Richard Armitage: RA, Aten, Ra

I was making my feeble every other day or so attempt at mastering Tumblr this week when I came across this post:

I have managed to figure out how to “like” something on Tumblr, which I immediately did…then I reblogged it (at least I think I did, I may be wrong).   I really liked this post, and since ancient Egypt crosses over ancient Greece regularly, I have an RA/Ra favorite I’d like to share:

aten

For much of Egyptian religious history, Aten, the sun disk was understood to be a component part of the solar god Ra.  Don’t you just love the little hands?  It’s like the warmth and light of the sun reaches out to touch you.  When I read I Still Believe in Lucas North’s original post, I thought of this image of Aten, and then I thought of Richard Armitage – RA – who reaches out and touches us with warmth and light.  It’s a good feeling isn’t it?

Popcorn Taxi Q&A My Cap

Popcorn Taxi Q&A
Source:  My Cap

Advertisements

ὅ παῖς καλός – Chin up Richard Armitage…

A quick perusal through a gallery of images will confirm that Richard Armitage has perfected his version of a chin down, eyes down partial to full profile look, especially for fashion/artistic style shoots, to great effect.  I had the one below (Keith Clouston, 2011) in mind when I was walking through the Met earlier this year.

Keith Clouston for Recognize Magazine - June 2011 Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Keith Clouston for Recognize Magazine – June 2011
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Most recently, another from the plethora of images shot by Robert Ascroft in December 2012 displays a similar look in a 3/4 body pose.

I'm not looking at you.... Robert Ascroft - December 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

I’m not looking at you….
Robert Ascroft – December 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

These images and this pose have struck a chord with me from day one, and I finally figured out why.  In part, I like them purely because I’m fascinated by the angular lines of his face that are set off so beautifully in profile, but also because of the quiet, contemplative tone of such images.  There is a certain serenity, but perhaps a bit of sadness.  This pose, and how Richard Armitage inhabits it reminded me distinctly of several images from Greek art…

Greek art, especially sculpture and vase painting is full of scenes of men engaged in action – athletics and warfare especially.  It is much less common to see men purely at rest, unless it is in a scene of banqueting, but those scenes don’t really convey the same sort of stillness and introspection of the images above.  For classical Greek men it seems, stillness and contemplation was reserved for situations when death was prominent.

Grave Stele from Brauron Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

Grave Stele from Brauron
Museum of Fine Arts – Boston

Above is a funeral scene where a young man in a similar pose…body relaxed, chin down, eyes down as he looks to the ground contemplating his life.  This is the figure of the deceased depicted on the stone, or stele that would have marked his burial.  This pose is quite common for funerary art…the figure of the deceased avoids eye contact with the living – a sculptural indication that he’s no longer of this world, but belongs to the Underworld.

Below, we see Odysseus in a scene from his trip to the Underworld (Odyssey, XI) in which he is conversing with the shade of his recently deceased comrade Elpenor.  Odysseus, though still alive, exhibits the same pose of quiet contemplation at he listens to Elpenor’s story. (One other place this pose frequently appears is in scenes where warriors are preparing for battle…ie, where death is a distinct possibility.)   These scenes are poignant, emotionally evocative, beautiful in their way.

Scene from Homer's Odyssey - Odysseus visits the shade of Elpenor in the Underworld Source:  Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

Scene from Homer’s Odyssey – Odysseus visits the shade of Elpenor in the Underworld
Source: Museum of Fine Arts – Boston

 Clearly, similar images of Richard Armitage are not meant to convey any notion of funerary sadness, but they do have the power to evoke strong emotional responses…I don’t think it’s accidental that photographers consistently capture this look, it’s a good one for him… ὅ παῖς καλός!

I'm still not looking at you....but you're looking at me aren't you?? Robert Ascroft - December 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

I’m still not looking at you….but you’re looking at me aren’t you??
Robert Ascroft – December 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

(Incidentally, at the risk of displaying my complete ignorance of men’s fashion…are those sans-a-belt trousers?  🙂 )

“For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb…”

Today is Memorial Day in the US, a federal holiday to commemorate our military dead…specifically, those who died in service.  Across the nation there are public parades and speeches as well as countless personal remembrances for loved ones lost.   Despite how I might feel about the validity of any particular war, I would never dispute the sacrifices that have been made by tens of thousands of military members and their families.  Formal state remembrances of the supreme sacrifice of military members are not unique to the modern world – unfortunately, humankind has a long, long history of warfare.  Perhaps one of the most famously recorded episodes of commemoration of the fallen comes from The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  In PericlesFuneral Oration, to the Athenians who had died in the initial battles of the war, Thucydides shows the Athenian leader lifting up the state as much as the deceased, and in many ways, that seems to be the function of all such ceremonies…to remind us why we ask such a sacrifice.  As I read through it today, I was struck by a passage which spoke specifically to me about honoring the individual, separate from the state.

