I gave up for the moment. Above the picture is a sentence lightly written, almost scribbled, in Etruscan. ‘Can you read it?’ I said to the German boy. He read it off quickly–myself, I should have had to go letter by letter. ‘Do you know what it means ?’ I asked him. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Nobody knows.’
In the shallow angle of the roof the heraldic beasts are curious. The squat centre-piece, the so-called altar, has four rams’ heads at the corners. On the right a pale bodied man with a dark face is galloping up with loose rein, on a black horse, followed by a galloping bull. On the left is a bigger figure, a queer galloping lion with his tongue out. But from the lion’s shoulders, instead of wings, rises the second neck of a dark-faced, bearded goat: so that the complex animal has a second, backward-leaning neck and head, of a goat, as well as the first maned neck and menacing head of a lion. The tail of the lion ends in a serpent’s head. So this is the proper Chimaera. And galloping after the end of the lion’s tail comes a winged female sphinx.
‘What is the meaning of this lion with the second head and neck?’ I asked the German. He shrugged his shoulders, and said: ‘Nothing!’ It meant nothing to him, because nothing except the ABC of facts means anything to him. He is a scientist, and when he doesn’t want a thing to have a meaning it is, ipso facto, meaningless.
But the lion with the goat’s head springing backwards from its shoulders must mean something, because there it is, very vivid, in the famous bronze Chimaera of Arezzo, which is in the Florence museum, and which Benvenuto Cellini restored, and which is one of the most fascinating bronzes in the world. There, the bearded goat’s head springs twisting backwards from the lion’s shoulders, while the right horn of the goat is seized in the mouth of the serpent, which is the tail of the lion whipped forward over his back.
Though this is the correct Chimaera, with the wounds of Bellerophon in hip and neck, still it is not merely a big toy. It has, and was intended to have, an exact esoteric meaning. In fact, Greek myths are only gross representations of certain very clear and very ancient esoteric conceptions, that are much older than the myths: or the Greeks. Myths, and personal gods, are only the decadence of a previous cosmic religion.
The strange potency and beauty of these Etruscan things arise, it seems to me, from the profundity of the symbolic meaning the artist was more or less aware of. The Etruscan religion, surely, was never anthropomorphic: that is, whatever gods it contained were not beings, but symbols of elemental powers, just symbols: as was the case earlier in Egypt. The undivided Godhead, if we can call it such, was symbolized by the mundum, the plasm-cell with its nucleus: that which is the very beginning; instead of, as with us, by a personal god, a person being the very end of all creation or evolution. So it is all the way through: the Etruscan religion is concerned with all those physical and creative powers and forces which go to the building up and the destroying of the soul: the soul, the personality, being that which gradually is produced out of chaos, like a flower, only to disappear again into chaos, or the underworld. We, on the contrary, say: In the beginning was the Word!–and deny the physical universe true existence. We exist only in the Word, which is beaten out thin to cover, gild, and hide all things.Share It