WHETHER angel or demon, Percy Bysshe Shelley beat his luminous wings in no void. On the contrary, he concerned himself so passionately with the problems of his own time that only a few of his lyrics can be read without a fairly extensive examination of his intellectual milieu. Nowhere, perhaps, is an understanding of his theories concerning history, morality, aesthetics, philosophy, and government more necessary than in a study of his interest in the fine arts and, more particularly in this book, in his responses to Greek sculpture. Even though other poets may rival him both in the number and in the quality of the poems and lines directly inspired by Greek statues and vases, Shelley gave a more comprehensive treatment of the various strands in the tradition of interest in ancient art than any other important poet of the Romantic period. In his verse many historical, moral, and aesthetic "ideas" associated with the sculpture of Greece glow with a life which they had possessed only occasionally before.
Shelley believed, first of all, that the moral temper or condition of a nation will always be seen in its arts and in its social organization and political institutions--in what the poet called its "forms." Accordingly, the worth or value of a state may be judged by the mental "forms" which it creates or sustains: "A summary idea may be formed of the worth of any political and religious system, by observing the comparative degree of happiness and of intellect produced under its influence."1 In the works and institutions of every age there is reflected likewise a time-spirit, which artists as well as political and____________________