Prehistoric art in Greece.
Thirty years ago it would have been impossible to write with any considerable knowledge of prehistoric art in Greece. The Iliad and Odyssey, to be sure, tell of numerous artistic objects, but no definite pictures of these were called up by the poet’s words. Of actual remains only a few were known. Some implements of stone, the mighty walls of Tiryns, Mycenae, and many another ancient citadel, four “treasuries,” as they were often called, at Mycenae and one at the Boeotian Orchomenus—these made up pretty nearly the total of the visible relics of that early time. To-day the case is far different. Thanks to the faith, the liberality, and the energy of Heinrich Schliemann, an immense impetus has been given to the study of prehistoric Greek archaeology. His excavations at Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and elsewhere aroused the world. He labored, and other men, better trained than he, have entered into his labors. The material for study is constantly accumulating, and constant progress is being made in classifying and interpreting this material. A civilization antedating the Homeric poems stands now dimly revealed to us. Mycenae, the city “rich in gold,” the residence of Agamemnon, whence he ruled over “many islands and all Argos,” [Footnote: Iliad II, 108] is seen to have had no merely legendary preeminence. So conspicuous, in fact, does Mycenae appear in the light as well of archaeology as of epic, that it has become common, somewhat misleading though it is, to call a whole epoch and a whole civilization “Mycenaean.” This “Mycenaean” civilization was widely extended over the Greek islands and the eastern portions of continental Greece in the second millennium before our era. Exact dates are very risky, but it is reasonably safe to say that this civilization was in full development as early as the fifteenth century B.C., and that it was not wholly superseded till considerably later than 1000 B.C.
It is our present business to gain some acquaintance with this epoch on its artistic side. It will be readily understood that our knowledge of the long period in question is still very fragmentary, and that, in the absence of written records, our interpretation of the facts is hardly better than a groping in the dark. Fortunately we can afford, so far as the purposes of this book are concerned, to be content with a slight review. For it seems clear that the “Mycenaean” civilization developed little which can be called artistic in the highest sense of that term. The real history of Greek art—that is to say, of Greek architecture, sculpture, and painting—begins much later. Nevertheless it will repay us to get some notion, however slight, of such prehistoric Greek remains as can be included under the broadest acceptation of the word “art.”