HELLENISTIC ANOTHER PERIOD FOR HELLENISM’S IDEALS (VI)


(BEING CONTINUED FROM  24/09/16)

Eumenes’ Athena is an example of one kind of statue with a religious affiliation which could hardly have been made before the Hellenistic period: the adaptation of a classical cult-figure (originally designed to be approached down the long darkness of a temple-cella) to a totally different setting and purpose. Another example typifies a quite new type of deity, whose image owes nothing to the tradition of the temple-cella: the Tyche (Fortune) made for the city of Antioch at the beginning of the Hellenistic Age (in the first few years of the third century) and constantly imitated in other cities over the following centuries.[18] This colossal bronze group, of which we can form some idea from descriptions and small versions (see figure 11), was set in the open air and was cunningly designed to present changing and effective views from many angles. Statues of course had been placed in the open air in Greek sanctuaries from the beginning of Greek sculpture, among them colossi, and among those some of bronze—Pheidias’ Athena Promachos, for instance, on the Acropolis, and long before that the archaic Apollo at Amyclae. Certainly, however, none of these departed from the traditional principle of design which expected a statue to be looked at mainly from an area in front. In the fourth century Lysippos made several bronze colossi, especially a Herakles and a still larger Zeus at Tarentum; and these, from what we know of other works of the master, are likely to have shown some concern with breaking frontality, with insisting on the third dimension. Lysippos, more than any other sculptor, seems to look forward to the Hellenistic spirit. Eutychides, creator of the Tyche of Antioch, was his pupil, as was Chares of Lindos who, in the Colossus of Rhodes, created a bronze figure even larger than Lysippos’ Tarentine Zeus, and representing Helios, one of the old gods. Eutychides, on the other hand, used the new three-dimensionality to invent a new type of image for a new goddess.

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Fig. 11.Tyche of Antioch. Small marble statue of Roman imperial date, copied from original of very early third century B.C. Vatican Museum, Rome.

“New goddess” is not quite true. Tyche (Fortune) had been occasionally personified earlier (like almost every other abstraction in Greek thought), and even given at least one statue;[19] but, as Pollitt has emphasized, she takes on an entirely new importance in this period. An obsession with Fortune is the first of five attitudes or states of mind which he sees as particularly characteristic of the Hellenistic Age[20]—a most valuable line of approach. Besides, Eutychides’ goddess is not just Fortune in the abstract. With her mural crown and the river-god swimming out from under her feet, she is firmly characterized as the fortune of a city, of a particular city: Antioch on the Orontes. Any city founded in archaic or classical times was put under the protection of one of the old deities. It is surely very interesting that so early as this the experience of the wars between Alexander’s successors led Seleucus and his son Antiochus to put their new capital city under the protection of her own Chance; and Seleucus was to learn how fickle a personal Fortune can be.

Since so much in the Hellenistic world depended directly or indirectly on the favor or caprice of kings and on their changing fortunes, and since royal portraits are in the vanguard of developing realism, one might expect that another change in religious practice—the according of divine status to monarchs, after their death or in their lifetime—would have had some visible effect on art; and in one point I think it does. I do not count as an effect on art the giving of divine symbols, like Poseidon’s bull horns for Demetrius Poliorcetes, or even the transference to his portrait of a pose associated with Poseidon.[21] These are not changes of artistic character, and in any case they go back to Amon’s ram horns for Alexander and the thunderbolt Apelles gave him. Quite different is the enormous eye given to some rulers on their coins, early and most strikingly to Ptolemaic royal couples (see figure 12), later to some Seleucids, and which perhaps appears first in some posthumous portraits of Alexander, notably on the Alexander mosaic.[22] This, surely intended to stress the sitter’s superhuman, divine character, runs directly counter to the prevailing trend towards realism. It is not a natural development within the art, but something imposed on the artist—if not by direct command then by the changed atmosphere in the world. Parenthetically, arising from the observation made just now about the inextricability from religion of civic life and government in the city-states, I have sometimes wondered if this may not help to account for the readiness with which Greek citizens acknowledged divinity in Macedonian kings. To those who had always been accustomed to think of city government as bound up with the gods, it was perhaps a comfort, when government was wrested away by an unnaturally powerful mortal, to consider him a god himself. Certainly Hellenistic monarchs shared with the Olympians not only total and irresponsible power, but with it utter unreliability in the handing out of favors or destruction.

