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´╗┐Title: Religion and Art in Ancient Greece
Author: Gardner, Ernest Arthur
Language: English
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Greek religion may be studied under various aspects; and many recent
contributions to this study have been mainly concerned either with the
remote origin of many of its ceremonies in primitive ritual, or with the
manner in which some of its obscurer manifestations met the deeper
spiritual needs which did not find satisfaction in the official cults.
Such discussions are of the highest interest to the anthropologist and
to the psychologist; but they have the disadvantage of fixing our
attention too exclusively on what, to the ordinary Greek, appeared
accidental or even morbid, and of making us regard the Olympian
pantheon, with its clearly realised figures of the gods, as a mere
system imposed more or less from outside upon the old rites and beliefs
of the people. In the province of art, at least, the Olympian gods are
paramount; and thus we are led to appreciate and to understand their
worship as it affected the religious ideals of the people and the
services of the State. For we must remember that in the case of religion
even more than in that of art, its essential character and its influence
upon life and thought lie rather in its full perfection than in its

In a short sketch of so wide a subject it has seemed inadvisable to make
any attempt to describe the types of the various gods. Without full
illustration and a considerable expenditure of space, such a description
would be impracticable, and the reader must be referred to the ordinary
handbooks of the subject. A fuller account will be found in Dr.
Farnell's _Cults of the Greek States_, and some selected types are
discussed with the greatest subtlety and understanding in Brunn's
_Griechische Gotterideale_. In the present volume only a few examples
are mentioned as characteristic of the various periods. It may thus, I
trust, serve as an introduction to a more complete study of the subject;
and may, at the same time, offer to those who have not the leisure or
inclination for such further study, at least a summary of what we may
learn from Greece as to the relations of religion and art under the most
favourable conditions. It is easy, as Aristotle says, to fill in the
details if only the outlines are rightly drawn--[Greek: doxeie d' an
pantos einai proagagein kai diorthosai ta kalos echonta te perigraphe.]


CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

  I.  IDOLATRY AND IMAGINATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1

        PHILOSOPHICAL  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  24


 IV.  ANTHROPOMORPHISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  58

  V.  IDEALISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  75

 VI.  INDIVIDUALISM  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  94





The relation of religion to art has varied greatly among different
peoples and at different periods. At the one extreme is the
uncompromising puritan spirit, which refuses to admit any devices of
human skill into the direct relations between God and man, whether it be
in the beauty of church or temple, in the ritual of their service, or in
the images which they enshrine. Other religions, such as those of the
Jews or of Islam, relegate art to a subordinate position; and while they
accept its services to decorate the buildings and apparatus connected
with divine worship, forbid any attempt to make a visible representation
of the deity. Modern Christianity, while it does not, as a rule, repeat
this prohibition, has varied greatly from time to time and from country
to country as to the extent to which it allows such representations.
Probably the better educated or more thoughtful individuals would in
every case regard them merely as symbolic aids to induce the
concentration and intensity of religious ideas and aspirations; but
there is no doubt that among the common people they tend to become
actually objects of worship in themselves. It is instructive to turn to
a system in which idolatry, the worship of images, was an essential part
of orthodox religious observance. It is easy and customary with a
certain class of minds to dismiss all such examples of idolatry with a
superficial generalisation such as "the heathen in his blindness bows
down to stock and stone." But it seems worth while to devote a short
study to an attempt to understand how such a system worked in the case
of a people like the ancient Greeks, who possessed to a degree that has
never been surpassed both clearness of intellectual perception and a
power to embody their ideals in artistic form. Whether it tended to
exalt or to debase religion may be a doubtful question; but there can be
no doubt that it gave an inspiration to art which contributed to the
unrivalled attainments of the Greeks in many branches of artistic
creation. We shall be mainly concerned here with the religion of Greece
as it affected the art of sculpture; but before attempting a historical
summary it is necessary for us to understand exactly what we mean by the
worship of representations of the gods, and to consider the nature of
the influence which such representation must have upon artistic

Idolatry--the worship of images--is almost always used by us in a bad
sense, owing, no doubt, chiefly to the usage of the word in the Jewish
scriptures. Mr. Ruskin, in his chapter on the subject in his _Aratra
Pentelici_, points out that it may also be used in a good sense, though
he prefers to use the word imagination in this meaning. There is
doubtless a frequent tendency to failure to

  "Look through the sign to the thing signified,"

but there is no essential reason why the contemplation of a beautiful
statue, embodying a worthy conception of the deity, should not be as
conducive to a state of worship and communion as is an impressive ritual
or ceremony, or any other aid to devotion. This view of the matter is
expressed by some later Greek writers; in earlier times it was probably
unconsciously present, though it is hardly to be found in contemporary
literature. But it was only by slow stages that art came to do so direct
a service to religious ideas; in more primitive times its relation was
more subordinate. The worship or service of images, even in the highest
ages of Greek civilisation, was much more associated with primitive and
comparatively inartistic figures than with the masterpieces of
sculpture; and even where these masterpieces were actually objects of
worship it was often from the inheritance of a sanctity transferred to
them from an earlier image rather than for their own artistic qualities.
It does not, indeed, follow that the influence of the great sculptors
upon the religious ideals of the people was a negligible quality; we
have abundant evidence, both direct and indirect, that it was very
great. But it was exercised chiefly by following and ennobling
traditional notions rather than by daring innovation, and therefore can
only be understood in relation to the general development both of
religious conceptions and of artistic facility.

Here we shall be mainly concerned with art as an expression of the
religious ideals and aspirations of the people, and as an influence upon
popular and educated opinions and conceptions of the gods. But we must
not forget that it is also valuable to us as a record of myths and
beliefs, and of ritual and customs associated with the worship of the
gods. This is the case, above all, with reliefs and vase-paintings. In
them we often find representations which do not merely illustrate
ancient literature, but supplement and modify the information we derive
from classical writers. The point of view of the artist is often not the
same as that of the poet or historian, and it is frequently nearer to
that of the people, and therefore a help in any attempt to understand
popular beliefs. The representations of the gods which we find in such
works do not often embody any lofty ideals or subtle characterisation;
but they show us the traditional and easily recognisable figures in
which the gods usually occurred to the imagination of the Greek people.

The association of acts of worship with certain specially sacred objects
or places lies at the basis of much religious art, though very often art
has little or nothing to do with such objects in a primitive stage of
religious development. Stocks and stones--the latter often reputed to
have fallen from heaven, the former sometimes in the shape of a growing
tree, sometimes of a mere unwrought log--were to be found as the centres
of religious cult in many of the shrines of Greece. These sacred objects
are sometimes called fetishes; and although it is perhaps wiser to avoid
terms belonging properly to the religion of modern savages in speaking
of ancient Greece, there seems to be an analogy between the beliefs and
customs that are implied. Such sacred stocks or stones were not regarded
merely as symbols of certain deities, but were looked upon as having
certain occult or magic qualities inherent in them, and as being in
themselves potent for good or evil. The ceremonies used in their cult
partook of the nature of magic rather than religion, so far as these
consisted of anointing them with oil or with drink offerings; such
ceremonies might, indeed, be regarded as gratifying to the deity
worshipped under their form, when they were definitely affiliated to the
service of an anthropomorphic god; but in a more primitive stage of
belief the indwelling power probably was not associated with any such
generalisation as is implied in the change from "animism" or
"polydaemonism" to polytheism. We are here concerned not with this
growth of religious feeling, but rather with its influence upon the
sacred things that were objects of worship and with the question how far
their sanctity encouraged their artistic decoration.

It is perhaps easier to realise the feeling of a primitive people about
this matter in the case of a sacred building than in that of the actual
image of a god. A temple does not, indeed--in Greece, at least--belong
to the earliest phase of cult; for it is the dwelling of the god, and
its form, based on that of a human dwelling-house, implies an
anthropomorphic imagination. We find, however, in Homer that the gods
are actually thought of as inhabiting their temples and preferring one
to another, Athena going to Athens and Aphrodite to Paphos as her chosen
abode. It was clearly desirable for every city to gain this special
favour; and an obvious way to do this was to make the dwelling-place
attractive in itself to the deity. This might be done not merely by the
abundance of sacrifices, but also by the architectural beauty of the
building itself, and by the richness of the offerings it contained. Here
was, therefore, a very practical reason for making the dwelling of the
god as sumptuous and beautiful as possible, in order that he might be
attracted to live in it and to give his favour and protection to those
that dwelt around it. Doubtless, as religious ideas advanced and the
conception of the nature of the gods became higher, there came the
notion that they did not dwell in houses made with hands; yet a Greek
temple, just like a mediaeval cathedral, might be made beautiful as a
pleasing service and an honour to the deity to whom it was dedicated;
and there was a continuous tradition in practice from the lower
conception to the higher, nor is it easy to draw the line at any
particular stage between the two.

If we turn now to the sacred image of the deity we find the same process
going on. The rude stock or stone was sometimes itself the actual
recipient of material offerings; or it might be painted with some bright
and pleasing colour, or wrapped in costly draperies. In most of these
customs an assumption is implied that the object of worship is pleased
by the same things as please its worshippers; and here we find the germ
of the anthropomorphic idea. It was probably the desire to make the
offerings and prayers of the worshippers perceptible to the power within
that first led to the addition of human features to the shapeless block.
Just as the early Greeks painted eyes upon the prows of their ships, to
enable them to find their way through the water, so they carved a head,
with eyes and ears, out of the sacred stone or stock, or perhaps added a
head to the original shapeless mass. We find many primitive idols in
this form--a cone or column with a head and perhaps arms and feet added
to it; and the tradition survives in the herm, or in the mask of
Dionysus attached to a post, round which we still see the Maenads
dancing on fifth-century vases. The notion that such carved eyes or ears
actually served to transmit impressions to the god is well illustrated
by Professor Petrie's discovery at Memphis of a number of votive ears of
the god, intended to facilitate or to symbolise his reception of the
prayers of his votaries. In fact, the taunt of the psalmist against the
images of the heathen--"Eyes have they, but they see not; they have
ears, and yet they hear not"--is not a merely rhetorical one, as it
seems to us, but real and practical, if spoken to men who gave their
gods ears and eyes that they might hear and see.

An imagination so entirely materialistic may belong to a more primitive
stage than any we can find among the Greeks. As soon as religion has
reached the polytheistic stage the gods are regarded as travelling from
image to image, just as they travel from temple to temple. Even in
AEschylus' _Eumenides_ it will be remembered that when Orestes, by the
advice of Apollo, clasps as a suppliant the ancient image of Athena at
Athens, the goddess comes flying from far away in the Troad when she
hears the sound of his calling. The exact relation of the goddess to the
image is not, in all probability, very clearly realised; but, so far as
one can trace it from the ritual procedure, what appears to be implied
is that a suppliant will have a better chance of reaching the deity he
addresses if he approaches one of the images preferred by that deity as
the abode of his power; often there is one such image preferred to all
others, as this early one of Athena at Athens. The deity was not,
therefore, regarded as immanent in any image--at least, in classical
times; the gods lived in Olympus, or possibly visited from time to time
the people whom they favoured, or went to the great festivals that were
held in their honour. But the various images of them, especially the
most ancient ones, that were set up in their temples in the various
cities of Greece were regarded as a means of communication between gods
and men. The prayer of a worshipper addressing such an image will be
transmitted to the deity whom he addresses, and the deity may even come
in person to hear him, if special aid is required. A close parallel may
be found even in modern days. I have known of a child, brought up in the
Roman Catholic religion, who had a particular veneration or affection
for a certain statue of the Virgin, and used often to address it or, as
she said, converse with it. And she said she had an impression that, if
only she could slip in unawares, she might see the Virgin Mary herself
approaching or leaving the statue, whether to be transformed into it or
merely to dwell in it for a time. On Greek vases we see the same notion
expressed as in the _Eumenides_, when a god or goddess is represented as
actually present beside the statue to which a sacrifice or prayer is
being offered.

