Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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Acropolis, and puts in his stead Athena, the
darling deity of Athens. Thus the artist
shows a breach with the old religion, which
he was ready to transform, though not to
destroy by any means. Phidias undoubtedly
shared in the new Periclean consciousness,
which had its strong opponents even at Ath-
ens, but especially in the Doric communities
of Greece, which thwarted the great states-
man and at last drove him to the fatal Pelo-
ponnesion War.

But the Parthenon is finished and dedi-
cated, Athena Parthenos is installed in her
new temple as the supreme divinity of the
Athenian city-state, yea of the so-called Athe-
nian empire which was an association (often
forced) of many other city-states chiefly


Ionic, under the headship of Athens. But just
here occurs the rift which split all Hellas
through and through into two hostile sides,
and which kept growing wider and more hos-
tile. Athenian supremacy was the cause.
Phidias as Greek must have felt the deep
and growing scission in his nation, perchance
in himself. Athena was not the universal
deity of Hellas and could never be; his work
was not, therefore, universal, but only for a
part of his countrymen. His second Period
had in it, accordingly, a breach, a slowly
widening chasm, which divided his Hellenic
world; can he, in some new work overcome
that profound scission of its spirit, yea of its
very Godhood, and unify afresh by his Art
the disrupted consciousness of his dear
Hellas! Thus he must rise out of his hith-
erto limited Athenian career to the Pan-Hel-
lenic work of his genius, he must rise from
Athena -to Zeus.

(Ill) This is the ground of the evolution
of Phidias into his third or last Period;
doubtless the transcendent one of his life. So
we may judge, though its monuments have
perished. Still we know the effect of what he
did: he made the supreme artistic synthesis
of total Hellas in his Zeus above described,
whose statue he realized at Olympia, as the
supreme Greek Theophany.


There is a good deal of confusion and un-
certainty in tlie ancient accounts concerning
Phidias during this last Period. One state-
ment is that he was banished or fled from
Athens on account of being detected in an
embezzlement; the charge of sacrilege was
also raised against him for placing a likeness
of himself and of Pericles on the shield of
Athena Parthenos. There is little doubt that
Phidias had to endure political attack and
probably some persecution; he belonged to
the new order, to the new Athens, to the new
Hellas ; he introduced the new Art, and made
the new Gods. There was always an old re-
actionary, conservative, aristocratic party
tilting against the Athenian democracy and
its leaders, especially seeking to undermine
and discredit Pericles and his associates.
His friend Phidias could hardly escape as-
sault, being doubtless the most prominent
man in the city after the statesman. But
whatever may be the external ground, there
was a very coercive internal ground for the
artist to accept the commission from Elis
(the province of Greece in which Olympia is
situated). Finally when his great Athenian
task is done, he is done Avith it and sets out
to conquer a new world which not only beck-
ons him from without, but mightily impels
him from within.


Here we have to note another chronolog-
ical obstruction floating down from antiq-
uity. It has been supposed from an ancient
account that the stay of Phidias at Olympia
took place before his Periclean engagement,
hence that the Zeus was antecedent to the
Athena Parthenos. Some modern authors
accept this chronology, but the best of recent
authorities reject it as improbable. Certainly
it contradicts the inner evolution of the art-
ist, who could not help making at last a su-
preme effort to rise above his narrower com-
munal environment at Athens when he had
fully portrayed it, in order to bring down
into visible shape the one supreme God of
all Hellas. That would certainly be the ful-
filment of the life-work of the great Hellenic
God-maker, when he made the greatest Hel-
lenic God in the greatest perfection. What
higher deed is left for him in his Art !

To be sure, in one respect he was prob-
ably disappointed. He may have intended
to reconstruct the temple of Zeus at Ol^mipia,
especially in the Sculpture of its pediments,
making it correspond in excellence to the
God 's statue in the cella. If he had any such
far-reaching plan to overtop even the Par-
. thenon, he failed, for the German excavation
at Olympia has shown the relative inferior-
ity of the statues in the pediment there,


which are not Phidiaii. So the artist was not
able to do for all Hellas what he had done
for Athens, and thus completely realize his
Pan-Hellenic ideal. The new epos of Sculp-
ture had indeed its Olympian Zeus, hut noth-
ing else in proportion ; the God, like Phidias,
stood alone.

