Welcome to another installment of the Ancient Armitage tour through some of my favorite pieces of Greco-Roman art. I’ve made no secret about having a certain preference for the art of the Hellenistic period, so I doubt anyone will be shocked when I reveal that another of my faves belongs to that period.
This Roman copy in marble is modeled after an original Greek piece, probably cast in bronze, that was commissioned for the king of Pergamon to commemorate his victory over neighboring Galatia – populated by Celtic or Gaulish peoples. The sculpture depicts a mortally wounded Gallic warrior, identified by his mustache and torc, as he lies, slumping down among his weapons. If we look closely, we can see the mortal sword wound just under his right pectoral.
Unlike similarly themed works from the 6th and 5th centuries BC, the severity of his wound is evident in his posture and expression. The viewer can almost feel the valiant effort the wounded warrior is exerting to stay upright as the weight of his pain bears him down. While the ancient Greeks were exceptionally good at trash talking their enemies (cf Herodotus’ The Histories where the author goes to some length to describe the surpassing oddity of most things Persian) they are also exceptionally skilled at depicting the enemy as noble and strong, even in defeat. Makes sense…after all, it wouldn’t be much of a victory if the enemy were ignoble and weak specimens.
Hellenistic art is often emotionally evocative, and the pathos of this piece is particularly striking to me. In Greek, πάθος in general terms means “that which happens to a person or a thing,” and it also takes on a more specific connotation of suffering or misfortune. The Dying Gaul’s suffering and misfortune is clear from the heavy, slumping position of his body and is further enhanced by his expressive face.
The bowed head with it’s furrowed brow, pensive eyes and slightly open mouth present a fallen warrior determined to endure his suffering stoically, but unable to wipe all trace of it from his features.
Pathos is also an interesting word in the sense that it comes into contemporary English usage as an element of communication. As originally articulated by Aristotle in Rhetoric, pathos is a device used to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Richard Armitage is quite adept at playing with this quality in any number of his characterizations by means of a variety of verbal cues, but like The Dying Gaul, he is also able to tap into the power of pathos through purely visual means…
Whether it’s Guy of Gisborne’s excruciating interchanges with Marian or the Sheriff,
Paul Andrews desperately trying to keep his secret
John Thornton facing financial ruin,
Lucas North’s anguish in the face of all that he’s lost
Spooks S7 E2 Source
John Porter’s grief
or the heavy burden of Thorin’s duty,
the ability to visually evoke the powerfully emotive qualities of pathos is something that Richard Armitage and The Dying Gaul share.
PS…I would remiss if I did not share the following gratuitous rear view: