 

Of the gradual development of such mastery 
of natural detail, a veritable counterfeit of nature, 
the veritable rhythmus of the runner, for example 
— twinkling heel and ivory shoulder — we have 
hints and traces in the historians of art. One 
had attained the very turn and texture of the 

282 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

crisp locks, another the very feel of the tense 
nerve and full-flushed vein, while with another 
you saw the bosom of Ladas expand, the lips 
part, as if for a last breath ere he reached the 
goal. It was like a child finding little by little 
the use of its limbs, the testimony of its senses, 
at a definite moment. With all its poetic 
impulse, it is an age clearlv of faithful observa- 
tion, of what we call realism, alike in its iconic 
and heroic work ; alike in portraiture, that is to 
say, and in the presentment of divine or abstract 
types. Its workmen are close students now of 
the living form as such ; aim with success at an 
ever larger and more various expression of its 
details ; or replace a conventional statement of 
them by a real and lively one. That it was thus 
is attested indirectly by the fact that they busied 
themselves, seemingly by way of a tour de force^ 
and with no essential interest in such subject, 
alien as it was from the pride of health which is 
characteristic of the gymnastic life, with the 
expression of physical pain, in Philoctetes, for 
instance. The adroit, the swift, the strong, in full 
and free exercise of their gifts, to the delight of 
others and of themselves, though their sculptural 
record has for the most part perished, are speci- 
fied in ancient literary notices as the sculptor's 
favourite subjects, repeated, remodelled, over and 
over again, for the adornment of the actual 
scene of athletic success, or the market-place at 
home of the distant Northern or Sicilian town 

283 



GREEK STUDIES 

whence the prizeman had come. — A countless 
series of popular illustrations to Pindar's Odes ! 
And if art was still to minister to the religious 
sense, it could only be by clothing celestial spirits 
also as nearly as possible in the bodily semblance 
of the various athletic combatants, whose patrons 
respectively they were supposed to be. 

The age to which we are come in the story 
of Greek art presents to us indeed only a chapter 
of scattered fragments, of names that are little 
more, with but surmise of their original signifi- 
cance, and mere reasonings as to the sort of art 
that may have occupied what are really empty 
spaces. Two names, however, connect them- 
selves gloriously with certain extant works of 
art ; copies, it is true, at various removes, yet 
copies of what is still found delightful through 
them, and by copyists who for the most part 
were themselves masters. Through the varia- 
tions of the copyist, the restorer, the mere 
imitator, these works are reducible to two famous 
original types — the Discobolus or quoit-player, of 
Myron, the beau ideal (we may use that term for 
once justly) of athletic motion ; and the Diadu- 
menus of Polycleitus, as, binding the fillet or 
crown of victory upon his head, he presents the 
beau ideal of athletic repose, and almost begins to 
think. 

Myron was a native of Eleutherae, and a pupil 
of Ageladas of Argos. There is nothing more 
to tell by way of positive detail of this so famous 

284 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

artist, save that the main scene of his activity 
was Athens, now become the centre of the 
artistic as of all other modes of life in Greece. 
Multiplicasse veritatem videtur^ says PHny. He 
was in fact an earnest realist or naturalist, and 
rose to central perfection in the portraiture, the 
idealised portraiture, of athletic youth, from a 
mastery first of all in the delineation of inferior 
objects, of little lifeless or living things. Think, 
however, for a moment, how winning such 
objects are still, as presented on Greek coins ; — 
the ear of corn, for instance, on those of Meta- 
pontum ; the microscopic cockle-shell, the 
dolphins, on the coins of Syracuse. Myron, 
then, passes from pleasant truth of that kind to 
the delineation of the worthier sorts of animal 
life, — the ox, the dog — to nothing short of 
illusion in the treatment of them, as ancient 
connoisseurs would have you understand. It is 
said that there are thirty-six extant epigrams on 
his brazen cow. That animal has her gentle 
place in Greek art, from the Siren tomb, suckling 
her young there, as the type of eternal rejuven- 
escence, onwards to the procession of the Elgin 
frieze, where, still breathing deliciously of the 
distant pastures, she is led to the altar. We feel 
sorry for her, as we look, so lifelike is the carved 
marble. The sculptor who worked there, who- 
ever he may have been, had profited doubtless 
by the study of Myron's famous work. For 
what purpose he made it, does not appear ; — as 

