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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 9/9 -
her, did you feel any supernatural power and beauty?"
"What a question!" exclaimed Hermon in astonishment. "A pupil of Straton, and go in search of beings and powers whose existence he denies! What my mother instilled into my heart I lost with my childhood, and you address your question only to the artist who holds his own ground, not to the boy. The power that calls creation to life, and maintains it, has for me long had nothing in common with those beings like mortals whom the multitude designates by the name of divinities."
"I think differently," replied Myrtilus. "While I numbered myself among the Epicureans, whose doctrine still possesses the greatest charm for me, I nevertheless shared the master's opinion that it is insulting the gods to suppose that they will disturb their blissful repose for the sake of us insignificant mortals. Now my mind and my experience rebel against holding to this view, yet I believe with Epicurus, and with you, that the eternal laws of Nature bow to neither divine nor human will."
"And yet," said Hermon, "you expect me to trouble myself about those who are as powerless as myself!"
"I only wished that you might do so," answered Myrtilus; "for they are not powerless to those who from the first assumed that they can do nothing in opposition to those changeless laws. The state, too, rules according to them, and the wise king who refrains from interfering with them in the smallest trifle can therefore wield the sceptre with mighty power. So, in my opinion, it is perfectly allowable to expect aid from the gods. But we will let that pass. A healthy man, full of exuberant vigour like yourself, rarely learns early what they can bestow in suffering and misfortune; yet where the great majority believe in them, he, too, will be unable to help forming some idea of them; nay, even you and I have experienced it. By a thousand phenomena they force themselves into the world which surrounds us and our emotional life. Epicurus, who denied their power, saw in them at least immortal beings who possess in stainless perfection everything which in mortals is disfigured by errors, weaknesses, and afflictions. To him they are the intensified, reflected image of our own nature, and I think we can do nothing wiser than to cling to that, because it shows us to what heights of beauty and power, intellect, goodness, and purity we may attain. To completely deny their existence would hardly be possible even for you, because their persons have found a place in your imagination. Since this is the case, it can only benefit you to recognise in them magnificent models, by whose means we artists, if we imitate, perfect, and model them, will create works far more sublime and beautiful than anything visible to our senses which we meet here beneath the sun."
"It is this very superiority in sublimity and beauty which I, and those who pursue the same path with me, oppose," replied Hermon. "Nature is sufficient for us. To take anything from her, mutilates; to add anything, disfigures her."
"But not," replied Myrtilus firmly, "when it is done only in a special sense, and within the limits of Nature, to which the gods also belong. The final task of art, fiercely as you and your few followers contend against it, lies in the disentanglement, enhancing, and ennobling of Nature. You, too, ought not to overlook it when you undertake to model a Demeter; for she is a goddess, no mortal like yourself. The rest or I ought rather to say the alteration which converts the mortal woman into the immortal one, the goddess--I miss, and with special regret, because you do not even deem it worth consideration."
"That I shall never do," retorted Hermon irritably, "so long as it is a changing chimera which presents itself differently to every mind."
"Yet, should it really be a chimera, it is at any rate a sublime one," Myrtilus protested, "and whoever among us artists wanders through Nature with open eyes and heart, and then examines his own soul, will find it worth while to attempt to give his ideal form."
"Whatever stirs my breast during such walks, unless it is some unusual human being, I leave to the poet," replied Hermon. "I should be satisfied with the Demeter yonder, and you, too, probably, if--entirely apart from that--I had only succeeded fully and entirely in making her an individual--that is, a clearly outlined, distinct personality. This, you have often told me, is just wherein I am usually most successful. But here, I admit, I am baffled. Demeter hovered before me as a kindly dispenser of good gifts, a faithful, loving wife. Daphne's head expresses this; but in modelling the body I lost sight of the whole creation. While, for instance, in my fig-eater, every toe, every scrap of the tattered garments, belongs to the street urchin whom I wished to represent, in the goddess everything came by chance as the model suggested it, and you know that I used several. Had the Demeter from head to foot resembled Daphne, who has so much in common with our goddess, the statue would have been harmonious, complete, and you would perhaps have been the first to acknowledge it."
"By no means," Myrtilus eagerly interrupted. "What our statues of the gods are we two know best: a wooden block, covered with gold and sheets of ivory. But to tens of thousands the statue of the divinity must be much more. When they raise their hearts, eyes, hands to it in prayer, they must be possessed by the idea of the deity which animated us while creating it, and with which we, as it were, permeated it. If it shows them only a woman endowed with praiseworthy qualities--"
"Then," interrupted Hermon, "the worshipper should thank the sculptor; for is it not more profitable to him to be encouraged by the statue to emulate the human virtues whose successful embodiment it shows him than to strive for the aid of the botchwork of human hands, which possesses as much or as little power as the wood, gold, and ivory that compose it? If the worshipper does not appeal to the statue, but to the goddess, I fear it will be no less futile. So I shall consider it no blemish if you see in my Demeter a mortal woman, and no goddess; nay, it reconciles me in some degree to her weaknesses, to which I by no means close my eyes. I, too--I confess it--often feel a great desire to give the power of imagination greater play, and I know the divinities in whom I have lost faith as well as any one; for I, too, was once a child, and few have ever prayed to them more fervently, but with the increasing impulse toward liberty came the perception: There are no gods, and whoever bows to the power of the immortals makes himself a slave. So what I banished from life I will also remove from art, and model nothing which might not meet me to-day or to-morrow."
"Then, as an honest man, abstain altogether from making statues of the gods," interrupted his friend.
"That was my intention long ago, as you are aware," the other answered.
"You could not commit a worse robbery upon yourself," cried Myrtilus. "I know you; nay, perhaps I see farther into your soul than you yourself. By ingenious fetters you force the mighty winged intellect to content itself within the narrow world of reality. But the time when you will yourself rend the bonds and find the divinity you have lost, will come, and then, with your mighty power once more free, you will outstrip most of us, and me also if I live to see it."
Then he pressed his hand upon his rattling chest and walked slowly to the couch; but Hermon followed, helped him to lie down, and with affectionate solicitude arranged his pillows.
"It is nothing," Myrtilus said soothingly, after a few minutes' silence. "My undermined strength has been heavily taxed to-day. The Olympians know how calmly I await death. It ends all things. Nothing will be left of me except the ashes, to which you will reduce my body, and what you call 'possession.' But even this can no longer belong to me after death, because I shall then be no more, and the idea of possession requires a possessor. My estate, too, is now disposed of. I have just been to the notary, and sixteen witnesses--neither more nor less--have signed my will according to the custom of this ceremonious country. There, now, if you please, go before me, and let me stay here alone a little while. Remember me to Daphne and the Pelusinians. I will join you in an hour."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Cautious inquiry saves recantation Nature is sufficient for us There are no gods, and whoever bows makes himself a slave Waiting is the merchant's wisdom Woman's hair is long, but her wit is short
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