Studia IV

ANTIQUITY AS A HUMANISTIC INSTITUTION

The major advances in the knowledge about the antiquity in times closer to us are owed to the setting up of specialized institutions both in the West and, especially, in the main countries of the antiquity, Greece and Italy.

In 1829 Eduard Gerhard set up in Rome, with support from Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, the German Archaeological Institute, which today plays the role of a genuine federal ministry of world archaeology, having branches as far as Latin America and South-East Asia. On September 11, 1840 in Athens was set up the French School; in Rome the French School is created on March 25, 1873. There follow in Rome and Athens the British, American, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Austrian and other schools. Thanks to Vasile Pârvan a Romanian school, too, functioned in Rome until the advent of communism in Romania, when it was closed and turned into an occult subsidiary of the Romanian communist embassy in the capital of Italy.

Besides acquisitions, archaeological diggings fully contributed to enlarging the collections of the great museums in the West European countries, either with material originating in the Greek-Roman Mediterranean or with the Greek and especially Roman artifacts discovered in the territories of the empire’s former European provinces. The Schlegel brothers’ myth of the special relationships between Germanity and Greece materialized in the emergence in Germany of many museums of antiques and of a museology whose remarkable achievements cast a favourable light on the priceless exhibits accumulated along one century and a half.

The publicization of the major collections and discoveries, an activity still going on through the agency of the many European specialized periodicals, was initiated again by Eduard Gerhard, who in 1832 drafted a complete report on the over 4000 painted vases discovered in 1829 in the necropolis of Vulci. Around 1836 Gerhard was working on a catalogue of the Etruscan mirrors, after he had published works on the great monuments of Rome.

Finally, in the 1860’s there also began the first evaluations relative to the cultivation of studies on the antiquity and their importance in the formation of national languages and cultures. France took the lead in this respect. I shall only cite E. Egger’s two volumes representing the lectures he delivered at the Sorbonne in 1867-1868, entitled L’Hellénisme en France, leçons sur l’influence des études grecques dans le dévéloppement de la langue et de la litterature françaises. The French press also echoed these advanced concerns, publishing many reports such as the one printed in Journal des débats of August 9,1868info.

 

The Learning of Classical Languages

It was France again that first signalled the reorientation of intermediate education from the Greek-Latin humanities to the modern ones. Around 1880, when the ancient humanism was fully functioning at the French intermediate school, with beneficial results, there also began Jules Ferry’s reforms with a view to separation from the traditional model. The publication, in 1885, of Raoul Frary’s book La question du latin, considered as iconoclastic by the conservatives but enthusiastically hailed by the modernist camp, actually means the separation from classicism achieved slowly and with difficulty, like the one from the sacerdotal Latin, after the French Revolution. The thesis of Simone Fraisseinfo is most illustrative in this respect, highlighting multiple aspects and implications of the respective transition of the French high school system.

The influence of the classical languages on French and on the style of many modern writers, from Flaubert to Proust and Cioran, is a reality I myself have experienced as translator of some exemplary texts. Marguerite Yourcenar agreed to the translation of Hadrian’s Memoirs only after having learned about the nature of my university degree and the list of my published works. But the great trial was the one with the Acropolis of Albert Thibaudet, the well-known historian of modern French literature whom George Călinescu admired and confessed, in the correspondence with Alexandru Rosetti, as model of his monumental work. It is true that Thibaudet’s text was written in French, but was structured according to the syntax of Tucidides, an author whose work The Peloponnesian War, in Greek, the great French man of letters had carried in his sack during World War I.

In its turn the teaching of classical languages in Romanian high schools was very useful for the national culture. As elsewhere, here the interests were divided, especially in the interwar period, many young people favouring the humanistic formula rather than the modern or the „real” one.

Although there existed highly qualified professors, an illustrious example being the one of Eugen Lovinescu, Alexandru Graur and others who then taught at the University and who made remarkable translations from ancient authorsinfo, Greek and especially Latin - when Greek disappeared from curricula - fell victim to the routine of grammar, most teachers becoming mere coaches for declensions and conjugations.

