I SUPPOSE there can be no doubt whatever that the ruins on the Acropolis of Athens are the most remarkable in the world. There ate ruins far larger, such as the Pyramids, and the remains of Karnak. There are ruins far more perfectly preserved, such as the great Temple at Pæstum. There are ruins more picturesque, such as the ivy-clad walls of media val abbeys beside the rivers in the rich valleys of England. But there is no ruin, all the world over, which combines so much striking beauty, so distinct a type, so vast a volume of history, so great a pageant of immortal memories. There is, in fact, no building on earth which can sustain the burden of such greatness, and so the first visit to the Acropolis is and must be disappointing. When the traveller reflects how all the Old World’s culture culminated in Greece all Greece in Athensall Athens in its Acropolisall the Acropolis in the Parthenonso much crowds upon the mind confusedly that we look for some enduring monument whereupon we can fasten our thoughts, and from which we can pass as from a visible starting-point into all this history and all this greatness. And at first we look in vain. The shattered pillars and the torn pediments will not bear so great a strain : and the traveller feels forced to admit a sense of disappointment, sore against his will. He has come a tedious journey into the remoter parts of Europe ; he has reached at last what his soul for many years had longed to behold : and as is wont to be the case with all great human longings, the truth does not fulfil his desire. The pang of disappointment is all the greater when he sees that the tooth of time and the shock of earthquake have done but little harm. It is the hand of manof reckless foe and ruthless loverwhich has robbed him of his hope. This is the feeling, I am sure, of more than have confessed it, when they first wound their way through the fields of great blue aloes, and passed up through the Propylæa into the presence of the Parthenon. But to those who have not given way to these feelingswho have gone again and again and sat upon the rock, and watched the ruins at every hour of the day, and in the brightness of a moonlight nightto those who have dwelt among them, and meditated upon them with love and awethere first come back the remembered glories of Athens’s greatness, when Olympian Pericles stood upon this rock with care-worn Pheidias, and reckless Alcibiades with pious Nicias, and fervent Demosthenes with caustic Phocionwhen such men peopled the temples in their worship, and all the fluted pillars and sculptured friezes were bright with scarlet, and blue, and gold. And then the glory of remembered history casts its hue over the war-stained remnants. Every touch of human hand, every fluting, and drop, and triglyph, and cornice recalls the master minds which produced this splendour; and so at last we tear ourselves from it as from a thing of beauty, which even now we can never know, and love, and meditate upon to our hearts’ content.
Nothing is more vexatious than the reflection, how lately these splendid remains have been reduced to their present state. The Parthenon, being used as a Greek church, remained untouched and perfect all through the Middle Ages. Then it became a mosque, and the Erechtheum a seraglio, and in this way survived with comparatively little damage till 1687, when, in the bombardment by the Venetians under Morosini, a shell dropped into the Parthenon, where the Turks had their powder stored, and blew out the whole centre of the building. Eight or nine pillars at each side have been thrown down, and have left a large gap, which so severs the front and rear of the temple, that from the city below they look like the remains of two different buildings. The great drums of these pillars are yet lying there, in their order, just as they fell, and some money and care might set them up again in their places ; yet there is not in Greece the patriotism or the zeal to enrich the country by this restoration, matchless in its certainty as well as in its splendour.
But the Venetians were not content with their exploit. They were, about this time, when they held possession of most of Greece, emulating the Pisan taste for Greek sculptures ; and the four fine lions standing at the gate of the arsenal in Venice still testify to their zeal in carrying home Greek trophies to adorn their capital. Morosini wished to take down the sculptures of Pheidias from the eastern pediment, but his workmen attempted it so clumsily that the figures fell from their place, and were dashed to pieces on the ground. The Italians also left their lasting mark on the place by building a high square tower of wretched patched masonry at the right side of the entrance gate, which had of late years become such an eyesore to the better-educated public, that when I was first at Athens there was a subscription on foot to have it taken downnot only in order to remove an obtrusive reminiscence of the invaders, but in the hope of bringing to light some pillars of the Propylaea built into it, as well as many inscribed stones, broken off and carried away from their places as building material. This expectation has not been verified by the results. The tower was taken down by the liberality of H. Schliemann, and there were hardly any inscriptions or sculptures discovered.
