Walter Pater.

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London: Macmillan, 1910. (The Library Edition.)

E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.

Electronic Version 1.0 / Date 10-12-01

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E-text Editor's Note

Preface by Charles Shadwell

A Study of Dionysus: The Spiritual Form of Fire and Dew: 9-52

The Bacchanals of Euripides: 53-80

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone I. 81-112

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone II. 113-151

Hippolytus Veiled: A Study from Euripides: 152-186

The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture - I. The Heroic Age of Greek Art:

The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture - II. The Age of Graven Images: 224-

The Marbles of Aegina: 251-268

The Age of Athletic Prizemen: A Chapter in Greek Art: 269-end


[1] THE present volume consists of a collection of essays by the
late Mr. Pater, all of which have already been given to the public in
various Magazines; and it is owing to the kindness of the several
proprietors of those Magazines that they can now be brought together
in a collected shape. It will, it is believed, be felt, that their
value is considerably enhanced by their appearance in a single
volume, where they can throw light upon one another, and exhibit by
their connexion a more complete view of the scope and purpose of Mr.
Pater in dealing with the art and literature of the ancient world.

The essays fall into two distinct groups, one dealing with the
subjects of Greek mythology and Greek poetry, the other with the
history of Greek sculpture and Greek architecture. But these two
groups are not wholly distinct; they mutually illustrate one another,
and serve to enforce Mr. Pater's conception of the essential [2]
unity, in all its many-sidedness, of the Greek character. The god
understood as the "spiritual form" of the things of nature is not
only the key-note of the "Study of Dionysus"* and "The Myth of
Demeter and Persephone,"* but reappears as contributing to the
interpretation of the growth of Greek sculpture.* Thus, though in
the bibliography of his writings, the two groups are separated by a
considerable interval, there is no change of view; he had already
reached the centre of the problem, and, the secret once gained, his
mode of treatment of the different aspects of Greek life and thought
is permanent and consistent.

The essay on "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone" was originally
prepared as two lectures, for delivery, in 1875, at the Birmingham
and Midland Institute. These lectures were published in the
Fortnightly Review, in Jan. and Feb. 1876. The "Study of Dionysus"
appeared in the same Review in Dec. 1876. "The Bacchanals of
Euripides" must have been written about the same time, as a sequel to
the "Study of Dionysus"; for, in 1878, Mr. Pater revised the four
essays, with the intention, apparently, of publishing them
collectively in a volume, an intention afterwards abandoned. [3] The
text now printed has, except that of "The Bacchanals," been taken
from proofs then set up, further corrected in manuscript. "The
Bacchanals," written long before, was not published until 1889, when
it appeared in Macmillan's Magazine for May. It was reprinted,
without alteration, prefixed to Dr. Tyrrell's edition of the Bacchae.
"Hippolytus Veiled" first appeared in August 1889, in Macmillan's
Magazine. It was afterwards rewritten, but with only a few
substantial alterations, in Mr. Pater's own hand, with a view,
probably, of republishing it with other essays. This last revise has
been followed in the text now printed.

The papers on Greek sculpture* are all that remain of a series which,
if Mr. Pater had lived, would, probably, have grown into a still more
important work. Such a work would have included one or more essays
on Phidias and the Parthenon, of which only a fragment, though an
important fragment, can be found amongst his papers; and it was to
have been prefaced by an Introduction to Greek Studies, only a page
or two of which was ever written.

[4] This is not the place to speak of Mr. Pater's private virtues,
the personal charm of his character, the brightness of his talk, the
warmth of his friendship, the devotion of his family life. But a few
words may be permitted on the value of the work by which he will be
known to those who never saw him.

