<<<
>>>

Custom and Myth

Page: 93

Few people who are interested in the question can afford to visit Peru and Mycenæ and study the architecture for themselves. But anyone who is interested in the strange identity of the human mind everywhere, and in the necessary forms of early art, can go to the British Museum and examine the American and early Greek pottery. Compare the Greek key pattern and the wave pattern on Greek and Mexican vases, and compare the bird-faces, or human faces very like those of birds, with the similar faces on the clay pots which Dr. Schliemann dug up at Troy. The latter are engraved in his book on Troy. Compare the so-called ‘cuttle-fish’ from a Peruvian jar with the same figure on the early Greek vases, most of which are to be found in the last of the classical vase-rooms upstairs. Once more, compare the little clay ‘whorls’ of the Mexican and Peruvian room with those which Dr. Schliemann found so numerous at Hissarlik. The conviction becomes irresistible that all these objects, in shape, in purpose, in character of decoration, are the same, because the mind and the materials of men, in their early stages of civilisation especially, are the same everywhere. You might introduce old Greek bits of clay-work, figures or vases, into a Peruvian collection, or might foist Mexican objects among the clay treasures of Hissarlik, and the wisest archæologist would be deceived. The Greek fret pattern especially seems to be one of the earliest that men learnt to draw. The svastika, as it is called, the cross with lines at right angles to each limb, is found everywhere—in India, Greece, Scotland, Peru—as a natural bit of ornament. The allegorising fancy of the Indians gave it a mystic meaning, and the learned have built I know not what worlds of religious theories on this ‘pre-Christian cross,’ which is probably a piece of hasty decorative work, with no original mystic meaning at all. {289} Ornaments of this sort were transferred from wood or bone to clay, almost as soon as people learned that early art, the potter’s, to which the Australians have not attained, though it was familiar to the not distant people of New Caledonia. The style of spirals and curves, again, once acquired (as it was by the New Zealanders), became the favourite of some races, especially of the Celtic. Any one who will study either the ornaments of Mycenæ, or those of any old Scotch or Irish collection, will readily recognise in that art the development of a system of ornament like that of the Maoris. Classical Greece, on the other hand, followed more in the track of the ancient system of straight and slanted lines, and we do not find in the later Greek art that love of interlacing coils and spirals which is so remarkable among the Celts, and which is very manifest in the ornaments of the Mycænean hoards—that is, perhaps, of the ancient Greek heroic age. The causes of these differences in the development of ornament, the causes that made Celtic genius follow one track, and pursue to its æsthetic limits one early motif, while classical art went on a severer line, it is, perhaps, impossible at present to ascertain. But it is plain enough that later art has done little more than develop ideas of ornament already familiar to untutored races.


<<<
>>>