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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

R. Blomfield 
Ancient Greek Architecture

From, R. Blomfield, Architecture,
in R.W. Livingstone (ed.), The Legacy of Greece, Oxford University Press, 1921.













Nobody has ever disputed the beauty of Greek Architecture. We recognize the justice of a description of the Parthenon as 'le suprême effort du génie à la poursuite du beau'; but the layman must sometimes ask himself what does it mean? Where did it come from, where did it go to, why is it thought so beautiful, how was it that this people relatively insignificant in power, in territory, and in numbers, was able to attain to this astonishing supremacy in art? These are questions not easily answered. The evidence is fragmentary and not always conclusive, the ruins of a few temples and buildings, a technical treatise by a garrulous third-rate writer in the first century A. D.,[125] the anecdotes of an indefatigable collector[126] a little later, the notes of a traveller in the second century,[127] and the materials collected by the patient research of scholars and archaeologists, pieced together on more or less ingenious hypotheses. Indeed, a great part of what is written on Greek Architecture is simply hypothesis. There is not much to go on, yet Greek Architecture (and by this I mean the architecture of the sixth and fifth centuries B. C.) remains one of the great outstanding facts in the history of the Architecture of the Western world, and the Art of the age of Pericles is the fountain-head to which artists still return.

[125] Vitruvius, De Architectura.
[126] Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, xxxvi.
[127] Pausanias, Ἑλλαδος Περιηγησις {Hellados Periêgêsis}.

Where that art sprang from, and how it grew, is largely a matter of speculation. There have been legends of civilizations wiped out in tremendous cataclysms that left no trace behind them. Vague suggestions are made that the cradle of the race was in Asia. All we know for certain is that the earliest civilizations of which actual historical evidence remains are those of Chaldea and Egypt, and that the art of these countries reached a high degree of attainment long before we come upon the earliest traces of art of any sort in Greece. That both these countries contributed in varying degrees to the art of Greece is certain, but that is not the whole of the story. As we shall see, another element comes into play, which made of that art almost a new creation, differing in outlook and ideal from any art that preceded it, stamped by the genius of a vigorous northern race with a character all its own. The art of the East and the art of the West never really fused. There is a difference in kind between the joyous vitality of pure Greek art, and the gloomy vision of Asia, with its craving for the vast and terrible, its sombre imagination, its lack of humanity and indifference to the individual.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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