Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/November 1907/Recent Views as to the Origin of the Greek Temple

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GREEK genius was brought a little nearer that of the commonalty of mankind, some years ago, by the discovery that marble statues were painted red in imitation of the wooden human figures long after marble had come into use as a material for sculpture. It now seems as if the Greek temple was to be recognized as the imitation of something previously existing, and that once again the "gulf" over which the Greek mind is supposed to have suddenly leaped has been reduced to quite ordinary human dimensions. It has long been customary to look upon the Greek temple as absolutely unique; the Doric temple, even if it was suggested by the rock-hewn tombs of Beni-Hassan in Upper Egypt, being, after all, unlike anything else in the world. But the numerous archeological investigations of the last few years have resulted in making it certain that many ideas, formerly conceived of as strictly Hellenic or Egyptian, were rather Mediterranean or even European. And it is fair to argue that the Greek temple had behind it something that was not necessarily characteristic of the ancient Nile or Ægean alone. The more we know about the prehistoric Mediterranean area, the less are we inclined to attribute to one race or to one people the chief contributions to human civilization arising within its bounds.

In 1905, in an article in Globus, the German geographical and ethnological journal. Professor K. Fuchs put forward the theory that "the wooden prototype of the Greek temple was an Almenhaus, the house of a rich cattle-breeder of the central European plateau, whom a long winter compelled to lay in great stores of hay and forced to erect over the stable a large hay-loft which kept it warm." To central Europe belonged in ancient times a house which was, "at the same time the primitive form of the modern Czik wood-houses, the ancient Greek temple, and several modern Alpine types of dwellings." Beginning with the gable, Professor Fuchs derives each prominent part of the Greek temple from corresponding portions of the prehistoric central European cattle-breeder's house, and really advances some very good arguments, as the illustrations to the article indicate, for the opinion held by him. Even the columns find their place in this explanation, but not so satisfactorily as in the later theory of Sarasin. That the Greek temple had a wooden prototype is now beyond doubt, but it is by no means certain that its ancestor was the cattle-house of the natives of prehistoric central Europe, whatever their racial affinities were. Nevertheless, there are remarkable analogies between the prehistoric "winged house" and the ancient Greek peripteros. Fuchs's theory, however, is rather "local," and therefore not so widely applicable as that of Sarasin.

Dr. Paul Sarasin, who, with his cousin Fritz, is well known for notable researches among the primitive peoples of Ceylon, Celebes, etc., propounded before the Berlin Anthropological Society in 1906 a new and attractive theory of the origin of the Doric temple, viz., from the "lake-dwelling," or "pile-dwelling," characteristic of certain regions of the ancient and the modern world. His essay, with numerous illustrations, has since been published in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie. It deserves the careful perusal of every student of the history of art and architecture, for his intimate knowledge of the "pile-dwelling," particularly in Celebes, enables Dr. Sarasin to go into very interesting details in this matter, and to set forth his arguments in a most striking manner, enforced by the illustrations, which are very much to the point, and also somewhat convincing. According to Sarasin, the Greek temple with columns "is a highly idealized and conventionalized expression of the original pile-dwelling"—the columns are the piles, the ornamented superstructure the dwelling fixed upon them, the triglyphs the window-strips, the metope the partition, etc. In order to fully appreciate the merits of Sarasin's theory one must bring up before the mind the wooden forerunner of the Doric peripteros: "The columns were wooden pillars, the architraves wooden beams, the triglyphs wooden strips, the metopes boards with carved ornament; the wooden roof was covered with mud-thatch, and the wooden ridge ended in a bird made of cut boards (the acroterion)."Reducing the height of the columns a little, and increasing somewhat that of the superstructure, one has a building strikingly similar to (in many respects identical with) the pile-dwelling. The figures of the temple of Poseidon at Paestum and a pile-dwelling in Central Celebes show this very clearly. And it should be said that the pile-dwellings of Indonesia, occurring on land as well as in water, represent better a "pile-dwelling period," than the "reconstructed" lake-dwellings of Switzerland, During the later stone age and the bronze age. Dr. Sarasin thinks, moreover, pile-dwellings of a sort comparable with those to l)e met with in Celebes, were found over a considerable portion of Europe, not merely in lakes, rivers, etc., but also in swamps, and on the dry land. Such a one was, apparently the pile-dwelling of the Wauwyl bog investigated in 1004, and closely resembling the Celebean pile-dwelling of the marshy Lake Limbotto. In all probability there existed commonly in Europe to the end of the bronze age, and sporadically (in Hungary, for example) much later, pile-dwellings of the kind in (pies- tion. In Greece and many other parts of the then known world, the original human dwelling was the house on piles, which, therefore, was also the first dwelling of the gods and the first temple — the orthodox temple, as Sarasin phrases it— was a pile-dwelling. In very ingenious fashion Sarasin shows how the peculiarities of the various portions of the Greek temple can be developed from the pile-dwelling. The megaron, too, finds an analogue in the lobo, or "men's house" of Malaysia.

