J. M. (James Mason) Hoppin.

Greek art on Greek soil online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryJ. M. (James Mason) HoppinGreek art on Greek soil → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


V , *



John Winckelmatm, who stood in a rank with

Lessing and Goethe, and who still remains the sub-
tlest critic of art, in his ■ ' History of Ancient Art ' '
that was written a hundred and thirty years ago,
made some capital errors in his estimate of Greek
sculpture, setting up statues which belonged to
Greek art in its decline, as if they were perfect
works. In this he was excusable, and excusable also
for not recognizing the supreme merit of Pheidias,
because Greece in his time was comparatively un-
visited by scholars and artists ; though, by a fortu-
nate chance, a French artist, Jean Jacques Carrey,
had been in Athens previous to the destruction of the
Parthenon in 1687. He made sketches in red chalk
of the sculptures on the pediments of the Parthenon,
that are now invaluable as enabling us to define
and posit these groups, and especially those that were
afterwards destroyed. But Winckelmann drew his
knowledge of Greek art from Rome, from art-collec-
tions in Italy and Germany, and he made a skillful
use of the materials that these afforded him ; yet he
would have infinitely enlarged his aesthetic and criti-
cal vision, had he seen the Acropolis. Other German
writers since Winckelmann have taken advantage of
a better acquaintance with Greece itself, and do not
greatly err in this matter ; and it is one of the excel-
lencies of the most recent of them and, perhaps, of the
highest living authority in this department of knowl-


edge, Furtwaengler, that lie made a careful study of
Greek sculpture on Greek soil, in the environment of
place and scene in which this art was created.

In the field of painting, who, we would ask, could
sympathetically know Giotto's frescoes in the upper
church of Assissi, or the religious pictures of the
Umbrian school, who had not first made a pilgrimage
to that Umbrian land, which was the home of early
Italian painting, and where the hills over which St.
Francis walked still glow and palpitate with the life
of religious poetry and the spirit of monkish medita-
tive art ?

vl In this, then, and the succeeding chapter, I would
sayHn a plain, straightforward way, something of the
land of Greece and of the people who live there ;
for the people who live on the soil, and the very
earth, the sun and atmosphere, the geography, the
language, the racial derivations and peculiarities,
the political events which have occurred, tell us of
those influences, subtle though they be, which origi-
nate and color a nation's art, while, of course, there
ever remains the unknown factor of genius.

The best-hated man in Greece since he published
his book in 1847, has been the German author, Dr.
Philip Fallmerayer, who, in his " History of the
Morea during the Middle Ages, ' ' declared and proved
to his own satisfaction that modern Greeks, estab-
lished in their national existence in 1832, are not
Greeks, are not lineal descendants of the old Hellenic
race, but Slavs. This has awaked a tempest of criti-
cism and aroused the wrath of the modern Greeks
against the writer. His undeniably learned reason-
ings have been met and mostly done away by the
labors of more accurate investigators, who have shown


that modern Greeks, with a confessedly large admix-
ture of alien blood, may claim the name of Greeks.
These scholars maintain that the Greek germ not
only exists undestroyed and indestructible, but that
the Greek element has absorbed other races, and
that Greeks of the present day may be held to be
" a modification of the ancient Achaian, Dorian, Ionic
and Ktolian, in a word Hellenic populations, though
greatly affected by the changes wrought through
war and conquest. "X,/

I speak now of the Hellenes, not of the prehistoric
people who inhabited Greece, and no Greek scholar
would or could affirm who these were, be they called
Aryans, Pelasgians, or Hittites ; and speculation
seems now to run to the theory that they sprang from
Kuropean centers and themselves emigrated into Asia,
and made and mixed with the Aryan stock. Who,
truly, were " the brass-greaved Achaians " whom
Homer calls Greeks, and makes splendid as the rulers
of Mycenae, Argos and Sparta? Agamemnon and
Menelaos arose from Greek soil and represented a
veritable Greek civilization, or one on Greek earth,
existing before Homer and from which he drew ; and
the Achaians, who were pre-Dorians, are held to be
one of the four original Greek races — but these are
vexed questions about which scholars are disputing.

