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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 3

At this point we can take up the first rudimentary beginnings of Greek art. The discoveries of the last forty years have proved the existence in Crete and Cyprus, Southern Greece, and the islands of the Aegean, of an archaic art of obscure origin, of very great interest, and of remarkable attainment in certain directions, long before the earliest beginnings of what we mean when we speak of Greek architecture. So far as architecture is concerned, this archaic art is of relatively minor importance. It plays a small part, if any, in subsequent developments, and though enthusiastic explorers claim to find in it anticipations of the details of modern domestic architecture, the evidence produced is unconvincing. Great movements in the arts always owe some debt to the periods that have preceded them, but Minoan and Mycenaean art, at any rate in regard to architecture, was rather the last word of a decaying civilization than the first herald of the glorious art of Greece in the sixth and fifth centuries B. C. We are still far back in remote ages, remote that is so far as Greek art is concerned, anywhere between 2000 and 1000 B. C. or even earlier,[128] back in the Minoan age of Crete with its rudimentary architecture, and its relatively high excellence in the crafts, and in the age of Mycenae and Tiryns, the age that produced the Lion Gate at Mycenae, and that strange half-barbaric work, if I may be pardoned the term, the Treasury of Atreus. It is worth pausing to consider these archaic buildings, not so much to show a relationship to later work (which scarcely existed), as to call attention to the fact that the Minoan and Mycenaean builders were moving unconsciously in a direction that would never have led to the column and lintel architecture of the seventh and sixth centuries B. C. It might have led to some form of dome construction, it could never have led to the Doric of the Sicilian temples. No stronger evidence of the genius of the Dorian invaders could be produced than that, with this unpromising art in possession, they were yet able in the course of three or four centuries to create Greek architecture. The design of the Lion Gate is a strange jumble of ill-adjusted motives. It is set in a wall of great stones roughly squared and laid dry. Two monolith jambs support a huge lintel, cambered in the middle like the tie-beams of our sixteenth-century roofs. Above the lintel the courses are gathered over, leaving between their lower faces and the top of the lintel a triangular space of a steep pitch (about 60°), in which was inserted a frontispiece carved on a single stone representing two lions standing up on either side of an archaic column supporting a fragment of a rudimentary architrave.[129] The heraldic pose of the lions and the technique of their sculpture, so suggestive of Assyrian reliefs with their splendid sense of muscular form and energy, are far ahead of an architecture that is still barbaric, scarcely architecture at all. There is here nothing to suggest the Doric of Paestum and Selinus, much to recall the megalithic buildings of Syria, and the sculpture of the farther East.

[128] Sir Arthur Evans has drawn up an ingenious chronology of Early Minoan (2800-2200 B. C.), Middle Minoan (2200-1700 B. C.), and Late Minoan (1700-1200 B. C.). The evidence is almost entirely that of pottery discovered on the site. The whole question of the relations of Minoan to Mycenaean art, and of this archaic art to the earlier civilizations of Egypt and Chaldea, is very obscure and uncertain.
[129] The heraldic treatment of the lions is of Eastern origin. The Greeks had a tradition that the chieftains of Mycenae came from Lydia.

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