In such a stage of religious belief or imagination it is clearly of high
importance that the image of any deity should be pleasing to that deity,
and thereby attract his presence and serve as a ready channel of
communication with him. From the point of view of art, it would seem at
first sight that the result would be a desire to make the image as
beautiful as possible, and as worthy an embodiment of the deity as the
sculptor could devise. This doubtless was the result in the finest
period of art in Greece, and it involved, as we shall see, a great deal
of reciprocal influence on the part of religion and art. But in earlier
times the case is not so simple; and even in statues of the fifth
century it is not easy to understand the conditions under which the
sculptor worked without some reference to the historical development
that lay behind him.

Before the rise of sculpture in Greece, images of the gods, some of them
only rudely anthropomorphic, had long been objects of worship; and it
was by no means safe in religious matters to depart too rashly from the
forms consecrated by tradition. This was partly owing to the feeling
that when a certain form had been accepted, and a certain means of
communication had worked for a long time satisfactorily, it was a
dangerous thing to make a change which might not be agreeable to the
powers concerned, and which might, so to speak, break the established
connection. But while hieratic conservatism tended to preserve forms and
formulae almost for what we may call magic reasons, there was also a
sentiment about the matter which gave popular support to the tendency.
Thus Pausanias probably expresses a common feeling when he says that the
images made by Daedalus, "though somewhat strange in aspect, yet seem to
be distinguished by something in them of the divine."

It is true that these early images attributed to Daedalus showed already
a considerable advance on the shapeless or roughly shaped stocks or
stones that had served as the most primitive objects of worship; but it
was their resemblance to these rather than their difference from them
that impressed the imagination of Pausanias. He appreciated them not so
much as examples of an art that promised much for the future, but rather
as linked with the past by the tradition of an immemorial sanctity. We
find, in fact, that the rude early images remained the centres of state
cult and official worship, as well as of popular veneration, long after
the art of sculpture had become capable of providing their worshippers
with more adequate embodiments of the gods they represented. It was the
early image of Athena, not the Athena Parthenos by Phidias, that was
annually washed in the sea, and for which the peplos was woven by the
chosen women of Athens. The connection between art and religion is, in
such a case, reduced to narrow limits; but, on the other hand, we hear
of many instances where new statues of the gods were made as temple
statues, to be the chief objects of worship and centres of cult. And
this was sometimes done with the official sanction of the gods
themselves, as expressed through the oracle of Delphi.

The sanctity of the old image was sometimes transferred to the new one;
a striking example of this is seen in the case of Artemis Brauronia on
the Athenian Acropolis. It had been the custom for the garments
presented to the goddess by her worshippers to be placed upon her
primitive statue; and when a new and worthier representation of the
goddess was placed in the temple in the fourth century, we are informed
by inscriptions that dedicated garments were sometimes hung upon it,
even though it was a statue from the hand of Praxiteles. It sometimes
happened that the old and the new statues stood side by side in the same
temple, or in adjacent temples, and they seem then to exemplify the two
kinds of idolatry--the literal and the imaginative--the one being the
actual subject of the rites ceremonially observed, and the other being
the visible presentment of the deity, and helping the worshipper to
concentrate his prayers and aspirations. Here the art of the sculptor
had the fullest scope, and it is in such cases that he could, as
Quintilian said of Phidias, "make some addition to the received

This duality was, however, the result of accident rather than the normal
arrangement, and, so long as the primitive image remained the official
object of worship, it was difficult, if not impossible, for the new and
more artistic statue to have its full religious effect. In many cases,
probably in most cases, it was actually substituted, sooner or later,
for the earlier embodiment of the deity. Sometimes the early image,
which was often of wood, may have decayed or been worn away by the
attentions lavished upon it; we hear of a statue of which the hand had
perished under the kisses of the devout. We hear also of cases in which
it had been entirely lost--for instance, the Black Demete of Phigalia,
an uncouth image with a horse's head; here, when a plague had warned the
people to replace it, the AEginetan sculptor Onatas undertook the task;
and he is said to have been vouchsafed a vision in sleep which enabled
him to reproduce exactly this unsightly idol. It would not seem that
such a commission gave much scope to his artistic powers; but it is
noteworthy that the Phigalians employed one of the most famous sculptors
of the day. Elsewhere the conditions were more favourable, and it was
possible for the artist, while conforming to the accepted type, to give
it a more correct form and more pleasing features.

Daedalus, we are told--and in this story Daedalus is an impersonation of
the art of the early sculptors in Greece--made statues of the gods so
life-like that they had to be chained to their pedestals for fear they
should run away. It is likely that this tale goes back to a genuine
tradition; for Pausanias actually saw statues with fetters attached to
them in several early shrines in Greece. The device is natural enough.
Daedalus was a magician as well as a sculptor; and if he could give his
statues eyes that they might see, and ears that they might hear, it was
an obvious inference that if he gave them legs they might run away and
desert their shrines and their worshippers.

We may very likely find also in a similar notion the explanation of a
peculiarity often found in early statues of the gods--the well-known
archaic smile. Many explanations, technical and otherwise, have been
given of this device; but none of them can get over the fact that it was
just as easy, or even easier, for a primitive sculptor to make the mouth
straight as to make it curve up at the ends, and that he often did make
it straight. When he does not do so, it is probably done with intention;
and it is quite in accordance with the conditions of early religious art
that he should make the image of a deity smile in order that the deity
himself might smile upon his worshippers; and a pleasant expression
might also, by a natural transfer of ideas, be supposed to be pleasing
to the god, and so attract him to his statue. We are told that at Chios
there was a head of Artemis set high up, which appeared morose to those
entering the temple, but when they left it seemed to have become
cheerful. This may have been originally due to some accident of placing
or lighting, but it seems to have acquired a religious significance; and
we can hardly deny a similar significance to the smile which we find on
so many early statues. In some cases, especially in statues of men, it
may have been intended merely as a device to give expression and life to
the face; but it cannot have been a matter of indifference to a
primitive worshipper that his deity should smile on him through the face
of its visible image. This point of view being given, it is evidently
only a question of how far it is within the power of art to express the
benignity of the god, and later on his character and personality, in an
adequate manner; and this power depends on the gradual acquisition of
mastery over form and material, of knowledge and observation of the
human body and face, and of the technical skill requisite to express
this knowledge in marble or bronze, or more precious materials such as
gold and ivory. All this development belongs to the history of art, not
to that of religion. But before we can pursue the investigation any
further, it is necessary to consider the different sources and channels
of religious influence on art with which we have to deal.



Religion, for our present purpose, may be considered as (1) popular, (2)
official, (3) poetic, and (4) philosophical. These four divisions, or
rather aspects, are not, of course, mutually exclusive, and they act and
react extensively upon one another; but, in their relations to art, it
is convenient to observe the distinction between them.

(1) The beliefs of the people are, of course, the basis of all the
others, though they come to be affected by these others in various
degrees. There is no doubt that the people generally believed in the
sanctity and efficacy of the shapeless idols or primitive images, and
this belief would tend to support hieratic conservatism, and thus to
hinder artistic progress. But, on the other hand, the people of Greece
showed throughout their history a tendency to an intensely and vividly
anthropomorphic imagination. This tendency was doubtless realised and
encouraged by the poets, but it was not created by them, any more than
by the mythologists who defined and systematised it. The exact relation
of this anthropomorphic imagination to the primitive sacred stocks and
stones is not easy to ascertain; but it seems to have tended, on the one
hand, to the realisation of the existence of the gods apart from such
sacred objects, and thus to reduce the stocks and stones to the position
of symbols--a great advance in religious ideals; and, on the other hand,
to the transformation of the stocks and stones into human form, not
merely by giving them ears and eyes that they might hear and see, but
also by making them take the image and character of the deity whom they

It was impossible for any ordinary Greek to think of the gods in other
than human form. He had, indeed, no such definite dogma as the Hebrew
statement that "God created man in His own image"; for the legends about
the origin of the human race varied considerably and many of them
represented crude philosophical theorising rather than religious belief.
But the monstrous forms which we find in Egypt and Mesopotamia as
embodiments of divine power were alien to the Greek imagination; if we
find here and there a survival of some strange type, such as the
horse-headed Demeter at Phigalia, it remains isolated and has little
influence upon prevalent beliefs. The Greek certainly thought of his
gods as having the same human form as himself; and not the gods only,
but also the semi-divine, semi-human, sometimes less than human beings
with which his imagination peopled the woods and mountains and seas. His
Nereids had human feet, not fishy tails like our mermaids; and if
centaurs and satyrs and some other creatures of his imagination showed
something of the beast within the man in their visible shape, they had
little about them of the mysterious or the unearthly. It would be a
great mistake to regard all these creatures as mere impersonations or
abstractions. If "a pagan suckled in a creed outworn" could

  "Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea
   And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn,"

much more were such sights and sounds familiar to his forefathers, to
whom the same beliefs were fresh and real. Even to the present day Greek
peasants may often be found who can tell of such experiences; to them,
as to the Greeks of old, desert places and remote woods and mountains
are terrible, not because they are lonely, but because when a man is
alone then is he least alone; hence the panic terror, the terror of Pan.

The same idea, which later takes the religious or philosophic form of
the belief in the omnipresence of the deity, peopled the woods with
dryads, the streams and springs with nymphs and river-gods, the seas
with Nereids and Tritons. When an artist represented a mountain or a
river-god, a nymph or a Triton, or added such figures to a scene to
indicate its locality by what seems to us at first sight a mere artistic
convention, he was not inventing an impersonation, but he was
representing something which, in the imagination of the people, might
actually be seen upon the spot--at least, by those whose eyes were
opened to see it. It was the same gift of imagination that made Blake
say: "'What,' it will be questioned, 'when the sun rises, do you not see
a disc of fire, somewhat like a guinea?' 'Oh no, no! I see an
innumerable company of the heavenly host, crying "Holy, holy, holy is
the Lord God Almighty!" I question not my corporeal eye, any more than I
would question a window, concerning a sight. I look through it, and not
with it.'"[1]

[Footnote 1: Blake, "Aldine" edition, p. cvi.]

In the case of the gods, the matter is somewhat less simple than in that
of all these daemonic creatures of the popular imagination. Gods imply a
greater power of generalisation and a higher stage of religious
development. It was not thought likely that the gods would show
themselves to mortal eyes, as had been their habit in the Golden Age,
except perhaps upon some occasion of a great national crisis; and even
then it was the heroes rather than the gods who manifested themselves.
But the ordinary Greek believed that the gods actually existed in human
form, and even that their characters and passions and moods were like
those of human beings. The influence of the poet and the artist could
not have been so vigorous if it had not found, in the imagination of the
people, a suitable and sympathetic material.

