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Invented Faces

Hellenistic artists, confronted with the new task of creating retrospective literary portraits, must have developed an astonishing range of subtly differentiated types. Although we are mainly dependent on bust and herm copies often of dubious quality, the varied facial expressions of these portraits alone illustrate how the sculptors strived to translate each subject's intellectual, personal, and biographical traits into a "spiritual physiognomy." A few specific examples may make this clear. I have chosen four retrospective portraits that represent different kinds of intellectuals, two poets and two philosophers or scholars, all of them derived from prototypes that can be dated by stylistic criteria to the Middle Hellenistic period, that is, the years ca. 220 to 150 B.C.

A portrait from the Villa del Papiri is identified by a painted inscription as that of the epic poet Panyassis of Halicarnassus (fig. 81).[6] He was said to have been put to death by the tyrant Lygdamos about 450 and was the author of a Herakles epic that was highly esteemed by Hellenistic philologists and poets. His countenance is tense, almost suffering, the expression quite different, say, from that of a grim old man whose wreath has been thought to mark him as a poet as well (fig. 82), even though both heads show a comparable contraction of the forehead. The piercing look of the latter poet and "the expression of a decrepit and ugly face, filled with hate and sarcastic bile," have suggested the name of Hipponax, the sixth-century poet known for his vicious invective verse.[7]

Equally striking is the contrast between Panyassis' facial expression and the expression of detached observation in the face of a portrait that has, on convincing grounds, been taken as that of the most


Fig. 81
Portrait of the epic poet Panyassis (died ca.
mid-fifth century B.C. ), after an original of the High
Hellenistic period. Naples, Museo Nazionale.

Fig. 82
So-called Hipponax. Hellenistic
original of the second century B.C.
Athens, National Museum.

famous physician of antiquity, Hippocrates of Cos (fig. 83). The seated statue from which this head derives depicted the old man with what must have been his characteristic inclination of the head, and therefore probably with the body tensed as well.[8] The calm objectivity of the so-called Hippocrates is in turn utterly different from the severe and penetrating, almost fanatical intensity of a portrait for which a relief in the Terme Museum has recently suggested an identification as the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander (fig. 84).[9]

My deliberately subjective readings of these portraits, based on gut feeling and psychologizing interpretation, are of course not binding but only meant to provoke a response. And even if my reactions are not at all those intended by the artists, the important thing is the phenomenon itself, a completely different conception of the notion of portraiture. No longer, as in the retrospective portraits of the fifth


Fig. 83
Hippocrates. Bust from the grave of
a physician, after an original of the High
Hellenistic period. Ostia Museum.

Fig. 84
Portrait of the pre-Socratic philosopher
Anaximander (?). Roman copy of a Hellenistic
original. Rome, Capitoline Museum.

and fourth centuries, is the goal a paradigmatic display of virtues accepted by the entire society and thereby a didactic and hortatory effect. On the contrary, these new retrospective creations, with their vivid expressions, would be unthinkable in the context of publicly displayed monuments in the Hellenistic cities, as honorific or votive statues. Those statues as a rule continued the fourth-century traditions of the garment correctly draped about the body and the controlled pose based on Classical draped figures. Their expressions may have occasionally conveyed a sense of energy or contemplation, but violent or dramatic elements were avoided (pp. 188f.).[10]

For these portraits striving to capture a literary image, in contrast, there was obviously no need to adhere to such conventions, since the subjects belonged in any case to the far-distant past. Thus in their dress, in their physical characteristics, in the language of gesture and


facial expression, they stand intentionally apart from contemporary conventions of the citizen image. This separation in turn implies that these portraits must have fulfilled new and different functions.

As we have noted, the retrospective portraits presuppose an educated viewer, who would understand the biographical and literary allusions, who was familiar with the literary judgments and characterizations applied to each figure, and who might even have taken part in the ongoing discussion of the great thinkers of the past. It seems only reasonable to associate the origins of this new kind of portraiture with the rise of Hellenistic philology and of the new breed of scholar who flourished in particular at the royal courts.[11] The Museum in Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, in whose library "the king had assembled the writings of all mankind, all those that deserved serious attention" (Eus. Hist. eccl. 5.8.11), became a model, and not just for other rulers. The great philosophical schools and gymnasia in Greek cities began to collect the writings of earlier authors, since the reading and interpretation of texts had become the focal point of a new form of education that gradually engaged the whole of Hellenistic society. From the beginning, Alexandrian scholars were conscious of a sharp break between past and present. The writers of the past belonged to a glorious but remote epoch, and their writings were a precious legacy that had to be conserved and used as a source of wisdom and guidance. Contemporary poetry belonged to a different genre that could not be compared to that of the past. This is the same gulf that separates the portrait statues of a Menander or Poseidippus from those of the old singer or the so-called Hesiod.

The professional scholar and poeta doctus under royal patronage was a new breed of intellectual, living in splendid isolation from urban society, freed from the normal citizen responsibilities and able to devote himself fully to his scholarly work. "The melting pot of Egypt nourishes many men, bookish scribblers forever quarreling in the bird cage of the Muses": thus the sharp-tongued Skeptic Timon of Phlius (frag. 12 Diels), who passes judgment from the perspective of an intellectual still fully integrated in the society of the polis. But it was this very isolation, the clustering of scholars in academies and philosophical cliques, that gave rise to a new pursuit, the study of earlier writers as a purely literary and aesthetic pastime, along with an interest in every biographical an-


ecdote, the same interest we see informing the retrospective portraits. If we wish to gain some idea of the range of associations that the ancient viewer might have made, we might take a brief look at two literary genres of the period, the bioi, originating mainly in the tradition of the Aristotelian school, and the epigrams on poets. It may be no accident that, in just the period when the retrospective portrait was at its height, the late third and early second centuries, we hear of a writer of bioi named Satyros. Fragments of his Life of Euripides survive, and they betray an intention to demonstrate, in Ulrich von Wilamowitz's words, "die Harmonie zwischen Wesen, Leben, und Dichtung." Satyros' reconstruction of Euripides' life is derived mainly from the poet's work, and this is just how we must suppose the sculptor (or his adviser) proceeded. Biography and portrait, both inspired by the new philological bent, had the same goal: to gather impressions from the great man's work and then translate these into a specific image, a uniquely individual presence. But while the intellectual level of most of the bioi, as they are known to us, is rather modest, the portraiture—to judge from certain Roman copies—must have included some true masterpieces. Satyros, incidentally, is known to have written lives not only of poets, but of great men of all sorts, including Alcibiades, Philip of Macedon, and even philosophers such as Diogenes.[12] We may therefore assume that the retrospective portrait statues also included philosophers, statesmen, and other historical worthies.

Even more informative, and certainly more enjoyable to read, are some of the more artful epigrams. These imagine the reader at the tomb or even before a statue of one of the poets of old and try to evoke reminiscences of his life and work. The process of idealization goes together with a distancing of the reader's present from the "once upon a time" of the past.[13]

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