In the postwar period, the annual review Studii clasice (Classical Studies) has been and still is in the forefront of classical concerns. The West - although several specialized publications are issued in each country - is now in the same situation of eliminating almost totally the study of classical languages from high school. The effect is suggested by a few sentences uttered by M. Réverdin on the occasion of the Hardt Foundation’s colloquiuminfo; „Unfortunately, more and more universities are throwing on the classical archaeology market graduates and even doctors who really do not know either Greek or Latin and who have rudimentary, second-hand notions about ancient history, about the cultures and religions of the Greek-Roman world. He who cannot read the texts left by an ancient civilization cannot achieve a thorough knowledge of that civilization. The reverse, too, is true. He who only reads the texts of one civilization has a vision of it that is too little realistic. The philologist and a fortiori the historian who does not gradually take in the information supplied by archaeology is only in part a humanist”.

When Napoleon created the two superior schools in Pisa and Paris, his intention was to incorporate the antiquity into the modern culture, an incorporation that would have occurred not in the referrential manner but in the manner of the continuity in spirit within the same civilization, against the background of the eternal human character. Are we so Christian that the Christian fracture was the only cause of the impossible return? Gabriel Liiceanu assures us that we only periodically need such a return to the origins: „When the motif of the return with the Greeks reached its maturity, the exaltation of the Hellenic moment was not accompanied by a regret: the distancing from the initial frailty of the spirit was not excused but explained. 19th century Europe knew that the history of this betrayal is the price we had to pay for being forgiven the fact that the descent in the realm of the spirit was obtained regionally and demonstratively. Because in its Hellenic formula, mankind offered the show of a display of opulence insolently constructed amidst a landscape of need.

Or, from this viewpoint, any society that followed was superior to the Greek historical moment because it made up for the lack of a spiritual performance with a mediocre progress in the overall structure of modern society. Compared to that preserve for geniuses, the subsequent history of Europe appeared as a long detour meant to ground the free development of the spirit again on a generalized human nature. That is why we return to the Greeks whenever we want to retrieve at the scale of mankind what they had obtained in the form of a laboratory of the essence”info. I have chosen this passage as the most pertinent text written so far in Romania and I ended the quotation before the author slipped to something else. I wish to add however the words Arnaldo Momigliano uttered at the end of the colloquium in Geneva: „The ignorant is offered yet another vulgate in which the difference between ancient and modern science (and therefore a fortiori between the ancient technique and the modern technique) is presented as a direct consequence of the difference in point of social structures between the slave-owning system and the capitalist or neocapitalist one. It is desirable to know on which precise data this vulgate was built and to what extent it is a vulgate. In which sense does the difference between ancient and modern science correspond to the change in forms of production? This is a point on which at least an ignorant like me should wish to get explanations.info

 

A Return Pursuing a Nuancing

Let us return once again to the antiquity, to the Greek literature, not without making an important specification from the very beginning. As in the field of history, not any moment, theme, work or author of the Greek-Roman literature has a correspondent in the modern age or in the present. Those who seek such correspondences by all means, believing that this highlights even more the importance of the antiquity for today’s world, seriously prejudice the idea of both the ancient and the modern humanism. Is there any relationship between the atomism of Democritus or Lucretius and the current physics of particles or the quantum theory? There is none, except for the fact that this is a topic for the „scholarly” or scientistic bohemia, if such a thing still exists.

The exegesis absurdly entitled Virgile, son temps et le nôtreinfo has a text of 330 pages and an epilogue of only 8 pages which justifies the latter part of the title only as regards the reception of the poet. What interest, except the one of strict speciality and the refinery of reading it in the original, can have for our time a work about a court poet, certainly a very talented one, even a classic of the world literature but one who has thousands of correspondents in the retinues of the world’s big lords, from the Renaissance to very recent times. The vision of Rome’s grandiose destiny was an integral part of the propaganda programme initiated by Augustus for buttressing the institution of the Principality. But this too is a commonplace of the type of exegesis at issue. In exchange, the persistence of the tragical, brilliantly illustrated by the Greek literature, is a very topical theme of reflection.

In my book on the Greek tragedy (Moira, mythos, drama, Bucharest, 1969) I refused to discuss George Steiner’s The Death of Tragedy, London, 1961, for the simple reason that it fell within the realm of falsehood. When such a book did not even mention the theatre of the absurd or the name of Eugen Ionesco, the author haughtily asserting (p. 351) that tragedy was dead and that the novel inherited its tragical potentiality, what else could I do but ignore an opinion that was based on the observation that „from among the mythology from Homer to Aeschylus, the Christian mythology and the Marxist mythology none is naturally suited to the revival of tragical drama”? „The classical mythology leads to the past, to a dead past.