285 



GREEK STUDIES 

an architectural ornament ; or a votive offering ; 
perhaps only because he liked making it. In 
hyperbolic epigram, at any rate, the animal 
breathes, explaining sufficiently the point of 
Pliny's phrase regarding Myron — Corporum 
curiosus. And when he came to his main 
business w^ith the quoit-player, the w^restler, the 
runner, he did not for a moment forget that they 
too were animals, young animals, delighting in 
natural motion, in free course through the 
yielding air, over uninterrupted space, accord- 
ing to Aristotle's definition of pleasure : " the 
unhindered exercise of one's natural force." 
Corporum tenus curiosus: — he was a "curious 
workman" as far as the living body is concerned. 
Pliny goes on to qualify that phrase by saying 
that he did not express the sensations of the mind 
— animi sensus. But just there, in fact, precisely 
in such limitation, we find what authenticates 
Myron's peculiar value in the evolution of Greek 
art. It is of the essence of the athletic prizeman, 
involved in the very ideal of the quoit-player, 
the cricketer, not to give expression to mind, in 
any antagonism to, or invasion of, the body ; to 
mind as anything more than a function of the 
body, whose healthful balance of functions it 
may so easily perturb ; — to disavow that insidious 
enemy of the fairness of the bodily soul as such. 
Yet if the art of Myron was but little occupied 
with the reasonable soul [animus)^ with those 
mental situations the expression of which, though 

286 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

it may have a pathos and a beauty of its own, is 
for the most part adverse to the proper expression 
of youth, to the beauty of youth, by causing it 
to be no longer youthful, he was certainly a 
master of the animal or physical soul there 
(anima) ; how it is, how it displays itself, as 
illustrated, for instance, in the Discobolus. Of 
voluntary animal motion the very soul is un- 
doubtedly there. We have but translations into 
marble of the original in bronze. In that, it 
was as if a blast of cool wind had congealed the 
metal, or the living youth, fixed him imperish- 
ably in that moment of rest which lies between 
two opposed motions, the backward swing of the 
right arm, the movement forwards on which the 
left foot is in the very act of starting. The 
matter of the thing, the stately bronze or marble, 
thus rests indeed ; but the artistic form of it, in 
truth, scarcely more, even to the eye, than the 
rolling ball or disk, may be said to rest, at every 
moment of its course, — just metaphysically, you 
know. 

This mystery of combined motion and rest, of 
rest in motion, had involved, of course, on the 
part of the sculptor who had mastered its secret, 
long and intricate consideration. Archaic as it 
is, primitive still in some respects, full of the 
primitive youth it celebrates, it is, in fact, a 
learned work, and suggested to a great analyst of 
literary style, singular as it may seem, the 
" elaborate " or " contorted " manner in literature 

287 



GREEK STUDIES 

of the later Latin writers, which, however, he 
finds " laudable " for its purpose. Yet with all 
its learned involution, thus so oddly characterised 
by Quintilian, so entirely is this quality sub- 
ordinated to the proper purpose of the Discobolus 
as a work of art, a thing to be looked at rather 
than to think about, that it makes one exclaim 
still, with the poet of athletes, "The natural is 
ever best ! " — to he (f>va airav KparicTTov. Perhaps 
that triumphant, unimpeachable naturalness is 
after all the reason why, on seeing it for the first 
time, it suggests no new view of the beauty of 
human form, or point of view for the regarding 
of it ; is acceptable rather as embodying (say, in 
one perfect flower) all one has ever fancied or 
seen, in old Greece or on Thames' side, of the 
unspoiled body of youth, thus delighting itself 
and others, at that perfect, because unconscious, 
point of good-fortune, as it moves or rests just 
there for a moment, between the animal and 
spiritual worlds. " Grant them," you pray in 
Pindar's own words, " grant them with feet so 
light to pass through life ! " 

The face of the young man, as you see him 
in the British Museum for instance, with fittingly 
inexpressive expression, (look into, look at the 
curves of, the blossomlike cavity of the opened 
mouth) is beautiful, but not altogether virile. 
The eyes, the facial lines which they gather into 
one, seem ready to follow the coming motion of 
the discus as those of an onlooker might be ; 

288 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

but that head does not really belong to the 
discobolus. To be assured ot' this you have but 
to compare with that version in the British 
Museum the most authentic of all derivations 
from the original, preserved till lately at the 
Palazzo Massimi in Rome. Here, the vigorous 
head also, w^ith the face, smooth enough, but 
spare, and tightly drawn over muscle and bone, 
is sympathetic with, yields itself to, the concen- 
tration, in the most literal sense, of all beside ; — 
is itself, in very truth, the steady centre of the 
discus^ which begins to spin ; as the source ot 
will, the source of the motion with which the 
discus is already on the wing, — that, and the 
entire form. The Discobolus of the Massimi 
Palace presents, moreover, in the hair, for in- 
stance, those survivals of primitive manner which 
would mark legitimately Myron's actual pre- 
Pheidiac standpoint ; as they are congruous also 
with a certain archaic, a more than merely 
athletic, spareness of form generally — delightful 
touches of unreality in this realist of a great time, 
and of a sort of conventionalism that has an 
attraction in itself. 

