Read LECTURE III of Aratra Pentelici‚ Seven Lectures on the Elements of Sculpture, free online book, by John Ruskin, on


November, 1870.

66. The principal object of the preceding Lecture, (and I choose rather to incur your blame for tediousness in repeating, than for obscurity in defining it,) was to enforce the distinction between the ignoble and false phase of Idolatry, which consists in the attribution of a spiritual power to a material thing; and the noble and truth-seeking phase of it, to which I shall in these Lectures give the general term of Imagination; that is to say, the invention of material symbols which may lead us to contemplate the character and nature of gods, spirits, or abstract virtues and powers, without in the least implying the actual presence of such Beings among us, or even their possession, in reality, of the forms we attribute to them.

67. For instance, in the ordinarily received Greek type of Athena, on vases of the Phidian time, (sufficiently represented in the following wood-cut,) no Greek would have supposed the vase on which this was painted to be itself Athena, nor to contain Athena inside of it, as the Arabian fisherman’s casket contained the genie; neither did he think that this rude black painting, done at speed as the potter’s fancy urged his hand, represented anything like the form or aspect of the goddess herself. Nor would he have thought so, even had the image been ever so beautifully wrought. The goddess might, indeed, visibly appear under the form of an armed virgin, as she might under that of a hawk or a swallow, when it pleased her to give such manifestation of her presence; but it did not, therefore, follow that she was constantly invested with any of these forms, or that the best which human skill could, even by her own aid, picture of her, was, indeed, a likeness of her. The real use, at all events, of this rude image, was only to signify to the eye and heart the facts of the existence, in some manner, of a Spirit of wisdom, perfect in gentleness, irresistible in anger; having also physical dominion over the air which is the life and breath of all creatures, and clothed, to human eyes, with aegis of fiery cloud, and raiment of falling dew.

68. In the yet more abstract conception of the Spirit of Agriculture, in which the wings of the chariot represent the winds of Spring, and its crested dragons are originally a mere type of the seed with its twisted root piercing the ground, and sharp-edged leaves rising above it, we are in still less danger of mistaking the symbol for the presumed form of an actual Person. But I must, with persistence, beg of you to observe that in all the noble actions of imagination in this kind, the distinction from idolatry consists, not in the denial of the being, or presence, of the Spirit, but only in the due recognition of our human incapacity to conceive the one, or compel the other.

69. Farther and for this statement I claim your attention still more earnestly. As no nation has ever attained real greatness during periods in which it was subject to any condition of Idolatry, so no nation has ever attained or persevered in greatness, except in reaching and maintaining a passionate Imagination of a spiritual estate higher than that of men; and of spiritual creatures nobler than men, having a quite real and personal existence, however imperfectly apprehended by us.

And all the arts of the present age deserving to be included under the name of sculpture have been degraded by us, and all principles of just policy have vanished from us, and that totally, for this double reason; that we are, on one side, given up to idolâtries of the most servile kind, as I showed you in the close of the last Lecture, while, on the other hand, we have absolutely ceased from the exercise of faithful imagination; and the only remnants of the desire of truth which remain in us have been corrupted into a prurient itch to discover the origin of life in the nature of the dust, and prove that the source of the order of the universe is the accidental concurrence of its atoms.

70. Under these two calamities of our time, the art of sculpture has perished more totally than any other, because the object of that art is exclusively the representation of form as the exponent of life. It is essentially concerned only with the human form, which is the exponent of the highest life we know; and with all subordinate forms only as they exhibit conditions of vital power which have some certain relation to humanity. It deals with the “particula undique desecta” of the animal nature, and itself contemplates, and brings forward for its disciples’ contemplation, all the energies of creation which transform the, or, lower still, the of the trivia, by Athenas help, into forms of power; but it has nothing whatever to do with the representation of forms not living, however beautiful (as of clouds or waves); nor may it condescend to use its perfect skill, except in expressing the noblest conditions of life.

These laws of sculpture, being wholly contrary to the practice of our day, I cannot expect you to accept on my assertion, nor do I wish you to do so. By placing definitely good and bad sculpture before you, I do not doubt but that I shall gradually prove to you the nature of all excelling and enduring qualities; but to-day I will only confirm my assertions by laying before you the statement of the Greeks themselves on the subject; given in their own noblest time, and assuredly authoritative, in every point which it embraces, for all time to come.

71. If any of you have looked at the explanation I have given of the myth of Athena in my ‘Queen of the Air,’ you cannot but have been surprised that I took scarcely any note of the story of her birth. I did not, because that story is connected intimately with the Apolline myths; and is told of Athena, not essentially as the goddess of the air, but as the goddess of Art-Wisdom.

You have probably often smiled at the legend itself, or avoided thinking of it, as revolting. It is, indeed, one of the most painful and childish of sacred myths; yet remember, ludicrous and ugly as it seems to us, this story satisfied the fancy of the Athenian people in their highest state; and if it did not satisfy, yet it was accepted by, all later mythologists: you may also remember I told you to be prepared always to find that, given a certain degree of national intellect, the ruder the symbol, the deeper would be its purpose. And this legend of the birth of Athena is the central myth of all that the Greeks have left us respecting the power of their arts; and in it they have expressed, as it seemed good to them, the most important things they had to tell us on these matters. We may read them wrongly; but we must read them here, if anywhere.