The two racial factors in Greek art, were, originally,
the Dorians and Ionians, the one bringing strength
and the other beauty into Greek art ; but since those
vastly early days, Macedonians, Gauls, Romans,
Goths, Normans, Venetians, Slavs and Turks have
swept over Greece and left their stamp on the people,
but none of them have utterly stamped out and de-
stroyed the primitive race. It is true that in the
bloody wars of the Diadochoi, successors of Alexander,


Greece was fearfully depopulated, and down to this
day it has not recovered its former population, but the
Greek is a tenacious race like the Hebrew and other
strong races that have influenced the world, and the
survival of race is one of the best established laws
of ethnic science ; and so true is this in relation to
Greece, that Professor Jebb says : ' ' The central facl:
of Greek history, from the earliest age down to the
present daj', is the unbroken life of the Greek nation-

There are said to be at present chiefly three races,
or classes, of people, who inhabit Greece, clearly
distinguishable from one another, the Wallachians,
Albanians and Greeks, the last being the germinal or
unifying one, which is especially the case in the central
regions of Phocis and Boeotia about Mt. Parnassos,
where ten old Hellenic names of towns and villages
are found for one that is Slavic, or foreign.

The first of these, the Wallachians, who are affiliated
in their Thracian ancestry to the Greeks, came into
Greece from the southern slopes of the Carpathian
mountains, in several streams of invasion in the Middle
Ages, sometimes securing permanent foothold and be-
ing sometimes driven out by succeeding invaders ; and
they are now represented by the nomad population of
the regions about the foot of Mt. Olympos in northern
Greece, largely shepherds with no very settled place
of abode ; and the traveler meets them on the sterile
hills and in the narrow valleys, clad in sheepskins,
stalwart but savage-looking men, driving their flocks
to pick up the scanty pasturage.

The second class, the Albanians, form a more
marked and diffused element, comprising as they do
the land-possessors, agriculturists and soldiers, the
bone and muscle of the state, who came also from the


north, descendants of the ancient Illyrians, mountain-
eers of those rugged countries of Albania and Epirus
who, in unsettled times, swarmed into Greece, mean-
ing to stay there, and who, though not exactly Greeks,
are more closely allied to them than the Wallachians
in speech, blood and traditions, and have become
Greeks and formed the most vigorous fighting element
in the war of Independence, and would do so in any
other war that should arise. They brought new blood
into the degenerate Greek race. You see these strid-
ing with haughty carriage about the streets of Athens,
dressed in their jaunty red caps with long tassels,
snowy fustanellas, embroidered jackets, close-fitting
white leggings splaying over the foot, and large shoes
upturned at the toes, with a tuft of wool at the ex-
tremity, an armory of silver-mounted pistols and dag-
gers in their belts, and swinging big rosaries, which,
like their petticoats, are not quite in keeping with
their martial character. They are handsome fellows.
" The mountains are his palaces, " the Palikari says,
and when he comes straight down from them he is as
ragged, lean and wolfish as we imagine Walter Scott's
highlanders to have been when they strolled into the
streets of Perth ; but the Albanian grows into an
orderly soldier, farmer and citizen. He is a stay-at-
home man, who gets all he can and keeps all he gets.
The third class are, in some of their traits, more
properly, Greeks, who, in Athens especially, and some-
times with good cause, boast of their pure blood ; for
Athens and Attica were more exempt from the Slavic
invasions that occurred between the 6th and 14th cen-
turies, than other provinces. They are, morally and
intellectually, children of Odysseus, man of many de-
vices and who saw many cities ; they are the traders,
merchants, sailors, commercial travelers, shop-keepers,


stock -brokers, money-changers, dragomen, rich men
(if there be such), as well as intermeddlers in all arts,
students, artists, professional men, and, above all,
politicians. They have the versatility of the Greek
character, and I shall have occasion to speak of yet
another simpler type who possess still stronger claims
to pure Greek blood.
../it is a weighty argument in favor of the theory of
^Hellenistic survival, or the continuous nationality of
the Greeks, that they speak Greek, as they have
always done. £ Latin continued to be spoken in Italy
till the middle of the 13th century A. D., and this
was in a few exceptional Italian provinces ; and yet
Greek has been the language of Greece from the
earliest days until now, and even Romaic, the ver-
nacular language, comes, in some respects, nearer to
classic Greek than Italian does to l,atin, although
greatly barbarized. In construction, and very widely
in pronunciation, modern Greek departs from classic
Greek, the moods, case-endings and inflections being
swept away, so that the resemblance between the two
is, in many instances, wholly artificial, but it is never-
theless, at base, Greek, Vith the same alphabet and
forms. It is a debased idiom from a similar root,
so that it may be built up again into the same lan-
guage. ^ It is, in fact, as it has been called, Neo-
Hellenic. It grew out of loose conversational usages
of the earlier language, but not until the fifteenth or
sixteenth century did the popular spoken tongue be-
come fully developed, while the literary language
remained unchanged to the time of the taking of
Constantinople ; and even the Phanariot and literary
language continued the same. In Greek schools now
the grammar of classic Greek is used, and children are
taught to read Xenophon and other classic authors.