The Christian and Marxist metaphysics are antitragical. This is, basically, the dilemma of modern tragedy!” The final chapter of my first book was entitled precisely The Modern Valences of Greek Tragedy and in it I stressed (p. 226) that, „The creations of Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugen Ionesco, Jean Genet are representative for this new way of approaching and debating the surrounding reality in its intimate relationships with the human being. A whole set of proselytes will take the path opened by the four, directing the limelight on the particular consequences of the great problems debated by the maestros.” At the time this book was written I had no knowledge of one of the first pertinent exegeses of the vast literature, on Ionesco’s theatre, Le monde étrange de Ionesco by Faust Bradesco, published in Paris in 1967. As everything the author says is perfectly valid and validated by what was written subsequently, I would rather quote the author instead of summing up. „Actually Ionesco’s characters are tragical and great. As in the ancient tragedies they follow a reality that has nothing in common with the conventional reality of the epoch. To them the social life is only a framework, an environment from which they fly but to which they are not in the least tied (p. 115)... (Ionesco) changed the theatre, managing to transmit the feeling of the presence of a cosmic reality which is nothing else but our own life. He wants to make us understand the necessity and beauty of the return to the natural, to the human” (p. 116). Bradesco intuits the important problem area of the anguish in tragedy, debated brilliantly by Jacqueline de Romilly (now at the French Academy, following after Marguerite Yourcenar) in her work La crainte et l’angoisse dans le théâtre d’Eschyle, Paris, 1958, where she writes: „This state of anguish causes a permanent axiological judgement and contradictory reactions characteristic to the human condition and therefore to the tragic sense of life...” There is in the nucleus of the tragical something that exceeds the rational and which Ionesco perfectly grasped. The Portuguese critic Antonio Lobo Vilela (Do sentido comico e tragico da vida, Lisbon, 1956, p. 99) clearly specified that „the tragical lies on the border of the rational and anguish is a shiver of mystery, a contact with the absurd, the shadow of an insoluble equivocity, which oscillates between resignation and despair”, (p. 166, end of the quotation from Bradesco and also from Vilela). As the ancient appears as rebarbative to the modern spirit, the latter too can be hardly understood by the traditionalist humanist, although the two hypostases refer to the same subject, i.e. the tragical in its acceptation and structure that are identical in both terms of the antiquity-modernity binomial. Tudor Vianu told me about his first meeting in Paris with Eugene Ionesco, after the war, sometimes around the ’60s. „And I asked him, ’Well, if you destroy everything, what do you put instead?’ ’Nothing.’ There remains only what is to remain”. To a humanist of Vianu’s stature, Ionesco’s deconstruction appeared as catastrophic and not cathartic. Their short dialogue illustrates very well the essence and value of the relationship between antiquity and modernity: two creators of culture, speaking contradictorily about the same thing, being in agreement basically and yet victims of the language, characters of their own mise en scène.

 

Ancient and Modern Art

Let us revert again to the antiquity also with respect to the Greek-Roman art compared to modernism. Here we come across the problems of iconology, of anthropomorphism, of surrealism and the values of the artistic symbol, of the nonfigurative, etc. The field considered the „safest” is the one of iconology. It has been a speciality in itself for more than half a century.

The Warburg and Courtauld Institute of London, with its famous Journal, is the central laboratory of this problem area, using as instruments a diversity of methods to which the psychanalytical one has been recently added. The appetite for iconology is quite big, also because of the beauty and thrilling character of the demonstration, which borders on the technique of the adventure novel or the thriller the slogan of which is: guess and discover the source and the prototype! It is in support of such pursuits that comes, in recent years, the Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae (LIMC) under way of publication - through an international cooperation and with support from UNESCO - at the Artemis publishing house, Zurich and Munich, with a volume of illustrations corresponding to each volume of text. Not favoured by the communists, iconological research, spiced with the Marxist-Leninist sauce, continued to be published in special graphical conditions in the more advanced countries in the East of Europeinfo.

