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:

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in a moment of rest

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: Source

John Porter (Richard Armitage) fights for the will to go on… (Strike Back S1.6)

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.

Richard Armitage and the classical canon of sculptuRAl proportions

I’ve been hemming and hawing about this post for about a month now, fiddling around with the drawings, checking, double checking, but I finally finished it today while I should have been doing other things…funny how that works in Armitageworld isn’t it?  Before you read further, remember what I said here about my thoughts on artistic nudity:  Enter at your own risk 🙂

The classical Greeks were very interested in proportion and formulas for creating it.  This desire to “regularize” is especially prominent in architecture and sculpture, and it reflects a lot of information about what the Greeks found visually appealing, their visual aesthetic.  If we had only sculptures to go by, we would have to assume that the population of ancient Greece was a median age of about 23 and in peak physical condition. That was certainly not the case.  Classical sculpture was not trying to replicate reality, but rather to create an ideal, portraying perfected people.

In order to do this, classical sculptors developed complicated formulas of proportions, canons, that divided the body into component parts, each pieces of the whole, proportionately and symmetrically connected to one another.  The idea was that if the sculptor followed the proportional model, no matter what the scale (size) of the sculpture was, it would fit the ideal of what the Greeks found visually appealing.    There are basically two competing canons of proportion:  the original, developed by Polykleitos in the 5th and early 4th centuries BC and then another developed later in the 4th century by Lysippos.  Looking at the image below, we can see the differences in proportion between each sculpture.  The Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) on the left is thought to represent the canon of Polykleitos.  On the right, the Apoxymenos (The Scraper) represents the same for Lysippos.

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos  (

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos (

In detail, the formulas are extremely complex, extending all the way to the length of the digits in proportion to the size of the hand, but in terms of the overall height and basic proportion of the body as a whole, the formula is relatively simple…for Polykleitos, the head is 1/7 the the overall height of the body, for Lysippos, 1/8.  The result is clear…the Polykleitan ideal is compact and solid, the Lysippan rather longer and leaner.  Since I have a rather pronounced interest in all things Richard Armitage, I wondered how he measures up to the classical ideal. Before I go further I should point out that I can only come to very general conclusions for a couple of reasons.  First, since I’m working from photographs, and photographs of a fully clothed Richard Armitage at that, I have to guess-ti-mate A LOT.  And, more importantly, what we know about the details of either canon is compromised by a lack of preservation of the original materials.

When it comes to much of classical Greek sculpture, there are really two broad categories:  Lost Original and Roman Copy, which are actually two sides of the same coin.  Both Polykleitos and Lysippos were prolific sculptors, but very little of the original work of either artist has survived.  Except for a few notable examples, the greatest number of “Greek” sculptures that survive are actually Roman copies of a lost original work.  The Romans were competant copyists, but there is a strong probablity that some (many)  elements of the originals were “lost in translation.”  Even so, we can still take a look at a basic proportional comparison.

The image below shows a full length shot copied onto graph paper, on which I can make out (or at least fudge) some critical measurement points.  The place we have to start is measuring the head to set up the unit of measure.  From the hairline to the jaw, the head measures 5  blocks on the graph paper – this is the basic unit of measure to divide the body parts.  The solid lines indicate the canonical divisions:  1/7 divisions as determined by Polykleitos (left), 1/8 by Lysippos (right).  The dashed lines represent where those divisional lines should fall if the body fits into the canons.  Looking at even this very provisional scheme, I came away with a couple of conclusions:


Click to enlarge for details…such as they are
(we’re working on a shoestring budget here!)
Original Photo Source:

1.  Richard Armitage, by classical standards, has a disproportionately large head.   (big head, big brain right 🙂 ). This actually seems to be a desirable trait for film actors since larger heads photograph better.   Unlike many of his colleagues, Mr. Armitage also has a body size that is proportionate to his head…hurray, no bobble head look here!

2.  That head factor skews the other measurements a bit.

3.  All is not lost.

It is clear to me from my extremely “scientific” analysis, that if we make a correction for the size of the head, Richard Armitage fits better into the Lysippan canon than the Polykleitan since he is generally longer and leaner in proportion.  Even so, there is a fair amount of difference.  As a test, I used this same canon system on Daniel Craig, who exhibits rather more traditional male proportions.  He conformed more to canon, but still not perfectly.

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What becomes evident is that these proportions do not correspond to actual humans, but rather to a mathematical ideal of what the Greeks found pleasing to the eye.  Although the Doryphoros and the Apoxymenos appear much more realistic than say, a typical example of Egyptian sculpture (in the image above, the Egyptian piece is clearly meant to represent a human form, but it is much more stiff and stylized than either of the Greek works.) they are not really representative of an actual human body.

As a whole, we have not changed very much over the 2500 years since these canons were conceived in terms of the desire for idealized forms.   Our eyes are constantly being tricked into believing that the human forms we see in the media are perfect.  What we find if we look closer however,  is that they are not perfect, but instead have been “perfected.”  Many people argue that this trend toward over manipulating images has produced a warped notion of an ideal body for generations of people, particularly women.    While it is unlikely that any professional images shot of Richard Armitage reach the public eye completely UN-retouched, I gather from various conversations that the general consensus is that he requires little or no retouching.  I tend to agree – the great attraction of Richard Armitage to me is the sum of “imperfections” that result in a beautiful, REAL man.

Oh, I almost forgot…on one front (or back I guess) Richard Armitage has a lot in common with Greek sculpture….

One of these things is not quite the same...

One of these things is not quite the same…

With the exception of not having a tree trunk sticking out of the back of his leg, he could be a butt/bum model for classical male nudes!   (Thanks to my enabler Servetus for the screen cap from Spooks S8.4)