Stillness is the
statue's chief quality, stillness elevated to an essential virtue. The
Charioteer moves no more than need be, yet the still grace of his stance
sufficiently hints at all that he might do with four mettlesome horses in the
dust and clangor of a crowded turn. In poise he resembles a high diver or a
fencing master or an acrobat, or a young tree that raises its green crest
straight against the wind.
There are two
clues as to how this extraordinary grace was achieved, one technical and the
other philosophical. First the technical point: it is now realized that the
model for the Charioteer must have been carved in wood. A clay mold was made
from the model, and the solid bronze cast therein. Afterwards the bronze was
elaborately chased. The youth's diadem was damascened with silver, he received
separate bronze eyelashes and onyx eyes with enameled whites, his lips were
inlaid with red copper. Yet all this fine work served only to enhance the still
finer simplicity of the artist's conception, which sprang straight from his
sensitive use of wood. The Charioteer stands like a young tree because he came
from a tree.
The second clue
rests in the old philosophical problem of the One and the Many. Archaic
sculptors strove to produce and reproduce one perfect type of man. There were
distinct formulas for carving his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hair, hands,
drapery—everything, in fact. This made for strong, arbitrary patterns, as in
formal poetry. It meant constant reiteration of single archetypal forms
underlying nature's infinite variety. Archaic sculptors grasped the principle
of the One but not of the Many; they ignored the little differences that make
each person unique; they showed ideal man in various poses but never individual
men. Then came the creator of the Charioteer, early in the fifth century B.C.,
and gathered both these principles in his hands. This marked the transition
from archaic to classical Greek sculpture. The artist retained the traditional,
semi-abstract patterning of hair, face and tunic; he composed the entire figure
with practically mathematical exactitude. Yet, on the other hand, he changed
everything—from the tilt of the head to the thrust of the toes—just enough to
shake the formal fabric with the breath of life. What might have seemed cut and
dried, however beautiful, he made real and warm. What might have been merely an
ideal athlete now became a unique individual.
believed that their gods existed in the physical and not merely symbolic sense.
This might of imagination, giving solid form to quicksilver concepts, was a
primal source of the Greek genius at its height. Our civilization has lost this
powerful sense. Some favored adolescents achieve it, only to lose it again.
Artists now and then aspire to it. Western poets still pine for it, like
Wordsworth when he wrote:
Great God! I'd
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
We hear breakers
resounding in a sea cave, and nothing more. But the ancients also heard old
Triton himself trumpeting there. We see whitecaps; they saw Poseidon's horses.
We may wistfully acknowledge a poetic metaphor; they felt the presence of the
gods. There lies the heart of the matter: it makes all the difference between
Homer and, say, Tennyson. Or between Paul Manship's Prometheus at Rockefeller
Center in New York and the fifth century Zeus at Athens—the greatest Greek
sculpture we possess.
bronze, shown on page 53, was found in the sea off Artemision. The circumstance
may have helped to persuade people, by an unconscious process of analogy, that
it represents Poseidon Earth-shaker, god of the wine-dark sea. The statue, at
any rate, is generally labeled Poseidon, and the guides will tell you that it
once held a trident ready to hurl like a javelin. But the trident, Poseidon's
invariable attribute, was a classical equivalent of the modern tunny fork, or
fisherman's spear; it was meant for thrusting, not for throwing. The
traditional thunderbolt of cloud-gathering Zeus fits the position much
same Athens museum contains a statuette of Zeus that must have been modeled on
this masterpiece, still brandishing the thunderbolt. It appears from this
statuette that the ancients imagined the thunderbolt as a kind of blossoming
cudgel. Doubtless a cudgel rocketing about the sky would make better thunder
than would a mere bright jagged line, and its blossoms might well signify the
fructifying force of the storms that Zeus in his anger wrought.
maintained that the best years for begetting children lay between the ages of
30 and 55, the prime life for active men. Presumably Zeus falls within those
age limits, since he was Father of the Gods. His striding form is electric with
young, self-renewing energy. His image seems no more "sexual" than that
of a lion or fighting bull, yet it does radiate virility. His face, shown in
detail on page 46, looks impassive and implacable. He is swift as an eagle,
firm as an oak, fine-drawn as a spider's web, smooth as a wave, tall as a
hill—divine, in fact.
The statue was
intended not only as an object of worship but also as an inspiration to men.
Remove the imagined thunderbolt, picture a javelin balanced there instead, and
one sees a mortal warrior or an athlete in the games. The god resembles a man,
who resembles a god. Here dissolves the "difference of power in
everything" that separates men from the gods. Here sculpture makes manifest
precisely what Pindar proclaimed: