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


December, 1870.

181. It can scarcely be needful for me to tell even the younger members of my present audience, that the conditions necessary for the production of a perfect school of sculpture have only twice been met in the history of the world, and then for a short time; nor for short time only, but also in narrow districts, namely, in the valleys and islands of Ionian Greece, and in the strip of land deposited by the Arno, between the Apennine crests and the sea.

All other schools, except these two, led severally by Athens in the fifth century before Christ, and by Florence in the fifteenth of our own era, are imperfect; and the best of them are derivative: these two are consummate in themselves, and the origin of what is best in others.

182. And observe, these Athenian and Florentine schools are both of equal rank, as essentially original and independent. The Florentine, being subsequent to the Greek, borrowed much from it; but it would have existed just as strongly and, perhaps, in some respects more nobly had it been the first, instead of the latter of the two. The task set to each of these mightiest of the nations was, indeed, practically the same, and as hard to the one as to the other. The Greeks found Phoenician and Etruscan art monstrous, and had to make them human. The Italians found Byzantine and Norman art monstrous, and had to make them human. The original power in the one case is easily traced; in the other it has partly to be unmasked, because the change at Florence was, in many points, suggested and stimulated by the former school. But we mistake in supposing that Athens taught Florence the laws of design; she taught her, in reality, only the duty of truth.

183. You remember that I told you the highest art could do no more than rightly represent the human form. This is the simple test, then, of a perfect school, that it has represented the human form, so that it is impossible to conceive of its being better done. And that, I repeat, has been accomplished twice only: once in Athens, once in Florence. And so narrow is the excellence even of these two exclusive schools, that it cannot be said of either of them that they represented the entire human form. The Greeks perfectly drew, and perfectly molded, the body and limbs; but there is, so far as I am aware, no instance of their representing the face as well as any great Italian. On the other hand, the Italian painted and carved the face insuperably; but I believe there is no instance of his having perfectly represented the body, which, by command of his religion, it became his pride to despise and his safety to mortify.

184. The general course of your study here renders it desirable that you should be accurately acquainted with the leading principles of Greek sculpture; but I cannot lay these before you without giving undue prominence to some of the special merits of that school, unless I previously indicate the relation it holds to the more advanced, though less disciplined, excellence of Christian art.

In this and the last Lecture of the present course, I shall endeavor, therefore, to mass for you, in such rude and diagram-like outline as may be possible or intelligible, the main characteristics of the two schools, completing and correcting the details of comparison afterwards; and not answering, observe, at present, for any generalization I give you, except as a ground for subsequent closer and more qualified statements.

And in carrying out this parallel, I shall speak indifferently of works of sculpture, and of the modes of painting which propose to themselves the same objects as sculpture. And this, indeed, Florentine, as opposed to Venetian, painting, and that of Athens in the fifth century, nearly always did.

185. I begin, therefore, by comparing two designs of the simplest kind engravings, or, at least, linear drawings both; one on clay, one on copper, made in the central periods of each style, and representing the same goddess Aphrodite. They are now set beside each other in your Rudimentary Series. The first is from a patera lately found at Camirus, authoritatively assigned by Mr. Newton, in his recent catalogue, to the best period of Greek art. The second is from one of the series of engravings executed, probably, by Baccio Bandini, in 1485, out of which I chose your first practical exercise the Scepter of Apollo. I cannot, however, make the comparison accurate in all respects, for I am obliged to set the restricted type of the Aphrodite Urania of the Greeks beside the universal Deity conceived by the Italian as governing the air, earth, and sea; nevertheless, the restriction in the mind of the Greek, and expatiation in that of the Florentine, are both characteristic. The Greek Venus Urania is flying in heaven, her power over the waters symbolized by her being borne by a swan, and her power over the earth by a single flower in her right hand; but the Italian Aphrodite is rising out of the actual sea, and only half risen: her limbs are still in the sea, her merely animal strength filling the waters with their life; but her body to the loins is in the sunshine, her face raised to the sky; her hand is about to lay a garland of flowers on the earth.

