Having beautiful buttocks
Having beautiful buttocks
Given that I am almost never the first person to hear about Richard Armitage related news, I’m going to assume that everyone is aware of his new project, Sleepwalker…reportedly a suspenseful film about a somnambulist (Ahna O’Reilly) in which Richard Armitage plays a doctor specializing in sleep disorders. The subject of this film called to mind several things. One is that I need to have a sleep study done, but I have been putting it off…in part because of my schedule, but also because I am slightly uneasy with the vulnerability aspect of it all. The notion of having people observe me while I’m asleep and not aware of my actions unnerves me quite a bit.
More interestingly, it got me thinking about how stories of sleep manifest in classical myth. The Greek god Hypnos (Somnus in Latin) governed sleep…he was generally considered a benevolent deity who gifted mankind with the renewing benefits of sleep. There is not a terrible lot of mythology surrounding this rather minor god, but there are several really interesting myths centered around a sleeping figure. One of my favorites is the story of Endymion and Selene.
Like most Greek myths, there are variations to the story depending on which ancient source one reads. This is a fact that is always kind of confusing to my students, who really seem to want there to be one right version of everything. Ancient culture is rarely so simple. It’s not particularly hard to see how variations in the myths evolved. The Greeks had literacy (such as it existed in most of the ancient world) in the late Bronze Age, but then it was lost from about 1100 – 800 BC. This means that mythological stories would have been transmitted orally during those centuries. Oral traditions preserve the basic framework of stories very well, but it is not unusual for the details to vary from place to place over the centuries…kind of like the modern idiom of a “fish story” where the details change a bit every time the fisherman tells the tale.
Way back when in a course called Classical Mythology I learned the myth of Selene and Endymion following the version recounted by Apollonios of Rhodes which reads rather like a fairy tale…
Once upon a time, Selene, the goddess of the moon fell in love with a beautiful mortal named Endymion. She loved him so much that she asked his father Zeus to grant him eternal youth so that Endymion could stay with her forever. Zeus granted her wish, but there was a catch…he placed the youth into an eternal sleep. Endymion would be eternally youthful and beautiful, but he would also be eternally asleep.
Apparently, this everlasting slumber wasn’t much of an obstacle to Selene’s love for him. The story goes on to recount that she visited her sleeping beloved every night and the two of them had fifty daughters.
Good gravy – where to start with this one?! Firstly, this version of the story is a perfect example of the English idiom, “be careful what you wish for…” or at least be very specific. The Greek gods had a tendency to be extremely capricious when granting this sort of wish (I’ve heard similar tales of the caprice of genies and leprachauns…you just can’t trust supernatural wish granters I guess!) It’s fairly obvious that Selene might have preferred that Endymion be eternally youthful and awake, but she didn’t stipulate that specifically.
By now, everyone is probably aware of the element of coercion that so often plays a role in the sexual politics of Greek myth. By modern understanding, what Selene does to generate fifty offspring by an unconscious partner would be considered sexual assault. However, it would have only been unusual to the Greek’s in terms of the gender reversal of who is doing the coercing, but since Selene is a goddess and Endymion a mortal, it’s fair game. This story reminds me distinctly, and I wonder if there is a trace connection, of tales of the medieval succubus…a female entity who preyed upon unsuspecting men – often by seducing them in their sleep. (which also would be a convenient way to explain unsanctioned nocturnal activities…*cough* “The succubus made me do it!” ).
In later Roman antiquity the story of Selene and Endymion preserved all of its somnolent eroticism (note all of the little winged babies on the image above…they are Erotes (Amores in Latin), clear indicators that love is afoot.) but the persistent notion that Endymion never died, but rather was eternally asleep also made depictions of this story very popular on funerary pieces like the sarcophagus above.
There is something really compelling to me about images of the sleeping Endymion. He is always depicted as powerfully masculine, yet in sleep, he is also vulnerable. The sculptural fragment above also conveys a kind of latent eroticism with his arm raised above his head, leaving him open and exposed and perhaps even inviting to Selene’s amorous advances. As usual, I didn’t have to look terribly hard to find some equally enticing Armitaganda…
As Keats said in his poetic Endymion:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever…
*trumpet fanfare* Welcome to my 201st blog post as a primarily Richard Armitage centered blogger! (*ahem* see, I was planning this post to mark the 200 milestone, but then s’mores happened and I forgot…). A little backstory might be useful at this point. Over the summer, my dear pal Guytly was in London to see some play…I forget the name. 😉 During her sojourn, she visited the renowned British Museum and sent me a picture that sent my Classics and Armitage brain cranking.
One look at this told me that it came from the Parthenon…the fifth century Temple of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis. From there the sleuthing began. Although every student of classical archaeology is familiar with the Parthenon, widely considered the most perfected example of the Doric Order, some are more familiar than others. My specialty focus is on periods earlier than the High Classical to which the Parthenon belongs, so this image presented me with an opportunity to look at some details of the building that I haven’t looked at in a very long time…if ever. Just a cursory inspection suggested to me that this comes from the Panathenaic frieze which was located on the interior of the structure. This fragment of architectural sculpture may or may not belong to a larger group of material from the Parthenon known colloquially at The Elgin Marbles.