The late Prof. Freeman, in the Saturday Review (No. 1134), attacks this removal of the Venetian tower, and my approval of it, as a piece of ignorant and barbarous pedantry, which from love of the old Greek work, and its sanctity, desired to destroy the later history of the place, and efface the monuments of its fortunes in after ages. He thought that even the Turkish additions to the Parthenon should have been left untouched, so that the student of to-day could meditate upon all these incongruities, and draw from them historical lessons. And, assuredly, of all lessons conveyed, that of a victory over the Turks would have been to that writer the most important and the most delightful.
If this great pedant had condescended to let us argue with him, we should have suggested that there are, no doubt, cases where the interests of art and of history are conflicting, and where a restoration of pristine beauty must take away from the evidences of later history. The real question is, then, whether the gain in art is greater than the loss in history. In the case of the Parthenon I think it was, now especially, when records and drawings of the inferior additions could be secured. It may be historically important to note the special work and character of every generation of men ; but surely for the education of the human race in the laws of beauty, and in general culture, some ages are worth nothing, and others worth everything ; and I will not admit that this sort of education is one whit less important than education in the facts of history.
Of course, artistic restorations are often carried too far ; a certain age may be arbitrarily assumed as the canon of perfection, and everything else destroyed to make way for it. There are few ages which can lay claim to such pre-eminence as the age of Pericles ; yet even in this case, were the mediaeval additions really beautiful, we should, of course, hesitate to disturb them. But the Venetian tower, though a picturesque addition to the rock when seen from a distanceso much so that I felt its loss when I saw the Acropolis again,had no claim to architectural beauty ; it was set up in a place sacred to greater associations, and besides there was every reasonable prospect that its removal would subserve historical ends of far more importance than the Venetian occupation of the Acropolis. A few inscriptions of the date of Pericles, containing treaties or other such public matter, would, in my opinion, have perfectly justified its removal, even though it did signify a victory of Christians over Turks.
In any case, it seems unfair that if every generation is to express its knowledge by material results, we should not be permitted to record our conviction that old Greek art or old Greek history is far greater and nobler than either Turkish or Venetian history, and to testify this opinion by making their monuments give way to it. This is the mark of our generation on the earth. Thus the eighteenth century was, no doubt, a most important time in the history even of art, but where noble thirteenth-century churches have been dressed up and loaded with eighteenth-century additions, I cannot think the historical value of these additions, as evidence of the taste or the history of their age, counterbalances their artistic mischievousness, and I sympathise with the nations who take them away. Of course, this principle may be overdriven, and has been often abused. Against such abuses the remarks of the critic to whom I refer are a very salutary protest. But that. any barbarous or unsightly deforming of great artistic monuments is to be protected on historical groundsthis is a principle of which neither his genius nor his sneers could ever convince me. As for the charge of pedantry, no charge is more easily made, but no charge is more easily retorted.
Strangely enough, his theory of the absolute sanctity of old brick and mortar nearly agrees in results with the absolute carelessness about such things, which is the peculiarity of his special enemies, the Turks. The Turks, according to Dodwell, who is a most trustworthy witness, never destroyed the old buildings unless they wanted them for new masonry. He tells us not to believe that the figures of the remaining pediment were used as targets by the Turkish soldiersa statement often made in his day. However that may be, I have little doubt, from what I saw myself, that Greek soldiers in the present day might so use them. But the Turks did take down some pillars of the Propylæa while Dodwell was there, for building purposes, an occurrence which gave that excellent observer the opportunity of noting the old Greek way of fitting the drums of the pillars together. He even got into his possession one of the pieces of cypress wood used as plugs between the stone masses, ana has given a drawing of it, and explained the method of its use, in his admirable book.’