(2) Official or state religion consisted in the main of an organisation
of popular ritual. There was no priestcraft in Greece, no exclusive
caste to whom the worship of the gods was assigned, although, of course,
the right to practise certain cults belonged to particular families. But
a priesthood, as a rule, was a political office like any other
magistracy, and there was no exclusive tradition in the case of the
chief cults of any Greek state to keep the point of view of the priests
different from that of the people generally. The tendency of state
religion was, as a rule, conservative, for reasons that we have already
noticed; innovations in the matter of ritual are dangerous, for the new
rite may not please the gods as well as the old; and the same feeling
applies to the statues that form the centres of ritual. Pericles, for
example, doubtless wished to make the Athena Parthenos of Phidias the
official and visible representation of the goddess of Athens, and
thereby to raise the religious ideals of the Athenians. In this last
part of his attempt he was successful; the statue became the pride and
glory of the city in its fitting shrine, the Parthenon; but the old
image was still preserved in the temple of Athena Polias, and remained
the official centre of worship. We are not told that Pericles meant to
supersede it; but it is very probable that he intended to do so, and was
only prevented by the religious conservatism that curtailed other plans
of his for the beautifying of the Acropolis. On the other hand, there is
no evidence that in Greece--at least, in the best period of Greek
art--any statesman held the views as to the official religion frankly
expressed in Rome, that it was expedient for this religion to be
accepted by the common people, but that educated men could only
reconcile their consciences to taking part in it by a philosophical

There is something unreal and artificial about any such compromise. If
Pericles was intimate with Anaxagoras, who was prosecuted for atheism,
he was also the friend of Phidias, who expressly said that his Zeus was
the Zeus of Homer, no mere abstract ideal of divinity. If this was the
case with Pericles, who held himself aloof from the common people, it
must have been much more so with other statesmen, who mingled with them
more freely, or even, like Nicias, shared their superstitions. Under
such conditions the influence of art upon the representations of the
gods could not well go in advance of popular conceptions, though it
might accompany and direct them. The making of new statues of the gods,
to be set up as the centres of worship in their temples, in some cases
received the formal sanction of the Delphic oracle, the highest official
and religious authority. Public commissions of this sort are common at
all times, but commonest in the years immediately succeeding the Persian
Wars, when the spoils of the Persians supplied ample resources, and in
many cases the ancient temples and images had been destroyed; and at the
same time the outburst of national enthusiasm over the great deliverance
led to a desire to give due thank-offerings to the gods of the Hellenic
race, a desire which coincided with the ability to fulfil it, owing to
the rapid progress of artistic power. Such public commissions, and the
popular feeling which they expressed, offered an inspiration to the
artist such as has rarely, if ever, found a parallel. But any great
victory or deliverance might be commemorated by the setting up of
statues of the gods to whom it was attributed; and in this way the
demands of official religion offered the sculptor the highest scope for
the exercise of his art and his imagination.

(3) The influence of poetic mythology upon art can hardly be
exaggerated. The statement of Herodotus that Homer and Hesiod "made the
Greek theogony, and assigned to the gods their epithets and
distinguished their prerogatives and their functions, and indicated
their form," would not, of course, be accepted in a literal sense by any
modern mythologist. But it is nevertheless true that the clear and vivid
personality and individuality given to the gods by the epic poets
affects all later poetry and all Greek art. The imagination of the poets
could not, as we have already noticed, have had so deep and wide an
influence unless it had been based upon popular beliefs and conceptions.
But it fills these conceptions with real and vivid character, so that
the gods of Homer are as clearly presented to us as any personalities of
history or fiction. They are, indeed, endowed not only with the form,
but with the passions, and some even of the weaknesses of mankind; and
for this reason the philosophers often rejected as unworthy the tales
that the poets told of the gods. But even an artist such as Phidias
expressly stated that it was the Zeus of Homer who inspired his greatest
work, quoting the well-known passage in the Iliad in which the god
grants the prayer of Thetis:--

  "He said; and his black eyebrows bent; above his deathless head
   Th' ambrosian curls flowed; great heaven shook."

Descriptive passages such as this are not, indeed, common, because, as
Lessing clearly pointed out, the poet depends more upon action and its
effect than on mere enumerative description. Even here it is the action
of the nod, and the shaking of heaven that follows it, that emphasises
the impression, rather than the mere mention of eyebrows or hair. In
many other cases the distinctive epithet has its value for all later
art--the cow-eyed Hera, the grey-eyed Athena, the swift messenger
Hermes; but, above all, it is the action and character of the various
gods that is so clearly realised by the poet that his successors cannot,
if they wish, escape from his spell.

The influence of the various Greek poets is not, indeed, for the most
part, to be traced in contemporary Greek art. This is obvious in the
case of the Homeric poems, for the art of the time was of a purely
decorative character, and was quite incapable of representing in any
adequate way the vivid and lively imagination of the poets; and, for
that matter, for many centuries after the date of the composition of the
Iliad and Odyssey, Hellenic art made no attempt to cope with any so
ambitious problems. Even when the art of sculpture had attained to a
considerable degree of mastery over material and expression, we find its
aims and conceptions lagging far behind those of the poet. This will
become clearer when, in the next chapter, we consider the conditions of
artistic expression in Greece; but it must be noted here, in order to
prevent possible misconception. As soon, however, as art became capable
of aiming at something beyond perfection of a bodily form--a change
which, in spite of Pausanias' admiration of something divine about the
works of Daedalus, can hardly be dated earlier than the fifth century
B.C.--the Homeric conceptions of the gods came to have their full
effect. Zeus, the king and father of gods and men; Athena, the friendly
protectress of heroes, irresistible in war, giver of all intellectual
and artistic power; Apollo, the archer and musician, the purifier and
soothsayer--these and others find their first visible embodiment in the
statues whereby the sculptors of the fifth century gave expression to
the Homeric conceptions.

The tales, too, that were told about the gods, some of them trivial
enough, but others full of religious and ethical significance, had for
some time before this been common subjects upon reliefs and
vase-paintings, and on these also the influence of the poets was very
great. Here we have not only the Iliad and Odyssey to consider, but many
other early epics that are now lost to us. The vase-painter or sculptor
did not, indeed, merely illustrate these stories as a modern artist
might; often he had a separate tradition and a repertory of subjects
belonging to his own art, and developed them along different lines from
those followed by the poets. But although this tradition might lead him
to choose a version less familiar to poetry, or even to give a new form
to an old story, his conception was essentially poetical, in that it
implied an imaginative realisation of the scene or action, and even of
the character of the deity or hero represented.

The conception of the gods to be found in other early epics probably did
not differ essentially from that we find in the Iliad and Odyssey; but
with the Homeric hymns and with some of the earlier lyric poets we find
a change setting in. There seems to be a new interest in the adventures
of the gods themselves, apart from their relation to mankind; romantic
and even pathetic stories are told about them, implying almost a
psychological appreciation of their personality--the tale of Demeter's
mourning for her daughter Persephone, her wanderings and adventures; of
the love of Aphrodite for a mortal; of how Hermes invented the lyre and
tricked Apollo about his cattle; of the birth of Apollo and the founding
of his worship at Delos and Delphi; of the marvellous birth of Athena
from the head of Zeus. It is hardly too much to say that in the later of
these Homeric hymns--those that are mentioned first in the above
enumeration--an almost human interest is given to the gods, to their
sufferings and adventures. It is the same tendency which we see in the
lyric poetry of the Greeks, with its intensely personal note. The
reflexion of this tendency in art is not, indeed, to be seen until the
fourth century; not only the power of expression, but the desire to
express such a side of the character of the gods seems to be absent
until this period.

It may seem curious at first sight that art was so slow in this case to
follow the lead given it by poetry; but it is to be remembered that a
power of expression such as would have enabled it to do so was not
attained until the fifth century, and that in this age there was an
exaltation of national and religious enthusiasm, owing mainly to the
victories over the Persians, which checked the tendency to sentiment and
pathos; and it was not until this vigorous reaction had died away that
the tendency once more asserted itself. The early fifth century was also
marked by poets such as Pindar and AEschylus, who raised the religious
ideals of the nation on to a higher plane, who consciously rejected the
less worthy conceptions of the gods, and, whether in accordance with the
popular beliefs or not, gave expression to a higher truth in religion
than had hitherto been dreamed of. The gods whom the sculptors of the
fifth century were called upon to represent may have been the gods of
Homer, but they were the Homeric gods transformed by the creative
imagination of a more reflective age, and purified by a poetic, if not a
philosophic, idealism. But while AEschylus suggests "a deeply brooding
mind, tinged with mysticism, grappling with dark problems of life and
fate,"[2] and so was, in some ways, remote from the clarity and
definition of sculptural form, Sophocles "invests the conceptions of
popular religion with a higher spiritual and intellectual meaning; and
the artistic side of the age is expressed by him in poetry, much as in
architecture and sculpture it is interpreted by the remains of the
Parthenon; there is the same serenity and wholeness of work; power
joined to purity of taste; self-restraint; and a sure instinct of
symmetry."[3] Sophocles was a friend and companion of Pericles, and
therefore probably of Phidias; and in both alike we see the same harmony
and absence of exaggeration that are characteristic of Greek art at its
best. In this case we may say with some confidence that the poet and the
sculptor probably influenced each other.

[Footnote 2: Sir R. C. Jebb in _Cambridge Companion to Greek Studies_,
p. 110.]

[Footnote 3: _Ibid_. p. 113.]

It seems a tempting hypothesis to see something of the influence of
"Euripides the human" in the individualistic tendencies of the art of
the fourth century; but it seems hardly to be justified by the facts.
The influence of his dramas is, indeed, to be seen in later
vase-paintings; but this is not a matter with which we are here
concerned. In his treatment of the gods, Euripides can hardly be quoted
as an example of the humanising tendency. "He resented the notion that
gods could be unjust or impure"; but the purer and more abstract
conceptions of divinity that appealed to him were hardly such as could
find expression in art; it has even been said that "he blurred those
Hellenic ideals which were the common man's best without definitely
replacing them." The bringing of these ideals nearer to the common life
of man finds its poetic inspiration rather in the tendency which has
already been noticed in the Homeric hymns and the lyric poets, and which
now, after the reaction of the fifth century, exerts its full force on
the art of Scopas and Praxiteles.

There is no need to dwell here on the influence of later poets upon
religious art, though we shall have to notice hereafter the parallel
development of the representation of the gods in Hellenistic sculpture.
The Alexandrian poets expressed in elegant language their learning on
matters of religion and mythology, but there was no living belief in the
subjects which they made their theme; and the art they inspired could
only show the same qualities of a correct and academic eclecticism. The
idylls of Theocritus find, indeed, a parallel in the playful treatment
of Satyrs and other subjects of a similar character; but these belong to
what may be called mythological genre rather than to religious art. The
dramatic vigour and intensity which we find in the art of Pergamon
cannot easily be traced to the influence of any similar development in
literature, though its artificial and learned mythology is such as we
find also in the work of Hellenistic poets.

