Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, , at sacred-texts.com
. . .'The eastern gate
'The doors of Heaven seem slowly to open, and what are called the bright flocks of the Dawn step out of the dark stable, returning to their wonted pastures. . . . Not only the east, but the west, and the south, and the north, the whole temple of Heaven, is illuminated.'—MAX MÜLLER (Comp. Myth.).
WHEN the earth, or rather the wall of mountains surrounding the utmost bounds of ocean, was the foundation of the solid sky, some contrivance was necessary to account for the disappearance and return of the sun. A new sun, it was thought, was created in the morning to die at night, the creature of a day. Others believed that when it reached the ocean it was floated round by the north to the place of rising in the east; or that, as the earth rose in the north like a great mountain, the sun was periodically hidden behind it. The general early view, however, was that there were two openings—the Gates of the East, and the Gates of the West. Through the one the sun enters in the morning the mundane temple, to pass out at the other in the evening, and thence pursue its way back by the dark path of the under world.
In the Veda:—'The dawn shone with brilliance and opened for us the doors that open high and wide with their frames.'
In Babylonia the same scheme is shown, in such texts as the invocations to the rising sun, given in Records of the Past,' and by Lenormant, of which the first is curiously like Hesiod. 'He opened great gates on every side; he made strong the portals on the left hand and on the right; in the centre he placed luminaries. The moon he appointed to rule the night and to wander through the night until the dawn of day.'
'Sun, thou shinest in the lowest heavens: Thou openest the bolts which close the high heavens: Thou openest the gate of Heaven.' Or:—'In the great door of the high heavens in the opening which belongs to thee.' Steps led up the sky from the east gate and descended to the west (Lenormant). Dr Hayes Ward in the American Journal of Archæology (Vol. 3), shows some dozen Babylonian seals, with intaglios of the Sun-god passing through the double-valved gate of the East and beginning to climb the mountain of the sky. The gate has two guardian figures.
To the Egyptians, the sun was The Opener. The gates to the grave land are often mentioned in the Book of the Dead, and are figured on the tombs.
In Virgil, it is the slamming of these great portals
of the firmament that makes the thunder resound from the whole vault of heaven; probably a primitive thought, as it is such a good explanation, 'quem super origens porta tonat cæli' (Georg. iii. 260).
To the Phœnicians, Hercules (Melkarth) the sun-god, established in the distant west the Pillars of Hercules, identified afterwards with the mountains on either hand at the Straits of Gibraltar; but even as late as Tacitus it was not decided where they were, nor what.
Such being the gates of the world structure, we may expect temple doors to have a definite relation to their great prototypes; and accordingly in chapter iii. we saw that not only did the building offer its four walls to the four heavenly aspects, but it was the universal early practice for the great door to be 'the Gate of Sunrise.' This door of enormous size was properly the sole opening to the temple, serving as much for light as to enter by; it was thrown open at dawn, and the sun thus entered the world temple and its microcosm at one bound. His symbol signs as we shall see the temple gates, and by a natural reaction, what belongs to one idea is reflected in the other.
In Egypt the gates of the under world through which the sun passes are shown in the illustrations to the Book of the Dead as great pylons like the entrances to the temples. Every temple pylon becomes a sun gate, and sculptured and painted on the centre of its lintel is the red disc of the sun. 'The winged globe,' says Wilkinson, 'always having its place over the doorways.' And Perrot and Chipiez, 'It was generally ornamented with the winged globe, an emblem which was afterwards appropriated by the nations which became connected with Egypt. This emblem in its full development was formed by the
solar disc, supported on each side by the uræus, the serpent which meant royalty. The disc and its supporters are flanked by two wide-stretching wings with rounded fan-shaped extremities, which symbolized the untiring activity of the sun in making its daily journey from one end of the firmament to the other. Egyptologists tell us that the group as a whole signifies the triumph of right over wrong, the victory of Horus over Set (light over dark). An inscription at Edfou tells us that after this victory Thoth ordered that the emblem should be carved over every door in Egypt, and in fact there are very few lintels without it.' That is, there was a sacred legend saying that the God of Wisdom ordered the sun to be represented on every portal, to symbolise the victory of the sun over darkness, in the struggle at daybreak at the gates of the east.
