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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.













Page 2

It is not, however, till far down in the progress of history that this differentiation asserts itself. Greek art is relatively a late development. The Great Pyramid at Ghizeh was built some 2,000 years before a stone was laid of the masonry of Mycenae. The Hall of Columns of Karnak, with its columns sixty feet high, was probably coeval with the Treasury of Atreus: in other words, when the art of Greece and of the islands was scarcely out of the barbaric stage, a wonderful art had been in existence across the Mediterranean from time immemorial. Both Egypt and Chaldea attained a high degree of civilization long before the Dorians were ever heard of. At some remote period the Egyptian influence penetrated to Crete and Cyprus, the islands of the Aegean, and the mainland of Greece; and the intermediaries were the Phoenicians, that enterprising race of merchant adventurers, whose home was in Syria, and whose fleets traversed the Mediterranean from East to West. The Phoenicians were traders and not artists. In Egypt they came into contact with a highly developed art, beyond their comprehension in its essential features, yet including details which could easily be apprehended by their quick commercial intelligence. Wherever they touched on their voyages, Cyprus, Crete, the southern islands of the Aegean, the mainland of Greece, the south of Italy, Sicily, Carthage, the Balearic islands, Spain in the far west, they probably carried with them, for trading purposes, minor articles of Egyptian workmanship which may have supplied hints to the indigenous peoples. Where they established settlements, they reproduced what they could recollect of the methods of Egyptian architecture, possessing at second-hand a knowledge of technical methods in advance of anything within the knowledge of the people among whom they settled. Rudimentary anticipations of the Ionic volute are found in Phoenician capitals, vague reminiscences of what the traders had seen in Egypt and elsewhere. Moreover, the Phoenicians, who possessed the skill of sailors in the use of tackle, would have had little difficulty in handling large stones set dry in more or less regular courses, which was a characteristic feature of Cretan and Mycenaean building. It is too soon to describe the work as architecture. It is doubtful if the Phoenicians possessed any aptitude for the arts. Their rĂ´le was that of intermediaries only.

Obscure as was the part played by the Phoenicians in the early origins of art in Greece and the islands, there was another channel through which Eastern influences came to bear on its development, which is even more uncertain. To the west of Chaldea and north of Syria, dwelt a race of which little is known, the Hittites. Carchemish, their capital, was on the upper Euphrates, north-east of Antioch, and their power appears to have extended westward through Asia Minor to the shores of the Aegean. Dr. Sayce says that in the thirteenth century B. C. it extended from 'the banks of the Euphrates to the shores of the Aegean, including both the cultured Semites of Syria and the rude barbarians of the Greek Seas', he even says that the Hittites 'brought the civilization of the East to the barbarous tribes of the distant West'. What actually remains of Hittite art hardly bears out this statement. When the Hittite power was at its height, Minoan 'art' had long been practised in Crete, and according to the most popular chronology, had already passed its prime and given way to the art of Mycenae and Tiryns. The scanty evidence of Hittite art consists of bas-reliefs of figures and animals cut on the face of rocks along the natural caravan routes through Asia Minor from East to West. This and the evidence of seals and engraved gems show that Hittite art was derived first from Chaldea, later from Egypt. It undoubtedly exercised some influence on the art of the early Greek settlers on the eastern side of the Aegean, and gave it an Asiatic cast, which it never lost throughout all its later developments. For the Greeks of Asia Minor never really understood the austere ideal of Doric art. Ionian art crossed westward to Greece, but the Dorian never went east. It was the art of a strong northern race, that found no place for itself among the softer peoples of Asia Minor.

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