Persons only superficially acquainted, or by hearsay, with his
writings, are apt to sum up his merits as a writer by saying that he
was a master, or a consummate master of style; but those who have
really studied what he wrote do not need to be told that his
distinction does not lie in his literary grace alone, his fastidious
choice of language, his power of word-painting, but in the depth and
seriousness of his studies. That the amount he has produced, in a
literary life of thirty years, is not greater, is one proof among
many of the spirit in which he worked. His genius was "an infinite
capacity for taking pains." That delicacy of insight, that gift of
penetrating into the heart of things, that subtleness of
interpretation, which with him seems an instinct, is the outcome of
hard, patient, conscientious study. If he had chosen, he might,
without difficulty, have produced a far greater body of work of less
value; and from a worldly point of view, he would have been wise.
Such was not his understanding [5] of the use of his talents. Cui
multum datum est, multum quaeretur ab eo. Those who wish to
understand the spirit in which he worked, will find it in this
volume. C.L.S.

Oct. 1894.


2. *See p. 34.

2. *See p. 100.

2. *See pp. 220, 254.

3. *"The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture" was published in the
Fortnightly Review, Feb. and March 1880; "The Marbles of Aegina" in
the same Review in April. "The Age of Athletic Prizemen" was
published in the Contemporary Review in February of the present year.


[9] WRITERS on mythology speak habitually of the religion of the
Greeks. In thus speaking, they are really using a misleading
expression, and should speak rather of religions; each race and class
of Greeks - the Dorians, the people of the coast, the fishers - having
had a religion of its own, conceived of the objects that came nearest
to it and were most in its thoughts, and the resulting usages and
ideas never having come to have a precisely harmonised system, after
the analogy of some other religions. The religion of Dionysus is the
religion of people who pass their lives among the vines. As the
religion of Demeter carries us back to the cornfields and farmsteads
of Greece, and places us, in fancy, among a primitive race, in the
furrow and beside the granary; so the religion of Dionysus carries us
back to its vineyards, and is a monument of the ways and thoughts of
people whose days go by beside the winepress, and [10] under the
green and purple shadows, and whose material happiness depends on the
crop of grapes. For them the thought of Dionysus and his circle, a
little Olympus outside the greater, covered the whole of life, and
was a complete religion, a sacred representation or interpretation of
the whole human experience, modified by the special limitations, the
special privileges of insight or suggestion, incident to their
peculiar mode of existence.

Now, if the reader wishes to understand what the scope of the
religion of Dionysus was to the Greeks who lived in it, all it
represented to them by way of one clearly conceived yet complex
symbol, let him reflect what the loss would be if all the effect and
expression drawn from the imagery of the vine and the cup fell out of
the whole body of existing poetry; how many fascinating trains of
reflexion, what colour and substance would therewith have been
deducted from it, filled as it is, apart from the more aweful
associations of the Christian ritual, apart from Galahad's cup, with
all the various symbolism of the fruit of the vine. That supposed
loss is but an imperfect measure of all that the name of Dionysus
recalled to the Greek mind, under a single imaginable form, an
outward body of flesh presented to the senses, and comprehending, as
its animating soul, a whole world of thoughts, surmises, greater and
less experiences.

[11] The student of the comparative science of religions finds in the
religion of Dionysus one of many modes of that primitive tree-worship
which, growing out of some universal instinctive belief that trees
and flowers are indeed habitations of living spirits, is found almost
everywhere in the earlier stages of civilisation, enshrined in legend
or custom, often graceful enough, as if the delicate beauty of the
object of worship had effectually taken hold on the fancy of the
worshipper. Shelley's Sensitive Plant shows in what mists of
poetical reverie such feeling may still float about a mind full of
modern lights, the feeling we too have of a life in the green world,
always ready to assert its claim over our sympathetic fancies. Who
has not at moments felt the scruple, which is with us always
regarding animal life, following the signs of animation further
still, till one almost hesitates to pluck out the little soul of
flower or leaf?