funeral oration

“For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb”

I know that Memorial Day is separate from Veterans Day – where we in the US honor all who have served, but I tend to think that they are pieces of the same puzzle, and in that I remember all of the members of my own family, my Dad and my uncles and great uncles who served in wartime, my cousins who served in peace time.  I remember my students who served only recently, some of them seeking education now in times between deployments.  I especially remember my friend Rick,  who was so damaged by what he had seen and been required to do in Iraq that he couldn’t come to grips with it and took his own life, leaving behind two young sons who had never really known their father because of his service to the state.  Even though these people and thousands like them did not perish in service, their lives, and those of their families have been forever altered by it and they deserve to be recognized as often as possible – somehow I don’t think their departed comrades would mind.

OT: “If I don’t know how to do it, I don’t have to do it.”

A woman I know said this recently in regards to a household task that is usually a husbandly domain.  I’ve heard it before and not thought much of it, but as I was cutting hay today – actually, I was mowing the lawn at my parents’, it was really long, and they have 1-1/2 acres of lawn – I thought about it again.  If I didn’t know how to run the lawn tractor, I wouldn’t have to cut the lawn.  If I didn’t know to adjust the choke and disengage the blade and try again when it didn’t start , I wouldn’t have to cut the lawn, and so on and so on…But I do know all of those things, thus I have been sneezing all day having nicely chopped up a whole lot of dandelion pollen.  Yay me!

Since I was a little girl, I have refused to accept that there are things that I cannot do simply because I am female.  (It irks me to this day that I cannot pee standing up!).  I took metal shop in junior high because the guidance counselor told me, “girls take Home Economics.”  I made perhaps the worst dustpan and lamp in the history of eighth grade metal shop, but I did it…me, a girl.  So now I know how to use a drill press and bend metal.  My high school had flourishing girls athletic program – thank you Title IX, and I excelled in volleyball and softball.  So now I know how to throw and catch balls (surprisingly useless skills given how much time we spend honing them). When I was in college, my dad got me a job working for a local branch of the company he worked for making hydraulic hose assemblies.  So now I know how to use all sorts of industrial machinery and drive a forklift – and swear like a sailor…those hose guys could really swear a blue streak, and I had to fit in.  When I moved out of state for graduate school, my dad wasn’t around to do it, so I learned how to change a tire and check the oil on my car so I wouldn’t get stranded.

Evidently, I’m a rather independent person.  As an adult, I’ve learned to do a lot of things rather than have to rely on someone else to do them for me.  My neighbor, who is about my age, doesn’t drive.  It’s not that she doesn’t have a car, it’s that she doesn’t drive at all.  This is extremely unusual among the women I know…in fact, I don’t think I know any other women, under 80, who don’t drive.  (a quick statistical check shows that nearly 70% of the female population in the US are licensed drivers) She’s not sight, or hearing, or otherwise impaired, she just doesn’t drive.  She’s completely reliant on her husband or someone else to take her places. She asked me the other day if I’d let her know the next time I went shopping so she could tag along…apparently her husband doesn’t want to drive her.  I won’t bore you with the backstory, but the last thing I want to do is spend a precious free day shopping with this woman – apart from the driving thing, she just plain creeps me out – a lift to the bank?  OK.  A whole afternoon with her?  No thank you.   I could not possibly accept being dependent on anyone to that degree.  I guess it gets back to my need to be independent.  If I have a flat tire and my husband is in the car, I’m more than happy to let him deal with it, but I also know that I could do it myself if he wasn’t there, just the same as I could do a lot of things if no one else was able to.

“If I don’t know how to do it, I don’t have to do it.”  I think I’d still rather know how to do things, and trust that the people around me will do their share.

Yeah, this is definitely how I look when I'm mowing the lawn!

Yeah, this is definitely how I look when I’m mowing the lawn!

Richard Armitage and Achilles – tRAgic lovers

There are a multitude of stories about the Greek hero Achilles…Homer’s epic poem The Iliad , focuses on Achilles’ rage at being thwarted by the expedition commander Agamemnon.  Achilles’ reputation was that of the greatest of the Greek warriors assembled before the walls of Troy but I don’t want to talk about Achilles the warrior today.   I’ve been thumbing through images of Achilles lately an came across one that refers to one of the few “romantic” stories in his mythology.