(4) The philosophical aspect of religion had no very great influence
upon art in Greece. We might perhaps expect that, so far as the
philosophers accepted the popular religion, they would tend to purify it
and to give it a higher meaning, just as the more thoughtful of the
poets doubtless assisted the idealising tendency of fifth-century art.
And it might well seem that, for example, Plato's theory of ideas
supplies a more satisfactory basis for an idealist art than any other
system, since it might be maintained that the true artist represents not
the material object which he sees before him, but the ideal prototype of
which it is but a faint and inadequate reflexion. This theory is
peculiarly applicable to statues of the gods, and we find it so applied
by later philosophical and rhetorical writers; for instance, Cicero says
that Phidias "when he was making the statue of Zeus or of Athena did not
derive his image from some individual, but within his own mind there was
a perfect ideal of beauty; and gazing on this and in contemplation of
it, he guided the craft of his hand after its likeness."[4] The same
notion underlies the saying quoted by Strabo, that Phidias was "either
the only man that saw, or the only man that revealed to others the
images of the gods."[5] But there is no trace or encouragement of any
such feeling in the philosophic literature contemporary with the great
age of Greek art. Plato expressly states that the artist only makes "an
imitation of an imitation"; and the higher ideas of divinity preached by
philosophers did not so much tend to ennoble the popular conceptions as
to substitute others for them. Above all, the monotheistic idea, even if
associated with the name of Zeus, tended to become an abstract
conception with little relation to the national god of Hellas, whom
Phidias embodied in his Olympian statue.

[Footnote 4: _Or_. 2. 8.]

[Footnote 5: viii. p. 353. It does not matter whether the passage is
quoted by Strabo himself or by an interpolator.]

The philosophic or theological conception of a monotheistic deity does
not, in fact, seem to lend itself at any time to impressive artistic
representation. We may observe the same thing in Christian art, in which
representations of God the Father are not very common nor, as a rule,
very expressive of the most vivid religious ideals; while Christ,
usually not as God, but as man or child, and the Virgin Mary are the
constant themes of the most devout religious art, not to speak of the
numerous saints who correspond more or less to the gods of a
polytheistic system. Philosophical thought was antagonistic to
anthropomorphism, which, as we have seen, was the most characteristic
feature of popular religion in Greece, and which was essential to Greek
religious art. As soon as the human form is a mere symbol, no longer
regarded as the express image of the god and the embodiment of his
individuality, it loses touch with reality. And this reality in the
relation of the god to his image must be believed in by the people, and
at least through the people by the artist, if religious art is to
preserve its vitality.



The Greeks possessed, as we have seen, to an exceptionally high degree
the vivid anthropomorphic imagination necessary for the expression of
their conception of the gods in their art; we have also noticed the
conditions which encouraged or restricted such representation, and the
influences that affected its nature. Given the desire to represent the
character and individuality of the gods in human form, the next question
we have to consider is how far their art, and especially the art of
sculpture, was capable of giving effect to this desire. The answer lies
mainly in the history of Greek sculpture, which can only be touched on
here in the barest outline. But, at the outset, it is necessary to
remove a misconception which is prevalent at the present day, and more
especially in England, owing partly to the dominating influence of a
great critic. Mr. Ruskin's _Aratra Pentelici_ is full of the most
admirable and suggestive appreciations of Greek sculpture in its more
technical aspects; but side by side with them are found passages such as
the following: "There is no personal character in true Greek art;
abstract ideas of youth and age, strength and swiftness, virtue and
vice--yes; but there is no individuality." Or again: "The Greek, as
such, never expresses personal character, while a Florentine holds it to
be the ultimate condition of beauty." If this criticism were just, it
would follow that any study of the relation of religion to art in Greece
would lose most if not all of its interest. But anyone who is acquainted
with the present state of our knowledge of Greek sculpture will not so
much feel called upon to refute such statements as to explain how so
strange a misconception could have arisen. Nor is the explanation very
far to seek. Mr. Ruskin was writing for a generation not yet penetrated
by the constructive criticism of recent investigation. Its conception of
"the antique" in art was based mainly on the mass of mechanical and
academic copies or imitations, of Graeco-Roman date, with which our
museums are filled, and on the influence of such sculpture to be seen in
the work of Flaxman or Thorwaldsen. It had, indeed, learnt from the
Elgin marbles that the Greek sculptors in the fifth century possessed a
nobility in their conception of the human form, a mastery in the
treatment of the nude and of drapery, and a skill in marble technique of
which only a faint reflection can be traced in the later Graeco-Roman
tradition; but the great statues in which the sculptors of the fifth
century embodied their ideals of the gods were either entirely lost or
preserved only in inadequate copies; and it is only in recent years that
the discovery of originals or the identification of trustworthy copies
has enabled us to appreciate the intensity of expression and of inner
life which distinguished the work of the great sculptors of the fourth
century, such as Scopas, Praxiteles, and Lysippus. Still, if Mr. Ruskin
had, like Brunn in his _Gotteridealen_, selected heads like those of the
Demeter of Cnidus or the Hera Farnese to illustrate his theme, instead
of a series of heads on coins magnified to many times the size for which
they were designed, he could hardly have written the passages just
quoted. But the second of those passages itself supplies us with another
clue. In this estimate of Greek sculpture there is throughout implied a
comparison with Christian, and above all with Florentine art, and its
desire to

       "... bring the invisible full into play;
  Let the visible go to the dogs; what matters?"

It is evident that the expression of the invisible, of character and
individuality, will be more striking and obvious in an art which lets
them "shine through the flesh they fray" than in the case of the Greek
sculptors whose respect and even passionate admiration for the human
body would not allow them thus to transfigure it, at least in their
statues of the gods, and led them to seek for subtler methods of
expression by means of the flesh and in harmony with its nature. Their
expression of character and emotion is rendered in terms of a beautiful
and healthy body. How this end was attained we must consider later on;
but there is yet another current prejudice in favour of this
exaggeration of individuality which has its influence especially upon
modern artists. It is sometimes said nowadays that a departure from the
individual model is an attempt to "improve upon nature," and is
therefore an artistic mistake. Now the Greek sculptor, as a rule, did
not work from an individual model at all. He trusted partly, especially
in earlier times, to the tradition which familiarised him with a few
fixed types, on which he made variations, partly to his observation and
memory trained for generations, and daily supplied with new material in
the gymnasium where nude youths and men were constantly exercising, or
in the marketplace where he met his fellow-citizens. To see before him,
whether draped or nude, the figures he wanted for his art, he had no
need to pose a model in a studio; his models were at all times around
him in his daily life. The result was that when he wished to represent a
youth or a maiden, or even to make a portrait of a statesman, he tended
to reproduce the type with certain personal modifications rather than to
produce a portrait in the modern sense. But when he came to making
statues of the gods, his freedom of hand was of incalculable service to
him in giving a bodily form to his imagination; it enabled him to create
after nature, without being dependent on an individual model or having
to fall back upon such vague and generalised forms as are sometimes
associated with an academic or classical art; for it was his own trained
observation and memory that he called into play, not a mere mechanical
system he had learnt from his predecessors. In the more individualistic
art of the fourth century, as we shall see, it is probable that the
personal model was of more importance, especially in female statues; but
even then it was still modified by the tradition and style which makes a
harmonious whole, not only of each Greek statue, but of the development
of Hellenic sculpture generally. In typical examples of the sculpture of
the fourth century we find not only this harmony and restraint, and the
beauty of bodily form in figure as well as in features which is
generally recognised as characteristic of Greek art, but also an
expression of character and individuality, of mood and temperament, of
pathos and passion, which is none the less intense and real because it
is expressed by means of the perfection of physical form, not as wasting
or deforming it.

It may be asked how the invisible, mental, or spiritual qualities can be
portrayed in visible form, especially if that visible form be not
overmuch distorted or modified, and in a more general way, how the
expression of a statue, and the impression it produces, can be analysed
or discussed. For examples of the way this can be done, the reader may
be referred once more to Brunn's _Gotteridealen_, a study of a few
selected representations of Greek gods in which the character of each is
brought out by a subtle and discriminating analysis of the visible
forms. Here it may suffice to quote Brunn's own words from the
Introduction to that work: "The spiritual effect produced on us by a
work of sculpture cannot be comprehended as a moral or a metaphysical
peculiarity, completely independent of corporeal phenomena; it can
become intelligible to us only by means of tangible sculptural forms, as
the exponents of spiritual expression." And again: "The spiritual
understanding of ideal artistic creations can only be attained on the
basis of a thorough analysis of their forms"; hence in such a study we
have to do with "no subjective fancies, but an investigation of
objective artistic principles, according to the method of scientific

There are various ways in which spiritual qualities, mood, and character
may be given material expression in harmony with the bodily forms, not
in combat with the flesh. There are, for instance, certain bodily
peculiarities that usually accompany, and therefore suggest by
association, various temperaments or mental qualities; and, moreover,
the actual effect upon the features and bearing of certain emotions or
moods often leaves permanent traces, from which a habitual or repeated
tendency to such emotions or moods can be inferred. That certain types
of face and certain expressions are usually associated with certain
spiritual or mental qualities will hardly be denied; and here the method
of the Greek artist, in observing and working from memory rather than
from a posed model, gave him a great advantage in variety and freedom in
the expression of character no less than in the rendering of bodily
form. If he realised clearly the individuality of his gods, his skill
and mastery over his material and his store of observation gave him a
facility in giving this individuality a visible form which may not be so
obvious at first sight as the individuality of a Florentine or of a
modern head, but which is none the less there for those who have eyes to
see it, and who can accustom themselves to the subtle atmosphere of
ancient art, and to the moderation and restraint which are seldom, if
ever, violated in its most characteristic productions.



We have already noticed the religious conceptions and impulses which led
to the substitution of images in human shape for the rude stocks and
stones of primitive worship. The beginning of the change seems to have
taken place at an early stage in the development of Greek art. In
pre-Hellenic times we find representation of gods and goddesses in human
form upon gems and other small works of art, and also in statuettes that
were either objects of worship or dedicated in shrines; but we have at
present no evidence as to whether monumental images of the gods were
made in human form, though some objects of worship, such as the
double-axe, were certainly set up in regular shrines. We know too little
about the religious beliefs and customs of this prehistoric age to be
able to judge whether such objects were regarded merely as symbols of
the deity or as having immanent in them some divine or superhuman power;
but survivals, especially of an early tree and pillar cult, are probably
to be traced in historic Greece, and even to the present day.

