Richard Armitage and Apollo concentRAte

Sometimes things just seem to come together.  I was scrolling through some images last night and found one of the Greek god Apollo that resonated with a screen cap of Richard Armitage from “Hood Academy” that I’d seen resurface on Tumblr this week.  Here I am to share it with you.  If you’ve come across any classical mythology in your travels, you’ll probably have learned that the Greek gods often have Roman equivalents:   Greek Zeus = Roman Jupiter, Greek Aphrodite = Roman Venus, etc.  Such is not the case with Apollo.  For the Greeks, and later the Romans, Apollo had numerous areas of influence.  He was associated with art, music and literature and is often depicted playing a lyre.  The nine Muses who govern all things artistic and intellectual reported to Apollo.  He was also associated with light/the sun, as well as with healing and prophecy.  There was no god like him in the Roman pantheon, so the Romans simply worshiped Apollo as Apollo.

Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the hunt were also associated with the bow.  Interestingly, Apollo’s association with the bow and archery was connected to neither hunting nor military use, but rather with the skill and concentration required for accuracy.  One famous story about Apollo and his bow is depicted on the kRAter below (BTW…I am not singling out the kRAter shape… rather the RA related material I find turns up on them…fate?)

Apollo takes aim at a Niobid Source: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Apollo takes aim at a Niobid
Source: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

According to myth, a human woman named Niobe had bragged that since she had fourteen children, she must be superior to the nymph Leto who had borne only Apollo and Artemis.  This kind of boasting was guaranteed to earn Niobe a swift and harsh punishment.  The Greeks valued achievement, but perceived that there was a fine line between being proud and being too proud.  Those who were too proud were prone to hubris and almost always met a bad end at the hands of one or another offended deity.  This vase painting shows us Apollo and Artemis avenging their mother’s reputation by shooting down all of the Niobids (the children of Niobe).

apollo niobid close up

In the detail above we can see the steady determination of Apollo, depicted here as an unbearded youth, as he takes aim at a Niobid.  I thought this image seemed familiar, and then I remembered that earlier in the week, I’d seen this one:

Richard Armitage at Hood Academy Source:

Richard Armitage at Hood Academy

I’m fairly certain that Richard Armitage is not taking aim at a Niobid, or any other living thing, but his focus on the target is just as fixed as that of Apollo’s in the vase painting above.  Armitage and Apollo:  concentRAting archers.  There is one possible similarity that I cannot confirm…

tongue of concentration

Does Apollo employ the Tongue of ConcentRAtion too?

ὅ παῖς καλός – Armitage and Ascroft

I’ve been talking a lot about the Greeks, but the ancient Romans also made enormous contributions to the classical tRAdition.  A new photo of Richard Armitage that emerged over the weekend put me in mind of the Roman tradition of portrait sculpture.  The classical Greeks were skilled and prolific sculptors – arguably far surpassing the later Romans in virtually all areas…except one:  portraits.  It wasn’t that the Greeks couldn’t generate realistic portraits, it was that they just weren’t interested.  I think that it has to do with a vast divide in ideologies between the Greeks and Romans.  To boil it down, the Greeks saw much of life as a quest to achieve ἀρετή (arête or excellence in English).  I’ll have more to say about Richard Armitage and ἀρετή at a later date, but suffice it to say now, that viewed through this lens, realism gave way to idealism for the Greeks in many artistic genres.

The Romans, in contrast, have been defined by many as centering themselves around the concepts of pietas (piety) and gravitas (gravity or severity)  If the Greeks were the great “out of the box” thinkers of the classical world, the Romans were the pragmatic doers. In its original role, portrait sculpture served as a visual means of keeping the pious Romans connected to the spirits of their departed ancestors, an important part of traditional Roman religion.  The earliest Roman portrait busts are thought to have been sculpted from wax “death masks” molded from the recently deceased’s features.  Not surprisingly, the results are realistic down to the wrinkle…a “warts and all” sculptural tradition.

"Veristic" Bust of an Old Man - Vatican Museum

“Veristic” Bust of an Old Man – Vatican Museum

As the Romans expanded out of Italy, into the wider Mediterranean world, amassing a huge territorial empire, the function of portrait sculpture also expanded to include realistic portraits of important public figures like the one of Julius Caesar below.  It is meant to be a realistic portrait, but also to show the power and importance of this individual.  This portrait represents Caesar in the mid 1st century BC (BCE) at about the age of 50…not a young man, but not old either.

caesar bust

Julius Caesar – Vienna, Austria

By the 2nd century AD (CE) we can see a very different style of portrait sculpture emerging.   After several hundred years of exposure to the Greek artistic aesthetic, some of it has clearly rubbed off on the Romans in this “portrait” of Antinous, the favorite of the Roman emperor Hadrian.  To be fair, Hadrian was a massive Hellenophile, Greece’s 2nd century sugar daddy, so the Greek influence is extremely pronounced here.  But Roman portraits from this period forward reflect a blending of the Romans desire for realistic portraiture with the Greek preference for an idealized look.


“Portrait” of Antinous – Louvre
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

So how does the latest Robert Ascroft portrait of Richard Armitage (below) fit in here?  The Romans would have loved modern photography for its ability to realistically portray the human face down to the last wrinkle, blemish and gray hair.  The Greeks would have loved Photoshop for its ability to make that all disappear and produce an idealized view.

Photo by Robert Ashcroft 2012 - Courtesy of

Photo by Robert Ascroft 2012 – Courtesy of

I can’t tell you if this image has been retouched – although I doubt that many professional images are released without some adjustments.  We see a mature man, not an idealized youth here, and for me, at least, the impact is a stunning blend of the realistic and ideal.  ὅ παῖς καλός indeed!