But the same traveller was also present when a far more determined and systematic attack was made upon the remaining ruins of the Parthenon. While he was travelling in the interior, Lord Elgin had obtained his famous firman from the Sultan to take down and remove any antiquities or sculptured stones he might require, and the infuriated Dodwell saw a set of ignorant workmen, under equally ignorant overseers, let loose upon the splendid ruins of the age of Pericles. He speaks with much good sense and feeling of this proceeding. He is fully aware that the world would derive inestimable benefit from the transplanting of these splendid fragments to a more accessible place, but he cannot find language strong enough to express his disgust at the way in which the thing was done. Incredible as it may appear, Lord Elgin himself seems not to have superintended the work, but to have left it to paid contractors, who undertook the job for a fixed sum. Little as either Turks or Greeks cared for the ruins, Dodwell says that a pang of grief was felt through all Athens at the desecration, and that the contractors were obliged to bribe workmen with additional wages to undertake the ungrateful task. He will not even mention Lord Elgin by name, but speaks of him with disgust as ` the person ‘ who defaced the Parthenon. He believes that had this person been at Athens himself, his underlings could hardly have behaved in the reckless way they did, pulling down more than they wanted, and taking no care to prop up and save the work from which they had taken the supports.
He especially notices their scandalous proceeding upon taking up one of the great white marble blocks which form the floor or stylobate of the temple. They wanted to see what was underneath, and Dodwell, who was there, saw the foundationa substructure of Peiraeic sandstone. But when they had finished their inspection they actually left the block they had removed, without putting it back into its place. So this beautiful pavement, made merely of closely-fitting blocks, without any artificial or foreign joinings, was ripped up, and the work of its destruction begun. I am happy to add that, though a considerable rent was then made, most of it is still intact, and the traveller of today may still walk on the very stones which bore the tread of every great Athenian.
The question has often been discussed, whether Lord Elgin was justified in carrying off this pediment, the metopes, and the friezes, from their place ; and the Greeks used to hope that the day would come when England would restore these treasures to their place. This is, of course, absurd, and it may fairly be argued that people who would bombard their antiquities in a revolution are not fit custodians of them in the intervals of domestic quiet. This was my reply to an old Greek gentleman who assailed the memory of Lord Elgin with reproaches. I told him that I was credibly informed the Greeks had themselves bombarded the Turks in the Acropolis during the war of liberation, as several great pieces knocked out and starred on the western front testify. He confessed, to my amusement, that he had himself been one of the assailants, and excused the act by the necessities of war. I replied that, as the country seemed then (1875) on the verge of a revolution, the sculptures might at least remain in the British Museum until s secure government was established. And this is the general verdict of reasonable men on the matter. They are agreed that it was on the whole a gain to science to remove the figures, but all stigmatise as barbarous and shameful the reckless way in which the work was carried out.
I confess I approved of this removal until I came home from Greece, and went again to see the spoil in its place in our great Museum. Though there treated with every carethough shown to the best advantage, and explained by excellent models of the whole building, and clear descriptions of their place on itnotwithstanding all this, the loss that these wonderful fragments had sustained by being separated from their place was so terribly manifestthey looked so unmeaning in an English room, away from their temple, their country, and their lovely atmospherethat one earnestly wished they had never been taken from their place, even at the risk of being made a target by the Greeks or the Turks. I am convinced, too, that the few who would have seen them, as intelligent travellers, on their famous rock, would have gained in quality the advantage now diffused among many, but weakened and almost destroyed by the wrench in associations, when the ornament is severed from its surface, and the decoration of a temple exhibited apart from the temple itself. We may admit, then, that it had been better if Lord Elgin had never taken away these marbles. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to send them back, as has recently been advocated (in 189o) by some English sentimentalists. But I do ,think that the museum on the Acropolis should be provided with a better set of casts of the figures than those which are now to be seen there. They look very wretched, and carelessly prepared.
There are, indeed, preserved in the little museum on the Acropolis the broken remains of the figures of the eastern pediment, which Morosini and his Venetians endeavoured to take down, as I have already told. They are little more than pieces of drapery, of some use in reconstructing the composition, but of none in judging the effect of that famous group.
