Caryatid

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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.

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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

 

 

Mind Bending

stairs

I enjoy writers who challenge the way we see the world, and give us a new way to perceive our reality.

A lot of people say they would like to be taller, but it turns out they only want to be a tiny bit taller.  Play “would your rather” and ask if you would you rather be 3 feet taller, or 3 feet smaller!  That is revealing.

Gene Wolfe challenges firmly held conceptions brilliantly in his “Book of the New Sun” series.  He describes dawn in terms of the horizon slipping below the arc of the sun, rather than the sun rising over the horizon.  Throughout his work he challenges the way we look at the world.  He even manages to engender our sympathy for the “Guild of Torturers” as they carry out their work on the condemned.

It is interesting how we celebrate our lives in the time from birth to present.  Funny how sinister it sounds when you point out to a person on their birthday that they are one year closer to the grave.

Time is relative to what you do with it.  A school clock moves only five minutes in every twenty whereas party time clocks always seem to register half an hour in only ten minutes.  The famous choice of Achilles is a prime example of this:  a long and dull life or one that is short, exciting and leaves a reputation that endures forever?  When people ask me if I find my commute to be long I turn it around.  Commuting is just like life, it is not how long you spend on the train that counts, it is how enjoyable you find that time, how productively you use it, whether you engage with others or create barriers to communications.  Me?  I love the train.

Another interesting choice faced Tithonus.  He was granted enteral life by Zeus on the request of his lover Eos, the titan of the dawn (Aurora to the Romans).  But she forgot to ask for eternal youth.  Eventually, when crippled and bent, she could no longer look upon him and had him sealed away.  In some tellings of the tale he was transformed into a Cicada, and spends eternity chirping, asking for death.

Trafalgamorians from Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut are a race for whom time does not exist.  There is no past, no future and no concept of causality.  Everything happens in the moment, and we can move forwards and backwards in time at will and visit any moment of existence at any time.  If you can move backwards in time, how can your ‘past’ actions influence your ‘future’?  That is a powerful concept for a novel.

It is also a theme that was explored by Heinlein in “Stranger in a Strange Land”.  He explains how human speech is too bounded in concepts of time and place for his “Stranger” who is more comfortable with biblical style prose such as “is now and will be for all time to come”.

Seafarer; by Archibald MacLeish

And learn O voyager to walk

The roll of earth, the pitch and fall

That swings across these trees those stars:

That swings the sunlight up the wall.

And learn upon these narrow beds

To sleep in spite of sea, in spite

Of sound the rushing planet makes:

And learn to sleep against this ground.