Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/219

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VALUE OF THE STUDY OF ART.

Not to go back to the Quaternary period or to the cave dwellers, there are many of these mental ideas or conditions which would remain hidden from the inquiry of the historian if he were limited to written testimony. One example may suffice: the discoveries of Schliemann, at Troy, Mycenæ, and Tiryns have rescued from oblivion a primitive Greece of which the Greeks themselves had preserved but a faint remembrance. Thus has been given to the Homeric epoch a background of many centuries. Now this Greece, contemporary of the Thutmoses and the Ramses of Egypt, anterior to not only Grecian history but even to Grecian tradition, could not write, but could work and use stone; could hew wood and fashion it for carpentry; could mold and bake clay; could melt and hammer lead, bronze, gold, and silver; and could carve ivory. Every bit of material fashioned by the instruments of this period has the value of an authentic document. How society was constituted, the life that was led, what notions were held of the hereafter—all these things are revealed by the marks the hands of man have left upon everything he touched. The colossal walls of Tiryns, the majestic funeral cupolas of Mycenæ, the divisions of the royal abodes of which the outlines can still be traced on the surface of the soil, and the arrangement of the sepulchres hidden beneath it all testify. So, too, the weapons, the instruments, the vases, and the jewels which have been found scattered about amid the ruins of the buildings or buried in the tombs. Thanks to all these monuments, we are beginning to recognize in a shadow which year by year glows with a brighter light the features which characterized the world of Achæan heroes of which the image, transformed by oral tradition and singularly enlarged by power of invention, is reflected in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

From these obscure and remote ages let us transport ourselves to the Greece of Pisistratus, of Pericles, and of Alexander. Instructors of youth tell of the losses which have been made, and of how small a part of the literary work of Greek genius has escaped the great shipwreck of antiquity. Should they not also indicate where precious supplements of information may be found to fill the voids of written tradition? There are many variations of important myths, hardly mentioned in passing by obscure epitomizers of the lower centuries, which have furnished to ceramic artists subjects for pictures which make us acquainted with personages and with episodes of which writers have hardly left a trace. But even if we had the works of the cyclic poets, all of which have perished; if we had the lyric poets, of whom only Pindar has survived, and Bacchylides whose fragments are to-day the joy of Hellenists; if we had the whole of tragedy, of which we have but the remnants;