Heading the chapter Irrational and Tragical with Aeschylus in my book on the Greek tragedy which has already been mentioned, I quoted Eric Dodd’s report of a fact he himself had put at the head of his workinfo: „A few years ago I was at the British Museum, admiring the sculptures of the Parthenon, when a young man approached me and spoke to me rather embarrassedly: ’I know that something like that is not to be confessed but these Greek things tell me nothing.’ I replied that his confession seemed very interesting to me and I asked him to try and explain his reaction. He pondered a little and then answered: ’You know, I don’t know whether you understand me, everything is so awfully rational.’ I think I understood him. Roger Fry and others had said the same thing, to a generation whose sensibility was shaped with the African and Aztecan art, with the work of a Modigliani or a Henry Moore, the art of the Greeks and the Greek culture in general may appear as deprived of the consciousness of the mystery and of the capacity to reach the more profound, less conscious levels of the human experience”.

That is why exotic art, the modern surrealist or nonfigurative art, taking over the irrational load of the modern man, his repressed affectivity alienated from the technicist rationalism of the industrial age assumed the role of a counterweight to the anthropomorphism of Hellenistic tradition. Pablo Picasso is the most illustrious exemple of the antiquity-modernity relationship in art. As a young man, he used to draw like the painters of the Greek vessels dating back to the classical epoch and at the same time he would break the organicity of the human representation (taking to opposed extremes both Ingres’s urge that drawing is the guarantee of art and the shapeliness of his baigneuses, turned into a real monstromorphosis). Like Bourdelle, Picasso had visited Italy (which he recalled much later) but not Greece. Yet unlike Picasso, Bourdelleinfo glorifies, in his whole work, the Greek archaism, writing about it: „Everything that is synthesis is archaic; the archaic is the opposite of the word copy, it is the enemy of the lie, of the whole art of the trompe-oeil, odiously foolish and which turns marble into a corpse”; or: „The archaic is not naive, the archaic is not crude, the archaic is the only one in harmony with the universe; it is equally the most human and the most eternal art; any narrow spirit, frightened by the so grandiose nakedness of the truth, deems it crude because it is too far from him”.

Bourdelle is inclined to archaize modernistically even the iconographic themes typical of the classical and Hellenistic periods, and his knowledge of the Greek archaism was as profound as it was empassioned, like the love for his wife, the Athenian Cleopatra Sevastos. One example: the terra-cotta reliefs made for illustrating George Clemenceanu’s book Demosthène (Paris, 1929) are cut inside the edges in the manner of the burnt clay plaques of Melos, dating back to the end of the 6th century.

At the beginning of the last century, Greece’s great monuments were still covered by earth, and the column/architrave construction system accused their perishability, unlike the Italic ones where various types of masonry in brick and mortar, cradle vault and dome offered solutions that were much more enduring. With the exception of the theatres leaning up against a hill, only the foundations have endured from most Greek edifices, over which there came the tambours of the collapsed columns, the fragments of architraves and the decorative architectonic reliefs.

 

A Seen Greece, or One Imagined?

Italy, traversed by the Europeans, offered an altogether different aspect. Besides the Renaissance, antiquity too was to be seen here. Campania was looking monumental, and the Northerners descended to the Amalfian coast (from Sorrento to Salerno) down to Paestum with its still standing temples. Despite the special relationship between Germanity and Greece, as affirmed by the Schlegel brothers, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin never set foot on the soil of Athens and later even the scholars who had devoted their studies to the Greek antiquity hesitated before going there. Erwin Rohde, who had dealt with the myths and beliefs of the ancient Greeks from Homer to the Hellenistic period, in his celebrated work Psyché (finished in 1893), seems to justify in this way his conviction that it is useless to see Greece: „The outward form of the Hellenic world has ceased to exist; its spirit is immortal. What has been lived once very intensely can no longer be destroyed but continues to live a life of the spirit, and having entered mankind’s spiritual life, enjoys some kind of immortality. The source of the Greek thinking does not gush into mankind’s life always with the same force and always in the same place. But it never runs dry, it disappears only to appear again, it hides only to come again into light. Desinunt ista, non pereunt (these things disappear but do not perish)”info.

An ideational Greece gave birth to an ideal Greece as well as to the Greek Utopia. As the physical knowledge of Hellas grew, first of all due to archaeological diggings, the nostalgical relations with this auroral world were clarified and set not only on the ground of the eternally human, in a past-ridden sense, but in an innovating sense for the world today which so much wishes ontologically to reconcile its origins with the contemporary technique. We are thus reverting to that vulgate resulting from technical evolution and the modification of the production mode evoked above by Arnaldo Momigliano, resorting, according to the suggestion of George Uscatescuinfo, to the famous lecture-essay of Martin Heidegger, Die Frage nach der Technik, delivered at the Technical School in Munich in November 1953. Like Pascal who said that making philosophy meant to laugh at philosophy, Heidegger stated that in order to discover the essence of technique it is absolutely necessary not to mistake it (the essence) for the technique itself.