72. There are so many threads to be gathered up in the legend, that I cannot hope to put it before you in total clearness, but I will take main points. Athena is born in the island of Rhodes; and that island is raised out of the sea by Apollo, after he had been left without inheritance among the gods. Zeus would have cast the lot again, but Apollo orders the golden-girdled Lachesis to stretch out her hands; and not now by chance or lot, but by noble enchantment, the island rises out of the sea.

Physically, this represents the action of heat and light on chaos, especially on the deep sea. It is the “Fiat lux” of Genesis, the first process in the conquest of Fate by Harmony. The island is dedicated to the nymph Rhodos, by whom Apollo has the seven sons who teach; because the rose is the most beautiful organism existing in matter not vital, expressive of the direct action of light on the earth, giving lovely form and color at once, (compare the use of it by Dante, as the form of the sainted crowd in highest heaven); and remember that, therefore, the rose is, in the Greek mind, essentially a Doric flower, expressing the worship of Light, as the Iris or Ion is an Ionic one, expressing the worship of the Winds and Dew.

73. To understand the agency of Hephaestus at the birth of Athena, we must again return to the founding of the arts on agriculture by the hand. Before you can cultivate land, you must clear it; and the characteristic weapon of Hephaestus, which is as much his attribute as the trident is of Poseidon, and the rhabdos of Hermes, is not, as you would have expected, the hammer, but the clearing-ax the double-edged, the same that Calypso gives Ulysses with which to cut down the trees for his home voyage; so that both the naval and agricultural strength of the Athenians are expressed by this weapon, with which they had to hew out their fortune. And you must keep in mind this agriculturally laborious character of Hephaestus, even when he is most distinctly the god of serviceable fire; thus Horace’s perfect epithet for him, “avidus,” expresses at once the devouring eagerness of fire, and the zeal of progressive labor, for Horace gives it to him when he is fighting against the giants. And this rude symbol of his cleaving the forehead of Zeus with the ax, and giving birth to Athena, signifies indeed, physically, the thrilling power of heat in the heavens, rending the clouds, and giving birth to the blue air; but far more deeply it signifies the subduing of adverse Fate by true labor; until, out of the chasm, cleft by resolute and industrious fortitude, springs the Spirit of Wisdom.

74. Here is an early drawing of the myth, to which I shall have to refer afterwards in illustration of the childishness of the Greek mind at the time when its art-symbols were first fixed; but it is of peculiar value, because the physical character of Vulcan, as fire, is indicated by his wearing the of Hermes, while the antagonism of Zeus, as the adverse chaos, either of cloud or of fate, is shown by his striking at Hephaestus with his thunderbolt.

75. I told you in a former Lecture of this course that the entire Greek intellect was in a childish phase as compared to that of modern times. Observe, however, childishness does not necessarily imply universal inferiority: there may be a vigorous, acute, pure, and solemn childhood, and there may be a weak, foul, and ridiculous condition of advanced life; but the one is still essentially the childish, and the other the adult phase of existence.

76. You will find, then, that the Greeks were the first people that were born into complete humanity. All nations before them had been, and all around them still were, partly savage, bestial, clay-incumbered, inhuman; still semi-goat, or semi-ant, or semi-stone, or semi-cloud. But the power of a new spirit came upon the Greeks, and the stones were filled with breath, and the clouds clothed with flesh; and then came the great spiritual battle between the Centaurs and Lapithae; and the living creatures became “Children of Men.” Taught, yet by the Centaur sown, as they knew, in the fang from the dappled skin of the brute, from the leprous scale of the serpent, their flesh came again as the flesh of a little child, and they were clean.

Fix your mind on this as the very central character of the Greek race the being born pure and human out of the brutal misery of the past, and looking abroad, for the first time, with their children’s eyes, wonderingly open, on the strange and divine world.

77. Make some effort to remember, so far as may be possible to you, either what you felt in yourselves when you were young, or what you have observed in other children, of the action of thought and fancy. Children are continually represented as living in an ideal world of their own. So far as I have myself observed, the distinctive character of a child is to live always in the tangible present, having little pleasure in memory, and being utterly impatient and tormented by anticipation: weak alike in reflection and forethought, but having an intense possession of the actual present, down to the shortest moments and least objects of it; possessing it, indeed, so intensely that the sweet childish days are as long as twenty days will be; and setting all the faculties of heart and imagination on little things, so as to be able to make anything out of them he chooses. Confined to a little garden, he does not imagine himself somewhere else, but makes a great garden out of that; possessed of an acorn-cup, he will not despise it and throw it away, and covet a golden one in its stead: it is the adult who does so. The child keeps his acorn-cup as a treasure, and makes a golden one out of it in his mind; so that the wondering grown-up person standing beside him is always tempted to ask concerning his treasures, not, “What would you have more than these?” but “What possibly can you see in these?” for, to the bystander, there is a ludicrous and incomprehensible inconsistency between the child’s words and the reality. The little thing tells him gravely, holding up the acorn-cup, that “this is a queen’s crown,” or “a fairy’s boat,” and, with beautiful effrontery, expects him to believe the same. But observe the acorn-cup must be there, and in his own hand. “Give it me; then I will make more of it for myself.” That is the child’s one word, always.