186. The Venus Urania of the Greeks, in her relation to men, has power only over lawful and domestic love; therefore, she is fully dressed, and not only quite dressed, but most daintily and trimly: her feet delicately sandaled, her gown spotted with little stars, her hair brushed exquisitely smooth at the top of her head, trickling in minute waves down her forehead; and though, because there is such a quantity of it, she can’t possibly help having a chignon, look how tightly she has fastened it in with her broad fillet. Of course she is married, so she must wear a cap with pretty minute pendent jewels at the border; and a very small necklace, all that her husband can properly afford, just enough to go closely round her neck, and no more. On the contrary, the Aphrodite of the Italian, being universal love, is pure-naked; and her long hair is thrown wild to the wind and sea.

These primal differences in the symbolism, observe, are only because the artists are thinking of separate powers: they do not necessarily involve any national distinction in feeling. But the differences I have next to indicate are essential, and characterize the two opposed national modes of mind.

187. First, and chiefly. The Greek Aphrodite is a very pretty person, and the Italian a decidedly plain one. That is because a Greek thought no one could possibly love any but pretty people; but an Italian thought that love could give dignity to the meanest form that it inhabited, and light to the poorest that it looked upon. So his Aphrodite will not condescend to be pretty.

188. Secondly. In the Greek Venus the breasts are broad and full, though perfectly severe in their almost conical profile; (you are allowed on purpose to see the outline of the right breast, under the chiton;) also the right arm is left bare, and you can just see the contour of the front of the right limb and knee; both arm and limb pure and firm, but lovely. The plant she holds in her hand is a branching and flowering one, the seed-vessel prominent. These signs all mean that her essential function is child-bearing.

On the contrary, in the Italian Venus the breasts are so small as to be scarcely traceable; the body strong, and almost masculine in its angles; the arms meager and unattractive, and she lays a decorative garland of flowers on the earth. These signs mean that the Italian thought of love as the strength of an eternal spirit, forever helpful; and forever crowned with flowers, that neither know seedtime nor harvest; and bloom where there is neither death nor birth.

189. Thirdly. The Greek Aphrodite is entirely calm, and looks straight forward. Not one feature of her face is disturbed, or seems ever to have been subject to emotion. The Italian Aphrodite looks up, her face all quivering and burning with passion and wasting anxiety. The Greek one is quiet, self-possessed, and self-satisfied: the Italian incapable of rest; she has had no thought nor care for herself; her hair has been bound by a fillet like the Greek’s; but it is now all fallen loose, and clotted with the sea, or clinging to her body; only the front tress of it is caught by the breeze from her raised forehead, and lifted, in the place where the tongues of fire rest on the brows, in the early Christian pictures of Pentecost, and the waving fires abide upon the heads of Angelico’s seraphim.

190. There are almost endless points of interest, great and small, to be noted in these differences of treatment. This binding of the hair by the single fillet marks the straight course of one great system of art method, from that Greek head which I showed you on the archaic coin of the seventh century before Christ, to this of the fifteenth of our own era; nay, when you look close, you will see the entire action of the head depends on one lock of hair falling back from the ear, which it does in compliance with the old Greek observance of its being bent there by the pressure of the helmet. That rippling of it down her shoulders comes from the Athena of Corinth; the raising of it on her forehead, from the knot of the hair of Diana, changed into the vestal fire of the angels. But chiefly, the calmness of the features in the one face, and their anxiety in the other, indicate first, indeed, the characteristic difference in every conception of the schools, the Greek never representing expression, the Italian primarily seeking it; but far more, mark for us here the utter change in the conception of love; from the tranquil guide and queen of a happy terrestrial domestic life, accepting its immediate pleasures and natural duties, to the agonizing hope of an infinite good, and the ever mingled joy and terror of a love divine in jealousy, crying, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave.”

The vast issues dependent on this change in the conception of the ruling passion of the human soul, I will endeavor to show you on a future occasion: in my present Lecture, I shall limit myself to the definition of the temper of Greek sculpture, and of its distinctions from Florentine in the treatment of any subject whatever, be it love or hatred, hope or despair.

These great differences are mainly the following.

191. First. A Greek never expresses momentary passion; a Florentine looks to momentary passion as the ultimate object of his skill.

