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Greek Architecture - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )



I. Geographical.—Greece is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and her many natural harbours made it easy for those early traders, the Phoenicians, to carry on extensive commerce with the country. This sea influence also fostered national activity and enterprise, just as it has done in Great Britain ; while the proximity of a multitude of islands, colonised from the mainland and keeping up communication with it by sea, produced a race of hardy and adventurous colonists. Ancient Greece, however, extended geographically far beyond the mainland and adjacent islands, and thus ruins of Greek buildings are found in the Dorian colonies of Sicily and South Italy, and in the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor. The mountainous nature of the country separated the inhabitants into groups or clans, and was thus responsible for that rivalry which characterised the old Greek states, both in peace and war.

II. Geological.—The chief mineral wealth of Greece was in her unrivalled marble, the most beautiful and monumental of all building materials, and one which facilitates exactness of line and refinement of detail. This marble is found in abundance, notably in the mountains of Hymettus and Pentelicus near Athens, and in the islands of Paros and Naxos. The Greeks attached so much importance to the quality of fine-grained marble for producing exact outlines and smooth surfaces that, as in the Temples at Paestum, they even coated coarse-grained limestone with a layer of marble " stucco " in order to secure this effect, which is the great characteristic of their architecture.

III. Climatic.—The climate was intermediate between rigorous cold and relaxing heat ; hence the Greek character, combining the energy of the north with the lethargy of the south, produced a unique civilisation. The clear atmosphere, largely resulting from the rocky nature of the country and the absence of forests, was conducive to the development of that love of precise and exact forms which are special attributes of Greek architecture. The climate favoured an outdoor life, and consequently the administration of justice, dramatic representations, and most public ceremonies took place in the open air, and to this is largely due the limited variety of public buildings other than temples. The hot sun and sudden showers were probably answerable for the porticoes and colonnades which were such important features.

IV. Religious.—The Greek religion was in the main a worship of natural phenomena, of which the gods were personifications, and each town or district had its own divinities, ceremonies, and traditions. There are also traces of other primitive forms of religion, such as the worship of ancestors and deified heroes. The priests who carried out the appointed rites, in which both men and women officiated, were not an exclusive class, and often served for a period only, retiring afterwards into private life.

The principal Greek deities with their attributes and Roman names are as follows :

Greek. Roman.
Zeus Chief of the gods and supreme ruler Jupiter ( Jove)
Hera Wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage Juno
Apollo Son of Zeus and father of AEsculapius. Theg God who punishes, heals, and helps.Also the god of the sun, of
song and music, and founder of cities Apollo
Hestia Goddess of the hearth (sacred fire) Vesta
Heracles God of strength and power . Hercules
Athena Goddess of wisdom, power, peace, Minerva
and prosperity.
Poseidon The sea god Neptune
Dionysos God of wine, feasting, and revelry Bacchus
Demeter Goddess of earth and agriculture Ceres
Artemis Goddess of the chase Diana
Hermes Messenger of the gods, with winged feet Mercury
;therefore god of eloquence
Aphrodite Goddess of love and beauty Venus
Nike Goddess of victory Victoria

V. Social.—The Minoan civilisation of the early Pelasgic inhabitants belonged to the bronze age, as is evident from remains found near the AEgean Sea, particularly in Crete, Hissarlik (in the Troad), Mycenae, and Tiryns, and this early civilisation fell before the courageous Achaeans or Homeric Greeks from the north. The poems of Homer, apparently a Pelasgic bard who sang for Achaean masters, picture Greek life as it was about the twelfth century B.C. The Achaeans, in their turn, succumbed to an influx of Dorians from farther north, who established themselves at Sparta and elsewhere in the Peloponnese. In Classical times the land was peopled by Ionians (descendants of the Pelasgi), AEolians (descendants of the Achaeans), and by Dorians. Dorian Sparta and Ionian Athens were the principal centres of Greek national life. It was not till some five hundred years after the war against Troy, which affords proof of early intercourse between Greece and Asia, that the new Hellenic civilisation showed itself in the construction of the Doric Temple of Corinth (B.C. 650). The poems of Hesiod (c. B.C. 750) depict the gloomy outlook and sordid life of the Boeotian peasantry at this time when art was almost in abeyance. The people of the various Greek states were united by devotion to their religion, and by religious festivals, as well as by their love of music, the drama, and the fine arts, and also by national games and by emulation in those manly sports and contests for which they were so distinguished. The Greeks were great colonists, and emigration, especially to Asia Minor, South Italy, Sicily, and the coasts of the Mediterranean, was directed by government as early as B.C. 700, not only to develop trade, but also to provide an outlet for the superfluous population, and so reduce internal party strife. Thus the colonies, as usually happens, were often peopled by citizens of a more energetic and go-ahead character than those on the mainland ; and therefore some of the most important Greek architecture in the Doric style is in South Italy and Sicily, and in the Ionic style in Asia Minor.

VI. Historical.— Whether or no the war with Troy, described by Homer, be an actual fact, the incidents related have a substratum of truth, and the tale probably arose out of the early conflicts of the Greeks in Western Asia ; while for the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. there are the more or less reliable histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. The cities of Greece had by this time settled down to their several forms of government—tyrannic, aristocratic, or democratic—and most of their colonies had been founded. The Persians under Cyrus, having captured Sardis, overthrew the kingdom of Lydia ; whereupon the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor became subject to Persia, and it was their revolt (B.C. 499–493), which led to the Persian wars. The first great Persian invasion was ended by the victory of the Greeks at the battle of Marathon (B.C. 490) ; and the second invasion by Xerxes was terminated by the naval victory of Salamis (B.C. 480) and the land battle of Plataea (B.C. 479). The national exultation over these victories is largely responsible for the fact that the most important temples were built in the fifty years which followed the battles of Salamis and Plataea. The rule of Pericles (B.C. 444–429) marks the climax of Athenian prosperity, but the wonderfully rapid growth of Athens excited the jealousy of the slower Spartans, and this brought about the Peloponnesian war (B.C. 431–404), which ultimately established the supremacy of Sparta, but her arbitrary and high-handed conduct roused other states against her, and the leadership passed successively to Thebes and Macedonia. The latter had hitherto been considered a half-barbarian state ; but thanks to the ability of Philip, King of Macedonia, and of his son Alexander the Great, it rose to a leading position in Greece. In B.C. 334 Alexander set out on his great expedition, and in six years he subdued the Persian Empire, having besieged and taken Tyre en route and received the submission of Egypt, where he founded the famous city of Alexandria, and thus brought Egypt and Greece into contact with one another. His conquests extended to Northern India, and Hellenic art and civilisation thus spread through Western Asia. On his death at Babylon (B.C. 323) the empire he had created was split up among his generals and Egypt fell to Ptolemy, who founded a dynasty (p. 16) ; while in Greece an unsuccessful attempt was made to start leagues between cities, such as the Achaean and AEolian Leagues. The natural isolation and mutual animosity of the Greek communities afforded all too good an opportunity for the intrusion of the centralised and united power of Rome, and thus Roman interference gradually increased until Greece became a Roman Province (B.C. 146). En revanche, where arts, not arms, were concerned,

"Grucia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes
Intulit agresti Latio."



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