78. It is also the one word of the Greek “Give it me.” Give me any thing definite here in my sight, then I will make more of it.

I cannot easily express to you how strange it seems to me that I am obliged, here in Oxford, to take the position of an apologist for Greek art; that I find, in spite of all the devotion of the admirable scholars who have so long maintained in our public schools the authority of Greek literature, our younger students take no interest in the manual work of the people upon whose thoughts the tone of their early intellectual life has exclusively depended. But I am not surprised that the interest, if awakened, should not at first take the form of admiration. The inconsistency between an Homeric description of a piece of furniture or armor, and the actual rudeness of any piece of art approximating, within even three or four centuries, to the Homeric period, is so great, that we at first cannot recognize the art as elucidatory of, or in any way related to, the poetic language.

79. You will find, however, exactly the same kind of discrepancy between early sculpture, and the languages of deed and thought, in the second birth, and childhood, of the world, under Christianity. The same fair thoughts and bright imaginations arise again; and, similarly, the fancy is content with the rudest symbols by which they can be formalized to the eyes. You cannot understand that the rigid figure (2) with checkers or spots on its breast, and sharp lines of drapery to its feet, could represent, to the Greek, the healing majesty of heaven: but can you any better understand how a symbol so haggard as this could represent to the noblest hearts of the Christian ages the power and ministration of angels? Yet it not only did so, but retained in the rude undulatory and linear ornamentation of its dress, record of the thoughts intended to be conveyed by the spotted aegis and falling chiton of Athena, eighteen hundred years before. Greek and Venetian alike, in their noble childhood, knew with the same terror the coiling wind and congealed hail in heaven saw with the same thankfulness the dew shed softly on the earth, and on its flowers; and both recognized, ruling these, and symbolized by them, the great helpful spirit of Wisdom, which leads the children of men to all knowledge, all courage, and all art.

80. Read the inscription written on the sarcophagus at the extremity of which this angel is sculptured. It stands in an open recess in the rude brick wall of the west front of the church of St. John and Paul at Venice, being the tomb of the two doges, father and son, Jacopo and Lorenzo Tiepolo. This is the inscription: --

“Quos natura pares studiis, virtutibus, arte
Edidit, illustres genitor natusque, sepulti
Hac sub rupe Duces. Venetum charissima proles
Theupula collatis dedit hos celebranda triumphis.
Omnia presentis donavit predia templi
Dux Jacobus: valido fixit moderamine leges
Urbis, et ingratam redimens certamine Jadram
Dalmatiosque dedit patrie post, Marte subactas
Graiorum pelago maculavit sanguine classes.
Suscipit oblatos princeps Laurentius Istros,
Et domuit rigidos, ingenti strage cadentes,
Bononie populos. Hinc subdita Cervia cessit.
Fundavere vías pacis; fortique relicta
Re, superos sacris petierunt mentibus ambo.

Dominus Jachobus hobiit M. CCLI. Dominus Laurentius hobiit

You see, therefore, this tomb is an invaluable example of thirteenth-century sculpture in Venice. In example of the (coin) sculpture of the date accurately corresponding in Greece to the thirteenth century in Venice, when the meaning of symbols was everything, and the workmanship comparatively nothing. The upper head is an Athena, of Athenian work in the seventh or sixth century (the coin itself may have been struck later, but the archaic type was retained). The two smaller impressions below are the front and obverse of a coin of the same age from Corinth, the head of Athena on one side, and Pegasus, with the archaic Koppa, on the other. The smaller head is bare, the hair being looped up at the back and closely bound with an olive branch. You are to note this general outline of the head, already given in a more finished type in., as a most important elementary form in the finest sculpture, not of Greece only, but of all Christendom. In the upper head the hair is restrained still more closely by a round helmet, for the most part smooth, but embossed with a single flower tendril, having one bud, one flower, and, above it, two olive leaves. You have thus the most absolutely restricted symbol possible to human thought of the power of Athena over the flowers and trees of the earth. An olive leaf by itself could not have stood for the sign of a tree, but the two can, when set in position of growth.

I would not give you the reverse of the coin on the same plate, because you would have looked at it only, laughed at it, and not examined the rest; but here it is, wonderfully engraved for you : of it we shall have more to say afterwards.

81. And now as you look at these rude vestiges of the religion of Greece, and at the vestiges still ruder, on the Ducal tomb, of the religion of Christendom, take warning against two opposite errors.

There is a school of teachers who will tell you that nothing but Greek art is deserving of study, and that all our work at this day should be an imitation of it.