When you are next in London, look carefully in the British Museum at the casts from the statues in the pediment of the Temple of Minerva at AEgina. You have there Greek work of definite date about 600 B. C., certainly before 580 of the purest kind; and you have the representation of a noble ideal subject, the combats of the AEacidae at Troy, with Athena herself looking on. But there is no attempt whatever to represent expression in the features, none to give complexity of action or gesture; there is no struggling, no anxiety, no visible temporary exertion of muscles. There are fallen figures, one pulling a lance out of his wound, and others in attitudes of attack and defense; several kneeling to draw their bows. But all inflict and suffer, conquer or expire, with the same smile.

192.From more advanced art, of true Greek representation; the subjects being the two contests of leading import to the Greek heart that of Apollo with the Python, and of Hercules with the Nemean Lion. You see that in neither case is there the slightest effort to represent the, or agony of contest. No good Greek artist would have you behold the suffering either of gods, heroes, or men; nor allow you to be apprehensive of the issue of their contest with evil beasts, or evil spirits. All such lower sources of excitement are to be closed to you; your interest is to be in the thoughts involved by the fact of the war; and in the beauty or rightness of form, whether active or inactive. I have to work out this subject with you afterwards, and to compare with the pure Greek method of thought that of modern dramatic passion, ingrafted on it, as typically in Turner’s contest of Apollo and the Python: in the meantime, be content with the statement of this first great principle that a Greek, as such, never expresses momentary passion.

193. Secondly. The Greek, as such, never expresses personal character, while a Florentine holds it to be the ultimate condition of beauty. You are startled, I suppose, at my saying this, having had it often pointed out to you, as a transcendent piece of subtlety in Greek art, that you could distinguish Hercules from Apollo by his being stout, and Diana from Juno by her being slender. That is very true; but those are general distinctions of class, not special distinctions of personal character. Even as general, they are bodily, not mental. They are the distinctions, in fleshly aspect, between an athlete and a musician, between a matron and a huntress; but in nowise distinguish the simple-hearted hero from the subtle Master of the Muses, nor the willful and fitful girl-goddess from the cruel and resolute matron-goddess. But judge for yourselves. I show you, typically represented as the protectresses of nations, the Argive, Cretan, and Lacinian Hera, the Messenian Demeter, the Athena of Corinth, the Artemis of Syracuse; the fountain Arethusa of Syracuse, and the Siren Ligeia of Terina. Now, of these heads, it is true that some are more delicate in feature than the rest, and some softer in expression: in other respects, can you trace any distinction between the Goddesses of Earth and Heaven, or between the Goddess of Wisdom and the Water Nymph of Syracuse? So little can you do so, that it would have remained a disputed question had not the name luckily been inscribed on some Syracusan coins whether the head upon them was meant for Arethusa at all; and, continually, it becomes a question respecting finished statues, if without attributes, “Is this Bacchus or Apollo Zeus or Poseidon?” There is a fact for you; noteworthy, I think! There is no personal character in true Greek art: abstract ideas of youth and age, strength and swiftness, virtue and vice, yes: but there is no individuality; and the negative holds down to the revived conventionalism of the Greek school by Leonardo, when he tells you how you are to paint young women, and how old ones; though a Greek would hardly have been so discourteous to age as the Italian is in his canon of it, “old women should be represented as passionate and hasty, after the manner of Infernal Furies.”

194. “But at least, if the Greeks do not give character, they give ideal beauty?” So it is said, without contradiction. But will you look again at the series of coins of the best time of Greek art, which I have just set before you? Are any of these goddesses or nymphs very beautiful? Certainly the Junos are not. Certainly the Demeters are not. The Siren, and Arethusa, have well-formed and regular features; but I am quite sure that if you look at them without prejudice, you will think neither reaches even the average standard of pretty English girls. The Venus Urania suggests at first the idea of a very charming person, but you will find there is no real depth nor sweetness in the contours, looked at closely. And remember, these are chosen examples, the best I can find of art current in Greece at the great time; and if even I were to take the celebrated statues, of which only two or three are extant, not one of them excels the Venus of Melos; and she, as I have already asserted, in the ‘Queen of the Air,’ has nothing notable in feature except dignity and simplicity. Of Athena I do not know one authentic type of great beauty; but the intense ugliness which the Greeks could tolerate in their symbolism of her will be convincingly proved to you by the coin. You need only look at two or three vases of the best time to assure yourselves that beauty of feature was, in popular art, not only unattained, but unattempted; and, finally, and this you may accept as a conclusive proof of the Greek insensitiveness to the most subtle beauty, there is little evidence even in their literature, and none in their art, of their having ever perceived any beauty in infancy, or early childhood.

