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Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 12 of 17

The Ainos on the west coast of Yezo also informed me that when shooting in great haste the string was clutched in precisely this manner. In the use of a bow of any strength, the attrition of the string on the fingers must be very severe; and only a hand as tough, and as thoroughly calloused as the paw of an animal, could endure the friction of the string in such a release. For convenience of reference this form may be referred to provisionally as the Archaic release.

In a bas-relief in marble representing Herakles drawing a bow, a figure of which is given in Rayet's Monuments de l'Art Antique, it is rather curious that the hand is represented as clutching the string in the vigorous manner just described. The date of this work is put down as the fourth or fifth century B. C. Doubts have been expressed as to the genuineness of this work. Dr. Alfred Emerson has expressed his belief in the "American Journal of Archaeology," Vol. I., p. 153, that the work is a modern fraud. In the following number of the Journal Mr. Furtwangler defends the work, but would place it not earlier than the first century B. C. He says it is not archaic, but archaistic. "Whether the work be genuine or spurious I am not competent to judge. I may venture to say, however, that the attitude of the shaft-hand is very inaccurate. However absurd the drawing of the hand often is in these early Greek releases, the artists have rarely failed to adjust the arrow correctly in relation to the bend of the bow and the angle made by the string in tension. In this bas-relief of Herakles, however, the attitude of shooting is one of which no artist capable of making so robust and correct a body and pose would be guilty, and it certainly lends some weight to the supposition of Dr. Emerson as to the possible character of the work.

The accompanying figures are interesting as showing the conventional and even grotesque ways in which the arrow release is often represented on early Grecian vases. Figs. 47 and 48 are copied from Weiner Vorlage Blätter, Series D, Taf. IX, XII. Fig. 47 shows the hand reversed, with the thumb below instead of above. It is possible to shoot an arrow in this way but hardly probable that so awkward and unnatural an attitude would be taken. This release is intended to represent the tertiary release. Fig. 48 as drawn is an impossible release, though this release also may be intended to represent the tertiary release, the thumb being straight, and the arrow being held between the thumb and forefinger, while the second finger, and in Fig. 48 the second, third, and fourth fingers are on the string.

In Monuments Inedits., Vol. I., Plate LI., is figured the famous Chalcidian or Achilles vase, supposed to have been made in the early part of the sixth century B. C. Here the archer is shown left-handed. Assuming the drawing to be correct, the release represents the archaic form (Fig. 49).

Another release figured in the same volume, Plate xx., may be intended to represent the tertiary release (see Fig. 50). On Plate l., Vol. II., of the same work is figured a Grecian vase of the fourth century B. C, on which are depicted two releases which are probably the tertiary form (Fig 51). On Plate xviii. of the same volume is figured an archaic Etruscan vase on which a curious delineation of an archer is given. The bow-hand is so well drawn that one is almost inclined to imagine that some mechanical device for releasing the arrow is intended by the curious representation of the shaft-hand (Fig. 52). Three other curious releases are shown in Figs. 53, 54 and 55, the latter copied from a Greek vase (black figures on red) supposed to be of the sixth century B. C. All these, though incorrectly represented, are probably intended for the tertiary release. Fig. 56 is copied from a figure given in Auserlesene Vaserbilder, representing a Greek vase of the sixth century B. C. In this the archer's hand most certainly suggests the Mongolian release. It is true the thumb is not bent on the string, but it is bent; with the second and presumably the first finger pressing against it.