The Homeric poems, on the other hand, supply us with little or no
evidence as to the existence of any sculptural representation of the
gods. Although temples are frequently mentioned, we are not informed
that any of them contained a sacred image, with the apparent exception
of the temple of Athena at Troy. There we are told that the Trojan
matrons, in a time of stress, brought a robe to offer to the goddess,
and that the priestess Theano placed it "upon the knees of
beauteous-haired Athene." Unless, as is possible, this is a purely
metaphorical expression, it would seem to imply a seated statue; but it
is to be noted that the Palladium of Troy, the sacred image of Athena
which was stolen by Ulysses and Diomed, and which was preserved,
according to conflicting traditions, in one or another shrine in later
Greece, was a standing statue of a primitive type. The inconsistency is
not of great importance, except as showing that the supposed mention of
the statue of Athena in the Iliad had little, if any, influence on later
tradition; and in any case it is isolated, and does not refer to a
Greek, but a foreign temple. On the other hand, we find frequent mention
in later writers of primitive statues of the gods which were said to
have been set up or dedicated by various persons in the heroic age. An
example is offered by the Trojan Palladium already mentioned; another
was the statue of Artemis carried off from Tauris by Iphigenia and
Orestes; rival claimants to this identification existed at Sparta and at
Brauron in Attica. The legends of dedication are of no historic value;
the story of the Palladium itself was unknown to Homer, though it
occurred in later epics. All that can be asserted of such images is that
they were of unknown antiquity, and that local patriotism claimed for
them a heroic origin. Much the same may be said of Daedalus. It need not
be discussed here whether an actual artist of this name ever existed.
The information we have as to Daedalus is of two kinds; on the one hand,
we find tales of a mythical craftsman and magician, to whose invention
many of the most typical improvements in early Greek sculpture are
attributed; on the other hand, we have records of many statues of the
gods, extant in historical times in various shrines of Greece, which
were attributed to him. Such attributions are not really of greater
historical value than the traditions of dedication in the heroic age
which we find elsewhere. The name of Daedalus having once become famous
in this connection, it was natural that many statues of primitive style
and unrecorded origin should be attributed to him. More importance may
be attached to the fact that the sculptors who actually made some of the
early statues of the gods in Athens and in the Peloponnesus are
described as the pupils or by some as the sons or companions of
Daedalus. In this way his name is associated with some of the early
schools that had the greatest influence in Greece, especially on the
representation of the gods in sculpture. There are other traditions of
early schools of sculptors, the marble workers of Chios, the bronze
founders of Samos, who devoted themselves mainly to making statues of
the gods, some of which survived throughout historical times. When we
turn from tradition and consider the early examples of statues of gods
that may still be seen or are recorded by extant copies, we find that
these fall into two classes. On the one hand, there are more or less
exact repetitions of the primitive stock or stone, the cylindrical
tree-trunk or the rectangular block cut from the quarry, with the rudest
indication of head and arms and feet, deviating as little as possible
from the original shape of the block. When images of this sort were, as
was often the case, of wood, they have, of course, disappeared; but we
can sometimes recognise copies of them upon reliefs or in stone. On the
other hand, we find another class of images which approximate more to
the attainments of Daedalus as described by rationalising writers of
later date. These images are completely in human form, and, if male, are
usually nude. They have their legs separated in a short stride, the left
foot being usually advanced; their arms are either set close to their
sides, or one or both of them is raised from the elbow; their whole
shape suggests a rigid system of proportions and a more or less
conventionalised form. These images have no resemblance to the
modifications of the primitive stocks and stones, and could not well be
directly derived from them; they are found in great numbers upon many
sites of early sanctity in Greece itself and in Greek settlements around
the Levant, notably in Cyprus, Rhodes, and Naucratis in Egypt. Sometimes
they seem to represent the god, sometimes the dedicator; but all alike
show the attempt of the early Greek craftsman to imitate the products of
more advanced and finished art which he saw around him. Many of them are
derived from Egyptian types; others show the influence of Mesopotamian
art, or of the hybrid craftsmanship of Phoenicia. The borrowing or
imitation of such foreign types may at first sight appear to show even
less promise of artistic progress than variations on the old native
images; but it is not in its origins, but in its development and
perfection that the chief excellence of Greek art is to be found.

The types borrowed by sculpture from foreign art are almost exclusively
of human form. The monstrous mixed forms in which the deities of Egypt
or Mesopotamia often found the expression of their superhuman and
mysterious powers do not seem to have appealed to the imagination of the
Greeks. Such mixed forms were, indeed, frequently borrowed by early
decorative art, and on "Orientalising" vases we constantly find
human-headed and bird-headed quadrupeds, usually winged, and
human-headed birds. The delight in winged figures generally, which was
mainly decorative in early times, also finds its origin in Oriental
woven stuffs. Greek sculpture adopted and translated into stone or
bronze some of these mixed types--notably the human-headed bird and the
human-headed winged lion; these it identified as the Siren and the
Sphinx of Greek myth, and associated them with the mysteries of the
tomb. To some other forms, that of the Centaur and the Satyr and the
Triton, it also gave considerable scope. But all these, if not human,
are hardly to be regarded as divine; they are mostly noxious, and, even
if benignant, do not attain the rank of gods. Perhaps a nearer approach
to divine character is to be found in the river-gods, who are often
represented as bulls with human heads or as human with bull's horns; but
here, too, we have only to deal with minor deities. No sculptor
represented Dionysus in this way, even though he was called
"bull-shaped" by poets; nor is the horse-god Posidon even represented as
a Centaur. The horse-headed Demeter of Phigalia remains the strange and
solitary exception, however we may explain her existence.

The process by which the early human types were gradually improved and
made more life-like, by a continuous struggle with technical
difficulties, by constant and direct observation of nature, and by the
building up of an artistic tradition in different schools and families,
is a question that concerns the history of art rather than our present
study. But it is impossible to distinguish rigidly between the two,
because these types, whether of the nude standing male figure, of the
draped female, or of the seated figure, are all of them used alike to
represent human and divine personages; and, apart from inscriptions of
dedication or conditions of discovery or distinctive attributes, it
would often be impossible to tell whether any particular statue was
meant to represent, for example, the image of a god or a conventional
portrait of a man. These nude male statues, commonly known by the name
of "Apollo," were certainly, some of them, made to commemorate athletes,
whose images were set up either in the place where they won their
victories or in their native town; others were placed over graves as
memorials of the dead; and even in a sacred precinct it is sometimes
uncertain whether the god himself is represented or the worshipper who
dedicates this record of his devotion.

At this early period, therefore, Mr. Ruskin's strictures as to the
impossibility of distinguishing the individuality of the different gods
must be admitted, and even supplemented by an admission of the
impossibility of distinguishing gods and goddesses from human beings.
The explanation is obvious enough. During this age of early progress the
constant aim of the sculptor is to attain to complete mastery over the
material and to perfection of bodily form. In religious art, what
corresponds to this is the struggle towards anthropomorphism--first to
represent the gods in human form, and then to make that form the most
perfect that human art can devise. During this stage of artistic and
religious development the type and the ideal cannot be distinguished. It
was only when a type or a varying series of types had been brought to
perfection in the fifth century, so as to satisfy the demand for a
harmonious system of bodily proportions, for beauty of outline and
dignity of countenance, that these types could be used as a means of
expression for the religious ideals of the nation. In developing the
type the accidental has to be discarded, and with it much of the feeling
of individuality; works of early archaic art, for all their defects,
often show more sign of individual character than the more perfect works
of the earlier part of the fifth century. The attainment of the type is
followed by an infusion of character and individuality, drawn from the
artist's trained memory and observation with clear artistic intention,
not from the mere caprice of an accidental recollection or a casual
peculiarity of a model. The character and individuality thus expressed
must be considered in subsequent chapters; it is only necessary here to
distinguish it from the suggestion of an individual, almost of a
caricature, which we find sometimes in archaic art, and which is
certainly to be seen occasionally in works of Florentine sculpture.
During the period of the rise of Greek sculpture the various schools
were advancing each in its own way towards what has been called
naturalism in art, as opposed to realism on the one side and idealism on
the other. That is to say, they were striving by constant study of the
athletic form, of proportions and muscles, of drapery and hair, to
attain to a series of types both in harmony with themselves and in
accordance with nature; and they were too much absorbed in this attempt
to go far beyond their predecessors in rendering the character of the
gods according to the form consecrated by tradition. Even in the
expression of the face the same process is to be traced. In early works
we find sometimes no expression at all, or an apparent stolidity which
is really the absence of expression; in the archaic smile we see an
attempt to enliven the face, and possibly also, as we have noticed, to
express and even to induce the benignity of the deity. But this attempt,
made with inadequate artistic resources, tends to result in a mere
grimace; and as we approach the transitional age before the greatest
period of sculpture, we often find a reaction against any such
exaggeration of expression in a severity and dignity that may have a
certain grace of their own, but that are in some sense a retrograde
movement so far as the expression of character is concerned.

It follows that the statues of the gods dating from this early period,
however interesting they might be for the history of sculpture, would
not, even if we possessed many more of them than we do possess, throw
very much light upon the development of the ideas of the Greeks
concerning their deities. They would probably conform to a limited
number of clearly defined types. The most familiar of all, the standing
nude male figure, would, if beardless, usually represent Apollo, with a
bow or a branch of bay, or sometimes other attributes. A similar type,
bearded, would stand for Zeus or Posidon or Hermes, if provided with
thunderbolt or eagle, with trident or fish, or with a caduceus. Similar
figures might also be draped, and still represent gods; or, if female,
would serve for Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, and sometimes for Athena, if
she was represented without her arms and aegis. Then, too, there was the
seated type, usually enveloped in full drapery, which might readily be
adapted to a statue of any of the chief gods. In all of these there is
no question of distinguishing the gods from one another in character and
individuality; apart from attributes, there is hardly any attempt to
distinguish gods from men.

Perhaps the earliest class of statues in which we find any attempt to
give artistic expression to superhuman power is that in which we see the
god in vigorous action, often striking with his characteristic weapon:
Zeus with his thunderbolt in his raised right hand, Posidon with his
trident, or Athena advancing rapidly with brandished spear and shield
advanced. But even these figures, apart from their divine attributes,
show no essential distinction from human combatants. It is a significant
fact that it is still a matter of dispute[6] whether one of the most
famous statues of the early fifth century, "the Choiseul-Gouffier
Apollo," represents a god or an athlete. This is neither because the
Greeks at this time idealised their athletes nor because they humanised
their gods, but because they typified them both; that is to say, they
represented them by a type which was the most perfect rendering within
their power either of man or of an anthropomorphic deity. Here we have
the material form provided by means of which the ideals of the
succeeding period were to find their artistic expression--such a typical
or normal human form is, in fact, the logical expression of
anthropomorphism in its most literal sense--the making of gods after
man's image. But those who believed rather that man was made after God's
image would look to find in the prototype something more and higher than
can be seen in its earthly copy. This notion, even if not formulated by
philosophy until a later age, certainly underlies the idealistic art of
the fifth century.