On such outlines we construe the three
Periods of inner evolution in the life and
Art of Phidias. At the conclusion of his
work in Olympia he is said to have returned
to Athens after an absence of six years (438-
432 B. C). But his native city seems to
have been deeply estranged from its great-
est artist, it threw him into prison where he
died, one account says from poison. His old
associate, Pericles, could not or would not
protect him, probably the two were no longer
in sympathy. Athens was very bitter against
the Peloponnesians, who had treated Phidias
with distinguished honor for his work — he
having lived among them during his supreme
])eriod. Next year the long-expected war
broke out known as the Peloponnesian. These
events compel us to think of a sad alienation
between Phidias and his native Athens, in-
cluding his former patron, Pericles. The
artist had transcended the narrow provincial
feeling of his city, which was ever getting
narrower, more imperious and more hostile


to other portions of Greece, especially to tlie
Doric, which, however, paid back the enmity
in full Phidias in his last period, passing
out of his purely Athenian second stage, went
back to his early time, even to Salamis when
all Athens showed such noble Pan-Hellenic
devotion. In such a spirit and in such only
could he conceive and embody his Pan-Hel-
lenic Zeus, the one supereminent God over
all Hellas.

But the deep national rent has arisen, and
Phidias falls a victim to his greatness, like
so many great men of his country. He thus
becomes a tragic character in the tragedy of
the Greek world which is approaching. Still
he completed his task as far as it could be
completed, and his life passes before us as
a well-rounded, mightily finished work of
Art, like one of his statues, of which we can
feel the soul's process. Thus he in making
Zeus, makes himself at the same time the
Zeus of his own Art, the sculptor even more
immortal than his statue.

At this point the fact is to be noticed that
the works of Phidias during the first and
third Periods, have all vanished, some with-
out a trace, others leaving a faint shadow in
later copies and doubtless in not a few imi-
tated traits. Their names and sometimes
their characteristics are mentioned in old


books. Individual statues were these works,
standing singly or grouped externally as far
as we know. But the associated Sculpture
of Phidias on the Parthenon, has happily
survived, though not wholly, and with many
a mutilation. This is Avliat we can know of
his Art today by direct inspection. Another
fact should not be omitted : classic writers
and observers confined themselves almost
entirely to the single statues, to those which
have perished, paying little attention to the
collective work in the pediments. It sur-
prises at first how meagerly Pausamas in his
ancient guide-book describes the sculptures
which we esteem so highly, when he gives his
account of the Parthenon. Evidently he did
not think them the best, amid such a multi-
tude of other great works. But today they
are regarded as the standard of all Sculp-
ture, its canon ideal if not sacred. For this
reason they have to be considered specially
by themselves in a few paragraphs.

The Sculpture of the Parthenon. This is
often called decorative, somewhat disparag-
ingly, but just therein lies the advantage
that it is not merely a single statue, like
Athena standing in solitary grandeur on her
pedestal, but it is composed of many statues
more or less closely united together, and
made into a society which has its own prin-


ciple of unity, and of which each individual
statue is a constituent member. Such kind of
work gives the salient character to the sec-
ond Period of Phidias, as already set forth.
This socialization of Sculpture in the Parthe-
non moves on three different lines. Or we
may say, forms three different societies :
first the Metopes, in high relief, whose parts
are not very closely connected; second the
so-called Panathenalc Procession in low re-
lief probably celebrating the dedication of
the Parthenon; thirdly the fully w^rought
Statues of the Pediments, the two pedi-
mental societies we may name them (for
they are far more than groups). It slioidd
be added that these three kinds of Sculpture
form an association of which the one cliris-
elephantine statue of Athena in the cella is
to be deemed the center.