195. The Greeks, then, do not give passion, do not give character, do not give refined or naïve beauty. But you may think that the absence of these is intended to give dignity to the gods and nymphs; and that their calm faces would be found, if you long observed them, instinct with some expression of divine mystery or power.

I will convince you of the narrow range of Greek thought in these respects, by showing you, from the two sides of one and the same coin, images of the most mysterious of their deities, and the most powerful, Demeter, and Zeus.

Remember that just as the west coasts of Ireland and England catch first on their hills the rain of the Atlantic, so the Western Peloponnese arrests, in the clouds of the first mountain ranges of Arcadia, the moisture of the Mediterranean; and over all the plains of Elis, Pylos, and Messene, the strength and sustenance of men was naturally felt to be granted by Zeus; as, on the east coast of Greece, the greater clearness of the air by the power of Athena. If you will recollect the prayer of Rhea, in the single line of Callimachus,” (compare Pausanias, iv 33, at the beginning,) it will mark for you the connection, in the Greek mind, of the birth of the mountain springs of Arcadia with the birth of Zeus. And the centers of Greek thought on this western coast are necessarily Elis, and, (after the time of Epaminondas,) Messene.

196. I show you the coin of Messene, because the splendid height and form of Mount Ithome were more expressive of the physical power of Zeus than the lower hills of Olympia; and also because it was struck just at the time of the most finished and delicate Greek art a little after the main strength of Phidias, but before decadence had generally pronounced itself. The coin is a silver didrachm, bearing on one side a head of Demeter; on the other a full figure of Zeus Aietophoros; the two together signifying the sustaining strength of the earth and heaven. Look first at the head of Demeter. It is merely meant to personify fullness of harvest; there is no mystery in it, no sadness, no vestige of the expression which we should have looked for in any effort to realize the Greek thoughts of the Earth Mother, as we find them spoken by the poets. But take it merely as personified Abundance, the goddess of black furrow and tawny grass, how commonplace it is, and how poor! The hair is grand, and there is one stalk of wheat set in it, which is enough to indicate the goddess who is meant; but, in that very office, ignoble, for it shows that the artist could only inform you that this was Demeter by such a symbol. How easy it would have been for a great designer to have made the hair lovely with fruitful flowers, and the features noble in mystery of gloom, or of tenderness. But here you have nothing to interest you, except the common Greek perfections of a straight nose and a full chin.

197. We pass, on the reverse of the die, to the figure of Zeus Aietophoros. Think of the invocation to Zeus in the Suppliants, “King of Kings, and Happiest of the Happy, Perfectest of the Perfect in strength, abounding in all things, Jove hear us, and be with us;” and then, consider what strange phase of mind it was, which, under the very mountain-home of the god, was content with this symbol of him as a well-fed athlete, holding a diminutive and crouching eagle on his fist. The features and the right hand have been injured in this coin, but the action of the arm shows that it held a thunderbolt, of which, I believe, the twisted rays were triple. In the presumably earlier coin engraved by Millingen, however, it is singly pointed only; and the added inscription “,” in the field, renders the conjecture of Millingen probable, that this is a rude representation of the statue of Zeus Ithomates, made by Ageladas, the master of Phidias; and I think it has, indeed, the aspect of the endeavor, by a workman of more advanced knowledge, and more vulgar temper, to put the softer anatomy of later schools into the simple action of an archaic figure. Be that as it may, here is one of the most refined cities of Greece content with the figure of an athlete as the representative of their own mountain god; marked as a divine power merely by the attributes of the eagle and thunderbolt.

