Pathos Personified: The Dying Gaul and a Panoply of Richard Armitage Characters

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.

"The Dying Gaul" 2nd cent AD Roman copy of 3Rd cent BC original Source

“The Dying Gaul”
2nd cent AD Roman copy of 3Rd cent BC original

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.

A portrait of pathos..

A portrait of pathos..

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,

guy pathos 2

Guy of Gisborne – S2 Source

Paul Andrews desperately trying to keep his secret


Between the Sheets Source

John Thornton facing financial ruin,

North and South - E4 Source

North and South – E4

Lucas North’s anguish in the face of all that he’s lost


Spooks S7 E2 Source

John Porter’s grief

Strikeback S1 E6 Source

Strikeback S1 E6

or the heavy burden of Thorin’s duty,

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey Source

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey

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:


I’ve said it before: if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out….sculpture model?



20 comments on “Pathos Personified: The Dying Gaul and a Panoply of Richard Armitage Characters

  1. Servetus says:

    Reblogged this on Me + Richard Armitage.

    • obscura says:

      Do you reblog all the gratuitous rear views? ;). Thanks for the signal boost!

      • Servetus says:

        Not all of them. I just like these comparisons (as you know and I’ve written, I think epic is the strand of drama that most appeals to Richard Armitage as an artist) immensely. A trivial comparison, though — in SB 1.4, I think, Porter gets shot about four inches below where the sword wound is on the dying Gaul.

        • obscura says:

          :). Yep…you are correct about the wound. It’s an interesting detail on the dying Gaul that is so Hellenistic…that kind of realism, a blood dripping wound, is generally not the done thing in the high classical work of the 5th century.

  2. Marie Astra says:

    Love it! Such an excellent observation. There is a real gravitas about RA’s characters that bear comparison to ancient themes. Sculpture model, hmmm? Not a bad idea! 😀

    • obscura says:

      I’m not sure how aware of the reverb he is, but he does hit on classical themes pretty often…both in characters and in characterizations.

      Alternate career advice? I know right?!

  3. guylty says:

    The “dying Gaul” is one of the few sculptures I remember clearly from my school days. A photograph of it accompanied De Bello Gallico, and I remember being struck by the realism of the piece when I was 16. A fine work. And fine work with the comparison there with Armitage. Some really nicely observed scenes of pathos, as depicted and transported by Mr A (the corresponding rear view a definite bonus!)
    It’s funny how the corresponding adjective to pathos has nowadays a pejorative meaning in English. Pathetic – full of pathos = ridiculously emotional?

    • obscura says:

      The sculpture model needs a smidge of direction…turn in and up just a bit please 🙂

      It is a constant hardship to wade through the corpus of Armitage facial expressions to find just the right one!

      It’s interesting…the adjectival form seems to come from the Greek παθητικός (path eh ti kos), which simply means “subject to or capable of feeling” I’m not sure where the pejorative came in…I may have to search that out a little more.

      I was just talking in class today about slogging through de Bello Gallico today – talk about pathos! UGGGGH!!

      • Leigh says:

        Pathos as an element of rhetoric was still being taught when I went to university, and I used it in my winning debate speech. It is sometimes considered a “cheap shot”, but it all depends how you use it. I’m not sure how the perjorative came about, but it may come from the sentiment, “I pity you”, because the Spanish is “Me da la pena” [You give me, or make me feel, emotional pain].

        I think you’re right about Richard and classical themes. He does them so well! I’d love to see what he would do with Sophocles. Meanwhile, yes, sculpture model — if only we had truly gifted sculptors.

        • obscura says:

          So I looked around a little…from the online etymology dictionary:

          pathetic (adj.)
          1590s, “affecting the emotions, exciting the passions,” from Middle French pathétique “moving, stirring, affecting” (16c.), from Late Latin patheticus, from Greek pathetikos “subject to feeling, sensitive, capable of emotion,” from pathetos “liable to suffer,” verbal adjective of pathein “to suffer” (see pathos). Meaning “arousing pity, pitiful” is first recorded 1737. Colloquial sense of “so miserable as to be ridiculous” is attested from 1937. Related: Pathetical (1570s); pathetically. Pathetic fallacy (1856, first used by Ruskin) is the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects.

          Pejorative is fairly recent it seems.

  4. Kathy Jones says:

    Really nice post. Loved the sculpture and Richard’s expressions of pathos. His elongated limbs posing on the bed have always reminded me of Odalisque by Ingres. Not a sculpture, but a great painting of an attractive naked person on a bed.Some things never change.

  5. Erina Hammer says:

    Well done; love this!

  6. Perry says:

    This is a beautiful post. My favorite theme of yours,comparing a magnificent work of art to just the perfect Armitage counterpart. And every time you do, it makes me wish for a rile for him where he does something from one of those earlier periods – just to see him in a toga again ( Cleopatra aside). Or in the bath.

    • obscura says:

      Thanks! I would love that kind of role too…if only someone could show a particle of restraint when depicting the classical world! The three most recent efforts – Pompeii, 300: Rise of an Empire and Hercules – do not make me very hopeful 😦

  7. Lovely essay and beautifully chosen visual examples. Richard Armitage is so poignant in these heart breaking character roles.

    • obscura says:

      It is so interesting to watch the way his expression changes frame by frame, so in some cases, the viewer is seeing a vast array of emotion flit across his face, almost like the characters are visually processing feeling..I just love that about his performances!

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