These colossal gates are the all-important features to which the shrines are but secondary; so much so that an Egyptian temple might be defined as a series of gates. They were most impressive in themselves and their ritual significance must have awed into thought and silence whoever entered. Miss Edwards thus describes Karnak, Denderah, and the rock-cut temple at Aboo Simbel. 'Crossing this court in the glowing sunlight we came to a mighty doorway. Only a jutting fragment of the lintel stone remains. That stone when perfect measured forty feet and ten inches across. The doorway must have been full a hundred feet in height' (Karnak).
'The winged globe depicted upon a gigantic scale on the curve of the cornice seems to hover above the central doorway' (Denderah).
'On certain mornings in the year, in the very heart of the mountain, as the sun comes up above the eastern hill-tops, one long level beam strikes through
the doorway, pierces the inner darkness like an arrow, penetrates to the sanctuary, and falls like fire from Heaven upon the altar at the feet of the gods. No one who has watched for the coming of that shaft of sunlight can doubt that it was a calculated effect, and that the excavation was directed at one especial angle in order to produce it. In this way Ra, to whom the temple was dedicated, may be said to have entered in daily, and by a direct manifestation of his presence to have approved the sacrifices of his worshippers' (Aboo Simbel). Sculptured over the door is a figure of Horus bearing the sun disc.
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An inscription of Rameses II. on the temple of Ptah, at Memphis, might well boast:—
The Phœnicians likewise signed with the sun the centre of their doorways, borrowing the Egyptian orb at Byblos. At Ebba the sun rises between two moons (see above from Perrot). The great ceremonial propylæ to the temples, as shown on the coins, have the sun and moon depicted immediately above them. And in the ruins at Medeba, in Moab, Dr Tristram found upon a lintel over an ancient doorway the sculptured emblems of the sun and moon.
[paragraph continues] The acroterion of the portico of the Heræum at Olympia, the oldest known temple in Greece, was a solar disc; and another instance of the same kind is given by Lebas and Waddington.
In the classic period of Syrian art most of the great temple doors had sculptured on the under side of the epistyle an enormous eagle with expanded wings. The great eastern door of the sun temple at Baalbek, 'city of the sun,' is the finest of these; it is 21 feet wide, and therefore, some 40 feet high, as the approved proportion was twice as high as broad. 'Here on the lower surface (lintel of the door) is the celebrated figure of the crested eagle, beautifully wrought, holding in his talons a caduceus, and in his beak strings of long garlands extending on each side, where the other ends are borne up by flying genii. The crest shows that it was not the Roman eagle; but as the same figure is found in the great Temple of the Sun at Palmyra, Volney and others regarded it as the Oriental eagle consecrated to the sun' (Robinson 'Palestine Researches').
The lintel of Palmyra is figured by Wood and Dawkins. The door faces due east, and the great eagle appears to fly into the temple, the wings expanded ten or twelve feet; the rest of the space is occupied by stars, and two genii of the dawn. In front, on the eastern side of the vast court, 700 feet square, is a magnificent propylon.
The Memoirs of the Palestine Exploration Society describe remains of a temple of similar style at Kades, fronting full east, with three doorways, the centre one being very large. 'The lintel, which lies broken in front of the doorway, bears on the under side a representation of the winged deity, the Sun; it resembles the lintel of the small temple at Baalbek.'
Another remarkable instance is the great eastern
portal of the temple of Baalzamin, figured and described by De Vogüé. Here is, first, a 'solar head with rays' on the lintel; the lower side of the architrave of the pillared portico has the solar bird, and on its front face is a large sculptured disc.
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The cornice or arch of the door was at times only charged with a circular sun-disc, as that of the tomb at Shefa Amr, in Galilee, here figured. It was this tradition that was afterwards followed in the universal Syrian Christian custom of placing a disc with the sacred monogram or cross on the lintel, usually with ribbon-like appendages, right and left, which are direct survivals of the Egyptian uræus, that in a similar position accompanied the sun's orb. This becomes a
decorative commonplace in Byzantine art, either at Constantinople or Venice.
In Persia also the gates were dedicated to the sun. At Hatra, a temple, supposed to have been erected under the Parthian dynasty, has the sun rising between two moons displayed on the eastern door; this, and many others, have birds right and left, emblems of dawn. Later, under the Sassanian kings, the tradition was preserved on the great arch of Chosroes II., at Tak-i-Bostan. Flandin shows at its crown a crescent moon, and on either hand flying genii. There was also, Rawlinson thinks, a ball, 'thus presenting to the spectator, at the culminating point of the whole sculpture, the familiar emblems of two of the national divinities.'