The better the people the better the Greek they speak ;
while the written tongue, the language of books and
periodicals, even of newspapers is, approximately, the
same with that of Homer. Corruptions, of course, X\ ^tS
have come in, but even as far back as Alexander's
day, the Attic dialedt had undergone great changes. \y
With the unification and improvement of the laiA
guage thus constantly going on, a Greek scholar
would have no difficulty in learning to read modern
Greek books and newspapers. Two or three months'
study at Athens with this object in view, would make
him master of the written tongue. Foreign phrases
have been introduced to describe foreign and new
things, and many dialedts have poured in, as in the
Greek-speaking population of Constantinople the
Turkish, and in the Ionian isles the Cypriote and
Italian, and in Athens the Albanian, French, German,
Italian, English and a medley of other dialedts, but
the living language which you hear in street, market-
place, shop, house and senate-chamber, on the dock
and road, is sonorous Greek. You may, indeed, hear
" mit6ra " for " //.rp-ipa" and " yinaeka " for "fYwuKa,"
but this is not such a very wide difference. The
streets of Athens have the names of Hermes, iEJolus
Athene, Lysocrates, Piraeus. The land is classified
in nomarchies bearing the old familiar titles of Attica,
Boeotia, Phthiotis, Phocis, Akarnania, and so on. It
is Greece. You are at home with its spirit, and are not
shocked in your classic associations, as you would be,
probably, in Syria, in your religious feelings. You
take your Plato and walk in the locality of the Aka-
deme, meeting, it may be, some Greek acquaintance
with a name quite familiar in the ' ' Dialogues, " and
with a salutation of the still beautiful xatpejH^ou ride
or drive a few miles to the north, over the plain of


Attica, until you come to the deme of Poeania (still so
called), under the shadow of Mt. Pentelikon, and there
you are at the birthplace of Demosthenes, where his
paternal acres lay, for which, when a young man, he
contested in the courts, and brought himself before the
public eye. In half an hour's stroll outside of Athens,
you seat yourself to take breakfast on the stoop of a
little vine-trellised coffee-house (Ka$ev#>v) in a grove of
olive trees, where Sophocles' villa, in its olive grove,
stood. You say to your guide 80s, fape, $a£e — give,
bring, show. The railway, indeed, that you get
aboard, is the o-tS^poS/ao/Mos, the steel-way, and, if an
American, you may hear America called Bao-tyKTuv rj yrj
— the land of Washington. Greek was never a dead,
but has been a debased, language, a prince in beggar's
clothes. A century, or nearly a century ago, since
the Greeks have waked up to something like new
intellectual life, the question of a common language
began to be mooted, and this served to bring the scat-
tered elements of the Greek race together ;rand I draw
from a little book by a native Greek Profealsor, the fadt,
that three views are held on this question. Opinions,
in a word, have formed themselves into three parties :
1 . those who contend that the common language of
modern Greeks has been settled by the Greek people as
they commonly employ it, the popular tongue spoken
by Greek-speaking people, not only in Greece but in
Constantinople and the Turkish empire, and all over
the Levant. 2. They who think that the vulgar
tongue is too poor (it certainly did have a marked
decline in the Byzantine and Middle Age periods, and
through the period of Turkish domination) and that
classic Greek should be restored as the common lan-
guage. 3. They who also think the vulgar tongue
to be inadequate for the scientific development of the


