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- Arachne, Volume 5. - 3/10 -
my dear, unfortunate friend, since I could congratulate any other Alexandrian with such joyful confidence upon the most magnificent success! Every word--you may believe it!--which comes to you in commendation of this last work from lips unused to eulogy is sincerely meant, and as I utter it to you I shall repeat it in the presence of the King, Archias, and the other judges."
Daphne, with hurried breath, deeply flushed cheeks, and sparkling eyes, had fairly hung upon the lips of the clever connoisseur. She knew Proclus, and his dreaded, absolutely inconsiderate acuteness, and was aware that this praise expressed his deepest conviction. Had he been dissatisfied with the statue of Demeter, or even merely superficially touched by its beauty, he might have shrunk from wounding the unfortunate artist by censure, and remained silent; but only something grand, consummate, could lead him to such warmth of recognition.
She now felt it a misfortune that she and Thyone had hitherto been prevented, by anxiety for their patient, from admiring his work. Had it still been light, she would have gone to the temple of Demeter at once; but the sun had just set, and Proclus was obliged to beg her to have patience.
As the cases were standing finished at the cabinetmaker's, the statue had been packed immediately, under his own direction, and carried on board his ship, which would convey it with him to the capital the next day.
While this arrangement called forth loud expressions of regret from Daphne and the vivacious matron, Hermon assented to it, for it would at least secure the ladies, until their arrival in Alexandria, from a painful disappointment.
"Rather," Proclus protested with firm dissent, "it will rob you for some time of a great pleasure, and you, noble daughter of Archias, probably of the deepest emotion of gratitude with which the favour of the immortals has hitherto rendered you happy; yet the master who created this genuine goddess owes the best part of it to your own face."
"He told me himself that he thought of me while at work," Daphne admitted, and a flood of the warmest love reached Hermon's ears in her agitated tones, while, greatly perplexed, he wondered with increasing anxiety whether the stern critic Proclus had really been serious in the extravagant eulogium, so alien to his reputation in the city.
Myrtilus, too, had admired the head of his Demeter, and--this he himself might admit--he had succeeded in it, and yet ought not the figure, with its too pronounced inclination forward, which, it is true, corresponded with Daphne's usual bearing, and the somewhat angular bend of the arms, have induced this keen-sighted connoisseur to moderate the exalted strain of his praise? Or was the whole really so admirable that it would have seemed petty to find fault with the less successful details? At any rate, Proclus's eulogy ought to give him twofold pleasure, because his art had formerly repelled him, and Hermon tried to let it produce this effect upon him. But it would not do; he was continually overpowered by the feeling that under the enthusiastic homage of the intriguing Queen Arsinoe's favourite lurked a sting which he should some day feel. Or could Proclus have been persuaded by Thyone and Daphne to help them reconcile the hapless blind man to his hard fate?
Hermon's every movement betrayed the great anxiety which filled his mind, and it by no means escaped Proclus's attention, but he attributed it to the blinded sculptor's anguish in being prevented, after so great a success, from pursuing his art further.
Sincerely touched, he laid his slender hand on the sufferer's muscular arm, saying: "A more severe trial than yours, my young friend, can scarcely be imposed upon the artist who has just attained the highest goal, but three things warrant you to hope for recovery--your vigorous youth, the skill of our Alexandrian leeches, and the favour of the immortal gods. You shrug your shoulders? Yet I insist that you have won this favour by your Demeter. True, you owe it less to yourself than to yonder maiden. What pleasure it affords one whom, like myself, taste and office bind to the arts, to perceive such a revolution in an artist's course of creation, and trace it to its source! I indulged myself in it and, if you will listen, I should like to show you the result."
"Speak," replied Hermon dully, bowing his head as if submitting to the inevitable, while Proclus began:
"Hitherto your art imitated, not without success, what your eyes showed you, and if this was filled with the warm breath of life, your work succeeded. All respect to your Boy Eating Figs, in whose presence you would feel the pleasure he himself enjoyed while consuming the sweet fruit. Here, among the works of Egyptian antiquity, there is imminent danger of falling under the tyranny of the canon of proportions which can be expressed in figures, or merely even the demands of the style hallowed by thousands of years, but in a subject like the 'Fig-eater' such a reproach is not to be feared. He speaks his own intelligible language, and whoever reproduces it without turning to the right or left has won, for he has created a work whose value every true friend of art, no matter to what school he belongs, prizes highly.
"To me personally such works of living reality are cordially welcome. Yet art neither can nor will be satisfied with snatches of what is close at hand; but you are late-born, sons of a time when the two great tendencies of art have nearly reached the limits of what is attainable to them. You were everywhere confronted with completed work, and you are right when you refuse to sink to mere imitators of earlier works, and therefore return to Nature, with which we Hellenes, and perhaps the Egyptians also, began. The latter forgot her; the former--we Greeks-- continued to cling to her closely."