A symbol of the sun is placed in the same way centrally over the great ceremonial gates of the enclosure of the Buddhist topes, which face the cardinal points, the ritual providing that the procession should enter by the gate at the east, circle round the dome—representing the firmament—and go out at the west. These wheel symbols of the sun remain at Sanchi; and the custom would seem to have been followed generally, for an ancient native authority says that the Raja of Ceylon inserted gems in the centres of 'the four suns' in the great tope. 'This, perhaps,' adds General Cunningham, 'points to the absorption of the ancient sun-worship into Buddhism; for the wheel was one of the common and obvious emblems of the sun.' (In the Talmud the sun was the great whirling wheel. 'But for the noise of the solar wheel, the hubbub of The City (Rome) might be heard; but for the noise of the city, the sound of the revolving wheel.')
In Orissa, we find not only the sun, or sun and moon,
but the whole of the planets. 'The Nava Graha, or nine planets, adorn the lintels of all the temples of the Kessari line' (Fergusson). Sometimes they are sculptured figures, at others merely nine bosses.
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It is impossible not to compare the great Buddhist gateways, with their triple lintels and sun-discs, to the propylons of Phœnician temples preserved in
semblance on coins (see that of Paphos, figured below). These have double lintels binding the otherwise isolated sideposts, and over the centre of the lintel are the sun and moon. Probably the doorposts of the sun-gates in the East and West are the origin of the two pillars that served for symbol of Melkarth in Phœnician temples, for this symbol was not a single stone, a shapeless ærolith, but a pair of pillars of metal or emerald glass, almost certainly connected by a
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Such pillars have been found engraved as a symbol of Melkarth on a votive stele (see Perrot's Phœnicia), and they really form a gateway, a trilithon, for, standing apart, they are connected by a lintel; over them are the sun and moon—a counterpart of the gateway to the temple on the coin of Paphos.
Professor Robertson Smith, in the recent volume of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' (art. Temple), says definitely: 'Such twin pillars or twin stelæ in stone are of constant occurrence in Phœnician sacred art, and are still familiar to us as the Pillars of Hercules.'
The Egyptian obelisks that flank the great portals of the temples, at once occur to us as having a corresponding intention. In both ancient and modern times the symbolism of these is understood to be solar. 'Dedicated to the sun,' says that at Rome set up by Augustus. According to Pliny, they 'represent rays of the sun.' 'The obelisks,' says Ebers, 'were sacred to Ra, the sun.' It has been remarked that sometimes they were entirely gilt, that the apex was at other times covered with gilded bronze, and some at least appear to have carried spheres or discs, also of gilded metal.
An inscription describes two obelisks erected by Queen Hashop, the sister of the great Thothmes: 'Their tops are covered with copper of the best war tributes of all countries; they are seen a great many miles off. It is a flood of shining-splendour when the sun rises between them' (Brugsch). The Assyrian slabs and bronzes seem to make it clear that 'sun pillars' flanked the entrances, or were set up right and left of an altar.
In India, pillars supporting sun-wheels are found at the entrance gates to sacred buildings. Fergusson says: 'My impression is that all the pillars surmounted by lions in front of the caves, as at Karla, supported originally a wheel in metal.' Such 'chakra pillars' are frequent on the Buddhist sculptures, and the wheels appear to have been turned on an axle. In Orissa, Dr Hunter tells us, 'sun pillars' are surmounted by the charioteer of the god, or by an eagle.
In Peru and Mexico we get exactly the same interpretation of the universal thought. At the gold-plated
temple of Cuzco 'the doors opened to the east, and at the far end was the golden disc of the sun, placed so as to reflect the first rays of the morning on its brilliant surface, and, as it were, reproduce the golden luminary.' 'Columns of the sun' were erected in Peru. 'They were regarded as "seats of the sun," who loved to rest upon them. At the equinoxes and solstices they placed golden thrones upon them for him to sit upon.' Quadrants were traced at the base as dials (Réville, Hibbert Lectures).
The monolithic doorway at Tiahuanco has on the centre of the lintel 'a figure, probably representing the sun' (Clements Markham).
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In China it is the same. A tomb doorway at Canton, figured by Dresser, has the entire lintel sculptured with the sun rising from the clouds; but the most usual form is to charge the beam or the ridge of the great roofed gates (Pailoos) with a flaming sun rising between two guardian dragons.
