ὅ παῖς καλός – Richard Armitage and the Boxer at Rest: Unique Beauty

In addition to daydreaming and blogging about Richard Armitage, I’m teaching an aesthetics class this summer.  One of the challenges with a class of this type is empowering students to realize that art, in all of its forms is an exceptionally subjective thing.  Discussions early in the term often start out with “X is beautiful, Y is not.” By the end of the class though, many students are able to make a critical adjustment to that statement and say, “X is beautiful to me because….”  or “Y is not to my taste, but the artistry of the work is clear.”  That recognition is a win for me in the classroom.  One thing that has always bothered me about some veins of art history is the persistent tendency to criticize the art of one period in comparison to that of the previous or subsequent period.  The art of the Hellenistic (~330-30 BCE) period has often been maligned as overblown and theatrical in comparison to the more serene stylings of the fifth century.  There is no question that Hellenistic art is much more emotionally evocative and dramatic in its impact, but that is the reason that I love it.  While I can appreciate its artistry,  fifth century sculpture, with its rigid adherence to canon and almost cookie cutter similarity of faces, leaves me largely unmoved.  By contrast,  the dynamic motion and emotion captured by Hellenistic artists has always struck a cord with me.  Looking at these works, the viewer can see unique individuals rather than canonized perfection.

The Boxer at Rest discussed here also, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  This is not a sculpture of a perfect model, but one who shows the wear and tear of his profession, a nose that’s been broken, the characteristic “cauliflower” ear.   The tilt of his head and the angle of his brow make him appear to be looking up in questioning response to something.  There is a weariness about him that suggests he’s just finished a bout (he is also still wearing his gloves).  When I assess the look on his face, I’ve thought he looks as if someone has just asked him to fight again…”What?  You want me to fight now?  *sigh*.”  It is the sum of all his imperfections and the emotion conveyed by his face that I find so compelling.  He is unique.

  (His eyes would have been filled in with paste…see here for an example)

Detail of Head (image is flipped for comparison) "Boxer at Rest" Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.  Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

Detail of Head (image is flipped for comparison)
“Boxer at Rest”
Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.
Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

I think this particular aesthetic of mine may be a part of the reason that I find Richard Armitage so physically appealing.  There is nothing cookie cutter about him.   Like the boxer, his nose and his ears are characteristic features…individual, unique.   The moment of portrait is quite similar as he looks up, his forehead creased, brows raised as if to ask, “What next? *sigh*.”  Of course it’s impossible to tell if this look was deliberately crafted for what is a decidedly artistic shoot, aimed at a particular result, but that is how it spoke to me.  There is also a certain weariness around his eyes and the slightly opened mouth that reminds me of the Boxer too.  It’s an evocative image that would fit well within the Hellenistic aesthetic.    ὅ παῖς καλός!

Richard Armitage at work...looking up a bit askance. Fault Magazine 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

Richard Armitage at work…looking up a bit askance.
Fault Magazine 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

John Porter and HeRAkles: Battered but not beaten heroes

I have been searching high and low for a classical connection to my favorite Richard Armitage character…John Porter.  I love every damaged, heroic inch of this character from his fingertip gently stroking the cheek of his distraught daughter on a computer screen, to his anguish when he learns of his mate Steve’s death….emotion aplenty.  Then there is the plain physical beauty of the man – I especially love his tantalizing teres.  Although not as obvious, there are a lot of connections to the classical tradition in Porter’s story – they just have to be fleshed out a bit more since they tend to be more conceptual than visual.  That said, it is to the visual (and how) that I turn today.

I’ve looked several times lately at a favorite sculptural work of mine known as the Farnese Hercules (I saw him “in the flesh” in 1992, and the impression has never left me.)   The connection to John Porter struck me only today.  Hercules is the Latin equivalent of the Greek hero HeRAkles.  The Romans adopted him and his mythology wholesale from the Greeks, and his Latin name has become more commonly known than the original Greek version.  There is an enormous volume of myth surrounding Herakles, especially as pertains to his famous Twelve Labors.  Less well known is the reason why he undertook the labors in the first place.