But we must not yet enter into this little museum, which is most properly put out of sight, at the lowest or east corner of the rock, and which we do not reach till we have passed through all the ruins. As the traveller stands at the inner gate of the Propylaeaa, he notices at once all the perfect features of the buildings. Over his head are the enormous architrave-stones of the Propylaeablocks of white marble over twenty-two feet long, which span the gateway from pillar to pillar. Opposite, above him and a little to the right, is the mighty Parthenon, not identical in orientation, as the architects have observed, with the gateway, but varying from it slightly, so that sun and shade would play upon it at moments differing from the rest, and thus produce a perpetual variety of lights. This principle is observed in the setting of the Erechtheum also. To the left, and directly over the town, stands that beautifully decorated little Ionic temple, or combination of temples, with the stately Caryatids looking inwards and towards the Parthenon. These two buildings are the most perfect examples we have of their respective styles. We see at first sight the object of the artists who built them. The one is the embodiment of majesty, the other of grace. The very ornaments of the Parthenon are large and massive ; those of the Erechtheum for the most part intricate and delicate. Accordingly, the Parthenon is in the Doric style, or rather in the Doric style so refined and adorned as to be properly called the Attic style.
For the more we study old Athenian artnay, even old Athenian character generallythe more are we convinced that its greatness consists in the combination of Doric sternness and Ionic grace. It is hardly a mediation between them ; it is the adoption of the finer elements of both, and the union of them into a higher harmony. The most obvious illustration of this is the drama, where the Ionic element of recitation and the Doric choral hymn were combined and let me observe that the Ionic element was more modified than the Doric. In the same way Attic architecture used the strength and majesty of the older style which we see at Corinth and Pæstum ; but relieved it, partly by lighter proportions, partly by rich decorations, which gave the nearer observer an additional and different delight, while from afar the large features were of the old Doric majesty. Even in the separate decorations, such as the metopes and friezes, the graceful women and the long-flowing draperies of the Ionic school were combined with the muscular nakedness of the Doric athlete, as represented by Doric masters. Individual Attic masters worked out these contrasted types completely, as we may see by the Discobolus of Myron, a contemporary of Pheidias, and the Apollo Musagetes of Scopas, who lived somewhat later.’
In fact, all Athenian character, in its best days, combined the versatility, and luxury, and fondness of pleasure, which marked the Ionian, with the energy, the public spirit, and the simplicity which was said to mark the better Doric states. The Parthenon and Erechtheum express all this in visible clearness. The Athenians felt that the Ionic elegance and luxury of style was best suited to a small building ; and so they lavished ornament and colour upon this beautiful little house, but made the Doric temple the main object of all the sacred height.
It is worth while to consult the professional architects, like Revett, who have examined these buildings with a critical eye. Not only were the old Athenian architects perfect masters of their materials, of accurate measurement, of precise correspondence, of all calculation as to strain and pressurethey even for artistic, as well as for practical, purposes, deviated systematically from the accuracy of right lines and angles, in order that the harmony of the building might profit by this imperceptible discord. They gave and took, like a tuner tempering the chords of a musical instrument. The stylobate is not exactly level, but curved so as to rise four inches in the centre ; the pillars, which themselves swell slightly towards the middle, are not set perpendicularly, but with a slight incline inwards : and this effect is given in the Caryatids by making them rest their weight on the outer foot at each corner, as Viollet-le-duc has admirably explained. Again, the separation of the pillars is less at the corners, and gradually increases as you approach the centre of the building. The base of the pediment is not a right line, but is curved downward. Mr. Flinders Petrie showed me (in 1905) that the variations in the working of the flutings of the pillars never amounted to a millimetre, which suggests that the many blocks laid aside were merely rejected owing to some imperfection so slight as to be imperceptible to us. But it is not my province to go into minute details on such points, which can only be adequately discussed by architects. What I have here to note is, that the old Greek builders had gone beyond mere mathematical accuracy. They knew a higher law than the slavish repetition of accurate distances or intervals, though the repetition of the ratio 4 : 9 is frequent enough to show a definite law in the construction ; they had learned to calculate effects, to allow for optical illusions ; they knew how to sacrifice real for ideal symmetry.
The sculptures of the Parthenon have given rise to a considerable literatureso considerable that the books and treatises upon them now amount to a respectable library. The example was set by the architect of the building itself, Ictinus, who wrote a special treatise on his masterpiece. As is well known, the building was sketched in chalk by the French painter, Jacques Carrey, a few years before the ex-plosion of 1687; and though he had but very imperfect notions of Greek art, and introduced a good deal of seventeenth-century style into the chaste designs of Pheidias, still these drawings, of which there are copies in the British Museum, are of great value in helping us to put together the broken and imperfect fragments which remain.