Was it a portrait ? That one can so much as 
ask the question is a proof how far the master, in 
spite of his lingering archaism, is come already 
from the antique marbles of ^gina. Was it the 
portrait of one much-admired youth, or rather 
the type, the rectified essence, of many such, at 
the most pregnant, the essential, moment, of the 
u 289 



GREEK STUDIES 

exercise of their natural powers, of what they 
really were ? Have we here, in short, the 
sculptor Myron's reasoned memory of many a 
quoit-player, of a long flight of quoit-players ; 
as, were he here, he might have given us the 
cricketer, the passing generation of cricketers, 
sub specie eternitatis^ under the eternal form of 
art ? 

Was it in that case a commemorative or 
votive statue, such as Pausanias found scattered 
throughout Greece ? Was it, again, designed to 
be part only of some larger decorative scheme, 
as some have supposed of the Venus of Melos, or 
a work of genre as we say, a thing intended 
merely to interest, to gratify the taste, with no 
further purpose ? In either case it may have re- 
presented some legendary quoit-player — Perseus 
at play with Acrisius fatally, as one has suggested ; 
or Apollo with Hyacinthus, as Ovid describes 
him in a work of poetic genre. 

And if the Discobolus is, after all, a work of 
genre — a work merely imitative of the detail of 
actual life — for the adornment of a room in a 
private house, it would be only one of many 
such produced in Myron's day. It would be, in 
fact, one of iht pristce directly attributed to him 
by Pliny, little congruous as they may seem with 
the grandiose motions of his more characteristic 
work. The pristce, the sawyers, — a celebrated 
creation of the kind, — is supposed to have given 
its name to the whole class of like things. No 

290 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

age, indeed, since the rudiments of art were 
mastered, can have been without such reproduc- 
tions of the pedestrian incidents of every day, for 
the mere pleasant exercise at once of the curiosity 
of the spectator and the imitative instinct of the 
producer. The Terra-Cotta Rooms of the Louvre 
and the British Museum are a proof of it. One 
such work indeed there is, delightful in itself, 
technically exquisite, most interesting by its 
history, which properly finds its place beside the 
larger, the full-grown, physical perfection of the 
Discobolus^ one of whose alert younger brethren 
he may be, — the Spinario namely, the boy drawing 
a thorn from his foot, preserved in the so rare, 
veritable antique bronze at Rome, in the Museum 
of the Capitol, and well known in a host of 
ancient and modern reproductions. 

There, or elsewhere in Rome, tolerated in 
the general destruction of ancient sculpture — like 
the " Wolf of the Capitol," allowed by way of 
heraldic sign, as in modern Siena, or like the 
equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius doing 
duty as Charlemagne, — like those, but like very 
few other works of the kind, the Spinario re- 
mained, well-known and in honour, throughout 
the Middle Age. Stories like that of Ladas the 
famous runner, who died as he reached the goal 
in a glorious foot-race of boys, the subject of a 
famous work by Myron himself, (the " last 
breath," as you saw, was on the boy's lips) were 
told of the half-grown bronze lad at the Capitol. 

291 



GREEK STUDIES 

Of necessity, but fatally, he must pause for a few 
moments in his course ; or the course is at 
length over, or the breathless journey with some 
all-important tidings ; and now, not till now, he 
thinks of resting to draw from the sole of his 
foot the cruel thorn, driven into it as he ran. In 
any case, there he still sits for a moment, for 
ever, amid the smiling admiration of centuries, 
in the agility, in the perfect naivete also as thus 
occupied, of his sixteenth year, to which the 
somewhat lengthy or attenuated structure of the 
limbs is conformable. And then, in this atten- 
uation, in the almost Egyptian proportions, in 
the shallowness of the chest and shoulders especi- 
ally, in the Phoenician or old Greek sharpness 
and length of profile, and the long, conventional, 
wire-drawn hair of the boy, arching formally over 
the forehead and round the neck, there is some- 
thing of archaism, of that archaism which sur- 
vives, truly, in Myron's own work, blending with 
the grace and power of well-nigh the maturity 
of Greek art. The blending of interests, of 
artistic alliances, is certainly delightful. 

