Caryatid

Image result for boulevard anspach caryatids

The matronly women supporting the portch of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens are the model for most of the Caryatids we know.  Stautesque, strong, solid pillars of the community.  Nothing flighty about these ladies.

There is some debate around the origin of the Caryatid.  In some theories they represent women from the Greek town of Carie near Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum in Turkey).  The town sided with the Persians and when the town fell the women became captives.

Another theory is that they represent dancers in a religious rite to celebrate Artemis.

Whatever the truth in reality generations of matronly women were condemned to a fate similar to Atlas, who supported the sky.  These ladies were fated to bear great stones on their heads.

The giant Caryatids of Winkel Van Sinkel (1839) in Utrecht are nicknamed “The English Whores” or the “Fallen English Women”.  Cast in England they broke the crane offloading them from the ship on which they were transported.

Until the arrival of Auguste Rodin, born November 12th 1840.  Rodin was the sculptor who did to materials what the impressionists were doing to paint, and light, and colour.  Rodin smashed convention.

To my mind his greatest success was with the Fallen Caryatid, exhibited in 1886.  Gone is the solid older woman.  Here is a beautiful young girl.  She has collapsed beneath the weight of the stone.  But it takes no more than a glance to know that it is not the physical weight that overcomes her.  She carries an emotional weight, her despair may be with the world at large or a matter of the heart.  Is this why the role of the Caryatid was heretofore entrusted to older women, matrons done with the emotional rollercoaster of youth?

In that torture of emotions we write our own stories, as Robert Heinlein did in the quote below.  That engagement, our personal investment in an object, is the mark of great art.

Image result for rodin caryatids

This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods . . . and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it. But she’s more than good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory.”

“ ‘Victory’?”

Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father working while cancer eats away his insides, to bring home one more pay check. She’s a twelve-year-old trying to mother her brothers and sisters because mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her post while smoke chokes her and fire cuts off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit. Come. Salute as you pass…”

Robert Heinlein ; Stranger in a Strange Land

 

 

Herostratic Fame

Artemis

On this day in 365 BCE the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was destroyed.  It was burned down by an arsonist named Herostratus.

He committed this heinous act in a bid to become immortally famous.

The temple was located in Ephesus (now Efes) in Ionian Greece (now part of Modern Turkey) .  The Ephesians sentenced Herostratus to death, but also passed a greater sentence on him.  They forbade anyone to use is name, on pain of death.  Their intention was to prevent him achieving the very thing that he sought.

Unfortunately the story was recorded by historians and Herostratus won out in the end.  Herostratic fame is “Fame acquired by destructive means”.

In modern society we see many examples.  School shooters are a prime example.  People like Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon and said “The result would be that I would be famous; the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention”.

Terrorism organisations have learned that they can gain notoriety through herostratic acts such that a small terror cell can dominate global media.  ISIS, Al Qaida, Hammas, Hezbollah etc all leverage this dynamic in the Middle East.

Since the destruction of the Temple of Artemis the greatest Herostratic act was the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.

Ground Zero

Bending the Bow

Bowgirls

The Gastraphetes, or belly bow, was an ancient Greek forerunner of the crossbow.  There is a story that the bow was invented to allow women to participate in the defence of a Greek city.  By placing your belly on the yoke at the base of the bow you could use your body weight to load the weapon.  As a result it requires far less strength and technique to fire the gastraphetes than it would to fire a standard bow.  By inventing an easily cocked bow, the city was able to double its defensive capability.

Greeks have a great tradition of associating the bow with women.  The Goddess Artemis is commonly shown wearing hunting gear and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.  The Goddess of Childbirth, Virginity, protector of young girls and instrumental in female diseases.

The legendary female warrior tribe of the ancient world, the Amazons, are frequently depicted bearing bows and arrows.

During the Persian wars the light bows of the Persian troops were unable to penetrate the heavy bronze shields and armour of the Greeks.  The Phalanx armed with Pylon and Spear became the standard weaponry of Greek Hoplites.  Bows and Arrows were seen as the weapons of cowards and women.

When warned that the arrows of the Persians were so numerous they would darken the sky the Spartan general Dieneces celebrated that his soldiers would get to fight in the shade.

Roll forward a 1500 years or so and we come to the middle ages and courtly romances.  In the cycle of Robin Hood stories we have one of the strongest female heroines, the Maid Marian.  Again, strongly associated with the bow and arrow.

Indeed Archery was seen as one of the “suitable” sports for women in the Olympics, being introduced in 1904.

So we come to the Hobbit 2:  Desolation of Smaug, which introduces Tauriel, the bow wielding captain of the sylvan elf guard.  In the same year we saw the release of Catching Fire, the 2nd instalment of The Hunger Games series, featuring the bow wielding Katniss Everdeen as the heroine.  It seems the association between heroine and the bow remains as strong as ever.

On Children:  by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.