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THE STATUE OF THESEUS,
AND THE SCULPTURE ROOM OF PHIDIAS.
MUTILATED and disfigured as it is, I never approach this majestic statue without feeling an indescribable awe leading me, almost unconsciously, to take off
my hat, and look up to it with silent reverence, as if I stood in the presence of some superior being. This impression is probably compounded of the thrilling delight with which minds of any susceptibility usually contemplate the beauty of exquisite proportion---of the vague apprehension inspired by gigantic bulk--and of that lingering homage still attaching itself to whatever has been once associated with the noblest and most solemn affections of the human heart, and contemplated as the figure of a divinity by the most civilized nations of the world. Whatever be the elements of the sensation, never did I feel it so intensely as yesterday, when I pored upon every limb and muscle of this masterpiece of antiquity, until I fell into a reverie, or waking dream; wherein, with all the inconsistency of those mental delusions, I imagined myself to be at Athens, under the administration of the celebrated Pericles. In vain did I endeavour to account for that contemporaneous burst of human genius, under his patronage, which enabled Athens to leap suddenly to the very pinnacle of renown, producing those miracles of art and science, to which, whether emerging from barbarism, or at
tempting improvement in the most refined state of civilization, the world has been invariably compelled to turn back, as to the sole, immutable, and eternal standards of purity and perfection. Fancy - transported me to the period when the Parthenon was not yet completed; and methought that a ticket presented to me by Panænus, the kinsman of Phidias, gave me admittance to the sculpture room of that immortal artist, where all the glorious statues, for the two pediments of the building, were to be exhibited to some of the most distinguished citizens, previously to the indiscriminate admission of the people.
Never did so awful, so majestic a vision overwhelm my faculties. My spirit felt rebuked---my heart sank within me I seemed endeavouring to shrink into myself, as if I had intruded upon Olympus, and sacrilegiously thrust myself into the presence of the immortal gods. Some time elapsed before I was sufficiently recovered to lift up my eyes, and fix them on the prodigies by which I was surrounded, wheri I observed that all the figures were arranged in the exact positions which they were to occupy in the respective pediments. Those intended for the front, which faces the Propylæa, and the long walls to the Piræus, represented the presentation of Minerva, bý Jupiter, to the goddesses of Olympus. The sublime countenance and stupendous symmetry of the thunderer, who occupied the centre of the group, contrasted admirably with the milder majesty of the yirgin Minerva ; who, seated in her car, appeared to be slowly ascending Olympus. The figures for the
posterior pediment exhibited the dispute between Neptune and Minerva, to determine which of them should give a name to Attica; but before I could distinctly examine the blaze and glory of art which they displayed, I heard footsteps approaching; and, retiring to the extremity of the group, I seated myself in speechless admiration, behind the recumbent statue of Theseus.
Phidias, the superintendant of the works under Pericles, and author of the wonders with which I was surrounded, slowly advanced to the front of the principal group, and kneeling down with an expression of deep reverence, I heard him return thanks to the gods that life and health had been granted him for the completion of his work ; while he implored their forgiveness, if the imperfect conception of his mind, or inadequate execution of his hand, had disabled him from doing full justice to the divine originals.-Ah! said I to myself, here is the true secret of the inimitable sublimity of the Greek sculptors ! That holy enthusiasm--that utter concentration of all the faculties necessary for the production of such masterpieces, can only be elicited by combining the stimulants of both worlds; by believing that heaven as well as earth are waiting to shower down rewards upon the successful artist ;---that the gods, as well as men, are to sit in judgment upon every effort of his chisel.
Religious feelings only can create such prodigies of
art, and religion only, by dedicating them to the sacred edifices and public buildings, can adequately reward their creators. Hence the eminence of painting in Catholic countries, where every church is a perpetual stimulus, combining in the mind of the artist the excitement of devotion with the certainty of worldly remuneration ; a conjunction of motives to which England must have recourse, if she ever hopes, in this respect, to equal her Continental rivals.
From these reflections I was aroused by the opening of a door, and the entrance of a mixed party, ushered in by Alcamenes and Coletes, pupils of Phidias; among whom I distinguished a short thickset man, remarkable for his slovenly dress, bald head, high forehead, and turned-up nose. That is so crates, said I, in a whisper ;-I know him by his ugliness. What sort of mental hallucination pos. sessed me I know not, but certainly I expressed neither surprise nor alarm at the miracle, when the statue of Theseus, in another whisper, thus replied to my observation :-" That which indicates intellect, is always admired among the Greeks.
the Greeks. It is a maxim with them, that the lower the eyes are placed, the more does the human recede from the animal character:--those of Socrates (a solitary instance) occupy nearly the middle of his head: to this they attribute his superior wisdom; and by the wisdom of his head they measure their admiration of its form.” The statue was silent, and I felt somewhat surprised at the minute and technical manner in which Socrates proceeded to criticise and examine the sculptures, until I recollected that he himself had been educated as a statuary, and attained such proficiency that the
Three Graces, executed by his chisel, were long preserved in the citadel.
But I was soon to contemplate the most perfect union of intellectual and personal beauty, that the world perhaps ever produced; for a female stood before me, whose dignified yet bewitching demeanour entirely rivetted my attention. Though no longer in the first bloom of youth, and with a complexion enriched by the fervour of an Ionian sun, her countenance, when its features were not called into action, exhibited the majesty, beauty, and intelligence of the virgin Minerva; but no sooner did she smile, or even speak, than her dark hazel eyes shot forth a thousand fascinations; a voluptuous air diffused itself around her; and more Cupids seemed to lurk in her numerous dimples, than were ever summoned to the aid of Aphrodite, when she put forth all her allurements to win the prize from the Trojan shepherd. Her face, deportment, and figure seemed compounded of the Muses, the Graces, and the Loves; while her dress, splendid, yet exquisitely tasteful-provocative, yet perfectly decorous,-assimilated most happily with the characteristics of the wearer. Who is that lovely creature? I exclaimed.--" Aspasia,” replied the statue.
Aspasia !--what a world of recollections does the name involve ! Aspasia, the riddle and paradox of antiquity ;--the courtesan and the female philosopher ;the keeper of a brothel, and the most accomplished politician in Athens ;-the mistress of Lysicles, the