K.H. Kinzl home page

 

Review

Konrad H. Kinzl

 

Phoenix 41 (1987) 65-68

 

   

   

 

— 65 —

 

Jeffrey M. Hurwit: The art and culture of early Greece, 1100-480 B.C. Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press 1985. Pp. 367, 154 plates.

THIS book is a tour de force, written in an arresting, sometimes dazzling style, with a fine sense of humour. The author’s enthusiasm shows, through-

 

   

   

 

— 66 —

 

out, in an uncommonly engaging way. Clarity and easy of writing all but mask the serious nature of the investigation and its labours. I have rarely read a fairly specialised study with similar enjoyment. Hurwit states that his book “presents a synthesis of Archaic culture: it seeks to place the art and architecture of early Greece in its literary, historical, and intellectual contexts.” He is “concerned about origins,” and admits a “bias” towards Athens (9). He is (according to the dust jacket) Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Oregon. As a reviewer, I may claim expertise only in history and historiography.

There are seven chapters (ranging in length from 18 to 78 pages): “Archaios;” “Origins and Promises: Poet and Painter in the Dark Age;” “The Idea of Order;” “The Edge of Disorder: The seventh Century” (78 pp.); “Golden Ages: Ionia and Athens in the Sixth Century” (70 pp.); “Revolution: Red Figure and Relief Sculpture in the Sixth Century;” “The Sense of a Beginning.” 154 well selected illustrations (many of them good photographs by the author) make it easy to follow the arguments. The proof-reading is generally good, but “seige” (274) and “correlary”) ought not to have slipped by; also, read “oikemation”, fig. 100), and “[153]”).

Hurwit is at his best in stylistic analysis of paintings (each description of a painting is a little gem) and sculptures. With a fine eye for detail and overall design, he traces developments, and he succeeds in showing the antecedents, innovations, origins; thereby cogently connecting successive styles.1 His discussion of architectural questions is also excellent. In these sections, ample attention is given to problems; various possibilities of interpretation are [put forward] clearly, and solutions are offered (an excellent example is his discussion of the predecessors of the Parthenon and the Dörpfeld foundations, 236ff.); or, where this is impossible, Hurwit does not hesitate to say so. Literary and philosophical texts (rendered in Hurwit’s own fine translations) are treated sensibly, and problems of literary trends or innovations are well presented (e.g., the question of orality in the Homeric poems, 46ff.). Texts and visual materials are correlated sensitively; equations that are too obvious to be true are generally avoided (as in the section on “Homer and the Dipylon Style,”).

The weak link in all this is the historical component. It seems to be assumed that the history of the period is less, or even not at all, problematical — when the opposite is true. Here we encounter the classic

 

   

   

 

— 67 —

 

[dilemma of method]. The historian turns to the archaeological publications to find “evidence” for his constructions; the archaeologist draws on “knowledge” drawn from historians’ works, in his attempt to connect his findings with historical “events.” Whilst the name of an artist may or may not be known but his work of art is easily placed in a stylistic context — which is all that matters — names in history are easily an entirely different matter. It is imprudent to connect a work of art with a known historical figure, un less the connexion can be established beyond reasonable doubt (as by an inscription, or an authoritative account, or both — e.g., the altar of Pythian Apollo in the Athenian Agora, dedicated by the younger Peisistratos: Thuc. 6.54.7; IG I2 761).

To do justice to the book one would require twice or thrice the space allowed. I shall select one example to illustrate the concern raised above. Hurwit states that “Hippias and Hipparchos (if not Peisistratos himself)” (249; at 274 and 331 he writes “the Peisistratids#&148;) began the construction of the Athenian Olympieion. There is no discussion of the evidence, archaeological or otherwise. Aristotle (Pol. 1312b23) names the Peisistratidai, a term he uses at 1315b30 for both Peisistratos and his sons, as builders. The archaeological evidence appears to be ambiguous. Travlos states that “the filling thrown into the ... temple while it was under construction contained sherds dated to circa 530.”2 If the Dörpfeld foundations can be dated variously to the late seventh, mid-sixth, or late sixth century (Hurwit 238), can the sixth-century remains of the Olympieion be dated to precisely 515?3 Unless red-figure pottery is present, which appears not have started about 530, a date anywhere from 555 to 505 should be considered at least. As for a personal identification of the builder(s), are there men of known expertise, connexions, and resources? Pride of place goes to the family of Megakles son of Alkmeon,[3a] who fills all three requirements: temple building at Delphoi4 and wealth, thanks to Kroisos of Lydia (Hdt. 6.125); second place might go to Miltiades son of Kypselos, on account of personal wealth and connexions with Kroisos (Hdt. 6.37), but there is no evidence that he might have been involved with construction. Kroisos contributed to the construction of the Artemision at Ephesos (and possibly to the temple of Apollo at Didyma: Hurwit 213). A contribution from him to the Olympieion might be lurking behind the silly story about Alkmeon and Kroisos in Herodotos 6.125. That would require a date before 547/46, the year of Pallene and the fall of Kroisos. As for a date after that, Hurwit himself speculates (implausibly but

 

   

   

 

— 68 —

 

perhaps following C.M. Kraay5) that “aristocrats at Peisistratos’ invitation minted the earliest Athenian coins” — surely an activity intrinsically more important than building a temple. It would take a lengthy article, including a reexamination of the finds of the late-nineteenth-century excavations (if they are still extant), to investigate all this further.6 What I have attempted to show is that rash naming of names does not further the cause of scholarship (even if this has been the practice of scholars for a century and more), nor, certainly, that of history as a science. That is the weak spot of Hurwit’s book.

It is my hope that Hurwit’s book will be well received, and that it will see a second edition (in which the weak link might be strengthened).

 

   

   

 

Footnotes

 

1     One might question the occasional point of detail. For example, he dates Submycenaean from 1125 to 1050 (without stating on whose authority), and Protogeometric from 1050 to 900. This large interval of nearly a quarter of a millennium between Late Mycenaean III C and Early Geometric seems in itself implausible, and it does not take into account other later datings of Submycenaean which shorten the two periods to perhaps as little as one century (1000-950, as a lowest date), but not more than 150 years.

Return to text

2     J. Travlos, Pictorial dictionary of ancient Athens (New York and Washington 1971) 402; with lit. 402.

Return to text

3     Travlos; J. Boersma, (Groningen 1970) 199.

Return to text

[3a     Cf., for what it is worth, K. Schefold, “Kleisthenes” MH 3 (1946) 59ff., and my contribution in Klio 62 (1980) 177ff., esp. 187 (English translation).

Return to text]

4     Cf. K.H. Kinzl, “Philochoros FGrHist 328 F 115 and Ephoros: observations on Schol. Pind. Pyth. 7.9B,” Hermes 102 (1974) 179-190, at 179ff.

Return to text

5     C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1976) 59- 60.

Return to text

6     On the role of the aristocrats at that time, cf. K.H. Kinzl, “Betrachtungen zur älteren griechischen Tyrannis,” AJAH 4 (1979) 23-45, at 33ff. (English translation), for what it is worth.

Return to text

    Return to beginning