nation, on account of its want of regularity in gram-
matic properties ; but as the complete restoration of
classic Greek is impracticable in all relations and
wants of modern life, a middle theory should be
adopted, viz : that a common language be formed
which does not depart substantially from the vernac-
ular, or so far as to be unintelligible to the people,
but that it shonld be corrected on the model of ancient
Greek, and enriched by its wealth and power as a lan-
guage. This is the opinion of the most thoughtful,
and is the prevalent one at Athens, tending to banish
vulgarisms, barbarisms and local dialects, such as the
Wallachian, Roumanian, Cypriote and Constantino-
politan, to give a philosophic base to grammar and
style, and to strengthen and elevate the language ;
and, as has been said, the best people now speak the
best Greek, above all write it, so that the written lan-
guage more and more approaches the ancient ; and
there is a strong tendency, partly pedantic and partly
genuine, to restore classic Greek in all its purity.
But everything one wants to say on everyday matters
of business, travel, literature, politics, art, poetry,
from Homer to telegraphs and telephones, can be said
in modern Greek ; and, at all events, it is Greek that
is spoken in Greece, however diversely it sounds from
the classic tongue. While Latin has ceased to be a
spoken language, Greek is a living one, and it is
an almost miraculous fact that this should be so, con-
sidering the great changes and upheavals that have
occurred. Professor Jebb, from whom I before quoted,
says : " It has been the unique destiny of the Greek
language to have had from prehistoric times down to
our own, an unbroken life. Not one link is wanting
in^this chain which binds the new Greece to the old."
In addition to language, the Greek people are inspired


by the old names, traditions and monuments. They
live among them. They are proud of them. If they
do not know as well as a learned archaeologist does,
what a classic ruin is, they are to a degree reverent of
it. They point it out and talk about it as something
that belongs to their land, even the most ignorant
among them.\/\. Greek workman, when I happened
to remark of / a rich altar of Pan standing near the
theatre of Dionysos, that it should be protected, said,
" Yes, sir, that is true ; Mr. Pan was a much respected
gentleman, and ought to be better treated." He was
right, for the ground in front of the theatre was in a
neglected state, and I have been pleased since to see
that it has been decided to fence it in and further pro-
tect this Dionysiac precinct. The Greek, peasant and
learned, is aware of the importance of such monu-
ments, and is in dead earnest when he execrates the
Turk for maltreating and destroying ancient works of
art. He knows his unique heritage, and the fact of
the genuine interest taken by the Greek government
in archaeologic research for the last forty years (the
National Archaeologic Society was founded in 1858),
and the brilliant results of this society's labors, prove
it. >> yThe modern Greek has his eyes open} and, like
the Japanese, js keenly sympathetic to old traditions
and new ideas. He is sensitive and acute, and if he
would discuss politics less at the caf<£, and work more
on the field, he would be a worthy sort of man as he
is a shrewd oneT^^^ '

I am but one fitness, and inclined, like other wit'
nesses, to build large theories from a small number of
observations, but I confess to a prejudice in favor of
Greeks, and of a nation bearing their name and speak-
ing their tongue. I desire (letting their boastfulness,
dirt, fleas, sour wine and such small things go) to be


a little blind to their faults, and to see their good
qualities, or those traits which belong to a higher
humanity, rather than those which lower and separate
it. The Greeks have ardent aspirations that no dis-
appointments have been able to quench, and "their
very vanity is towards intellectual progress." The
spark of Greek intelligence yet glows. They expect to
be a nation, and are preparing for it. Education has
had a development that could not be the case in a dull
people.H Knowledge is the Greek's passion. ^/Educa-
tion was broached, among others, by the patriot
Admantius Korais, who, at the beginning of the cen-
tury, as did also the poet Rangabe, began to write
and teach of the need of education to prepare the
people, sunk as they were in semi-barbarism under
four hundred years of Turkish misrule, for liberty.
He thought that the remodeling of the nation was no
hasty work but required the thoroughly invigorating
power of education, and that national enlightenment
must precede national regeneration.* He was a re-
former of the Greek language, and was born of Greek
parents in Smyrna 1748, dying in 1833. He insisted
on the union of literature with science in education,
and especially the study of Homer, as an influence to
raise the popular mind, and from him and those like
him came that extraordinary impulse from which
sprang the Hetairias (Iyiterary Societies) and the great
multitude of schools all over Greece.
>J In addition to the University and Polytechnic
School at Athens, there is, throughout all the prov-
inces, what may be called a graded system, consisting
of the elementary or demotic schools, the Hellenic
or grammar schools, and the gymnasia, which resem-
ble the French lycees. The instruction in the higher
* M. Constantinides.


