Bill Long 2/17/06
"Opening to the Sun Above"
In some online dictionaries hypaethral is defined by one simple word: roofless. While the definition isn't incorrect, it is so laughably incomplete as to be nearly no definition at all. The word refers to a kind of temple from antiquity which was open to the sky, that is, where the naos or opisthodomus were uncovered, but its figurative meaning is richer still. If you know these usages, you will be incomparably better off than if you just know the definition as "roofless." Let's examine the architectural and figurative meanings of this term.
An Architectural Term
We understand and appreciate fully a hypaethral temple only after we have become acquainted with the types of temples as described by the great architectural historian of antiquity, Vitruvius. In Book III, ch. 2 of his work On Architecture, he describes the various kinds of temples in the ancient Greek world. Let's acquaint ourselves briefly with this terminology.
Vitruvius begins: "It is from the plan of a temple that the effect of its design arises. And first in antis, which in Greek is called naos en parastasin; next, prostyle, amphiprostyle, peripteral, pseudodipteral, hypaethral. The designs of these are formulated in the following manner..." Six styles of temple are listed, though in the actual description in the chapter a description of a seventh, the dipteral, is also given. A temple "in antis" (an "anta" was a pilaster, which is a column embedded in the wall of the temple) has two corner pilasters in the front corners and two columns in the center front of the temple, on which rests a gable. The prostyle is a temple with a portico in front, while an amphiprostlye temple has porticos in both the front and rear (the word amphi means "both"--amphibian). The peripteral has six columns in front and back, with eleven on the sides. As Vitruvius says, "These columns are to be so placed that there is all round a distance the width of an intercolumniation between the walls and the outer rows of the columns." Thus a person could walk around the naos or cella (inner sanctuary) of the temple and still be inside the temple.
The dipteral temple had two ranges of parallel columns resting on the pavement, while the pseudodipteral is a temple having a single peristyle or surrounding wall of columns, placed at the same distance from the walls as the outer of the two rows of the dipteros. This means that when viewed from a distance, a pseudodipteral temple could look like a dipteral. Hence the name, a "false" dipteral temple. There was not complete unanimity on the number of columns in a pseudodipteral temple, even though a 19th century handbook could say, "The pseudo-dipteral temple was constructed with eight columns in front and rear and with fifteen on the sides, including those at the angles."
Finally, we come to the hypaethral temple which, as we now know, means simply an "open air" temple, or a temple without roof. But as the word evolved in English, it absorbed a broader range of applications than simply those relating to classical Greek architecture. For example, an 1876 quotation has: "The builders of Stonehenge...sought to make their hypaethral temple sublime in its vastness." But then it could be used figuratively, too. From Lowell in the late 19th century: "What a hypaethral story it is, how much of it passes in the open air.."
Rediscovering Hypaethral Today
Henry David Thoreau had this to say about the mind:
"Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself- an
hypaethral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods?"
By building on this notion of the mind as hypaethral temple, we are encouraged to imagine other ways that the human might be "open to the skies." Set to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," is the hymn:
"Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;/ Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, Opening to the sun above..."
The author of this hymn would encourage us to develop an hypaethral heart--a heart open to the universe, to the lessons resident in the richness of each day, to the new experiences that come our way if we are looking for them. Let the picture of the ancient Greek temple, the hypaethral temple, be the image for us in cultivating our inner life today. May our inmost parts be open directly to the rays of divine love, that we too may mirror that love to those in our midst. We would do well to try to keep hypaethral alive if it would help us maintain that spirit.
But alas, I am out of space again, just as I was getting warmed up with more rich "hyp" words.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long