A Celebration of Women Writers

"Study of Greek Art." by Sarah Amelia Scull.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 423-427.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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In the western part of Greece rises the once sacred "Hill of Cronus." At its base lies the Valley of Olympia, for centuries the center of the worship of Zeus and Hera. In 1874 the German government obtained a contract for excavating the monuments of this renowned worship, and though these excavations were conducted at vast expenditure, and with the express understanding that only casts of the treasures uncovered should be taken to Germany, for five years the noble work went on, and the ruins of Olympia were given to the world.

Recently the French government successfully competed with Americans for the privilege of excavating Delphi.

Greece has passed stringent laws against the removal of the least fragment of any classic antiquity.

What are these treasures that were buried in fair Hellas? What value have they in this age of financial estimates and enterprises? Treasures! Only bits of inscriptions, ruins of buildings, fragments of statues or of reliefs. Values! They are such as are not recorded in business marts, for these ruins and mutilated monuments mark epochs and phases in the history of that country that has enriched the world. To determine these values, symposia of truth-seekers and beauty-lovers hold perpetual session.

The order of classical investigation follows the development of Greek thought, art and worship. The world opened by Homer is ever sought by entranced pilgrims, and from its battlefields they find paths leading Olympusward.

We go to Hesiod to learn of that mighty conflict of beliefs known as the "Titanic Wars." Cronus, the conserver of and the maintainer of old conditions, is overthrown by Zeus, the champion of change and progress. From Hesiod we have the noble legend of the "Partition of the Universe;" Zeus, the Lord of Light, Life and Development, assuming supremacy over gods and men; Hera, sharing his supremacy, but having special protection over lawful marriage and legitimate birth; Hestia, goddess of purity and spiritual influence; Posideon, having dominion over the sea; Demeter, holding a vice-regency over fields of grain, and Hades, ruling in the world of shades.

We can not afford to ignore these noble myths, or beliefs, as we should call them; for through the expansion of the conception of the character and offices of Greek gods and goddesses, through their manifestations in the sphere of human action, mythology not only established ideals for human imitation, but it determined the [Page 424]  forms of art that clustered about the centers of worship. Since temples and their structures, temple statues and their votive offerings demanded the supreme creations of the art of Greece, that art should be studied in the illumination of the inspiring mythology.


By the time of the Persian Wars, 500 B. C., many states had been formed, but we need have in mind only Phocis, the early home of the Dorians, and Attica, the center of the later Ionians. The Dorians were an intellectual people, heroic in conquest and heroic in self-restraint, so that their motto "Measure is best," fitly formulated the spirit of the race.


Through the Dorians, Greek architectural genius began its manifestations, and by the time of the Persian wars they had given to Greece the "Peripteral Temple." In other countries columns had been employed in building, but such adjustment of cella-walls, columns and entablatures as resulted in the "Peripteral Temple" is just as truly an original creation of the Greek brain as were their philosophic systems or their dramas.

The Ionians of Attica were impulsive, restive under restraint, susceptible to external conditions and influences, and through these very characteristics furnishing ground for a spontaneity and elasticity in art forms, that in time promoted compromises with higher graces of form that would not have been possible to the Dorians.


It was an epoch in the history of sculpture when the Greeks established theirs upon a wood model, as against the stone and metal work of Egypt and Assyria. Material that could be easily manipulated could easily be made to embody and express the sculptor's conception, and thus make it possible for each subject to have a personality, an individuality that placed it far above the tiresome sameness in the figures of an Egyptian or an Assyrian procession.

On following the development of Greek sculpture, we find that attempts at independent work commenced in many centers, both in Greece and in her island colonies, and work was continued in these centers with different degrees of progress and excellence.

In general, the early statues were of deities, and such reverence did they inspire that it was deemed sacrilege to make the slightest change in the sacred forms; as a consequence of this "hieratic influence," images of deities retained their archaic style long after considerable progress had been made in general sculpture.

Even in the early period that we are considering, influences were at work which tended toward the development of what we call "original Greek sculpture." Looking at the early statues other than those of deities, though they were almost comical in their crudeness, yet they evince on the part of the sculptor honesty in search of nature's forms, and a fixed purpose to portray only what he saw, knew or believed. Truth-seeking and sincerity in interpretation marked the spirit of these early artists, and their reward was sure.


At the beginning of the Persian wars, the chief religious centers were Delphi, where the Dorians had established the worship of Apollo and Artemis; Olympia, where Pan, Hellenic Zeus, was honored in the Olympian games; Athens, where was established a splendid worship of Pallas Athena. In all these places the general elements were the same. Through the erection of temples and other sacred structures, themselves adorned with statues, also through the accumulation of votive works of art, they became treasuries of the finest productions of the advancing art. Further, [Page 425]  the athletic games, which invariably accompanied the national festivals, promoted physical strength and beauty, and thus became a potent factor in the new sculpture.