A sculpted frieze course was not typically part of the canonical scheme of a Doric temple, so its presence here is one of the unique features of the Parthenon. The frieze depicts scenes from the a sacred Athenian festival known as the Panathenaia...specifically, scenes from the Panathenaic Procession. The goddess Athena was the patron divinity of the city of Athens, and a great deal of Athenian cult practice centered around her worship. The Athenians celebrated both annual (Lesser Panathenaia) and every fourth year (Greater Panathenaia) festivals to honor Athena. The Panathenaia included a variety of competitions from atheletic games to musical competitions and culminated in a grand procession during which a new peplos (basically a dress) was presented to the goddess. It is this procession that is depicted on the Parthenon frieze.
I’ve seen many parts of this frieze many times over the years, but I had some difficulty placing the specific fragment that Guylty had photographed. The indication of a wheel placed it within the “chariot” sections on the north and south stretches of the frieze. As is clear from the condition of the fragment, this is a section of the frieze that was heavily damaged…damage incurred by a 1687 bombardment of Athens by Venetian forces. Fortunately, Jacques Carrey, a French draftsman and painter had been in Athens in 1674 and drawn a great many of the sculptures. His drawings of the sections of the structure damaged by the Venetian bombardment are the only remaining record of the lost material.
There he is…placed back into context. It seems pretty likely that the fragment Guylty photographed comes from the long north side of the frieze in a section of the chariot races that is depicting a specialty event called the Apobates. This was a contest where a fully armed hoplite jumped out of a chariot and ran alongside it before jumping back in…a while the chariot was moving at full speed.
While this is all a very interesting trip into an ancient Athenian festival, you might well be wondering what in the world it might have to do with Richard Armitage. Allow me to elucidate…with a snapshot of our conversation:
Sure enough…a side by side comparison is very telling:
I was digging through some pictures in my cleverly disguised Richard Armitage folder when I came across this one…a favorite despite the copious costume blood:
Look at Richard Armitage going all contrapposto!!
The art aficionados in the crowd will recognize this term as coming from the artistic tradition of the Italian Renaissance. It translates loosely to “counterpose” and refers to the body position where the weight is shifted onto one leg, turning the upper body slightly off-axis from the hips and legs. Overall, it is a position that produces a figure that looks immediately more relaxed.
Even though the Anavysos Kouros on the left is to be understood as stepping forward, he appears stiff and static when compared to the mature Renaissance contrapposto style of Michelangelo’s David on the right. Although both of these pieces are sculpted in marble and obviously immobile, they serve to illustrate the other hallmark visual effect of contrapposto – implied movement. It seems almost inevitable that David will eventually shift his weight to the opposite leg, while the kouros appears perpetually frozen mid-stride.
What is fascinating to me is that although nearly a millenium elapsed in style and time between David and the Anavysos Kouros, the earliest known example of contrapposto is much closer to the kouros tradition than the Renaissance one. The Anavysos Kouros dates to around 530 BC. Less than fifty years later, the Greeks would embrace a very different sculptural style in a piece called the Kritias Boy
The Kritias Boy is an enormously important piece of sculpture for a number of reasons…one of them being that he is the earliest known example of the contrapposto technique and as such, marks the transition between the Archaic and Classical styles of Greek sculpture. His remarkable provenance provides secure evidence for a relatively narrow dating window for the emergence of this style in Greece. …
WARNING….short historical divergence imminent 3…..2…..1…..
The armies of the massive Persian Empire, led by Darius the First, invaded Greece in 490 BC in reprisal for what they considered Athenian interference in Persian domestic affairs. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were scrambling. It seemed almost inevitable that Persians’ vastly superior numerical advantage would win the day. However, owing to strategic and tactical decisions made by the Athenian commander Miltiades, tiny Athens defeated the Persian force at Marathon which led to Darius’ retreat not long after.
This was a humiliating, but only temporary setback to the Persians, who immediately started ten years of planning for a massive land based invasion of the Greek mainland which would eventually be led by Darius’ son Xerxes. When Xerxes marched into Greece in 480Bc, he had a massive ax to grind against the Greeks…especially the Athenians. After the famous last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, Xerxes (who, contrary to his depiction in 300, was not a ten foot tall giant pierced in every possible point) marched swiftly to Athens where he sacked the abandoned city and burned it to the ground…the sacred precinct of the Acropolis included.