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Fig. 12.Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II. Gold octadrachm of Ptolemy II (285–246 B.C.). British Museum, London. Hirmer Fotoarchiv.

Realistic portraiture is, of course, one of the most important manifestations of art in Hellenistic times and can be taken as one of the things which distinguish Hellenistic art from classical: individualism is another of Pollitt’s typically Hellenistic states of mind. The trend, as we’ve noticed, existed before, but now it is far more widespread, and the aim of making a portrait look like a particular individual is far more general and more marked. Sometimes this aim is extended, in quite a new departure, from the face to the body; early in the period, for instance, the Demosthenes, and later the Chrysippos counting on his fingers[23] (see figure 13). It is true that there are still limitations on its application which do not apply in Roman portraiture. Portraits in Hellenistic as in classical Greece are still always and only of people who have made themselves a name, public figures; or rather, there are exceptions to this rule, but all late and under direct Roman influence, as in Italianized Delos.[24] I myself feel (but this is not I think universally accepted) that even the most personal of Hellenistic portraits keep something of the public as well as the individual character: the ruler, the poet, the philosopher. This is not to say that I suppose we can tell from any Greek portrait the field in which the sitter made his public name. The cautionary tale of the early classical Pindar which so many of us for so long accepted as a possible Pausanias[25]has, I do not doubt, unrecognized parallels in the Hellenistic Age. I do think, though, that every Hellenistic portrait has, together with its individuality, a public character of the kind that, in Roman art, distinguishes imperial and court portraits from the wonderful series of common men and women which has no parallel in Greece.

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Fig. 13.Portrait of Chrysippos. Composite cast from marbles of Roman imperial date, copied from original of later third century B.C.Louvre, Paris (marble head, British Museum, London). Photographie Giraudon.

Nevertheless, with all these caveats, it remains evident that portraiture in the Hellenistic Age is something distinctively of its time; but I am not sure how far this really helps to answer the question we set out by asking. It is easy to point to many things in Hellenistic art which were not there in classical: the new approach to the third dimension which we’ve thought about already; the liking for the grotesque and unideal in the minor arts and even in the major (the Barberini Faun is the supreme example, but there are plenty more); the use of a dramatic setting for a big statue like the Victory of Samothrace (a theatrical mentality is another of Pollitt’s Hellenistic states of mind); the exploration of the possibilities in reclining or fallen figures (the sleeping Ariadne, the sleeping Hermaphrodite, the Dying Gaul, the dying and the dead from the smaller Pergamene dedication); and so on.[26]Even in the straightforward single standing figure it is easy to make the same point. The “Hellenistic Ruler” in the Terme (figure 14) may not be a ruler and his date may slide up and down the centuries, but he is surely quintessentially Hellenistic.[27] Compare him to another man with a spear, the classical doryphoros (figure 15). Everything is different: the brutal realism of the features, the exaggerated heaviness of the muscular body, the wonderful spiral of the composition. But all this, like everything else I have been listing, is only to say—what of course we knew already—that Hellenistic art is a clearly distinct phase of Greek art. It is of course itself divisible into phases, wisely defined by Pollitt according to the historical circumstances: the age of the Diadochoi, the age of the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Greco-Roman phase;[28] only it is very difficult to fit the works of art into these phases at all tidily because different styles overlap, run parallel, recur—a variety in itself typically Hellenistic.

