Custom and Myth eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 239 pages of information about Custom and Myth.
to the spectator.  Again, the savage knows that an animal has two sides; both, he thinks, should be represented, but he cannot foreshorten, and he finds the profile view easiest to draw.  To satisfy his need of realism he draws a beast’s head full-face, and gives to the one head two bodies drawn in profile.  Examples of this are frequent in very archaic Greek gems and gold work, and Mr. A. S. Murray suggests (as I understand him) that the attitude of the two famous lions, which guarded vainly Agamemnon’s gate at Mycenae, is derived from the archaic double-bodied and single-headed beast of savage realism.  Very good examples of these oddities may be found in the ‘Journal of the Hellenic Society,’ 1881, pl. xv.  Here are double-bodied and single headed birds, monsters, and sphinxes.  We engrave (Fig. 15) three Greek gems from the islands as examples of savagery in early Greek art.  In the oblong gem the archers are rather below the Red Indian standard of design.  The hunter figured in the first gem is almost up to the Bushman mark.  In his dress ethnologists will recognise an arrangement now common among the natives of New Caledonia.  In the third gem the woman between two swans may be Leda, or she may represent Leto in Delos.  Observe the amazing rudeness of the design, and note the modern waist and crinoline.  The artists who engraved these gems on hard stone had, of necessity, much better tools than any savages possess, but their art was truly savage.  To discover how Greek art climbed in a couple of centuries from this coarse and childish work to the grace of the AEgina marbles, and thence to the absolute freedom and perfect unapproachable beauty of the work of Phidias, is one of the most singular problems in the history of art.  Greece learned something, no doubt, from her early knowledge of the arts the priests of Assyria and Egypt had elaborated in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile.  That might account for a swift progress from savage to formal and hieratic art; but whence sprang the inspiration which led her so swiftly on to art that is perfectly free, natural, and god-like?  It is a mystery of race, and of a divine gift.  ‘The heavenly gods have given it to mortals.’

[Fig. 15.  Archaic Greek Gems:  303.jpg]

Footnotes: 

{3a} Compare De Cara:  Essame Critico, xx. i.

{3b} Revue de l’Hist. des Rel. ii. 136.

{4} Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte, p. 431.

{5} Prim.  Cult. i. 394.

{11a} A study of the contemporary stone age in Scotland will be found in Mitchell’s Past and Present.

{11b} About twenty years ago, the widow of an Irish farmer, in Derry, killed her deceased husband’s horse.  When remonstrated with by her landlord, she said, ’Would you have my man go about on foot in the next world?’ She was quite in the savage intellectual stage.

{12} At the solemn festival suppers, ordained for the honour of the gods, they forget not to serve up certain dishes of young whelp’s flesh.  (Pliny, H. N. xxix. 4.)

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Custom and Myth from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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