Saturday, October 30, 2010

Aristodikos in Opera Nobilia

You can zoom by clicking on an image.  Those not included here are in the Picasa album of this name.
Neither of these Attic grave-marker statues is colossal, as the earliest kouroi from Samos (and for that matter the Attic one from Sounion) are, but both are significantly over life size, and both are masterpieces.  Until Aristodikos (found in 1947) was published, Kroisos, the kouros from Anavysos in Attica, claimed the place of honor in this gallery in the National Archaeological Museum, in the center with a background of his own, in the position occupied by the bronze god from Cape Artemision in the next large gallery.  Kroisos had stood on a traditional three-step base, and we have (found near by) its middle step, asking the viewer to stop and behold Kroisos who, slain by furious Ares, died in battle.  He certainly was named after Croesus (to use the Latinized spelling), the famous Lydian king, and we'd love to know why.  Both the lettering and the style of the kouros support a dating about 530 or in the 520s BCE.  Counting at least three generations to a century, and seeing that the comparanda for Aristodikos are a generation later (there is no space here for rehearsing them all), this, the last great kouros, is datable about 500 BCE.  In this case on the top step, into which his foot-plinth fits, his name still is written ARISTODIKO for the genitive case, because the O is for the false diphthong.  
The stance of the kouros, adopted from Egyptian statuary, together doubtless with the techniques of quarrying and working large stone, and immediately adapted for Greek use (made freestanding in the round and fully nude) once Egypt was opened by the middle of the 26th dynasty, may at first have been partly an exigency.  Merely to make a couple of tons of hard stone, monolithic, stand on two thin legs, only with one advanced to assist, perhaps, in balance, was daring enough, and there were no examples in east Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, or western Asia Minor of monumental, substantive, nude statuary shown moving, turning or shifting weight (let alone in a monolith), to help or challenge the Early Archaic Greek sculptors of ca. 600 BCE.  Even Egyptian statues in wood (or bronze, maybe), which could stand alone, stood in the same stance with one foot forward (and so with legs of slightly unequal length).
The kouros is almost always either votive, in a sanctuary, or funerary, as a grave-marker.  A few votive kouroi bear inscriptions, right on the statue, dedicating it to the relevant god, but naming the deceased youth is rarer: the inscription perhaps was regularly on the stepped base as it is for Kroisos and Aristodikos, and such blocks usually were recycled for building, being ready-made for ashlar or for steps and sills.  The pose was not inappropriate for a young god, such as Apollo, but the Archaic date of even the big kouros from Piraeus, as well as its name as Apollo, is contested and has been since it was found in 1959, and other pretty Apollos in kouros pose are surely late Hellenistic, neo-Archaic.
As European Classical music did with Sonata Form, so did Greek art with generic types that were full of possibilities.  Like the Walking Pose and the Leaning Pose in Classical and Late Classical Greek sculpture, so the Kouros in Archaic and Late Archaic was worked with till, as such, it could yield no more that was new.  Aristodikos, it is fair to say, has all the understanding of the human body that is needed to cease being a kouros type; indeed, not needing to support themselves on their own legs, the marble pedimental giants, Peisistratid and only a bit later than Kroisos, are undeterred by the difficulties of doing something (at the scale of the Classical Parthenon itself) that had never been attempted before.
Perhaps it was not only the challenges (the twisting torso, the clavicles embracing the neck to the trapezius, the muscular flesh folding at the knee, not to mention composing a gigantomachy in a pediment) but the dignity of the serene youth in death that the kouros by now expressed that made the pose last as long as it did.
Here are Aristodikos, in strict front view, the Kritian Boy from the Acropolis, and the odd little kouros from Agrigento.  The Wiki uses a picture of the Agrigento kouros to illustrate the Hellenistic, technical limitation of the word ephebe, but it is the Acropolis boy that is a mere adolescent.  Aristodikos is a young man old enough to have died perhaps still ephebos yet perhaps like Kroisos old enough for military service.  But the Kritian boy, which in all probability (see Jeffrey Hurwitt), really does date from the very last years before the Persian sack of the Acropolis and thus is only about 15 years later than Aristodikos, is no longer a kouros (since we use that word, though in early Greek it just meant 'boy', for a particular stance and type): his weight is on his left leg, so that his spine must curve a little, his pelvis tilt, his free right leg bend its knee (and if complete allow him to use his right foot just to balance), and to complement that movement his head turns a little to proper right.  This statue is not life size, though over 3/4, so the weight of the solid torso on the slender legs is not quite so serious as with the large grave-marker statues.  The Agrigento boy is smaller, but it seems to be just Western conservatism that made them choose a strict kouros stance, with all the muscles and proportions, facial expression and hair style, of the Early Classical period to which it belongs, chronologically (logically, of course, work is dated by its latest relevant traits, and this one is well past c. 480, though the pelvis, considered as a complex of bones in the body, is not well understood).  Aristodikos has a pelvis capable both of cradling his innards and socketing his femur bones, but for the moment it is not in action.  It is this real pelvis that permits the sculptor to give the thighs proper proportions.  Kroisos from Anavysos has thighs like those on the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi, which cannot be later than c. 525 BCE.
It is not rules of thumb, such as trivial details that patrons might wish to retain on a funerary or votive sculpture, that are relevant to dating it, relatively, in a series.
One of the korai from the Acropolis, dated usually in the first decade of the new century, that seems very comparable with Aristodikos, has ripple-wave hair and stylized zigzags on the edge of her diagonally draped himation, just as he has snail-curl patterns for the curls around his brow, but these decorative details might also be chosen even later than these two works.  What is alike is the powerful skulls and mandilbles and level brows, as well as the relative size and placement of their facial features.  It was a tragedy that Aristodikos was 'discovered' by a plough.  His features must have survived almost intact until that moment.  Enough remains, though, to make this comparison.  He and Kore #684 belong in that tradition favoring heroic massiveness—as distinct from sheer bulk as from daintiness—among several studio traditions represented among the Attic Archaic marble sculptures.  Kroisos from Anavysos belongs to it, too.
Like Kroisos, too, not that they are intimately related, sylistically, Aristodikos is really appreciated best in  3/4 views, whether from the front or the back.  The treatment of the crown of his head, by the way, may show that while alive his hair was flattened by his helmet (Kroisos actually seems to wear a knit cap to prevent the helmet from abrading and, in effect, shearing his hair).  In any case, his somatic type is no longer that of a soft adolescent—and gangling boys, like Michelangelo's David, are really rare in Greece; the famously tall  Evzone guards come mostly from the northern parts.
Finally, what I never discussed in lectures at my university.  Everyone knows, of course, that Greece glorified male beauty.  In the Introduction, pp. 1-25, of  Classical Greece and the Birth of Western Art, Cambridge UP, 2008, Andrew Stewart provides the best statement I have seen in a lifetime of reading on the subject of Greek nudity.  It is well and good, confronted with a class of kindergartners, to explain that antiquity had none of the knits and synthetic fibers that gym clothes are made of today, and, Greece being as warm as Louisiana, they did their physical education in the buff, but I never dared confront older children, let along undergraduates, with a line like that.
Let us return to the initial statement, above, that Greece immediately got rid of the Egyptians' little skirt, though it is incomparably easier to sculpt a human body without having to deal with the pelvic girdle, that fulcrum of our living bodies.  It was for dedications to deities as well as for representations of young deities and, above all, for the representation of the human person as he should be for the afterlife, for eternity (put it as you will: as the gods made him, perhaps) that Greek ethos thought nudity important.  It is a more pervasive and profound idea than that, as in the Truth of Apelles, nudity 'symbolizes' Truth.  Greek art, especially in its youth, does not deal in Symbols.  