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Fig. 14.Bronze portrait-statue, variously dated from earlier third to earlier first cen tury B.C. National Museum of the Terme, Rome.

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Fig. 15.Youth with a lance. Marble statue of Roman imperial date, copied from fifth-century bronze doryphoros by Polykleitos. Museo Nazionale, Naples. Photo: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Rome. Reprinted by permission.

However, that is by the way. What I am now trying to say is that when we ask “What is ‘Hellenistic’ about Hellenistic art?” we do not simply mean “What distinguishes Hellenistic art from classical?” There is much in the art of the fourth century which is not found in that of the fifth: the exploration of the female nude in sculpture, for instance, or the advances in chiaroscuro in painting. It is a distinct phase; but one would hardly frame the question “What is “fourth-century’ about fourth-century art?” When we ask what is Hellenistic about Hellenistic art we surely mean, What is there about this phase of Greek art that would not have been there if the tremendous change which came over the Greek world in the last third or so of the fourth century had not taken place? If someone had knifed Philip sooner and Macedon had not got imperialist ambitions but had gone on it its old way and allowed the Greek cities to go on in theirs, Greek art would certainly have developed in many ways just as it actually did. In what way could it not have done so? The Hellenistic Ruler, exemplary Hellenistic figure though he be, can be traced back in a smooth sequence to classical sources. Portraiture we have already considered in this sense; the exaggerated musculature is exaggerated on the basic pattern laid down by Polykleitos; and the spiral composition, whatever the actual date of the statue, derives directly from the innovations of the pupils of Lysippos at the beginning of the third century—innovations already hinted at in the work of Lysippos himself, whose own style developed out of the Polykleitan tradition. I see nothing in this statue which needed a change in the world to bring it about.

In what we have already looked at there was one noticeable feature which seemed to stem directly from that change: the exaggerated eye in some royal portraits. Perhaps if we look harder at some of the other things we shall find that they too have something of the same character; for it can hardly be, I think, that the position is the exact opposite of that which I put forward in my History and quoted at the beginning of this paper: that the change from classical to Hellenistic in art was hardly at all a change taking place within the art but almost wholly a reflection of outside changes. Let us try again.

Hoping for light from a different direction I opened the new Hellenistic anthology by Neil Hopkinson,[29] and as epigraph to the introduction I found a verse in which a poet lamented the passing of the good old days when the Muses’ meadow was unpolluted and it was possible for a poet to find something to write about; now everything’s been said, he complained, the arts have reached their limit, and there’s nowhere a man can drive his newly yoked chariot. Oh yes, I thought, that speaks very well for the visual arts too in Hellenistic times. Then I read the first sentence in the introduction, and learned (what you will be shocked that I didn’t know, but I am too old for shame) that “these are the gloomy words of Choerilus of Samos, an epic poet writing in the late fifth century B.C. ” I remembered something I once wrote to the effect that up to the classical moment of the Parthenon, of Pheidias, of Polykleitos, the development of Greek art is essentially unified, a single stream; but that after that it begins to break up, different groups of artists developing different styles, so that the columnar Procne from the Acropolis can be contemporary with, and as much a child of her own time as, a wind-blown figure like the Nike of Paeonius[30] or the new goddess in the Getty. Are we really making a mistake, I wondered again, in trying to draw a sharp line in art at the beginning of the Hellenistic Age? The fifty years after Chaeronea saw a total change in the character of the Greek world, but are we really right to look for a corresponding change in Greek art? Art has its own tempo, and should we perhaps do better to make the change from classical to the next phase in Greek art come not at the end of the fourth but at the end of the fifth century? Well, surely, in a word, No; but I still think it is worth asking such questions every now and then, if only to remind ourselves how artificial and distorting our division of art into periods is. We can only study art through the imposition of such a framework, but art when it’s happening isn’t really like that. Conquest or revolution has a violent and immediate effect on everyday living (though often a lot even of that probably goes on with surprisingly little change), but its effect on art is much less calculable.

