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Myron, Discobolus (Discus Thrower), Roman copy of an ancient Greek bronze

Myron, Discobolus (Discus Thrower), Roman copy of an ancient Greek bronze from c. 450 B.C.E., Classical Period (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: Ancient Greek sculptures, bronze or marble, are frozen. But that doesn't mean that the ancient Greeks didn't want to convey movement. SPEAKER 2: In this case, movement that you couldn't even see with the naked eye. SPEAKER 1: What we're looking at, is a sculpture by an artist whose name is Myron. We've lost his original, but we have a later Roman marble copy of the "Discus Thrower." SPEAKER 2: The original was in bronze from the fifth century BCE. SPEAKER 1: About 450, 460. SPEAKER 2: And what we're looking at is one of many Roman copies. In fact, there's one next to the other in this museum, a testament to how popular these were among the Romans. SPEAKER 1: The sculpture shows a man who is at that moment where his body is fully wound. Look at the way that his right leg is bearing the weight of his body. His left leg, the toes are bent under, dragging slightly, and he's about to throw that discus. This is a moment of tremendous tension, but it's also this moment stasis, of stillness, right before the action. SPEAKER 2: Athletes and art historians have debated whether this is even an actual pose that the discus thrower takes in the process. SPEAKER 1: It's so interesting, because when we think back about the history of the Greek figure, we think first of the Archaic Kouros, who is so stiff and so stylized. And then we have the tremendous breakthroughs of people like Polykleitos who developed an understanding of the body, and showed in a contrapposto. But here we have something that's so dynamic, and so complex, I mean just look at the arc of the shoulders and the arms, and the way that they reverse the arc of the twist of the hips. SPEAKER 2: That is the overriding concern of Myron, the sculptor, to capture the aesthetic qualities here. The sense of balance and harmony, and the beauty in the proportions of the body. SPEAKER 1: There is kind of anti-realism here, for all of its careful naturalism. There is no real strain within the body. It is absolutely at rest, and ideal, even in this extreme pose. SPEAKER 2: If you think about a figure from much later, but in a similar pose of movement, of athletic energy, like Bernini's "David." SPEAKER 1: Well, that's got all this torsion, absolutely. SPEAKER 2: That figure expresses all of the physical power in the face. He's clenching his teeth, right? SPEAKER 1: That's true. And his brow is really knit forward. But here, the face is absolutely serene. And it reminds me of the consistency with which the Greeks always maintain their nobility, even in battle, even in terrible situations with monsters. And here, even at this moment when he's about to release the discus. SPEAKER 2: Right, that nobility, that calm in the face, is a sign of a nobility of the human being. SPEAKER 1: Well, this is a sport, and the man is naked, which is what the Greeks did. But there was a real logic there. Why would you cover up the beauty of the body in sport, which is, of course, a celebration of what the human body can achieve. This is really a way to remind ourselves of the Greeks concern with the potential of humanity, the potential of the mind, and the potential of the body. SPEAKER 2: Taking that extra step to become even more ideal, more heroic, more noble, than even the finest athlete. SPEAKER 1: It is a perfect form. [MUSIC PLAYING]