The custom of erecting such a fore-gate is still maintained at the Shinto temples of Japan. Dr Dickson says the temple enclosure 'is marked by a stone torii or sacred portal. The torii is characteristic of all Shinto shrines; it consists of two upright posts, on the tops of which rests a horizontal beam, projecting slightly on each side; beneath this is a smaller cross beam, whose ends do not project. The
material used is generally wood, but may be stone or bronze. The original purpose of the torii was to serve as a perch for the sacred fowls, kept to give warning of the daybreak; but after the introduction of Buddhism it came to be regarded as a gateway.' We may remark here, that the weathercocks on every church are gilded birds that greet the sun.
In M. Bing's recent book on Japanese art it is remarked that everything is symbolical in the architecture of Japan. 'The torii is a "roost," as the word indicates, and its two bent beams are made in order that the sun, the King of Nature, may come, like a bird, and perch there.' Hokusai, the great Japanese artist, has devoted a book to this very subject, and he accounts for the curves of the massive roofs of the temple porches thus: 'The sun, represented by a large circle on a horizontal line, is supported on its right and left by four smaller circles, representing the four seasons.' Though a diagram which he gives really seems far fetched, if is interesting that he associates the sun thus definitely with the gate; and our wide comparison sufficiently answers the question of the writer who quotes this from Hokusai in the first-named work, and asks, 'Has this explanation any historical value, or is it only ingenious and poetical? At any rate, it is enough that it should come from a Japanese artist, who does not limit to that extent his indications of a like nature in order to prove how strong is the conviction in Japan that architectural forms come, more or less, from hazy recollections of some ancient symbolism.'
The suggestion that the torii were primarily roosts either in purpose or by etymology is certainly not well founded, although it was made by Mr Satow. They were doubtless derived with Buddhism from the gates to the Indian topes there called torana, 'Celestial gates.'
In Japan, the palace of the god-king at Kioto is entered by 'The Gate of the Sun' (Reid); and Dr Dresser saw pilgrims worshipping the rising sun as seen between two rocks connected by a straw-band, from which Shinto symbols were pendant.
These Shinto symbols are the torii itself, the mirror, slips of paper attached to a wand, and the rope. This last is of rice-straw, 'varying in thickness from the heavy cable which often hangs across a torii or temple entrance to that no thicker than a finger, which is suspended across house doors.' In Peru a chain was suspended from two rocks across a valley to catch the sun (Frazer, 'Golden Bough'). The two pillars in front of the temple of Paphos, C. O. Müller says, were joined by a chain. In Hindu temples a chain is sometimes found festooned across the top of the portal. The thought of localising the sun by catching him at the eastern door would thus seem general. The actual sun, we may remember, was often thought to be chained in the performance of his daily toil.
In Arcadia, Pausanias visited a grove of Zeus:—'And on the highest crest of the whole mountain there is a mound of heaped-up earth, the altar of Zeus Lycæus; and the most part of Peloponnesus can be seen from that place; and before the altar stand two pillars facing the rising sun, and thereon golden eagles of yet more ancient workmanship' (viii. 2).
At the most ancient of the sacred sites in Greece—the pre-Homeric oracle of Zeus of Dodona—were two columns; on one was a brazen bowl, on the other a brazen statue. Against the bowl it was arranged that balls attached to chains should strike, swayed by the wind. It cannot be doubted that the chain-work and pomegranates around the bowls on the pillars of Solomon were intended, in the same way, to form
æolian bells, shivering out music to every breath of wind, like the golden bells suspended about the exterior of Burmese temples, which are definitely intended to recall the sweet sounds of paradise. For these gates of Solomon and Herod see the chapter 'Toran' in Ferguson's 'Temple of the Jews.'
The gate, according to Josephus, had no doors, 'for it symbolised the heavens, everywhere open and everywhere visible.' In the Talmud it is said that it was 40 cubits high and 20 broad. Above the pillars were five beams of wood, each of which projected at the ends a cubit more than the one below. 'A golden vine was spread over this gateway of the temple, and it was carried on the supporting beams.' (Other Syrian gateways were ornamented with sculptured vine; and this gives us another Byzantine origin.) The whole porch and inner doorway were entirely covered with gold. This was opened at the moment of sunrise; when the noise, it was said, of loosing the bolts was heard even to Jericho. Across the porch hung a veil embroidered with stars.
The Greek Propylæa of the Acropolis follows the same thought; and it is of some interest to note that the early Greek and Etruscan doorways were of forms suitable and common to these isolated structures—the jambs inclined, and the lintel widely over-lapping them.
