Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Bronze Charioteer

The Bronze Charioteer of Delphi, 478-474 BCE
A single day's blessing
is the highest good a mortal knows.
I must crown him now
to the horseman's tune
in Aeolian rhythms
for I believe
the shimmering folds of my song
shall never embrace
a host more lordly in power or perception of beauty.
Pindar, Olympian Ode #1, translated by Frank J. Nisetich

This bronze Charioteer, one of the few remaining original Greek bronzes, originally formed part of a votive group, no doubt representing the stately victory march after a competition. His chiton is belted high and tied down around the shoulders to keep it in place during the fast and furious race which, presumably, this young fellow has just won. You can sense, even from photographs, the successful attempt to model the bronze so that it reflects a psychological state. We can read in the austerity of the image a combination of the champion's pride and youthful wariness, as if he is telling himself, "Don't look too proud."

The inner life of consciousness, however, is not private or personal. It reflects that Greek ideal of physical beauty attached to balance and harmony. The drapery - it always starts with the drapery - falls in artful, patterned folds. Below the waist the folds have an almost flute-like regularity, suggestive of a Doric column. Above the waist, the folds reveal the muscles of the upper arms and provide a sense of life to the chest, as if he were taking a breath.