Polycleitus, the other famous name of this 
period, and with a fame justified by work we 
may still study, at least in its immediate deriva- 
tives, had also tried his hand with success in 
such subjects. In the Astragalizontes, for instance, 
well known to antiquity in countless reproduc- 
tions, he had treated an incident of the every-day 
life of every age, which Plato sketches by the way. 

292 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

Myron, by patience of genius, had mastered 
the secret of the expression of movement, had 
plucked out the very heart of its mystery. Poly- 
cleitus, on the other hand, is above all the master 
of rest, of the expression of rest after toil, in 
the victorious and crowned athlete, Diadumenus. 
In many slightly varying forms, marble versions 
of the original in bronze of Delos, the T)ia- 
dumenus^ indifferently, mechanically, is binding 
round his head a ribbon or fillet. In the Vaison 
copy at the British Museum it was of silver. 
That simple fillet is, in fact, a diadem^ a crown, 
and he assumes it as a victor ; but, as I said, 
mechanically, and, prize in hand, might be 
asking himself whether after all it had been 
worth while. For the active beauty of the 
Agonistes of which Myron's art is full, we have 
here, then, the passive beauty of the victor. 
But the later incident, the realisation of rest, is 
actually in affinity with a certain earliness, so to 
call it, in the temper and work of Polycleitus. 
He is already something of a reactionary ; or 
pauses, rather, to enjoy, to convey enjoyably to 
others, the full savour of a particular moment 
in the development of his craft, the moment of 
the perfecting of restful form, before the mere 
consciousness of technical mastery in delineation 
urges forward the art of sculpture to a bewildering 
infinitude of motion. In opposition to the ease, 
the freedom, of others, his aim is, by a voluntary 
restraint in the exercise of such technical mastery, 

293 



GREEK STUDIES 

to achieve nothing less than the impeccable, 
within certain narrow limits. He still hesitates, 
is self-exacting, seems even to have checked a 
growing readiness of hand in the artists about 
him. He was renowned as a graver, found 
much to do with the chisel, introducing many a 
fine after-thought, when the rough-casting of his 
work was over. He studied human form under 
such conditions as would bring out its natural 
features, its static laws, in their entirety, their 
harmony ; and in an academic work, so to speak, 
no longer to be clearly identified in what may be 
derivations from it, he claimed to have fixed the 
canon, the common measure, of perfect man. 
Yet with Polycleitus certainly the measure of 
man was not yet " the measure of an angel," but 
still only that of mortal youth ; of youth, how- 
ever, in that scrupulous and uncontaminate purity 
of form which recommended itself even to the 
Greeks as befitting messengers from the gods, if 
such messengers should come. 

And yet a large part of Myron's contemporary 
fame depended on his religious work — on his 
statue of Here, for instance, in ivory and gold — 
that too, doubtless, expressive, as appropriately 
to its subject as to himself, of a passive beauty. 
We see it still, perhaps, in the coins of Argos. 
And has not the crowned victor, too, in that 
mechanic action, in his demure attitude, some- 
thing which reminds us of the religious signifi- 
cance of the Greek athletic service ? It was a 

294 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

sort of worship, you know — that department of 
public life ; such worship as Greece, still in its 
superficial youth, found itself best capable of. 
At least those solemn contests began and ended 
with prayer and sacrifice. Their most honoured 
prizes were a kind of religiously symbolical 
objects. The athletic life certainly breathes of 
abstinence, of rule and the keeping under of 
one's self. And here in the Diadumenus we have 
one of its priests, a priest of the religion whose 
central motive was what has been called " the 
worship of the body," — its modest priest. 

