Monday, September 1, 2014

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. 

15 comments:

  1. Such a beautiful sculpture and her hand is so delicate yet strong.I'm so glad you came across it so that you could share it with us.xo

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    1. Delicacy and strength married together, you describe it perfectly~

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  2. Thank you for the close-up of the fingers. That is something you can only appreciate in person unless someone with attention to detail (like you) is good enough to share it. :)

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    1. Suze, I was just so struck by this fragment when I saw it sitting in the display case - the sculptural details sort of took my breath away..

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  3. What a beautiful sculpture. It reminds me of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. That particular sculpture left me feeling breathless, it;s so beautiful. And this one is just as spectacular. Pity they all seem to have lost their heads :(

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    1. Couldn't agree more, Loree - this sculpture is reminiscent of the great winged Nike in the Louvre - and thank Goddess her wings are still intact ~

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  4. I so love sculpture. This one is beautiful.

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    1. So glad I stumbled across this semi-hidden beauty :))

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  5. I'll try again to comment (small tech difficulty apparently). First: I'm very happy that I found this blog. I'm a big fan of ancient and modern Greece, Archaeology, history, literature, travel, food and wine, etc., so this is fantastic. I just spent the summer reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's accounts of his travels through Greece in the 1950s. Highly recommended. Second: These sculptures are great, thank you. I will have to look for the Roman agora next time I'm in Athens. I probably have walked right past it! Finally: "Behind every great man is a woman who says 'behind every great man is a woman'." Say that 10 times fast. :-) I don't know who said it. Thanks for the interesting blog!

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Thomas, and for your kind comment! I've heard of this new book about Leigh Fermor and that it was well received. Thank you for reminding me of it, as I'm putting it on my list of books to read. Yes, the next time you are in Athens be sure to duck into Hadrian's library and pay a visit to this Nike!

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    2. "Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese" by PLF and "Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece" by PLF.

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  6. haven't commented lately but I always enjoy taking a mini-trip around the world with your stories. I wonder how we can call some of the things pawned off to us as "art" when you read and see something of this wonder. thanks, Glenn

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    1. Good to hear from you Glenn! Yes, amazing to think there are such beautiful artifacts out there that have survived centuries of neglect, and still manage to convey such power and presence.

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  7. Strange and victorious, indeed. And with no need to get ahead, so to speak. Another wonderful classic metaphor, amanda.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

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  8. You have such good material for your guidebook! I appreciate your humor and sharp eyes.

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