Cha…cha…cha…CHARGER!!

Back in August, at the premiere of Into the Storm, Richard Armitage responded to a question about Detroit autos which led me into a foray on American muscle cars and my fondness for the Dodge Charger.

Lo and behold, today my RL Facebook feed popped up a Buzzfeed quiz: What Muscle Car are You?  Obviously, I dove right in and as The Fates would have it, check out the result:

If it isn't The General Lee again!

If it isn’t The General Lee again!

You are so right BuzzFeed…I love me some Hemi!!  As chance (or is it fate again?!) would have it, I also remembered something I’d seen last night.  After a long, frigid ride home in my unheated *so not a Charger* vehicle last night, I warmed up with a post titled “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at Nowhere in Particular.  I caught a peek of it in KellyDS’s banner and went in for a closer look.

Richard Armitage - October 2012 Photo by Robert Ascroft

Richard Armitage – October 2012
Photo by Robert Ascroft

I should have seen it before, but I’ve gotta admit….that dude in the coat is major distraction.  Look closer…what is that in the background?  Could it be?  I think it is…

My crop

Those headlights look familiar… My crop

That looks suspiciously like a late model Charger idling in wait…Can you hear the hemi?

“Vroom…vroom.  Nice coat handsome – need a lift?”

Maybe it’s coincidence.  Or *maybe* the Charger is the  influence you believed to have disappeared from your life will resurface mentioned in my horoscope last week… Only time will tell!   🙂

ὅ παῖς καλός – Chin up Richard Armitage…

A quick perusal through a gallery of images will confirm that Richard Armitage has perfected his version of a chin down, eyes down partial to full profile look, especially for fashion/artistic style shoots, to great effect.  I had the one below (Keith Clouston, 2011) in mind when I was walking through the Met earlier this year.

Keith Clouston for Recognize Magazine - June 2011 Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Keith Clouston for Recognize Magazine – June 2011
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Most recently, another from the plethora of images shot by Robert Ascroft in December 2012 displays a similar look in a 3/4 body pose.

I'm not looking at you.... Robert Ascroft - December 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

I’m not looking at you….
Robert Ascroft – December 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

These images and this pose have struck a chord with me from day one, and I finally figured out why.  In part, I like them purely because I’m fascinated by the angular lines of his face that are set off so beautifully in profile, but also because of the quiet, contemplative tone of such images.  There is a certain serenity, but perhaps a bit of sadness.  This pose, and how Richard Armitage inhabits it reminded me distinctly of several images from Greek art…

Greek art, especially sculpture and vase painting is full of scenes of men engaged in action – athletics and warfare especially.  It is much less common to see men purely at rest, unless it is in a scene of banqueting, but those scenes don’t really convey the same sort of stillness and introspection of the images above.  For classical Greek men it seems, stillness and contemplation was reserved for situations when death was prominent.

Grave Stele from Brauron Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

Grave Stele from Brauron
Museum of Fine Arts – Boston

Above is a funeral scene where a young man in a similar pose…body relaxed, chin down, eyes down as he looks to the ground contemplating his life.  This is the figure of the deceased depicted on the stone, or stele that would have marked his burial.  This pose is quite common for funerary art…the figure of the deceased avoids eye contact with the living – a sculptural indication that he’s no longer of this world, but belongs to the Underworld.

Below, we see Odysseus in a scene from his trip to the Underworld (Odyssey, XI) in which he is conversing with the shade of his recently deceased comrade Elpenor.  Odysseus, though still alive, exhibits the same pose of quiet contemplation at he listens to Elpenor’s story. (One other place this pose frequently appears is in scenes where warriors are preparing for battle…ie, where death is a distinct possibility.)   These scenes are poignant, emotionally evocative, beautiful in their way.

Scene from Homer's Odyssey - Odysseus visits the shade of Elpenor in the Underworld Source:  Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

Scene from Homer’s Odyssey – Odysseus visits the shade of Elpenor in the Underworld
Source: Museum of Fine Arts – Boston

 Clearly, similar images of Richard Armitage are not meant to convey any notion of funerary sadness, but they do have the power to evoke strong emotional responses…I don’t think it’s accidental that photographers consistently capture this look, it’s a good one for him… ὅ παῖς καλός!