198. Lastly. The Greeks have not, it appears, in any supreme way, given to their statues character, beauty, or divine strength. Can they give divine sadness? Shall we find in their art-work any of that pensiveness and yearning for the dead which fills the chants of their tragedy? I suppose, if anything like nearness or firmness of faith in after-life is to be found in Greek legend, you might look for it in the stories about the Island of Leuce, at the mouth of the Danube, inhabited by the ghosts of Achilles, Patroclus, Ajax the son of Oileus, and Helen; and in which the pavement of the Temple of Achilles was washed daily by the sea-birds with their wings, dipping them in the sea.

Now it happens that we have actually on a coin of the Locrians the representation of the ghost of the Lesser Ajax. There is nothing in the history of human imagination more lovely than their leaving always a place for his spirit, vacant in their ranks of battle. But here is their sculptural representation of the phantom; and I think you will at once agree with me in feeling that it would be impossible to conceive anything more completely unspiritual. You might more than doubt that it could have been meant for the departed soul, unless you were aware of the meaning of this little circlet between the feet. On other coins you find his name inscribed there, but in this you have his habitation, the haunted Island of Leuce itself, with the waves flowing round it.

199. Again and again, however, I have to remind you, with respect to these apparently frank and simple failures, that the Greek always intends you to think for yourself, and understand, more than he can speak. Take this instance at our hands, the trim little circlet for the Island of Leuce. The workman knows very well it is not like the island, and that he could not make it so; that, at its best, his sculpture can be little more than a letter; and yet, in putting this circlet, and its encompassing fretwork of minute waves, he does more than if he had merely given you a letter L, or written ‘Leuce.’ If you know anything of beaches and sea, this symbol will set your imagination at work in recalling them; then you will think of the temple service of the novitiate sea-birds, and of the ghosts of Achilles and Patroclus appearing, like the Dioscuri, above the storm-clouds of the Euxine. And the artist, throughout his work, never for an instant loses faith in your sympathy and passion being ready to answer his; if you have none to give, he does not care to take you into his counsel; on the whole, would rather that you should not look at his work.

200. But if you have this sympathy to give, you may be sure that whatever he does for you will be right, as far as he can render it so. It may not be sublime, nor beautiful, nor amusing; but it will be full of meaning, and faithful in guidance. He will give you clue to myriads of things that he cannot literally teach; and, so far as he does teach, you may trust him. Is not this saying much?

And as he strove only to teach what was true, so, in his sculptured symbol, he strove only to carve what was Right. He rules over the arts to this day, and will forever, because he sought not first for beauty, not first for passion, or for invention, but for Rightness; striving to display, neither himself nor his art, but the thing that he dealt with, in its simplicity. That is his specific character as a Greek. Of course every nation’s character is connected with that of others surrounding or preceding it; and in the best Greek work you will find some things that are still false, or fanciful; but whatever in it is false, or fanciful, is not the Greek part of it it is the Phoenician, or Egyptian, or Pelasgian part. The essential Hellenic stamp is veracity: Eastern nations drew their heroes with eight legs, but the Greeks drew them with two; Egyptians drew their deities with cats’ heads, but the Greeks drew them with men’s; and out of all fallacy, disproportion, and indefiniteness, they were, day by day, resolvedly withdrawing and exalting themselves into restricted and demonstrable truth.

201. And now, having cut away the misconceptions which incumbered our thoughts, I shall be able to put the Greek school into some clearness of its position for you, with respect to the art of the world. That relation is strangely duplicate; for, on one side, Greek art is the root of all simplicity; and, on the other, of all complexity.

On one side, I say, it is the root of all simplicity. If you were for some prolonged period to study Greek sculpture exclusively in the Elgin room of the British Museum, and were then suddenly transported to the Hotel de Cluny, or any other museum of Gothic and barbarian workmanship, you would imagine the Greeks were the masters of all that was grand, simple, wise, and tenderly human, opposed to the pettiness of the toys of the rest of mankind.