[Footnote 6: Even if this dispute be regarded as now settled by weight
of evidence, the fact that such a dispute is possible retains its



The age which followed the great Persian Wars was the time of the
highest political, literary, and intellectual development in Greece. Nor
was it unfavourable to strength and depth of religious feeling among the
people. If the more thoughtful among them were inclined to doubt whether
some of the stories told about the gods were either probable or
edifying, these were the very men who, on the other hand, were most
capable of appreciating the higher and nobler conceptions of the gods
which we find in contemporary poets. And the great delivery from the
Persians not only gave the Greeks a confidence in themselves which
justly increased their national pride and thereby strengthened their
national ideals, but it also gave occasion to a confidence in the gods
and a gratitude to them which found expression in numerous buildings and
offerings. All this religious activity could not fail to have
considerable influence upon the common people; and in some cases, as at
Athens, there was the necessity of replacing the temples and statues
that had been destroyed or carried off by the Persian invader. At the
time when a demand occurred for new statues of the gods, the rapid
progress of the art of sculpture made it inevitable that these new
statues should not be mere reproductions or reminiscences of the ones
they replaced, but fresh and original conceptions, worthy of the
increased skill of the artist and of the nobler ideals of the people.
And by one of those coincidences which we meet so often both in the
history of art and in that of literature, just at the time when the
material conditions, the spirit of the people, and the rapid advance of
art gave the utmost scope for artistic creation, there arose the man of
transcendent genius to give full expression to the religious and
artistic aspirations of the time. The age of Pericles was also the age
of Phidias. It is true that there was an interval between the defeat of
the Persians and the period of highest attainment in Greece; and during
this interval many temples were built or rebuilt, and many statues were
set up as objects of worship or as dedications to the gods. Some of
these may have anticipated to a certain extent the work of Phidias;
several of them were of colossal size, like his chief masterpieces, and
thus, even from the technical point of view, may have prepared the way
before him; one, the Apollo by Calamis at Apollonia, was about
forty-five feet high, and so actually rivalled the Zeus and Athena of
Phidias in size. But of these statues we know little or nothing. As to
the two most famous works of Phidias himself, the Athena Parthenos
within the Parthenon at Athens and the Zeus at Olympia, we are better
informed, so far as elaborate descriptions and the somewhat rhetorical
appreciations of later writers are concerned; and we possess some extant
copies which tell us something of their pose and attributes. But any
notion we may form as to their true artistic and religious character
must be mainly dependent upon our imagination; and even for their
relation to the religious ideals of the people we are dependent for the
most part upon indirect evidence. Though the art of sculpture was so
closely bound up with the life of the people in Greece, we find very few
references to its greatest works; it is evident that the Athenians, for
example, took the greatest pride in the buildings that adorned their
Acropolis and in the sculptures they contained; yet when Pericles, as
reported by Thucydides, speaks of the statue of the Athena Parthenos, it
is only to reckon the gold of her drapery as part of the possible
resources of the state. We know that in the eyes of Pericles and of his
hearers the preciousness of the material was only an incident in the
artistic character of the work; but what is felt most deeply is often
the least spoken about. Later descriptions, such as that of Pausanias,
lay emphasis on the details and accessories of the statue, the
ornamentation of helmet and shield and sandals; they lay themselves open
to the stricture of Lucian on "such as can neither see nor praise the
whole beauty of the Olympian Zeus, great and noble as it is, nor
describe it to others that do not know it, but admire the accurate work
and fine polish of his footstool and the good proportions of the basis,
enumerating all such details with the utmost care." At the same time
even such information as they give us is welcome, since it aids our
imagination to reconstruct the appearance of the whole. These great
chryselephantine statues were placed within the cella of a temple,
lighted only through the door and by some infiltration through the
marble roof, and their effect was calculated for these conditions. The
rich tone and subtle reflections of the ivory and the gold, mingled with
coloured inlays of enamel or precious stones, and tempered and
harmonised by a "dim religious light," must have been most impressive;
and the grandeur of the figures was enhanced by their colossal size. But
in all this we are still dealing only with conditions and accessories,
not with the art itself and the religious ideals which it expressed.
These are perhaps easier for us to appreciate in the case of the Zeus
than of the Athena, though we are better provided with copies of the
latter. We are accustomed in our own religious art to the attempt to
express divinity in the form of a mature man of unspeakable majesty and
benignity. To the Greeks, indeed, the human figure of Zeus was not
merely an incarnation, but the actual form of the god himself; the god
was not thought of as having taken upon himself the sorrows and the
weaknesses of our mortal nature, but as sharing only its ideal
perfection. Yet that the effect was not altogether dissimilar is shown
by such a passage as that we find in Dion Chrysostom: "A man whose soul
is utterly immersed in toil, who has suffered many disasters and
sorrows, and cannot even enjoy sweet sleep, even such an one, I think,
if he stood face to face with this statue, would forget all the dangers
and difficulties of this mortal life: such the vision you, Phidias, have
invented and devised, a sight 'to lull all pain and anger, and bring
forgetfulness of every sorrow.'"

The same writer elsewhere puts into the mouth of Phidias an explanation
of how he had attempted to embody in his statue the current conception
of the god, and even the epithets that belonged to his worship. "My
Zeus," says the sculptor, "is peaceful and altogether gentle, as the
guardian of a Hellas free from factions and of one mind with itself.
Him, taking counsel with my art, and with the wise and noble Elean
state, I set up in his temple, mild and majestic in a form free from all
sorrow, as the giver of life and livelihood and all good things, the
common father of men, their saviour and their guardian, so far as it is
possible for a mortal man to conceive and to copy his divine and
inexpressible nature. And consider whether you will not find the image
according with all the epithets of the god; Zeus alone is called the
father of gods and their only king, and also god of the city and of
friendship and society, and of suppliants too and strangers, the giver
of harvest, and by innumerable other titles. And for one whose aim it
was to display all these qualities without speaking, is not my art
successful? The strength of the form and its imposing proportions show
the power to rule and the king; the gentle and amiable character shows
the father and his care; the majesty and severity show the god of the
city and of law; and of the kinship of men and gods the similarity of
their shape serves as a symbol. His protective friendship of suppliants
and strangers and fugitives and such like is seen in his kindliness and
his evident gentleness and goodness. And an image of the giver of
possessions and harvest is seen in the simplicity and magnanimity
displayed in his form; he seems just like one who would give and be
generous of good things. All this, in short, I imitated as far as
possible, being unable to express it in speech." This description is, of
course, the work of a late and rhetorical author, but it is the work of
a man who was familiar with these great statues that are now lost to us,
and was capable of appreciating them. His criticism may not be so
thorough and subtle as the analysis of the Greek type of Zeus made by
Brunn in his _Gotteridealen_; but it is based on similar principles, the
observation of the physical type and the spiritual expression which
serves best to embody the majesty and benignity of the god. After all,
we come back perhaps to the saying of Phidias himself, and his quotation
from Homer; here, too, it is the brow of the god that is emphasised, and
the nod that shook Olympus while it granted a prayer. It is in such
effects rather than in any detailed description that it is possible to
realise the nature of a great work of art.

What success in the attainment of its aim was here reached by the art of
the sculptor may perhaps best be estimated from the often quoted
sentence of Quintilian, perhaps the noblest praise ever accorded to an
artist by a critic: "The beauty of the statue even made some addition to
the received religion; the majesty of the work was equal to the god." We
might indeed, without irreverence, impute to Phidias the words uttered
in a very different sense by one who later gave a new and higher
interpretation to a formula of "the received religion" in Greece: "Whom
therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you."

The other great Phidian ideal, that of Athena, was represented by
several statues, both in Athens and in other cities. As to these we have
a certain amount of information, and even a certain number of copies,
which show us the pose and the accessories of the various statues; some
of the better ones even suffice to give us some notion of the beauty of
their original. We have also descriptions by ancient writers, which tell
us, as in the case of the Olympian Zeus, much about the decoration of
the statue; but we have not in this case any appreciations of the effect
upon those who saw it. The ideal of Athena is in some ways more
difficult for us to comprehend than that of Zeus, partly because it is
less universally human, and more peculiarly characteristic of Greece and
even of Athens. The notion of the mother goddess is common to most
religions; that of the "queen and huntress, chaste and fair" is at least
familiar to us in literature, and readily commends itself to the
imagination. But Athena, though she has something of both these
characters, has a nature different from both. It is impossible to derive
her varied mythological functions from any one origin; but here it is
not the origin of her worship that concerns us, rather its meaning and
influence as these affected the people of her chosen city. Just as Zeus
was the ideal of all that was best in the Hellenic conception of manhood
and the god of a united Hellas, so Athena is especially the goddess of
Athens, the giver and fosterer of all those qualities that made the
Athenians what they were, the creatress of that ideal city sketched in
the wonderful speeches of Pericles. Her gifts are the arts of war and
peace, and all artistic and intellectual activity, as well as the olive
and other characteristic products of Attic soil, and the clear and
luminous air and stimulating climate which Attic writers are never tired
of extolling, and of associating with the peculiar genius of the
Athenian race. One can imagine how Dion Chrysostom might have recognised
the expression of these various qualities in the broad and majestic, yet
keenly intellectual brow, in the wide and clear eyes, and in other
features; but the extant copies of the Athena Parthenos cannot do more
than assist our imagination in realising how the sculptor represented
the goddess of Athens. Here, too, as in the case of the Zeus, it is
difficult for us to avoid the error of regarding the statue as a mere
philosophical abstraction, an impersonation of the qualities it
represents. Athena in later art, as set up in libraries and museums, was
doubtless such an impersonation, just as she is in modern art unreal and
comparatively uninteresting. But the Athenian believed intensely in the
existence of his goddess. He believed that the ceremonies connected with
her ancient image were necessary to the continuance of her favour to her
city and people, and that the new temples and statues set up in her
honour would still further delight her and ensure her protection and her
abode among her grateful worshippers. The statue by Phidias within the
Parthenon offered not merely that form in which she would choose to
appear if she showed herself to mortal eyes, but actually showed her
form as she had revealed it to the sculptor. To look upon such an image
helped the worshipper as much as--perhaps more than--any service or
ritual to bring himself into communion with the goddess, and to fit
himself, as a citizen of her chosen city, to carry out her will in
contributing his best efforts to its supremacy in politics, in
literature, and in art. If a work of art could have this actual
influence upon religious emotion, and through it upon practical life, it
may be said to have attained the utmost that any human effort can
achieve in the service of God.

