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The Marbles Of Aegina
by [?]

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

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

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

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