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Greek Architecture - Other Characteristics

( Originally Published 1915 )



Instead of covering nearly every bit of space with ornament, as the Egyptians did, the Greeks selected only the best places for it, and thus gave it its proper effect. The decorations, especially the sculptures, were one of the chief features of a Greek temple. The works by Phidias, which adorned the Parthenon, were the most beautiful the world has seen. Their remains are now in the British Museum.

Besides their temples the Greeks built many theaters which may be studied from their ruins, but of their dwelling-houses almost nothing remains to us. It is probable that they did not spend much time, or labor either, in building or beautifying them. They were an outdoor people.

The Greek style is noted for the repose, harmony, and proportion of its effect. These are terms we might use in speaking of a painting, but they relate to the composition of a building which is, in many respects, similar to the composition of a picture. In selecting his materials, and style, and site, and in arranging his masses of stones; in placing the lights and shades, and in producing an effect of symmetry and balance, the architect is doing much the same things that a painter does in composing his pictures. As to proportion, we may say, in a general way, that Doric temples were twice as long as they were wide, and once and a half as high as they were wide. The column was about six times its diameter in height, while the capital was one-half one diameter in height.

There is no feature, ornament, principle or design, used by the Greeks that is not in use today. We still find almost exact reproductions of Greek buildings going up in the great cities of the world. Moreover, all the other styles that have come into being since the Greek, owe much to it although we find no domes, nor arches, nor towers in Greece. The Doric order was the one most favored by the Greeks, and, most of their best buildings are in that style. Although the most simple, and plainest of all, it is the most refined and seems all the more dignified by reason of this very simplicity, just as a person often seems more dignified by reason of simple manners. It was the most simple of ideas carried to the utmost perfection in its every detail.

To make further comparison with the Egyptian, we notice that the Greek made a gable to his roof. This was to ward off the weather, a thing the Egyptian never had to think of. It shows us how climate will bring out new features in architecture, and that, what might be beautiful in Egypt, might seem ridiculous in Chicago. Only the suitable is beautiful.

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