The sculptured decorations of the building are of three kinds, or applied in three distinct places. In the first place, the two triangular pediments over the east and west front were each filled with a group of statues more than life-sizethe one representing the birth of Athena, and the other her contest with Poseidon for the patronage of Athens. Some of the figures from one of these are the great draped headless women in the centre of the Parthenon room of the British Museum : other fragments of these broken by the Venetians are preserved at Athens. There are, secondly; the metopes, or plaques of stone inserted into the opening between the triglyphs, and carved in relief with a single small group on each. The height of these surfaces does not exceed four feet. There was, thirdly, a band of reliefs running all round the external wall at the top of the cella, inside the surrounding pillars, and opposite to them, and this is known as the frieze of the cella. It consists of a great Panathenaic procession, starting from the western front, and proceeding in two divisions along the parallel north and south walls, till they meet on the eastern front, which was the proper front of the temple. Among the Elgin marbles there are a good many of the metopes, and also of the pieces of the cella frieze preserved. Several other pieces of the frieze are preserved at Athens, and altogether we can reconstruct fully three-fourths of this magnificent composition.
There seems to me the greatest possible difference in merit between the metopes and the other two parts of the ornament. The majority of the metopes re-present either a Greek and an Amazon, or a Centaur and Lapith, in violent conflict. The main object of these contorted groups was to break in upon the squareness and straightness of all the other members of the Doric frieze and architrave. This is admirably done, as there is no conceivable design which more completely breaks the stiff rectangles of the entablature than the various and violent curves of wrestling figures. But, otherwise, these groups do not appear to me very interesting, except so far as everything in such a place, and the work of such hands, must be interesting.
It is very different with the others. Of these the pediment sculptureswhich were, of course, the most important, and which were probably the finest groups ever designedare so much destroyed or mutilated, that the effect of the composition is entirely lost, and we can only admire the matchless power and grace of the torsos which remain. The grouping of the figures was limited, and indicated by the triangular shape or the surface to be decoratedstanding figures occupying the centre, while recumbent or stooping figures occupied the ends. But, as in poetry, where the shackles of rhyme and metre, which encumber the thoughts of ordinary writers, are the very source which produces in the true poet the highest and most precious beauties of expression ; so in sculpture and painting, fixed conditions seem not to injure, but to enhance, and perfect, the beauty and symmetry attainable in the highest art. We have in the famous Niobe group, preserved in Florence, the elements of a similar composition, perhaps intended to fill the triangular tympanum of a temple ; and even in these weak Roman copies of a Greek masterpiece we can see how beautifully the limited space given to the sculpture determined the beauty and variety of the figures, and their attitudes. It was in this genius of grouping that I fancy Pheidias chiefly excelled all his contemporaries : single statues of Polycleitus are said to have been preferred in competitions. To us the art of the Discobolus of Myron seems fully as great as that of any of the figures of the Parthenon ; but no other artist seems to have possessed the same architectonic power of adapting large subjects and processions of figures to their places as Pheidias .l How far he was helped or advised by Ictinus, or even by Pericles, it is not easy to say. But I do not fancy that Greek statesmen in those days studied everything else in the world besides state-craft, and posed as antiquaries, and linguists, and connoisseurs of china and paintings, and theologians, and novelists, and metaphysiciansin fact, everything else under the sun. This manysidedness, as they now call it, which the Greeks thought to be meddlesomeness, was not likely to infect Pericles. He was very intimate with Pheidias, and is said to have constantly watched his workhardly, I fancy, as an adviser, but rather as a humble and enthusiastic admirer of an art which did realise its ideal, while he himself was striving in vain with rebel forces to attain his own in politics.
The extraordinary power of grouping in the designs of Pheidias is, however, very completely shown us in the better-preserved band of the cella frieze, along which the splendid Panathenâic procession winds its triumphal way. Over the eastern doorway were twelve noble sitting figures on either side of the officiating priest, presenting the state robe, or peplos, for the vestment of Athena. These figures are explained as gods by the critics ; but they do not, in either beauty or dignity, excel those of many of the Athenians forming the procession. A very fine slab, containing three of these figures, is now to be seen in the museum of the Acropolis. This group over the main entrance is the end and summary of all the procession, and corresponds with the yearly ceremony in this way, that, as the state entrance, or Propylæa, led into the Acropolis at the west end, or rear of the Parthenon, the procession in all probability separated into two, which went along both sides of the colonnade, and met again at the eastern door. Accordingly, over the western end, or rear, the first preparations of the procession are being made, which then starts along the north and south walls ; the southern being chiefly occupied with the cavalcade of the Athenian knights, the northern with the carrying of sacred vessels, and leading of victims for the sacrifice. The frieze over the western door is still in its place ; but, having lost its bright colouring, and being in any case at a great height, and only visible from close underneath, on account of the pillars and architrave in front, it produces no effect and is hardly discernible. Indeed it evidently was never more than an architectural ornament, in spite of all its artistic beauty.