The Japanese say that 'unless you passed under the toran on entering the temple your prayers would not be listened to' (Fergusson); and some Christians who were obliged to give up their faith had to pass under one of these torii, as a sign; for this, too, is none other than the gate of heaven. Probably the custom of squeezing between pillars has been at times associated with this thought. St Willibald, in the eighth century, says of the Ascension Church: 'the man who can creep between the wall and the columns is free from his sins.'
Pairs of pillars are associated together also as memorials of the dead, or used to record the past. The two brazen columns in the temple of Hercules at Gades bore a long legend. And Procopius, in 'Wars of the Vandals,' says that in his time two huge stone stelæ existed in the Numidian town of Tirgisis, inscribed by the inhabitants, in Phœnician, with the legend, 'We are they who fled from before Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun.' A yet older record was said to preserve, in this way, the learning of those before the flood. 'The sons of Seth wrote the knowledge of things celestial upon two columns.' 'And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam's prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence of water, they made two pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone; they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that, in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit these discoveries to mankind, and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day.' (Josephus, I.–II.)
The pair of immense pillars before the temple at Hieropolis were said to have been in some way connected with the flood.
The most characteristic and persistent type of tomb was the dolmen, or trilithon; ranging from the rudest balancing of rough stones to perfectly finished work—a pair of columns with an entablature. In this form they are especially found in Syria and places connected with Phœnicia; but the custom is of wider distribution than can be attributed to contact with any one country. Fergusson, in 'Rude Stone Monuments,' has already pointed out the affinity with
the toran gateway, giving an illustration of a Buddhist tomb of the toran form as corresponding to the Western sepulchral trilithons. As in Egypt, and generally to the peoples of antiquity, the soul was expected to pass through the gate of the west; and as in most early tombs—those of Persia and Lycia, for example—there is a false door, a mere representation of a doorway, with two guardian watchers; as, furthermore, we have seen that the grave was the under world in double: shall we not be justified in regarding these sepulchral trilithons as at once the door of the tomb and portal of the under world? It was so certainly in Egypt. Maspero tells us how in the tombs of early or later dynasties the chief object is a false door, the entrance to the 'eternal home' of the dead. 'It is often found in the west, but that position was not prescribed by rule (?). In the earliest times it was indicated like a real door, low and narrow, framed and decorated like the door of an ordinary house, but not pierced through. An inscription graven upon the lintel, in large readable characters, commemorated the name and rank of the owner.' In the pyramid of Unas (sixth dynasty), the chamber was lined with alabaster, and engraved to represent great monumental doors; and carrying the duplication even farther, 'small obelisks, about three feet in height, are found in tombs as early as the fourth dynasty. They are placed on either side of the door which leads to the dwelling of the dead.'
In the 'Encyclopædia of India' (Balfour, art. 'Toran') this same suggestion is made: 'The dolmen or trilithic altar, in the centre of all those monuments called Druidic, is most probably a toran, sacred to the sun-god, . . . to whom (in India), as soon as the temple is raised the toran is erected.'
The Egyptian obelisks were pre-eminently used for
important inscriptions, and their symbolic suitability as everlasting records will be reinforced by what Perrot says of the hieroglyphic significance of the obelisk:—'It was used to write the syllable men, which signified firmness or stability.' From the Bible Dictionary we learn that Boaz and Jachin, the names of the pillars of Solomon, had an equivalent value. Jachin, 'he established;' Boaz, 'in him is strength.' Renan reads: 'May the double column firmly stand.' We can hardly doubt longer that twin columns represent the eternal and immovable pillars of the sky—Heaven's gate—through which the worshipper must pass to the temple; or the soul to the other world.
Portals must have guardians. The gateways of the Assyrians were in this respect like the sun gates of the east and the west, where the solid firmament rested on two winged genii in the form of bulls. 'The "path of the Sun" to the "great twin gates" was guarded by the pair of scorpion kerubim' (Boscawen, Bab. Record).
'We read invocations to the two bulls who flanked the gate of the infernal abode, which were no longer simulacra of stone, but living beings, like the bulls at the gates of the celestial palaces of the gods.'
'The invocation which follows is addressed to the ears of the bull "placed on the right of the bronze enclosure," because they imagined the gate of hell to be flanked by human-headed bulls like those which guarded the gates of the Assyrian palaces; only these bulls were living genii: "O great bull, very great bull, which stampest high, which openest access to the interior!" The bull on the left of the bronze enclosure is invoked in his turn' (Lenormant).