I'm still not looking at you....but you're looking at me aren't you?? Robert Ascroft - December 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

I’m still not looking at you….but you’re looking at me aren’t you??
Robert Ascroft – December 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

(Incidentally, at the risk of displaying my complete ignorance of men’s fashion…are those sans-a-belt trousers?  🙂 )

Neutrality and Richard Armitage: It’s all a matter of source.

One thing I struggle with as a fan of Richard Armitage is the temptation to take all the source material that emerges about him at face value.  It’s hard not to do when some completely charming new interview or article is released.  I want to believe that every bit of it is a true, unbiased account of this man who fascinates me.  I want to, and I probably do for a minute, but, as a scholar, I’ve been relentlessly drilled on the reality that NO source is completely unbiased or neutral, so I have to step back and consider the source.   There was a really interesting discussion about this concept this week  in Armitageworld, on a non-RA topic (gasp) that brought this issue back to the surface for me.

In studies of the ancient world, neutrality is an elusive thing.  Perhaps the most neutral source I’ve studied is material that I’ve pulled from the ground myself.  Material that has not seen the light of day in almost 3000 years.  It has no voice, it carries no inherent bias, it just is.  The attachment of bias begins pretty quickly though as I look at it and form an opinion as to what it is…which basket it belongs in – pottery?  bone?  stone?  metal?  It goes on from there, acquiring the opinions of all the scholars before me who have studied similar material.  See what I mean about the elusive nature of neutrality?

It is much more difficult to find an neutral written account of the ancient world.  Even in the modern world when news agencies carry taglines like “Fair and Balanced”  a wise consumer should know that this is only marketing – every source carries at least some bias.  I have a favorite example that I use to illustrate this to my students which I think makes the point well:  the word TYRANT

dictionary.com entry for TYRANT

dictionary.com entry for TYRANT

Most English speakers are aware that this word carries a negative connotation in English.  Few contemporary rulers would find it a compliment to be referred to as a tyrant.  Looking above at the etymology, or origin of the word, we can see that it originates in the Greek word τύραννος (tyrannos).  Consulting the Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon.   That’s by far the most famous and often employed Ancient Greek to English dictionary…mine is a Middle Liddell…as opposed to the pocket version Little Liddell or the “only libraries have space for this”  Great Scott.  (I am not unaware that it is more than a little funny that classicists name their dictionaries…I’d like to note, for the record, that I’m an archaeologist 🙂 – I named my trowel)  Sorry, I got distracted – my more observant students notice this happens often and find ways to cultivate it .  Back to the matter at hand:

τύραννος…according to Liddell and Scott, prior to the 6th century BC,  meant “an absolute sovereign unlimited by constitution.”   This definition will probably throw up a lot of red flags for a modern audience accustomed to a larger degree of participation in elected, constitutional governments, but for the vast majority of ancient Greeks, the “unlimited by constitution” part wasn’t particularly problematic.  It all comes down to who wrote the constitutions and who they protected really.  I’ll come back to that idea later, but first I’d like to illustrate one of the reasons why τύραννος became a nasty word for the Greeks and came into English as such.

In large part, this is due to the rule of two generations of tyrants in 6th century Athens known as the Pisistratids.  When Pisistratus seized power in the 6th century, he was a tyrant by Greek definition since he had no constitutional authority to rule Athens.  Even so, he was tremendously popular with the majority of the population…that is, the common people.  In general, he was a capable and qualified ruler who made a multitude of changes to the Athenian state and economy that primarily benefited the common people, but often at the expense of the elites, making him wild popular with one group and increasingly hated by the other.  Athens flourished under his rule.   As is often the case in history though, the seduction of establishing a family dynasty was powerful, and when he died, Pististratus “left” the control of Athens to his two sons (Hippias and Hipparchus) which started out well enough, but went south quickly.  In a weird sequence of events related to a love triangle, Hipparchus was assassinated, and after his death, Hippias began to act much more like the modern definition of a tyrant, leading to his eventual exile and the foundation of the famous Athenian democracy at the end of the 6th century.   In the following years, the murderers of Hipparchus, Harmodios and Aristogeiton were held up as symbols of the new Athenian democracy, having defeated the evil of tyranny (leaving out the fact that they had killed Hipparchus for personal, not political reasons).