And in so graceful a faith the Greeks had their share; what was crude
and inane in it becoming, in the atmosphere of their energetic,
imaginative intelligence, refined and humanised. The oak-grove of
Dodona, the seat of their most venerable oracle, did but perpetuate
the fancy that the sounds of the wind in the trees may be, for
certain prepared and chosen ears, intelligible voices; they could
believe in the transmigration of souls into mulberry and laurel, mint
and hyacinth; and the dainty Metamorphoses of Ovid [12] are but a
fossilised form of one morsel here and there, from a whole world of
transformation, with which their nimble fancy was perpetually
playing. "Together with them," says the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite,
of the Hamadryads, the nymphs which animate the forest trees, "with
them, at the moment of their birth, grew up out of the soil, oak-tree
or pine, fair, flourishing among the mountains. And when at last the
appointed hour of their death has come, first of all, those fair
trees are dried up; the bark perishes from around them, and the
branches fall away; and therewith the soul of them deserts the light
of the sun."+

These then are the nurses of the vine, bracing it with interchange of
sun and shade. They bathe, they dance, they sing songs of
enchantment, so that those who seem oddly in love with nature, and
strange among their fellows, are still said to be nympholepti; above
all, they are weavers or spinsters, spinning or weaving with airiest
fingers, and subtlest, many-coloured threads, the foliage of the
trees, the petals of flowers, the skins of the fruit, the long thin
stalks on which the poplar leaves are set so lightly that Homer
compares to them, in their constant motion, the maids who sit
spinning in the house of Alcinous. The nymphs of Naxos, where the
grape-skin is darkest, weave for him a purple robe. Only, the ivy is
never transformed, is visible as natural ivy to the last, pressing
the [13] dark outline of its leaves close upon the firm, white, quite
human flesh of the god's forehead.

In its earliest form, then, the religion of Dionysus presents us with
the most graceful phase of this graceful worship, occupying a place
between the ruder fancies of half-civilised people concerning life in
flower or tree, and the dreamy after-fancies of the poet of the
Sensitive Plant. He is the soul of the individual vine, first; the
young vine at the house-door of the newly married, for instance, as
the vine-grower stoops over it, coaxing and nursing it, like a pet
animal or a little child; afterwards, the soul of the whole species,
the spirit of fire and dew, alive and leaping in a thousand vines, as
the higher intelligence, brooding more deeply over things, pursues,
in thought, the generation of sweetness and strength in the veins of
the tree, the transformation of water into wine, little by little;
noting all the influences upon it of the heaven above and the earth
beneath; and shadowing forth, in each pause of the process, an
intervening person - what is to us but the secret chemistry of nature
being to them the mediation of living spirits. So they passed on to
think of Dionysus (naming him at last from the brightness of the sky
and the moisture of the earth) not merely as the soul of the vine,
but of all that life in flowing things of which the vine is the
symbol, because its most emphatic example. At Delos he bears a son,
from whom [14] in turn spring the three mysterious sisters Oeno,
Spermo, and Elais, who, dwelling in the island, exercise respectively
the gifts of turning all things at will into oil, and corn, and wine.
In the Bacchae of Euripides, he gives his followers, by miracle,
honey and milk, and the water gushes for them from the smitten rock.
He comes at last to have a scope equal to that of Demeter, a realm as
wide and mysterious as hers; the whole productive power of the earth
is in him, and the explanation of its annual change. As some embody
their intuitions of that power in corn, so others in wine. He is the
dispenser of the earth's hidden wealth, giver of riches through the
vine, as Demeter through the grain. And as Demeter sends the airy,
dainty-wheeled and dainty-winged spirit of Triptolemus to bear her
gifts abroad on all winds, so Dionysus goes on his eastern journey,
with its many intricate adventures, on which he carries his gifts to
every people.

