Friday, 8 February 2013

Ancient naked statues - modern dressed lambs

I know, I know. It's been nearly three weeks since I posted anything. But a writer's work is never done!!

And I've been working hard. I have strict deadlines on the third draft of my new story for Cambridge University Press, and putting together my page at ContactAnAuthor, and preparing a school talk, and getting ready to chair four sessions at Words by the Water Literary Festival in Keswick. (How did I get myself into this?)

And I wouldn't be blogging now, but I couldn't resist answering a question I was asked the other day. It was about the statue we used on the cover of The Boy with Two Heads. The question was: 'Have all the statues had their heads broken off?' That gave me an excuse to find some photos of him - and other such appealing creatures. (Most of them did have their heads broken off when they were found, but they've been mended now.)
the Youth of Antikythera
from the Wikipedia article

The head of The Boy stars in my posting on February 5th, 2012 (almost exactly a year ago – how odd…), but there I only show his face. As you can see, his body is too muscular for my 13 year old hero.

I give two links there to a lot more information about the statue, including:
He stands nearly two metres tall (not counting the plinth) in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. He is known as the Youth of Antikythera, as he was found just off the island of Antikythera, in pieces on the sea-bed, in 1900. Because of the other things from a shipwreck found nearby, archaeologists say he came from the west coast of what is now Turkey and was probably made in 340 BC or so. 
[On his Wikipedia page, where this picture can be found, he is called the Antikythera Ephebe. The word ephebe is still used in modern Greek to mean a teenage man or youth (now pronounced 'ephivos' – the v in Greek looks like a b in Latin-based alphabets, so that is how it is often said by non-Greek speakers).]

The Youth is one of many similar statues that were made from about 450 BC in a pose still popular today. They were more lifelike than the previous, archaic naked males (reminiscent of Egyptian kings), and always had their weight on one leg. 

Hermes and Dionysus
Praxiteles' Hermes in Olympia
This marble statue is the Hermes of Praxiteles (the sculptor), honoured with his own room in the museum at Ancient Olympia. He was also made in the 4th century BC (although this may be a copy made around 325 BC), and is holding the infant Dionysus. He is very similar to the bronze Youth, and was found in Olympia, where much of The Boy with Two Heads takes place. The Hermes is mentioned as being at Olympia by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD. The fact that he was found, as described by Pausanias but under a thick layer of river clay 1,800 years later, is the kind of thing that makes the hair on my arms stand up. 

the original David,
from the Khanacademy webpage
Michelangelo's David (1504 AD) follows the same artistic tradition. On this website you can see a replica of the David where the original was once placed (it is now in the Galleria dell'Accademia). There is a vertiginous 360 degree facility to look at the whole Piazza della Signoria in Florence. 

But no mention is made in the text of David's Greek forebears among the ranks of naked male statues.

Enough of that ...

I downed tools this afternoon and went for a walk in the sun, and look what I found in the field! Instead of creatures usually-clothed-but-naked-for-the-sake-of-art, I saw creatures that are usually-naked (well, sort of) but-clothed-for-the-sake-of-warmth ... in plastic coats. 

Somehow that took the edge off the excitement of seeing my first lambs this year. 

Back to work!


  1. Fascinating- especially about the Hermes! And ... the lambs' little coats. Are Cumbrian sheep getting soft- or is this a sign of our exceptionally wet and cold weather?

  2. Yes, the Hermes is a wonder, especially as you see him in the museum from a distance to start with, against a dark red wall. But like most of the 'complete' statues, he's been heavily restored. Still, for me, that doesn't take away from his remarkable presence. As for the lambs, I think they must be of a different breed to our traditional hardy types. They look stockier, smoother, and somehow more belligerent!