„If our being manages to open itself to the essence of tehnique, and we manage to answer this essence, we shall realize the limits of technique, which is something else than its essence. More than that: the essence of technique has nothing to do with technique. If we do not grasp the essence of technique but, on the contrary, we are in a mere relationship with technique itself by practicing it, adjusting to it and at the same time avoiding it, if we consider it something ’neutral’, then we shall become the prisoners of technique ’in its worst form’ and lose our freedom. This is what happens today in general in man’s relationships with technique”. Technique should be but an instrument, with means and purposes perfectly mastered and subordinated to the spirit.

Therefore, it is maybe not a Christian filter that separates us so much from the antiquity, but the fact that we are the slaves of technique rather than its masters. The Greeks’ disdain for the technical side of human activities, the deliberate maintenance of technique at a controllable level, the destruction by Archimedes of his daring plans and reckonings, with practical finality are a serious indication as to the danger of technicism to the ancient man. The technique overpowering us accounts for us no longer understanding even the life and mentalities of recent generations. Are not modern art, surrealism, the nonfigurative, the increasingly estranged values of the artistic symbol, we wonder, as many modalities of subordinating, of overcoming the technical, of reacting through psychoanalysis to the estrangement through technique, of seeking the origins toward which we unconsciously tend? Couldn’t this be the answer Momiglianoinfo sought through a question posed in the form of a conclusion at the end of the colloquium of the Hardt Foundation on antiquity and modernity? „I can hardly imagine the Greek polytheism and I don’t deceive myself that I am the only one. I wonder after all this whether it wouldn’t be better for us to start with what remains our central experience of our civilization: the collapse of polytheism and the assertion of a Christianity which today is, in its turn, problematic. Proceeding maybe unambiguously from monotheism or, alternatively, from atheism, we could come to understand better what religion was meant to be in the Athens of Pericles or the Rome of Cato?”

But I started from anthropomorphism and I reached, after many detours, the necessity to see Greece if we want to discuss about the antiquity in the know. Rome clad the Hellenic Greek ecumenism in the garb of a new universalism, restoring and disseminating the intellectual values of the Greek classical epoch. The connection between anthropomorphism and the necessity of physically knowing Greece is not as arbitrary as it may appear to the reader.

We must visit Greece, of course, to see its ancient monuments because their very location was an integral part of their artistic quality. The more you know about Greek art from reading and illustrations, especially in the field of architecture, the more shocked you will be by reality. The mental image once formed and pertinently set, it is difficult to obliterate and replace. Seen from the Pnyx, the Acropolis is as we know it from pictures; but when you stand under its Propileae, under the columns of the Parthenon and the Erechteion, it is altogether different. The colossal no longer seems to be an invention of the Hellenistic baroque but a conscious permanence of the Greek spirit when it refers to the divinity. The gods are bigger than people, the anthropomorphism of divinity having to impress the human both through the likeliness and through the difference in identity.

A kind of joke of the gods through which they let the mortals know that they were alike but superior, as in a dream of reason. The hierarchy is in fact a matter of size, a legacy of the heroic age. The Greek art is not as rational as it seemed to the young man who confessed to Dodds. The colour of the statues and architectural monuments has disappeared today and it played a particularly important role under the bright sun. It made visible those white marble beings throbbing today under the sun in a halo of light; it stressed the geometric accuracy, alongside the optical corrections, another concession one cannot always realize immediately, even when the size is given in the caption of the picture, how big a statue, a vase or a temple is. The agglomeration in Delphi seems strange, sliding on a sloping ground. In reality the Moschophoros is no higher than 1 m; and the museum of the Acropolis holds many other surprises of this kind. The museums of Athens, Corinth, Delphi, Olympia, Heraklion and Samos are irreplaceable, like the sites where they are located. Without Evans, Cnossus would have been now what Mallia Faistos is, the villa at Agia Triada, that is an ordinary ruin, without the hope that its former gorgeous appearance would be reconstituted in our mind.

We must visit Greece because here and now, after more than a century of archaeological diggings, after so many decades of tranquility and exceptional well-being and affluence in a very poor country, where moderation and even frugality are still considered the best conduct - we can best see if anything has been preserved of the traits of the ancient Greek. The big archaeological discovery that can still be made in Greece is to notice that the Greek of today is almost the same as he was 2500-2400 years back.