The greater number of the pieces carried away by Lord Elgin seem taken from the equestrian portion, in which groups of cantering and curveting horses,’ and men in the act of mounting, and striving to curb restive steeds, are brought together with extraordinary effect. We can see plainly how important a part of Athenian splendour depended upon their knights, and how true are the hints of Aristophanes about their social standing and aristocratic tone. The reins and armour, or at least portions of it, were laid on in metal, and have accordingly been long since plundered; nor has any obvious trace remained of the rich colours with which the whole was painted. There appears no systematic uniform, some of the riders being dressed in helmets and cuirasses, some in felt wide-awakes, and short flying cloaks. It must remain uncertain whether the artist did not seek to obtain variety by this deviation from a fixed dress. There can be no doubt that Greek art was very bold and free in such matters. On the other hand, the type of the faces does not exhibit much variety. At the elevation above the spectator which this frieze occupied, individual expression would have been thrown away on figures of three feet in height: the general dress, and the attitudes, may have been, when coloured, easily discernible.
But I confess that this equestrian procession does not appear to me so beautiful as the rows of figures on foot (carrying pitchers and other implements, leading victims, and playing pipes), which come from the north wall, and of which the most beautiful slabs are preserved at Athens. Here we can see best of all that peculiar stamp which shows the age of Pheidias to have been the most perfect in the whole of Greek sculpture. This statement will not be accepted readily by the general public. The Apollo Belvedere, the Capitoline Venus, the Dying Gladiatorthese are what we have been usually taught to regard as the greatest wonders of Greek plastic art ; and those who have accustomed themselves to this realistic and sensuous beauty will not easily see the greatness and the perfection of the solemn and chaste art of Pheidias.
Nevertheless, it will always be held by men who have thought long enough on the subject, that the epoch when Myron and Pheidias, Polycleitus and Polygnotus, broke loose from archaic stiffness into flowing grace was, indeed, the climax of the arts. There seems a sort of natural lawof slow and painful origin of growing developmentof sudden bloom into perfectionof luxury and effeminacyof gradual debasement and decaywhich affects almost all the arts as well as most of the growths of nature. In Greek art particularly this phenomenon perpetually reappears. There can be little doubt that the Iliad of Homer was the first and earliest long creation in poetry, the first attempt, possibly with the aid of writing, to rise from short disconnected lays to the greatness of a formal epic. And despite all its defects of plan and its obvious incongruities, this greatest of all poems has held its place against the more finished and interesting Odyssey, the more elaborated Cyclic poems, the more learned Alexandrian epicsin fact, the first full bloom of the art was by far the most perfect. It is the same thing with Greek tragedy. No sooner had the art escaped from the rude waggon, or stage, or whatever it was, of Thespis, than we find Aeschylus, with imperfect appliances, with want of experience, with many crudenesses, a tragic poet never equalled again in Greek history. Of course the modern critics of his own country preferred, first Sophocles, and then Euripidesgreat poets, as Praxiteles and Lysippus were great sculptors, and like them, perhaps, greater masters of human passion and of soul-stirring pathos. But for all that, Aeschylus is the tragic poet of the Greeksthe poet who has reached beyond his age and nation and fascinated the greatest men even of our century, who seek not to turn back upon his great but not equal rivals. Shelley and Mr. Swinburne have both made Aeschylus their master, and to his inspiration owe the most splendid of their works.