The simplest form of the column is, of course, the pile driven into the pillar or resting upon it; the basis of the Ionic and Corinthian columns is to be seen in the stones placed under the piles to prevent too early decay, etc. The so-called echinus, the lower, round portion of the capital of the Doric column, corresponds to the round disc of stone or wood placed on top of the piles as a protection against rats, etc. The abacus has also its prototype in the pile-dwelling in the rest- piece for the beams, which is placed on the middle of the disc just described. The so-called proto-Doric columns of Egypt, which lack the echinus, go back, Sarasin suggests, to a pile-dwelling without such protective discs. The perpendicularity of the columns of the Ionic and Corinthian temples, as well as the slight upper inclination of the Doric, comes naturally enough from the conditions of the wooden piles and their arrangement. So also square columns and even fluting. The so-called ædicula, according to Sarasin, is derived, not from the tent, as some have supposed, but from the small shade-roof seen in front of many Celebean pile-dwellings, under which the occupants sit protected from sun and rain. The "wall-temples" and the cellæ are easily developed from the open space under the dwelling in the pile- houses by building in between the columns — the prototypes are seen in the Celebean houses. The transformation of the upper part of the pile-dwelling, when no longer used for habitation, into the super- structure of the Greek temple with its ornamentation (the frieze has its forerunner in the pile-dwelling's wooden carvings, etc.) was easily possible with an artistically-minded people. The substitution of stone for wood. Dr. Sarasin thinks, may have been an Egyptian invention.

If the present writer may 1)0 permitted to add to the ideas set forth by Dr. Sarasin, he would like to suggest the possibility of the existence of pile-dwellings in caves (such have been reported from pre- historic Sicily) having had something to do with the development of the original wooden pile-dwelling into the stone temple.

The theory of Sarasin has the advantage of proposing as the origi- nal prototype of the Greek temple something that was more or less cosmopolitan, a building that was common and natural over a large portion of the prehistoric world, and not some merely "local" model. As Dr. Sarasin points out, the pile-dwelling served also as prototype of the Chinese and Japanese temples (in this case, since they are mostly constructed of wood the likeness is even more striking); likewise in Farther India, Hindustan, Arabia, Asia Minor, Egypt, etc., and even in prehistoric America. Moreover, not merely the "long temple," but the "round temple," goes back to the pile-house, as may be seen from the round pile-dwellings ascribed to the land of Punt, in Egyptian pictures dating from ca. 1500 b.c., which are practically identical in shape, etc., with pile-dwellings still to be seen in the Nicobar Islands and in certain parts of Africa.

Taken altogether, Sarasin's essay is one of the most interesting and suggestive contributions to the literature of the evolution of architecture that has appeared in a generation, and it illustrates the way in which the anthropological investigator can assist in the solution of many puzzling problems, which meet with no successful interpretation at the hands of the closet-student or the biased classicist. Dr. Sarasin has given but another proof of the fact that the highest genius of the ancient Greeks lay not in inventing great or beautiful things out-of-hand, but in idealizing, beautifying and harmonizing what had already long existed in common and wide-spread forms and fashions. And to that great art no human race is utterly a stranger; and many of them are much nearer the Greeks than most of us believe.