Of course particular manifestations of art may be directly and drastically affected. For a classical Athenian, art could include a carved tombstone; for a Hellenistic Athenian, after Demetrius of Phaleron, it couldn’t; but that is not what we’re talking about. Art develops continuously and changes in complex and subtle ways, sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden. Even the assertion I made just now, that up to the classical moment of Pheidias and Polykleitos Greek art developed in a unified way, is itself a gross simplification. For the archaic period it is more nearly true, and the change from archaic to classical can be made to look like a sharp break by fixing it at the moment of the abandonment of the frontal posture for statues early in the fifth century. But the seeds of change had been there all along, and in certain aspects the change was largely achieved during the second half of the sixth century; while the two sculptors of the Siphnian treasury friezes—one serenely archaic, the other struggling towards the classical—give the lie to the notion of a single development. In the early classical phase all kinds of casting around after possible styles can be seen. We have noticed experiments with realistic facial types, perhaps actual portraiture; and the wonderful new marble charioteer from Motya[31] shows that a severe-style head can be combined with a clinging drapery style derived from that of late archaic korai as well as with the columnar drapery more typical of the time, giving us, before the classical moment, exactly the contrast we noted after it in the Procne and Paeonius’ Nike.

Even at the heart of the classical, on the Parthenon itself, the centaur heads of the south metopes are not what one thinks of as classical types; and consider the knotty anatomy of the Poseidon from the west pediment. Suppose that an Attalos or a Eumenes had anticipated Morosini with more success, taking this figure out of the gable and removing it to Pergamon. If the torso had been dug up there, how should we date it? Based on a classical model, no doubt, but perhaps carved around the time of the Great Altar? And yet of course the altar frieze, for all its Parthenonian echoes, is as profoundly Hellenistic as the Parthenon pediments are classical. There is real continuity, but there are also real breaks: between the high classical and its aftermath in the late fifth and fourth centuries, and between fourth-century classical and Hellenistic. What we should like to be able to see is a relation between this second break and the catastrophic historical background.

Much of what happened in art in the Hellenistic period is development inherent in the art itself: the overwrought muscles of the Parthenon Poseidon exaggerated in torsos of the altar frieze; the drama of the Scopasian heads from Tegea exaggerated in some giants’ heads.[32] One cannot of course say that these developments would inevitably have happened whatever the historical circumstances, but I think one can say that for them simply to take place did not need the special conditions of the Hellenistic world. There is, however, one development on the altar frieze which strikes me as being of a different kind, the thing which does most to justify the transference from another historical epoch of the word baroque. This is the way in which, where the returns of the frieze meet the steps, there is no framing molding, and the huge giants move out of their art-world into ours, pressing hand or knee on the same steps up which the worshipper climbs[33] (see figure 16). In post-Parthenon Athens the balustrade of the little temple of Athena Nike has in the same way a return which runs beside the steps (see figure 17). The last of the under-life-size Victories moves parallel to a visitor reaching the top step, and she too takes a step up; but the tread on which her foot rests is carved in relief within the frame and is on a smaller scale than the steps in the world outside.[34] To thus relate a figure within the representation so directly to the world without was surely a bold innovation in its time; but the frame is kept, the two worlds remain distinct. What the designer of the altar podium has done represents a far profounder break with tradition.

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Fig. 16.Slabs of colossal marble relief from podium of Altar of Zeus at Pergamon. Earlier second century B.C. Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

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Fig. 17.Reconstruction of steps and return of carved marble parapet of Temple of Nike on Athenian Acropolis. Late fifth century B.C.From Rhys Carpenter, The Sculpture of the Nike Temple Parapet (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929), p. 84, fig. 15. Reprinted by permission.