I will not prosecute these considerations further, though there may be other examples in the history of art. But I will say this much concerning the psycho-logical reasons of so strange a phenomenon. It may, of course, be assumed that the man who breaks through the old, stiff conventional style which has bound his predecessors with its shackles is necessarily a man of strong and original genius. Thus, when we are distinctly told of Polygnotus that he first began to vary the features of the human face from their archaic stiffness, we have before us a man of bold originality, who quarrelled with the tradition of centuries, and probably set against him all the prejudices and the consciences of the graver public. But to us, far different features seem prominent. For, in spite of all his boldness, when we. can compare such a man with his forerunners, we are struck with his modesty and devoutness, as compared with his successors. There is in him, first, an old-fashioned piety, which they have not ; and as art in this shape is almost always a handmaid of religion, this devoutness is a prominent feature. Next, there is a certain reticence and modesty in such a man, which arises partly from the former feeling, but still more from a conservative fear of violent change, and a healthy desire to make his work not merely a contrast to, but a development of, the older traditions. Then the old draped goddess of religious days, such as those on the Parthenon, made way for the splendid but yet more human handling which we may see in the Venus of Melos, now in the Louvre. This half- draped but yet thoroughly new and chaste conception leads naturally to the type said to have been first dared by Praxiteles, who did not disguise the use of very unworthy human models to produce his famous, or perhaps infamous ideal, known in so many of our naked Aphrodites. There is, too, in the earlier artist that limited mastery over materials, which, like the laws of the poet’s language, only condenses and intensifies the beauty of his work.
Such reserve, as compared with the later phases of the art, is nowhere so strongly shown as in the matter of expression. This is, indeed, the rock on which most arts have ultimately made shipwreck. When the power over materials and effects becomes complete, so that the artist can as it were perform feats of conquest; when at the same time the feeling has died out that he is treading upon holy ground, we have splendid achievements in the way of intense expression, whether physical or mental, of force, of momentary action, of grief or joy, which are good and great, but which lead imitators into a false track, and so ruin the art which they were thought to perfect. Thus overreaching itself, art becomes an anxious striving after display, and, like an affected and meretricious woman, repels the sounder natures, which had else been attracted by her beauty. In Greek art especially, as I have already noticed in discussing the Attic tomb reliefs, this excess of expression was long and well avoided, and there is no stronger and more marked feature in its good epochs than the reserve of which I have spoken. It is the chief quality which makes the school of Pheidias matchless. There is in it beauty of form, there is a good deal of action, there is in the frieze an almost endless variety ; but withal there is the strictest symmetry, the closest adherence to fixed types, the absence of all attempt at expressing passing emotion. There is still the flavour of the old stiff simplicity about the faces, about the folds of the robes, about the type of the horses ; but the feeling of the artist shines through the archaic simplicity with much clearer light than it does in the more ambitious attempts of the later school. The greatest works of Pheidiashis statue of Zeus at Elis, and his Athene in the Parthenon are lost to us ; but the ancients are unanimous that for simple and sustained majesty no succeeding sculptor, however brilliant, had approached his ideal.’
We may say almost the same of the great temple which he adorned with his genius. It is just that perfection of the Doric temple which has escaped from the somewhat ponderous massiveness and simplicity of the older architecture, while it sacrificed no element of majesty to that grace and delicacy which marks later and more developed Greek architecture.
In its great days, and even as Pausanias saw it, the Acropolis was covered with statues, as well as with shrines. It was not merely a Holy of Holies in religion ; it was also a palace and museum of art. At every step and turn the traveller met new objects of interest. There were archaic specimens, chiefly interesting to the antiquarian and the devotee ; there were the great masterpieces which were the admiration both of the artist and the vulgar. Even all the sides and slopes of the great rock were honeycombed into sacred grottos, with their altars and their gods, or studded with votive monuments. All these lesser things are fallen away and gone ; the sacred caves are filled with rubbish. The grotto of Pan and Apollo is difficult of access, and was, when I first saw it, an object of disgust rather than of interest. There are left but the remnants of the surrounding wall, and the ruins of the three principal buildings, which were the envy and wonder of all the civilised world.