This is a story of guilt and redemption for the most part, very much like the central theme that runs through John Porter’s character arc.  A bit of back story would probably be useful.  Herakles was one of the many illegitimate children of the god Zeus (Jupiter in Latin) and as such was on the bad side of Hera, Zeus’ wife. (Ironically, the name Herakles means “the glory of Hera” in Greek)  Hera is a really interesting character…she hates her husband/brother (yep – incest was common among ancient deities), yet she is insanely jealous of his extracurricular activities.  She can’t take her jealous rage out on him – he is much too powerful, so instead, she lashes out at his lovers and his extramarital offspring.  Hera had it in for Herakles from the cradle where she sent snakes to kill him

"Baby" Hercules strangles the snakes.  I love how the classical Greeks depict infants as miniature adults... Source:  Vase Painting by the Berlin Painter in the Louvre

“Baby” Herakles strangles the snakes sent by Hera.
I love how the classical Greeks depict infants as miniature adults…
Source: Vase Painting by the Berlin Painter in the Louvre

Herakles grew into a man of tremendous strength and courage, but he was a bit of a loose cannon, so there were bumps in the road for him throughout his life.  As a young adult he married a princess named Megara and sometime later in a state of insane rage caused by Hera killed both his wife and their children.  Like Orestes, he fled to Delphi for advice from the oracle.  To redeem himself from his crimes, he was sentenced to carry out what came to be called the Twelve Labors of Herakles…a series of monumental tasks engineered by Hera to set Herakles up for failure and disgrace.  (and thereby keep him off of Mt. Olympus which he had been promised – along with immortality)

One by one Herakles completed each task.  The Farnese Hercules, a Roman copy of a Greek original sculpture by Lysippos, is perhaps the most famous depiction of Herakles.  It lives in the Naples Museum today.

Herakles in a moment of rest... So-called Farnese Hercules Source:  Wikimedia

Herakles in a moment of rest…
So-called Farnese Hercules
Source: Wikimedia

Here we see Herakles in a rare moment of rest, having completed almost all of his tasks.  We can see the skin of the Nemean Lion (Labor #1) draped over the club he leans on.  In behind his back, in his right hand Herakles holds the Apples of the Hesperides (Labor# 11)  The exaggerated musculature of this piece is one of its most striking elements, but I’ve also always found the weariness of the powerful Herakles extremely moving.  He is so close to achieving his goal, so close to redemption, if only he can find the strength to go on.

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in a moment of rest Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in a moment of rest
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

He seems so similar to John Porter (here as he digs a grave in Strike Back S1.4).  A powerful male in the midst of an unpleasant, but necessary task.  Labor that no one else can do, labor that stands between him and his quest for redemption.  There are moments in Strike Back when Porter’s exhaustion is almost palpable…it’s not just a physical response, but a mental one as well.  The result is deeply emotional and evocative.

John Porter (Richard Armitage) fights for the will to go on... (Strike Back S1.6) Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com Source

John Porter (Richard Armitage) fights for the will to go on… (Strike Back S1.6)
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com 

Boxer at Rest, a Hellenistic Greek bronze thought to have been inspired by the Lysippan Herakles, also captures this same attitude of dogged exhaustion…the feeling of digging deep inside to find the energy both physically and mentally to achieve the goal.

"Boxer at Rest" Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.  Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

“Boxer at Rest”
Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.
Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

These are heroes who have been through the wringer.  They have toiled, they have struggled and for just a moment they are at rest…battered, but not beaten.

OT: I survived “Car-mageddon 2013”

What the...?!

What the…?!

Well, here I am back from the big family shindig in mostly one piece despite the best attempts of the road signage in northwestern Wisconsin to force me off the road in fits of hysterical laughter!  Ancient Armitage will be back to the regularly scheduled programming this week, but first a few things I learned on this trip:

  • I really like my family…
    • every quirky, perpetually late, impossible to corral into a schedule, indecisive one of them.
  • Two vehicles are better than one on a 500 mile road trip
    • my husband and I found out we actually like driving around when it’s just the two of us…beef jerky and gas station restrooms are soooo romantic!!
  • There are motels that have rooms for six –
    • a pox on them for indulging my mom’s frugal spirit!!
  • There is nowhere to hide from camera phones…
    • or camera phone photographers who instantly publish to Facebook!
  • Upscale and expensive does not necessarily equate to perfection…
    • as proven by the massive flood in my room on night one in our extremely posh log cabin digs.
      • Who knew you needed to seal a basement window well and clear rain gutters of debris prior to torrential rains – evidently everyone but the maintenance staff at this resort!
      •  I think I should have gotten a free pedicure from the spa for having discovered the flood when my bare feet stepped out of bed into a soaking wet carpet – squish!
      • Also, my head is still humming from the sound of the industrial blowers drying out the carpet – very fancy!
  • Fangirling may be hereditary…
    • I bonded with one of my cousins – she is a self-proclaimed Cumberbitch 🙂

Really only two casualties from the trip…a misplaced iPad charger and cable and my sister and I aren’t speaking…that’s not really reunion related, just a sister thing we do every so often.   The 2015 reunion?  We’ll see everyone in Wyoming.  Or Florida…or North Carolina – go figure, we haven’t decided 🙂

Oh!  I almost forgot – pizza is really good cooked on the barbecue grill!  (all those cameras, and not one picture of 30 pizzas cooking on the grill!)