 

Greek Art: Realism or Anthropomorphic Abstraction?

We all know, because that is what we learned at school, that anthropomorphic classical Greek art is the result of an intellectual process, objectified first in the canon of Polyclitus and then in the one of Lysippus. It is by very little (parà mikrón), Polyclitus said, that the masterpiece differs from the ordinary. So be it! Therefore the Hermes of Praxiteles, or other such works are to us only ideal types! Not in the least! The Greek’s fundamental realism has only slightly slipped toward abstraction. The perfect types were rare but still they existed in flesh and blood. Even today one meets gorgeous, statuesque women or perfect male bodies, tall and well-built, like the ancient statues of athletes. For the majority of Greeks, who are not very tall, such images produce the impression of some divine presences. How overwhelming must have been the ivory and gold statues of Athena Partenos or Zeus of Olympia! Archaic art, preserved usually in the form of bronze statuettes, attests local physiognomic types one may find even today in the respective regions!

From an anthropological point of view, the inexistence in reality of the ideal Greek beauty is a myth like any other modern myth about the antiquity. Decades ago, when I briefly worked at the Archeology Museum in Constanţa, in the morning, when going to the museum, I used to enter a pie shop on Ovid street. Selling pie and yoghurt were two old people, man and wife, short, gaunt-faced and insignificant like two dried olives. One day I had the impression I had entered the wrong shop, because an inadequate ambience was obvious as soon as I entered. Behind the counter, with wide gestures, a colossal, half-naked being was serving impassively as in a temple where the sitting cult statue had stood up from its throne.

The being was a young man aged 23-25, having as his only piece of clothing a tablecloth tied round his hips and covering his body to the knees. The head was that of Praxiteles’s Hermes. The arms and legs - perfect down to the tip of the nails. The carnation was glowing white, „Do you know whom you resemble?” I asked him. „Yes, I’ve already been told!” „But how come you don’t have a tan?” „I don’t have pigments and then I don’t go to the beach”.

He was poker-faced. A god in a pie shop, I was telling myself, as if I dreamed a fable or a story by Lucian. „And the old people, where are they?”, I tried to ask, „how did they come to Constanţa?” „Oh, my parents, they are now in Greece, wherefrom I have returned after having learned the trade for some two years!” After that I seldom entered the pie shop. To me it was an impiety! From time to time I would visit the shop to see whether the wonder was still there. After a few weeks the god disappeared! The shrivelled parents did not come back. Ordinary mortals were making pies and selling them with yoghurt. There was no way I could learn anything about my man. Was he Hermes or some demigod driven away from Olympus?

One sunny Sunday afternoon, a Junoesque being, a gorgeous woman got on the trolleybus we had taken from the Athens University to go to the Peania cave. I was accompanied by a skinny Pole who was charitably accomodated at the German Archeological Institute because the small stipend the Greeks had offered did not afford him any other accomodation. The frail Mycenologist was lashing out against the Greeks, against their rudeness (usually in English). I reminded him that the rudeness of some of them had been criticized also by Theophrastus and that he should not resume the topic every day! In vain! Therefore in that empty trolleybus, the Junoesque being sat down by his side but as the seats were narrow she also sat on half of his being. The Pole turned even greener and vituperated in English. From the other row of seats I was watching the scene with dismay. The Greek woman looks at me and points to the head, exclaiming: „Trellos” (crazy). Then, feeling embarrassed by something that seemed to fret under her buttock, she eliminated the half Pole that was making a supreme effort to deliver himself. Her big inertial mass combined with all the centrifugal vectors of the Pole propelled him as if he was a nutshell on the waves of a lake, up to the middle door of the bus. The Mycenologist shouted in indignation. The driver braked all of a sudden. He had watched the scene in his mirror. „Ti eghine?” – „Tipota.” „What happened?” „Nothing”, I answer and he drives on with a Socratic smile. The goddess was sprawled on her narrow throne. It was all the way to the Peania cave that I patiently listened to the wailing theories about the Greeks’ lack of Europeanism.