This part of Achilles’ story is set shortly after the action of The Iliad, when Achilles  has rejoined the Greeks in battling the Trojans.  Penthesilea (Pen-theh-si-lay-uh) was the queen of the Amazons, a mythical tribe of warrior women who lived on the fringe of Greek society.   Penthesilea was crippled by grief after accidentally killing her sister in a hunting accident. (is there no end of tragedy for these mythological characters?)  She agreed to fight with the Trojans against the Greeks because it offered her the opportunity to end her misery by dying an honorable warrior’s death – a requirement of an Amazonian queen.  There are several variations of the story, but in all of them, Penthesilea and Achilles meet on the battlefield, and powerful as she is, she is no match for Achilles who deals her a fatal blow.

Penthesilea1

Penthesilea dies in Achilles arms
Cup from Vulci, around 460 BC
Munich / Germany, Antikensammlungen 2688.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One way or another, Penthesilea’s ends up in Achilles arms as she dies.  Several versions recount that their eyes meet and they fall instantly in love just as she dies.

Achilles and Penthesilea - The Look of Love Detail of image above

Achilles and Penthesilea – The Look of Love
Detail of image above

In the detailed image above we can see this moment depicted…damage to the vase obscures Achilles slightly, but one can still make out the connected gaze between the two figures as Achilles drives his sword home just below Penthesilea’s chin.  This is among my top ten most evocative moments in Greek myth and it is incredibly similar to a scene between Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne and Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian in Robin Hood – the infamous death scene of course.

Death of Marian Robin Hood S2.12 Screen Cap courtesy of www.richardarmitagenet.com

Death of Marian
Robin Hood S2.12
Screen Cap courtesy of http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Only seconds after he’s stabbed her, Guy supports Marian’s dying weight as she looks up and their eyes meet.  According to Robin Hood’s writers the emotion of the scene is vastly different, at least from Marian’s point of view, but the composition is eerily similar.

Richard Armitage is famously quiet regarding his personal life, (which is fine by me) but I don’t think I’m speculating too wildly to suppose that he couldn’t possibly be as tRAgic in love as either Achilles or Guy… especially since ending love affairs at sword point is highly frowned upon these days.  Here’s hoping for a much less classical ending for him in real life!

Neutrality and Richard Armitage: It’s all a matter of source.

One thing I struggle with as a fan of Richard Armitage is the temptation to take all the source material that emerges about him at face value.  It’s hard not to do when some completely charming new interview or article is released.  I want to believe that every bit of it is a true, unbiased account of this man who fascinates me.  I want to, and I probably do for a minute, but, as a scholar, I’ve been relentlessly drilled on the reality that NO source is completely unbiased or neutral, so I have to step back and consider the source.   There was a really interesting discussion about this concept this week  in Armitageworld, on a non-RA topic (gasp) that brought this issue back to the surface for me.

In studies of the ancient world, neutrality is an elusive thing.  Perhaps the most neutral source I’ve studied is material that I’ve pulled from the ground myself.  Material that has not seen the light of day in almost 3000 years.  It has no voice, it carries no inherent bias, it just is.  The attachment of bias begins pretty quickly though as I look at it and form an opinion as to what it is…which basket it belongs in – pottery?  bone?  stone?  metal?  It goes on from there, acquiring the opinions of all the scholars before me who have studied similar material.  See what I mean about the elusive nature of neutrality?

It is much more difficult to find an neutral written account of the ancient world.  Even in the modern world when news agencies carry taglines like “Fair and Balanced”  a wise consumer should know that this is only marketing – every source carries at least some bias.  I have a favorite example that I use to illustrate this to my students which I think makes the point well:  the word TYRANT

dictionary.com entry for TYRANT

dictionary.com entry for TYRANT

Most English speakers are aware that this word carries a negative connotation in English.  Few contemporary rulers would find it a compliment to be referred to as a tyrant.  Looking above at the etymology, or origin of the word, we can see that it originates in the Greek word τύραννος (tyrannos).  Consulting the Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon.   That’s by far the most famous and often employed Ancient Greek to English dictionary…mine is a Middle Liddell…as opposed to the pocket version Little Liddell or the “only libraries have space for this”  Great Scott.  (I am not unaware that it is more than a little funny that classicists name their dictionaries…I’d like to note, for the record, that I’m an archaeologist 🙂 – I named my trowel)  Sorry, I got distracted – my more observant students notice this happens often and find ways to cultivate it .  Back to the matter at hand:

τύραννος…according to Liddell and Scott, prior to the 6th century BC,  meant “an absolute sovereign unlimited by constitution.”   This definition will probably throw up a lot of red flags for a modern audience accustomed to a larger degree of participation in elected, constitutional governments, but for the vast majority of ancient Greeks, the “unlimited by constitution” part wasn’t particularly problematic.  It all comes down to who wrote the constitutions and who they protected really.  I’ll come back to that idea later, but first I’d like to illustrate one of the reasons why τύραννος became a nasty word for the Greeks and came into English as such.