And, we’re back. Long story short, the united forces of the Greek poleis repelled this Persian invasion as well, and by 478 BC, all that was left was to clean up the Persians’ mess. Here’s where the provenance of the Kritias Boy comes in. All of the materials on the Acropolis were considered sacred objects, so before the Athenians could rebuild from the Persian destruction, the sacred objects needed to be properly disposed of. This disposal took the form of a massive bothros, or sacred dump dug along the slopes of the Acropolis in which the sanctified materials were buried. This provides a terminus ante quem (date before which) for the sculpture…that is, we know that he must date to before the Persian sack of Athens in 480 BC. Stylistically, we also know, by comparing him to every other sculpture in the typology leading up to him, that he cannot date to much prior to 480 BC either. It is pretty clear that he was installed on the Acropolis very shortly before the Persian sack.
The utilization of contrapposto is clear in the tilt of his hips and the subtle torsion of his upper body. It is even more evident in the rear view
Here the shift of the weight onto one leg is obvious in the relative positioning of the buttocks. We can also observe the very subtle “S” curve of the upper body. In all, it is a much softer, much more naturalistic pose than what was popular in the Archaic period. This style went on to become ubiquitous in subsequent periods.
John Porter in contrapposto above is not alone in the Armitage oeuvre. I thought you might not object to a brief overview…but first, Guy of Gisborne illustrates “assuming” the contrapposto position:
Another John Porter favorite
Lucas North contrapposto from behind
The leather contrapposto stylings of Guy of Gisborne
And more recently, Richard Armitage himself at CinemaCon
This is by no means an exhaustive list…you may have noticed that I’ve left out a spectacularly good example of Guy of Gisborne…or maybe you didn’t. Can you find it? Happy contrapposto hunting Armitageworld!
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:
I was thinking about how I might connect Richard Armitage’s portrayal of MI-5 agent Lucas North to the pantheon of Greek gods. I did a little Lucas North word association and one deity in particular came to mind. I had just started a web search and lo and behold, I came across this…
What the heck…I’ll give it a try. I answered the questions for myself and the quiz generated a response of Thetis – Sea nymph, daughter of Nereus, shape shifter, mother of Achilles – OK, I’ll take that. I already had an inkling of what would happen if I answered the questions “as” Lucas North, and sure enough, the quiz generated this result:
Hermes was a second generation Olympian god – the son of Zeus and yet another of his extramarital affairs. This time Zeus carried out a stealth courtship of Maia, the daughter of the Titan Atlas (of holding up the earth on his shoulders fame). The Homeric Hymn to Hermes has this to say about the affair:
Muse, sing of Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, lord of Cyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks, the luck-bringing messenger of the immortals whom Maia bare, the rich-tressed nymph, when she was joined in love with Zeus,  —a shy goddess, for she avoided the company of the blessed gods, and lived within a deep, shady cave. There the son of Cronos used to lie with the rich-tressed nymph, unseen by deathless gods and mortal men, at dead of night while sweet sleep should hold white-armed Hera fast. (Source: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu)
The bolded section tells us the principal occupation of Hermes among the other Olympians…he was the messenger. As such, he’s often seen wearing a winged hat or sandals and described as “fleet footed” or some other such epithet.
In addition to his duties as messenger, usually flitting about on some or another errand for Zeus, Hermes also had a reputation for being clever and sly, a trickster from birth…rather like the Norse Loki in that respect.
Where was I? Loki…tricksters…Hermes – Right! So Hermes was a sneaky little deity from the cradle. One of his most memorable myths happens when he was only hours old and snuck away from his mother to steal the cattle sacred to his elder half brother, the mighty Apollo.
In addition to being the furtive messenger of the gods, Hermes was also the patron deity of thieves and travelers – both groups who benefitted from an ability to come and go largely unseen.
We’ve also previously encountered Hermes in his role as psychopompos, or the leader of souls as they cross between the world of the living and that of the dead. He is one of the few Greek deities who frequently acts on behalf of humankind in the regular course of his activities, not simply because it suited his purposes in the moment.
Hermes is a bit of an enigma…he belongs to the Olympian pantheon, yet he often seems to exist on the fringe of it, in fact he is strongly associated with the concept of boundaries and transitions. To skirt the boundary between worlds, his cunning and alacrity served him well.
Lucas North is arguably the most enigmatic of the characters that Richard Armitage has inhabited to date. It’s probably the reason I haven’t touched on him yet – he is so many different things at one time, he’s hard to classify. Many people have discussed the complexities of this character and Richard Armitage’s portrayal of him, but every time I think I have a handle on him, I see something new.
The similarities between Lucas and Hermes are numerous…both are messengers, whether literal, who can forget Lucas as the leather clad messenger in Spooks 8.5?
Or figurative…Lucas’ whole existence as an operative makes him a messenger of something to someone, somewhere at sometime.
The sly, covert nature of Lucas’ job is a clear source of comparison, but so is the fact that Lucas, like Hermes has a foot in two worlds. He is constantly making adjustments to fit in better here or there.
It’s not only the demands of his profession, but the splinters within him that keep Lucas from fully being part of any one world, but rather ever hovering along the edges, never quite fitting in anywhere no matter how he tries.
At least Hermes had the winged sandals to make his hovering a bit easier.
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 favorite I’d like to share:
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?