Canon II: Statuary; Body, “Polykleitos”, Reguarded

For most of us, Aeolus is difficult, if not impossible to see, being “Wind”, as he is.  Even so, watch the leaves, as on this October day I have done.  If you will do as I have done, you will see, as did Leonardo, the pattern of the god, the twist and the turn of the wave and the rain, the pattern of the movement of the god of Air; and you might see, in the wave of the hair the understanding in us of the twist in the knot of the knotted hair, in the vines twining, in all things born in movement, which are all things.  There is pattern in change which does not need us to make it so; yet, without our notice, change might be unknown, relationships might be unconceived…there is mathematics, eternally, in the balance of things.  Notice how in flying leaves there is a balance among and between, a symmetry alike the symmetry that Leonardo sees.

“Deluge”, from a series of ten notebook drawings, 1517 – 1518; Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Perhaps you remember Aeolus in music, in the drying reeds of Autumn, in Winter’s pine needles when the breeze breathes hard, or in Spring when leaves open to shimmer, to quiver themselves to waking in wind.  If you are city-bred, you might recognize Aeolus in the instrument which carries his name, the “Aeolian Harp”.  Likely, you know this harp, either turtle shelled and horn-armed, gut strung, or tall in steel atop a skyscraper, metal chorded, tuned to the proportions of the human ear, naturally, universally.  We each are creatures crafted to hear, see, feel, taste, touch and to know the universe, with which we are one, completely.  Pythagoras recognized this oneness, and taught it so: The small is to the large as the large is to the whole.

Pythagoras in symmetry tuned our Western ears beautifully to harmony.  By ear sincere you have heard in dissonance the music of the East; have heard through split pipes unworded conversation alike the noise of birds; you have heard in your blood, in your bones the rude beat of the drum; these sounds and more have been musiced by that which is our nature.  Pythagoras recognized in the human, the pattern of the symmetrical, mathematical nature of God, universal, unalloyed.  If a muscian…well, if not a musician, you might remember from school the musical scales, the fifths and the thirds, you will remember the sound of tuning voice, wind, string in the even, measured, ascending pattern of divine sound.  There is mathematics in all things, things infinitely large, infinitely small, in all the in-betweens…including you and me.

“Vitruvian Man”, circa 1490; Leonardi da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

There is a pattern of things which can be seen, musically, symmetrically in harmony.  Look at us…yes, you, me…spread wide your arms, notice that the arms’ width is your height equaled top-to-toe (most likely); compass the finger of the hand of the arm on the pivot of the shoulder (the humerus neck) and-just-so form in air an “O” round as the “O” in “Giotto”.  Notice this simplest of geometries human-body-made. If we had time and space to spare, I would ask you to notice all double-curve convexes, all double-reverse curves, all ascending, all descending patterns; I would ask you to balance the medial malleolus with the seventh cervical vertebrae to notice the straight line that initiates at Earth’s most central core to pass arrow like through you straight into Heaven (one footed, tip away from this line…unbalanced you will waver, quaver, and, if you do not recover, fall).  There is a balance in all things by the nature of being, and Nature.

Our nature is the nature of God: of all creatures, we are the most god-like, the most complex in relationship, internally, externally, mindfully universally.  Polykleitos recognized the musical, Pythagorean symmetries of our bodies, noticed our balance in the universe, noticed the symmetry of our movements, and, most importantly, Polykleitos noticed that by mind we can move our bodies consciously in graceful, god-like pattern

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“The Bilingual Amphora: ‘Ajax and Achilles playing a game’”, circa 535 B.C.; The Andokides Painter

Recently, we discussed the Kaloi Kagathoi, those excellent persons who trained themselves in the pattern of beauty and goodness, true to the polis, themselves, their gods.  Honoring that which of themselves was god-like, these persons formed their minds to excellence in harmony.  You might recall Pericles and friends calmly inquiring after fine points of literary criticism on the evening before the morning of the day of battle.  These were heroes who understood the larger value at issue in the contest of shields and sharp instruments.  They had style, a style which is with us yet.  You will notice this style, this reserve in the severe, archaic Greek statuary of the first Classive Age, the calm, the confidence, the harmony of parts.

The mods, the contemporaries refer to the statues of Polykleitos as “athletes”, yet in this, as in most opinions, the mods are mistaken.  These statues are not of athletes, there is little in them which demonstrates the athletic, excepting that firm confidence of body which is by boney or flabby slovens misunderstood, envied.  Polykleitos’ statues are the embodiment of the Universal God in us; they are man or god outside of time, slow in the pace of vegetable growth, musical, symmetrical, in harmony with universal geometries.   