Does this get us any further, though? Can we relate it to anything in the thought or conditions of its special time? Or can this too be classed as a purely artistic phenomenon, the desire of an artist to break the old mold, open new ways? That of course it is, but is it that alone? Let us look back for a moment at the change from archaic to classical. The seeds of the classical were surely there in Greek art throughout its archaic phase, and the changes that mark the difference between the two periods are strictly artistic ones, developing within the arts quite naturally; but one cannot assume that the seeds would have ripened, the drastic changes actually have been made, if historical circumstances had developed differently. Certainly one could not assert that the classical revolution was a result of the liberation of spirit released by the repulse of the Persian invasion, but I believe that there is nevertheless a real relation between the two things. The art of Achaemenid Persia, technically admirable, decorative, formally beautiful, and to my mind dreadfully dull, seems to me to offer an idea of what Greek art might have become if some late archaic artists had not found their way to the decisive break; and I find it easy to think that that is exactly what would have happened if Greece had become a province of the Persian empire. I see the act of those artists in freeing themselves from the age-old conventions as an expression of the same spirit which brought about the realization of Athenian democracy, flowered in literature and philosophy, and willed a successful resistance to Persia.

The problem is so elusive and difficult just because there is no break with the past, in the actual art, at all comparable to the abandonment of archaic conventions; and of course the liberation from the Persian threat was the exact opposite of what befell the Greek cities at the beginning of the Hellenistic Age. Nevertheless, I think one may be able to see that imaginative leap, by which an artist in the second century broke the frame between art and the world, as linked to another kind of liberation of thought which could hardly have come about if the Greek world had not been so violently changed in the way it was. The Olympians in earlier Greek thought inhabit their own world and visit ours unpredictably and for the most part dangerously. Their images dwell in their temples and are approached with due formality and caution. This pattern continues unbroken in formal religion, but from the late fifth century on through the fourth another strand of religious thought becomes more and more important beside it. There is the cult of Asklepios and the healing heroes, in whose shrines you can sleep, and hope that the god or daimon will visit you in person and heal you.

The literary tradition about this is reinforced by the number and character of the marble votive reliefs dedicated in gratitude or hope. An equally great wealth of very similar reliefs attests the equal importance of the cults of Pan, the nymphs, and the rivers: gods anddaimones who inhabit the countryside with you. These, then, at the popular level; and parallel with these, among intellectuals, widespread skepticism about the gods. Such developments belong to the later fifth and fourth centuries, and were a natural process in the world of the city-states, with popular religion naturally echoed in the art of the votive reliefs. In the changed world of the Hellenistic kingdoms, and directly influenced by the change, philosophic skepticism becomes much more cogent and much more popular. Gods are present for all to see in the mortal kings, while the traditional gods become much more dubious entities, and, even if they exist, of much less significance than the universally recognized and overriding power of Fortune, who can and does topple those divine kings, and might even at the same time, after all, shift lucky you, if not from log cabin to White House, at least from rags to riches. All this takes away much of the awe, and with the awe the fear, attaching to traditional gods and traditional stories. Such a shifting approach to religion would not in itself lead an artist to break down the barriers between the living world he inhabits and the divine one he is representing; but when his exploration of new ways in art led him in that direction it allowed him to do so, where an earlier artist might have felt (indeed the designer of the Nike balustrade perhaps did feel) a taboo: representations of the gods, like the gods themselves, were better kept in their own place.

Can we extrapolate from the specific case, and perhaps suggest that this new attitude, which really is a consequence of the world change, does color artists’ approach to their art over a wider range than I have been allowing? Lysippos’ pupils would surely have devised the all-round, spiraling composition for statues whatever the circumstances, and whoever the patrons for whom they worked; but the Tyche of Antioch, sitting in the open above the river, is not only a programmatic creation of her time at an artistic level but profoundly a figure of the new age in a much wider sense, and a profoundly influential one. So, too, it is perhaps unlikely that a city-state would ever have provided occasion for the adaptation, like Eumenes’ Athena, of an earlier statue, conceived in a religious context, to a secular one. Similarly, the portraits of the first Hellenistic kings, on their coins and in other forms, are certainly part of a development of realistic portraiture in Greek art which reaches back into the classical age and would surely under any circumstances have gone on; but it is also important that they came into being as a direct result of new needs in the new Hellenistic situation, and became themselves a determining element in the growing popularity of the genre.