202. On one side of their work they are so. From all vain and mean decoration all wreak and monstrous error, the Greeks rescue the forms of man and beast, and sculpture them in the nakedness of their true flesh, and with the fire of their living soul. Distinctively from other races, as I have now, perhaps to your weariness, told you, this is the work of the Greek, to give health to what was diseased, and chastisement to what was untrue. So far as this is found in any other school, hereafter, it belongs to them by inheritance from the Greeks, or invests them with the brotherhood of the Greek. And this is the deep meaning of the myth of Daedalus as the giver of motion to statues. The literal change from the binding together of the feet to their separation, and the other modifications of action which took place, either in progressive skill, or often, as the mere consequence of the transition from wood to stone, (a figure carved out of one wooden log must have necessarily its feet near each other, and hands at its sides,) these literal changes are as nothing, in the Greek fable, compared to the bestowing of apparent life. The figures of monstrous gods on Indian temples have their legs separate enough; but they are infinitely more dead than the rude figures at Branchidae sitting with their hands on their knees. And, briefly, the work of Daedalus is the giving of deceptive life, as that of Prometheus the giving of real life; and I can put the relation of Greek to all other art, in this function, before you, in easily compared and remembered examples.

203. Here, on the right is an Indian bull, colossal, and elaborately carved, which you may take as a sufficient type of the bad art of all the earth. False in form, dead in heart, and loaded with wealth, externally. We will not ask the date of this; it may rest in the eternal obscurity of evil art, everywhere, and forever. Now, beside this colossal bull, here is a bit of Daedalus-work, enlarged from a coin not bigger than a shilling: look at the two together, and you ought to know, henceforward, what Greek art means, to the end of your days.

204. In this aspect of it, then, I say it is the simplest and nakedest of lovely veracities. But it has another aspect, or rather another pole, for the opposition is diametric. As the simplest, so also it is the most complex of human art. I told you in my Fifth Lecture, showing you the spotty picture of Velasquez, that an essential Greek character is a liking for things that are dappled. And you cannot but have noticed how often and how prevalently the idea which gave its name to the Porch of Polygnotus, “,” occurs to the Greeks as connected with the finest art. Thus, when the luxurious city is opposed to the simple and healthful one, in the second book of Plato’s Polity, you find that, next to perfumes, pretty ladies, and dice, you must have in it “,” which observe, both in that place and again in the third book, is the separate art of joiners’ work, or inlaying; but the idea of exquisitely divided variegation or division, both in sight and sound the “ravishing division to the lute,” as in Pindar’s “” runs through the compass of all Greek art-description; and if, instead of studying that art among marbles, you were to look at it only on vases of a fine time, your impression of it would be, instead of breadth and simplicity, one of universal spottiness and checkeredness, “;” and of the artist’s delighting in nothing so much as in crossed or starred or spotted things; which, in right places, he and his public both do unlimitedly. Indeed they hold it complimentary even to a trout, to call him a ‘spotty.’ Do you recollect the trout in the tributaries of the Ladon, which Pausanias says were spotted, so that they were like thrushes, and which, the Arcadians told him, could speak? In this last, however, they disappointed him. “I, indeed, saw some of them caught,” he says, “but I did not hear any of them speak, though I waited beside the river till sunset.”

205. I must sum roughly now, for I have detained you too long.

The Greeks have been thus the origin, not only of all broad, mighty, and calm conception, but of all that is divided, delicate, and tremulous; “variable as the shade, by the light quivering aspen made.” To them, as first leaders of ornamental design, belongs, of right, the praise of glistenings in gold, piercings in ivory, stainings in purple, burnishings in dark blue steel; of the fantasy of the Arabian roof, quartering of the Christian shield, rubric and arabesque of Christian scripture; in fine, all enlargement, and all diminution of adorning thought, from the temple to the toy, and from the mountainous pillars of Agrigentum to the last fineness of fretwork in the Pisan Chapel of the Thorn.

And in their doing all this, they stand as masters of human order and justice, subduing the animal nature, guided by the spiritual one, as you see the Sicilian Charioteer stands, holding his horse-reins, with the wild lion racing beneath him, and the flying angel above, on the beautiful coin of early Syracuse.

And the beginnings of Christian chivalry were in that Greek bridling of the dark and the white horses.