The so-called 'Jason at the Louvre, the Apoxyo- 
menus, and a certain number of others you will 
meet with from time to time — whatever be the 
age and derivation of the actual marble which 
reproduced for Rome, for Africa, or Gaul, types 
that can have had their first origin in one only 
time and place — belong, at least aesthetically, to 
this group, together with the Adorante of Berlin, 
Winckelmann's antique favourite, who with up- 
lifted face and hands seems to be indeed in 
prayer, looks immaculate enough to be interced- 
ing for others. As to the "Jason of the Louvre, 
one asks at first sight of him, as he stoops to 
make fast the sandal on his foot, whether the 
young man can be already so marked a personage. 
Is he already the approved hero, bent on some 
great act of his famous epopee ; or mere youth 
only, again, arraying itself mechanically, but alert 
in eye and soul, prompt to be roused to any 

295 



GREEK STUDIES 

great action whatever ? The vaguely opened 
lips certainly suggest the latter vievvr ; if indeed 
the body and the head (in a different sort 
of marble) really belong to one another. Ah ! 
the more closely you consider the fragments of 
antiquity, those stray letters of the old Greek 
aesthetic alphabet, the less positive will your 
conclusions become, because less conclusive the 
data regarding artistic origin and purpose. Set 
here also, however, to the end that in a con- 
gruous atmosphere, in a real perspective, they 
may assume their full moral and aesthetic ex- 
pression, whatever of like spirit you may come 
upon in Greek or any other work, remembering 
that in England also, in Oxford, we have still, 
for any master of such art that may be given us, 
subjects truly " made to his hand." 

As with these, so with their prototypes at 
Olympia, or at the Isthmus, above all perhaps in 
the Diadumenus of Polycleitus, a certain melan- 
choly (a pagan melancholy, it may be rightly 
called, even when we detect it in our English 
youth) is blent with the final impression we 
retain of them. They are at play indeed, in the 
sun ; but a little cloud passes over it now and 
then ; and just because of them, because they 
are there, the whole aspect of the place is 
chilled suddenly, beyond what one could have 
thought possible, into what seems, nevertheless, 
to be the proper and permanent light of day. 
For though they pass on from age to age the 

296 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

type of what is pleasantest to look on, which, 
as type, is indeed eternal, it is, ot course, but 
for an hour that it rests with any one of them 
individually. Assuredly they have no maladies 
of soul any more than of the body — Animi scnsus 
noil expressit. But it they are not yet think- 
ing, there is the capacity of thought, of painful 
thought, in them, as they seem to be aware 
wistfully. In the Diadiwienus of Polycleitus this 
expression allies itself to the long-drawn facial 
type of his preference, to be found also in an- 
other very different subject, the ideal of which 
he fixed in Greek sculpture — the would-be virile 
Amazon, in exquisite pain, alike of body and 
soul — the "Wounded Amazon." We may be 
reminded that in the first mention of athletic 
contests in Greek literature — in the twenty-third 
book of the Iliad — they form part of the funeral 
rites of the hero Patroclus. 

It is thus, though but in the faintest degree, 
even with the veritable prince of that world of 
antique bronze and marble, the Discobolus at 
Rest of the Vatican, which might well be set 
where Winckelmann set the Adorante^ represent- 
ing as it probably does, the original of Alca- 
menes, in whom, a generation after Pheidias, an 
earlier and more earnest spirit still survived. 
Although the crisply trimmed head may seem a 
little too small to our, perhaps not quite right- 
ful, eyes, we might accept him for that canon, 
or measure, of the perfect human form, which 

297 



GREEK STUDIES 

Polycleitus had proposed. He is neither the 
victor at rest, as with Polycleitus, nor the com- 
batant already in motion, as with Myron ; but, 
as if stepping backward from Myron's precise 
point of interest, and with the heavy discus still 
in the left hand, he is preparing for his venture, 
taking stand carefully on the right foot. Eye 
and mind concentre, loyally, entirely, upon the 
business in hand. The very finger is reckon- 
ing while he watches, intent upon the cast of 
another, as the metal glides to the goal. Take 
him, to lead you forth quite out of the narrow 
limits of the Greek world. You have pure 
humanity there, with a glowing, yet restrained 
joy and delight in itself, but without vanity ; 
and it is pure. There is nothing certainly 
supersensual in that fair, round head, any more 
than in the long, agile limbs ; but also no 
impediment, natural or acquired. To have 
achieved just that, was the Greek*s truest claim 
for furtherance in the main line of human 
development. He had been faithful, we cannot 
help saying, as we pass from that youthful 
company, in what comparatively is perhaps 
little — in the culture, the administration, of the 
visible world ; and he merited, so we might go 
on to say — he merited Revelation, something 
which should solace his heart in the inevitable 
fading of that. We are reminded of those 
strange prophetic words of the Wisdom, the 
Logos, by whom God made the world, in one of 

298 



THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN 

the sapientidl, half-Platonic books of the Hebrew 
Scriptures : — " I was by him, as one brought up 
with him ; rejoicing in the habitable parts of 
the earth. My delights were with the sons of 
men." 



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