Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bronzes all too human

This exhibition of Greek bronzes, currently in Los Angeles, will come to Washington DC later this year - and from what one can see, it is not to be missed.

In the NYRB, Ingrid D. Rowland sees a development beyond the 5th century classical Greek reserve in a work like the boxer:
      An Olympic champion in the classical period would never have chosen to show himself in such graphic, painful mortality, but by the time of Mys of Taras, a contemporary of Aristotle (twenty years older than Mys) and Alexander the Great (twenty years younger), signs of vulnerable humanity, like the heroic ruler’s furrowed brow and the boxer’s wounds, had entered the repertory of Greek sculpture.

 She continues:

We may be meant to read this ravaged face in a Sophoclean key, like Herakles in the tragedy Philoktetes:

And first I will tell you of my misfortunes,
Of all that I suffered—and by going through those sufferings
I obtained deathless virtue, as you can see.
And you, know it well, must endure all this,
To create a glorious life from your pain.

Few bronzes have survived from the time, making these all the more precious. These amazing figures suggest the development of a humbler, more generous view of what it means to be human, which the Romans would explore in art, poetry, and drama.


pb said...

Mys means "mouse" - unlikely name for a boxer - yet somehow a revealing detail - he was small.

Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks. And regarding the "ravaged face" of Herakles, we might find in the Philoktetes - a resonant early sense of vulnerability in the chorus's description of the title character as well.

pb said...

OK, after some more checking there is an entry for mys - meaning muscle - I had just been reading Ar. Rhet 1401a and was focused on the mys-mysterium distinction - so it could be mouse - whale - or muscle - all ending up as musculus in Latin. Anyway - nice excerpt - although I would have put in a picture of Mike Tyson or the old M. Ali rather than the Sophocles - skeptical of the "It tolls for thee." Anyway, enjoyed the ramble trough the dictionaries. Little Latin and less Greek. Modern education.