Whenever you feel tempted to believe them, think of these portraits of Athena and her owl, and be assured that Greek art is not in all respects perfect, nor exclusively deserving of imitation.

There is another school of teachers who will tell you that Greek art is good for nothing; that the soul of the Greek was outcast, and that Christianity entirely superseded its faith, and excelled its works.

Whenever you feel tempted to believe them, think of this angel on the tomb of Jacopo Tiepolo; and remember that Christianity, after it had been twelve hundred years existent as an imaginative power on the earth, could do no better work than this, though with all the former power of Greece to help it; nor was able to engrave its triumph in having stained its fleets in the seas of Greece with the blood of her people, but between barbarous imitations of the pillars which that people had invented.

82. Receiving these two warnings, receive also this lesson. In both examples, childish though it be, this Heathen and Christian art is alike sincere, and alike vividly imaginative: the actual work is that of infancy; the thoughts, in their visionary simplicity, are also the thoughts of infancy, but in their solemn virtue they are the thoughts of men.

We, on the contrary, are now, in all that we do, absolutely without sincerity; absolutely, therefore, without imagination, and without virtue. Our hands are dexterous with the vile and deadly dexterity of machines; our minds filled with incoherent fragments of faith, which we cling to in cowardice, without believing, and make pictures of in vanity, without loving. False and base alike, whether we admire or imitate, we cannot learn from the Heathen’s art, but only pilfer it; we cannot revive the Christian’s art, but only galvanize it; we are, in the sum of us, not human artists at all, but mechanisms of conceited clay, masked in the furs and feathers of living creatures, and convulsed with voltaic spasms, in mockery of animation.

83. You think, perhaps, that I am using terms unjustifiable in violence. They would, indeed, be unjustifiable, if, spoken from this chair, they were violent at all. They are, unhappily, temperate and accurate, except in shortcoming of blame. For we are not only impotent to restore, but strong to defile, the work of past ages. Of the impotence, take but this one, utterly humiliatory, and, in the full meaning of it, ghastly, example. We have lately been busy embanking, in the capital of the country, the river which, of all its waters, the imagination of our ancestors had made most sacred, and the bounty of nature most useful. Of all architectural features of the metropolis, that embankment will be, in future, the most conspicuous; and in its position and purpose it was the most capable of noble adornment.

For that adornment, nevertheless, the utmost which our modern poetical imagination has been able to invent, is a row of gas-lamps. It has, indeed, farther suggested itself to our minds as appropriate to gas-lamps set beside a river, that the gas should come out of fishes’ tails; but we have not ingenuity enough to cast so much as a smelt or a sprat for ourselves; so we borrow the shape of a Neapolitan marble, which has been the refuse of the plate and candlestick shops in every capital in Europe for the last fifty years. We cast that badly, and give luster to the ill-cast fish with lacquer in imitation of bronze. On the base of their pedestals, towards the road, we put, for advertisement’s sake, the initials of the casting firm; and, for farther originality and Christianity’s sake, the caduceus of Mercury: and to adorn the front of the pedestals, towards the river, being now wholly at our wits’ end, we can think of nothing better than to borrow the door-knocker which again for the last fifty years has disturbed and decorated two or three millions of London street-doors; and magnifying the marvelous device of it, a lion’s head with a ring in its mouth, (still borrowed from the Greek,) we complete the embankment with a row of heads and rings, on a scale which enables them to produce, at the distance at which only they can be seen, the exact effect of a row of sentry-boxes.

84. Farther. In the very center of the City, and at the point where the Embankment commands a view of Westminster Abbey on one side, and of St. Paul’s on the other, that is to say, at precisely the most important and stately moment of its whole course, it has to pass under one of the arches of Waterloo Bridge, which, in the sweep of its curve, is as vast it alone as the Rialto at Venice, and scarcely less seemly in proportions. But over the Rialto, though of late and debased Venetian work, there still reigns some power of human imagination: on the two flanks of it are carved the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation; on the keystone, the descending Dove. It is not, indeed, the fault of living designers that the Waterloo arch is nothing more than a gloomy and hollow heap of wedged blocks of blind granite. But just beyond the damp shadow of it, the new Embankment is reached by a flight of stairs, which are, in point of fact, the principal approach to it, afoot, from central London; the descent from the very midst of the metropolis of England to the banks of the chief river of England; and for this approach, living designers are answerable.

85. The principal decoration of the descent is again a gas-lamp, but a shattered one, with a brass crown on the top of it, or, rather, half-crown, and that turned the wrong way, the back of it to the river and causeway, its flame supplied by a visible pipe far wandering along the wall; the whole apparatus being supported by a rough cross-beam. Fastened to the center of the arch above is a large placard, stating that the Royal Humane Society’s drags are in constant readiness, and that their office is at 4, Trafalgar Square. On each side of the arch are temporary, but dismally old and battered boardings, across two angles capable of unseemly use by the British public. Above one of these is another placard, stating that this is the Victoria Embankment. The steps themselves some forty of them descend under a tunnel, which the shattered gas-lamp lights by night, and nothing by day. They are covered with filthy dust, shaken off from infinitude of filthy feet; mixed up with shreds of paper, orange-peel, foul straw, rags, and cigar-ends, and ashes; the whole agglutinated, more or less, by dry saliva into slippery blotches and patches; or, when not so fastened, blown dismally by the sooty wind hither and thither, or into the faces of those who ascend and descend. The place is worth your visit, for you are not likely to find elsewhere a spot which, either in costly and ponderous brutality of building, or in the squalid and indecent accompaniment of it, is so far separated from the peace and grace of nature, and so accurately indicative of the methods of our national resistance to the Grace, Mercy, and Peace of Heaven.

86. I am obliged always to use the English word ‘Grace’ in two senses, but remember that the Greek includes them both (the bestowing, that is to say, of Beauty and Mercy); and especially it includes these in the passage of Pindar’s first ode, which gives us the key to the right interpretation of the power of sculpture in Greece. You remember that I told you, in my Sixth Introductory Lecture, that the mythic accounts of Greek sculpture begin in the legends of the family of Tantalus; and especially in the most grotesque legend of them all, the inlaying of the ivory shoulder of Pelops. At that story Pindar pauses, not, indeed, without admiration, nor alleging any impossibility in the circumstances themselves, but doubting the careless hunger of Demeter, and gives his own reading of the event, instead of the ancient one. He justifies this to himself, and to his hearers, by the plea that myths have, in some sort, or degree, led the mind of mortals beyond the truth; and then he goes on:

“Grace, which creates everything that is kindly and soothing for mortals, adding honor, has often made things, at first untrustworthy, become trustworthy through Love.”

87. I cannot, except in these lengthened terms, give you the complete force of the passage; especially of the “made it trustworthy by passionate desire that it should be so” which exactly describes the temper of religious persons at the present day, who are kindly and sincere, in clinging to the forms of faith which either have long been precious to themselves, or which they feel to have been without question instrumental in advancing the dignity of mankind. And it is part of the constitution of humanity a part which, above others, you are in danger of unwisely contemning under the existing conditions of our knowledge, that the things thus sought for belief with eager passion, do, indeed, become trustworthy to us; that, to each of us, they verily become what we would have them; the force of the and with which we seek after them, does, indeed, make them powerful to us for actual good or evil; and it is thus granted to us to create not only with our hands things that exalt or degrade our sight, but with our hearts also, things that exalt or degrade our souls; giving true substance to all that we hoped for; evidence to things that we have not seen, but have desired to see; and calling, in the sense of creating, things that are not, as though they were.

88. You remember that in distinguishing Imagination from Idolatry, I referred you to the forms of passionate affection with which a noble people commonly regards the rivers and springs of its native land. Some conception of personality, or of spiritual power in the stream, is almost necessarily involved in such emotion; and prolonged, in the form of gratitude, the return of Love for benefits continually bestowed, at last alike in all the highest and the simplest minds, when they are honorable and pure, makes this untrue thing trustworthy;, until it becomes to them the safe basis of some of the happiest impulses of their moral nature. Next to the marbles of Verona, given you as a primal type of the sculpture of Christianity, moved to its best energy in adorning the entrance of its temples, I have not unwillingly placed, as your introduction to the best sculpture of the religion of Greece, the forms under which it represented the personality of the fountain Arethusa. But without restriction to those days of absolute devotion, let me simply point out to you how this untrue thing, made true by Love, has intimate and heavenly authority even over the minds of men of the most practical sense, the most shrewd wit, and the most severe precision of moral temper. The fair vision of Sabrina in ‘Comus,’ the endearing and tender promise, “Fies nobilium tu quoque fontium, and the joyful and proud affection of the great Lombards address to the lakes of his enchanted land,

“Te, Lari maxume, teque
Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens, Benace, marino,”

may surely be remembered by you with regretful piety, when you stand by the blank stones which at once restrain and disgrace your native river, as the final worship rendered to it by modern philosophy. But a little incident which I saw last summer on its bridge at Wallingford, may put the contrast of ancient and modern feeling before you still more forcibly.

89. Those of you who have read with attention (none of us can read with too much attention), Moliere’s most perfect work, ‘The Misanthrope,’ must remember Celimene’s description of her lovers, and her excellent reason for being unable to regard with any favor, “nôtre grand flandrin de vicomte, depuis que je l’ai vu, trois quarts d’heure durant, cracher dans un puits pour faire des ronds.” That sentence is worth noting, both in contrast to the reverence paid by the ancients to wells and springs, and as one of the most interesting traces of the extension of the loathsome habit among the upper classes of Europe and America, which now renders all external grace, dignity, and decency impossible in the thoroughfares of their principal cities. In connection with that sentence of Moliere’s you may advisably also remember this fact, which I chanced to notice on the bridge of Wallingford. I was walking from end to end of it, and back again, one Sunday afternoon of last May, trying to conjecture what had made this especial bend and ford of the Thames so important in all the Anglo-Saxon wars. It was one of the few sunny afternoons of the bitter spring, and I was very thankful for its light, and happy in watching beneath it the flow and the glittering of the classical river, when I noticed a well-dressed boy, apparently just out of some orderly Sunday-school, leaning far over the parapet; watching, as I conjectured, some bird or insect on the bridge-buttress. I went up to him to see what he was looking at; but just as I got close to him, he started over to the opposite parapet, and put himself there into the same position, his object being, as I then perceived, to spit from both sides upon the heads of a pleasure party who were passing in a boat below.

90. The incident may seem to you too trivial to be noticed in this place. To me, gentlemen, it was by no means trivial. It meant, in the depth of it, such absence of all true, reverence, and intellect, as it is very dreadful to trace in the mind of any human creature, much more in that of a child educated with apparently every advantage of circumstance in a beautiful English country town, within ten miles of our University. Most of all is it terrific when we regard it as the exponent (and this, in truth, it is) of the temper which, as distinguished from former methods, either of discipline or recreation, the present tenor of our general teaching fosters in the mind of youth; teaching which asserts liberty to be a right, and obedience a degradation; and which, regardless alike of the fairness of nature and the grace of behavior, leaves the insolent spirit and degraded senses to find their only occupation in malice, and their only satisfaction in shame.

91. You will, I hope, proceed with me, not scornfully any more, to trace, in the early art of a noble heathen nation, the feeling of what was at least a better childishness than this of ours; and the efforts to express, though with hands yet failing, and minds oppressed by ignorant fantasy, the first truth by which they knew that they lived; the birth of wisdom and of all her powers of help to man, as the reward of his resolute labor.

92. “.” Note that word of Pindar in the Seventh Olympic. This ax-blow of Vulcan’s was to the Greek mind truly what Clytemnestra falsely asserts hers to have been, “”; physically, it meant the opening of the blue through the rent clouds of heaven, by the action of local terrestrial heat (of Hephaestus as opposed to Apollo, who shines on the surface of the upper clouds, but cannot pierce them); and, spiritually, it meant the first birth of prudent thought out of rude labor, the clearing-ax in the hand of the woodman being the practical elementary sign of his difference from the wild animals of the wood. Then he goes on, “From the high head of her Father, Athenaia rushing forth, cried with her great and exceeding cry; and the Heaven trembled at her, and the Earth Mother.” The cry of Athena, I have before pointed out, physically distinguishes her, as the spirit of the air, from silent elemental powers; but in this grand passage of Pindar it is again the mythic cry of which he thinks; that is to say, the giving articulate words, by intelligence, to the silence of Fate. “Wisdom crieth aloud, she uttereth her voice in the streets,” and Heaven and Earth tremble at her reproof.

93. Uttereth her voice in the “streets.” For all men, that is to say; but to what work did the Greeks think that her voice was to call them? What was to be the impulse communicated by her prevailing presence; what the sign of the people’s obedience to her?

This was to be the sign “But she, the goddess herself, gave to them to prevail over the dwellers upon earth, with best-laboring hands in every art. And by their paths there were the likenesses of living and of creeping things; and the glory was deep. For to the cunning workman, greater knowledge comes, undeceitful.”

94. An infinitely pregnant passage, this, of which to-day you are to note mainly these three things: First, that Athena is the goddess of Doing, not at all of sentimental inaction. She is begotten, as it were, of the woodman’s ax; her purpose is never in a word only, but in a word and a blow. She guides the hands that labor best, in every art.

95. Secondly. The victory given by Wisdom, the worker, to the hands that labor best, is that the streets and ways,, shall be filled by likenesses of living and creeping things.

Things living, and creeping! Are the Reptile things not alive then? You think Pindar wrote that carelessly? or that, if he had only known a little modern anatomy, instead of ‘reptile’ things, he would have said ‘monochondylous’ things? Be patient, and let us attend to the main points first.

Sculpture, it thus appears, is the only work of wisdom that the Greeks care to speak of; they think it involves and crowns every other. Image-making art; this is Athena’s, as queenliest of the arts. Literature, the order and the strength of word, of course belongs to Apollo and the Muses; under Athena are the Substances and the Forms of things.

96. Thirdly. By this forming of Images there is to be gained a ’deep’ that is to say, a weighty, and prevailing, glory; not a floating nor fugitive one. For to the cunning workman, greater knowledge comes, ‘undeceitful.’

“ I am forced to use two English words to translate that single Greek one. The cunning workman, thoughtful in experience, touch, and vision of the thing to be done; no machine, witless, and of necessary motion; yet not cunning only, but having perfect habitual skill of hand also; the confirmed reward of truthful doing. Recollect, in connection with this passage of Pindar, Homers three verses about getting the lines of ship-timber true,:


and the beautiful epithet of Persephone, “,” as the Tryer and Knower of good work; and remembering these, trust Pindar for the truth of his saying, that to the cunning workman (and let me solemnly enforce the words by adding that to him only,) knowledge comes undeceitful.