It is clear at this point that these are not the characteristics of the temple and palace gate read into the
solar gateway to the under world, but the exact reverse; for these guardians were known to story ages before it was possible to realise such 'simulacra' in stone as are to be seen in the British Museum. In the inscription on the bull of the gateway at Khorsabad, its great builder says: 'I opened eight gates in the direction of the four cardinal points. I have named the large gates of the east the gates of Samas (the sun) and of Bin.' Another king ornaments with silver 'the gate of the sunrise.'
The huge human-headed bulls were reproductions for the gate of the palace, of the creatures that guarded the sun gates of the east and west, to which they were dedicated. 'Such,' says Lenormant, 'are the readings furnished us, from the cuneiform inscriptions, upon the nature and significance of the genii in the form of winged bulls with human countenances whose images were stationed as guardians at the portals of the edifices of Babylonia and Assyria.' These representations of the guardians of the sun gate had a magical and-beneficent influence, as is shown in an inscription of Esarhaddon: 'Bulls and lions carved in stone, which with their majestic mien deter wicked enemies from approaching: the guardians of the footsteps, the saviours of the path of the king, who constructed them at the gates. . . . May the bull of good fortune, the genius of good fortune, the guardian of the footsteps of my majesty, the giver of joy to my heart, for ever watch over it! Never more may its care cease.'
In Egypt the gates of the under world were guarded by creatures in the form of animals which are often mentioned in the Ritual. We saw also that the sun disc was placed over the gateway in memory of the battle between Horus, the rising sun, and the Power of darkness: to wage this war Horus took the shape of
a human-headed lion, the sphinx; and this creature is called the 'sun on the horizon.' Are not the sphinxes which guard the entrances of the temples—a single pair, or an avenue of hundreds—evidently derived from these?
It is the same in the East and in Greece. 'The Vedic poets,' says Professor Max Müller, 'have imagined two dogs belonging to Yama, the lord of the departed spirits. They are called the messengers of Yama, bloodthirsty and broad-snouted, brown, four-eyed, and pale—the "dawn children." The departed is told to pass by them on his way to the fathers, who are rejoicing with Yama. Yama is asked to protect the departed from these dogs; and finally the dogs themselves are implored to grant life to the living, and to let them see the sun again. These two dogs represent one of the lowest of the many conceptions of morning and evening. . . . Greece, though she recognised Hermes as guide to the souls of the departed, did not degrade him to the rank of the watch-dog of Hades. These watch-dogs, Kerberos and Orthros, represent, however, the two dogs of Yama—the gloom of morning and evening, here conceived as hostile and demoniacal powers.' One of them was black, and the other was spotted.
Now let us compare all this with Homer's conception of a palace as it ought to be, the palace of Alcinous: 'Brazen were the walls, which ran this way and that, from the threshold to the inmost chamber; and round them was a frieze of blue; and golden were the doors that closed in the good house. Silver were the door-posts that were set on the brazen threshold, and silver the lintel thereupon; and the hook of the door was of gold; and on either side stood golden hounds and silver, which Hephæstos wrought by his cunning to guard the palace of great-hearted Alcinous, being free from death and age all their days.'
This view has already been suggested by Mr Keary in his 'Outlines of Primitive Belief': 'The two gods (of the palace door) have, I fancy, a special meaning. I see in them the descendants of the Sarameys, or whatever in early Aryan belief preceded these guardians of the house of death, who are own brothers to the two dogs of the Wild Huntsman, Hackelburg. The garden which surrounds the palace of Alcinous distinctly presents the picture of a home of the blessed. It is just like the gardens of the Hesperides, and like all pictures which before or after have been drawn of the earthly paradise.'
It is interesting to find these two guardian dogs of the entrance to the death land exist still in Irish observance. Lady Wild tells us that mourners are enjoined not to wail for some time after the passing of the spirit, for fear of waking the two dogs who guard the way, so that they tear the pilgrim when he comes to the gates.
The two great beasts, rampant supports of a central pillar above the Lion gate at Mycenæ, are but the guardians of the 'jaws of death, the gate of hell.' An exactly parallel treatment may be found in the British Museum in the gables of the Lycian tombs, where sphinxes guard the false door. Or at times there is a central pillar, like the Mycenæ composition, where, unfortunately, the chapiter is broken away. Two such sphinxes, with the pillar, are placed over the central epistyle of the early temple of Assos; and the arrangement afterwards becomes one of the common-places of design, but for long rightly associated with the door of the temple or the tomb. The Chaldean prototype is shown in George Smith's 'Chaldea.' Two composite creatures, scorpion-men, 'warders of the sun,' stand on either side of a pillar-like object, and above hovers the symbol of the sun.