We cannot expect the art-historian to in footnoted reference science observation; we should not be disappointed that art-historians see beauty blurried by opaque words; we should know that art-historians know little of the beautiful, the good, the true, and, knowing this of them, we should pity, not condemn. 

The Diadumenos (“diadem-bearer”), original created circa 420 B.C.; Polykleitos, active 5th Century, B.C.; photo credit, Shakko

Polykleitos composed himself into a being capable of seeing the universal in the simple patterns of form, formed into the gods and into the heroes of men.  These statues, the Diadem-Bearer, the Spear-Bearer, Apollo, Hera, and others are not statues of someone, god or man, these statues are the things themselves, containing, in some manner, the spirit, the daemon, the universal energy particular, personal in the thing itself.  God-like, participating in the patterns of the universe, the statuer creates in object, meaning, ontologically, as we have meaning transcending the fact of physical being—as we know meaning through things.  You might say, as I say, the statue, if a statue, contains a soul of idea…we know this in statues to be so because words ephemeral attach to the thing, live in it, and can be spoken of “as things” by any who have language in any form of variation…language, the knowledge of God.

“Little by little by numbers comes perfection.” Polykleitos said, as I paraphrase.  Polykleitos put into composition a book detailing the Pythagorean symmetry of the universe in man, the Kanon, the “Canon”, the “standard measuring rod” of proportional symmetries ideally composed.  The work is lost.  His statues do not survive, but in copies, and in memory.  All statues, which are statues, remember the Canon of Polykleitos, the divine, godded symmetry that lives in the statue.

The Doryphoros (“spear-bearer”), copy, original created circa 420 B.C.; Polykleitos, active 5th Century, B.C.; photo credit, Shakko  

Here, copies, reconstructions from fragments generations removed from the originals are shown.  Notice, this is the ideal toward which each peddler, elipter, lifter aims.  Known, the Greek in us trains to perfection in body, in mind, in acts god-like, divine.  We, the beautiful, are Classive.  We might not in fact be beautiful—recently, I fed my thumb to a hungry belt-grinder, and the thumb is ugly, hidden, Phantom-like beneath a black bandage—we might be crippled, as was the poet, Pope; yet, the Classive is the conscious conscience of the body ascending to perfection by the spirit in acts.

Statues are not bodies copied, if they are statues; if copied, they are mannequins, curious, sometimes horrific things, common and tawdry.  Everywhere around us these horrific mannequins sit on benches, stand in crowds awaiting buses, mute, dumb, dusty.  Please, do not consider mannequins, Art, they are not “Art”, they are products of commercial transaction, of government “programs”, they are the absurdity of “art” in “public-places”, “public-art” exposing itself, indecent, obscene and should be arrested, should be stopped.  These products demean man.  They are Progressive; they diminish us.  

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Well, let us return from the public-service announcement of this essay to the concluding point.

The Doryphoros (“spear-bearer”), Roman copy; Polykleitos, active 5th Century, B.C.; photo credit, Mátyus László  

You know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, beauty and ugliness, the great and mean because you are in symmetry created to know, to weigh, to understand the universe.  Little-by-little we recognize eternal, mathematical, geometric patterns in all that is; this, the divine, existing both in and beyond time. 

The statue is removed from us, you and I, Man, in time; the statue stands on a pedestal higher than us because it exists in the realm that transcends us; the statue is closer than we to the god-like abstractions of perfection in number, broadly. 

You will remember that Plato at the entrance to the Academy had inscribed,

“Let None But Geometers Enter Here”. 

There is much, very much mistaken in the core of Plato; even so, in much he was correct: Before we come to knowledge, if we are to come to knowledge, we must come to be men who see the symmetries.    

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The Doryphoros (“spear-bearer”), fragment, Roman copy; Polykleitos, active 5th Century, B.C.

The artist fashions the thing which we become.  In the West, we compose beginning to middle to end.  We exist in medias res; before us, creation; after us, a return to the Oneness of God; between, the growing into the thing we will become, a thing neither flower, nor worm, nor flutterby because we are creatures that grow by mind.  The Canon of Literature, by close, long-sight shows to us, by example, the right and the wrong model of life.  The Canon of statuary, by measure, outward-in, shows how man is by harmony to self-compose: The statue is you and I idealized, the idea of the god formed in man, without end.   

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Before knowing Polykleitos–while yet in my teens–I knew Polykleitos, as can here be seen by the influence of Carl Milles, Marshall Fredericks,

and Michelangelo.

For available statuary, home designs, and other beauties by this author, you are welcome to visit The Classical Artist.

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