We are familiar with the story of the Persian wars. We know of the gathering of spoils from the Barbarians, which spoils permitted and enabled victorious Greece to lay the foundations of the fair culture of Europe. At the close there was a quickening of activities in every department of art. Sculpture felt the new impulse, and manifested new powers of achievement.

In Bœotia there was an independent development of naturalness in the male form. (See Col. Nos. 7377, 7379, 7400.) In Magna Græcia, Pythagoras of Rhegium recognized the result of the athletic games, and gave to the forms of his athletes a rare combination of strength, symmetry and rhythm, and more than this, they seemed to will, to act, to contend. Dr. Waldstern thinks that many statues that have been called Apollo statues represent athletes, notably Nos. 7380 and 7381.

Peloponnesan sculpture was under Dorian restraint, but it presented varying phases in Corinth, Sparta, Argos, Megara and Epidaurus. See Nos. 7427 to 7441.

In Attica sculpture was hastening on toward perfection. See Nos. 7461-62, 7467, 7501, 2, 3, 7533, 4, 7541-2 and 7559.

FIRST EPOCH, 460-400 B. C.


On Dorian Argos Polycletus wrought such masterpieces that his "Canon" gave to sculpture its "law of proportion" for the human figure. So sublime was his temple statue of Hera, the revered goddess of Argos, that the world never produced but one artist that could surpass it. It has been thought that some of the noblest features of the works of Polycletus are preserved in Nos. 7433-4, 7358-9.


The period of the highest art in Attica is the period of her supremacy in wealth, in political influence, in philosophy, in literature and in worship. In this golden time she placed upon the Athenian Acropolis the jewels of her supremacy in art. In this marvelous art was displayed a unique eclecticism in selection of materials and in choice of relative locations, and in it was manifested an hitherto unknown genius for harmonizing excellences and perfections, so it gave to the world's admiration the Attic Doric and the Attic Ionic architectures. In this golden time the sculpture was worthy of its noble placing, for the artists had held to their high purpose of rendering only what they saw, what they knew and what they believed, and their reward had come. Again we must note the potent spell that the art of mythology had on the Acropolis, which had been created in honor of the tutelar goddess, Pallas Athena. Entering the leveled top of the Acropolis through the magnificent Propylea, one saw on the north the Erechtheum, enshrining the most sacred object in all Attica, the olive wood statue of Athena Polias, believed to have fallen from heaven. See No. 7481. To the southwest towered the bronze statue of Athena Proma, the Athenian goddess of war. Here and there were shrines and votive offerings to the deities associated with Athena. But there arose the Parthenon, a temple erected to Athena Parthenon. It can not be described; it can not be pictured; it can not be seen by the eye alone. One should seek it and lift the eyes toward it only after much preparation. The sculpture of the Parthenon was worthy of the temple–one can say no more. The frieze that represented the Panathenaic procession was one of the marvels of all sculpture. One never ceases to be touched by the solemn sweetness of the maidens that take part in the ceremony, or to be thrilled at the spirit and movement of the mounted horsemen, or to be stilled into awe in the presence of the seated deities that are at rest in the eternal verities, the eternal blessedness. Nos. 7577, 7577b, 7506, 7513.

The sculpture in the west pediment commemorates the contest between Athena and Posideon for tutelar possession of Attica. Of Posideon only a mutilated chest [Page 426]  remains, but one can believe that such a god could make the earth tremble. No. 7507.

In the east pediment was represented the highest of themes–Zeus presenting to the Olympian deities his daughter, Pallas Athena, as the goddess of all that was exalted. The scope of the treatment of that theme has never been measured. It may be that to have adequate conception, one must have followed the shining history of the message of the celestial messenger, Iris; and if it be Demeter and Persephone to whom she heralds the new day of light and splendor that "Helios ushered in" to know the full purport of her announcement, one must have followed Demeter from the fields of grain to the "stone of sorrows," where she sat mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone, must have rejoiced in the reunion of mother and child in the Elysian Fields–then one could believe that the message of Iris would close this symphony of life and death with a pean of resurrection to a life and union immortal. No. 7576.

So must we compass the cycle of the worship associated with the dominant one, if we would measurably conceive how much of the majesty of Zeus was represented in the new-born goddess Athena, as she shone in full splendor in the presence of the Olympian deities. At that time of lofty ideals, art was bestowing her rewards. There were sculptors who had striven to embody their highest conceptions, so when the master of masters, Phidias, began his work he was not alone in worthiness to place in temples statues that seemed instinct with a Divine presence. They were found to be worthy to be co-laborers with Phidias. Nos. 7510, 7515, 7516, 7517 and 7518. See also 7580.