Harmodius_and_Aristogeiton

Statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Naples. Roman copy of the Athenian version by Kritios and Nesiotes
Source: Wikimedia Commons

So there’s the backstory, but how did the word tyrant become so universally understood as a negative term?  How did a few bad decisions by his son wipe out all of the progressive changes made by Pisistratus?  It becomes a matter of the source of the accounts…that is, who recorded these events?  By and far, the history of the ancient world was recorded by educated elites – in this case, the very same educated elites whose power and wealth had been systematically attacked by Pisistratus, and later his sons.  These same elites wrote the constitution of Athens (which benefited them over the common people) that Pisistratus had violated to seize power.  Despite the notion of a democracy in Athens, functionally, the wealthy elites still dominated it, in the early stages especially.  Pististratus and his sons became the fall guys of tyranny, Harmodious and Aristegeiton, the martyred heroes of democracy.   Considering those sources,  it is any wonder that the word tyrant carries a negative slant?  There is really no such thing as a neutral source of this event.  Even the most even handed ancient historian, Thucydides, himself a landed and wealthy citizen of Athens, carried bias.

To approach neutrality, I think we have to be willing to look beyond what is written, to read between the lines.  For me, this is much harder to do when it comes to accounts on Richard Armitage.  I have a much more emotional reaction to him that seriously impacts my immediate ability to be critical of what is written.

yet another ascroft

Yet another Robert Ascroft
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Just look at him for goodness sake!  How’s a girl supposed to remain neutral!?

ὅ παῖς καλός – Richard Armitage and the Fountain of Youth

Robert Ascroft released two new images of Richard Armitage this week that have generated a quite a lot of discussion and I’m happy to jump on the band wagon with a καλός offering.

The ancient Greeks valued youth and youthful vitality enormously, so much so that they personified the idea of youth in a goddess named Hebe ( Ἥβη).  A fairly minor player in Greek mythology,  Hebe was  the daughter of Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the Greek pantheon.  Her principle role, until she was married to the deified hero Herakles, was as a cupbearer who served ambrosia and nectar to the other gods on Mount Olympus .  Hebe also had the ability to bestow eternal youth and to make the old young again

Hebe serving ambrosia and nectar to Hera Photo:  www.theoi.com

Hebe serving ambrosia and nectar to Hera
Photo: http://www.theoi.com

The pursuit of youth is certainly not unique to the Greeks.  Several lines of discussion on blogs this week addressed how youthful Richard Armitage appears in the image below.  I’ll allow that some of the youthfulness may be courtesy of Photoshop or other photographic “magic”, but the whole tone of the shot conveys an idea of youthful vim from the perch on a narrow seat to the untucked tee and unlaced Converse sneakers.

Picture of youthful vitality Photo by Robert Ascroft Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

Picture of youthful vitality
Photo by Robert Ascroft
Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

Youthfulness seems to be an element of life that we all wish to maintain in some shape or form.  In part, I think, youth is a state of mind.  I have known people who were “middle aged” in their twenties, but I have an 81 year young friend at church who yesterday expressed an interest in joining a laser tag outing.   I’m not surprised that Richard Armitage is able to convey a look that belies his actual years, even without sipping from Hebe’s nectar cup.  He’s admitted in past interviews to thinking of himself as younger than he is.  He’s also made no secret that he enjoys an active lifestyle and he’s pretty clearly physically fit.  All of the above speak of a youthful attitude inside that shows through.   In an industry where youth seems to be something of an obsession, I think he’s looking pretty good – ὅ παῖς καλός!

PS:  try scrolling up on this image slowly from bottom to top…I really like the impact!