"Some few," Hermon eagerly interrupted the other, "still think it worth the trouble to take from her what she alone can bestow. They save themselves the toilsome search for the model which others so successfully used before them, and bronze and marble still keep wonderfully well. Bring out the old masterpieces. Take the head from this one, the arm from that, etc. The pupil impresses the proportions on his mind. Only so far as the longing for the beautiful permits do even the better ones remain faithful to Nature, not a finger's breadth more."
"Quite right," the other went on calmly. "But your objection only brings one nearer the goal. How many who care only for applause content themselves to-day, unfortunately, with Nature at second hand! Without returning to her eternally fresh, inexhaustible spring, they draw from the conveniently accessible wells which the great ancients dug for them."
"I know these many," Hermon wrathfully exclaimed. "They are the brothers of the Homeric poets, who take verses from the Iliad and Odyssey to piece out from them their own pitiful poems."
"Excellent, my son!" exclaimed Thyone, laughing, and Daphne remarked that the poet Cleon had surprised her father with such a poem a few weeks before. It was a marvellous bit of botchwork, and yet there was a certain meaning in the production, compiled solely from Homeric verses.
"Diomed's Hecuba," observed Proclus, "and the Aphrodite by Hippias, which were executed in marble, originated in the same way, and deserve no better fate, although they please the great multitude. But, praised be my lord, Apollo, our age can also boast of other artists. Filled with the spirit of the god, they are able to model truthfully and faithfully even the forms of the immortals invisible to the physical eye. They stand before the spectator as if borrowed from Nature, for their creators have filled them with their own healthy vigour. Our poor Myrtilus belonged to this class and, after your Demeter, the world will include you in it also."
"And yet," answered Hermon in a tone of dissent, "I remained faithful to myself, and put nothing, nothing at all of my own personality, into the forms borrowed from Nature."
"What need of that was there?" asked Proclus with a subtle smile. "Your model spared you the task. And this at last brings me to the goal I desired to reach. As the great Athenians created types for eternity, so also does Nature at times in a happy hour, for her own pleasure, and such a model you found in our Daphne.-No contradiction, my dear young lady! The outlines of the figure--By the dog! Hermon might possibly have found forms no less beautiful in the Aphrosion, but how charming and lifelike is the somewhat unusual yet graceful pose of yours! And then the heart, the soul! In your companionship our artist had nothing to do except lovingly to share your feelings in order to have at his disposal everything which renders so dear to us all the giver of bread, the preserver of peace, the protector of marriage, the creator and supporter of the law of moderation in Nature, as well as in human existence. Where would all these traits be found more perfectly united in a single human being than in your person, Daphne, your quiet, kindly rule?"
"Oh, stop!" the girl entreated. "I am only too well aware--"
"That you also are not free from human frailties," Proclus continued, undismayed. "We will take them, great or small as they may be, into the bargain. The secret ones do not concern the sculptor, who does not or will not see them. What he perceives in you, what you enable him to recognise through every feature of your sweet, tranquillizing face, is enough for the genuine artist to imagine the goddess; for the distinction between the mortal and the immortal is only the degree of perfection, and the human intellect and artist soul can find nothing more perfect in the whole domain of Demeter's jurisdiction than is presented to them in your nature. Our friend yonder seized it, and his magnificent work of art proves how nearly it approaches the purest and loftiest conception we form of the goddess whom he had to represent. It is not that he deified you, Daphne; he merely bestowed on the divinity forms which he recognised in you."
Just at that moment, obeying an uncontrollable impulse, Hermon pulled the bandage from his eyes to see once more the woman to whom this warm homage was paid.
Was the experienced connoisseur of art and the artist soul in the right?
He had told himself the same thing when he selected Daphne for a model, and her head reproduced what Proclus praised as the common possession of Daphne and Demeter. Truthful Myrtilus had also seen it. Perhaps his work had really been so marvellously successful because, while he was engaged upon it, his friend had constantly stood before his mind in all the charm of her inexhaustible goodness.
Animated by the ardent desire to gaze once more at the beloved face, to which he now owed also this unexpectedly great success, he turned toward the spot whence her voice had reached him; but a wall of violet mist, dotted with black specks, was all that his blinded eyes showed him, and with a low groan he drew the linen cloth over the burns.
This time Proclus also perceived what was passing in the poor artist's mind, and when he took leave of him it was with the resolve to do his utmost to brighten with the stars of recognition and renown the dark night of suffering which enshrouded this highly gifted sculptor, whose unexpectedly great modesty had prepossessed him still more in his favour.
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