The religious influence of art in the fifth century is, as we have seen,
closely associated with the state; the Athena Parthenos and the Olympian
Zeus appealed to their worshippers as citizens of Athens and as members
of the privileged Hellenic race. It would be easy to trace a similar
character in almost all the great statues of gods that are recorded as
belonging to this period. Thus the Dionysus of Alcamenes is not the
dreamy god of wine and pleasure that we find at a later age, but an
august figure, bearded and enthroned, the giver of the riches of the
earth and the wine, the god in whose honour all the great Dionysian
festivals were held; the same sculptor's Hermes is the guardian of ways
and gates, the giver of increase to flocks, not the youthful and
athletic messenger of the gods. Hephaestus, too, especially when
associated with Athena, is the patron and teacher of all handicrafts,
himself the ideal artisan, practical and genial, but with none of his
godhead lost in a too human individuality; even his
lameness--characteristic of the smith in all folk-lore--is lightly
indicated, not dwelt on as an interesting motive. Various statues of
particular gods may, of course, emphasise one side or another of their
functions. Athena may be worshipped and represented as goddess of
Victory or of Health; but here, too, it is usually some recognised state
cult that underlies the representation. Outside Athens we find the same
conditions. To take only one instance, the colossal gold and ivory Hera
of Argos, made by the chief Argive master Polyclitus, is the great
goddess of the city, just as Athena is of Athens. She was represented as
the bride of Zeus, who annually renewed her maidenhood at the great
Argive festival of the divine marriage; and we cannot doubt that
Polyclitus expressed in this statue, which was hardly less famous than
the masterpieces of Phidias, all the essential features of the great
religious ideals that underlay this primitive rite. His Hera had neither
the warlike nor the intellectual and spiritual characteristics of the
Attic Athena; but she was the goddess of womanly grace and beauty in the
bride, and embodied that perfection of physical form which Argive art
sought also in its athletic figures, and which was in a sense a part of
the religion that found expression in the great athletic games. Some
gods--Apollo, for example--seem in fifth-century statues to have a more
individual character. Just as in earlier times the name Apollo serves to
cover a multitude of statues of which some may be meant to represent
individual men, so even in the age of Phidias we sometimes meet with a
figure of athletic type or of youthful beauty as to which it is possible
to doubt whether it is an Apollo; this may be partly the result of the
great popularity of the type in all ages of Greek sculpture which led to
its more rapid development and earlier individualisation. But the Apollo
of this period is never the mere dreamy youth of later time; it has been
well said that he is the god who, in the mythical athletic contest,
could surpass Hermes in the foot-race and Ares in boxing; the embodiment
of all-round physical and intellectual excellence, the combination of
music and gymnastic, which again brings us back to a national Hellenic
ideal. Throughout the representations of the gods in the art of the
fifth century we find the same essential character. They embody in
themselves the expression, by means of the most perfect physical forms,
of the qualities attributed to the god himself, or given by him to his
worshippers. They are no impersonal abstraction of these qualities, but
are real and living beings, in whom these qualities exist to a degree
impossible for a mere mortal. But, on the other hand, they have nothing
of the passions and emotions, the weaknesses and imperfections of mortal
nature. In this they are inconsistent, perhaps, with that Homeric
presentment of the gods which the greatest artists consciously set
before themselves. But we cannot wonder that an age of such clear and
lofty intellectual and moral perceptions should have rejected what it
felt to be unworthy in the current notions of the gods, and should have
selected only what it felt to be truly divine. Art did not, however,
remain very long upon its highest level of religious feeling; but in
Greece, by a fortunate coincidence, the age of the greatest religious
ideals was also that of the highest perfection of physical type in art
as well as of technical skill in execution. We do not therefore find in
this age that the sculptor lacks the power to express his ideas, or that
his ideas are too strong for the forms in which they are expressed;
there is rather that perfect harmony between the two that, here as
elsewhere, is characteristic of Hellenic art.



The great religious ideals of the fifth century were, as we have seen,
closely bound up with the subordination of the individual to the State;
and their expression in sculpture was also due in almost every case to
the employment of the artist by the community. In the fourth century, on
the other hand, we find on every side a stronger assertion of
individuality. It was a commonplace among Attic orators in the fourth
century to contrast the private luxury and ostentation of their own day
with the simplicity of life among the great men of the earlier age,
whose houses could not be distinguished from those of the common people,
though their public buildings and the temples they raised to the gods
were of unparalleled splendour. In religion, and above all in religious
art, we find something of the same tendency. There are few if any
records of the dedication during the fourth century of those great
statues of the chief gods which were looked back to by all subsequent
generations as the embodiment of a national ideal. But there were,
perhaps, more statues of the gods made in the fourth century which were
the objects not merely of artistic admiration, but of intense and
sometimes morbid personal devotion. The mere list of the gods preferred
for representation is an indication in itself; while in the fifth
century, Zeus and Athena and Hera, the great gods of the State or of the
Hellenic race, are the subjects of the most famous statues, in the
fourth century it is rather Aphrodite and Dionysus and Asclepius, those
whose gifts contribute to individual happiness or enjoyment, that offer
most scope to the powers of the artist.

And the sculptors themselves, in the fourth century, show more
individuality of style. In the latter part of the fifth century the
genius of Phidias had so dominated religious art that the works of his
successors, men like Alcamenes and Agoracritus, could hardly be
distinguished from his. But the great sculptors of the fourth century,
Scopas and Praxiteles and Lysippus, not to mention others of less note,
devoted themselves not so much to the expression through perfect
physical form of great religious ideals, but to a realisation of the
character and, so to speak, the personality of the gods whom they
portrayed. And they did this by the same means by which they expressed
in their art the characters and passions of heroes or of men, thereby
removing the gods from the sphere of passionless benignity and power
which is assigned to them by the art of the fifth century. Such a
treatment evidently gave more scope for variety in the styles of the
sculptors; and although we can sometimes trace the influence of one upon
another, yet each clearly shows his own characteristics. We are
expressly told of Praxiteles that he showed the most admirable skill in
infusing into his marble works the passions and emotions of the soul;
and the extant remains of the statues made by Scopas and Lysippus show
that they also, each in his own way, attained the same results.

If the sculpture of the fifth century was ethical, expressing noble
ideals of character whether in gods or men, that of the fourth century
may be called psychological. It is not content with character; it
expresses also mood and even passion, and thereby gives more prominence
to individuality. At first sight it is not easy to realise how this
change came to affect the representations of the gods. The gods of Homer
are, indeed, full of individual character; but we have seen how in the
fifth century, though the greatest sculptors declared it was the gods of
Homer that they represented, these representations were idealised and
raised above those human touches in which the individuality is most
conspicuous. There was, in the Homeric hymns and in the lyric poets, a
delight in details of incident and in personal peculiarities and even in
romantic tales about the gods; and in the fourth century, when the high
idealisation of the preceding age is no longer so strong in its
influence, we find a similar tendency in art as well. While the great
statues of the gods in the fifth century are almost all represented as
either enthroned or standing, not employed in any particular action or
function, the most characteristic examples of the statues of gods made
in the fourth century have almost all some definite motive. We may take
as an example what was perhaps the most famous statue of antiquity, the
Aphrodite by Praxiteles at Cnidus. The goddess is represented as nude;
and it is often said that goddesses would not have been so represented
in the fifth century. It is true that full drapery seems more consistent
with the dignified and august figures of Phidian art. But if the
religious type had required that Phidias should make a nude goddess, we
may be sure he would have made her naked and unashamed, with no more
self-consciousness than a nude Apollo; above all, he would not have
thought it necessary to provide a motive for her nudity. With Praxiteles
it is otherwise. He represents the goddess as preparing for the bath,
and just letting her last garment slip from her hand on to a vase that
stands beside her; and, in addition to this provision of a motive--an
excuse, one might almost say--for representing her without her clothes,
he hints, from the instinctive gesture of her other hand which she holds
before her body, at a half-conscious shrinking from exposure, a feeling
of modesty which, however suitable to a woman, is by no means consistent
with a high ideal of the goddess. The face and figure are of
extraordinary physical beauty of type, of a breadth and nobility which
contrast with the smaller, prettier, and less dignified forms of later
art; the gesture, too, has not the conscious coquetry which we see in
such a work as the Venus de' Medici. But, on the other hand, we must
recognise that the statue represents the goddess under a human rather
than a divine aspect, that even her mood and feeling of timidity are
portrayed in a manner which, however charming in itself, is totally
inconsistent with her worship as a great goddess. We are not surprised
to hear that this statue inspired a personal passion; she is the goddess
of love, and is represented as not beyond the reach of human attraction;
but she is brought down to the level of mortals, rather than capable of
raising mortals to a higher sphere by her contemplation. It is the same,
though perhaps to a less degree, with other statues of the gods made in
the fourth century. The motives with which the later Greeks went to
visit the great statues of the Phidian age were, as we have seen, to a
great extent religious, and their contemplation was regarded to some
extent as a service; here we have "idolatry" in its highest form. But
those who went to see the Aphrodite of Cnidus went chiefly to enjoy the
beauty of the statue; and although this may be the best thing from the
artistic point of view, it certainly has not the same religious import.

There is another element in the individuality of fourth-century statues
which may appeal to modern artists, and which certainly did appeal--in
an inverted manner--to early Christian writers of invectives against
pagan idolatry. It was said that Phryne had posed as a model for the
Cnidian Aphrodite of Praxiteles; and the character of the goddess was
inferred from that of her votary. It is clear that a Greek artist could
not have, in the case of a nude female statue, the same choice of types
constantly present to his observation and his memory as he had in the
case of male statues; and the individuality of the model, however
beautiful, would thus tend to assert itself against the type. Thus
personality and individual character, "the ultimate condition of
beauty," to use Mr. Ruskin's words, in modern as in Tuscan art, comes
much nearer to expression in the fourth century than in the fifth. But a
study of such a statue as the Cnidian Aphrodite shows us nevertheless
that in the beauty of the type and the avoidance of the accidental, the
art of Praxiteles was as far removed from realism as it was from the
vague generalisation of Graeco-Roman and modern pseudo-classical art. It
is full of life and individuality, but it is the individuality of a
character realised within his mind by the artist, not merely copied from
the human model he set before him.

Another method by which the motive becomes prominent in the art of the
fourth century is to be seen in the interpretation of mythological
conceptions. These are realised and embodied in statues; but the statues
offer a new, sometimes, it seems, almost an accidental and trifling
version of a solemn religious conception; it appears as if the artist
were playing with a mythological subject. Thus in the statue made by
Praxiteles of Apollo Sauroktonos, "the lizard-slayer," the god stands
with an arrow in his hand, as if trying to catch with it a lizard who
runs up a tree; it suggests a boyish game rather than the epithet of a
god. Again, the worship of Artemis Brauronia at Athens was one of the
oldest and most sacred cults in the city, and women at marriage and at
other critical times of their life used to offer her their garments,
thereby bringing themselves into close contact with the goddess and
claiming her special protection, the garments being actually placed on
the old image. If, as is probable, the Artemis of Gabii is a copy of the
statue substituted by Praxiteles for this old image, we see there the
goddess, as a graceful girlish figure, fastening a cloak upon her
shoulder. This may be taken as symbolical of the earlier custom of
placing the garments on the statue; but we have evidence that the
worshippers were not content with such a symbolic contact, but had the
actual garments placed on the new statue as they had been on the old.
Here we have probably a case of unsuccessful substitution; the artistic
representation did not suffice to replace the actual rite. But the
representation itself is doubtless intended in a way which, however
graceful, does not represent any deep religious feeling; one feels that
the artist found the subject a convenient one as an artistic motive,
rather than that he had any deep religious idea to express.

We must not, however, go too far in denying religious ideals to the
fourth century altogether. Some of the gods, who came very near to the
life of man, but who were nevertheless worshipped with a real belief in
their power and benevolence, found at this time their fullest expression
in art. An example may be seen in the Demeter of Cnidus, the mother
sorrowing for her daughter, whose suffering brings her into close
sympathy with human weakness, and whose mysteries, perhaps more than any
other Hellenic service, brought men and women into personal communion
with the gods. We may take as another instance the head of Asclepius
from Melos in the British Museum. Here, as Brunn has pointed out in his
admirable analysis of its forms, we may recognise not so much the god as
the half-human, half-divine physician, a genial and friendly spirit who
persuades rather than commands. The expression is not only intellectual,
but has also an infinite gentleness, as of one not himself unacquainted
with mortal pain and sorrow; and such a conception, as we know from
Christian art, often appeals to those who find the majesty of Zeus too
distant, the idea of his godhead too abstract. In such almost human
ideals the individuality of the fourth century finds its full scope, as
in other half-human creations of the artist's imagination. Apollo as the
inspired musician or--if we accept the derivation of the Apollo
Belvedere from a fourth-century original--as the disdainful archer,
Hermes, the protector and playmate of his little brother Dionysus, and
many other such representations of the gods in their personal moods and
characteristic actions, seem in many ways less divine, less full of
religious feeling than such an Asclepius; if the great gods are brought
too near to human passions and weaknesses, they cannot but lose much of
their divinity.