Of this sculpturesque world the most sig-
nificant parts now surviving are the two soci-
eties in the two pediments. Of the latter a
word may be said in explanation. The Greek
temple fronting eastward and westward had
necessarily two faces, and hence two fore-
heads, which term may figuratively be applied
to the triangular space included between the
roof and the entablature. The technical
name for this space is pediment, whose en-
closing lines plainly show a rise to the comb


of the roof and then a drop back to the first
level. Now it was this frame into which the
Greek artist put chiefly his sculptured con-
flict of Gods and of Heroes, since the two
sides are suggested by the triangle, whose
apex also points the culmination of the strag-
gler in the supreme protagonists. The Par-
thenon had, of course, two such pediments
with ascending and descending lines of stat-
uary, which on each front culminated in
Athena separating from her father Zeus
here, and from her uncle Poseidon there, both
of them old Gods belonging to the old order
relatively at least, which had to be tran-
scended by the new deity and her special peo-
ple named after her, the Athenians.

An extensive literature which cannot here
be taken into account, has heaped itself
around these two Pediments, especially since
tliev have become the center of ancient Art
and arcliEeology. We shall simply state our
view with small regard for the erudition of
the subject which of course has its own inter-
est and value. The Eastern Pediment has
for its germinal action the birth of Athena,
who, according to the legend, sprang from
the head of Father Zeus full-grown and full-
panoplied. This central part of the work is
lost, and we know the theme of it only
through the one brief sentence of ancient


Paiisaiiias. But to our mind the general pur-
port is plain enough; it means the birth of
the new deity, of the new divine order which
specially appeared at Athens after the Per-
sian War and had risen to full bloom during
the age of Pericles and of Phidias. Thus it
represented the Athenian people who would
at once feel themselves in the image and its
conflict. Athena is the tutelary deity of
Athens; behold her appear, the new-
born Goddess of the new-born city, which
is now being rebuilt out of the old ruins left
from the Persian destruction. Moreover she
stands for mind, intelligence, skill of all
sorts, instead of the old rude force of the
Gods. Zeus long ago supplanted his parent
(Cronus) with her help indeed, according to
the story, but here in turn the daughter re-
born has supplanted her parent. The sculp-
tor is celebrating in his Art a new theogony
enacted at present at Athens. So he seizes
the consciousness of his folk in its very gen-
esis, catching up the Mythus as the plastic
material of his spirit, which he shapes to re-
veal his idea.

But is it the historic fact that Zeus was
shoved into the background at Athens during
this period of her supreme intellectual
flowering? The Athenian democracy was not
friendly to monarchy of any kind, not even to


that of the Gods, for it did not represent their
highest ideal. How could they worship as
divine, on Olympus, that which they hated
on earth? Zeus the King (so named) was
not popular in democratic Athens, and he
was rarely allowed to appear in her Art, be-
ing quite banished from the Acropolis. Still
today there is a striking witness to this aver-
sion. The temple of Zeus (called the Olympi-
eum) near the Ilissus was begun by Pisis-
tratus, tyrant of Athens (about 535 B. C),
in honor of the tyrant of Olympus (so the
Athenians doubtless regarded the edifice).
But this temple was never finished, for the
old tyranny of Pisistratids was put down by
the rising Athenian democracy, which then
fought the Persian War against the Oriental
tyrant. Very significant is the fact that this
temple of the highest God lay unfinished for
more than six hundred years till the time of
the Emperor Hadrian (another tyrant in
the Greek sense) who erected a splendid
structure to the glory of Zeus and of him-
self, both autocrats. The Athenians of them-
selves never would finish the work which ran
counter to their strongest faith. But they
did finish in a few years the Parthenon,
which, being dedicated, could look down from
its height on Acropolis hill at the incomplete
tenantless OhTnpieum then aged nearly a


century. Such we take to be tlie best con-
temporary interpretation of the Eastern Ped-
iment, whose birth of Athena meant the birth
of a new order, that of Intelligence in the
city of Intelligence.

Another document showing the spirit of
this same Athenian age is the drama called
Prometheus Bound of the poet Aeschylus.
Here again is a divine character starting on
a new career of his own in opposition to Zeus.
To be sure Prometheus is punished and suf-
fers, but cannot be destroyed or subdued
even by the highest God, who has become an
enemy of the new man and his progress
through the arts. Very Athenian, yea Peri-
clean sounds all this. Moreover the cult of
Prometheus was popular at Athens and he
was in various ways associated with Athena,
having his altar in her sacred precinct.