97. You may have noticed, perhaps, and with a smile, as one of the paradoxes you often hear me blamed for too fondly stating, what I told you in the close of my Third Introductory Lecture, that “so far from art’s being immoral, little else except art is moral.” I have now farther to tell you, that little else, except art, is wise; that all knowledge, unaccompanied by a habit of useful action, is too likely to become deceitful, and that every habit of useful action must resolve itself into some elementary practice of manual labor. And I would, in all sober and direct earnestness, advise you, whatever may be the aim, predilection, or necessity of your lives, to resolve upon this one thing at least, that you will enable yourselves daily to do actually with your hands, something that is useful to mankind. To do anything well with your hands, useful or not; to be, even in trifling,, is already much. When we come to examine the art of the Middle Ages, I shall be able to show you that the strongest of all influences of right then brought to bear upon character was the necessity for exquisite manual dexterity in the management of the spear and bridle; and in your own experience most of you will be able to recognize the wholesome effect, alike on body and mind, of striving, within proper limits of time, to become either good batsmen or good oarsmen. But the bat and the racer’s oar are children’s toys. Resolve that you will be men in usefulness, as well as in strength; and you will find that then also, but not till then, you can become men in understanding; and that every fine vision and subtle theorem will present itself to you thence-forward undeceitfully,.

98. But there is more to be gathered yet from the words of Pindar. He is thinking, in his brief intense way, at once of Athena’s work on the soul, and of her literal power on the dust of the Earth. His “” is a wide word, meaning all the paths of sea and land. Consider, therefore, what Athena’s own work actually is in the literal fact of it. The blue, clear air is the sculpturing power upon the earth and sea. Where the surface of the earth is reached by that, and its matter and substance inspired with and filled by that, organic form becomes possible. You must indeed have the sun, also, and moisture; the kingdom of Apollo risen out of the sea: but the sculpturing of living things, shape by shape, is Athena’s, so that under the brooding spirit of the air, what was without form, and void, brings forth the moving creature that hath life.

99. That is her work then the giving of Form; then the separately Apolline work is the giving of Light; or, more strictly, Sight: giving that faculty to the retina to which we owe not merely the idea of light, but the existence of it; for light is to be defined only as the sensation produced in the eye of an animal, under given conditions; those same conditions being, to a stone, only warmth or chemical influence, but not light. And that power of seeing, and the other various personalities and authorities of the animal body, in pleasure and pain, have never, hitherto, been, I do not say, explained, but in anywise touched or approached by scientific discovery. Some of the conditions of mere external animal form and of muscular vitality have been shown; but for the most part that is true, even of external form, which I wrote six years ago. “You may always stand by Form against Force. To a painter, the essential character of anything is the form of it, and the philosophers cannot touch that. They come and tell you, for instance, that there is as much heat, or motion, or calorific energy (or whatever else they like to call it), in a tea-kettle, as in a gier-eagle. Very good: that is so, and it is very interesting. It requires just as much heat as will boil the kettle, to take the gier-eagle up to his nest, and as much more to bring him down again on a hare or a partridge. But we painters, acknowledging the equality and similarity of the kettle and the bird in all scientific respects, attach, for our part, our principal interest to the difference in their forms. For us, the primarily cognizable facts, in the two things, are, that the kettle has a spout, and the eagle a beak; the one a lid on its back, the other a pair of wings; not to speak of the distinction also of volition, which the philosophers may properly call merely a form or mode of force but then, to an artist, the form or mode is the gist of the business."

100. As you will find that it is, not to the artist only, but to all of us. The laws under which matter is collected and constructed are the same throughout the universe: the substance so collected, whether for the making of the eagle, or the worm, may be analyzed into gaseous identity; a diffusive vital force, apparently so closely related to mechanically measurable heat as to admit the conception of its being itself mechanically measurable, and unchanging in total quantity, ebbs and flows alike through the limbs of men and the fibers of insects. But, above all this, and ruling every grotesque or degraded accident of this, are two laws of beauty in form, and of nobility in character, which stand in the chaos of creation between the Living and the Dead, to separate the things that have in them a sacred and helpful, from those that have in them an accursed and destroying, nature; and the power of Athena, first physically put forth in the sculpturing of these and, these living and reptile things, is put forth, finally, in enabling the hearts of men to discern the one from the other; to know the unquenchable fires of the Spirit from the unquenchable fires of Death; and to choose, not unaided, between submission to the Love that cannot end, or to the Worm that cannot die.

101. The unconsciousness of their antagonism is the most notable characteristic of the modern scientific mind; and I believe no credulity or fallacy admitted by the weakness (or it may sometimes rather have been the strength) of early imagination, indicates so strange a depression beneath the due scale of human intellect, as the failure of the sense of beauty in form, and loss of faith in heroism of conduct, which have become the curses of recent science, art, and policy.