This practice of putting horrible human or composite monsters in effigy at the doorway of entrance is universal. The custom probably has a root in the simple nature of things, the at-once-felt appropriateness of it; but there can be no doubt that the guardians of the sun gate were put there in answer to the question, 'Why do the dead return not?' These beasts 'fawn on all who enter,' but rend all who would pass thence again. 'Easy is the descent to Avernus.'
All over the East, in India, China, Siam, Japan, the gates are so protected. Before the temples of the latter two statues are placed, called 'the Avengers' (Dixon); and Miss Bird tells us that house doors and even cupboards have prints of these warders. Some of the Indian temples have enormous rearing horses, with their riders spearing enemies.
In the early Buddhist structures in Ceylon the gates are guarded by giant creatures, who fulfil the same purpose of magical protection as the genii of Assyria. They are named dvarpal, 'guardians of the approaches.' 'These grotesque demon figures were supposed to be endowed with a mysterious power, vested in their intense hideousness, of scaring away enemies.' The groups of flesh-tearing lions at the gates of Lombard churches are identical in their intention. The early Christian use, as shown by De Vogüé of Syria, was to put Michael and Gabriel on either side of the door; sometimes also instead of the figures, the disc on the centre of the arch had the letters Χ. Μ. Γ. for Christ, Michael, and Gabriel. The Byzantine 'Manual of Iconography' says these archangels should be painted right and left, inside the door; and Mrs Jameson tells us they were also painted on the jambs of the triumphal arch to the chancel.
If the gate is the doorway of death, it would interpret that curious primitive custom by which to touch the threshold was ominous of evil. Early travellers in the East tell us how carefully this had to be avoided; and we know how brides had to be lifted over the threshold.
It has often been said that we see a system, and read our modern methods of thought into old observances that were followed without an intelligent motive. This is no doubt perfectly true, but it should be urged in reply that a method may explain even the unconscious developments of thought. It is no answer to Mr Ruskin to say that Turner allowed that the critic saw more than the painter did in his pictures: that is the critic's justification.
The gateway of one of the Peruvian temples is pierced through a single enormous stone, perfectly squared, and entirely covered with sculptures. So fascinating has been the idea of 'monolithism,' that probably only the supreme difficulty made it infrequent. Tavernier mentions seeing a doorway to a mosque at Taurus 'cut out of a great transparent white stone, four-and-twenty feet high and twelve broad.' The three stones of jambs and lintel were the nearest practicable approximation.
Pausanias tells us of many temples, that their doors were only thrown open once a year. He says the door of the tomb of Helen of Adiabene, at Jerusalem, 'cannot be opened except on one particular day of the year. And then it opens by the machinery alone, keeping open for some time, and then shuts again.'
It was usual to cover the east door itself with shining metal. Nebuchadnezzar says of the temple of Babylon: 'The gate of glory I made as brilliant as the sun.' So well known was this practice in Greece, that
[paragraph continues] Aristophanes makes a passing allusion to gilded temple doors. In Syria it was the same; at the temple of Mabog (Hierapolis) the doors were gilded, as also was the entire sanctuary, walls and ceiling. Two immense columns, one hundred and eighty feet high, flanked the door, inside which, on the left, was placed the throne of the sun. The great eastern gate of Herod's temple was entirely gilt, and also a region of the wall surrounding it. So it is that we get the 'Golden Gate' of the Protevangelion; and in Jerusalem to-day the gateway entering the sacred area has the same name. Constantinople and Ravenna had such gates, and so had Rome, for the 'Mirabilia' speaks of the Porta Aurea. In Egypt, as we have seen, the obelisks were gilt, so probably were the doors; and the custom holds good in modern India and Burmah. At the Palace of Spalato, the four gates at the cardinal points were called gold, brass, iron, and the sea gate. Some of the Greek temple doors were overlaid with ivory.
The earliest Christian buildings naturally looked to the temple as a type, and it would appear from Eusebius, that even the toran found a place in the new structures. Describing the Church of Tyre, he says that a magnificent propylon was built, far off toward the sun-rising, to attract the passer-by; passing through the court and other gates, the entrance to the temple itself was reached, which also fronted the rising sun, and was covered with brass.