OT: Family vacation here I come…

For the past two decades, since my grandmother’s death, my far flung maternal relatives have assembled for a family reunion every other summer.  We are a good sized group.  My mom is one of ten children.  All but two of her siblings have children of their own, and most of those children now have children too.  At last count, over fifty of us will descend upon a Midwestern lakefront resort for a long weekend of camaraderie, reminiscing and, of course, eating! My maternal family lives in various places all over the US, and we’ve made it a practice to take turns hosting the event.  Every other reunion one of the group who still lives near the “homestead” in Wisconsin hosts, but in other years we’ve travelled to all different locales – Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Washington State, Colorado.  Travelling to these events has become part of the vacation schedule for my immediate family.  Next week, I will climb into a mini van, loaded with a car top carrier, with my husband, my two children and my parents to make the seven hour road trip to our designated location.

Ready to hit the road...

Ready to hit the road…

As road trips go, this one is pretty short, but I predict it will not go without incident.  In an effort to conserve fuel, we’re all going together in one vehicle – fortunately, my sister was banned from family road trips several years ago (actually, I volunteered to pay for her plane ticket…her + my kids + extended car trip = DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA!)  My husband is a new addition this year – he’s been unable to go along on the past trips – we’ll see if he needs a plane ticket next time too.  Now that the cast of characters has been established, the first thing that will happen is that my dad and my husband will pack the car and say, “It won’t all fit!”  This will require my mother and me to unpack/repack the car…and not say “yes, it will!”

NATIONAL-LAMPOONS-VACATION

So here we are, ready to get underway…well, not quite 🙂  Now comes the people loading…under no circumstances can the two kids sit next to each other, unless we want to have a stop after 15 minutes of driving to pull them apart.  The teenager sits in the very back row…the little one sits immediately in front of him, a cooler under her feet – they have to sit on the same side of the van since that’s where the power outlets are and Lord knows they cannot go without their electronic devices on a car trip.  Actually, experience tells me that it is essential that they, (the teenager especially, since apparently the sound of his sister’s voice provokes him to immediate snark about said voice) be plugged into ear buds and electronic media.

A Griswold sing-a-long

A Griswold sing-a-long

I have ceased pondering this really.  I know that “in the good old days” there were no such things.  My sister and I rode all over the country in the back of a station wagon (not unlike the Griswold’s) with nothing but coloring books and crayons to amuse us.  We counted cows (that gets old FAST in Wisconsin), we “collected” license plates or played alphabet games, and sang road songs (never once questioning if it was appropriate to sing 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall), etc.  Of course, the outboard motor and the tank of gasoline in the back may have had something to do with why we slept a lot along the way!  In lieu of inadvertently anesthetizing them with fumes, I’ll settle for having my kids plug in if it maintains harmony for all passengers.

Ordinarily my parents would insist that we leave at stupid o’clock in the morning to “make the best of the daylight,” but due to extenuating circumstances, we’ll be leaving in the early afternoon and having a stopover by early evening.  This will necessitate another time honored horror – the family hotel room.  Thank heaven for legal requirements that won’t allow a hotel to cram all six of us into one room.  Otherwise my mom would totally argue for this in the spirit of frugality.  In the spirit of at least one person getting some sleep, we  are definitely getting two rooms, and I still predict that someone will end up spending at least part of the night in the van!

No really, I'm fine!

No really, I’m fine!

Now that we’ve gotten ourselves settled, we have to figure out where to have dinner…always a challenge between my son who eats from three food groups:  pizza, chicken tenders, or mac and cheese to my dad who maintains that any and all fast food will make him instantly sick to my daughter who is always a wild card.  This takes at least an hour to plan which will set us up to get back to the motel thirty minutes before the pool closes.  Forgetting that there is a pool at home, this generates a mad dash on the part of the seven year old to get changed and into that over chlorinated human stew for at least 20 minutes before she has to be dragged back to the room and showered before bed.

It's definitely not a waterpark...but...is that a hottub?

It’s definitely not a waterpark…but…is that a hottub?