102. That depression of intellect has been alike exhibited in the mean consternation confessedly felt on one side, and the mean triumph apparently felt on the other, during the course of the dispute now pending as to the origin of man. Dispute for the present not to be decided, and of which the decision is, to persons in the modern temper of mind, wholly without significance: and I earnestly desire that you, my pupils, may have firmness enough to disengage your energies from investigation so premature and so fruitless, and sense enough to perceive that it does not matter how you have been made, so long as you are satisfied with being what you are. If you are dissatisfied with yourselves, it ought not to console, but humiliate you, to imagine that you were once seraphs; and if you are pleased with yourselves, it is not any ground of reasonable shame to you if, by no fault of your own, you have passed through the elementary condition of apes.

103. Remember, therefore, that it is of the very highest importance that you should know what you are, and determine to be the best that you may be; but it is of no importance whatever, except as it may contribute to that end, to know what you have been. Whether your Creator shaped you with fingers, or tools, as a sculptor would a lump of clay, or gradually raised you to manhood through a series of inferior forms, is only of moment to you in this respect that in the one case you cannot expect your children to be nobler creatures than you are yourselves in the other, every act and thought of your present life may be hastening the advent of a race which will look back to you, their fathers (and you ought at least to have attained the dignity of desiring that it may be so,) with incredulous disdain.

104. But that you are yourselves capable of that disdain and dismay; that you are ashamed of having been apes, if you ever were so; that you acknowledge, instinctively, a relation of better and worse, and a law respecting what is noble and base, which makes it no question to you that the man is worthier than the baboon, this is a fact of infinite significance. This law of preference in your hearts is the true essence of your being, and the consciousness of that law is a more positive existence than any dependent on the coherence or forms of matter.

105. Now, but a few words more of mythology, and I have done. Remember that Athena holds the weaver’s shuttle, not merely as an instrument of texture, but as an instrument of picture; the ideas of clothing, and of the warmth of life, being thus inseparably connected with those of graphic beauty, and the brightness of life. I have told you that no art could be recovered among us without perfectness in dress, nor without the elementary graphic art of women, in divers colors of needlework. There has been no nation of any art-energy, but has strenuously occupied and interested itself in this household picturing, from the web of Penelope to the tapestry of Queen Matilda, and the meshes of Arras and Gobelins.

106. We should then naturally ask what kind of embroidery Athena put on her own robe; “.”

The subject of that of hers, as you know, was the war of the giants and gods. Now the real name of these giants, remember, is that used by Hesiod, ‘,’ ‘mud-begotten,’ and the meaning of the contest between these and Zeus,, is, again, the inspiration of life into the clay, by the goddess of breath; and the actual confusion going on visibly before you, daily, of the earth, heaping itself into cumbrous war with the powers above it.

107. Thus, briefly, the entire material of Art, under Athena’s hand, is the contest of life with clay; and all my task in explaining to you the early thought of both the Athenian and Tuscan schools will only be the tracing of this battle of the giants into its full heroic form, when, not in tapestry only, but in sculpture, and on the portal of the Temple of Delphi itself, you have the “,” and their defeat hailed by the passionate cry of delight from the Athenian maids, beholding Pallas in her full power, “,” my own goddess. All our work, I repeat, will be nothing but the inquiry into the development of this one subject, and the pressing fully home the question of Plato about that embroidery “And think you that there is verily war with each other among the Gods? and dreadful enmities and battles, such as the poets have told, and such as our painters set forth in graven scripture, to adorn all our sacred rites and holy places; yes, and in the great Panathenaea themselves, the Peplus, full of such wild picturing, is carried up into the Acropolis shall we say that these things are true, oh Euthuphron, right-minded friend?”

108. Yes, we say, and know, that these things are true; and true forever: battles of the gods, not among themselves, but against the earth-giants. Battle prevailing age by age, in nobler life and lovelier imagery; creation, which no theory of mechanism, no definition of force, can explain, the adoption and completing of individual form by individual animation, breathed out of the lips of the Father of Spirits. And to recognize the presence in every knitted shape of dust, by which it lives and moves and has its being to recognize it, revere, and show it forth, is to be our eternal Idolatry.

“Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them.”

“Assuredly no,” we answered once, in our pride; and through porch and aisle, broke down the carved work thereof, with axes and hammers.

Who would have thought the day so near when we should bow down to worship, not the creatures, but their atoms, not the forces that form, but those that dissolve them? Trust me, gentlemen, the command which is stringent against adoration of brutality, is stringent no less against adoration of chaos, nor is faith in an image fallen from heaven to be reformed by a faith only in the phenomenon of decadence. We have ceased from the making of monsters to be appeased by sacrifice; it is well, if indeed we have also ceased from making them in our thoughts. We have learned to distrust the adorning of fair fantasms, to which we once sought for succor; it is well, if we learn to distrust also the adorning of those to which we seek, for temptation; but the verity of gains like these can only be known by our confession of the divine seal of strength and beauty upon the tempered frame, and honor in the fervent heart, by which, increasing visibly, may yet be manifested to us the holy presence, and the approving love, of the Loving God, who visits the iniquities of the Fathers upon the Children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, and shows mercy unto thousands of them that love Him, and keep His Commandments.