This is a ridiculous mouse of a conclusion; but perhaps during the labor things may have been touched on which may lead others to contribute more valuable insights; or perhaps, more probably, things I have failed to notice may lead to that desirable result. At any rate, this seems to be as far as I can get.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Notes

18. Pollitt, Art, 2–3, fig. 1; Robertson, History, 471–72 pl. 150a, b; Robertson, “Greek Art,” 189–90, fig. 44.

19. See Robertson, History, 383–85 (where the assertion that the head of the Apollo from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia is carved from a separate and finer piece of marble is false).

20. Pollitt, Art, 1–4 (the other four: 4–16).

21. See ibid., 31–33, figs. 20–22; Robertson, History, 516.

22. Detail of Alexander’s head from the mosaic: J. Boardman, J. Dörig, W. Fuchs, and M. Hirmer, Die griechische Kunst (Munich, 1966), pl. xliv. Ptolemaic pair: Pollitt, Art, 272 fig. 293a. Seleucid pair; ibid., fig. 293d.

23. Robertson, History, pl. 161b (Demosthenes), d (Chrysippos); Pollitt, Art, 61, fig. 55 (Demosthenes), 69 fig. 66 (Chrysippos).

24. Pollitt, Art, 73–75, figs. 73, 75–77; Robertson, History, 598, pl. 190d.

25. Smith in Richter, Portraits, 176–80, figs. 139, 140, and frontispiece.

26. Barberini Faun: Pollitt, Art, 134, 137, fig. 146; Robertson, History, 534–35, pl. 169d. Victory of Samothrace: Pollitt, 113–16, fig. 117; Robertson, 535, pl. 137a. Ariadne: Robertson, 535, pl. 169c. Sleeping Hermaphrodite: Pollitt, 149, fig. 160; Robertson, 551–52, pl. 176b. Dying Gaul: Pollitt, 85–92, figs. 85, 87; Robertson, 531, 533, pls. 167c, 168b. Dying and dead from small dedication: Pollitt, 90–94, figs. 89, 91–94; Robertson 530, pls. 168a, 170c.

27. Pollitt, Art, 72–74; Robertson, History, 519–20, pls. 163c, 164a.

28. Pollitt, Art, 17.

29. Neil Hopkinson, ed., A Hellenistic Anthology (Cambridge, 1988).

30. Robertson, History, 286–87, 345–46, pl. 940 (Procne); 287–88, 350, pl. 94d (Nike of Paeonius).

31. Motya, Museo Whitaker; V. Tusa, “Il giovane di Mozia,” in Archaische und klassische griechische Plastik 2:1–11, pls. 82–85. Both date and identification are disputed; but it seems to me likely that the garb marks the figure as a charioteer, and certain that it cannot have been carved much after the decade 470–60.

32. Parthenon Poseidon: F. Brommer, Die Skulpturen der Parthenon-Giebel (Mainz, 1963), pls. 103–6. Scopasian head from Tegea: e.g., Robertson, History, pl. 145. Pergamene altar slabs with comparable torsos and faces: e.g., ibid., pl. 170d; Pollitt, Art, 98 figs. 99–100.

33. Meeting of carved frieze with steps just visible: Pollitt, Art, 95 fig. 97; with steps well seen: E. Simon, Hesiod und Pergamon (Mainz, 1975), pl. 1.

34. B. Carpenter, The Sculpture of the Nike Temple Parapet (Harvard, 1929), pl. 1 (photo of slab), fig. 15 (drawing showing relation to steps).

SOURCE  © 1993 The Regents of the University of California

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