Bright and early…at stupid o’clock…the next morning, we’ll be underway again.  I imagine we’ll arrive at our destination sometime around midday.  Ahhh, time to relax and let vacation begin right?  Wrong!  We are on for group meal numero uno – fish fry.  Part of the reason we needed the car top carrier was to make room for the giant fryers and coolers we need to bring along to lay out this spread for fifty.  My dad will be like a whirling dervish within minutes of arrival…I predict he’ll have the car unloaded and be breading blue gills in less than 20 minutes – woe onto anyone who gets in his way, or offers advice.

Fish fry...where are the french fries?

Fish fry…where are the french fries?

Doesn’t this sound like fun?!  Actually, I really love these trips.  The small trials along the way are nothing compared to the laughs that we have together, the places we see and the people we meet along the way.  Happy travels Armitageworld!

Richard Armitage (ok, Guy of Gisborne) and Apollo: Spurned Lovers

The character of Guy of Gisborne (as portrayed by Richard Armitage) in Robin Hood (BBC 2006-2009) is a rich source for classical comparisons.  I’m returning to another story of the Greek god Apollo for this one.  As I mentioned here, Apollo was one of the most renowned of the gods in the Greek pantheon, and like his father Zeus, in addition to all of his supernatural powers, he also seems to have had a supernatural libido…in layman’s terms – Apollo was a major player.  The fact that some of his would be lovers were were noticeably repulsed by him didn’t seem to be much of a hindrance to Apollo.  Convinced of his own irresistibly, he pursued a number of human women and nymphs who turned him down repeatedly.  Unfortunately (for the women and nymphs) Apollo’s refusal to take “no” for an answer usually put them into a difficult circumstance.

A story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses gives a great example of this tendency of Apollo – complete with two gods having a pissing contest (pardon my  language 🙂 – RA isn’t the only one who gets to throw out off color slang around here!)  over the relative size of their weapons.  You can find a translation of the whole story here, but the nuts and bolts of it go something like this:

The great archer Apollo is teasing Eros (Cupid) about how tiny his eensy weensy little bow and arrows are.  What Apollo apparently forgot was that Eros’ arrows might be tiny, but they packed a huge wallop – one that not even the other gods were immune to.  To prove the might of his weapon he shoots Apollo with a golden arrow causing him to fall in love with the first person he sees…in this case the nymph Daphne.  To really drive the point home, Eros shoots Daphne with a lead arrow, causing her to be turned off by Apollo in a big way…the result?  He sees her and falls madly in lurve…she sees him (and presumably the acute case of bedroom eyes he’s shooting at her) and takes off running.  The chase is on!

Even a nimble Naiad like Daphne can’t outrun the great god Apollo forever.  Just at the point that he catches her, (beautifully articulated in marble by the Italian sculptor Bernini) she appeals to her father, the god of a local river to help her escape Apollo.  Her father does so by turning her into a tree…a laurel tree (we might know it better as the tree that produces bay leaves in the US).

Apollo and Daphne Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Apollo and Daphne
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Apollo mourns his “lost” love by making a wreath of the leaves that sprout from her as the metamorphosis is complete.  The laurel becomes a sacred tree to Apollo and the laurel wreath one of his frequent attributes.   (You might think that Apollo would learn from this episode…um, not so much!)

I noticed a certain similarity between Apollo and his inability to leave Daphne alone and Guy of Gisborne’s refusal to take no for an answer in his persistent pursuit of Marian.  One scene struck me as particularly similar to the scene above between Apollo and Daphne.

Marian strains away from Guy's embrace (Robin Hood S1 E11) Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Marian strains away from Guy’s embrace (Robin Hood S1 E11)
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Guy has caught the object of his desire, but as he leans in to kiss her, she very clearly strains away from him before he can reach her.  (Right about now I’m yelling at my TV… “What is wrong with you woman?!”)   Marian’s poor taste in lovers aside, like Apollo, Guy’s caught her, but he won’t be able to keep her.   A moment later, lacking the intercession of a divine father, she wrenches away and flees from him.  One might think that Guy might take the hint and find more accessible prey, but like Apollo, he will pursue her desperately – to no good end for either of them.

Psst…Apollo?  Guy?  Hint…if a girl runs away or would rather turn into a tree than kiss you…she’s just not that into you!  (Don’t worry, there are plenty of us who are! 🙂 )

et alia – So you want to write RAcy fan fiction? Caveat scriptor: Just say NO to SPANX!

