Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fallen Warriors, Pediment, Aphaia Temple

Fallen Warrior, West pediment, Aphaia Temple, c. 490 (left)

Fallen Warrior, East Pediment, Aphaia Temple, c. 480 (right)

These two warriors have both fallen in battle. Both are dying. Yet their response to this calamity is presented by the artist--surely two different artists-in opposite ways, demonstrating, perhaps as well as can be done, the distinction between the grand Archaic style and the new Classical style.

The warrior from the west pediment [490] has been struck in the chest with a spear (of bronze or wood, now missing) which he grasps with his right hand while he props himself up on his left elbow. His expressionless face, sprucely set off by the beaded bonnet of his hair, stares out at the viewer. His right leg is arched over the left, giving a clear, almost delicate silhouette, evocative of the crisp figures of early Attic red-figure vase paintings. Rather than suffering from an excruciatingly painful wound, he seems to be posing for a dignified court tableau.

The fallen warrior from the east pediment [480] is another matter. As life ebbs away and he sinks toward the earth, he tries futilely, sword (now missing) in hand, to raise himself. His eyes narrow as his consciousness fades; his mouth is slightly open as his breathing grows difficult; he stares at the earth. His enfeebled movements contrast poignantly with his massive physical frame in which, for practically the first time, the individual details of musculature are fused and unified by a softening of the lines of divisions between them, and by increasingly subtle modulation of the surface from which one senses the presence of a unified physical force emanating from within the body. The sculptor who conceived the figure had obviously thought carefully about exactly what it meant. He must have asked himself what it must really be like when a powerful warrior is wounded and falls. What does he feel? How should we feel? And what meaning is there in our feeling? The warrior from the west pediment seems more like a recumbent kouros; his companion from the east pediment is a character in a drama (Pollitt 19-20).

The earlier, East pediment figure is, indeed, posing. "Look," he seems to say, "I have an arrow in my chest, which I will now remove." The sculpture is highly patterned and arranged, so that each of the limbs echoes the others, and each creates a singular triangle pattern repeated throughout the design. This is art expressed, as so much Greek art from the Geometric through the Archaic periods had been expressed, through repetition, design, parallel rhythms, and geometric shapes played out across the whole.

The later, West pediment figure, is dying, at the last moments of breath and consciousness. He has just tried to struggle valiantly up, it seems, but has collapsed. There is some awkwardness about the midriff-the artist is unused to depicting a body twisting around-but the scene is gripping and emotional.

Both of these pieces may be compared and contrasted with, for example, earlier depictions of the dead from the prothesis scenes of the Dipylon Vase, and with later manifestations of the theme found in the Dying Gaul.