Goddesses in the Dust: Hadrian and the Headless Nike
An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...
The comedian Jim Carrey is credited for changing the phrase: "Behind every great man is a great woman," to: "Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes."
In Athens I came upon a case where - behind a great man - was a woman who lost her head.
Hadrian's Library, a massive building constructed by the famous Roman emperor in 132 A.D., sits in the middle of the Roman agora of ancient Athens. But hidden somewhere within its towering, fluted Corinthian columns...
lies another treasure I stumbled upon quite by accident. Roaming the remains of this magnificent structure, which once housed thousands of papyrus scrolls stored in niches, surrounded by reading rooms and outdoor discussion areas around reflecting pools, I happened upon a small, nondescript building. Inside I saw this glorious sculpture. Carved of a single block of Pentelic marble, this Nike figure - whose name means victory - is shown at the moment when her foot touches the earth, personified by a globe.
I was awestruck to by the delicate carving of her fingers, not to mention the fact of her ignominious discovery in the bottom of an Ottoman well, from which she was excavated in 1988.
As most Nike statues, her erection was probably in honor of a man's battle. But the true victory is her survival, being moved over millennia from place to place, then dumped, headless, wingless and armless, into a well to be forgotten for centuries. A true victory of feminine strength, she lives up to her name, surviving battles that have been fought, won and lost around her, buildings that have been erected and felled, and civilizations that have reached their zenith and crumbled within her sight.
So take my advice and don't pass by this small nondescript building in the midst of these hot and dusty ruins in central Athens. You will not be disappointed....
for Victory will be yours.