Skip to main content

Temple of Minerva in Ægina (formerly called Jupiter Panhellenius)

cat 16 crop.jpg

CAT 16. J. C. Bentley after Copley Fielding. Temple of Minerva in Ægina, formerly called Jupiter Panhellenius. In Christopher Wordsworth, Greece: Pictorial, Descriptive, and Historical. London: William S. Orr, 1844. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

In Melville’s copy of Wordsworth’s Greece, J. C. Bentley’s full-page steel engraving of Copley Fielding’s Temple of Minerva at Ægina (facing p. 63) was accompanied by a full-page steel engraving of F. Arundale’s nearer view of the same temple (facing p. 118). The white marble columns in Fielding’s Temple of Minerva are made whiter by the shadows in the foreground and brighter by the placid white sails of the boats in the gulf. Similar white sails enhance the harmony of Arundale’s nearer view of the same temple in Melville’s copy of Wordsworth’s Greece. Melville provided similarly contrasting views of the “warmly white” columns of the  Parthenon (“Seen aloft from afar” and “Nearer viewed”) in his poem “The Parthenon” (NN PP 302).

Fielding’s distant view of the temple at Aegina in Melville’s framed print is a perfect visual analog, in mood as well as subject, to Melville’s poetic depiction of the temple at Sunium in the opening stanza of “Off Cape Colonna”:

        Aloof they crown the foreland lone,
From aloft they loftier rise—
  Fair columns, in the aureola rolled
 From sunned Greek seas and skies
 They wax, sublimed to fancy's view
  A god-like group against the blue. (NN PP 306)

In Melville’s day, the temple at Sunium, like the one across the Saronic Gulf at Aegina, was thought to have been dedicated to Minerva. A small woodcut of that temple is labeled as such in his copy of Wordsworth’s Greece (p. 128). Melville is also likely to have been aware of the steel-plate engraving of Turner’s Temple of Minerva, Cape Colonna that Edward Finden published in his Landscape Illustrations to the Life and Works of Lord Byron in 1832 (reproduced in Wallace, “’Aloof’ and ‘Aloft,’” fig. 2). 

For a pictorial equivalent of the second stanza of Melville’s Cape Colonna poem—in which those “god-like” columns serenely “saw / The wolf-waves board the deck, / And headlong hull of Falconer, / And many a deadlier wreck”—one must turn to Turner’s nearer view of the Temple of Minerva Sunias, Cape Colonna, engraved by J. T. Willmore in 1856. Turner’s image shows the hull sinking into the sea beyond the gaze of the “god-like” columns (see fig. 3 in “’Aloof’ and ‘Aloft’”). 

Rolfe, the Melville-like quester in Clarel, is temperamentally attuned to the spiritual challenge embodied by the contrasting stanzas of “Off Cape Colonna.” He is introduced in canto 31 by a comparison between his forehead and Sunium’s temple:

A marble brow over face embrowned:
So Sunium by her fane is crowned.
One read his superscription clear—
 A genial heart, a brain austere—

The narrator then mentions “the daedal life in boats and tents” by which Rolfe has “supplemented Plato’s theme” (NN C 1.31.11-14, 19-20).

Copley Fielding (1787-1855) was a leader of England’s Society of Painters of Water Colours through much of his adult life. J. M. W. Turner had exhibited contrasting views of the Temple at Ægina of Jupiter Panhellenius, in the Island of Ægina at London’s Royal Academy in 1816. For Melville's engraving of an ancient Greek coin from Ægina, see CAT 1, figure 4. For his ancient Greek coin depicting the helmeted Athena (Minerva), see CAT 1, figure 6.