A little Olympus outside the greater, I said, of Dionysus and his
companions; he is the centre of a cycle, the hierarchy of the
creatures of water and sunlight in many degrees; and that fantastic
system of tree-worship places round him, not the fondly whispering
spirits of the more graceful inhabitants of woodland only, the nymphs
of the poplar and the pine, but the whole satyr circle, intervening
between the headship of the vine and the mere earth, the grosser,
less human [15] spirits, incorporate and made visible, of the more
coarse and sluggish sorts of vegetable strength, the fig, the reed,
the ineradicable weed-things which will attach themselves, climbing
about the vine-poles, or seeking the sun between the hot stones. For
as Dionysus, the spiritual form of the vine, is of the highest human
type, so the fig-tree and the reed have animal souls, mistakeable in
the thoughts of a later, imperfectly remembering age, for mere
abstractions of animal nature; Snubnose, and Sweetwine, and Silenus,
the oldest of them all, so old that he has come to have the gift of

Quite different from them in origin and intent, but confused with
them in form, are those other companions of Dionysus, Pan and his
children. Home-spun dream of simple people, and like them in the
uneventful tenour of his existence, he has almost no story; he is but
a presence; the spiritual form of Arcadia, and the ways of human life
there; the reflexion, in sacred image or ideal, of its flocks, and
orchards, and wild honey; the dangers of its hunters; its weariness
in noonday heat; its children, agile as the goats they tend, who run,
in their picturesque rags, across the solitary wanderer's path, to
startle him, in the unfamiliar upper places; its one adornment and
solace being the dance to the homely shepherd's pipe, cut by Pan
first from the sedges of the brook Molpeia.

Breathing of remote nature, the sense of which [16] is so profound in
the Homeric hymn to Pan, the pines, the foldings of the hills, the
leaping streams, the strange echoings and dying of sound on the
heights, "the bird, which among the petals of many-flowered spring,
pouring out a dirge, sends forth her honey-voiced song," "the crocus
and the hyacinth disorderly mixed in the deep grass"+ - things which
the religion of Dionysus loves - Pan joins the company of the Satyrs.
Amongst them, they give their names to insolence and mockery, and the
finer sorts of malice, to unmeaning and ridiculous fear. But the
best spirits have found in them also a certain human pathos, as in
displaced beings, coming even nearer to most men, in their very
roughness, than the noble and delicate person of the vine; dubious
creatures, half-way between the animal and human kinds, speculating
wistfully on their being, because not wholly understanding themselves
and their place in nature; as the animals seem always to have this
expression to some noticeable degree in the presence of man. In the
later school of Attic sculpture they are treated with more and more
of refinement, till in some happy moment Praxiteles conceived a
model, often repeated, which concentrates this sentiment of true
humour concerning them; a model of dainty natural ease in posture,
but with the legs slightly crossed, as only lowly-bred gods are used
to carry them, and with some puzzled trouble of youth, you might wish
for a moment [17] to smoothe away, puckering the forehead a little,
between the pointed ears, on which the goodly hair of his animal
strength grows low. Little by little, the signs of brute nature are
subordinated, or disappear; and at last, Robetta, a humble Italian
engraver of the fifteenth century, entering into the Greek fancy
because it belongs to all ages, has expressed it in its most
exquisite form, in a design of Ceres and her children, of whom their
mother is no longer afraid, as in the Homeric hymn to Pan. The puck-
noses have grown delicate, so that, with Plato's infatuated lover,
you may call them winsome, if you please; and no one would wish those
hairy little shanks away, with which one of the small Pans walks at
her side, grasping her skirt stoutly; while the other, the sick or
weary one, rides in the arms of Ceres herself, who in graceful
Italian dress, and decked airily with fruit and corn, steps across a
country of cut sheaves, pressing it closely to her, with a child's
peevish trouble in its face, and its small goat-legs and tiny hoofs
folded over together, precisely after the manner of a little child.

