Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
4. 以下摘要自 Excerpts from
THE FOUR CONTINENTS
FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAMES HAZEN HYDE
MAY 1 4 1986
Such personifications of geographic or ethnic units were related to those of ancient nature deities, like the river-gods on the pediments of the temple of Zeus in Olympia and of the Parthenon. In Hellenistic times, cities too were personified in the figure of a wall- crowned Tyche. When the sea, conquered, no longer separated the lands but rather provided a link between them, the idea of the continents emerged as a geographical concept. To the three— Asia, Africa and Europe— that bordered on the sea of the Ancient
World, the fearless sailor-adventurers of the late fifteenth century added a fourth, America.
Though representations of the first three occur in ancient art and during the Middle Ages, it was the addition of the fourth that truly endeared the subject to artists in all media. From the sixteenth century on, allegories of the Four Continents take their place beside those of the Four Seasons and the Four Elements in the imagery of the arts.
Legends and tales told by far-flung voyagers depicted often more colorfully than reliably the wonders of distant countries. Fabulous wealth, fantastic animals, miraculous substances, the Fountain of Youth and the Stone of Wisdom all had their home in the vague domains beyond the perimeter of the known world; and anything coming from those countries was expected to be fantastic and unreal, even abstruse, just as Jean Cocteau as a child believed that foreigners did not really have a language but feigned it only, speaking a
meaningless gibberish. The qualities of the surreal and absurd were so closely wedded to the concept of the foreign that they often persisted long after more realistic reports had established a fund of reliable intelligence about the new countries. Increasing contacts did result in better knowledge, but only reluctantly were the fascinating myths abandoned, as with the abominable snowman in our own mid-century. Rather, with the irrepressible human penchant for masquerade, the real and the fantastic were fused together to provide a half-realistic, half-symbolic clothing for the images of distant lands. Thus costumes and headdresses, attributes and paraphernalia are far more telling than facial lineaments in the characterization of the Continents.
Africa, with its dark-skinned peoples, its towering elephants and fierce lions, had early
acquired its distinguishing attributes. A fountain in ancient Rome, a mosaic in Palestrina,
among others, show female heads crowned by elephant heads, complete with trunk, tusks
and ears. Through centuries Africa continued to be represented with this abstruse but un-
mistakable head-gear, and although Asia occasionally is accompanied by an elephant, she
is never thus crowned. The lion figures most frequently as the symbolic animal of Africa,
deriving, like the elephant, from Carthaginian, North- African lore ; sometimes, however,
the Nilotic concept dominates with a crocodile, perhaps as an echo of the many represen-
tations of Father Nile. The camel really belongs to Asia, but is given to Africa on occasions,
and quite logically so. The scorpion too is used, and the snake, again a reference to Egypt,
as is the sheaf of wheat, and, by derivation, a cornucopia. The elephant tusk or branches of
coral, endowed with miraculous healing powers, are other attributes of Africa, and for the
martial side, quiver, bow and arrows. Feather skirts and headdresses are rare in early repre-
sentations, and may very well have entered the artistic vocabulary by some kind of faulty
deductive reasoning brought about by the Western slave trade, equating the African with
the equally lightly-clad and uninhibited American Indian. Palms and pyramids are often
pictured in the background, and the rays of a full sun disk are intercepted by leafy parasols.
The image of barbaric Asia, as represented by the Greeks, was not as durable as the Ro-
man personification of Africa. True to the all-encompassing spirit of the allegorical con-
cept of the Four Continents, even the bloody memory of the crusades, the onslaught of the
Saracens and the Turkish conquests were put aside in favor of a more peaceful image. Still,
it was the Mohemmedan East that provided this image, China and other Far-Eastern coun-
tries being too distant and too little known in their self-sufficient seclusion to take on such
a symbolic role ; they achieved their own transposition into Western art in the chinoiseries
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The fabulous wealth of the Orient, already a myth in the ancient world through the
treasures of Darius, became the leitmotiv in the representations of Asia. With flowing
jewelled robes and turbans and richly bedecked camels or elephants, with censers to burn
the sweet perfumes of Araby, the riches of countries along and beyond the caravan routes
were evoked, as they had been in the Gospel of Saint Matthew : the Wise Men, coming
from the East, presented to the Christ Child “gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
Related to this representation is the image of Europe as it crystallized out of Christianity
and humanism. In classical art, Europa was the princess from Asia Minor, abducted by Zeus
in the guise of a bull and deposited on the northern shores of the Hellespont, subsequently
named after her. Represented early in the 6th century B.C. on one of the metopes of the
Sikyan treasury in Delphi, this mythological anecdote remained in favor, and is occasion-
ally linked with the allegories of the Continents. However, the true personification of
Europe in this context is the Queen ; her regal pose differs markedly from that of the playful
and not altogether unwilling victim of the classical kidnapping story. Crowned and er-
mined, holding orb and sceptre, she is the heiress to the Christian legacy, and its stronghold
in the world. Her animal is the white horse of the princes, and her attributes trophies and
symbols of the arts and sciences.