In the case of Aristodikos, however, we have something more explicit.  Even if his face had not been damaged it was no more exactly and sensitively represented than his genitals.  Later Greek art, Hellenistic genre art and erotic art, like the Barberini Faun, or ethnically descriptive, like the Dying Gaul, show weathered and much-used genitals.  Those, however, are descriptive of essentially verbal ideas about those subjects.  On Aristodikos we see the parts that Paul of Tarsus called shame, parts that Victorians, irrespective of what they did with them, did not name at all, parts that even on my newborn infant brother I was not allowed to refer to (but the grown ups made cute little jokes about)—we see them rendered as tenderly as a sleeping baby's face, showing inner structures and the way the skin encloses them.  Twice I have mentioned this fact to someone else, someone of my own generation, and twice was sorry to have embarrassed one and shocked the other.  But in fact the rendering of every part of Aristodikos with equal (and, be it said, unique) reverence is precisely what is not shameful, not even erotic, in this statue.  It is, after all, the publicly exhibited grave marker of a very wealthy, very aristocratic (I dare say) landowner's son, tragically dead when barely grown and shown exactly as his family would wish him remembered, him whom they had named Aristodikos.
Most of the erotic, occasionally downright, deliberately pornographic pictures on Greece vases are on drinking equipment and, besides, were shipped off to the Etruscans.
A professor might, with some reservations, repeat something a bit risqué to a class, but not try to teach them something that probably they will not understand.  One does not want to be asked whether 'that' will be on the test, or not.
May I recommend again Sir John Boardman's Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period (World of Art) and the above-mentioned book by Andrew Stewart.


  1. Reading this takes me back to the days when I actually studied Greek art. The Boardman book rightly highly recommended. I studied under J.Onians who had a lavish book published at the time.

    I must find a reproduction of the giant (60 foot) unfinished kourus I saw on the island of Naxos. It was great visiting Rome and Athens while studying Ancient world history and art and I never tire of it, like you, all these years later! I wish you'd have seen the recent BBC TV series on the ancient world and its art.

    To be bookmarked and savored for later!

  2. We usually get BBC series when they're about a year old: I think in the meantime they consider what PBS or some other network will pay for the privilege.
    I have a copy of Onians' "Art and Thought in the Hellenistic Age" (Thames&Hudson, 1979), a gift from an older friend of mine when I came out of the convent. It is full of delicious stuff. Is he still at U. East Anglia?
    That Naxos unfinished kouros in situ: I think I have a picture of it, but I haven't located it so far.
    I agree, there is nothing to compare with seeing the real things. Even direct digital snaps of statues, like mine (even my old black-and-white ones taken to show them properly for teaching), are better than old textbook front views only, from ink-on-paper reproductions.