The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development


That works of architecture as things of man's creating are inferior in interest, in excellence of design, and in perfection of workmanship, to the humblest of Nature's works outside humanity, has often been the burden of the moralising of theologian, naturalist, and astronomer. But in this reflection lies a fallacy which is fully exposed to those who can discern in the successive intellectual works of man the path of the human spirit, and who regard them as manifestations of Nature, of which he forms a part. A spiritual element marks off the work of man from that of animals: it is here that architecture begins. Building, whose end and aim is the fulfilment of material wants, remains building, and, whatever be the nature of the material want, differs in no essential from the work of the lower animals; but if to this be added an element of aspiration involving the exercise of a higher kind of design, there is the distinction that makes the difference.

Works of architecture in themselves are material, perishable, incomplete; but a style of architecture is one of the higher manifestations of Nature, reaching in through the human spirit. Should we try to grasp as a whole one great period of architecture, one great style of art, like that of Greece, our study is simplified in finding that it presents all the features of a natural growth. Art is a flower, and, like the flower of the field, is sown in obscurity, nourished by the decay of pre-existing organisms, and, though refined and perfected by high culture, buds and blooms at its own time. It is in a large measure what the soil and the atmosphere and the sunshine make it; it repays the care and toil that human hands bestow upon it; yet its form and its colour are its own. And so we may not know all the causes which produce the phenomenon, but we may at least watch it grow, enjoy its full beauty, and follow it in its withering; for, like the plant, it is beautiful not only when in full flower, but at every stage of progress, and even in decline.

Like other simpler natural manifestations, Greek architecture, while the fruit of all the civilisations which preceded the great period of Greek culture, did not live for itself alone; for it has sown the seed of European architecture, and has determined the future form and growth of most subsequent European art. Behind and beyond the fountain-head which it makes for Western art, the tributary are of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Phœnicia shrink into their narrower channels, their sources lost in obscurity. From it flows the main stream of European culture, the arts of Rome and the Middle Ages, the rejuvenescence of Roman tradition in the fifteenth century, not to say the prevailing architecture of the cities in which we dwell. The influence of the past upon the present is part of the nature of things in which we live and move; but rarely, if ever, in the world's history have past forms and principles and ideals exercised so potent an influence on subsequent art as those of the vigorous, rarely dowered race which settled, perhaps more than two thousand years before Christ, on the coasts and islands of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The higher flights of literature and architecture present an almost perfect . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1973
  • Revised


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