Hence, he is present as one of the figures
on this Pediment, which sets forth the birth
of the new divine order. How can he be left
out, especially here at Athens! But which
is he? Observe the colossal shape seated and
propped on its elbow, as if it was just getting
erect, yet looking in eagerness and joy at the
rising sun with steeds of Helius (in the right
hand corner of the Eastern Pediment). That
is Prometheus saluting the dawn of the new
world, not only seeing it but foreseeing it, as


his very name implies foresight, here the
foresight of what is taking place higher up —
the Birth of Athena. One legend indeed
makes him strike the blow with his club on
the skull of Zeus, whence Athena, released,
springs forth to freedom. This statue,
though hands and feet are gone, and though
its face is badlv weather-worn, is still the
most imposing male figure transmitted to us
from antiquity. The muscular undulations
over the entire body have an oceanic gran-
deur without the least turgidity : best exam-
ple of the colossal in repose and yet full of
character. The point of this character lies
in the prophetic look of delight greeting the
new sunrise — which look is reflected still in
his storm-battered face, in his raised right
arm and leg, in the wavy thrills over the sur-
face of his body. All kinds of names have
been given him except the right one (in our
judgment) ; oftenest he has been called Thes-
eus, but also Ohanpus, even Bacchus, etc.
One can hardly help feeling the hand and soul
of Phidias in this supreme statue; for Phi-
dias was himself in his way a Prometheus,
introducing a new order in defiance of the
old, a co-worker with Pericles who was
charged with impiety for this very reason.
Phidias could well have known Aeschylus,
an older contemporary, the poet of "Prome-


tlieus Bound" wliicli the artist must have
heard and doubtless read, since it was a kind
of forerunner of his own work.

Next to Prometheus, on the way upward,
are sitting two draped female figures to
whom a third is hastening with upright
stride. This last is usually considered to be
Iris, the messenger of the Gods with the
news of the great event taken place above.
But who are the two seated women whom she
is approaching! Many the conjectures, but
our pick of them is Brunn's who calls them
the two Attic Ilorae (Hours), daughters of
Themis who was also the mother of Prome-
theus — he is therefore their brother — accord-
ing to Aeschylus. The Hours are agitated
over the news and well they may be ; as sis-
ters of Prometheus, the one next to him prob-
ably imparts the message, which is really the
fulfilment of what he prophetically gazes at
in the sunrise. So the Hours whose Homeric
function was to open and close the gates of
Olympus, are forewarned and made ready
for this divine new birth of Time.

Alas! the topmost figures of Athena and
Zeus with their immediate attendants are
wanting, and leave a huge gap in the very
heart of the work. So we look at the other
half with its triangular line of descent from
Zeus downward. There we observe on the


right-hand side a new trinity of draped fe-
male figures in striking parallelism yet in the
strongest contrast with the three on the
other side, who show action, readiness, if not
aggressiveness. But the second three women
are in this regard quite the opposite ; they are
the passive, the overcome, showing resigna-
tion to the mighty stroke which has fallen
upon them, also upon their world, yea, even
upon their God; they repeat thrice, each in
her own way, the sad echo of the dethrone-
ment of Zeus on their side of the pediment.
A world-pain overwhelms them, and yet they
do not give way to unseemly grief, a trinity
of woman's sorrow not for their ow^n per-
sonal loss but for the loss of their divine
order we see and feel in these shapes of
sculptured resignation.

What are their names? Herein again rises
a great variety of opinion among the archae-
ologists. The title which clings and w^ill
probably cling to them is The Three Fates.
But those Greek sisters are not here to be
taken as the active dispensers to mortals of
their lot; on the contrary the Three Fates
are themselves now fated and manifest in
their figure and attitude divine destiny.
Their own deed and character turn back on
themselves. Very impressively they illus-
trate rather than enact Fate, which is sus-


pended even over Olympus. Tlieir cliarm of
appearance has enlivened the fancy of many
expositors; Brunn has poetically called
them the Clouds, which, however, seem not
to fit well into this tragic decline of Zeus;
Waldstein conceives two of them as Thalassa
(the sea) in the lap of Gaia (the earth),
which simile is ingenious but disconnected
from the whole. Let them be nameless, if
need be; Olympian renunciants as women
they appear, having endured a divine suffer-
ing which they reflect in their bodies, in
their drapery sorrowing godlike.