There is one element in the conception of Dionysus, which his
connexion with the satyrs, Marsyas being one of them, and with Pan,
from whom the flute passed to all the shepherds of Theocritus, alike
illustrates, his interest, namely, in one of the great species of
music. One form of that wilder vegetation, of which the Satyr race
is the soul made visible, is the reed, which [18] the creature plucks
and trims into musical pipes. And as Apollo inspires and rules over
all the music of strings, so Dionysus inspires and rules over all the
music of the reed, the water-plant, in which the ideas of water and
of vegetable life are brought close together, natural property,
therefore, of the spirit of life in the green sap. I said that the
religion of Dionysus was, for those who lived in it, a complete
religion, a complete sacred representation and interpretation of the
whole of life; and as, in his relation to the vine, he fills for them
the place of Demeter, is the life of the earth through the grape as
she through the grain, so, in this other phase of his being, in his
relation to the reed, he fills for them the place of Apollo; he is
the inherent cause of music and poetry; he inspires; he explains the
phenomena of enthusiasm, as distinguished by Plato in the Phaedrus,
the secrets of possession by a higher and more energetic spirit than
one's own, the gift of self-revelation, of passing out of oneself
through words, tones, gestures. A winged Dionysus, venerated at
Amyclae, was perhaps meant to represent him thus, as the god of
enthusiasm, of the rising up on those spiritual wings, of which also
we hear something in the Phaedrus of Plato.

The artists of the Renaissance occupied themselves much with the
person and the story of Dionysus; and Michelangelo, in a work still
remaining in Florence, in which he essayed [19] with success to
produce a thing which should pass with the critics for a piece of
ancient sculpture, has represented him in the fulness, as it seems,
of this enthusiasm, an image of delighted, entire surrender to
transporting dreams. And this is no subtle after-thought of a later
age, but true to certain finer movements of old Greek sentiment,
though it may seem to have waited for the hand of Michelangelo before
it attained complete realisation. The head of Ion leans, as they
recline at the banquet, on the shoulder of Charmides; he mutters in
his sleep of things seen therein, but awakes as the flute-players
enter, whom Charmides has hired for his birthday supper. The soul of
Callias, who sits on the other side of Charmides, flashes out; he
counterfeits, with life-like gesture, the personal tricks of friend
or foe; or the things he could never utter before, he finds words for
now; the secrets of life are on his lips. It is in this loosening of
the lips and heart, strictly, that Dionysus is the Deliverer,
Eleutherios; and of such enthusiasm, or ecstasy, is, in a certain
sense, an older patron than Apollo himself. Even at Delphi, the
centre of Greek inspiration and of the religion of Apollo, his claim
always maintained itself; and signs are not wanting that Apollo was
but a later comer there. There, under his later reign, hard by the
golden image of Apollo himself, near the sacred tripod on which the
Pythia sat to prophesy, was to be seen a strange object - a sort [20]
of coffin or cinerary urn with the inscription, "Here lieth the body
of Dionysus, the son of Semele." The pediment of the great temple
was divided between them - Apollo with the nine Muses on that side,
Dionysus, with perhaps three times three Graces, on this. A third of
the whole year was held sacred to him; the four winter months were
the months of Dionysus; and in the shrine of Apollo itself he was
worshipped with almost equal devotion.

The religion of Dionysus takes us back, then, into that old Greek
life of the vineyards, as we see it on many painted vases, with much
there as we should find it now, as we see it in Bennozzo Gozzoli's
mediaeval fresco of the Invention of Wine in the Campo Santo at Pisa-
-the family of Noah presented among all the circumstances of a Tuscan
vineyard, around the press from which the first wine is flowing, a
painted idyll, with its vintage colours still opulent in decay, and
not without its solemn touch of biblical symbolism. For differences,
we detect in that primitive life, and under that Greek sky, a nimbler
play of fancy, lightly and unsuspiciously investing all things with
personal aspect and incident, and a certain mystical apprehension,
now almost departed, of unseen powers beyond the material veil of
things, corresponding to the exceptional vigour and variety of the
Greek organisation. This peasant life lies, in unhistoric time,
behind the definite forms with which poetry and a refined [21]
priesthood afterwards clothed the religion of Dionysus; and the mere
scenery and circumstances of the vineyard have determined many things

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Online LibraryWalter PaterGreek Studies: a Series of Essays → online text (page 1 of 18)