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?



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:

Richard Armitage at work…looking up a bit askance.
Fault Magazine 2012