In large part, this is due to the rule of two generations of tyrants in 6th century Athens known as the Pisistratids.  When Pisistratus seized power in the 6th century, he was a tyrant by Greek definition since he had no constitutional authority to rule Athens.  Even so, he was tremendously popular with the majority of the population…that is, the common people.  In general, he was a capable and qualified ruler who made a multitude of changes to the Athenian state and economy that primarily benefited the common people, but often at the expense of the elites, making him wild popular with one group and increasingly hated by the other.  Athens flourished under his rule.   As is often the case in history though, the seduction of establishing a family dynasty was powerful, and when he died, Pististratus “left” the control of Athens to his two sons (Hippias and Hipparchus) which started out well enough, but went south quickly.  In a weird sequence of events related to a love triangle, Hipparchus was assassinated, and after his death, Hippias began to act much more like the modern definition of a tyrant, leading to his eventual exile and the foundation of the famous Athenian democracy at the end of the 6th century.   In the following years, the murderers of Hipparchus, Harmodios and Aristogeiton were held up as symbols of the new Athenian democracy, having defeated the evil of tyranny (leaving out the fact that they had killed Hipparchus for personal, not political reasons).

Harmodius_and_Aristogeiton

Statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Naples. Roman copy of the Athenian version by Kritios and Nesiotes
Source: Wikimedia Commons

So there’s the backstory, but how did the word tyrant become so universally understood as a negative term?  How did a few bad decisions by his son wipe out all of the progressive changes made by Pisistratus?  It becomes a matter of the source of the accounts…that is, who recorded these events?  By and far, the history of the ancient world was recorded by educated elites – in this case, the very same educated elites whose power and wealth had been systematically attacked by Pisistratus, and later his sons.  These same elites wrote the constitution of Athens (which benefited them over the common people) that Pisistratus had violated to seize power.  Despite the notion of a democracy in Athens, functionally, the wealthy elites still dominated it, in the early stages especially.  Pististratus and his sons became the fall guys of tyranny, Harmodious and Aristegeiton, the martyred heroes of democracy.   Considering those sources,  it is any wonder that the word tyrant carries a negative slant?  There is really no such thing as a neutral source of this event.  Even the most even handed ancient historian, Thucydides, himself a landed and wealthy citizen of Athens, carried bias.

To approach neutrality, I think we have to be willing to look beyond what is written, to read between the lines.  For me, this is much harder to do when it comes to accounts on Richard Armitage.  I have a much more emotional reaction to him that seriously impacts my immediate ability to be critical of what is written.

yet another ascroft

Yet another Robert Ascroft
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Just look at him for goodness sake!  How’s a girl supposed to remain neutral!?

Richard Armitage and the classical canon of sculptuRAl proportions

I’ve been hemming and hawing about this post for about a month now, fiddling around with the drawings, checking, double checking, but I finally finished it today while I should have been doing other things…funny how that works in Armitageworld isn’t it?  Before you read further, remember what I said here about my thoughts on artistic nudity:  Enter at your own risk 🙂

The classical Greeks were very interested in proportion and formulas for creating it.  This desire to “regularize” is especially prominent in architecture and sculpture, and it reflects a lot of information about what the Greeks found visually appealing, their visual aesthetic.  If we had only sculptures to go by, we would have to assume that the population of ancient Greece was a median age of about 23 and in peak physical condition. That was certainly not the case.  Classical sculpture was not trying to replicate reality, but rather to create an ideal, portraying perfected people.

In order to do this, classical sculptors developed complicated formulas of proportions, canons, that divided the body into component parts, each pieces of the whole, proportionately and symmetrically connected to one another.  The idea was that if the sculptor followed the proportional model, no matter what the scale (size) of the sculpture was, it would fit the ideal of what the Greeks found visually appealing.    There are basically two competing canons of proportion:  the original, developed by Polykleitos in the 5th and early 4th centuries BC and then another developed later in the 4th century by Lysippos.  Looking at the image below, we can see the differences in proportion between each sculpture.  The Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) on the left is thought to represent the canon of Polykleitos.  On the right, the Apoxymenos (The Scraper) represents the same for Lysippos.