206. Not that a Greek never made mistakes. He made as many as we do ourselves, nearly; he died of his mistakes at last as we shall die of them; but so far as he was separated from the herd of more mistaken and more wretched nations so far as he was Greek it was by his rightness. He lived, and worked, and was satisfied with the fatness of his land, and the fame of his deeds, by his justice, and reason, and modesty. He became Graeculus esuriens, little, and hungry, and every man’s errand-boy, by his iniquity, and his competition, and his love of talk. But his Graecism was in having done, at least at one period of his dominion, more than anybody else, what was modest, useful, and eternally true; and as a workman, he verily did, or first suggested the doing of, everything possible to man.

Take Daedalus, his great type of the practically executive craftsman, and the inventor of expedients in craftsmanship, (as distinguished from Prometheus, the institutor of moral order in art). Daedalus invents, he, or his nephew,

The potter’s wheel, and all work in clay;
The saw, and all work in wood;
The masts and sails of ships, and all modes of motion;
(wings only proving too dangerous!)
The entire art of minute ornament;
And the deceptive life of statues.

By his personal toil, he involves the fatal labyrinth for Minos; builds an impregnable fortress for the Agrigentines; adorns healing baths among the wild parsley-fields of Selinus; buttresses the precipices of Eryx, under the temple of Aphrodite; and for her temple itself finishes in exquisiteness the golden honeycomb.

207. Take note of that last piece of his art: it is connected with many things which I must bring before you when we enter on the study of architecture. That study we shall begin at the foot of the Baptistery of Florence, which, of all buildings known to me, unites the most perfect symmetry with the quaintest. Then, from the tomb of your own Edward the Confessor, to the farthest shrine of the opposite Arabian and Indian world, I must show you how the glittering and iridescent dominion of Daedalus prevails; and his ingenuity in division, interposition, and labyrinthine sequence, more widely still. Only this last summer I found the dark red masses of the rough sandstone of Furness Abbey had been fitted by him, with no less pleasure than he had in carving them, into wedged hexagons reminiscences of the honeycomb of Venus Erycina. His ingenuity plays around the framework of all the noblest things; and yet the brightness of it has a lurid shadow. The spot of the fawn, of the bird, and the moth, may be harmless. But Daedalus reigns no less over the spot of the leopard and snake. That cruel and venomous power of his art is marked, in the legends of him, by his invention of the saw from the serpent’s tooth; and his seeking refuge, under blood-guiltiness, with Minos, who can judge evil, and measure, or remit, the penalty of it, but not reward good; Rhadamanthus only can measure that; but Minos is essentially the recognizer of evil deeds “conoscitor delle peccata,” whom, therefore, you find in Dante under the form of the. “Cignesi con la coda tante volte, quantunque gradi vuol che giú sia messa.”

And this peril of the influence of Daedalus is twofold; first, in leading us to delight in glitterings and semblances of things, more than in their form, or truth; admire the harlequin’s jacket more than the hero’s strength; and love the gilding of the missal more than its words; but farther, and worse, the ingenuity of Daedalus may even become bestial, an instinct for mechanical labor only, strangely involved with a feverish and ghastly cruelty: (you will find this distinct in the intensely Daedal work of the Japanese); rebellious, finally, against the laws of nature and honor, and building labyrinths for monsters, not combs for bees.

208. Gentlemen, we of the rough northern race may never, perhaps, be able to learn from the Greek his reverence for beauty; but we may at least learn his disdain of mechanism: of all work which he felt to be monstrous and inhuman in its imprudent dexterities.

We hold ourselves, we English, to be good workmen. I do not think I speak with light reference to recent calamity, (for I myself lost a young relation, full of hope and good purpose, in the foundered ship London,) when I say that either an AEginetan or Ionian shipwright built ships that could be fought from, though they were under water; and neither of them would have been proud of having built one that would fill and sink helplessly if the sea washed over her deck, or turn upside-down if a squall struck her topsail.

Believe me, gentlemen, good workmanship consists in continence and common sense, more than in frantic expatiation of mechanical ingenuity; and if you would be continent and rational, you had better learn more of Art than you do now, and less of Engineering. What is taking place at this very hour, among the streets, once so bright, and avenues, once so pleasant, of the fairest city in Europe, may surely lead us all to feel that the skill of Daedalus, set to build impregnable fortresses, is not so wisely applied as in framing the, the golden honeycomb.