It can not be determined who made the two central statues of the west pediment of the Parthenon–Zeus and Athena–but it is known that the temple statue of Athena Parthenos was made by Phidias. It is also known that sublime as was the statue, it was transcended by the colossal statue made by Phidias for the temple at Olympia–the world renowned Jupiter Olympus, No. 7347. What was Phidias' conception of Zeus? Such conception as was vouchsafed to any soul that, spurning all things that are earthly, walking in the light of what he believes to be the highest truth, seeks Him whom he believes to be the highest god. When asked how it was possible for him to produce that mighty work, Phidias replied that Homer had for him his ideal. I shall never believe that Homer's conception of Zeus approached in moral purity and power that which Phidias' lofty character enabled him to conceive.

In seeking the ways of the highest truth, Phidias found possibilities that enriched the domain of art forever. His standards were truths that are universal, immortal, divine; hence the benediction on his work was celestial beauty, moral grandeur, divine majesty. Not a fragment of his almost divine statue has ever been found. The burial place of this immortal artist is unknown, but he has found God, for he sought only truth, and all truth leads Godward.

SECOND EPOCH. B. C. 370-330.


Changes had come to Attica. Beliefs had changed. The deities were now thought of as drawing near to men in pity and in sympathy. But ungrateful men, absorbed in pursuits of wealth or of pleasure, had lost the old fear and reverence for the gods. Beliefs having changed, ideals changed, art changed. It was a time of beauty, but of a beauty that lay in the way of pleasant going. The beliefs were not those of Phidias. The art was the art of Scopas and Praxiteles. We rejoice that this time of beauty came, for beauty in art, as in all things, "has its own excuse for being" and has its own reward. Nos. 7547 to 7550.

In this imperfect outlining of the development of Greek art, we have endeavored to note the race influences that have helped to determine art creations. We have been obliged to dwell too lightly upon the historic events that necessarily modified all [Page 427]  national interests, but we have purposed bringing into clear light the intricate, almost vital relations between the mythology and the art of ancient Hellas.


Today there is before the American people a question of national interest. In the new American art that is becoming definite and promising, shall we make prominent the study of classic art? We answer "Yes," a thousand times "Yes."

Because this age is one of financial estimates and enterprises, so much the more is there imperative need that we cultivate in every direction, and by every method, power to apprehend and appreciate the precious values of spirit, truth-seeking and beauty-loving.

Because Greek art, more than any other art on earth, holds today and will hold forever these values, we need the standards of those who wrought it, those standards of truths that were universal, unchanging, beauty-giving and immortal. We need the noble methods by which Greek sculptors gave mind the mastery over matter, and religion the mastery over the mind. In our outlining of Greek art, we found that the chief art centers were the centers of worship, also that the very character of the art was determined by the character and associated legends of the principal deities; therefore, as preparatory to, and as accompaniment of, a fine apprehension of classic art, we plead for the study of classic mythology.


The classic legends lie at the basis of much of the finest culture, but they may be taught to children, to little children, as a mother said, as soon as you can get a child to listen. Let them be taught in the homes, in the primary classes at school. Do you fear to teach myths? The children will know intuitively that the legends are but curious husks that enwrap kernels of facts. They will not confuse fiction and truth. In soul matters with very young children, ideals readily become reals, and they will soon learn that while there is truth in all the myths, there is never myth in truth. There will be in their minds ready recognition that only in the paths of truth-seeking the rainbow of beauty arches heavenward, so those mothers and teachers who give to children the myths and legends largely enrich their inheritances. Children should early enter upon their inheritance in art. Show them first the perfect creations of human genius, and thus they will learn to shrink from the crude and to admire only the lovely.

We plead for the study of classic mythology, not only in public schools and institutions of higher learning, but in all schools of art. Let all students, whether of sculpture or of painting, learn the fascinating stories of the characters which they reproduce, also the history of those worships which gave the ideals that called out such noble art efforts and success. Let art teachers of today, as did those of classic times, kindle in their students ambition and enthusiasm for more and more noble embodiments of more and more lofty ideals. Then while homes and art galleries may be filled with the beauty that delights but entices not, then will have come a greater good, for everywhere the art standards will become mind over matter, religion over mind, and God over all. Then will the beauty of the Lord our God be upon the spirit of teacher and student, and upon the work of their hands.

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Sarah Amelia Scull was born in Bushnell's Basin, N. Y., in 1833. Her parents were Paul E. Scull and Rhoda Tyler Scull. She was educated at the Academy of Smethport, Pa., and Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, Lima, N. Y. Has traveled in Greece, Italy, France and England. Miss Scull is a student of Greek Mythology and Greek Art. Her principal literary works are "Greek Mythology Systematized," and "Photographs Illustrating Greek Mythology and Art." Her profession, educator of young women. She is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Her postoffice address is Washington, D. C.

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* This paper was illustrated by original photographs, and the numbers used throughout are the numbers in the catalogue of the collection.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom