Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mantiklos Apollo

On my next trip to Boston I plan to allow myself enough time to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and pay my respects to this interesting small statue, dated to about 700 - 675 BCE. It is a votive offering with an inscription along the thigh that reads as an early example of written hexameter. In translation:

"Mantiklos donated me as a tithe to the far shooter, the bearer of the Silver Bow. You, Phoebus (Apollo) give something pleasing in return."

As I understand it, then, the craft devoted to the work, and whatever expense entailed in its creation, is all done for the sake both of the god himself, and of the donor-Mantiklos-who explicitly asks that his gift to the god be received with favor and that it provoke a kindness in return. There is something not only religious about this notion, but also aesthetic, as if the creation of beauty and its gift to the world involves, for the sake of balance or reciprocity, a call for recompense. Art is a gift that, like all good gifts, moves. This is the thesis of that wonderful book by Lewis Hyde, The Gift, Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.

Whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. Or, if it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead, the way a billiard ball may stop when it sends another scurrying across the felt, its momentum transferred... The only essential is this: the gift must always move...

The Mantiklos figurine is an early example of what would become the kouros and, from thence, the heroic nude. He presents himself, as a kind of diminutive exaggeration; significant parts of him are boldly accentuated, almost like a male fantasy, or, fantasy-male. He is buff, with bulging thighs, prominent shoulders, and a striking chest. Geometry still predominates, but the artist has become interested in sculptural effects.

Notice that stare. The eyes would have been inlaid, so that gaze would have been even more distant and penetrating. Presumably, this is the same convention that dates back thousands of years and indicates a votive piece designed to look out to the gods. The later kouroi figures will also look out in this abstract, slightly disquieting way, as if we who are looking at it don't matter much, perhaps because whatever he is looking at matters a great deal more.