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos  (https://sites.google.com/site/pistasdeplastica/3o-eso/canon)

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos (https://sites.google.com/site/pistasdeplastica/3o-eso/canon)

In detail, the formulas are extremely complex, extending all the way to the length of the digits in proportion to the size of the hand, but in terms of the overall height and basic proportion of the body as a whole, the formula is relatively simple…for Polykleitos, the head is 1/7 the the overall height of the body, for Lysippos, 1/8.  The result is clear…the Polykleitan ideal is compact and solid, the Lysippan rather longer and leaner.  Since I have a rather pronounced interest in all things Richard Armitage, I wondered how he measures up to the classical ideal. Before I go further I should point out that I can only come to very general conclusions for a couple of reasons.  First, since I’m working from photographs, and photographs of a fully clothed Richard Armitage at that, I have to guess-ti-mate A LOT.  And, more importantly, what we know about the details of either canon is compromised by a lack of preservation of the original materials.

When it comes to much of classical Greek sculpture, there are really two broad categories:  Lost Original and Roman Copy, which are actually two sides of the same coin.  Both Polykleitos and Lysippos were prolific sculptors, but very little of the original work of either artist has survived.  Except for a few notable examples, the greatest number of “Greek” sculptures that survive are actually Roman copies of a lost original work.  The Romans were competant copyists, but there is a strong probablity that some (many)  elements of the originals were “lost in translation.”  Even so, we can still take a look at a basic proportional comparison.

The image below shows a full length shot copied onto graph paper, on which I can make out (or at least fudge) some critical measurement points.  The place we have to start is measuring the head to set up the unit of measure.  From the hairline to the jaw, the head measures 5  blocks on the graph paper – this is the basic unit of measure to divide the body parts.  The solid lines indicate the canonical divisions:  1/7 divisions as determined by Polykleitos (left), 1/8 by Lysippos (right).  The dashed lines represent where those divisional lines should fall if the body fits into the canons.  Looking at even this very provisional scheme, I came away with a couple of conclusions:

canon

Click to enlarge for details…such as they are
(we’re working on a shoestring budget here!)
Original Photo Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

1.  Richard Armitage, by classical standards, has a disproportionately large head.   (big head, big brain right 🙂 ). This actually seems to be a desirable trait for film actors since larger heads photograph better.   Unlike many of his colleagues, Mr. Armitage also has a body size that is proportionate to his head…hurray, no bobble head look here!

2.  That head factor skews the other measurements a bit.

3.  All is not lost.

It is clear to me from my extremely “scientific” analysis, that if we make a correction for the size of the head, Richard Armitage fits better into the Lysippan canon than the Polykleitan since he is generally longer and leaner in proportion.  Even so, there is a fair amount of difference.  As a test, I used this same canon system on Daniel Craig, who exhibits rather more traditional male proportions.  He conformed more to canon, but still not perfectly.

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What becomes evident is that these proportions do not correspond to actual humans, but rather to a mathematical ideal of what the Greeks found pleasing to the eye.  Although the Doryphoros and the Apoxymenos appear much more realistic than say, a typical example of Egyptian sculpture (in the image above, the Egyptian piece is clearly meant to represent a human form, but it is much more stiff and stylized than either of the Greek works.) they are not really representative of an actual human body.

As a whole, we have not changed very much over the 2500 years since these canons were conceived in terms of the desire for idealized forms.   Our eyes are constantly being tricked into believing that the human forms we see in the media are perfect.  What we find if we look closer however,  is that they are not perfect, but instead have been “perfected.”  Many people argue that this trend toward over manipulating images has produced a warped notion of an ideal body for generations of people, particularly women.    While it is unlikely that any professional images shot of Richard Armitage reach the public eye completely UN-retouched, I gather from various conversations that the general consensus is that he requires little or no retouching.  I tend to agree – the great attraction of Richard Armitage to me is the sum of “imperfections” that result in a beautiful, REAL man.

Oh, I almost forgot…on one front (or back I guess) Richard Armitage has a lot in common with Greek sculpture….

One of these things is not quite the same...

One of these things is not quite the same…

With the exception of not having a tree trunk sticking out of the back of his leg, he could be a butt/bum model for classical male nudes!   (Thanks to my enabler Servetus for the screen cap from Spooks S8.4)