On the whole there is quite a general con-
sensus that we here behold the finest work of
statuary transmitted from antiquity. The
Prometheus already mentioned may be
deemed the world's supreme male figure, and
is more complete, as it retains its head — the
only head by the way on any of the Elgin
marbles. The most immediately striking-
fact about these three figures is the play of
the folds concealing jQi revealing the beau-
tiful body as the home of a divine distress.
Especiall}^ the reclining woman, she who is
most deeply stricken by the blow, or at least
takes it hardest, shows in the voluminous
rolls of her drapery the exquisite careless-
ness of a Goddess in sorrow. The negligent
exposure of her one breast is not for mortal


allurement, but lets us glimpse the depth of
her calamity. It should be noted that there
is a gradation in the three figures from above
downward ; the first receives the shock, with-
stands it, and possibly questions it (the head
of this statue, now lost, may be seen in Car-
rey's old sketch where it is turned toward
the central catastrophe) ; the second (middle)
figure is both recipient of the pain and its
consolation, she suffers in herself yet soothes
the suffering of her prostrated sister, sus-
taining the latter with a godlike sympathy.
Such is the sculpturesque trilogy of the
Fated Sisters, participants in an Olympian
catastrophe which they reflect in their shapes,
in their attitudes, even in their folds — not in
their looks which are lost.

AVe cannot resist the thought that Phidias
in person set his hand and heart to make
these shapes with their world-lost Olympian
sorrow in such sharp contrast with the up-
lift of triumphant Prometheus on the other
side of this pediment. There we witness the
ascent, here the descent even to the setting
of the moon (Selene) in night — if this last
scene be not rather a sunset than a moonset.
But how about the transcendent artist in
such a double part? Undoubtedly he gloried
in the victory of Athena, which was that of
Pericles, of his new citv and of his new Art.


But at the same time there lixy deep in his
soul the recognition of Zeus, the Pan-Hellenic
God, national not simply communal; hence
springs the deep sympathy with which he
wrought out the shapes of these Fated Sis-
ters in whose tragedv he might forefeel that
of all Hellas and her whole God-world. In this
work Phidias seems to reveal the inner as
yet unconscious strain which will lead him
from Athena to Zeus, from Athens to Olym-
pia, from his civic narrowness to his Greek
universality — from his second to his third
Period, when he takes up and enshrines in
his Pan-Hellenic Art the entire folk-soul of
Hellas. So it comes that hereafter he Mill
reverse the triumph of Athena over Zeus, as
portrayed in this Pediment, whereof he
gives a presentiment in the profoundly sym-
pathetic throb which he sends through the
shapes of the three Fated Sisters. Possibly
too he may feel a shadowy forecast of his ow^n
destiny, for he also will not escape his Olym-
pian lot, just as little as did Zeus.

So this trilogy in marble of the Three
Fated Sisters is crowned as the supreme ex-
istent Avork of Sculpture. In its very fasci-
nation it seems to prelude Hellas herself, the
beautiful, the tragic, the fated. Very full and
rounded are the members of these women,
yet not voluptuous or sense-titillating; hu-


man shapes tliey possess in all perfection of
flesh, but filled with an Olympian soul; the
Phidian ideal they illustrate luminously, the
mortal body transfigured as the bearer of a
divine spirit. The artist can be here di-
rectly witnessed in his supreme excellence as
the God-maker. Since we cannot see his
Zeus of Olympia and his Athena Parthenos,
regarded as the supreme triumphs of his
Art in antiquity, we can still commune im-
mediately with his artistic soul in the two re-
maining masterpieces of this Eastern Pedi-
ment of the Parthenon, doubtless the great-
est of all existent statuary, the finest speci-
mens of sculptured man and woman — the
Prometheus and the Fated Sisters.

But the Western Pediment is waiting for
a short survey. Here the destructive hand
of time has left us mainly fragments, with
some headless torsos. The theme is the con-
test between Athena and Poseidon (Nep-
tune) for the land of Attica. Around this
contest spins a great mass of mythical and
symbolical lore, which must here be omitted.

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 13 of 32)