Later, when the churches were entered opposite the setting sun, the power of the old symbolism was lost, but it survived long, if largely unconsciously. Right into the Middle Ages shining metal was the only fit material for the doors of entrance. Those of the basilica of St John, at Damascus, were of silver; those of Constantinople and Rome of gilt bronze.
It was also customary throughout the Middle Ages to sculpture the signs of the zodiac on the arch of the great west door. The doorways of Venice, especially, have very generally the sun and moon sculptured at the crown of the arch; and there is a fine instance at Piacenza, with the signs of the zodiac up the arch, and the sun and moon at its zenith. In the 'Stones of Venice,' Mr Ruskin says: 'The sun and moon on each side of the cross are constantly employed on the keystones of Byzantine arches.'
Of the archivolts of the central doorway of St Mark's, he says: 'The sculptures of the months are on the under surface, beginning at the bottom, on the left hand of the spectator as he enters, and following in succession round the archivolt; separated, however, into two groups at the centre by a beautiful figure of the youthful Christ, sitting in the midst of a slightly hollowed sphere, covered with stars, to represent the firmament, and with the attendant sun and moon set one on each side, to rule over the day and over the night.'
But to return—when Josiah cleared the Temple of Jerusalem of the idolatrous objects and symbols that had been set up there by his apostate predecessor, it was from the eastern gate that the symbolic chariot of the sun was removed. 'And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun at the entering in of the house of the LORD . . . and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.' It was, doubtless, a throne for the sun like that at Mabog.
The beautiful Greek metope of Phœbus rising in his quadriga, found at Ilium, represented as it is coming directly outwards, was evidently intended for a position over the eastern entrance portico; either alone in the centre, or balanced by the declining car of night. As Dr Schliemann says: 'Helios here, so to
speak, bursts forth from the gates of day, and sheds the light of his glory over the universe.' This, the actual moment of sunrise, is a fine and fitting subject for the eastern entrance of a temple; it is found yet more dramatically in the eastern pediment of the Parthenon. The scene of the sculpture is Olympus, and the central subject is the birth of Athene. In the left angle of the pediment—to quote Mr Murray—'Helios is represented emerging in his chariot from the waves. It has been noted by Michaelis that the angle in which this figure was placed is the darkest spot in the eastern pediment, and that it is only fully illuminated at the moment of sunrise. The right angle of the pediment belongs to the car of the goddess of the night . . . the horse a marked contrast in motive to the pair in the opposite angle. The heads of the horses of Helios are thrown upwards with fiery impatience as they spring from the waves; the downward inclination of the head here described, and the distended nostril, indicate that the car of Selene is about to vanish below the horizon.' It is the precise moment of the double action at sunrise, as given by Homer and Hesiod, 'where herdsman hails herdsman as he drives in his flock, and the other who drives forth answers the call. There might a sleepless man have earned a double wage, the one as neat-herd, the other shepherding white flocks; so near are the outgoings of the night and the day.'
Next to Helios, the mountain god reclines, and next again the Hours. 'Self-moving ground, upon their hinges the gates of Heaven, whereof the Horæ are warders' (Il. v. 749).
Bournouf, in his Légende Athénienne, examines the orientation of this temple: a carefully engraved line of axis on the pavement points 14° 11´ north of east, where he thinks the first ray of dawn appears at the
equinoxes. The pediment pictures the eternal drama of the dawn, 'the whole subject is a reflection of the sky as in a mirror.'
The great portico of the Parthenon is the very gate of the sun. Out of it the sun rises and the night withdraws, above it stand the gods on Olympus.
Finally the gate is one of the most essential symbols, religious or political. Holy places like Babel were 'God's gates,' and at the gate the king met the people in judgment. Eastern palaces had a porch like Solomon's, 'a porch for the throne where he might judge, even the porch of judgment' (1 Kings vii. 7).
Having traced the tradition, we are in a position to sketch the ritual of the sunrise at the eastern portal, with the aid of the fine description by Ezekiel of the 'abominations done in Israel.' 'And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five-and-twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east.'
It is the moment of sunrise, chill and expectant; all the gates are thrown open to the east. The worshippers are waiting, and the golden tips of the obelisks are already burning. The sun shows its red rim through the open ceremonial gate of the outer court. They prostrate themselves.
There is a sudden awaking sense of heat and life and light, a passing vibration in the air. The little bells festooned from pillar to pillar shiver out silver notes; a deep strain vibrates from the sanctuary. They stand on their feet. The great gates of the temple close with a clangour that reverberates like thunder.
Baal has entered into his temple.