One might easily multiply examples of similar motives in the statues of
the gods made in the fourth century; but we should find the same
underlying principles in all cases. The gods are indeed more clearly
realised as having personal character and individuality, and for this
reason they may sometimes inspire keener personal feelings of worship or
even of romantic devotion. But the older and higher conceptions of the
gods, as an essential part of the State religion, and as embodying the
ideals of the race or of the city, are no longer to be found, except in
a somewhat lifeless continuance of the fifth-century tradition. The
intensity of expression which we find in human heroes is, indeed,
expressed also in such types as that of Apollo the musician or of
Dionysus the god of inspired enthusiasm. But this tendency is not fully
developed until a later age. The subtle distinctions of character
between the different gods are, on the other hand, now most keenly
observed and most skilfully rendered. But in spite of this, one does not
feel that the artist has the same belief in the gods and in their power
as we can see in the Phidian age. If his artistic attainment is possibly
more skilful, the religious import of his work is certainly less.



In the Hellenistic age we find the Greek types of the gods adapting
themselves to new conditions and new meanings. With the conquests of
Alexander, Greek language and civilisation spread over the Eastern
world; and with them went the artistic forms of the Greek pantheon,
though often to be modified by local beliefs or influences. Similarly,
when at a later time the Roman conquest of Greece spread Hellenic
influence to the West, there also the types of the Greek deities came to
be adopted or adapted to new mythological meanings. Greek art
practically became cosmopolitan; its influence was broadened; but at the
same time its essential nature, in its harmony with the imagination of
the Hellenic race, was lost or obscured. It becomes more intelligible to
us for this very reason, but at the same time less instructive in its
relation to religious conceptions.

In the art of the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman age we find two main
tendencies, the one towards academic generalisation, and the other
towards excessive realism, often coupled with a theatrical or
sensational treatment. This latter is the more interesting to us, partly
because it is in itself more original, partly because it is more in
accordance with modern artistic practice. The two tendencies are by no
means rigidly distinguished; for example, we often find a theatrical
treatment combined with academic work; and throughout are to be seen
traces of eclecticism--that is to say, of the habit of imitating or
reproducing, often in an unintelligent manner, the devices and even the
style of earlier art. It does not follow that no great works of art were
made in the Hellenistic age; the fine traditions of the fifth and fourth
centuries were not easily lost. But the inspiration of the subject, so
far as it still exists, comes from new and different sources.

If we consider first the statues of the older gods of Greece, we often
find in them the individualistic tendencies of the fourth century
carried to a further pitch--sometimes to an extreme--in the sentimental
or passionate works of the Hellenistic age; there is often something
affected or dramatic about them, as if they were not merely realised as
expressing their individual character in their mood or action, but
acting their part as the representative of such a character; in fact,
they tend to embody impersonations rather than to express personalities.
One might almost repeat here much that has been said about the gods in
the fourth century, but that there is often, in this case, a touch of
exaggeration which is avoided by the finer artistic instinct and
appreciation of harmony that mark the work of earlier sculptors; and
joined with this we often find a love of display and a seeking after
effect which imply that the artist thinks more of his skill than of the
idea he is striving to express.

We can trace in the Hellenistic age not only the traditions of earlier
art, but the direct influence of the masters of the fourth century, the
Praxitelean cult of beauty for its own sake, the passion and dramatic
force of Scopas, and the preference for allegorical subjects and for
statues of colossal size which we may see, as well as many higher
qualities, in the art of Lysippus. We have already noticed how in the
Apollo Belvedere there is an impression of theatrical posing which was
probably either introduced by the copyist or at any rate much
exaggerated by him in imitating an earlier type; and how in the Venus
de' Medici we find a crude insistence on a gesture of mock modesty which
is a mere travesty of the hint at half-conscious shrinking from exposure
which we see in the Cnidian Aphrodite. Even in a statue which, like the
Aphrodite of Melos, shows an endeavour to return to the nobler ideals
and more dignified and simple forms of an earlier age, there is
something artificial and conventional about both figure and drapery; and
one feels that the sculptor, though both his aims and his attainments
are of the highest, is trying rather to reflect the best influences of
his predecessors than to embody a present religious conception.

The influence upon art of religious personifications is perhaps stronger
than any other during this period. There had, indeed, been such
personifications at an earlier time, such as the statue by Cephisodotus
of Peace nursing the infant Wealth. The most interesting example of such
personification may be seen in the figures of cities, or, to speak more
accurately, of the Fortunes of cities, such as the Antioch of
Eutychides. The influence of the city or state upon religious art was
conspicuous in the fifth century; but here we find the city itself or
its presiding genius represented in a statue which seems at first sight
a mere allegory of its situation. The way in which the figure is seated,
half turned on herself, and with her feet resting upon the shoulder of
the river that swims below her, seems to suggest an artificially
invented symbolism; yet we are expressly told that this statue received
great veneration from the natives of the district. In the decay of the
belief in the gods, there seems to have been a craving for nearer and
more real objects of worship.

We can see the same tendency in a more extreme form in the deification
of human beings. Though some examples of this occur earlier, especially
in the case of the heroes or founders of cities, these are not placed on
a level with the gods; but the worship of Alexander, and in imitation of
him, of his successors, placed him in a distinctly divine rank. It is
difficult to say how far this was due to non-Hellenic influences. In the
case of Alexander, with his marvellous, almost superhuman achievements,
and his final solution of the great drama of the contest of East and
West, such idealisation is easy to understand; and we find not only that
Alexander is himself represented as a god, but that his expression and
cast of features come to affect the sculpture of his age, even in the
representations of the gods themselves. On coins, too, his head occurs;
an honour that before his time was not given to mere mortals. In other
cases this worship of men reached a pitch which was a matter of shame to
the later Greeks; thus Demetrius Poliorcetes, when he gave Athens back
her freedom, was welcomed at the city with divine honours. Even hymns
were composed in his honour, of which we find specimens preserved.[7]
After welcoming his advent at the same time as that of Demeter, the poet
addresses him thus:--"Other gods are either far away, or they have no
ears, or they exist not, or have no care for us. But we see thee, a
present deity, not of wood or stone, but real; therefore we pray to
thee." It is true that such materialistic and atheistic expressions were
probably reprobated by many at the time, as well as by later writers;
but the mere possibility of their public enunciation shows how far the
Athenians had gone from their old religious beliefs.

[Footnote 7: Athen., VI, 63.]

Allegorical impersonations, such as that of Antioch, are religious
conceptions of a high order compared to this. Nevertheless, one feels
that such impersonations can have no separate divine existence apart
from the city or the people whom they represent. They are on a different
plane of religious belief from Athena, for example, as the goddess of
the city. The goddess was, indeed, in some ways representative of what
was best in her chosen people; but she was not a mere symbol of its
character and its greatness. She existed before it, and would continue
though it should disappear from the earth, unlike the Fortune of
Antioch, whose very existence was bound up with that of the city she

Another example of personification may be seen in the recumbent figures
of river-gods--notably that of the Nile, with his sixteen cubits, as
babies, playing around him. River-gods were indeed an object of worship
from early times in Greece, and so appear on coins and elsewhere; but
this figure of the Nile, a product of Alexandrian art, is not like the
earlier gods, who were looked upon as the givers of increase and
fertility; it is a mere allegorical impersonation of the river, such as
might be made by a modern artist who made no pretence to believe in the
existence of such an anthropomorphic river-god. It cannot be counted as
religious art at all. And the attributes and accessories of such a
figure, the crocodile and hippopotamus, the sphinx and corn and horn of
plenty, are all of them symbolic allusions such as are suitable to such
a frigid personification. The art of Alexandria is full of such devices;
that of Pergamon is more vigorous and dramatic; but in both alike we
find the influence of a learned study of mythology, full of quaint and
far-fetched allusions and symbols. The culmination of this learned
mythology is to be seen in the great altar of Pergamon, on which the
gods who are in combat with the giants include not only all figures,
appropriate and inappropriate, from the Hellenic pantheon, but many
other deities whose right of admission to that pantheon is more than
doubtful. The figures of the gods no longer correspond to the belief in
any real divinities, but are either mere artistic types, repeated again
and again in accordance with convention, or else they are regarded as
symbols representing different aspects of divine power.

Symbolism of this kind is a common symptom of the decay of religious
faith. The more thoughtful or educated classes, who follow the
speculations of philosophers as to the nature of the deity, find it
possible to reconcile these speculations with the forms of popular
religion by accepting the forms in a symbolic sense. The common people,
on the other hand, finding the old forms inadequate to satisfy their
religious aspirations, import new and strange divinities, whose cult is
often mixed with magic or mystic rites. Here, too, the symbols have a
meaning other than what appears to the uninitiated eye, and the province
of art, which approaches the mind through the senses, is closely
circumscribed. A statue or other work of art which needs explanation of
its allusions, which does not express an ideal that appeals directly to
the imagination of the people, has lost touch with religion, and cannot
to any appreciable extent influence it or be influenced by it. The age
of idolatry in the higher sense, of a religious imagination that enables
the artist to bring the people nearer to their gods, or even the gods
nearer to the heart of the people, has passed away, and in its place we
find either a superstitious clinging to the magic power of the early
objects of worship, or a mere acceptance, as conventional symbols, of
forms that bear no direct relation to anything that is believed in as

Our brief historical survey has shown us how the Greeks, starting from a
belief, such as is common to many primitive religions, in the superhuman
powers or sanctity of certain objects, were enabled by their vivid
anthropomorphic imagination first to think of the gods as in like form
to themselves, and then to make their images in human shape. And as
their art progressed towards the power of making a physical type of
perfect beauty to serve as the means of expression of this "human form
divine," and also to skill in expressing character by means of human
features and figures, it became possible for them to embody in their
great statues the various ideals of divinity which belonged to their
chief gods. Here the skill of the artist would have availed little or
nothing if he had not shared with the people for whom he worked a belief
in the reality of these ideals, not merely as philosophic aspects of the
divine nature, but as real beings who were able to help and to inspire,
and to manifest themselves to their worshippers in this human form. The
next step is towards an even more vivid realisation of the personality
of the gods; but by bringing them nearer to human level it made the
worship of their images less easy to accept in a literal sense to the
more thoughtful, while such worship tended, with the common people, to
enter upon a more material and less exalted phase. The result was a
tendency towards symbolism in which the symbol itself was regarded as a
mere convention, and the inspiration and actual communion with men,
vouchsafed by the gods through their ideal images, was no longer sought
after. When any means of communion between god and man, whether by means
of a solemn service or by means of an image which the god himself
accepts as his earthly representative, ceases to be felt as anything
more than a human device, its religious power must fail. When, on the
other hand, we find a union of religion and art to provide a means for
this divine intercourse, we may recognise idolatry in its highest form,
the use of images not merely as accessories of religious service, but as
providing in themselves a channel of worship and inspiration.


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