I have found that writing sex scenes is rather akin to what I suppose writing choreography to be like.  I really have to keep track fo whose parts are where, or the whole thing can fly off the rails leaving the reader wondering, “How did he get there?” or “wasn’t her leg just over here?”  Part of this “choreography” is the process of getting characters undressed, or at least partially undressed.

0910-couple-undressing

This can be a tricky procedure depending on how you choose to clothe your characters.  For instance, skirts only need need to be pushed up – jeans?  Much more labor intensive.  Even in historical fics, the torturous corset can be easily discarded by simply cutting the laces.  Bras, thongs, panties?  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  So far, I have handily dealt with a variety of clothing and undergarment combinations.  I have yet to read a fic where the heroine manages to make a sexy, sultry egress from the Lycra and Spandex confines of SPANX, although it might make a great comic scene…

According to several Hollywood insiders, SPANX are the greatest thing to hit the market since sliced bread.  For any who don’t know, SPANX is a line of women’s (and apparently men’s…”SPANX, Dad”) undergarments and especially shapewear foundation garments.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against foundation garments in general, and SPANX are far from grandma’s girdle, but getting your character out of them will turn a hot little sex scene into something akin to slapstick comedy.  Let me put it this way…

There are e-how and YouTube videos on how to successfully wrangle yourself into your SPANX.  Now imagine your heroine trying to fight her way out of them in the heat of passion…egads!

So, if you want to save your heroine a lot of hopping around and potential asphixiation as she tries to get out of her underwear, Caveat Scriptor:

Spanks?  Go for it!

spanx logo  No Thanks!

The “cult” of Richard Armitage?

As an archaeologist, I have wondered more than once how I would assess the fandom of Richard Armitage if it were presented to me as an artifact, separated from its context.  What do I have?

  • People from all over the world who dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to the appreciation, in some cases the adulation, of a remote source of inspiration.
  • The source of inspiration is a person who most never have nor ever will meet in person.
  • He speaks they (we) listen (or read).
  • Writings and images are dedicated to him.
  • Offerings are made in his name.

If I were looking at the sum of these activities without any other context, it has all the trappings of what scholars of the ancient world define as ritual or cult practice and you know who is playing the starring role.  I think that many people may well be troubled by any connection of cult with fandom – and I understand the sentiment. This is a concept that often causes new students of the ancient world confusion too, but it all boils down to word usage.

The word cult acquired a bad rap in the late 20th century.  Groups like the People’s Temple (Jim Jones), The Manson Family (Charles Manson), and the Branch Davidians (David Koresh), to name only a few, led many to utilize cult to describe the concept of charismatic leaders who inspire slavish devotion in their followers leading to bizarre behaviors up to and including mass murder and/or mass suicide.  This contemporary co-option of the word has very little to do with its actual meaning over centuries of usage.

In fact, the origin of the word lies in the Latin word cultus which is connected to the tending and care (by extension honor and cherishing) of the land…think culitvate.   There is nothing inherently sinister or negative about the word in its origin or usage over time.  It is only very recently that it has taken on meanings 6-8 below, which are largely antithetical to the basic meaning of the word.

dictionary.com etymology for "cult"

dictionary.com etymology for “cult”

dictionary.com definition of "cult"

dictionary.com definition of “cult”

Looking at the original meaning of the cult, it seems quite applicable to fan activity in a number of ways.  It is a really thought provoking concept.  I am definitely not arguing that most fans “worship” Richard Armitage as a god, although I suppose it is possible that some do.   An important point to make clear is that the references to “religion” in the definition of cult almost exclusively refer to pagan religion.  Even when Christian writers use cultus (writing in Latin) they are almost always talking about classical myths, NOT referring to Judaeo-Christian practice.  Since practitioners of classical paganism, with all of its “rites and ceremonies” are few and far between these days, I think we can look past notion of  “religion” and focus on the more general definitions.  In that sense, the most common (2.-4.) definitions of cult don’t seem particularly problematic to me in the context of Armitage World, or any other fandom.

Let’s see,  a body of admirers who venerate or hold a certain person in great respect?  Check.  A group bound together by admiration and veneration of said person?  Yep.  These are the definitions that have corresponded to the word cult for centuries.  I’m very happy to have found such a caring and nurturing cult of people who celebrate and appreciate this remarkable man, and also (maybe more importantly) do the same for each other.  I think it is a very good thing for all the best reasons.  Not the least of which is this awesome “cult statue“! (Thanks to JasRangoon for the artwork 🙂 ).