The walls are particularly well worth studying, as there are to be found in them specimens of all kinds of building, beginning from prehistoric times. There is even plain evidence that the builders of the age of Pericles were not by any means the best wall builders; for the masonry of the wall called the Wall of Themistocles, which is well preserved in the lowest part of the course along the north slope, is by far the most beautifully finished work of the kind which can anywhere be seen : and it seems to correspond accurately to the lower strata of the foundations on which the Parthenon was built. The builders of Pericles’s time added a couple of layers of stone to raise the site of the temple, and their work contrasts curiously in its roughness with the older platform. Any one who will note the evident admiration of Thucydides for the walls built round the Peiraeus by the men of an earlier generation will see good reason for this feeling when they examine these details.
The beautiful little temple of Athena Nike, though outside the Propylaeathrust out as it were on a sort of great bastion high on the right as you entermust still be called a part, and a very striking part, of the Acropolis. It is only of late years that the site has been cleared of rubbish and modern stonework, and the temple rebuilt from the original materials, thus destroying, no doubt, some precious traces of Turkish occupation which the fastidious historian may regret, but realising to us a beautiful Greek temple of the Ionic Order in some completeness. The peculiarity of this building, which is perched upon a platform of stone and commands a splendid prospect, is, that its tiny peribolus, or sacred enclosure, was surrounded by a parapet of stone slabs covered with exquisite reliefs of winged Victories, in various attitudes. Some of these slabs are now in the museum of the Acropolis, and are of great interestapparently less severe than the school of Pheidias, and therefore later in date, but still of the best epoch, and of marvellous grace. The position of this temple also is not parallel with the Propylæa, but turned slightly outwards, so that the light strikes it at moments when the other building is not illuminated. At the opposite side is a very well preserved chamber, and a fine colonnade at right angles with the gate, which looks like a guard-room. This is the chamber commonly called the Pinacotheca, where Pausanias saw pictures or frescoes by Polygnotus.
The museum on the Acropolis requires but little comment, and is very easily seen and appreciated. I have already spoken of the archaic damsels, who look upon the visitors in their bright colours, their careful plaits of hair, and their stereotyped smile. I will only add here that the latest addition to the Museum is the strangestgreat dragons in poros-stone and coloured, which are either in conflict with Herakles or hurrying along what we conceive to be the pediment of the original temple in the sixth century B.C. These archaic, nay, even barbaric monsters, which have the appearance of being moulded in terra-cotta, come upon us with a shock, so different are they from anything tolerated in the maturity of Greek art. It is difficult to imagine the Athens of Solon with such ornaments, and yet this was certainly the case, and it brings home to us the vital fact that the development of Attic art from archaic clumsiness to the highest symmetry and grace was accomplished in a single generation.
I will venture to conclude this chapter with a curious comparison. It was my good fortune, a few months after I had seen the Acropolis, to visit a rock in Ireland, which, to my great surprise, bore many curious analogies to itI mean the Rock of Cashel. Both were strongholds of religion honoured and hallowed above all other places in their respective countriesboth were covered with buildings of various dates, each representing peculiar ages and styles in art. And as the Greeks, I suppose for effect’s sake, have varied the posture of their temples, so that the sun illumines them at different moments, the old Irish have varied the orientation of their churches, that the sun might rise directly over against the east window on the anniversary of the patron saint. There is at Cashel the great Cathedralin loftiness and grandeur the Parthenon of the place ; there is the smaller and more beautiful Cormac’s Chapel, the holiest of all, like the Erechtheum at Athens. Again, the great sanctuary upon the Rock of Cashel was surrounded by a cluster of abbeys about its base, which were founded there by pious men on account of the greatness and holiness of the archiepiscopal seat. Of these, one remains, like the Theseum at Athens, eclipsed by the splendour of the Acropolis.
The prospect from the Irish sanctuary has, indeed, endless contrasts to that from the pagan stronghold, but they are suggestive contrasts, and are not without a certain harmony. The plains around both are framed by mountains, of which the Irish are probably the more picturesque ; and if the light upon the Greek hills is the fairest, the native colour of the Irish is infinitely more rich. So, again, the soil of Attica is light and dusty, whereas the Golden Vale of Tipperary is among the richest and greenest in the world. Still, both places were the noblest homes, each in their own country, of religions which civilised, humanised, and exalted the human race ; and if the Irish Acropolis is left in dim obscurity by the historical splendour of the Parthenon, on the other hand, the gods of the Athenian stronghold have faded out before the moral greatness of the faith preached from the Rock of Cashel.