schools and the University, is, to be sure, predomi-
nantly technical, but every child in Greece can have
the benefit of free public instruction. They aim to
be an educated people, to acquire that knowledge/
which gives leadership in affairs?'' and they have
already reaped the advantages of this, and won
through the East and in the Turkish empire the
place of instructors, officials and agents in every
business and profession that demands intelligence.
Where knowledge is needed the Greek is found.
The idea of a universal education has been overdone,
but it is sinning in the right direction. The old
Athenian Prytanaeum would have sanctioned it, if the
Dorian Ephorate would not.X In so small a land the
professions are naturally overstocked, and there are
more candidates than work to supply them with.
This creates a class of small savaris and literary men,
but the students are trained to be doctors, lawyers,
civil engineers, classical scholars and archaeologists,
the last having their material at hand ; and, as I
shall have occasion to remark, the Greek museums of
antique art are the best arranged in the world,
appealing to eye and mind without need of commen-
tator. The modern Greeks can appreciate art if they
do not produce artists, though this remains to be seen
when they are freed from the anxieties of national
embarrassment. The Greek is keen in apprehension
but lacks steadiness of application. He has, as is
well known, marvelous talent for trade, which
makes him the Yankee of the Mediterranean. He is
sharper at a bargain than the most crafty Oriental,
and, for this reason, the modern Greek has been
accredited, as was of old the countryman of him who
was ' ' subtle of wit and of guile insatiate, ' ' with a
streak of dishonesty, and this may have some foun-


dation in fact ; but as far as my limited experience
goes I have had no reason to doubt the integrity of
the Greek, although he is, like Demetrius the silver-
smith, not apt to yield up his own interests in a given
case. I once sent a message from the island of Syros
when in quarantine there for fourteen days, to Athens,
for a mosquito-net, by a Greek dragoman, who, see-
ing the note was addressed to a hotel that was rival
of the one to which he was attached, slipped round
the corner and tore it up. Of course the message
was not delivered.

But the Greek is not everlastingly on the lookout
for his own advantage ; he is, on the contrary, and as
a general rule, brusquely outspoken, and is, also, like
Odysseus, a natural story-teller and bard. p^ He is
never at a loss for words and eloquent wordsx On
the deck of a small felucca running before a gale in
the Gulf of Corinth, I heard a young Greek sailor
(my guide acting interpreter) sing with kindling eye
his legends of war and love, accompanied by short in-
terludes on a kind of guitar, his voice now harsh and
loud, then soft and low as a woman's ; and an under-
current of pathos, of pathetic cadence, ran through his
lyrics, coming down as they do from the sombre days
of the Turk, who, when driven out of Greece^left
desolation and despair behind him; and thi^ 'Vein 01 s
melancholy runs through the character as well as
songs of the modern Greek, so that he is more ambi-
tious than hopeful. Some of these songs have a ring
of honest feeling, as in this prose translation of a rude
little lyric composed by the soldier-poet, Armatole
Sterghio ;

" Though the Dervens' strongholds have fallen, and
the Moslem has seized upon them, Sterghio lives and
cares for no pashas.


" While it snows on the hills, and the plains bloom
with flowers, and the heights have ice-cool streams,
we will not bend the knee to the Turk.

1 ' I,et us go and camp where the wolves have their
abode, in the caves of the mountains, on the heights
and rugged cliffs. Slaves live in the towns and crouch
to the Turks, while we have for our dwellings soli-
tudes and desert ravines.

" Better live with the wolves than with the Turks."

This spirit of melancholy does not, however, spoil the
deeper joyousness of the Greek's temper, for he is gay
on occasions, and in merry-making on festival days
that occur so often, be they religious or secular, and
of which, like the old Hellene, he is extravagantly
fond ; then he is free as a bird, and, like the ancient -v ^
Greek, is child of the sunshine and air, changing as
suddenly as the moods of the Greek sky, from clear , /c,
to storm, from a hospitable friend to a suspicious foeAftM
and his knife is prompt to his hand. It is stated that
crimes in Greece spring from quick temper aggra-

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryJ. M. (James Mason) HoppinGreek art on Greek soil → online text (page 1 of 19)