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The Marbles Of Aegina
by [?]

It was the Dorian cities, Plato tells us, which first shook off the false Asiatic shame, and stripped off their clothing for purposes of exercise and training in the gymnasium; and it was part of the Dorian or European influence to assert the value in art of the unveiled and healthy human form. And here the artists of Aegina, notwithstanding Homer’s description of Greek armour, glowing like the sun itself, have displayed the Greek warriors–Greek and Trojan alike–not in the equipments they would really have worn, but naked,–flesh fairer than that golden armour, though more subdued and tranquil in effect on the spectator, the undraped form of man coming like an embodiment of the Hellenic spirit, and as an element of temperance, into the somewhat gaudy spectacle of Asiatic, or archaic art. Paris alone bears his dainty trappings, characteristically,–a coat of golden scale-work, the scales set on a lining of canvas or leather, shifting deftly over the delicate body beneath, and represented on the gable by the gilding, or perhaps by real gilt metal.

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

And although the actual material of these figures is marble, its coolness and massiveness suiting the growing severity of Greek thought, yet they have their reminiscences of work in bronze, in a certain slimness and tenuity, a certain dainty lightness of poise in their grouping, which remains in the memory as a peculiar note of their style; the possibility of such easy and graceful balancing being one of the privileges or opportunities of statuary in cast metal, of that hollow casting in which the whole weight of the work is so much less than that of a work of equal size in marble, and which permits so much wider and freer a disposition of the parts about its centre of gravity. In Aegina the tradition of metal-work seems to have been strong, and Onatas, whose name is closely connected with Aegina, and who is contemporary with the presumably later portion of this monument, was above all a worker in bronze. Here again, in this lurking spirit of metal-work, we have a new element of complexity in the character of these precious remains. And then, to compass the whole work in our imagination, we must conceive yet another element in the conjoint effect; metal being actually mingled with the marble, brought thus to its daintiest point of refinement, as the little holes indicate, bored into the marble figures for the attachment of certain accessories in bronze,–lances, swords, bows, the Medusa’s head on the aegis of Athene, and its fringe of little snakes.

And as there was no adequate consciousness and recognition of the essentials of man’s nature in the older, oriental art, so there is no pathos, no humanity in the more special sense, but a kind of hardness and cruelty rather, in those oft-repeated, long, matter-of-fact processions, on the marbles of Nineveh, of slave-like soldiers on their way to battle mechanically, or of captives on their way to slavery or death, for the satisfaction of the Great King. These Greek marbles, on the contrary, with that figure yearning forward so graciously to the fallen leader, are deeply impressed with a natural pathetic effect–the true reflexion again of the temper of Homer in speaking of war. Ares, the god of war himself, we must remember, is, according to his original import, the god of storms, of winter raging among the forests of the Thracian mountains, a brother of the north wind. It is only afterwards that, surviving many minor gods of war, he becomes a leader of hosts, a sort of divine knight and patron of knighthood; and, through the old intricate connexion of love and war, and that amorousness which is the universally conceded privilege of the soldier’s life, he comes to be very near Aphrodite,–the paramour of the goddess of physical beauty. So that the idea of a sort of soft dalliance mingles, in his character, so unlike that of the Christian leader, Saint George, with the idea of savage, warlike impulses; the fair, soft creature suddenly raging like a storm, to which, in its various wild incidents, war is constantly likened in Homer; the effects of delicate youth and of tempest blending, in Ares, into one expression, not without that cruelty which mingles also, like the influence of some malign fate upon him, with the finer characteristics of Achilles, who is a kind of merely human double of Ares. And in Homer’s impressions of war the same elements are blent,–the delicacy, the beauty of youth, especially, which makes it so fit for purposes of love, spoiled and wasted by the random flood and fire of a violent tempest; the glittering beauty of the Greek “war-men,” expressed in so many brilliant figures, and the splendour of their equipments, in collision with the miserable accidents of battle, and the grotesque indignities of death in it, brought home to our fancy by a hundred pathetic incidents,–the sword hot with slaughter, the stifling blood in the throat, the spoiling of the body in every member severally. He thinks of, and records, at his early ending, the distant home from which the boy came, who goes stumbling now, just stricken so wretchedly, his bowels in his hands. He pushes the expression of this contrast to the macabre even, suggesting the approach of those lower forms of life which await to- morrow the fair bodies of the heroes, who strive and fall to-day like these in the Aeginetan gables. For it is just that two-fold sentiment which this sculpture has embodied. The seemingly stronger hand which wrought the eastern gable has shown itself strongest in the rigid expression of the truth of pain, in the mouth of the famous recumbent figure on the extreme left, the lips just open at the corner, and in the hard-shut lips of Hercules. Otherwise, these figures all smile faintly, almost like the monumental effigies of the Middle Age, with a smile which, even if it be but a result of the mere conventionality of an art still somewhat immature, has just the pathetic effect of Homer’s conventional epithet “tender,” when he speaks of the flesh of his heroes.