But let us revert to the theories about the Greek art and to its relationship with modernity. In a lecture delivered on June 3, 1950, resumed and updated in the volume Archeologia e cultura, the late Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelliinfo expressed his option that Winckelmann and his contemporaries, compared to us who know infinitely more about Greek art, could find an accurate, direct and very vivid relation with it, a kind of „aesthetic mysticism” as Friedrich Schlegel called it, whereas we could not, although we had coherent formulae, in agreement with our feelings toward Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art. Moreover, in the theoretical analysis of barbarian, Scythian, Thracian and Celtic art, were introduced the contributions of Wölflin, Panofsky, Gombrich, Wollheim and even Wittgensteininfo, the animal motif becoming easier to understand for us in the line of the „confessionalism” practiced by the art that utilized it, from the East to the West of Europe.

Topical therefore because it is barbarian and somewhat corrupted as compared to the „Greek manner”, such a motif enjoys today more understanding and interest than the very essence of Greek art.

Bianchi Bandinelli is rightly angry with the contemporaries insistence in treating ancient art as gloomy. The leader of abstractionism in the ’50s, Piet Mondrian, stated that an ancient white marble statue could be as oppressive as a blackened and bituminous painting. Generally, anything related to the past - he went on - contains obsession and gloom. In other words, the past has a tyrannical influence which one can hardly avoid. The long subtitle of Wilenski’s book The Meaning of Modern Sculpture (1932) is even more edifying: „Essay on some original sculptures of today, together with some considerations on the methods used by professionals spreading the opinion that certain sculptors in ancient Greece were the first and the last to have reached perfection in sculpture”. Therefore a categorically declared rupture between „the ancient” and the modern, especially as Wilenski shows in extenso how the „archeological mystification of the grandeur of Greek art” occurred. In fact, it was not ancient classicism that was targeted here but the neoclassical aesthetics that ignored the Olympia sculptures discovered between 1875 and 1880, and which constitute the biggest complex we know belonging to the generation that immediately preceded the maturity of Phidias whose frieze at the British Museum is still not considered as an original sculpture.

The place and role of Greek art in European culture are essential and any one possessing common sense must agree with Bianchi Bandinelli that Greek art was „the first and only one in the ancient world which solved by itself the problem of rendering the ancient images in perspective and foreshortening. All the other artistic civilizations came to foreshortening and perspective either through heredity or through the contact with Greek art. The conquest of three-dimensionality is another fundamental element of the Greek art”.

The fully realistic representation in Greek art was a conquest of the whole mankind, in its struggle to rationally master the cosmos and the truth. It is precisely in this that resides the essence of the Greek art’s organicity. The discovery of spatial relations, of spatiality in general and of its relations with man, as well as the ways of rendering them in plane and in ronde-bosse signified the entrenchment of the truth in plastic arts, reinforcing the adage of Protagoras that man is the measure of all things.

What follows after such a fundamental settlement is a superknowledge or a complementary knowledge.

 

In Place of a Conclusion

So here we are, in our turn, in the difficult position of concluding. What should we conclude when at issue is the relationship between antiquity and modernity? Its existence is evident, genuine, and any option in its complex framework can only describe it in a more nuanced and truthful manner. As has already been said and as I believe it resulted from these pages, the European modernity is an intermittent posterity of the antiquity, even if various filters (not only the Christian one) render difficult or sometimes impossible the access to its real experience, so diverse and polymorphous, in the synchronic or diachronic way. I do not intend to exceed the context of the European civilization. My total lack of appetite for the art and culture of ancient Egypt confirms my belief that the multi-millennary world to which we belong is one of life and not of eternal death.

Today it is very fashionable to discuss the prevailing importance of one of the factors of the trinomial antiquity, Judaism, Christianity. Without denying the creative valences of the last two, I wish to emphasize that the germinative and fertile layer for both was and will remain the Greek-Roman antiquity. Some of us can go more deeply into the tunnel of time, others less deeply. As far as I am concerned, I think I stopped at the Minoan world, whose beginnings and flourishing elude for the time being my inner experience, as I perceive to a greater extent the final stage, of Minoan-Mycenian transculturation.

I am also convinced of another fact: that the true modernist can only have a good knowledge of classical things, as the spiritual ontogenesis must repeat the historical philogenesis. Otherwise we depart from the fundamental concept of our civilization and of any civilization, the one of the formative paideia. A modernism that self-encodes à rebours may exist but one that edifies in the conviction that it invented everything can only be a provisional emphasis of ignorance. Or ignorance was, alongside dogma, and still is, the misfortune of this century. Let us deliberately and liberatedly turn our backs on it!

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